Friday, 11 February 2011

Encore Awards: Actresses

I’m a bit unexcited about the showing of actresses this year, which is weird because I’m willing to admit that collectively it’s been quite a good year. Communally there’s a wealth of performances in comparison to last year when my top 5 (Mulligan, Cornish, Pfeiffer, Ronan, Wright Penn) was easily decided. I don’t know if, perhaps, the ensemble nature of the films this year accounts for an effusive lack of enthusiasm, even though I’m fond of each member of the top 5. And even the Oscar nominees are collectively good, easily one of the better line-ups in recent memories. Ah well, let’s see what I chose.
Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right (as Nic)
& Annette Bening in Mother & Child (as Karen)
The term banner year seems so splotchy, implicitly suggesting that all previous years hold little worth – but it’s been a banner year for Bening for me. I sort of thought her one-two punch in 2006 (Running With Scissors, Mrs. Harris) was unbeatable but watching her play Karen and Nic almost like extensions of the same person – but then at times completely opposite makes me even more impressed by her talent. It seems like way too much of a disservice to Bening’s talent to lump Nic – or Karen – together with all the strong women she’s played (Julia, Deidre, Carolyn). Their strength doesn’t make them identical, and it’s strange – both women have trouble being emotive, but Annette decides to establish them by decidedly different character tics. Karen develops in uneven bursts goaded by her insecurities whereas Nic’s security becomes her crutch as she finds that it’s not as impenetrable as it seems. Even the manner in which they break is not identical, Karen for all her faux-coldness yearns for the ability to be completely emotive and when she cries it’s with complete surrender. Nic is uncomfortable with that loss of control, and even her tears exist as a sort of reluctant emotion. True, I do prefer her work as Nic (if only because the character is so much richer), but it’s a double helping of brilliance that I think is laudable. (Highlight: “So Blue” and Breakdown with Sofia)

Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole (as Becca)
I’ve always thought of Nicole in the same way that I think of Cate Blanchett – actors most discernable because of the emotion they put into their voice, but Becca is significant not because of the line readings but because of all the expressions that she has. She reacts to everything that happens on screen – her eye-rolls, her steely gazes, her silent scoffs – she’s never “off” and Nicole never loses sight of that always reacting, however subtly, to everything occurring around her. It’s difficult to play favourites and hold up someone as her best scene partner – she’s so go$od with them all. The understated tension opposite Aaron, the filial spats with Tammy, the brilliant chemistry with Wiest and her tentativeness opposite Teller is lovely to watch. She gives as much as she gets and though her career is so littered with goodies I can’t decide if it’s my favourite or not, its goodness is undeniable. (Highlight: Bowling Alley Birthday)

Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right (as Jules)
Every actor has precepts that work for them, and though Jules is nowhere near as morose as the prototypical Jules character her constant interest in pronounced facial expressions is the ultimate reason why I’m so impressed with her here. I hate judging her against Annette since the performances are ultimately so symbiotic and sometimes even in tandem with the other. They play well off each other, but more than Annette Julianne plays well off actual scenes. Because Nic is so controlled Annette isn’t always given the opportunity to respond immediately (facially) to situations – so Julianne must, and that sort of naked physicality is something she delivers with and because Jules and Nic are so affected by each other these expressions are most pronounced when Nic is at the forefront of the scene. Thus, when she’s actually presented with the opportunity to “lead” a scene – her twitchiness is manifested, it’s not necessarily a twitchiness borne of being discomfited but one of being disaccustomed. (Highlight: “Marriage is hard.”)

Rachel Weisz in Agora (as Hypatia)
The role of Hypatia seems to be the sort of exemplary woman that seems perfect for Rachel Weisz. Weisz plays Hypatia with a consistent disregard for her personal appearance, as beautiful as she is – and there’s that subtle hint that perhaps that plays a role in her power over everyone – she never plays Hypatia as a “beautiful” woman. Moreover, she brings that sort of resonance to the dialogue where you’re moved to think that her every word is something seismic. Amenabar is fortunate that she plays the role so effectively, because it’s her devotion to the character that allows (with the slightest of physical inclinations) us to believe that things like ellipses are capable of being as astonishing as Hypatia believes. (Highlight: sketchy...each time she speaks, perhaps?)

