Up until the 2014 (Birdman versus Boyhood) ceremony, 1999 was the last year that the Academy Awards were genuinely competitive. The caliber of films that were made in that year were first-rate, thus adding a slew of nominations that all deserved the award. Therefore, the categories were highly competitive and anything that separated one performance from another was the method of winning the award that year. In the Best Actress category, Hilary Swank had the biggest advantage with her performance in Boys Don’t Cry in that the movie evoked social acknowledgement of the issues of transgendered individuals and the violence many of them have endured in the past (and still do). Swank’s performance as the real-life individual, Brandon Teena, who was a female who identified as a man and was murdered due to it, was gut-retching and tragic to watch. Her performance was powerful enough to start the conversation of transgender rights. Hilary Swank was the obvious choice in 1999 for Best Actress, which unfortunately took away any steam Annette Bening had for her role in American Beauty (That year’s Best Picture winner).
Any other year, Annette Bening would have been the obvious winner for her performance in American Beauty. Her character hinged on the delusional, the expectation of perfection and what occurs when that bubble is popped. The film stars Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham (Yes friends, Kevin Spacey DID act before House of Cards), who is in the midst of a mid-life crisis. He lives with his wife (Bening) who demands perfection and and his emotionally isolated daughter. This all changes when he finds himself attracted to his daughter’s friend and aspires to gain her affection. This triggers a breakdown in the home he lives within when his behavior challenges the role both his wife and daughter have established for him. Furthermore, the film functions as both a drama and satire about suburbia life and continues to be one of the finest films ever made.
Annette Bening is the perfect opposite to Kevin Spacey’s character within the film. Her ability to merge comedy and drama into her performance is astounding. Yet what makes her work particularly profound is how she is able to still convey sympathy for the character. She makes sure that Carolyn Burnham wouldn’t be conceived as a villain, but rather an individual who doesn’t want to admit that she is as flawed as everyone else around her. Her performance is one-of-a-kind and is an example of acting at its finest.
Lost to: Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry (1999)