Swank and Bening in Actress Oscar Rematch
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with Hilary Swank after she emerged from obscurity to win the best actress Oscar in 2000 for chopping off her hair and dressing as a male in the searing transgender movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Swank didn’t fit the glamorous leading lady mold, was never cut out to be a Hollywood babe and at 25 was too young to be a character actress.
But after an undistinguished hiatus, Swank has come back swinging as a gutsy female boxer whose career is dramatically cut short in “Million Dollar Baby.”
There’s one problem for Swank on her path to a rare second Oscar — Annette Bening, the classy “American Beauty” actress Swank beat in 2000 and who is still looking for her own elusive piece of Oscar glory.
Call it a rematch, or as Bening terms it “a funny coincidence,” but the two women are front-runners again for the best actress Oscar at the Feb. 27 ceremony.
“Five years ago, Hilary Swank came out of nowhere to win the best actress category. It looked for a while as if she was one of those Oscar flukes who we would never hear from again,” said Tom O’Neil, host of the showbiz Web site goldderby.com.
“So Annette is due and she came back this year to get the Oscar and here’s that darn Hilary Swank again,” said O’Neil.
COINCIDENCE OR JINX?
Bening, 46, was considered the early Oscar front runner for her role as a luminous English stage diva in “Being Julia.” She has already won a Golden Globe, National Board of Review and Golden Satellite award for her performance.
But that was before the release of Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” was brought forward to catch the awards season and Swank captured a Golden Globe of her own as well as a Screen Actor’s Guild trophy and a slew of critics awards.
“I think Hilary Swank is probably the front runner, even though she’s won once before. Annette Bening is charming and wonderful in ‘Being Julia’ but I think the picture itself is a little lightweight,” said Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel.
Neither Swank, now 30, nor Bening see it in terms of a rematch. “I don’t experience it that way. We just happen to be giving performances that people like in the same year in movies that are recognized,” Bening told Reuters.
“It felt like a funny coincidence. I think ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is a really special movie and Hilary is great in it.”
British actresses Kate Winslet for quirky romance “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and Imelda Staunton for 1950s abortion drama “Vera Drake” along with Colombian newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno in “Maria Full of Grace” round out the nominees in the best actress category. All are considered to have given fine performances by movie pundits.
JOINING THE ELITE?
The Academy’s exalted 77-year history and the demographics of Academy voters are as likely to play a role in determining the acting honors as performances on the screen.
If Swank wins again, she will enter the elite ranks of actresses who have won two or more Oscars — including the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Jodie Foster.
“There are Academy voters who say Hilary hasn’t earned the right yet to be in the pantheon of double winners so there may be some resistance to giving her that,” said O’Neil.
The make-up of Academy voters remains shadowy but industry insiders believe they are two-thirds male and mostly over 50.
“The sad truth about women at the Oscars is that the babe always beats the mature star. This bias is historical, consistent and obvious,” said O’Neil.
Schickel said Swank posed a conundrum for Hollywood after winning her first Oscar. “The part she won for was so weird. So Hollywood wondered who is she, what is she as a star personality? And that is a problem she may face again.
“She is a nice-looking lady but she’s not a glamour queen. She is a real actress,” he said.
If Bening had any sore feelings about losing out to Swank five years ago, they were swept aside by giving birth two weeks later to her fourth child with actor Warren Beatty and the prospects of a new, post-children career.
“I feel really excited and interested by a lot of things that are coming my way. It feels like a new beginning in a way, without a baby on my hip,” Bening said.
“My husband won a lifetime achievement award that night in 2000, and I was so pregnant. When I got home, the feeling was ‘OK, all of that’s over now’. It was just heavenly to know I didn’t have to try to squeeze into another pair of shoes.
“This time the whole red carpet thing is so much more fun,” she said.
Swank and Bening in Actress Oscar Rematch