Thu 25 Feb 2010
Posted by Ethan under Oscar Talk
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Oscar Talk 2010 continues with our takes on the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress races.
Sandra Bullock: The Blind Side
Helen Mirren: The Last Station
Carey Mulligan: An Education
Gabourey Sidibe: Precious
Meryl Streep: Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz: Nine
Vera Farmiga: Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal: Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick: Up in the Air
Same story different sex…certainly in the Supporting Actress category.
If anyone is more of a lock than Christoph Waltz for Supporting Actor, it’s Mo’nique for Supporting Actress. She has dominated every major Oscar precursor and there’s no reason to think it will be any different come Oscar night. Also like Waltz, she deserves to win. Her powerful performance in Precious is difficult to watch at times-there were moments when I literally had to turn away from the screen because what she was doing was so vile. It’s about as ugly a role as one could have. While one sure way to Oscar gold is to take on an unglamorous role (think Charlize Theron in Monster), there are few actresses that would even allow themselves to be as unlikable as Mo’nique. She throws herself into this performance with complete abandon and doesn’t ask for sympathy. How often do you see an actress go this far for a character with virtually no redeeming qualities? That alone is impressive.
Similar to the men’s acting races, I don’t have any real issues with the rest of the nominees, nor do I have much passion for them. I’m happy to see Maggie Gyllenhaal in here because she does a good job with a bit of a thankless role in Crazy Heart, and because I’m all for anything that brings more attention to that film. Both of the Up in the Air women do solid work, though I give the edge to Vera Farmiga who matches the charisma of Clooney and adds a spark to every scene they share together. Penelope Cruz is probably the weak link for me. She surprised me in Nine, showing a fun, playful, yet vulnerable character that I hadn’t seen from her before. But it’s a pretty slight role in a film that was a bit of a mess.
But who to replace her? Not many women come to mind. I thought Diane Kruger was great in Inglourious Basterds, and I’d have no problem seeing her nominated, but was she that much better than Cruz? I must be leaving someone out, or was this simply a weak year for supporting roles?
At least there’s a little bit of intrigue to the Best Actress race, which has come down to Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, and, I’m still shocked to say this, Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. What’s even more shocking is that Bullock has become the favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of hers and I’m thrilled that she’s having a career year (it’s because of her that last summer’s The Proposal, an otherwise by-the-numbers rom-com, was so much fun). I also think she does very good work in Blind Side. I might even be okay with giving her a nomination. But neither the film nor the performance is worthy of an Oscar win.
Between the two, I’d have to vote for Streep who was able to portray the larger than life Julia Child as, well, larger than life, without stepping into campy impersonation. It’s a fine line that she walks, but she does it successfully. Among all five nominees, however, neither would get my vote.
I’ll let you weigh in on the Meryl/Sandra showdown before I tell you which of the other three leading ladies impressed me the most.
It’s funny–immediately after seeing Precious last August, I went directly to Twitter and dashed out the following tweet “Mo’nique is totally winning the Oscar this year for Precious. Be prepared.” Obviously I can’t take credit for being the first person to predict that since the movie–and her performance specifically–had been gathering raves since the movie premiered at Sundance in January ’09. (And, of course, the second half of that tweet was “The movie is going to go over like gangbusters too” which didn’t exactly happen, so clearly my soothsayer abilities need work.) Still, all the advanced word couldn’t prepare me for how completely she inhabits that role and how devastating her final monologue is when her mask falls and you see the broken, defeated woman behind the monster. That scene is basically her version of Jennifer Hudson’s show-stopping “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going'” performance from Dreamgirls, an aria of pain and hurt that cuts right to the bone. (Unlike Hudson though, Mo’Nique is excellent throughout the movie, not just in one scene.) The Best Supporting Actress statue has essentially been hers since the movie’s first Sundance screening and barring some kind of unexpected, improbable upset, we’ll see her on the podium come Oscar night.
