Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Guide to Best Actress 2013

Tomorrow is the big night and I've saved the best for last...Best Documentary Short Subject! No, wait. That's not right...

In a year filled with great performances by younger actresses (Brie Larson Short Term 12, Greta Gerwig Frances Ha, and Adèle Exarchopoulos Blue Is the Warmest Color) the Academy decided to go older than they usually do. (Funny, they usually love a hot new thing.) And this year's Best Actress category is the oldest lineup ever. If shoulda-been-nominated Emma Thompson had found her place here for Saving Mr. Banks over Amy Adams, it would have been even older and made up entirely of previous winners! As it stands, for the first time since 1994's lineup, the category now consists of all previous nominees. And despite a late surge in support for the only actress yet to win, Amy Adams, the category has been locked up since the summer. Blanchett for the win! Oh, I'm supposed to wait until the end for that...

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Amy Adams American Hustle

Age: 39
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is Adams' first nomination in the leading category. She's been nominated four times previously in the Best Supporting Actress category: Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), and The Master (2012). She's the only one of the actresses in this category not to have previously won.
The Role: Con Artist Sydney Prosser. Or is it wealthy English aristocrat Lady Edith Greensley? Either way she has an intense disdain for bras or tops that button up. Really just trying to get over on all of these guys.
Why She's Here: I love that David O. Russell is able to tap into different aspects of Amy Adams that haven't been utilized on screen before. The first time they worked together in The Fighter may actually be my favorite of her nominated performances (she should've won over Melissa Leo's showboating). Who would have thought the actress that gained famed for playing a Disney princess brought to life (Man, she was good in Enchanted. The Academy really dropped the ball not nominating her for that...) and corned the market on naive, idealist roles could be so believably jaded and tough? With her role in this film, she's never been sexier, using her femininity to its full effect and using it to seduce the characters on screen as well as the audience. I know people have said that her English accent isn't very convincing, but isn't that exactly the point? Sydney is putting on the accent like she does so many of her plunging-necklined gowns–as a tool in her arsenal of distraction. She is playing a part and making it up as she goes along. Which is essentially what the film is all about. Of the 4 nominated performances from American Hustle, this is the one that has grown in my esteem since first seeing it in December.

Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine

Age: 44
Previous Oscar Nominations: Blanchett won previously for Best Supporting Actress for playing Oscar's most honored actress Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). She first hit Oscar's attention with a Best Actress nomination for Elizabeth (1998) and gained another nomination for the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). That same year she was a double nominee with a supporting nom for I'm Not There. And received another supporting nomination for Notes on a Scandal (2006).
The Role: Jasmine French (she changed it from Jeanette, which just didn't have enough panache), a wealthy New York socialite that ends up penniless when her Wall Street husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested. She moves in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco as her life and mental stability begin to unwind. Really just wondering who she has to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon...If only her Xanax would kick in.
Why She's Here: With her role in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett may have given the best performance of her career (and she's already an actress with some pretty great performances to her credit). As Jasmine, Blanchett is acting dynamite–risky, exciting, and you're never exactly sure of when she's gonna blow up entirely. Delusional and self-centered, Jasmine is a challenge to like, but her unraveling is endlessly fascinating to watch. It seems that Blanchett hasn't been on screen nearly enough these past years, due to her work as the artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. It was time well spent as she puts her theatrical experience and technical skills to full effect in this role, calling to mind her work as Blanche in Streetcar (the best star performance I've seen on stage). In the past months, some have questioned whether the film should be honored due to the resurfacing of scandals in Woody Allen's private life. But to not honor this performance with the Best Actress Oscar would be a travesty against Blanchett's impeccable work.

Sandra Bullock Gravity

Age: 49
Previous Oscar Nominations: Sandy won Best Actress for 2009's The Blind Side
The Role: Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut that finds herself adrift in space after a meteorite shower hits. She is the lone surviver (RIP Clooney) and must find her way back to earth.
Why She's Here: America loves Sandy a lot more than I do. Her win for The Blind Side may be may least favorite in recent years (It's kinda fitting that she won the Razzie the same year). But, she's so likable and charming that the public, and now the Academy, seem to equate likability with dramatic talent. She has a natural effortless in her comedic roles, like this past year's The Heat, which definitely helped in securing her a nomination this year. It also helps that Gravity was also a huge hit from a respected director. The film is an astonishing technical achievement with not much in the way of plot or complex characters. I actually don't mind that the film is simple, it gives us more time to focus on the wonder. But, her character is a stand-in for the audience, giving a human face to all the surrounding spectacle. Even the backstory of having a daughter that has died seems more of a necessary add-on as opposed to an essential part of the storytelling. But Sandy does everything asked of her with full commitment, ultimately making us care about the fate of Ryan Stone.

Judi Dench Philomena

Age: 79
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is Dench's 7th nomination. She won for Best Supporting Actress in Shakespeare in Love (1998) and was previously nominated for Best Actress for Mrs. Brown (1997), Iris (2001), Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), and Notes on a Scandal (2006) and Best Supporting Actress in Chocolat (2000)
The Role: The real-life story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman in search of the fate of the son that was taken from her and given up for adoption while she lived within a nunnery. She loves a breakfast buffet, but worries about the size of American portions. Her favorite film is Big Momma's House.
Why She's Here: I might be in the minority of actually liking this film and Judi Dench in it. While nothing groundbreaking or edgy, it's a sweet story told with simplicity, heart, and humor. It's the kind of film that you can see with your Grandma. Dench is typically good, which is pretty much the norm. The one distraction being her Irish accent which seems to come and go throughout the film. (Unlike Amy Adams, this character requires an actual accent that is supposed to be believable.) She sells the comedic bits with ease, doing her best to make the simple character not as dumb as she seems. And just looking at Dench's face is enough to see the decades of hurt and longing that she's held on to. It's a solid performance from a great actress. It may also be the one performance from these nominees that will be hard to recall in a year.

Meryl Streep August: Osage County

Age: 64
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is the first nominations for the newcomer...just kidding. This is Meryl's record-breaking 18th nomination. But she's been breaking the record since nomination number 13. She has won three times before: Best Supporting Actress Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Best Actress for Sophie's Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011). And here's the rest. Yep, I'm gonna list them all. Best Supporting Actress: The Deer Hunter (1978) and Adaptation (2002) Best Actress: The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Silkwood (1983), Out of Africa (1985), Ironweed (1987), A Cry in the Dark (1988), Postcards From the Edge (1990), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), One True Thing (1998), Music of the Heart (1999), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Doubt (2008), Julie and Julia (2009)
The Role: Violet, The pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family. Dying of cancer, she isn't afraid to say what's exactly on her mind. It's just truth tellin'...
Why She's Here: Because she's Meryl Streep and get's default nominations for just being in a film. Look, Meryl is always going to be considered the greatest actress of our time. She loves acting. She loves creating characters that are each different from the other, whether with a different accent or a change in the register of her voice. She loves to change her physicality, literally transforming into different people. She makes big choices with how she portrays characters, which is why the reward is so great–she goes full-throttal, not afraid to fail. It's just that she always seems to be better than the actual movies that she's in. With August, many have complained that she's too over the top, but that's what is asked of the character. I do feel that on stage, the role was played more biting, with a brittleness that cut like glass (which would have been great to see from Jane Fonda or Sigourney Weaver in the role). Meryl just never comes across as caustic enough. She has a natural warmth that shows that she cares even when she's saying horrible things. It definitely brings a humanity to the part, but just never feels right for the character.

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, the part is too great not to win
Should Win: Blanchett, Blanchett, Blanchett. Sure to rank as one of the best wins of all-time...

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