MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

For My Consideration

Published under Oscar Outsider.

In the fall, a movie-obsessed writer’s thoughts turn, not so lightly, to thoughts of Oscar gold. We’re edging ever closer to the precipice that is awards season, and much as we on this side of things like to pretend awards don’t matter … they do. If you live in LA or New York, it’s almost impossible not to think about awards, especially the Oscars, Hollywood’s ultimate mutual-appreciation back-patting event.

But even for those of us who don’t live in the thick of things, surrounded constantly by all things for your consideration, by mid-October, Oscar thoughts color our takes on many of the films we see in screenings, or at home via one of the seemingly endless supply of end-of-year screeners that arrive on our doorsteps with such predictable regularity that the delivery truck drivers come to greet us by name — or secretly suspect us of engaging in some sort of illegal enterprise.

So I must confess that my own thoughts have very much been on the Oscars lately; in particular, I’ve found myself growing somewhat obsessed about the chance that several deserving underdog contenders in the category of Best Actress have at leaping over the hurdles presented by bigger names with more lofty Oscar pedigrees to earn a shot at coming home on Oscar night with a naked golden man tucked under one arm.

Based on the number of talented femme performances vying for five berths, Best Actress is going to be one of the hottest Oscar categories this year. On MCN’s Guru’s of Gold chart, the five front-runners at the moment in this category are Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long) and Angelina Jolie (Changeling). Below those five, but not yet out of the running, we have Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Melissa Leo (Frozen River) and Nicole Kidman (Australia).

Of these films, I’ve seen all except DoubtRevolutionary Road and Australia, and it’s entirely possible that my thoughts on this category will evolve once I get a chance to see those three. If I was making my own list of who should be in the running for Best Actress, though, my top five would be Thomas, Hathaway, Hawkins, Streep and Leo. I don’t think Jolie’s performance in Changeling merits Oscar consideration, frankly, much as everything about the film, including its score, seems designed for Oscar night. I can’t really speak of Kidman or Winslet yet other than what we generally know about the films and the Oscar history of both ladies. Personally, I don’t care much about the politics of Oscar night, I care about the performances, but then again, I’m not the one who chooses the nominees, and my thoughts are based, necessarily, more on my purely emotional response to the films and the performances than who carries the most weight in Hollywood.

Right now, I’m most interested in the three performances and films I feel most strongly about in this race: Thomas, Hathaway and Hawkins.

Thomas’ performance in I’ve Loved You So Long is a high note in a long career of outstanding performances from this talented actress. As Juliette, reunited with her younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) after 15 years in prison, Thomas perfectly evokes the hollow emptiness of a woman so traumatized by what’s happened to her that she’s locked herself within walls that remain impermeable even after she’s free to live in the world again.

Watching Juliette take slow, measured steps toward embracing life again and reconnecting with her sister, I was struck by how carefully Thomas played the arc of her character’s journey. When the dam breaks and years of pent-up emotion spill forth at last, she positively sears on the screen. Director Phillipe Claudel, at the Q&A for the film at the Telluride Film Festival, spoke of the film’s climactic scene and how he made Thomas and Zylberstein run it over and over again until Thomas exploded at him, then channeled that angry energy into the cut that’s seen in the film.

The emotion of that scene is riveting in and of itself, but its power comes also from the measured way in which Thomas has portrayed Juliette up to that point in the story: the haunting emptiness of her eyes, the tentative steps toward reconnecting with family and the larger world, the way in which she continues to punish herself long after the system has lost interest in punishing her. It’s a first-rate performance in every respect, and Thomas, who’s been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar only once before (for The English Patient, way back in 1997), absolutely deserves a spot among this year’s nominees.

Hathaway’s performance in Rachel Getting Married, which I finally caught this weekend after missing it at Toronto, is an astonishing revelation. Who would have thought, back in her Princess Diaries days, that she had this kind of deep, weighty performance lurking in her? She was overshadowed in Brokeback Mountain by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, and while she was rock-solid in The Devil Wears Prada, she still stood in Streep’s long shadow when it came time for Oscar noms, with Streep getting the Best Actress nom for her role as the super-bitch boss to Hathaway’s fledgling assistant.

