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Is Annette Bening Really Overdue for an Oscar?

Written by on January 4, 2011 

When it comes to the Oscars, any actor with 3 or more nominations is generally considered to be “overdue” for a win. Actors such as Kate Winslet and Jeff Bridges have recently rode to victory on narratives that painted them as perennial Oscar losers finally getting their due. This year Annette Bening is poised to score her 4th nomination and is in a top-notch position to win for her performance as a lesbian mother in the indie dramedy The Kids Are Alright. Bening is a very good actress but it seems disingenuous to award her simply because of her previous loses rather than the quality of her performance. It isn’t even that ‘career’ wins are all that detestable but that it is questionable whether Bening deserves this distinction at all, especially in the face of her also Oscarless co-star Julianne Moore.

Bening has been nominated three times in the past 20 years for three very different performances that showcase a considerable range but lack the requisite “it” factor that generally creates Oscar winning roles. Bening perhaps came closest to a win with her first nomination for her seductive con artist in The Grifters. She lost out to Whoopi Goldberg’s hysterical psychic in Ghost (which was something of a make-up win itself for her loss to Oscarless veteran Geraldine Page in 1985).  Bening is at her very best in The Grifters but simply couldn’t compete with Goldberg’s iconic turn and considerable starpower.

Bening spent the remainder of the 90’s in unremarkable wife and girlfriend roles before landing the mother of all ‘mother’ roles in American Beauty. Many would argue that this was her best performance to date, however, it was not enough to best Hilary Swank’s career making role as a transgendered man in Boys Don’t Cry. History would repeat itself five years later when Bening would suffer defeat at the hands of Swank again for her turn as a female boxer in Million Dollar Baby. On this nomination, however, Bening was lucky to even be in contention for her barely adequate performance in Being Julia.

These double defeats by Swank, however, have come to define Bening’s Oscar narrative despite being entirely insignificant and a misguided media set-up by Oscar watchers. First, Swank’s performance in Boys Don’t Cry is one of the greatest performances of all-time that leaves most Oscar winning roles in the dust. Bening is fantastic in American Beauty but there is simply no comparison to be made and her first defeat to Swank is completely justified.

The second loss, which also serves as the impetus for the narrative that Bening is overdue, is where this situation gets blown out of proportion for the sake of creating a non-existent race between the two stars. Although it could be argued that Swank was undeserving of a second Oscar that year, there is no mistaking that Bening was a distant 5th place for the win that year. Swank, along with the sublime work by contenders Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) and Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) are leagues above Bening in performance quality.

Bening’s work in The Kids Are Alright is very deserving of an Oscar nomination but it doesn’t seem like the type of performance that would be strong enough to win if it weren’t for the “Oscar loss” narrative. Still, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more deserving this year as Natalie Portman’s work in Black Swan is wildly overrated (very good but hardly worthy of a win), Nicole Kidman’s nomination will be enough of a reward for the former winner, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is too reserved for the Academy’s usual taste and contenders such as Michelle Williams, Lesley Manville, Halle Berry, Hilary Swank and Julianne Moore aren’t even safe enough for a nomination, much less a win.

It is interesting, however, that the Screen Actors Guild has thrown Swank’s name back into the race with a surprise nomination for her work in Conviction. Perhaps if Swank were to snag the Oscar nod it would be enough to secure Bening the win and bring the ridiculous media created rivalry to an end. Bening would exact revenge over her double loss to Swank by finally emerging victorious.  Would this be deserving victory? Probably not, but it would be easier than dealing with the outcry of Bening supporters that will paint her as the greatest Oscar loser of all time and demand she win anytime she has a moderately baity project.

Who do you think should win Best Actress this year and why? Do you think Bening should win for being overdue or is her performance strong enough to warrant the win?




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