Oscar-watcher Matt Mazur dips into the history of this category and compares the Academy nominees with his own (frequently better) nominees!
Cate Blanchett ... Elizabeth
Fernanda Montengro ... Central Station
Gwyneth Paltrow ... Shakespeare in Love
Meryl Streep ... One True Thing
Emily Watson ... Hilary and Jackie
Katrin Cartlidge … Claire Dolan
Holly Hunter … Living Out Loud
Jessica Lange … Cousin Bette
Emily Watson … Hilary and Jackie
Oprah Winfrey … Beloved
Oscar Winner: Gwyneth Paltrow was romantic, broad and versatile in Shakespeare in Love, and certainly fit the mold of what people expect a "Best Actress" winner to look like: young, crying, wearing a pink ballgown. Paltrow is a formidable actress in the right part, but this win felt perfunctory; the result of an extremely well-mounted awards campaign in a static year where it could have gone to any one of the nominees.
Mazur's Winner: A tough call. The only actual Academy nominee I include this year is Watson, for her underrated turn as classical cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Veterans Lange and Hunter are in top form in two off-the-beaten-path films/performances, while Winfrey gives a thoughtful, studied performance full of depth and detail in Jonathan Demme's film of Toni Morrison's scary Beloved. With a spate of superstar actresses and personalities to compete with, you wouldn't figure low-key character actress Katrin Cartlidge to even be in the running for Lodge Kerrigan's slick, small Claire Dolan, but in my mind, the actresses' intelligent, nuanced performance as a desperate call girl is positively chilling and perfectly-modulated. In a rare leading role, Cartlidge, who died unexpectedly and much too young in 2002, is positively magnetic and my winner in this weird year.