Oscars 2015: Style over substance?

As the dust settles on the 87th Academy awards on Sunday night, the hot favourite for the Best Actress gong did indeed walk away from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles with the coveted golden statue, as Julianne Moore was victorious for her portrayal of Alice Howland in Still Alice.

Moore, 53, finally triumphed after multiple nominations throughout her career and had scooped the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Bafta Awards for the same role. The consensus of the writing and critical fraternity was that her performance was wholly deserving of the widespread accolades she has won. Her role, together with Rosamund Pike as Gone Girl’s unhinged Amy Dunne, were perhaps the stand out showings in the category this award season.

Prior to events of the past weekend, the award precedent that Julianne Moore had set made her the clear favourite, but was that more to do with the subject matter of the rather thorny and complex issue of Alzheimer’s Disease?

No doubt that Moore’s portrayal was out of the top drawer, but at times during Richard Glatzer’s ‘Alice’, there perhaps wasn’t the degree of emotional involvement that there should have been for such a heart-breaking and taboo disease. In all likelihood that was down to a poor screenplay and thusly should not detract from the Actress’ standpoint, but is there more to it?

As we have seen in previous award seasons, the act fits the bill. There is no coincidence that both Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won at a time when the Academy was being openly criticized for the lack of attention black actors were afforded in the world of celluloid more widely. So much so that Washington’s Best Actor win for Training Day in 2001, was seen as an apology Oscar. That raises the issue over whether Berry’s Best Actress nod for Monsters Ball the same year, was a mere accompanying gesture to balance the sexes?

A gritty role, that is without question, but when comparing her role with the other four in the category that year (Dench, Kidman, Zellweger and Spacek) the competition wasn’t as heavyweight as it perhaps could have been.

With that said, Denzel Washington’s corrupt cop Alonzo Harris was preferred to both Sean Penn and Russell Crowe’s roles as men with mental and developmental illnesses in I Am Sam and A Beautiful Mind. It is a contradictory measure by the Academy which may suggest something of a balancing act.

AMPAS have a history of not awarding deserved gongs on the right occasions, with Martin Scorsese’s thirty-year wait for best Director almost coming apologetically after widespread condemnation of the body’s failure to award the New Yorker for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York or even The Aviator.

When, in comparison with this Oscar season, Julianne Moore’s depiction of a Fifty-year old suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s, is emotional and heavyweight but with only Pike up as the more memorable performances from a – and let’s not forget – classically trained actress, Moore’s win is not as ground-breaking as a more stellar line-up would command. The nature of the movie is not often touched upon in Hollywood and with that in mind have the Academy - and in general film bodies - awarded Moore the top award because of its style?

In some way both that and substance are more intrinsically linked than on first glance, but it would appear that Just Alice’s taboo subject matter may have pushed the envelope toward Moore even further.

Words & thoughts of Neil Leverett