Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lovely Ladies

It's been reported officially that Focus Features will rightfully campaign both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore for leading actress for their tremendous work in The Kids Are All Right.  That's a sigh of relief for true believers, I'd say, especially since studios usually do the usual trick of mixing co-leads of the same gender into lead and supporting categories, respectively-- the numerous examples are staggering (Brokeback Mountain's Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal springs to mind.)  And if by some miracle both awesomely talented creatures were to get nominated it would be the first time two women in the same film were nominated for lead actress since 1991, when both Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis got in for Thelma & Louise.  It's a rare Oscar occurrence that's only happened five times before:
  • Thelma & Louise (1991)- Davis & Sarandon
  • Terms of Endearment (1983)- Shirley MacLaine & Debra Winger
  • The Turning Point (1977)- Anne Bancroft & Shirley MacLaine
  • Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)- Katharine Hepburn & Elizabeth Taylor
  • All About Eve (1950)- Anne Baxter & Bette Davis
The drawback (and rational reason why studios are weary of it) is of course two nominations in the same category means at least one loss.  Of the ten women above, only one won the statue; that would be MacLaine for Terms of Endearment.  In some alternate ideal movie-land world I like to visit sometimes, I envision both Bening and Moore winning together-- it's unfortunate both sublime actresses are Oscar-less, despite loads of nominations (Bening has three to her credit-- The Grifters, American Beauty, and Being Julia; whereas Moore has four-- Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, The Hours, and Far From Heaven), massive acclaim, and the fact that at this point both have to be assumed Hollywood royalty.  In this dream, I picture both accepting their Oscars in characters as Nic and Jules, gracious, but perhaps bored, as Bening eyes it to the bar for some red wine.

Bening and Moore, despite being completely deserving do have their work cut out for them in the long haul however.  2010 is shaping up to a rich year for leading actress, a welcome treat for a category sometimes bereft of solid choices.  This year appears on paper to be an embarrassment of riches from films already opened, film festival favorites, and speculative guesswork.  Here's some options:

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right-- earned some of her best reviews for the arthouse hit, but faces internal competition from Julianne Moore.
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole-- when the film premiered at this year's Toronto Film Festival, she received lovely notices and career comeback type press releases.  Lions Gate Films snagged the film up, readying it for an awards qualifying run.  Kidman plays a mother mourning the loss of her son.  Based on the acclaimed play that won Cynthia Nixon a Tony Award.
  • Anne Hathaway, Love & Other Drugs-- speculative awards worthiness here, but she has a lot of buzz right now, and the mixture of light romantic comedy\tragic love story\topical subject might work well within middlebrow academy settings. 
  • Sally Hawkins, Made in Dagenham-- the film, which seems sort of a British-Norma Rae, played really well at Toronto, and Hawkins, who previously should have been acknowledged for Happy-Go-Lucky, might be in the film hits the right the notes with the critics and public.
  • Diane Lane, Secretariat-- while this Disney racehorse film isn't exactly the hottest film of the year (the cool internet kids, which I would never identify myself as) certainly aren't looking forward to it, but Lane is a hard-working actress, who surely still has some academy good will from her wonderful nominated performance in Unfaithful (2002), and if the film (thinking on terms of Seabiscuit + The Blind Side) performs well at the box office, she may have a better shot than we believe.
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone-- the film did fairly well for a summer art film (over $5 million), and the reviews were blistering enough to think that the critics might bring the movie back come end of the year time with their awards and top ten lists.  But Lawrence is very young, and the dark indie flick (winner of the Sundance's Grand Jury Prize) might unsettle those you actually watch it, or might be too underseen.  Indie Spirit nomination seems like a lock however.
  • Lesley Manville, Another Year--  the latest film from Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky) which was very warmly reviewed at Cannes this year, many critics pointing out Manville's performance.  A familiar character actress in Leigh's work, it could be strong and awards bait, but rumor has it could be in the supporting category instead.
  • Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right-- great as Annette Bening's lover in the summer arthouse hit, but Bening received the majority of the best in show accolades; I fear as worthy as Moore is, it may not happen.  I strongly believe Focus will plan a big DVD release to raise it's dwindling profile, reminding the movie elites how good the film really is.  Focus is quite good at Oscar campaigns.
  • Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go-- she's strong in the divisive film, but I have a feeling if the older members of the academy respond well to the emotional story, than the film might have a better awards showing than most may expect at this point in the game.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow, Country Strong-- speculative guesswork here, as nobody has seen the film yet, and honestly the trailer was a bit nausea-inducing.  But Paltrow plays a fading, alcoholic country star, and that may well fit the academy just fine (ask last years winner Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart.)  I'm guessing if the movie is tremendously popular (like last year's nausea-inducing The Blind Side), it has a fair shot, and Paltrow is a movie star, that never hurts.
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan-- has received the best reviews of her career so far (based on festival audience, not always the most reliable) for Darren Aronofsky's ballet freak out film.  While many have noted the film itself may be too cool or intense for general academy taste, Portman could well get in.
  • Emma Stone, Easy A-- okay, Oscar is definitely out of the question, but her reviews have been terrific, and the films is looking like a success, so a Golden Globe (musical or comedy) nomination is not out of reach, and one could make a point that she's playing one of Oscar's favorite types of girls, in the whore with the heart of gold, though she's a fake whore in the film.
  • Hilary Swank, Conviction-- Ms. Swank and myself don't always see eye to eye; Boys Don't Cry being the only exception, but she's playing to her strengths here, and the film might catch on, even if the early word out of Toronto is ho-hum, and members of the academy strangely have quite the affinity for her.
  • Naomi Watts, Fair Game-- playing ousted CIA agent Valerie Plame is a plum role, and Watts received kind words out of Cannes this year.  The real test will be when the film opens (courtesy of Summit Pictures, in November.) 
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine or Meek's Cutoff-- Williams has been a film festival darling all year so far with Blue Valentine likely being her real awards bid.  She and screen partner Ryan Gosling got tremendous reviews at Sundance and Cannes, but I worry since The Weinstein Company is choosing to open the film at the very end of December if it will have enough time to build awards momentum (far more important that actual quality), especially for a small actors film.  Meek's Cutoff got nice notices too, and it is Williams' second collaboration with director Kelly Reichardt, following the lovely and deceptively simple Wendy & Lucy, early word however is that film may not arrive until 2011.
  • Reese Witherspoon, How Do You Know?-- speculation here as no one has seen the film yet, but it's from director James L. Brooks, who has a nice track record of getting smart, character based dramedies into the Oscar race (As Good as it Gets, Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment), expect when he doesn't (Spanglish), but this sounds on paper at least a good option for Witherspoon, seemingly playing to her strengths. 

That's 16 very real possibilities, and a nice mixture of young blood, on the rise gals, and proven acting aces\movie stars.  I'm kind of stoked...

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