FINALISTS: Halle Berry is tasked with a conventionally baity role of three persons in one in Frankie & Alice but at her best she’s always able to bring the right touch of compassion to her work that’s put to good use here; Patricia Clarkson is luminous in Cairo Time balancing Juliet's vague dissatisfaction with life against the wealth of experiences she experiences on holiday and always – ALWAYS – so entrancing even with the slightest of movements; Kerry Washington is all aglimmer (is that even a word?) in Night Catches Us. I’ve rarely seen her so mature, and it’s the sort of role that while fitting her perfectly isn’t too deliberate in its; Michelle Williams dives into the difficult persona she plays in Blue Valentine – ensuring that the tenets that comprise her character do not become murky as she develops, and moreover ascertaining that even when we don’t understand the “why” we understand the “how”.
SEMI-FINALISTS: the way that Kirsten Dunst lights up the screen whenever she appears in All Good Things make me even sadder about her absence from the screen. It’s more than her doing the best work in the film, her constant attention to detail with a character that’s quite vague is admirable; Dakota Fanning has always seemed much too mannered for me to take her seriously, but in The Runaways despite her occasional off-putting tics she’s so resolute in carving Cherry’s inclinations that she manages to give the best performance of her career – thus far; Greta Gerwig’s congenial way in Greenberg might be easy to ignore, which is unfortunate because she has a more difficult task than Stiller. She’s playing this affable woman who’s difficult to understand but not at all mysterious – even if her inclinations seem ridiculous and she does it all with aplomb and that cheery winsome nature to her that’s irresistible; Jennifer Lawrence must carry the entirety of Winter’s Bone, and Granik is lucky enough that she’s able to take that kind of weight on her shoulders , she's good at playing the tough as nails country girl, but she's just as capable of establishing the girlish innocence in Ree, too which is the real treat; there are some times when Carey Mulligan seems a little too literal in Never Let Me Go, though that’s as much the fault of the film itself. When the film is at its weakest in that final act, though, she provides the stability realising how important it is that the audience identifies with Cathy managing to produce a seemingly full character in the wake of what really is just nothingness; I’ll probably always prefer Natalie Portman in small doses, or better yet in specific modes. I’m still wowed by that phone call she makes to her mother Black Swan even if she impresses, but doesn’t wow me in other scenes. Most importantly, though, she’s thoroughly aware of how essential her inflections are to the plot and delivers on that even if I’m not completely sold on it at all times.
Which leading lady ruled the year for you?


Robert said...

Oh, fantastic choices. Nicole Kidman is wonderful, isn't she? And I too am saddened about the lack of Kirsten Dunst in our lives - she totally rescued "All Good Things" though I think of her more as supporting.

Also, I'm glad to see you mentioning Natalie Portman - as you know I'm on her side big time :D

Brandon (Twister) said...

I just don't get the Bening appeal, and I'm shocked that Moore is side-railed beacuse of her. Maybe I just responded or saw something very different than you did. And the ending? Horrible!

Alex in Movieland said...

I haven't seen Agora yet, but all the other 4 are great choices. I still have some key female performances to see until I announce my favorites in the spring, so it's hard for me to anticipate right now.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Your love for Agora makes me all the more mad that it didn't come out here. Grr... Solid picks for the ladies I did see (Kids... and Kidman). Since you didn't nominate Portman (for shame!), then I must agree with your pick for the Gold -- is this Kidman's best performance? Methinks it's close...

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

robert i'll admit i'm very annoyed that natalie has monopolised the race, but as you see there are things i love about the performance.

brandon what can i say in support of annette? i don't know, the way she plays the character is so so great. it's not just the archetypal male in the relationship, nic's insecurities are there just shrouded in her pragmatism. it's a performance of responding: first to finding out about paul, then being sidelined by him liking him and then finding out about the affair and she handles them all so beautifully.

alex it's been a fairly good year for women.

walter whenever you can, track down agora. it's a film that fosters discussions, which sucks because almost all the people i want to discuss it with have not seen it.