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7. Charlize Theron, "Monster"
Category: Best Actress
Strongest Competition: Samantha Morton, "In America" (though Diane Keaton was the probable runner-up)
Why: I was living in South Africa when the dancer-turned-model-turned-actress won her Oscar, and would surely have been caught up in the national surge of excitement (complete with homecoming tickertape parade) that greeted her victory even if she'd won for, oh, "The Legend of Bagger Vance." But the thrill was compounded by the knowledge that she had achieved something monumental and enduring even before anyone thought to throw awards at her staggering turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos -- in which her admittedly astonishing physical makeover (that hair! those teeth!) wasn't half as impressive as the unrecognizable details of expression and gesture that make her Wuornos a human being rather than a mere thespian challenge: her nervous fingering of a handbag strap, her lumpy yet cocksure strut after a disastrous job interview, the genuine ecstasy and anxiety that illuminates her face when she realizes she might even be in love with an unlikely soulmate. "Monster" is a difficult and imperfect film, and in a stronger Best Actress year, I fear Theron might not have triumphed; few actresses have emerged as winners for playing such losers.
- Guy Lodge