Friday, 19 February 2010

The BAH!scars #6: Actors Speak Louder Than Words

I don't exactly understand the title myself, but like many a line in a Bruce Springsteen song, it sounds cool despite not be completely decipherable. Now, without further ado, I present my take on the four acting categories.

Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”

As I said before, I haven’t seen Invictus, nor do I have any inclinition to do so and I’m pretty sure I would find Morgan Freeman’s performance as unimpressive as his last two decades of work. Jeremy Renner does not have a shot at winning since his very nomination was doubtful, which is a shame since his performance is the second best on this list. I do not understand the George Clooney buzz. He does a decent job with what he had to do in Up in the Air, but what he had to do was not all that much. Just because one does not screw up pan frying chicken breasts does not make one a gourmet chef. This role more or less cements his desire to be a modern day Cary Grant, but Clooney’s problem is that he is not willing to humiliate himself (well, except for maybe Batman and Robin) and go off-the-wall-bonkers like Grant often does. He always has to be the coolest guy in the room, but that is only half the game. Could you see Clooney leaping about in a frilly negligee screaming, “I just went gay all of a sudden!”? Neither could I.

That leaves us with the two big figures in my eyes: who should win and who will win. If the Academy could actually identify good acting, this award would be Firth’s. His quiet, restrained, tortured performance as a man in an intense state of grief and mourning was the heart of A Single Man. Every word of his, every action he did was informed by what he had suffered, yet he did not labor his points like other actors would. My only concern with Firth winning would be that, between him, Hoffman, and Penn all winning in recent years, that would turn "playing a gay man" into the new "playing a mentally challenged person" for "how to win Best Actor."

Jeff Bridges however has made a pretty clean getaway with most of the awards. This trophy is his. Now allow me to rant for a bit:

I despise Crazy Heart. Originally, I walked out of it just feeling bored and underwhelmed and wanting to kill Maggie Gyllenhaal for what she did to my sensibilities. The movie is The Wrestler, just with a less interesting screenplay, a completely bland director, and an inferior actor. In fact, this movie is a great rebuttal to anyone who said that The Wrestler was soley carried by Roarke's performance. Crazy Heart has been scrubbed and polished and Hollywoodized to the extreme, replacing pro-wrestling in New Jersey with the overly romantic country singing in the southwest and shoving in a trite happy ending. It feels contrived and created just to win awards and I honestly don’t sense the semblance of a soul or piece of artistic merit in it. Naturally, the Academy would smile even the slightest bit more favorably on this film than The Wrestler.

Now, when I see a movie, even if I hate it, I can usually find one thing good about it. Even Dark Knight, my sworn celluloid nemesis, has about 15 seconds that I thought were excellent (Joker fiddling with the explosive remote outside the hospital). (500) Days of Summer, District 9, A Christmas Carol – all of these had one aspect or another that I could praise, something that would make me hesitate or even stop before throwing all proof of these films into utter nihility. Crazy Heart has nothing I can praise. Nothing is noteworthy. Nothing ascends beyond its bile of insipidness and absolute forgetability. If Bridges’ performance can be praised as “good,” it is only good in the most average of ways that the world would not have suffered had it been deracinated at its inception as there are hundreds of more of those in the sweep of cinema.

Colin Firth delivers a powerful character study of a broken man. Jeff Bridges just goes through the motions.

Who will win: Jeff Bridges
Who should win: Colin Firth

Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”
Carey Mulligan in “An Education”
Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”

I’ve already spoken about my disgust at the mere concept of The Blind Side (see prior entry if you suffer from amnesia). Of course, Bullock already should start dusting off a place on her shelf from her little gold man. The Blind Side got nominated for Best Picture and she’s the only other nomination it has. The Academy clearly finds her so great (or, to be honest, is so surprised that she is not a completely shit actor and can act in a serious role) that it nominated a movie for the top accolade because of her. She’s already won.

