Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Heart Blondes

With the Oscar nominations being announced in just a few days (OMG, is it that time already), I thought it appropriate to consider a few names that have not been thrown around enough this year.  While my heart and soul seems to dwell within the realm of ‘Lead Actor’, I have recently found myself falling in love with the ‘Supporting Actress’ category.  There are so many richly developed performances, especially over this past decade, that rest so comfortably with me as some of the best work presented on the big screen in recent years.  At times, The Academy is smart enough to recognize them; either with a win (Mo’Nique, Swinton) or with a nomination (Tomei, Adams, Williams).  For the most part though, many of the best supporting performances find themselves completely snubbed come Oscar nomination morning. 

On January 25th there are three names that you won’t hear, and sadly they are the three best performances in the ‘Supporting Actress’ category that I’ve seen all year.

Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Mia Wasikowska.

While I stereotypically lump these actresses together under the whole ‘they are blondes’ (or at least have been at one time or another) shtick, these performances have much more in common than that.  The one thing that grabs me with regard to this particular category is subtlety.  I don’t want to be beat over the head with your characters persona (unless it is called for, as it was for Mo’Nique, and even then the layers she found within those outbursts were sensationally underplayed) and that is something I was astounded with, with regard to these three young ladies.  They found the beating heart within their respective roles and created something truly organic and lived in.

In ‘The Kids Are All Right’, Mia Wasikowska (bouncing back from a minimally registered performance in ‘Alice in Wonderland’) portrays Joni, the eighteen year old daughter to lesbian couple Nic and Jules.  From the very beginning of the film, her quiet exterior balances out the films jovial presence.  She is a polar opposite to those around her, so the point where she almost doesn’t even fit in with the tone of the film, but it is her delicate whisper of character development that actually adds substantial weight to the films emotional core.  She is the distant dreamer, the one who seems so out of place and yet she is the one who desperately needs the comforting nature of home.  Wasikowska manages to give Joni an otherworldly demeanor at times, while never forgetting the problematic nature of adolescence.  She rebels, but softly, in a way that allows us to see the near reclusive tendencies that nestle inside this blossoming flower.  She is searching for her place outside of the world she knows, but the outside world is a scary place for anyone unprepared.  I really felt that the script fleshed out each character marvelously, but especially Joni, who we get to see break out of her shell only to have that near moment of relapse when she feels that her mothers have left without saying goodbye.  You can see how the havoc caused by Paul’s deceit had eroded the good Joni thought he was doing for her. 

It was all there in that quivering chin; that one moment that lingers in my memoriam above all others.

In Sophia Coppola’s latest entry, ‘Somewhere’, she cast the ‘other’ Fanning girl, Elle, to play a fictional variation of herself (or I assume as much).  While Coppola is one of my favorite working directors, I must say that the familiar nature of ‘Somewhere’ was a tad underwhelming for me (if ‘Lost in Translation’ had never been released I’d be screaming “MASTERPIECE” while discussing this film).  That said; the naturally organic presence of Elle Fanning utterly blew me away.  By merely doing nothing at all, Fanning does SO much with this character.  Playing Cleo, the young daughter to Hollywood megastar Johnny Marco, Fanning isn’t discomfited by her father’s world.  She isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade (that stare at the breakfast table was superbly executed) and yet she realizes the nature of the world in which her father dwells and so she allocates herself to it with childlike ease.  The construction of a Coppola film is already wildly organic in tone (it just flows in such a sublimely effortless manner) but Fanning adds so much weight to the film by relaxing right into the pace.  Her character arc may seem oddly anticlimactic (also the signature ways of the director) but there is the sting of her presence that never quite goes away.  You can feel her spirit moving her father to contemplate his own footsteps, and you understand why.  It is less the notion that a child can reconstruct a parent and more the understanding that THIS child is something special to THAT parent.  There is such intimacy presented in this performance (as well as Dorff’s).

In fact, dwelling on Fanning’s performance is making me appreciate the film more than I initially thought I did.

Then we have Kirsten Dunst, who just marvels with all sorts of layered emotional relevance in ‘All Good Things’.  Talk about a brilliant performance in a really bad film (but we’re discussing the acting, not the film itself).  Kirsten plays Katie Marks, a real person (come on Oscar, why aren’t you biting) who disappeared, ‘allegedly’ at the hands of her deranged husband.  The one thing that Dunst’s character, and performance, has the separates it from the two aforementioned phenomenon’s is serious emotional collapse.  While both Mia and Elle have moments of surrendering to tears, they are overall much quieter than the horrors Kirsten has to relay, and naturally at that.  One blogger mentioned that you could see Kirsten visibly age as she uncovers the truth about her husband.  I totally concur with this explanation of her devastatingly real performance.  As she slowly uncovers realities surrounding the family she’s married into, you can see a hollowness erode her beautiful features.  She remains human despite the dramatic overtones (she never resorts to Hollywood’s overtly obvious understanding of melodramatic ‘emoting’) and delivers a quietly natural performance.  When she does unleash her suffering, it is with haunting desperation.  She completely collapses within her character’s knowledge.

Best Supporting Actress of the Year!
It’s just a shame the film collapses the moment she leaves it.

It pains me to realize that none of these actresses will get their due this year.  All three of them are far more deserving than the actresses garnering most of the support within this category.  I love Amy Adams and Melissa Leo and I certainly appreciate that the star that is Haliee Steinfeld has been born, but convincing me that either of these actresses is more deserving than the three blondes I’ve just gushed over would be a very, VERY hard sell.

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