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For Your Consideration: Oscar Acting Preview

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Just in time for the Oscar announcements on January 24—and from the lanai on her January Hawaiian vacation… because movies never rest!—Cinema Siren wanted to mention some of the most notable and favorite performances of the last year.

It has been a year full of subtle performances, with far less of the artistic flamboyance that makes it easy for voters to point to one actor or actress. This year acting craft has really taken front and center. So who will be rewarded for their work?

This is the first year going out on a limb or standing up for an underdog might make the teeny tiniest bit of difference, all because of you guys, who read me, and actually like me. (…to paraphrase Sally’s oft referenced Oscar speech.)

Nomination, as George Clooney will tell you, it’s like running for office. It’s contingent on the commitment by the studio, actors, and producers to a teeth-gritting, heel-digging, worldwide campaign. “For your consideration” ads plastered all over the trades and online, and meet and greets, tv show tours, and all sorts of other hard work is involved. The successful hard work in the film itself is but a small part of the story.

With that in mind, here are some opinions from a passionate movie-lover-turned-critic about what should, will and won’t, come the 24th.

BEST ACTOR
They love you, yeah yeah yeah:
• George Clooney – The Descendants: He’s already won the Globe, (not, as we know, that it means anything) and the Critics’ Choice, and since he won’t likely get a nom for his direction of the Ides of March, this skews folks to him. His subtle portrayal of a bedraggled and put upon dad of two was good, and he’ll probably win, but the three in the wishin’ category were equally impressive, to say nothing of the others who might actually beat him.

• Brad Pitt – Moneyball: Pitt also portrayed a character requiring subtlety. He carried the movie and made it compelling. He was also impressive in The Tree of Life, a great and beautiful movie, and could easily have gotten nominated for that as well.

• Jean Dujardin – The Artist: Cinema Siren is French. So I’ve watched this actor in a number of movies. I certainly enjoyed him in The Artist, and I’m all for movies that make me feel good, but I’m not sure he’s enough known or there’s enough depth to the movie for voters to go his direction.

• Michael Fassbender – Shame: Taking a page from the Viggo Mortensen school of embracing the portrayal of squirm inducing characters, Fassbender plays a difficult one that stretches film goers’ expectations for roles we might see in his future. He is such a hot actor right now, voters may want to wait to see just how good he can be, and it’s early days for him yet. (Don’t let that stop you from seeing this movie, though.)

• Leonardo DiCaprio – J Edgar: Leo does a great job in an uneven movie, and in makeup that got a sound thrashing from the critics. He works too much for the voters to give him this one.

Wishin’ and Hopin’:
• Gary Oldman – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: My vote for best actor would be split between him and Michael Shannon. This actor can chew through iron scenery, and yet expressed emotion with movements like a nearly imperceptible twitch of a lip. A very impressive performance that will likely be overlooked because there’s no big explosive scene voters can point to.

• Ryan Gosling – The Ides of March: My best actor vote for him would be for his work in Drive, but that movie has a very polarized audience of lovers and haters. I predict it will be a cult movie in years to come and that scorpion jacket will wind up being auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars, just like the recent Steve McQueen costume did. But he won’t win for either movie. Either we’ll discover Gosling doesn’t have the depth we give him credit for, or he has at least one Oscar in his future.

• Woody Harrelson – Rampart: Another character you’ll hate, along the lines of Denzel Washington in Training Day. We all collectively shudder knowing guys like this actually exist (as per the Rampart scandal of the late 1990s). Harrelson is a vastly underrated actor who will be recognized eventually, but not in 2012, although his talent is undeniable and his acting in this movie was the best it’s ever been.

Never gonna get it:
• Michael Shannon – Take Shelter: If crazy had a picture in the dictionary, more than one of Michael Shannon’s characters could be used. He’s long made a pretty good living as a character actor doing crazy, drugged, sycophantic, belligerent, gentle and every other thing an actor might be asked to be. Now’s his time, at least to be noticed, and perhaps even to win recognition for his work in Take Shelter, a surreal brain twist that has been lauded by critics and indie fans alike. Not likely, but a siren can dream…

• Paul Giamatti – Win Win: Paul G is the guy everyone in Hollywood goes to when they need a great actor with a respectable Indie draw. Movie fans will see something just because he’s in it, and the studios know it. Unfortunately the world was given 30 seconds to see Win Win before it was yanked. You can rent it now. A subtle little movie with a flawed lead who tries to get it right after getting things very wrong. Oscar voters know he’s going to win at some point, but not for this one.

• Ralph Fiennes – Coriolanus: First-time director and actor extraordinaire will have a hard time getting voters interested since the movie is just barely being released in time. Sometimes this works to a film’s advantage, but probably not this time. Voters want to act like they know all Shakespeare’s works. They don’t. And Kenneth Branagh will be voting for himself. See this film. There are some great actors doing some of their best work.

