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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Kate Winslet Should Not Win the Oscar this Year

In 2007, before There Will Be Blood had been released, I talked a great deal about how I felt Daniel Day-Lewis was the greatest living actor and that there really wasn’t any competition. When the film was eventually released, I felt vindicated because he had gone one step further, cementing his status as the actor who stands above all others by making difficult choices, off-beat choices in his mannerisms and cadences in his speech. Sean Penn is terrific, Philip Seymour Hoffman is wonderful, but Daniel Day-Lewis is just on a completely different level.

For actresses, the top actresses are very close together in terms of skill; I’m talking about women likeMeryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Rachel Weisz. But from the second I saw her in Heavenly Creatures, I felt that Kate Winslet was just a smidgen ahead of all the others. She doesn’t tower over the other actresses the way I feel Daniel Day-Lewis does with his peers, but she definitely has a combination of fearlessness and intelligence that combines with her physical beauty to make her into something a bit different than anything we’ve ever really seen before. She has been the best actress working for about a decade now and it’s great that people are finally realizing that with the arrival of her sixth Academy Award nomination.

But, that doesn’t mean she should win an Oscar for The Reader. But bear with me for a moment here.

The Academy has a strange history of rewarding the right actors for the wrong films and frankly, it’s annoying. Jack Lemmon won a Best Actor Oscar, but not for Some Like it Hotor The Apartment or Days of Wine and Roses; nope, he won for Save the Tiger in 1974. It’s a fine performance and the film is utterly forgettable, but the Academy wasn’t rewarding him for that film, they were rewarding him for an excellent body of work. Because of that, he beat out Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail and Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, two remarkable performances. But my favorite performance of that year was Al Pacino inSerpico.

So, to give Jack Lemmon an award, they snub a slew of young actors – Robert Redfordwas also nominated that year for The Sting and has never won an acting Oscar – including the great Al Pacino. Now, they could not have known at the time that Al Pacino would go on to become one of the greatest actors of his generation, but still his performance in Serpicowas definitely better than Lemmon’s in Save the Tiger. Nonetheless, Pacino got snubbed repeatedly – much like Lemmon – over the next two decades and finally the Academy decided to give Pacino an Oscar. But he didn’t get an Oscar for The Godfather films or Dog Day Afternoon or Glengarry Glen Ross or even Scarface; nope, he got it for Scent of a Woman in 1993.

So Pacino won that year and beat out young Robert Downey, Jr. in Chaplin, Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, but most importantly Denzel Washington in the captivatingMalcolm X. There is nobody in the world who thinks that Pacino’s performance in Scent of a Woman is equal to Washington’s in Spike Lee’s masterpiece. But because the Academy felt the need to give an award to a great performer, they wind up snubbing somebody else and the dominoes continue to fall.

Denzel Washington won an Oscar for Training Day, for giving a performance that isn’t nearly half as good as his portrayal in Malcolm X and because of that, Sean Penn, Tom Wilkinson (who should have won for In the Bedroom) and Will Smith had to wait. And this particular thread all stems from the Academy deciding to give Jack Lemmon an Oscar forSave the Tiger, in an effort to rectify past mistakes. Don’t get me started on Paul Newmanwinning for The Color of Money or Julia Roberts winning for Erin Brockovich.

The Academy must behave like a shark, moving forward constantly without looking back. Each award should be given on merit, on the basis of that particular film and that particular performance, not on past success in past films. And that brings us back to Kate Winslet.

In my estimation, Kate Winslet should have four more nominations (which would bring her total to ten) and at least two wins for films she actually has been nominated for (which would put her on a par, in the Academy’s mind, with Hilary Swank). The three extra nominations would have been for her devastating performance in Quills, her tragic Ophelia in Hamlet, her insane turn in Holy Smoke and one of her best performances yet in this past year’sRevolutionary Road.

Her first win should have come for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which she inexplicably lost to Hilary Swank’s paragon of blue-collar heroism in Million Dollar Baby. Her Clementine lights up the screen in Michel Gondry’s film and not just because of her bright orange hair; within a fantastical world where memories can be erased, she crafts a character that is so true and so real that it grounds the entire film in a similar reality. She breathes life into an off-kilter character, making her odd behavior not only reasonable but also endearing. We fall in love with her spirit in the same way that Jim Carrey’s character does.

And her second win should have come for her absolutely astounding and heartbreaking turn inTodd Field’s Little Children. That is a role that so easily could have been turned into something villainous with the wrong expressions, but Winslet makes her character of Sarah Pierce someone that scares us for a different reason: we’ve seen her before, in our lives, walking across the street and never knew what she was thinking and now we do and it makes perfect sense. She is a person with hopes and dreams who has to take solace in the small victories in her life, like being the smartest housewife on the block and we feel empathy for her, even as we sense that she is making some mistakes.

So the Academy screwed up like it always does and didn’t properly award this amazing actress for two of her finest roles – they also wouldn’t have been wrong to give her an award forIris – but now what? Is the Academy just supposed to give her an award because she’s always great?

If Kate Winslet had been nominated for Revolutionary Road, I would be 100 percent behind it and I’d be screaming to anyone that would listen that she should just be handed the damn award already. But she didn’t get nominated for the complex performance in the difficult film, she got nominated for the accessible film and the decent performance (the woman is incapable of being bad in anything). It reminds me of a couple years ago when Leonardo DiCaprio got nominated for Blood Diamond instead of The Departed – if it had been the latter, I would have rooted for him to win, but it was the former.

There is the argument that if Winslet wins for The Reader, it’s really a win for both films, but that’s not true. She would be winning for a specific performance in a specific film and since that film is The Reader, it would be inappropriate when the other four performances are all better than Winslet performance in that particular film.

The role of Hanna Schmitz is simply not a good role because the film doesn’t know what to make of her. She’s an illiterate ex-Nazi who doesn’t make any excuses for her role in the Holocaust, which is definitely interesting in theory. But in execution, the film wants me to have sympathy for her because she’s illiterate – as if being illiterate makes someone unable to know that killing is wrong. And Winslet’s performance is okay, as I said earlier, but I don’t really know what other way she could have played the role. I appreciate that she doesn’t resort to histrionics in any of the scenes, but that’s not the way the character is written anyway. She is understated and confounding and she does her job well enough.

But it’s not on the same level as Meryl Streep’s distressing turn in Doubt or Anne Hathaway’s ball of emotion in Rachel Getting Married or Melissa Leo’s soul-crushing portrayal in Frozen River or Angelina Jolie’s quiet strength in Changeling. I’m sorry, but of these five performances, Winslet’s is the least worthy of an award. It actually pains me to say that because I think she’s so wonderful and I desperately want to give her an award too, but it would mean snubbing somebody more deserving. It would mean that in future years, we would look back at this as a make-up Oscar rather than something won on merit alone. It’s possible that some voters will put a check next to her name because they loved her in The Reader, but I’m guessing more than a few will vote for her because of how great she’s always been.

So I implore the Academy to not give Kate Winslet the award this year. I’m confident that she will give us a performance within the next five years that will be worthy of such an award, so there will be plenty of other chances. If she wins, then I’ll definitely be pleased that the best living actress finally has an Oscar, but I’ll be disappointed because I’ll know it’s for the wrong movie.

– Noah Forrest
February 9, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon