Oscars 2024: Will Nyad Earn Annette Bening Her First Oscar?

Bening has been nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of swimmer Diana Nyad.
Oscars 2024: Will Nyad Earn Annette Bening Her First Oscar?

“You’re never too old to chase your dreams,” says a breathless Diana Nyad after completing the extraordinary feat of a non-stop swim across the Straits of Florida. The line could well apply to Annette Bening, who is still waiting to win an Oscar despite being nominated five times over the course of her storied career. Nyad (2023) is the fourth time she’s been nominated in the Best Actress category (her first Oscar nomination was in the Best Supporting Actress category, for the 1990 film, The Grifters) and it’s a role that lets Bening flex her acting muscles in a lead role. 

At 65, Bening belongs to the sisterhood of women actors who are defying the usual conventions that demand leading ladies fit a mould of youthful nubility. Her transformation into Diana Nyad sees Bening set aside her graceful femme persona to adopt the posture, gait and mannerisms of an androgynous athlete. It’s an impressive change although Bening is more convincing when she’s delivering the sharp-edged dialogues than when she has to become Nyad in the water. As an ageing athlete who decides she wants to take on a challenge that had bested her in her 20s, Diana has to push herself both physically as well as emotionally. 

It’s the classic sports biopic, distinguished by three details. One: The protagonist is a woman. Two: Diana, the protagonist, is in her 60s. Three: Diana is genuinely unlikable. Vaguely narcissistic, nursing her personal demons and inclined to self-mythologising — Diana keeps telling anyone who will listen that her surname means water nymph in Greek — this is a woman who feels admirable only from a distance. This is also what makes her friendship with Bonnie (played by a delightful Jodie Foster, who has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category) so integral to the charm of Nyad. Bonnie’s intuitive understanding of what Diana needs, the way Diana takes Bonnie for granted despite knowing how important the other woman is to her, and the ease with which their thoughts ricochet off one another’s is a delight to watch. 

Solid as Bening is as Diana Nyad, she’s up against two explosive, career-defining performances from Lily Gladstone and Emma Stone who are the frontrunners in the Best Actress category. Bening will hope she can win over the Academy by pointing out that she’s due an Oscar — much as Jamie Lee Curtis had during the Oscar campaign for Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) — after all the stellar work she’s done over the years. In all fairness, even if it doesn’t get her an Oscar, that she plays a character who goes against the grain of femininity and defies age barriers is a win for Bening, whether or not the role earns her an Oscar. 

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