• Thomas Horn – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Never ever going to happen, but this newcomer, who had never acted before winning kid Jeopardy, is in every scene of this controversial movie about an 11 year old who loses his father in the Twin Towers. My family has a child with Aspergers (which it is suggested his character has) and I was floored by how well he nuanced some of the traits inherent with the disorder. So much critical hate for his portrayal, it’s never going to happen. Too bad. Is the film a manipulative cheap shot? You decide for yourself. I loved it.

BEST ACTRESS
They love you yeah yeah yeah:
• Viola Davis – The Help: I’ve been watching her a long time. We all know it isn’t easy to be black in Hollywood and get parts that don’t scream cliche. She has survived and thrived in that difficult atmosphere. I loved The Help, but I’m not sure it’s exactly “Best Picture” material. She, however, is definitely “Best Actress” material. Give it to her. Since newcomer Adepero Oduye will not likely get any attention for her great job in Pariah, let’s give it to someone whose performance was spot on, and whose career will benefit from the attention.

• Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady: We can’t penalize her for being consistently great, now can we? The movie was not on par with the quality of her acting, (much like Leo’s J Edgar) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate and celebrate La Streep for doing a stellar job. Note to Hollywood: Women over 40 can act. They can carry a movie. They can make you money. And yet, Streep doesn’t need another win. I guess we can give it to her if she asks very, very nicely.

• Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn: Pretty much tailor-made for an Oscar nod. She so became the icon, the audience forgot who they were watching. In lesser-skilled hands it would have been ridiculous. Again, not a great film on the whole, but with some stand-out performances. She gets lovelier and better as an actress as each day goes by.

Wishin’ and Hopin’:
• Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin: A fiery performance in an excruciating and poetic movie by an underrated actress. Her teamwork with actor John C. Reilly (also vastly underrated) was nothing short of spectacular. She could actually win if enough voters saw her in this film.

• Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs: Cool for Close that she had a hand in writing this film, and again, subtlety reigns in her portrayal of a women posing as a manservant to work in a 1800’s hotel. She is great, but the problem is Janet McTeer is so great she eclipses Close when they are both onscreen.

• Keira Knightley – A Dangerous Method: All gaping jaw and twitches, this is the one over-the-top portrayal that has voters talking. Love it or hate it, she made some committed choices as an actress, and playing a schizophrenic at the beginnings of psychotherapy, this movie and her role in it shows just how far talk therapy and the field of psychology has come. She won’t win, but it’s old school high drama Oscar voters live to laud.

Never Gonna Get it:
• Charlize Theron – Young Adult: She’s had it, she’ll get it again. Not just another pretty face (darn it), she is almost evil in her selfishness. Diablo Cody created a great character Theron can sink her (perfect) teeth into. She somehow makes that mean girl we all wanted, and want to poke in the eye, sympathetic. Impressive.

• Kirsten Dunst – Melancholia: The most polarizing movie of the year, and I’m on the haters side. She does catatonia really well, and she and Charlotte Gainsbourg were at their best. The movie was gorgeous to look at, but as I tweeted after I saw it, “director Lars Von Trier is like a boyfriend who beats me that I keep going back to.” Why do the critics and Hollywood love him so much? He fearlessly portrays his perspective as a director, which is mostly one long love song celebrating hopelessness. Siren spouse loved it. Let me know what you think…

• Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Everybody loves to love David Fincher, but it’s her movie. She’s likely too new to even get a nod, but whether she does or doesn’t, she’s off and running with a long and successful career in Hollywood.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
They love you yeah yeah yeah:
• Christopher Plummer – Beginners: He’s been in 191 movies. Here he plays an elderly father who announces both that he has terminal cancer and that he’s gay to his son. Ewan McGregor plays his son and Goran Visnjic (hot doctor on ER) plays Plummer’s young lover. The sound I hear now is every woman and most gay men reading this clicking “rent” online. For all that, everyone does a great job and the ensemble work is impressive. Again, 191 movies and no Oscar. Sometimes you just have to give it to them. And he earns it.

• Albert Brooks – Drive: Speaking of earning it, Brooks earned new fans and more thumbs up from us old ones for his creepy and matter of fact portrayal of a mob boss without a heart of gold or otherwise. His snub at the BAFTAs might mean he will be overlooked, which would be too bad. His work was electrifying.

• Jonah Hill – Moneyball: The odds makers see him as a sure thing for at least a nod. No way will he win against the elder statesmen in the category. I think it surprised folks that he could act, a fact that those of us who know comedy is hard already knew. Tough group, I’d leave him off it for now, but I may be in the minority. See Moneyball, though, there will be attention paid to it at Oscar time.

