Best Actress, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Salma Hayek


Respect flows not only toward her performance but toward the resolve and ingenuity she displayed in producing, developing, and advertising a film that defied several conventions of the biopic (not to mention Hollywood's sexist and racist notions of whom it likes to tell stories about) and found a sizable audience. Hayek proved lots of people wrong, and people seem to admire her for it.

Respect is probably a better term for people's responses to this performance than adulation. No one is yet confusing Salma Hayek with Meryl Streep on the thespian front, and the nomination is bound to be her principal reward.
Nicole Kidman
The Hours

Not an actress who appeared to have a date with destiny as an interpreter of Virginia Woolf, Kidman has leaped in two years from respected celebrity spouse to headliner talent (perhaps you've heard talk of this change?). Her double triumph in last year's Moulin Rouge and The Others still has people reaching to congratulate her, and her fierce, angular, much ballyhooed rendering of Woolf has won her serious acclaim in a totally different role. Won the Golden Globe over Moore and the BAFTA award over Zellweger.
The SAG loss to Zellweger is surprising, perhaps indicative of a recent loss in momentum. The Guild awards are fairly loose indicators of Oscar success—they are wrong often enough that one hesitates to put too much weight on them—but it remains the case that Kidman has not won any of her prizes over both of her main rivals at the same time (Far from Heaven was not eligible for the BAFTAs). Plus, Kidman does not have to carry her entire film the way Moore and, to an extent, Zellweger do, and she has a feast of major films bowing next year: Cold Mountain, Dogville, and The Human Stain could all furnish her with another chance to win.
Diane Lane

Bewitching beauty finally springs out of boring wife and girlfriend roles and retains some dignity amidst the high-gloss Harlequin veneer of Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful, scoring prizes from the New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics for her efforts.
The film looks awfully dubious when held up to anything else in this category, especially in a tight race where three previous nominees are hashing out a rematch. Lane has arrived on the A-list, perhaps, but lightning will have to strike twice before this honor is hers.
Julianne Moore
Far from Heaven

An actress to be reckoned with—a two-time nominee this year, and a four-time nominee overall—is in virtually every scene of a film that was tailor-made for her (and barely imaginable with any other performer in the role). Easily the most laureled performance of the year, even if that stature has dimmed in recent weeks as the more populist voting bodies of SAG, the BAFTAs, and the Golden Globes have chosen other winners.
The same track record that makes Moore such an industry standout virtually assures her of future chances, probably without the purposefully mannered playing that Far from Heaven requires of her. The double loss in momentum that both she and her movie have experienced further and further into awards season are not bright prospects, though as Kidman, her main rival, seems also to be lagging, the race seems tighter than it did a couple weeks ago.
Renée Zellweger

Beating co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones for the Golden Globe was to many onlookers a surprise victory. Beating Kidman and Moore for the SAG trophy was similarly auspicious, and perfectly in keeping with the actress' career path of seeking roles that seem better-suited to others (Jerry Maguire, A Price above Rubies, One True Thing, last year's Bridget Jones's Diary, and now Chicago), and proceeding to silence all naysayers... ...or, at least, most naysayers. Serpents in the grass will still tell you that Zellweger's singing and dancing are not all they could be. Given, too, that even the most iconic musical performances have frequently been passed over—Julie in The Sound of Music, Judy in The Wizard of Oz, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in anything—Zellweger's genre may work against her, even if Chicago claims lots of other prizes.

WHO WILL WIN: Nicole Kidman, The Hours
As happened with her friend Russell Crowe in 2000, Kidman is likely to benefit both from enthusiasm for her current film and residual feelings that she is owed for the previous year's loss. Moore has been a constant threat throughout the season, and Zellweger's challenge has grown more serious than I would have thought: a win for any of them is easily imaginable. But, I think ultimately that Moore peaked too early and Zellweger too late, so I'm still giving Nicole the advantage.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
I liked Zellweger in Chicago, though I find few colleagues in that view where I live. Still, with four of these nominees, the relevant question is, "How did she do in that part?" With Moore, the question is simply, "How does she do it?" Far from Heaven joins Vanya and Safe in the pantheon of her very greatest roles, where the character and ultimately the film seem to seep out of her, as though she is their lifeline. Few actresses would choose to underplay the scenes that Moore underplays here (the last conversation with Haysbert, the phone conversation about carpools, the aftermath of a beating), and even fewer seem simultaneously so in step with a director's vision and so autonomous in their brilliant creative power.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: If Winstar or New Yorker Films or whoever distributed The Piano Teacher had possibly found it in them to submit that film for consideration, I'm convinced we'd be looking at a different ballot. Isabelle Huppert, if anything, was more powerful and more central to that film than Moore was to hers, an admission I don't make lightly. Closer to home, Maggie Gyllenhaal was unpredictable, unbashful, and unimprovable in Secretary.

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