Kidman, Zellweger in Oscar Cliffhanger
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Nicole did it by hiding herself behind a false nose and a dowdy hairdo. Renee got there by showing off her legs plus her previously unknown talents as a singer and dancer.
Both women defied expectations and both are now front-runners in the race for one of Hollywood’s most prestigious prizes, the Oscar for best performance by an actress — an honor neither has won before.
“I think the best actress Oscar race this year is a classic Hollywood cliffhanger,” said Oscar pundit Tom O’Neil.
“While it appeared that Nicole Kidman had been literally in front by a nose, there was a wake-up call from Renee Zellweger at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, and a scary one,” O’Neil said.
Zellweger, 33, pulled off a surprise on Sunday by winning the SAG best actress award for her role as a high-kicking murderess in the musical “Chicago,” despite having no formal training as a dancer and no singing experience other than in the privacy of her own shower.
“She plays against type. She is somebody who sang and danced surprisingly well, and this is a Renee we have never seen before. Renee has two things going for her — the ‘Chicago’ bandwagon and the SAG win,” said O’Neil.
Yet with 10 days to go before the March 23 Oscar ceremony no-one is writing off Kidman, whose searing performance as the suicidal English writer Virginia Woolf in “The Hours” has already won her a Golden Globe and a British BAFTA award.
Kidman, 35, earned sympathy for the dignity she displayed during an agonizing divorce from actor Tom Cruise.
Now she is riding a wave of support that started with the 2001 thriller “The Others,” soared after fantasy musical “Moulin Rouge” and culminated in “The Hours.” where she is unrecognizable as the glamorous redhead who has become a fashion and box-office icon.
KIDMAN “OVERDUE” FOR OSCAR HONOR
Kidman narrowly missed out on an Oscar last year when Halle Berry made history as the first African-American to win the coveted best actress statuette.
“I do think it is Nicole’s year in Academy terms. My feeling is that Nicole will be a sentimental favorite with the Academy at large,” said Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel.
“Oscar loves actors who do one of two things — and she hit both of them. They like it when you play crazy or disturbed, and they love it when you put on a bunch of make-up. It looks like real acting,” said Schickel.
O’Neil agreed that Kidman was still a major contender; “She plays a real person, she transforms herself physically, and the role has gravity and snob appeal.
“Also she is overdue, and very often in Oscar history people win for something they have done before,” he said.
Julianne Moore, 42, has also had a banner year and looked a hot favorite after being nominated both as best actress (“Far From Heaven”) and best supporting actress (“The Hours”). Both roles, coincidentally, see her as a 1950s suburban American housewife whose life is in turmoil.
Yet despite picking up a slew of awards from movie critics in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Toronto, Moore’s star, at least in the best actress category, appears to have faded over the home stretch.
“I think her performance in ‘Far From Heaven’ was lovely. I never don’t like Julianne Moore,” said Schickel.
“I think what may have happened is that the movie has faded. It has not made the splash of ‘Chicago’, which has been so popular, nor ‘The Hours’ because it has been controversial,” he said.
Moore has been Oscar-nominated twice before and holds a record five SAG nominations but has never won an award from her Hollywood peers.
“She has had such a stellar year, you would think she would have been a standout at SAG. She could pop up at the Oscars because voters often show a high-brow tendency specifically in the supporting category and there certainly is a consensus that she is way overdue,” said O’Neil.
The two other best actress nominees — Salma Hayek for her role as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in “Frida,” and Diane Lane as an adulterous wife in “Unfaithful” — are considered long shots for this year’s Oscar.
Kidman, Zellweger in Oscar Cliffhanger