Something odd is going on in the Oscar Best Actress race. According to the usual rules of predicting a winner, Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn“) should be a slam-dunk shoo-in. However, she’s in third place according to the Oscarologists at GoldDerby who give her 12 to 1 odds behind frontrunner Viola Davis (“The Help”) at 8 to 13 odds and Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) at 7 to 2.
With rare exceptions, pundits can usually forecast this category correctly by applying The Babe Factor Theory. The gist: the sexiest nominee usually wins. This year it’s clearly Michelle Williams, who has that advantage plus this edge — she portrays Hollywood’s ultimate babe, Marilyn Monroe.
In recent years, Oscar voters (mostly older males) have treated the best actress race like a beauty pageant, crowning a parade of lovelies like Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Kate Winslet (“The Reader”), Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”), Charlize Theron (“Monster”), Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”), Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”) and others.
Only one woman over the age of 50 has won the lead race in the past 20 years – Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), who flaunted her lingering hotness at age 61 in 2006 by wearing low-slung dresses on red carpets, talking like a tart to reporters and flashing her bra on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine.
Sometimes, granted, those old guys in the academy set aside their lust to embrace winners for more noble reasons – like, egads, the quality of their performances. Frances McDormand (“Fargo,” 1996) and Susan Sarandon (“Dead Man Walking,” 1995) are handsome women, but they probably didn’t win based upon sex appeal. Now The Babe Factor is apparently being jilted again this year.
-INSERTS:31-One reason may be because film critics don’t find “My Week with Marilyn” all that sexy, so to speak. It gets only a score of 65 on Metacritic. “The Iron Lady” has an even lower score (54), but it showcases a much more dynamic central performance.
What Williams lacks in “My Week with Marilyn” is a big show-boating scene like Natalie Portman’s psycho breakdown during her final dance in “Black Swan.” Williams’ Marilyn merely coos, whimpers and trembles a lot with fear, loneliness and even lust.
By contrast, her chief Oscar rivals have lots of flashy scenes. Meryl Streep gets to act up a storm as Maggie Thatcher – thundering at political foes in some scenes and, in others, cowering with terror while beset with creeping dementia. Viola Davis sheds enough tears in “The Help” to float her whole gang of downtrodden house maids on a river raft to freedom.
Or maybe Michelle Williams’ bad Oscar luck this year is all Marilyn Monroe’s fault – that is, the fact that the academy never fell for the queen of movie bombshells. Although Marilyn starred in an Oscar Best Picture (“All About Eve,” 1950) and won a Golden Globe (“Some Like It Hot,” 1959), she never nabbed an Oscar bid.
“It’s crazy that Marilyn was never nominated for an Oscar,” Williams says. “She was a great actress, as you can see in ‘My Week with Marilyn’ when she holds her own on screen alongside the world’s greatest actor, Laurence Olivier. But people didn’t give her enough credit because they were literally blinded by her beauty.”
Recently, when Williams won the Golden Globe, she noted in her acceptance speech that Marilyn had won the same category (Best Comedy/Musical Actress) 52 years earlier. Now that Williams has since broken though with an Oscar nomination, she’s taken the memory of Marilyn someplace the legendary icon never reached. Even if she loses on Feb. 26, there’s at least some small victory in that.