Much ink has been expended this year on the bounty of first-rate roles for women that the current crop of kudos-contending films have provided. Not to diminish the achievements of 2006, but as the French say, plus ca change. Consider the scintillating situation some three decades ago. For her role in “The Lion in Winter,” Katharine Hepburn won her third actress Oscar (tying with Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl”) by sprinting past these other members of the class of ’68: Vanessa Redgrave (a supporting actress contender for this year’s “Venus”) in “Isadora,” Joanne Woodward in “Rachel, Rachel” and Patricia Neal in “The Subject Was Roses.”
This year, “Volver” star Penelope Cruz has been talked up as “another Sophia Loren.” Well, “Marriage — Italian Style” in 1964 provided La Loren with her second actress Oscar nom in two years, but after winning for “Two Women,” the Italian star lost to Julie Andews for “Mary Poppins,” who was nommed and lost the next year for “The Sound of Music.” This year, thanks to “Volver,” “The Lives of Others” and other exceptional foreign-language entries, overseas filmmaking is getting a well-deserved celebration.
But if you want foreign influence, in 1966, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” delivered English-born Elizabeth Taylor her second Oscar win, against an actress category filled with only foreign stars:
Lynn Redgrave in “Georgy Girl,” sister Vanessa in “Morgan,” Ida Kaminska in the Czechoslovak gem “The Shop on Main Street” and France’s dazzling Anouk Aimee in “A Man and a Woman.”