I haven’t seen The Last Station, so I’ll instead talk about the other three actresses who will be done a great disservice next month. First off, Meryl Streep, who was probably hoping for some time that she’d finally win her first Oscar in decades despite a bajillion and eight nominations. Every moment that she was Julia Child on screen was an absolute joy (I really think I had a smile on my face the entire time). As for Gabourey Sidibe, she really impressed me. Her performance may seem on the surface to be very simple – she just plays a victim. But she plays the role of a stoic, where she can’t overact or overreact, but instead must play the part of a character who keeps the same expression despite her turmoil of emotions (akin to Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain). Yet her body language (in large print font – hey-o!) changes so subtly yet effectively that you don’t even realize how much she’s growing as a character until the end.

Finally, there’s Carey Mulligan. She deserves this Oscar for her absolutely breath-taking break-out role as Jenny. She plays the role perfectly and, as one critic nicely put it, conveys that she is a girl making stupid decision, but herself is not stupid. Just as I mentioned how Sarsgaard seduces us, Mulligan is as necessary to that seduction. She must convince us how attractive David is and simultaneously place herself as a figure of identification and almost authority (so we can embrace her choices) and a figure who we know is headed towards a tragic conclusion.

Who will win: Sandra Bullock
Who should win: Carey Mulligan

Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon in “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”

Yeah, this one still ain’t a contest. And I still have only seen two of the performances. And I still wonder why Stanley Tucci was not nominated for Julie and Julia since everyone seems to like that movie more and really only have nominated him for The Lovely Bones since for some reason that seems better than nominating him for Julie and Julia. Anyway, I love me some Waltz, though am sorry for Harrelson that he had to put forth such an outstanding performance this particular year.

Who should and win will: Christoph Waltz.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Penélope Cruz in “Nine”
Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

God, this category just vitiates the entire Oscars. I’ve already gone on in the BAH!scars #3 about the absolute, hyperbole-defying atrocity that is Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart. Vera Farmiga was in that “Meryl Streep in Doubt, good but not astoundingly, uniquely good, just generically good” category. Penelope Cruz excels with her one musical number in Nine (and also probably successfully titillated all 12 straight men who saw it), but aside from that is stuck doing a decent job covering scenes from 8 ½ that could never surpass the original.

Of course, the buzz in this category is circling around Mo’Nique, who plays Precious’s truculent mother, particularly for her final monologue. Naturally, I differ from the masses. I liked Mo’Nique’s character for most of the film, as she simply sat in her chair, watching TV, smoking, and waiting to strike. She was like a scorpion in the room; you knew she was going to bring destruction eventually, but you knew that running away from her would only entice her sadistic tendencies. Furthermore, I liked that she was an unexplained evil and the same level of obstacle for Precious as poverty. She could not be reasoned away or reasoned with – she was just there. Very rarely is inexplicable evil done well - this could have been one of those times.

Then came that atrocious monologue. Firstly, I do not think Mo’Nique did all that impressive of a job with it. She was *ACTING!* instead of acting and that only works if you’re Gloria Swanson and the name of your movie is "Sunset Boulevard". As for the speech Just no. It did not work. It did not provide a satisfying explanation, and whether it was trying to make me hate her more or elicit sympathy, I could not tell. At the end, I was just confused and ready for her to exit stage right.

I suppose I would give this award to Anna Kendrick. While she does play her part in an over-the-top fashion, she manages to make her choice become of the funniest, liveliest parts in a film that only wishes it were that funny and lively. She perfectly straddles the line of too-ridiculous-to-be-true and just-believable-enough-to-work-in-a-movie.

Who will win:
Who should win: Anna Kendrick (at least of those nominated)

Because I'm a considerate sonuvagun, I'll do the rest of my Oscar predictions next entry to spare you from reading another 5+ page entry. Coming up next time: director, screenplays, maybe cinematography, possibly animated, and anything else you're really curious for me to weigh in on! Seriously, if you want me to do a category, just let me know!


  1. So who is your best supporting actress, other than who was nominated? And definitely do animated :)

  2. If you count Melanie Laurent as Supporting, definitely her.

    If not, I'd probably go with Samantha Morton from The Messenger or Marion Cotillard from Nine (who managed to provide a cover that was more akin to Joe Cocker vs. The Beatles than the other Nine performers). Love me some Julianne Moore and would've nominated her...but she just didn't have enough screen time.