Wishin’ and Hopin’:
• Ben Kingsley – Hugo: That movie didn’t succeed in a vacuum. Scorsese knows how to pick them. Sir Ben’s work as the overlooked and forgotten filmmaker Georges Melies is alternately heart wrenching and heart warming. If going by the acting alone, Ben would have my vote… but I’m a sucker for Team Scorsese.

• Patton Oswalt – Young Adult: A homeboy making even better! Oswalt, who grew up in Northern Virginia, not only voiced the awesome Ratatouille, but now is a troubled geek with a conscience who plays new begrudging bestie to Charlize Theron’s almost entirely unlikeable lead. His lonely and damaged cynic is believable every moment he is on screen. Great things to come—go Patton, and go NOVA!

• Max Von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: In a role where he doesn’t speak, our favorite Bergman-man shows his meddle as the mysterious and cautious caretaker of a grieving child. He’s great as usual, but he’s been in some classic movies and he just doesn’t show enough here to get the win.

Never gonna get it:
• Andy Serkis – Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Well, for obvious reasons, he won’t win, and probably won’t even get nominated. Motion capture just isn’t accepted as real acting, which is too bad. His characterization of the brainy ape that changes the planet’s future is full of nuance and shows he is THE go-to-guy. He’s Gollum, after all!

• Alan Rickman – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Say what you want. I’m sticking by this one. Alan Rickman might not have had much screen time, but his role was pivotal and his portrayal is iconic.

• Charles Parnell – Pariah: The Help is getting all the love. Let’s not forget this super low budget Indie and Parnell’s portrayal of a father tearing himself apart over his relationship with wife and his lesbian daughter.

• Kevin Spacey – Margin Call: The problem with a nom for Spacey is one of this movie’s best qualities. It is a wonderful ensemble work, where the whole cast excels. Still, more attention should have been paid to this movie in general, and Spacey’s job in specific, playing a man trapped in a moral morass of an investment bank’s last days at the beginning of the financial crisis. We’ve just gotten used to his talent.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
They love you yeah yeah yeah:
• Octavia Spencer – The Help: Perhaps you’ve heard the role was tailored to Spencer, who is best friends with the director. You know she deserves it. Now the supporting actress Oscar is hers to lose. Bejo of the lately lauded The Artist might slip in, and there are others who would also deserve it. It’s just such a great story, Spencer landing the role in a passion project and it leading to this…

• Berenice Bejo – The Artist: So much attention given to this movie, it could well make a sweep, which would include Bejo. She was great in the silent bittersweet romance. The Artist isn’t playing in many theaters, but come late February you’ll want to know what all the fuss is about, and weigh in for yourself.

Wishin’ and Hopin’:
• Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids: We’ll agree to disagree that this movie is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I might make some enemies here. It was funny, yes, just not my kind of funny. And McCarthy was wonderful. I’d be pleased if she won, since I’ve been watching her since she was on Gilmore Girls. Comedies rarely glean Oscars even for supporting actors, but we’ll see.

• Jessica Chastain – The Help: You can take your pick for this year’s hottest new actress, very much on the rise. She was in The Help, Take Shelter, The Debt and Tree of Life. She has been lauded in all four of these movies for her stand out performances. As new to Hollywood as she is, a nomination will be a portent for awards to come, but she won’t win.

• Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs: If you don’t know her, you’ll be shocked at how well she “mans up” as a women disguised to work as a male painter in the 1800s. I have watched her play such a diverse collection of characters, nothing surprises me about her any more. As much as it requires drag, it is still one of those subtle portrayals so pervasive this year. She may not even get nominated. Here’s hoping.

You’re never gonna get it:
• Carey Mulligan – Shame: Playing not one but two utterly thankless roles, and shining in both, Mulligan was in luminous in Drive and and perfectly pathetic, sad, black hole of victimhood in Shame. She makes everyone around her look so good we all forget how wonderful she is in everything she does. Her time will come.

So. Yes, there are best picture and best director nominations to consider, as well as production design, costuming, screenplay, score and so much more. For now, though, I’m comforted by the thought that I’ve mentioned some of the best acting work of the past year for you to consider for your next theatrical adventure. Some of these movies are available to rent, some will have a limited rerelease or will be in theaters just before the Oscars broadcast.

Who knew subtlety would be so in vogue this year? It actually requires the voters to pay attention…

I’ll be right back with you to comment, lament and laud the choices of the nominations on the 24th. I hope I have much more to be happy about than to curse. Keep our fingers crossed!
Otherwise, once again this year I’ll be reduced to catty remarks about jewels and frocks, where subtlety is the last thing anyone seems to consider.