Hit & Run: Acting on autopilot

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The Independent Online

Why is it that Hollywood actresses seem to have stopped...acting? This week's Golden Globe nominations may have been a triumph for Brits like Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt and Helen Mirren but they underscored just how limited Hollywood actresses' choices have become. When Sandra Bullock is nominated for her performance in a lightweight romantic comedy like The Proposal and Meryl Streep racks up yet another nomination for her inglorious mugging in Julie & Julia, it is clear that something is very badly awry.

In better days, Streep would win her nominations for courageous, gut-wrenching performances in films like Sophie's Choice, Silkwood and The French Lieutenant's Woman. Now, all she seems to offer is end of the pier-style turns in overcooked comedies. Julia Roberts won an Oscar for her performance as the blue collar heroine taking on the energy giants in Erin Brockovich. Now, she too has been consigned to the world of romantic comedy.

Admittedly, Bullock has also been nominated for her performance in Blind Side as the southern matriarch who gives a home to a troubled African-American youngster. Meanwhile, newcomer Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe has been drawing rave reviews for her performance as the obese Harlem teenager in Lee Daniels' Precious. Even so, what this year's Globe nominees don't provide is Hollywood actresses giving the kind of searing star performances that we used to get on a regular basis, whether from Bette Davis or Jane Fonda or countless others in between.

There seems to be a certain sexism and ageism at play here. Jeff Bridges gives a magnificent performance as a worn-down, hard-drinking country and western singer in Scott Cooper's new film Crazy Heart. We see his character Bad Blake throwing up, trying to scrounge whisky, snoring and generally looking boozy and unkempt. The close-ups aren't at all flattering of Bridges, who seems to have added a paunch for the benefit of the role. For all his misdeeds, Bad Blake is a likeable and humorous figure. Like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, he is one of those craggy, weather-beaten outsiders who can never quite be broken, whatever indignities life throws at him.

Somehow, you just can't imagine a female star today being given the opportunities that Rourke and Bridges were to play such bedraggled losers. It's true that Charlize Theron gave an exceptional performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003) but it remains very unusual for Hollywood actresses to be allowed to crack their own patina of glamour. As they grow older, their opportunities dwindle. This was a point forcibly made by Michelle Pfeiffer earlier this year, when she played the ageing but still beautiful courtesan in Stephen Frears' underrated Cheri. "There is no question that the older you get, the fewer good roles there are," Pfeiffer said.

It currently seems to be the fate of Hollywood actresses of a certain age to be pensioned off into a netherworld of romantic comedies and half-baked character parts. The Brits have it much better. Not only are younger actresses like Mulligan, Blunt and Katie Jarvis being given the chance to carry movies. Our redoubtable Dames – Mirren, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith – are still at the top of their game too.

Geoffrey MacNab

Words that have been 'goat heaven' in the 2000s

Wit and author Adam Jacot de Boinod has compiled a list of some of the best new words to emerge in the last decade...

"2000: witches' knickers (Irish) shopping bags caught in trees, flapping in the wind

2001: goat heaven (Caribbean) a state of unfettered freedom evoking bliss and excess

2002: cuddle puddle (US) a heap of exhausted ravers

2003: smirting (New York) flirting between people smoking cigarettes outside

2004: flairing (Sydney) the action of bartenders catching or throwing: bottles, glasses, napkins, straws

2005: cougar (Canadian) an older woman on the prowl preferably for a younger man

2006: ant hill family (UK) the trend whereby children move back in with their parents to work together towards group financial goals

2007: menoporsche (UK) the phenomenon of middle-aged men recapturing their lost youth by buying an expensive sports car

2008: goldfishing (UK) a politician talking inaudibly in an interview (his lips move but only hear the reporter's words)

2009: generica (US) features of the American landscape (strip malls, motel chains, prefab housing) that are exactly the same no matter where one is"

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