Pop Culture Musing for a Thursday 2/25/16

Oscars 2016Girl Power: You know it’s an outstanding year for women in film when one of our greatest living actresses is considered an also-ran in the run-up to the Oscars. I’m referring, of course, to Cate Blanchett, who at one point seemed a lock for the Best Actress prize for her performance in the moody and evocative Carol, which proved the critics’ darling — but not so much of the Academy, it seems. How the film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, with a couple of slots left open in the category, is beyond me. Adding insult to injury was denying a nod to Todd Haynes’ brilliant direction.

I felt for sure that Blanchett would be difficult to beat…until. Three other nominated performances—Brie Larson for Room, Saoirse Rohan in Brooklyn, and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years — all unexpectedly moved me in distinctly different ways, and all of a sudden Blanchett wasn’t such a sure bet. (Jennifer Lawrence, the fifth nominee, was perfectly serviceable in Joy, but a bit out of her league in this assembly.)

Opinion has coalesced around Brie Larson, as a mother whose ferocious love under unthinkable circumstances saves her son but brings her to the throes of madness in Room. She’s the definite front-runner, and her wins at the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA awards only solidified that perception. As good as Larson was, and as extremely difficult it was a role to play, I still have to say that Saoirse Rohan in Brooklyn was also a real discovery. A quiet, beautifully shot film filled with nuance and emotion, Brooklyn captures the heart largely through Rohan’s luminescent, inward melancholy, and stamps her as one to watch going forward.

It’s likely that many won’t see 45 Years, which is a shame, as Charlotte Rampling — star of a number of art-house films in the ‘60s and ‘70s — carves a breathtakingly intelligent performance as a woman whose world is rocked after decades of marriage to a man she only thought she knew. Rampling’s fortunes in the Best Actress category fell precipitously after some inartful comments regarding the “Oscars-so-white” controversy, but her performance is nevertheless a revelation: the damage of a belated emotional betrayal conveyed in all its confounding complexity.

An interesting conundrum takes place for Best Supporting Actress, with the awards season’s “It” girl, Alicia Vikander, nominated for The Danish Girl. The performance is no more “supporting” than Lawrence’s was in Joy, but, alas, the Academy moved her out of the main group into this competition, which also includes another Jennifer (Jason Leigh), as well as Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams, and Kate Winslet.

The truth is Vikander’s haunting role as an AI creation in the magnificent Ex Machina is the one that deserved the supporting nod, and she should have gotten a double nomination for leading actress in Danish Girl. (Guess the voters were afraid of showing too much love.) Eddie Redmayne, playing a pioneer in the annals of the LGBT movement, may have received more of the attention, but Vikander’s turn in Girl largely made his wonderful performance possible.

As for the others, Rooney Mara’s chances have sort of faded in the same way as Blanchett’s for Carol, leaving Kate Winslet as Vikander’s main competition in the category. An actress I usually rave about, Winslet fell off my Oscar radar with a major technical glitch – not of the computer kind – in the biopic, Steve Jobs. A third of the way into the movie she whips out an Eastern European accent that comes from seemingly out of nowhere, totally disrupting the continuity of her character. A rare faux-pas for an artist at her level. (Throw some shade director Danny Boyle’s way, also, for letting it pass.)

But no matter a boo-boo here or there, it’s one of the strongest years in recent memory for female performances. Let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago that Sandra Bullock actually won an Oscar for the forgettable The Blind Side.

Whoever wins this Sunday, I doubt I’ll come way disappointed.

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