To be honest, I’m not sure who I would choose as my backup vote amongst the four also-rans unlucky enough to go up against Mo’Nique. I agree with you that Vera Farmiga delivers a better performance than Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, although a lot of that is due to the fact that she’s been given better material to play. I found Kendrick’s character to be one of the movie’s biggest flaws, particularly in the final act when she’s abruptly shunted offstage and handed a pat resolution. As for Gyllenhaal, a second viewing of Crazy Heart helped me appreciate her performance more; she’s doing her best to make sense of a character that simply isn’t written very clearly on the page. Still, at the end of the day, I think I’d cast my vote for Penelope Cruz in Nine. I actually liked that film more than most people did–no question that it’s messy and flawed as a movie, but I felt like it replicated the glitz and glamour of the ’60s and of classic musicals quite nicely–and her performance stands out largely because she gets to perform one of the show’s most memorable numbers and overall gets to have more fun than her co-stars. Of course, I can’t deny that there’s a slightly prurient reason for my admiration of her work in the movie–she’s absolutely stunning and her song-and-dance striptease routine gives her a chance to show of some very…um, memorable skills.
Over on the Best Actress side, I share your disappointment that Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock have emerged as the front-runners. As much as I’d like to try and separate the performance from the movie, my general distaste for The Blind Side makes it difficult for me to really admire Bullock’s work. Likewise, Julie & Julia is such a slight, unmemorable film, I simply can’t fathom ranking Streep’s admittedly entertaining turn here with her best work. Yes, she accomplishes the difficult task of playing Julia Childs without just imitating her for two hours, but the movie doesn’t challenge her to do anything beyond that. I know this sounds crazy, but I’m still a bigger fan of her work in Mama Mia! That movie is a failure in many, many ways, but it challenged Streep to move out of her comfort zone and as a result she delivered arguably the loosest, zaniest and most purely enjoyable performance of her entire career.
My dream scenario for Oscar night would be for Bullock and Streep to cancel each other out with Precious‘ Gabourey Sidibe squeaking in for the win. It’s always tricky knowing how to evaluate the work of a first-time actor, because you don’t have any point of reference for his or her skills and range, leading you to wonder how much of the performance was created in the editing room. But having seen Sidibe in interviews and on the red carpet, it’s clear that she really is acting in Precious. It would have been very easy for her and director Lee Daniels to portray the title character as a helpless object of pity, but the movie thankfully doesn’t let her off the hook that easily. She’s a stubborn, frustrating and resourceful heroine and Sidibe captures all those complexities with an expertise many other, more established actresses probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off.
Up next, my thoughts on the final two Best Actress nominees–and who got overlooked.
I share at least part of your dream scenario for Best Actress. I’d like to see Bullock and Streep split the vote and have someone else sneak in with the win. But I have a hard time deciding which of the other actresses most deserve the upset. A case can certainly be made for all three.
You’ve already made a convincing argument for Sidibe and I don’t disagree with your assessment. But I can’t help thinking that she could be a one-hit wonder and that tempers my enthusiasm a bit.
I’m tempted to go with Carey Mulligan, playing a teen with a very different set of problems in An Education. She completely carries that film. She’s engaging, charming (without ever being cloying or annoying), smart and vulnerable. Though not her first film, it’s her first major lead role and I do think she has terrific performances in her future. But she is very young. I’m not overwhelmed with the film itself, and I think she’ll have more opportunities in the future.
That leaves me with Helen Mirren, who gives the best performance of the five nominees. She’s riveting as Countess Sofya, Tolstoy’s passionate, headstrong wife, in The Last Station. Sofya is a complicated, three-dimensional character and Mirren attacks each aspect of her with abandon. She’s a joy to watch and I especially relished every scene she shared with Christopher Plummer. When the two of them are on screen, it’s a wonderful film to watch. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough and therein lies my problem with handing Mirren the statue. I don’t think it’s a lead performance. How is it that Plummer is in the Supporting Actor category, while Mirren, who has an equal amount of screen time, is in the lead? The answer of course is that the studio thought her best shot at a nomination and win was as a lead (while Plummer’s were for supporting), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a supporting role. While James McAvoy’s character was nowhere near as interesting as Sofya and Tolstoy, it was the lead.
In a weak category that fails to ignite much interest from me this year, I would give the Oscar to Mulligan, by just a nose, over Mirren.
So who is your pick? One of the five or is your alternate someone who wasn’t even nominated?
