Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Encore Awards (2011 in Review): Best Actress

Usually, Best Actress is the category that’s overstuffed with fine performances or at the very least one where it’s difficult for me to excise just five without going through a series of headache inducing deliberations. I had a particularly simple time choosing my ballot, this year, even though so many of the women in the bottom half (and a few fine turns not cited here) seemed to be actively working in films which didn’t care too much for them. Which seems to be a running theme this year for the leading women, so many women (not cited here) seem to be working in films that don’t care for them. So, I suppose I’m lucky to have found eleven lades to fête over, and even feel bad for leaving out some cross-dressers, domestic workers, cult members, teenage assassins and snippy housewives. On with the ballot, overlooking things is last year's winner (last year's ballot here).

(Click on the pictures for film reviews.)

Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy (as She)

She’s simultaneously playing to establish a series of concepts functioning as the film’s main idea, as well as a very specific type of woman managing to be comfortable in both spheres – both as a vague idea of what a random woman would be and what that certain woman is. She augments the film’s tug-of-war between the real and imagined making grand moments from minute details like the memories of young love, past wrongs from a would-be spouse, filial frustration or parental exasperation. Vivid and real.

(Key Moment: That final “J-J-J-James”, slays me each time.)
Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia (as Justine)

Attacks, with admirable gusto, Justine’s attempts at “being happy” in that first third whilst, unremittingly layering it with the signs of the harsher bits to come. The movement from disinterest to genuine fatigue to slow-burning irritation reads on her face, and she’s so good with the severity it’s easy to miss the tenderness which emanates even when she’s at her most severe.

(Key Moment: “You know what I think of your plan? I think it's a piece of shit”, managing to make it work both as a wakeup call AND as a somewhat counter-intuitive pep talk that comes off less aggressive than you’d expect it to.)

Leili Hatami in A Separation (as Simin)

She looms over the film even with so little screen-time. It’s probably because Simin, a woman unto herself even as she’s surrounded by the strictures of her culture, must inveigle herself into the legal affairs of the film’s second half unable to be as obtrusive as she would like. It helps her cause that she is such an arresting performer that in key moments the overwhelming feeling inside here seems to just tumble out unabated, as it would in real life.

(Key Moment: Hard to get specific, but any moment opposite Nader where she’s silent, but her eyes dart around dangerously as if ready to explode.)
Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method (as Sabina)

For an actress who at her best (Elizabeth Bennett) always invokes a certain whimsical self-awareness into her performances, this characterisation is particularly anomalous in its apparent lack of self-consciousness. What’s more, she’s unafraid to make the audience uncomfortable in her focus on her character singularly unpredictable, alienating, potentially comical but always, always fascinating.

(Key Moment: An array to choose from, the entire first 20 minutes, maybe. But, I’m partial to her awkward romantic invitation to Jung. “If you ever want to take the initiative, I live in that building there.”)
Charlize Theron in Young Adult (as Mavis Gary)

Her Mavis is so assured of her worth that what could be a louder, more garish painting in another performer’s hands is a sedate, but just as dangerously nasty, woman in hers. She doesn’t shout, she doesn’t need to when she has those daggers for eyes and we see the wheels turning in her heads observing everything in that small-town with palpable, but not over exaggerated disgust. And, then she devastates.

(Key Moment: I’d love to play contrarian, but *that* scene is so raw, and such a dance of varying emotions from “I love your sweater” to “I came back for you!”)
FINALISTS: Tilda Swinton in We Need to talk About Kevin ultimately thrills me because she, unlike Ramsay’s occasional over earnestness, invites the audience to lacerate Eva while NOT giving in to her character becoming a mere martyr, still detached and prickly ; Rachel Weisz is working with such a small canvas in The Whistleblower which is often more documentary than drama but she makes pragmatism cinematic and when that breakdown comes it’s honest but distressing

SEMI-FINALISTS: Jodie Foster in The Beaver for filling in the gaps in a role that’s at time embarrassingly underdeveloped, though her performance eschews it; Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia for being the audience’s window to the film’s machinations and delivering on the profound reaction to doom; Carey Mulligan in Drive for playing up Irene’s realness while still being ethereal, a “princess” for our silent prince, but not a dupe; Robin Wright in The Conspirator for making the film better each time she appears and making suffering in silence something more riveting than it should be with the script’s wishy-washy insistence on not defining her character.
So, there is my ballot with nary an Oscar nominated performer. Which leading ladies captured your attention in 2011?


Ryan T. said...

Great choices. I do wonder if more of these women would've made my own ballot if I actually saw their films! As it is I haven't seen Melancholia, Young Adult, or A Dangerous Method and I JUST saw A Separation and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

I still love me some Michelle Williams though. ;-)

Amir said...

Knightley's performance is really abstruse for me. I'm not sure if I'm repulsed by it because she's good at playing crazy, or if it's because she overplays the ticks so much that it completely alienates me.

As for Hatami, who is one of Iran's biggest superstars by the way, she's always been powerful with her silences. Her charisma just bursts through the screen. If you can ever find a copy of a film called 'Water and Fire', I highly recommend it.

I love your list overall. Binoche was my number performer in 2010. Theron is close to the top this year. And Dunst, like almost all other elements of Melancholia, was terrific.

Lindsay said...

Great choices. Maybe I'm alone, but i was really sold on Elizabeth Olsen's performance this year in Martha Marcy May Marlene and I think the film itself might have been one of the most overlooked this award season. Have you seen the flick by any chance? If so, what did you think of her performance?

Candice Frederick said...

i love keira knightley and charlize theron (a little more towards knightley for this one)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ryan the order you list those three is actually the order in which I think you should see them :) even though they had no luck with AMPAS yuou should try to see them nonetheless, they're all rewarding.

candice i'll try to seek that hatami one ought. her performance is just so powerful.

lindsay i know a few LOVED olsen's work. she's actually the cult member i mentioned in my opening paragraph who just missed the top 12. i'm intrigued to see what other performances she has to offer, martha marcy may marlene definitely showed a great deal of promise.

candice and, to think, both of them have been sort of forgotten - especially knightley, i hear so few with anything at all to say about a dangerous method.

Nick Prigge said...

Man, I need to see Certified Copy. Still "unavailable" in my Netflix queue. I'm hoping!

And I like how you point out the way in which Hatami looms over the film without a lot of screen time. Every still I saw of that movie before I actually saw the movie seemed to include her and then I did see it and even though she's hardly there she's ALWAYS there.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Only seen two of your top five so far but fantastic choices so I'll have to catch up with the other 3 soon.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nicholas oh, nick you NEED to. considering how your mind works (or how i think it does) i think you'd have field day with it. it's essentially a movie that asks you to think about everything to do with art and how it's rendered.

ben i know you saw charlize, who's the second? and what did you think of her?