Best Actress 2000
Winner: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Nominees: Joan Allen, The Contender
Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me

The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★
An underrated year, probably because the performances that missed were even stronger than some of the nominated ones, because Roberts in general and Burstyn in Requiem are such love 'em or hate 'em propositions, and because the inarguable clinker in the group (Binoche) gave the whole race a bad name. Still, Roberts apotheosized her megawatt career even as she considerably raised her game, Linney finally hit the bigtime and carried a tiny film to major glory, Burstyn earned a whole new generation of fans (and a new lease on her career) with a divisive performance that I respect even though I dislike it, and Allen, though treated like an also-ran all through awards season, handles a completely atypical Hollywood role with steely precision and expertly managed emotion. That odor you smell is just leftover perspiration from the Weinsteins shilling the shitty Chocolat; otherwise, everything's pretty rosy up in here.

Ranking Oscar's Ballot
My Pick:
Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "Her work as Erin is an uncanny, dazzling unison of acting chops and marquee charisma.... In terms of her career, then, Erin Brockovich is a watershed, a compelling vehicle for a forceful, emotionally direct portrayal that at the same time does not pretend we are not watching Julia Roberts. Part of Erin's problem or, more charitably, her ambivalence as a character is that she wants to be considered attractive but hates being patronized. She wants people to love her but refuses to act lovable. Roberts' persona matches perfectly with those circumstances, and she nails them both, making Erin smart, sincere, and believably, recklessly cavalier, while at the same time making every other star in Hollywood, male and female, seem like a dim, compromised imitation of her own redoubtable wattage."

From There:
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me ★ ★ ★ ★
Before I die, I'll probably forget some of the places where I've lived and what groceries to buy and maybe where I live and what I'm called, but I won't ever forget Laura Linney's Sammy Prescott waving both of her hands in bounteous, double-speed delight upon seeing her brother Terry outside a restaurant window. In that single second, she evokes more about her character, and more about adult brothers and sisters more generally, and more about women who experience moments of happiness as cosmic recompense for so rarely getting what they want, than most performers ever wrestle from entire screenplays, sometimes entire careers. Having summed up the character so gorgeously, and with such a light touch, Linney's performance plays out as a series of portraits, some of them tartly surprising, of a woman who already feels warmly familiar. How quickly that first encounter slides from exuberance to disillusionment, her words cutting right to the heart of how cheated she feels, her tone and body making the same point but more sorrowfully, and with more intuitive understanding of Terry's case. Ignoring Terry's embarrassing questions in front of her child, reacting as a rusted pipe spews brown water all over a first-date outfit, breathlessly anxious before her priest, primly insulted by an officious boss (whom she almost sells as an impulsive fling for her character), Linney ensured an afterlife for this film and for her career with this performance.

Joan Allen, The Contender ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "Allen emerges as unscathed as possible, the strength and elegance of her acting almost rendering her invincible from the screenplay's late-breaking assaults on her dignity. But why should an actress be in the position of fighting off a script that was intended to provide her with a triumph?.... Allen works hard, and beautifully, to create a confident, charismatic woman whose sexuality, like her intelligence, her eloquence, her resolve, even her fallibility, is a vibrant and indispensable trait of her character. The film, by contrast, increasingly proves unable to imagine female sexuality as anything but troubling, even monstrous." Reading back over that review now, and having seen The Contender a few more times, I confess that I upbraided the film too harshly and took a too-rigid stance against its shifting power dynamics and swinging pendulums of audience sympathy. The Contender is still rife with missteps and contradictions, but I ought to have said more about Allen's crystallization of a truly compelling character. Her vocal rhythms, that stuttering and tearful quaver on the phrase "my past" (what else does she have in mind?), the sangfroid of her public demeanor until a brutal showdown over abortion—everything save the basketball playing and the unforgivable line about lusty women controlling nuclear weapons marks a smooth, sexy, and steely acting achievement, and it should have opened Allen up to a broader range of casting opportunities. (Then again, poke around The Contender's supporting cast, and you'll spot Mike Binder, who eventually wrote for Allen the best lead role that Hollywood has handed her so far.)

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I would love to endorse Burstyn's performance, since she has obviously thrown so much effort into it and made herself entirely available to the relentless formal and cosmetic designs of the piece. In fact, Darren Aronofsky's brutal montage and entomological mise-en-scène are slightly hampering to the performance; rather than teasing out a character or endowing her with persuasive signs of life, Burstyn often has to distill an expression or a mood to serve as one of Requiem's emphatic emblems of agony, despair, or misplaced hope. Ever the committed performer (guilty, sometimes, of making commitment itself look pedantic and overworked), Burstyn makes a potent impression but follows the film's dangerously overstating lead. She hasn't Jennifer Connelly's instinct for leavening her scenes with fragility and subtlety, trusting that Aronofsky will take care of the expressionistic amplification. At her best, which doesn't necessarily mean her least mannered, Burstyn stretches her speech to Jared Leto about rationalized contentment in sad, surprising directions ("I like thinking about the red dress!"), and her reaction-shots to dwindling meals and gurgling stomachs are acutely felt and gently funny, but she's still alarmingly prey to crude stereotyping of the Jewish-mama variety, and she mimics the film in seeking virtuosity over refinement, technique over feeling.

Juliette Binoche, Chocolat ★ ★ ★ ★
By now, so many years past the green years of Unbearable Lightness and Damage and A Couch in New York, Binoche rarely steers a performance into wrong emotional territory, and there's a grounded, womanly fullness to her Vianne in Chocolat that's less abstract, somehow, than the serene aura of her Hana in The English Patient. Still, Vianne is an infinitely less demanding part, not just compared to Hana but compared to almost anything that gets nominated for an acting Oscar. I recognize that acting that looks easy is often still difficult, but watching Binoche glide through this part, staying firmly in the script's shallow eddies of middlebrow moralizing and meringue psychology, "Oscar" is the last word that should come to mind. Lasse Hallström hits up Binoche for abstract, indexical expressions of wisdom, tact, compassion, and quiet flirtation as often as Aronofsky enlists Burstyn for pure, uncut shots of terror, loneliness, and dementia. Binoche doesn't aggress the audience with technique like Burstyn does, but she's also headlining a project that's lighter and frankly dumber than Burstyn's; where Sara Goldfarb is an indelible if divisive creation, Vianne Rocher is a fleeting if necessary convenience of Chocolat's plot. Amiable and adequate as she is, I wonder if even Binoche felt she belonged among this company for this performance.

Who gets your vote in this field, and on my dream ballot below? VOTE HERE!

My Favorites from 2000:
(As determined by years of Oscar eligibility)

My Pick: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Nominees: Gillian Anderson, The House of Mirth
Nominees: Björk, Dancer in the Dark
Nominees: Katrin Cartlidge, Claire Dolan
Nominees: Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me

Honorable Mentions: Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Joan Allen, The Contender; Cate Blanchett, The Gift; Margaret Cho, I'm the One That I Want; Kirsten Dunst, Bring It On; Samantha Morton, Jesus' Son; Gina McKee, Wonderland; Angela Bassett, Boesman & Lena; Edie Falco, Judy Berlin

Further Research: Rachel Griffiths, Me Myself I; Sanaa Lathan, Love & Basketball; Vanessa Paradis, Girl on the Bridge; Julie Walters, Titanic Town; Emily Watson, Trixie

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