It’s an interesting question–how much, if at all, should we factor potential future performances into whether or not a performer deserves an Oscar for the movie they’re currently nominated for? I’d like to say that I’m always voting on a specific performance, but I’ve certainly been guilty of playing the “It’s his time now” or “She’ll be nominated again soon” card in the past. For this year’s Best Actress race, I’m throwing my support entirely behind Sidibe. Even if she never acts in another movie, her work in Precious is genuinely terrific and, as far as I’m concerned, she creates the most fully realized character of the four nominees. As charming as Mulligan is in An Education, I’m of the opinion that her performance, like the movie, has been wildly overpraised. Maybe it’s just because Nick Hornby’s screenplay cuts too many corners, but watching the movie I kept feeling that there were deeper levels to her role that she just wasn’t finding. I was particularly disappointed by the rushed conclusion, which passed over some juicy dramatic material that might have enhanced her performance.
You touched on my biggest problem with The Last Station–the decision to relegate Leo and Sofya Tolstoy to secondary roles while centering the movie around the character played by James McAvoy. To be fair, that’s probably how the book the movie is adapted from told the story as well, but c’mon who would you rather be following onscreen, mopey McAvoy or the marvelous Mirren and Plummer? (I should add that I’m a fan of McAvoy in general, but boy was he handed a thankless part to play, not unlike Zac Efron in Me and Orson Welles.) Again, I think that both of the nominated actors did their best work in the climactic deathbed scene, the one sequence of the film that I actually found compelling. Mirren had several other nice moments as well, but overall I wouldn’t rank it as one of her best performances. Like Damon and Tucci in the Supporting Actor category, I think she nabbed a nomination because the Academy voters just couldn’t think of anyone else to place in that final slot.
Not that those voters are seeking my opinion, but I could have offered a few suggestions starting with Tilda Swinton, who delivered an incredibly intense and raw performance in the little-seen indie film Julia. Had that film been granted a wider release–or if it the studio that released it had bothered to send bombard the Academy with screeners–I think Swinton would have been a lock for a nomination, though probably not a win. Also overlooked was Charlotte Gainsbourg, who took on a seemingly impossible role in Lars Von Trier’s future cult classic Antichrist and found a way to ground it in a believable emotional reality. Last but not least, I’m very surprised that Abby Cornish wasn’t recognized for her very strong work in Bright Star; perhaps voters felt that they could only honor one young ingénue this year and Mulligan took that slot. If any of these three performers had made the cut, they probably would have been my first choice…although Sidibe might still trump Cornish.
And here’s a question for you–would you have considered Zoe Saldana for Avatar? James Cameron has made the argument–and in many ways I agree with him–that Saldana delivered as physical and as concentrated a performance as any of the live-action actors up for the statue. True, her character is “sweetened” by the animators in post-production, but Neytiri’s movements, dialogue and basic facial expressions all stem from the work Saldana was doing on that motion capture stage. As someone who is still disappointed that the Academy didn’t nominate Andy Serkis for his marvelous portrayal of Gollum, it would have been exciting to see voters recognize motion-capture as a legitimate form of acting. But it looks like we’re still a couple of years off from that.
As with their male counterparts, I can’t think of many overlooked supporting actresses. The only one that really stands out is Gwyneth Paltrow from Two Lovers, where she’s playing very much against type and pulls it off beautifully. Just for shock value, it would have been hilarious to see Anna Faris score a nod for Observe and Report, but that’s the kind of nomination I’ll have to look to the MTV Movie Awards for.
I do not think Zoe Saldana deserved to be nominated for her role in Avatar, but not because it was a motion-capture performance. Motion-capture is a legitimate form of acting and, precisely because it is so new, it’s arguably a more difficult form. I simply don’t think Saldana’s performance was anything special. She was fine. She did what she needed to do, but I don’t think she brought anything extra to an already thinly written role (I actually preferred her as Uhura in last year’s Star Trek). I’d love to see the Academy recognize a worthy motion-capture performance. I share your disappointment that Andy Serkis was overlooked for his literally revolutionary performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That was a terrific role and a fully realized, three-dimensional character that he infused with life. There are no characters like that to be found anywhere in Avatar, which is one of my major problems with the film. We’ll delve into that as we move on to our Best Picture discussion where I think we may finally have some real disagreements.
Will Win: Sandra Bullock
Should Win: Gabourey Sidibe
Will Win: Sandra Bullock
Should Win: Carey Mulligan
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Mo’Nique
Should Win: Mo’Nique
Will Win: Mo’Nique
Should Win: Mo’Nique
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