Oscar Themes, Present and Past

2008: Villains Rule

"There was one shocking thing about the Oscars last year," said Tom O'Neil, who runs the Los Angeles Times blog TheEnvelope.com. "And that is that three of the four acting awards went to villains. It's very rare that you ever see a villainous role win, like Kathy Bates in 'Misery' or Anthony Hopkins in 'Silence of the Lambs.'"

Three of the best acting trophies went to villainous characters -- Tilda Swinton scored best supporting actress for "Michael Clayton," Javier Bardem scored best supporting actor for "No Country for Old Men" and Daniel Day Lewis scored best actor for "There Will Be Blood.

"For them to all win for these creepy, nasty roles was fascinating and highly unusual," O'Neil said. "And the movies were downbeat, too. They were all small movies that were dark and psychologically scary."

Considering the times, O'Neil sees the trend continuing.

"I think it peaked with Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight,' which earned him a nomination this year," he said. "We're reinventing villains -- they're not predictable Freddie Kruger slashers anymore. These aren't standard-issue villains straight from Central Casting. Look at Heath Ledger's complete reinvention of the Joker. And 'No Country for Old Men' was a slasher flick but in a very different way. There were new, inventive twists in a more inventive cinema."

2008: Female Screenwriters Have Their Day

Another 2008 shocker? Four nods for female writers in the best screenplay and best adapted screenplay categories. Who could forget Diablo Cody's irreverent acceptance for her winning "Juno"?

"That's very rare -- that was certainly a breakthrough last year," O'Neil said. "Like directing, screenwriting is still a closed category that seems to shut out women. Very few women get nominations at all. But I don't see things changing anytime soon. Everyone thought that this year, Mandy Walker, the woman who shot 'Australia,' would be the first woman to get a nod of cinematography. But she didn't. So there's still a terrible gender bias against women in Hollywood."

Also of note: Only one woman -- "Frozen River" screenwriter Courtney Hunt -- received a nomination in either writing category this year. Still, Karger said, "for four out of 10 of those writers to be women, it was really exciting. And hopefully, it is a sign of things to come."

2007: The Grand Dame Reigns

Who says there are no parts for older women in Hollywood? If 2007's Oscar race for best actress is any indication, that old lament can be debunked. The category saw nods for Meryl Streep, then 57; Dame Judi Dench, then 72; and Helen Mirren, then 61, who took the trophy that year for her turn in "The Queen."

Walter said the trend reflected a real cultural moment for older woman. Hillary Clinton had just thrown her hat into the presidential ring, while cutesy Katie Couric had taken on a meatier move to hard news.

"It would be stretching it to say those were all interrelated, because I don't think they were," Karger said. "But I think that it was just a happy coincidence. And I'd love to tell you that it was a trend that has continued to this day, but really, with the exception of Meryl Streep, most older actresses these days don't have their pick of great, juicy roles."

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