Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

Best Actress

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan (WINNER)
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Welcome to the Independent Spirit Awards! All five Academy finalists were also nominated for Best Actress in the indie industry's parallel prize-giving bash, held the night before the Oscars. All five films are distributed by indie labels or major-studio subsidiaries. And if you stretch a point to include a certain ballet dancer and her crazy mom, all five are domestic dramas about women coping with crises triggered by their spouses, parents or kids.

The odd film out is Black Swan, and not just because it has earned about three times as much at the domestic box office as the other four films combined. Love it or hate it — and almost everyone who's seen it picks a side — this psychodrama struck a nerve. It also announced that Portman, for 17 years a kind of gorgeous hood ornament on other actors' vehicles, is now ready for her closeup. The arduous training regimen; the character going slowly, surely berserk; the masturbation and lesbian sex scenes: all these elements caught the attention and admiration of Academy voters.

Bening — previously nominated three times, without a win — has made a late sprint to the finish line, reminding voters that she's a nice person who plays a complicated one (the lesbian "husband" confronting her lover's infidelity) in The Kids Are All Right. But the attention given to Bening may speak more to Oscar watchers' boredom over the past month or so with the apparent inevitability of a Portman win. And inevitable it is: becoming radiantly pregnant around Golden Globes time was Portman's final (if unintended) masterstroke. The only way she could top this would be by giving birth onstage Sunday night as she accepts her predestined Oscar.