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Posted on Tue, Jan. 07, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
In Oscar race, it's plain vs. pretty girls again

The Orange County Register

If the old saying is true that Hollywood is like high school, only with money, get ready for a most interesting campaign for prom queen.

The queen will be crowned March 23, when the winner in the Best Actress category is announced at the 75th annual Academy Awards. And, just like any high school popularity contest, the race will be reduced to a competition between the pretty girls and the unattractive girls.

Don't get me wrong; all of the nominees in that category, who will be announced at a predawn ceremony Feb. 11, are attractive. In real life.

But they did not all play attractive women in the roles that will get them nominated.

For instance, you've seen Nicole Kidman look amazing in many movies. Not in "The Hours."

Salma Hayak is another gorgeous actress. No one was talking about her beauty when they watched her in "Frida."

I could be wrong. I am not an expert on the subject of female beauty. Perhaps long, crooked noses (Kidman) and unibrows (Hayak) are now considered beauty features on women.

And I'm not saying that Kidman and Hayak have any real advantage over their more glamorous competitors, such as Meryl Streep ("The Hours"), Julianne Moore ("Far From Heaven" or "The Hours") and the two "Chicago" actresses, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

All I'm saying is that there is precedent.

In fact, look no further than last year's race for prom queen. Halle Berry didn't win her first Oscar for looking beautiful. She stripped herself of her beauty for the role in "Monster's Ball" and picked up a nice gold statuette for her trouble. This year she returned to the screen in an orange bikini in "Die Another Day" and all was forgiven. We don't want our women making a habit of looking bad.

Still, the evidence is overwhelming.

Hilary Swank went so far as to switch sides in "Boys Don't Cry," and she won the Oscar.

Helen Hunt dressed down in "As Good as It Gets" and got the Oscar.

Frances McDormand couldn't have looked less glamorous in "Fargo." Oscar winner.

Susan Sarandon has looked much better than she did in "Dead Man Walking." Oscar winner.

Sally Field wasn't dressed to kill in "Places in the Heart." Oscar winner.

Elizabeth Taylor was painful to look at in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Oscar winner.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. When Julia Roberts downplayed her looks in "Mary Reilly" she was crucified by critics and shunned by her fans. On the other hand, when she wore her hair real big and threw in a push-up bra in "Erin Brockovich," she won her Oscar.

But that's the biggest female movie star in the world. It makes sense that she would be an exception.

Denise Richards is no Julia Roberts. When she tried to convince us that she was a scientist in a James Bond movie -- by putting on eyeglasses and a lab coat -- audiences laughed.

She missed the point. The point is that attractive actresses must be able to act before they can downplay their looks.

And just in case you were wondering if there was something inherently sexist in how the prom queen is decided, let's take a look at the two most recent winners in the prom king category:

Denzel Washington was mean, but he looked mighty fine in "Training Day."

Russell Crowe won the year before looking like a stud in his leather "Gladiator" outfit.

But no one is really spending a lot of time worrying about the prom king this year. All the speculation is concentrated on the prom queen. Will the pretty sorority girls win? Or will the wallflowers win?

This is so high school.

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