Experience eclipses youth as Bening and Staunton lead Oscar charge

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The Independent Culture

The Hollywood film industry has never been known for celebrating vintage female talent, preferring its leading ladies to be slim, beautiful and, above all, young.

The Hollywood film industry has never been known for celebrating vintage female talent, preferring its leading ladies to be slim, beautiful and, above all, young.

Audiences have watched in disbelief as ageing male stars such as Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas have enjoyed on-screen loves scenes with women young enough to be their daughters. Women over the age of 40 have also been frozen out of the Oscar winners' circle in recent years. The last mature woman to win a best actress Oscar was 50-year-old Susan Sarandon in 1996.

Now, however, older women are coming into their own, if the current crop of Oscar contenders is anything to go by. The nominations will be announced on Tuesday and Annette Bening, 46, is a favourite for best actress Oscar for her bravura role in Being Julia, which won her a Golden Globe last week.

Close behind her in the running is the British actress Imelda Staunton, 49, who plays a motherly abortionist in Vera Drake and has already nabbed best-actress wins from several big critics' groups. Then there are the best supporting actress candidates Laura Linney, 40, and Virginia Madsen, 41 - both of whom were Golden Globe nominees - who play the wife of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey and a divorcee in Sideways, respectively.

"There seems to be a change in the way older actresses are being viewed in Hollywood," said entertainment consultant Ron Krueger. "The women are definitely embracing their age more and it seems there are more roles being written with older women in mind."

He believes the breakthrough came when 59-year-old Diane Keaton received a best actress nomination last year forSomething's Gotta Give. "It opened Hollywood's eyes to the fact that an older woman can carry a movie and bring in the audiences," he said. "It's good news for a lot of older actresses who have struggled to find well-written roles."

"I'd say it's healthy - but I would say that, wouldn't I?" said Staunton. "Annette Bening is brilliant. Bloody hell, to have two completely different women like us on screen - and be up there with all those young girls - is wonderful."

Conversely, the best actor category has several young heart-throbs and very few older actors among the front runners, which is another change from convention. Despite their popularity with filmgoers and the media, few cinematic pin-up boys have won Oscar recognition in the past, possibly because most of the voters are men over the age of 40.

After seven losses Al Pacino finally won at 52 for Scent of a Woman, and John Wayne was 62 when he won for True Grit. Paul Newman did not win an Oscar until he was 62, for The Color of Money in 1986.

This year, however, pretty boys are in favour: Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Aviator and Collateral's Tom Cruise - who has been nominated three times - are all given a good chance, as is 40-year-old Briton Clive Owen in the best supporting actor category for Closer. Bookies say the favourite is Jamie Foxx, 37, for his remarkable portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray.

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