At the Golden Globes on Sunday, the amazing and Oscar-less Julianne Moore picked up what is sure to be one of many awards on her way to the big prize on Feb 22 for her performance as a professor with early onset Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice. I know a lot of us that worship at the alter of Julie have been eagerly awaiting the day when the actress can call herself an Oscar winner and it's looking more and more likely that this is actually the time. And while I think she does solid work in a pretty forgettable film, I can hardly be upset at the Academy if they finally decide to give her the big prize. (But please forgive me if I imagine it's actually for Safe, Far From Heaven, Boogie Nights...)
And predicting three out of the four other nominees that will join her with a nomination isn't too hard to see either, as they have all joined Moore at almost every juncture as well thus far. Rosamund Pike as disappearing "cool girl" Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, the real-life woman that walked the Pacific Crest Trail solo in Wild, and Felicity Jones as the ever-suffering, ever-supportive wife of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. If any of those four don't hear their name called on Thursday, it would be a shock (which this category could definitely need). And while I'd love to say that Marion Cotillard will easily take that fifth spot for her understated work in Two Days, One Night, it's not looking very likely. Early in the season people were gunning for a return of two-time winner Hilary Swank in The Horsemen, but those dreams dissolved as soon as the film was met with barely a mention. So the fifth spot comes down to two women. Both likable actresses that have each found favor with awards bodies this season. But while most are predicting a Jennifer Aniston nom for the little-seen Cake, thanks to a surge in campaigning and public appearances, for some reason I get a nagging feeling that it's gonna be the other Golden Globe Best Actress winner from Sunday, Amy Adams in Big Eyes. The Academy really likes her, having nominated her 5 times already (not all of them deserved...), and with her recent win and a nom from BAFTA, it just makes me feel she has the best chance still...
It seemed that every year there is the same story about not a lot of choices for Best Actress, but then the same women keep showing up again and again when there are plenty of interesting, outside-of-the-box choices to fill the category. This year the most deserving nominee not only gave one amazing performance getting Oscar buzz (see above), but she gave an even greater one as a Polish woman that comes to America in the early 1920s searching for the American dream...
FYC: Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant as Best Actress
Marion Cotillard has the kind of face, luminously lit from within and boundlessly expressive, that was made for the big screen. It's a timeless face that was made to read ever subtle emotion and thought as it is projected larger-than-life in a darkened theatre, evoking the work of silent movie stars and classic Hollywood. And in many ways Cotillard's work in James Gray's The Immigrant, playing a Eastern European woman named Ewa Cybulska that escapes the turmoil in her country for a better life in the States, only to find herself caught in a world of poverty and prostitution, is hardly an unfamiliar character. There have been variations on this fallen woman almost as long as the profession itself has been around. But to expect something revelatory in the storytelling or in Ewa herself is to almost miss the point completely. The Immigrant and Cotillard's performance are an homage to classic melodrama. Unapologetically old fashioned, embracing a melancholy mood and romantically-tinged feeling, Cotillard harkens back to the work of such actresses as Ingrid Bergman or Maria Falconetti, and in the celebration of those past greats becomes a revelation herself.
From the moment we see the French Oscar winner, bathed in golden hues at the Great Hall of Ellis Island, alternating between speaking Polish and heavily-accented English, proving that not only is the role emotionally demanding, but technically challenging as well. (Cotillard has said she had only two months in order to learn the new language for the film.) She is at once open and inviting, her warmth drawing the audience in to her story, but at the same time, cautiously guarded. Ewa is not one to wear her emotions on her sleeve, determined to survive and unwavering in her love of her sister. But while Cotillard never gives away Ewa's true feelings to those around her, it is achingly felt by the audience through the slightest of gestures - a fleeting glimpse in her downcast eye or the slight turn of her head. And in moments where she lets her emotional walls break down - like when she is confronted by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the lowlife that has kept her alive through her own degradation, for stealing from a fellow girl or when her Catholic guilt overwhelms her in the confessional booth - Cotillard's restraint dissolves, but without losing control of the character, she indulges in a cathartic release, gently letting the melodrama wash over her radiant face.
Over the years, to describe something as melodramatic has taken on a negative connotation, synonymous with over-indulgent emoting, but Cotillard in The Immigrant proves that you needn't wallow in over-the-top histrionics to stir up the same impassioned sensations. Her performance as Ewa is stirring, insightful, and simply lovely. For an institute like the Academy, which has honored the work of great actresses for the past 87 years, perhaps acknowledging the work of the past by honoring Cotillard with a nomination for her work here, an ode to those bygone icons, would be a way of bridging the storied history with a bright future.
The Immigrant is available now for streaming on Netflix.
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Final Best Actress Predictions
Amy Adams Big Eyes
Felicity Jones The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore Still Alice
Rosamund Pike Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon Wild
My Favorite Best Actress Performances
Marion Cotillard The Immigrant
Marion Cotillard Two Days, One Night
Essie Davis The Babadook
Scarlett Johansson Under the Skin
Gugu Mbatha-Raw Belle