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Wednesday, October 12, 2016
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Do the Oscars Have a Problem With Movies About Older Women?

Annette Bening in ’20th Century Women’ (Courtesy: Merrick Morton/A24)

Annette Bening in ’20th Century Women’ (Courtesy: Merrick Morton/A24)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

The Oscars is meant to honor the best in film each and every year — but how often are movies about and feature women of a certain age get the recognition they rightly deserve?

With movies like 20th Century Women, starring Annette Bening (now 58), and Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep (now 67), standing a chance at snagging best picture nominations this year — though best actress nominations are more likely for both — let’s take a look back at how often stories with a spotlight on older females are up for the top prize in Hollywood.

Since the year 2000, there have just been a handful of films that meet the requirements: having featuring an actress that is 50+ in a leading role, having allowed her to actually play the age she actually is, and having been up for best picture.

There were two films to qualify in 2001: Gosford Park and In the Bedroom. The first is a British mystery film in the same vein as the board game Clue with an ensemble cast featuring Helen Mirren (now 71) and Maggie Smith (now 81). The second is an crime drama about a college-aged man who dates an older woman — much to the disdain of his parents — with kids and a violent ex-husband which features Sissy Spacek (now 66).

Then, in 2002, came The Hours, a film featuring Streep that tells the story of how the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf affects three interconnected generations of women — along with Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman — all of whom have dealt with suicide at some point in their lives.

Next up was 2006’s The Queen, which depicted how the British Royal Family reacted to the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales on August 31, 1997. Mirren plays the titular monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and took home the best actress Oscar statue for her work in the film.

A few years later, in 2010, The Kids Are All Right came out and focused on a family led by two lesbian moms — one of which was played by Bening and the other by Moore — and their kids who conceived by artificial insemination. The kids decide to bring their biological father, played by Mark Ruffalo, into the mix of their family that is anything but conventional.

Then there was Amour in 2012, a French foreign-language film about an octogenarian couple named Georges and Anne — played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, respectively — whose bond is tested after Anne suffers a stroke leaving the right side of her body paralyzed.

Most recently there was Philomena in 2013, which features Judi Dench (now 81) as a woman who enlists the help of a journalist to search for her son that was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

While all of these films did give audiences a bit of a change in terms of an older leading lady than most of the films Hollywood is known for, there’s another thing they all have in common: none of them took home the prize for best picture. In fact, only one — The Queen — had their lead take home the best actress award.

Now 20th Century Women, which had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival, and Florence Foster Jenkins, which was released on August 12 in the U.S., are setting out to join this list of films — but, should they fall short, they’re with an equally-impressive group of films.

There are films like Still Alice featuring Moore, The Woman in Gold featuring Mirren, Notes on a Scandal featuring Dench, and pretty much every post-2000 Streep flick that could have easily been nominated that weren’t.

If this group of movies feels limited in terms of the variety of ladies, here’s a list of other standouts since the year 2000 who were at least up for best actress even though their film didn’t get a best picture nomination: Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream), Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give), Julie Christie (Away from Her), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years).

Sadly, it seems, there have been no older women of color have made much ground at the Oscars post-2000. That shouldn’t be a big surprise, though, what with the above data and all of the #OscarsSoWhite drama.

It remains to be seen if 20th Century Women or Florence Foster Jenkins will be able to go against the year’s best movies to fight it out for best picture but we’ll find out when the nominations are announced on January 24, 2017. The ceremony is on February 26, 2017.

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