Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Closer Look: 2011 Lead Actress

Oh 2011.  The Lead Actress race was quite bizarre, don’t you think?  Or maybe it was less bizarre and more telling, telling about the truth behind AMPAS members preferences.  In a year that brought us some truly challenging and mature performances with staggering weight to them, AMPAS decided to nominate…well.
Here they are:

If you look back on the blog you’ll see that at years beginning I actually predicted four of these five nominees.  It’s sad when the race is that obvious.  I knew that Mara was getting in, even down to the wire when the majority of the world was predicting Tilda Swinton based on her precursor support.  AMPAS isn’t allowed to nominate five returning nominees, we should all know that by now.  There is always a newbie (statistically, it’s not always but it is VERY rare to have a newbie NOT factor in).  I also knew that Closer was getting in.  This is all about #1 votes, and regardless of who gave the better performance (Swinton, in the eyes of many, gave one of the best of the year), there were far more people who were going to put Oscarless Glenn Close #1 on their ballots than those who were going to put Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton.
But really, this is all about the performances, and sadly not one of these deserved to win.  Mara gives the best performance in the bunch and is the only one to make my top twelve.  She found depth in the character and really grounded her faux persona and gruff exterior in a more complex emotional bed.  In fact, I’d say she comes very close to matching Noomi Rapace’s fantastic performance, and the kicker is that it actually took Rapace three films to find those shades, and I think Mara did it in one film.  It is a very strong performance and one that I want to nominate, but this year was so strong (which is another reason why this lineup is so embarrassing).
I mean, what is this ridiculous obsession with biopics?  Basically, if you pretend to be a real person, alive or dead, you are instantly getting awards consideration and are pretty much guaranteed a nomination.  It helps even more if you are Meryl Streep.
I’m not opposed to nominating an actor from a bad movie if they really deliver a strong performance.  That usually is more likely with a supporting actor than a leading one, but it does happen.  It’s strange to have Close and Streep nominated for films that were practically panned and received very low praise, if any.  To have Streep win was another ‘what the fuck’, but I guess many saw that coming.  I even called the race the Close/Streep race beginning of last year, but it was obvious that Davis was runner up by the end of the year.  It’s not that either Streep or Close give bad performances, for they are both decent enough, but neither gives us anything truly remarkable.  Close reins in her hammy persona and actually gives us something soft and tender, but the film’s confused themes and unfocused tendencies gave us something that felt devoid of point.  The film as a whole just felt so unnecessary.  Streep is a wonderful actress. She can really do no wrong. Her talent is non-negotiable and yet even she falls victim to Lloyd's horrendous grasp of the material. By splicing the film in such a nonsensical manner, Lloyd has stripped Streep's performance of depth and meaning and merely presented us with a really good mimicry act, but nothing more. Streep embodies Thatcher, but she doesn't tell us anything about her.
Michelle Williams tried to snag an Oscar for her portrayal of Monroe, and she probably came closer than some think. Mimicry is something the Academy salivates over, and Williams surpasses expectations with her layered portrayal of the complicated movie star. She doesn't exactly mirror her in the way that Streep mirrored Thatcher (which is probably why Streep won the Oscar, and not Williams) but she infuses the common perception of her with something special. It's just a shame that the film doesn't give her enough substance. It pretends to, and from outward appearance it may, but when one digs a little deeper there isn't much here.
Viola Davis would have actually been a deserving winner.  Not as deserving as Mara, and Davis doesn’t even make my top twelve (the year was so freaking strong), but she added a lot of depth to this clichéd character (such a clichéd film), far more depth than Williams, Streep or Close.  You can see the struggle and the inner suffering that cements her character in our hearts and keeps us rooting for her.  She certainly delivers a performance that the film doesn’t quite deserve.
1)      Mara
2)      Davis
3)      Williams
4)      Close
5)      Streep
Gaging their careers is pretty funny.  Mara is out, since outside of her two Fincher films she’s been pretty mediocre and sometimes even embarrassingly bad (that Law & Order episode was hilariously bad). 
Viola Davis has been working for years and has been putting in memorable performances in some high profile films.  Whether she was turning in near cameo performances in films like ‘Traffic’ and ‘Antwone Fisher’ or more layered supporting turns in ‘Solaris’ and ‘Doubt’ or coming up to plate in a large way, like with ‘The Help’, Davis is always a blessing on the screen.  I mean, even in miniscule roles such as ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ or ‘Eat Pray Love’ she winds up being the best thing about the film.  I just wish that she could land more meaty roles.  She certainly has the goods to handle them, but she’s very rarely the focus of her films.  I was hoping that an Oscar win would change that, but Streep had different plans for that Oscar.
It’s odd to look at Glenn Close’s IMDB page because you’d think, with her legendary reputation, that she would have a longer resume but she really hasn’t been in THAT many films.  Still, they say that quality surpasses quantity and she really has delivered some quality performances.  From her first big screen film, ‘The World According to Garp’, right through her late 80’s entries like ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, Close became a staple of serious acting.  She’s often been accused of hamming it up on screen, and she can delve into that line of performing, but there is no denying that when Close is on her game, she is otherworldly.
I’ve talked about Williams’ resume in a past entry in the series.  Here is what it said:
And then we have Michelle Williams.  I love this woman.  I really think she is poised to be one of the greatest actresses of all time one of these days.  In fact, what she is doing now is establishing a resume that is reminiscent of early Winslet and Kidman; varied and wholly engaging.  Her Oscar nominated performances are all compelling, and she understands how to expose vulnerability remarkably well.  She uses her features (especially those eyes) to full effect and knows how to layer her nuanced approach in such a way that she never has to dramatize anything, for her eyes and her face do that for us.  That said, with as much as I love her recent work, I haven’t seen anything she’s done pre-‘Brokeback Mountain’.  I can’t believe it myself, but looking over her IMDB page I see that eight of her films.  So, with the talent she possesses I firmly believe that in a few years she’ll be one of my favorites of all time, but right now I’ll just say that she’s one of the best working today.
At the end of the day though, when Meryl Streep is on a list like this she usually comes out on top; right?  It’s funny because debating her career is fun.  When looking over Streep’s films there really aren’t many good ones.  Or, I should say, there aren’t many great ones.  For an actress with her reputation, you’d be pressed to find a film of hers that you’d put in your top 100.  There just aren’t many inspired choices.  Still, regardless of the quality of film, Streep is usually always on the top of her game, and she is one of those rare gems who can pretty much do ANYTHING.  Give her comedy, drama, biopic, action, depressing, uplifting, controversial; whatever…she nails it.  She’s not my favorite actress working today (put her in a lineup with Kate Winslet or Naomi Watts and she’d probably place at #2) but she’s definitely deserving of her status in Hollywood and with the general public.
If Meryl Streep is in a movie, you’ll probably see it!

1)      Streep
2)      Close
3)      Williams
4)      Davis
5)      Mara
Now, I have my ballot but I haven’t finished my images yet, so I’m just going to post my top twelve below.  You can guess as to which five actually make my personal ballot!



  1. I'll guess Dunst, Heran, Olsen, Wiig, and Yun. Hopefully, I'll at least get one right. :)


    1. Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy
    2. Brenda Blethyn, London River
    3. Anna Paquin, Margaret
    4. Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty
    5. Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia

    1. I think you'll like my lineup! Should be up today or early tomorrow. I haven't seen London River or Sleeping Beauty though! This year was SO STRONG in this category...or like, every category!