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Why Julianne Moore Deserved to Win an Oscar

Why Julianne Moore Deserved to Win an Oscar

Julianne Moore Sony Pictures Classics

...and it wasn’t just for Still Alice

Julianne Moore at Sony Pictures Classics' Pre-Academy Awards Dinner Party | Photo: Todd Wlliamson, AP/Invision

Although most of the wins at the 87th Academy Awards overnight were expected, none more so than Julianne Moore's.

For her performance as a middle-aged college professor debilitated by early-onset Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice, Moore won the Best Actress Academy Award, beating out the likes of fellow nominees Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard.

Many saw Moore's win as inevitable. Not only had she been awarded the Golden Globe for the same performance, but she had also received almost every other major award this season including the BAFTA and SAG awards.

Indeed, it was a much-deserved win. Moore's portrayal as Columbia University linguistics professor Dr. Alice Howland, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, was an incredibly moving and affecting performance. It managed to shine a light on a condition often associated with the elderly by showing the middle-aged Alice struggling to overcome her suffering but aided by her family in her battle.

While many say the award was deserved for her performance -- which it undoubtedly was -- others might reflect on Moore's iconic career and see that indeed this Oscar was offered for that. After almost three decades working in Hollywood and starring in some of the most-treasured films in recent years, Moore has never been one to shy away from controversial, iconoclastic, and even queer characters. We saw her as the alienated '50s housewife leaning on the precipice of self-destruction in The Hours; we also saw turn irrevocably and unquestioningly to God when she thought she had lost her lover to the ravages of war in The End of the Affair; and she forever moved us as the matriarch of a dying '70s porn dynasty whose maternal instincts were more often than not harmfully misplacedin Boogie Nights.

Moore herself underlined why she deserved the award. In her acceptance speech, she said, "One of the wonderful things about movies is that they make us feel seen." So often have Moore's characters had a desire to be seen. For Still Alice, it was the invisibility of early-onset Alzheimer's and the condition's stereotyped association with the old and enfeeble.

So much of Moore's career has been spent making invisible characters visible. In Game Change, Moore played the much-derided and mocked governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Through Moore, we saw the more vulnerable and human side of this woman who has since become the ultimate figure of mockery and parody of American political life ever since. Or in The Kids Are All Right, we remembered her struggle to negotiate the terrain of a lesbian relationship against the urges of adultery and desire with a male figure that enters her family life.

All of these performances underline the Moore ethos: to make visible the invisible.

Of course, Moore's humility should not go unnoticed. After thanking the Academy, Moore said that there is "no Best Actress" and that she her award did not suggest a better performance than those of her peers. Moore knows the power of cinema and the importance of more representation of women in Hollywood film.

In Maps to the Stars (in theaters Feb. 27), she demonstrates the grim underside of this culture, playing a washed-up middle-aged actress who desperately wants to stay the "lead actress" and not become the "supporting actress" mother stand-in. Although the film is tempered with black humor, audiences are still able to glean Moore's continued and unabated desire to politicize her film roles and play challenging and deeply troubled characters. Moore, like Meryl Streep, has an astounding talent for unveiling the inward turmoil of the most unlikeable characters -- whether it's Sarah Palin or the star of Maps to the Stars -- and adding a complex humanistic layer to an otherwise dislikeable character.

It also goes without saying that this win for Julianne Moore will now allow her to receive the much-deserved title of "Academy Award-winning actress..." on future movie posters. As symbolic as the Oscars are in somehow legitimizing the otherwise rich and varied talent of an actor, Moore's win may not add much to our understanding of her brilliance and grace. Especially since Julianne Moore has been Oscar-worthy for a long time.

Nathan Smith is a journalism student at the University of Melbourne Australia with published writing in Out, Salon, and Nathan tweets @nathansmithr and maintains a website at

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