Monday, January 23, 2012

My Oscar Wish List

I spend so much time each year trying to think like an Academy member and predict what will be nominated that I never really take that much time to consider what I want to be nominated. It's all about being right and making predictions based on what everyone is saying. But, aren't the Oscars supposed to be a celebration for great achievements in cinema that year? Shouldn't it be about the performance? So, in honor of what the Oscars stand for (in theory), I present not what I think will be announced tomorrow in the acting categories (the sidebar to the right will show you that), but one name in each of the acting categories that I would love to hear. Their performances stuck with me and they are deserving of recognition.
Best Actor

In the other three categories, I had no trouble coming up with someone who did amazing work but just seems to keep getting passed over at awards ceremonies this year. But, for a while, no one name jumped out at me in this category. Maybe because the heavy-hitter names Clooney, Pitt, and DiCaprio loom so large it overshadows the work of other less famous actors. Then it hit me. A talented young actor that has been building a great body of work over the years. This year he gave a performance that was emotionally draining, yet unsentimentally uplifting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50. A comedy about someone with cancer shouldn't work, but in the hands of Gordon-Levitt the humor shines as much as the drama. He has an ease and naturalness on camera that can be taken for granted because it's so effortless. Even dramatic breakdowns never seemed forced because they come from a place of truth. He builds relationships with the other characters (Seth Rogan as his best friend, Anjelica Houston- equally sensational- as his mother, Bryce Dallas Howard as his unsympathetic girlfriend, and the young therapist played by Anna Kendrick) that are at once believable and relatable. 
As much as I would like to see it happen, I don't think  the Academy will remember his work tomorrow. But, without question, they have taken notice of Gordon-Levitt and someday soon I have no doubt we will be hearing his name called on the morning of Oscar nominations. 

Best Actress

This was definitely a good year for great work from Actresses. It was looking like a very interesting race for a while, but it seems that the five names to the right seemed to solidify pretty quickly. It's hard to deny a spot for such powerhouses as Mery Streep and Glenn Close. But, if any name can slip in and get a surprise, but well-deserved, nomination it would be Charlize Theron in Young Adult. That the former Oscar winner gives another wonderful performance is no shock. We know the girl can act. What's interesting about the character of Mavis Gary, the young adult novelist that returns to her hometown to win back her married ex-lover, is how unconventional she is. Men are allowed to play unlikable protagonists. Society makes excuses and accepts the fact that the nature of men is to do everything in their power to achieve their goals. Females, on the other hand, need to be made sympathetic or they're labeled a bitch. Charlize takes the conventions of what is expected from a female protagonist and unflinchingly gives us the portrait of a flawed woman who behaves without compromise. She's essentially playing a masculine prototype but never in a way that makes us ever doubt her femininity. 
In Monster, she's able to disappear into the character because she physically transformed into someone that looks nothing like herself. This character looks like the Charlize we know, but through costume and demeanor is presented in a way that is just as transformative. But, perhaps the greatest transformation is that the character remains the same by the movie's end. No great discovery is made. No new outlook on life is revealed. Other's may perceive her in an unflattering light, but she is never less than exactly who she is.

Best Supporting Actor

This category is really all over the place. Who would have ever thought that we would ever use the words 'Oscar nominee' and Jonah Hill in the same sentence? Which is why it surprises me that the scene-stealing work of Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris isn't getting more recognition. The film is Woody Allen's most successful to date and as soon as you've finished with the film the one question on everyone's mind is, who was that amazing actor playing Hemingway? The film is full of famous actors playing famous icons of the 20th Century- Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrian Brody as Dali. Which is why it's so amazing that Stoll, a relative unknown theatre actor, was able to walk off with the film in about fifteen minutes of screen time. But, he does it in a way that is anything but theatrical. In fact, most of his lines are spoken in a quick-paced monotone. But, it's the lines themselves and the quite intensity and passion with which he brings to them that makes Stoll a stand-out. In interviews, Stoll has said that Woody didn't want him to study recordings of the real Hemingway because he wanted him to play the idea of Hemingway. To personify the written words of the author. But, never do we feel that Stoll's Hemingway is anything less than a real person. His portrayal of one of the most famous authors in history has a humanity and spirit that breathes life into a legend. 

Best Supporting Actress

The names being mentioned for this category all seem a little slight. Not one of them has the depth of emotion that Carey Mulligan brings to Shame. I've already talked at length about her performance in this film. Of all the performances I've seen this year, her's is the one that still stays with me. Mulligan's reward is the indelible work she has shared with us, but an Oscar nomination sure wouldn't hurt...

Best of luck to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlize Theron, Corey Stoll, and Cary Mulligan tomorrow. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

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