This time around, Hathaway well deserves a nomination for Rachel Getting Married, where her performance as Kym, the guilt-ridden, drug-addicted sister coming home on a weekend pass from rehab for her sister’s wedding carries the film through a tense weekend taut with family dysfunction and unresolved grief. From Kym’s confrontation with good-sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) over who should be maid-of-honor in the wedding, to the awkward, cringe-worthy toast Kym makes at the rehearsal dinner, to the seething confrontation between Kym and her mother (Debra Winger), there’s not an off-moment from Hathaway anywhere in this film. I heard many good things about Rachel Getting Married coming out of Toronto, and Hathaway more than lives up to the hype. She evokes deep-seated guilt and grief so honestly, with such raw emotion, that I was riveted to the screen for every second of the film. This is Hathaway’s year to shine in the spotlight, and her performance in Rachel certainly merits it.

Which brings us to Hawkins. I saw Happy-Go-Lucky for the first time at its Telluride sneak, and just saw it again last week. The biggest hurdles Hawkins has to get over to garner a spot in the Oscar noms are the perception by some that her character, Poppy, is so relentlessly cheery as to be grating on the nerves, and the impression that the film’s strongest scenes are those between Poppy and Scott, the uptight driving instructor (Eddie Marsan), which could create the sense that the core of the film revolves around Hawkins’ scenes with Marsan, rather than Hawkins’ performance on its own merit. Interestingly, while I’ve heard more than a few people speculating that Hawkins’ chances could be undermined by the strength of her scenes with Marsan, I’ve yet to hear anyone say the same thing about Thomas, whose role relies equally on the strength of a powerhouse supporting turn by Zylberstein, or Hathaway, who has some of her best moments in Rachel in the scenes where she’s opposite a strong supporting performance by DeWitt.

I thought the first time I saw Happy-Go-Lucky that there was a lot more going on under the surface that its somewhat lightweight appearance, and having seen it twice now, I’m convinced of it. Director Mike Leigh shows a very deft hand throughout, and structurally, the film is filled with opposing moments that play off each other well. The opening scene has Poppy cheerily riding her bike along while upbeat music plays over the opening credits: she’s smiling, she’s waving, she’s engaged with her environment and with everyone she comes in contact with. The final act opens with a scene of Poppy walking alone against a background of somber music, insular in deep thought, following an explosive encounter with Scott; the latter scene bookends nicely against the opener.

Leigh uses contrasting opposites and perspectives again in a scene where Poppy, her youngest sister Susie and best friend go to visit pregnant middle sister Helen. Helen’s married, she’s on the all-important “mortgage ladder,” she’s having a baby. She rails against Poppy about how Poppy needs to grow up, get a mortgage, start thinking about getting married and having a baby before she gets too old. “I just want you to be happy,” she implores. “But I am happy,” Poppy replies, and then goes on about how she’s content with her life for all its ups and downs until Helen, coming down off her middle-class-values rant, says in a more subdued tone, “You don’t have to rub it in.”

When I initially reviewed Happy-Go-Lucky, I said that the film didn’t have much in the way of narrative, but after reflecting upon my second viewing, I think I was wrong on that count. The film is filled with these subtly drawn moments of contrast, all interwoven around Poppy’s life, and her tireless ability to see the good even in the worst of things, but it also has some touchingly human moments where Poppy reflects on her upbeat worldview that add depth and texture to the film. Good as the story itself is, though, as a parable of sorts about how happiness lies in your outlook on life and not your material possessions (and isn’t that a timely message for us right now), it’s Hawkins who carries the film, from start to finish, and I hope that her status as a relative unknown won’t overshadow the enormous talent she displays in the film.

As to whether that talent will be enough to carry her to an Oscar nom over the likes of Streep, Kidman and Winslet, it’s still very early in the season, and we’ll have to wait and see if those performances are as strong as they’re being touted to be before any of us can make predictions about the category. Other factors will come into play, of course, in determining which way the chips fall, but if we’re looking strictly at the merit of performances, Thomas, Hathaway and Hawkins deserve to be in the mix, and I’d hate to see them get lost in the awards season shuffle.

by Kim Voynar

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “For My Consideration”

  1. Dale Chancy says:

    I really liked your content but maybe this time you may have been too sick while writing because the post it seems rushed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon