By now, everyone knows that Oscar prefers his ladies destitute, disturbed, and disfigured. And, of course, young. For proof, see the recent Oscar-winning turns by Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, and Charlize Theron. In fact, the last three years have seen women over age 40 completely frozen out of the winner’s circle in both actress categories. (The last to win Best Actress? Susan Sarandon in 1996.) But if Diane Keaton’s nod for her turn as a fiftysomething playwright in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give was a good omen, then this year’s mature crop of contenders — including Being Julia’s Annette Bening, 46; Vera Drake’s Imelda Staunton, 49; Sideways’ Virginia Madsen, 41; and Kinsey’s Laura Linney, 40 — could finally break the spell.
Still, in an industry not known for celebrating vintage talent, is this year just a fluke? ”[Actresses] are definitely embracing their age more,” observes casting agent Jane Jenkins, who cast Something’s Gotta Give. However, she adds, ”I don’t think anything’s changing. The majority of films are [still] written with younger women in mind.” At least one of the year’s most acclaimed actresses isn’t complaining about a lack of quality roles for women of a certain age. ”I’d say it’s healthy — but I would say that at the moment, wouldn’t I?” says Staunton, who plays the motherly abortionist in Drake and has already nabbed best-actress wins from several big critics’ groups, including the New York Film Critics Circle. ”Life isn’t equal, and there are a lot of wonderful [older] actresses playing rubbish parts just to work.” But more than awards-season recognition, the British character actress is thankful for the variety. ”Annette Bening is brilliant. Bloody hell, to show two completely different women like us on screen — and be up there with all those [young] girls — is wonderful.”