Wednesday, January 19, 2011


 The Oscar nominations will be announced this coming Tuesday, and we will surely hear the acting names called that have been dominating awards show competitions and movie website chatter all season long. And those recognized will be quite deserving. Film critics and movie bloggers have been trumpeting these actors for months now, and the Academy members will follow their lead. And the Academy members do follow conventional wisdom. It saves them time and face for not actually making the effort to watch all the DVD screeners they’re sent.

But no matter how rich some performances are, every year there are those that remain egregiously overlooked. Somehow critics, even though they see everything, decide to jump on certain bandwagons and everyone else follows suit. For example, this year’s front-runner in the best supporting actress category, after a couple of key wins, is Melissa Leo for her turn as the smothering and clueless mother in THE FIGHTER. It’s a good performance, albeit a bit two-dimensional. (We get everything from her performance in the first 10 minutes and the script doesn’t give her role much of a character arc.) But for my money, I cannot understand why this is the performance to beat.

Olivia Williams not only plays a much more complex supporting character in THE GHOST WRITER, but she added nuance and shadings to it that made hers one of the great performances of the year. And yet it’s largely gone unnoticed and unrewarded. (Though she did just score a coveted BAFTA best supporting actress nomination.) In her work, you’ll see a villain who is by turns vulnerable, vicious, witty, secretive, sexy and smarter than anyone else in the room. So why has she been ignored by awards voters while Leo is everywhere? Is it laziness? An obligation to go along with the status quo?

Sometimes a performance gets overlooked if it’s in a film that didn’t do well at the box office. Both Michael Douglas in SOLITARY MAN and Jim Carrey in I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS gave exemplary lead actor turns in 2010, but they haven’t been recognized properly, most likely due to the fact that their films weren’t big business. The same could be said of the lead work done by Tilda Swinton in I AM LOVE or brilliant supporting turns by both Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas in NOWHERE BOY. But it's a shame that the critics and bloggers who raved about these performances haven't done more to keep them top of mind. Instead they've listed the likes of Nicole Kidman and Jeff Bridges and others as the contenders to beat for months, long before anyone even saw their performances. They should have been doing a helluva lot more to keep the performances that they had seen top of mind. Now, it's too late. The awards season is coming to a close and many worthy nominees aren't even in the running.

But explain to me how the star-making performance of Noomi Rapace in the international and American hit THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is not a lock for a best actress Oscar nod. Hers was one of 2010's seminal performances, and was talked about by everyone for months and months. Yet she remains the darkest of dark horses for a nomination. Why? Is it because Hollywood just doesn't want to push her performance knowing that the American made version debuts in late 2011 and they're focusing on that?

Obviously there are politics and lack of fairness in everything. And far more horrible injustices instigated throughout the globe in more important arenas than award shows. But in the movie world, I wish there was more proper due given. If there was, Olivia, Michael, Jim, Tilda, Anne-Marie, Kristin and Noomi would have been making room for many trophies on their mantles. And they might be getting ready to sail over the moon upon hearing their names called this Tuesday morning. Along with me.


  1. In the “overlooked performance in an underperforming film” category, I would like to add Naomi Watts. This 2003 Oscar nominee gave us not one, but three solid performances in 2010 that were noteworthy.

    In the ensemble MOTHER AND CHILD, she plays a frosty, excessively self-directed attorney who has little use for hearth and home. She lives life on her own terms, with an attitude not unlike George Clooney in UP IN THE AIR. A loner with a tidy life free of burdensome relationships. Moving back to Los Angeles because “this place is as good as any”, she takes a high-powered job, and continues to call the shots by initiating an affair with her boss. Life comes looking for some payback when she learns she’s carrying a baby, the most intimate of relationships. Naomi’s facial expressions document the transition as the balance of control begins to shift. Only then does she even consider looking for the mother she herself never knew, only to learn the lesson that there is a cost in waiting too long to love.

    Woody Allen’s YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER features Watts as a stressed daughter, career woman and wife trapped in a four-point web of frustration. Her recently-divorced father is having a late-life crisis and marries a voluptuous gold-digger. Her lonely and distraught mother allows a quack psychic to run her life, and becomes a constant dispenser of unwanted advice to the young couple, who have reluctantly depended on her for financial support. Her struggling writer husband had one successful novel and now is trapped in permanent writer’s block, which translates to “husband’s block” too as he falls in love with a beauty in the window across the street. The boss she even considered having an affair with ends up having an affair with someone else. Whether the grass is greener on the other side is the question most of this ensemble cast of characters struggles to answer. Naomi skillfully demonstrates a woman who is both consumed by it, and surrounded by it on all sides.

    FAIR GAME features Watt’s characterization of real-life CIA officer, wife and mother Valerie Plame, whose covert occupation was “outed” as retribution for her husband’s New York Times editorial that stated President George W. Bush misrepresented intelligence leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Her undercover identity, (and nearly her marriage) was destroyed when the very government she devoted her career to demanded that she pay the price for her husband’s not falling in line. As powerful as she was in controlling others with information as a skilled operative, she was no match for the administration when it pulled the plug on her job and almost her life. Some of her foreign informants were killed, she became the target of personal threats, her family questioned who she really was. Still Plame, as credibly portrayed by her equally strong mirror image Naomi Watts, remains unbreakable.

    Three substantial characters interpreted by an actor who didn’t receive nearly the attention that the ultimate Oscar nominees did. Perhaps because the three films themselves just weren’t strong enough to get that kind of attention. Which is a stark reminder that when it comes to Oscar accolades, a superior written screenplay is just as important as the performances themselves. A concept that is too often lacking when the list of all 2010 films is reviewed. And we are still searching for it as we begin to screen the first films of 2011.

  2. Your case for Naomi Watts is excellent, Fan With No Name. Perhaps the three films did cancel out her chances. She is always good and too often overlooked. I still rue the day the Oscar nominations were announced and she was not on the Best Actress list for her amazing turn in MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Heck, I thought she deserved a nod for acting almost an entire movie against green screen in the remake of KING KONG.

    Securing an Oscar nomination, and an eventual win, is a combination of so many things in addition to the performance. It takes buzz, critics' hosannas, extensive PR, blogger posts on a regular basis, etc., all to remind voters who are too often lazy, fickle or can't think past the previous two months of movies. That's why a TRUE GRIT does so well. Yes, it's good. But it's mostly due to being so top of mind having come out in December.

    That's why WINTER'S BONE is kind of a marvel in this year's Oscar race. It came out in the early part of 2010, was an indie with no stars, and remained a quirkly little film that didn't do much box office. But those who did see it really championed it. Hence its multiple Oscar nominations including the surprising best supporting one for John Hawkes was one of the season's coups.

    Like my heralding of Noomi Rapace, Naomi Watts got lost this year when she should have had a better shot. And poor Julianne Moore. Her THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT co-star Annette Bening gets all the ink and nominations in the lead category for what was essentially a supporting performance. Moore's was the lead. And then there's Hailee Steinfeld in the supporting actress slot with more screen time than almost anyone in the lead category other than Natalie Portman. Oscars, you love 'em, you hate 'em. And despite their many spot on nods this year, they always miss a few. Like Naomi.