I’ve never been the biggest Julianne Moore fan.
The first time I ever saw her on screen was as a dino-scientist in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997). I was 13 and I recall thinking, “I won’t be sad if she gets eaten.”
I guess this puts me in the mindset of an average Oscar voter, who’ve nominated her four previous times but never awarded her the trophy. In other words, we like her, we just don’t love her.
That is, until I saw Moore’s gut-wrenching performance in “Still Alice.”
As a linguistics professor struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Moore completely transforms from a fun-loving wife and mother to a shattered woman whose mind melts away before our eyes, one painful memory at a time. By the time she fails to find the bathroom and loses control of her bladder, I was ready to declare Moore’s raw embodiment of Alice Howland one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen on the silver screen.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find that I’m one of the few who thinks that Moore — who scored an Emmy for playing Sarah Palin in HBO’s “Game Change” (2012) — is going to win the Oscar based on merit alone.
Sure, Moore currently tops Gold Derby’s Best Actress Oscar chart according to the combined predictions of our Experts, Editors and Users and is a shoo-in to win her first statuette on Feb. 22. However, Oscar cynics keep banging the drum that even though she’s going to win because she’s overdue, she doesn’t deserve to win with this performance.
Huh? Where is this narrative coming from? Have these journalists even seen “Still Alice,” or are they all just spewing out the same story because it plays well in print? Oscar season, after all, is a nearly year-long process that requires bloggers to analyze every nook of cranny of each potential race. And once a narrative becomes popular — such as Matthew McConaughey‘s rise last year from surfer dude to serious actor — it’s often the only thing you hear about that contender.
At the end of the day, it may not even matter what my contemporaries think because Moore’s already earned Best Actress kudos from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice and SAG Awards for “Still Alice,” showing broad appeal from every part of the industry. Next week is BAFTA, where she has a commanding lead there as well according to Gold Derby’s racetrack odds.
When Moore does win the Oscar for “Still Alice,” I’m worried that we’ll be hearing for years to come that she prevailed because of the overdue factor and not because she gave the year’s best performance. While that saddens me, I gain solace in what an elderly, earpiece-wearing Oscar voter told me a few weeks ago: Moore’s performance “scared” him, but in a good way. I couldn’t agree more.
But here’s what scares me: Moore’s Best Actress victory could be regarded in the future as an Oscar sham.
Oscar record-holder Katharine Hepburn sent a consoling telegram to Audrey Hepburn when she was snubbed for “My Fair Lady” back in 1964: “Don’t worry about not being nominated,” it read. “Someday you’ll get it for a part that doesn’t rate it.”
Katharine Hepburn knew what she was talking about. Back in 1933 she stole the Oscar that Mary Robson should’ve won for her big-hearted performance as Apple Annie in “Lady for a Day.” Hepburn triumphed for her lightweight turn as a bubbling, wannabe actress in “Morning Glory,” probably because voters even back then were suckers for drunk scenes. In later years, academy members were so upset about the recent death of Hepburn’s longtime partner Spencer Tracy that they gave her another undeserved trophy for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” crushing the far-more-deserving Anne Bancroft (“The Graduate”) and Faye Dunaway (“Bonnie and Clyde”).
Oscar voters are notorious for giving stars undeserved Oscars, usually because they failed to give it to them earlier for the right roles. Many of these victories are outright outrages and embarrassments in Oscar history like Jack Lemmon (“Save the Tiger”), John Wayne (“True Grit”), Elizabeth Taylor (“Butterfield 8”) and Al Pacino (“Scent of a Woman”). Some cynics might say Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”), too. Now it looks like Moore’s pending win also runs the risk of being relegated to a future place in that Hall of Shame.
But, thankfully, in Moore’s case, she’ll be winning for the right one. Don’t forget.
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