The Academy Awards are a love-it/hate-it thing, even for those that love it like me. I enjoy all of the Oscar chatter, how it’s a prominent force in terms of pushing Hollywood to make things that don’t feature robots/superheroes/Adam Sandler and can propel the occasional talent to a level that opens up promising new options.
That hate-it part always sneaks back in though, and not just due to whom the Academy nominates. A major pet peeve has always been the self-fulfilling prophecy Oscar bloggers and pundits shape; the Academy probably won’t nominate this, so why talk about it? I understand that these writers and websites get by on being accurate in their predictions. However, it would be deeply appreciated and perhaps beneficial to film talent for writers to detail more than the one or two outside the norm little darlings which garner attention. Saying Matthew McConaughey should receive recognition for his turn in Magic Mike is one thing, writing about the film itself getting greater awards love is another. Obviously, Magic Mike was going to be seen by some as nothing but a male-stripper film to some, yet I can’t help thinking that if people jumped on the train of writing about Steven Soderbergh and the movie itself, when those ballots came due, it would have earned more love. When only one aspect is pointed out, even if it’s the only likely option, the rest will fade into the background, whether it deserves to or not.
So, in this time when we’re discussing the first half of the current cinematic year, let’s take a look at the rather extraordinary depth and variety of the possible Best Actress field. By these eyes, there are five very strong performances that I’d be more than happy to see as the final lineup come spring.
Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive
Swinton is, and I don’t think this is unique hyperbole, in the tippy-top tier of all acting talent working today. You need intimidating? No problem. How about in over your head? All aces. Weird? Oh, Swinton can do weird and in a variety of ways. At first glance, her role as the vampire Eve in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive appears to be in the latter vein. After all, Swinton is playing a nocturnal beastie residing in the Middle East who essentially Skypes with her distant lover and hangs out with Marlowe. That glance would be wrong. Swinton’s Eve is a nurturing, frankly sweet natured woman. She deeply cares for her lover, is a forgiving sister to a hectic sibling and is the first to point out mankind’s perks, even though faults are abound. The character is imbued with an energetic passion by Swinton, whose every scene has some sparkle of fun and authenticity.
Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow
Everybody agrees that Emily Blunt is, pardon the overused word, awesome as an action heroine in the sci-fi pic Edge of Tomorrow. She is intense, inspiring and still able to come across as something more than a hardened soldier. Action movies rarely get Oscar appreciation in the acting realm, unless you’re portraying a scenery-chewing baddie. Why have Sigourney Weaver’s work in Aliens go down as the only one of its type to be noteworthy outside of niche fandom? Blunt manages to be ruthless with a hint of delicacy; uninterested in taking crap or letting her guard down, but eventually doing so due to the nature of the movie’s time-skipping narrative.
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
This one will be especially irksome when it gets jobbed out in critics groups and the like. Under the Skin received a lot of – deserving – glowing reviews, not a significant box office return and a few fools commenting that Johansson doesn’t do anything in the movie other than stand there. Johansson does indeed have the role of an often silent alien woman; it’s one that gives her the opportunity to display a wide range of feelings. Since so much is new to the character, the silence is born of confusion, awe and a need to fade into the setting, whether that is a quiet city street or hectic rave. Johansson is full tilt here. When she’s meant to be frightened, it’s palpably tense. The times she is a deceiver, you fret for her victims. In the last act, the power she wields is lost, and Johansson propels her acting to a new level as her large eyes dart to get back some sense of control. Astounding stuff.
Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
People say comedy is hard. Goofy while remaining likable is even tougher. Jenny Slate pulls this off in her – hopefully – star-making work in Obvious Child as a blunt comedienne whose life is flipped after an unwanted pregnancy leers itself into her life. Slate is a bubbly personality rooted in angst, wearing the ol’ heart on her sleeve and telling you what’s up, whether you’re interested or not. As such, her stand-up rambles about her lackluster sex life, crusty underwear and that oh-so-unplanned pregnancy. It has a genuineness that equally spunky characters and actresses make grating. She is, to some extent, a manic-pixie-dream-girl, but she doesn’t yammer on about a greater truth to the world, nor feel like a writer’s fragments of a young woman finding herself. Slate is a person, faults and all in Obvious Child; the movie is the better for it.
Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant
There is a misnomer about Marion Cotillard. Since she won an Oscar on her first nomination for her American breakthrough performance in La Vie en Rose, most think she’s a regular lock for any movie of hers that gets even a smidgen of buzz. Cotillard has in fact only had that one nom to date by the Academy. This has created a strange sense that Cotillard has been recognized enough and anything more is just annually picking the same person. It’s too bad her excellent performance in James Gray’s The Immigrant is destined to be lost in the shuffle, much like the film itself. Released to strong reviews and minimal online chatter, The Immigrant has dropped off of all but an apparent handful of maps. Cotillard plays an immigrant named Eva whom opts for the life of a showgirl and occasional prostitute in order to get her sister released from a holding cell on Ellis Island in 1921. Eva is given surprising shading by Cotillard, like the moment she reaches for a sharp object when entering her purveyor’s home. Cotillard doesn’t daintily grab it, fighting some internal conflict about how far she will go to protect herself. Instead, she snatches it without hesitation. It’s a small gesture, one that implies that while innocence is being lost, Eva is no wilting flower.