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Supporting Actress: In Praise of Cameron Diaz

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Ridley Scott’s The Counselor is going to go down as the most divisive film of the year. On the one hand, it’s Cormac McCarthy’s first original screenplay. On the other hand, it’s Ridley Scott’s homage to (I think) and tribute to his brother Tony. The reviews are mixed in the most extreme way – the defenders are acting as though they’re political refugees from a 3rd world country of oppressors. The critics are taking unusual delight in tearing it down. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. To my mind the film was undone by respect for Cormac
McCarthy. A beautiful screenplay in there somewhere, but one that was treated with too much preciousness, I thought, by most of the actors and the director. It was like watching them mount a respected Shakespeare play where the work was so respected no one wanted to make it their own. Well, almost no one. One performer stands out from the rest – Cameron Diaz. Of all of the actors in the film, only Diaz really felt no intimidation with the material and inhabited her character like maybe no other female performer this year. She had fun with it and never backed off some of the hard core moments throughout – like dropping her panties and mounting the windshield of a car.

Diaz was so electric in The Counselor, I dare say, if you don’t read the screenplay to get the richness from McCarthy’s writing (which everyone should, I plan to) see it for her performance alone. She’s been hinting at this for many years — she’s a live wire but usually bubbles over like a happy glass of champagne. She revels in darkness and perversion here – she is who Javier Bardem as in No Country for Old Men. But make no mistake: The Counselor is no No Country. Sure, many of the same themes thread throughout: money and drugs, good and evil, love and loss. But one is under the meticulous hand of the Coen brothers, who truly wrestled McCarthy’s book to the ground, cherry-picking its cinematic qualities while leaving in all of the best lines. The other is a director who respects the writer so much, apparently, that he leaves the screenplay alone. But I think there is a difference between a great read and a great movie.

But Diaz is a revelation as a woman/animal – birthed bloody and cold from a script that puts women neatly into the category of pretty girl. Throughout the film, Penelope Cruz included, women are decoration. But not so of Diaz – oh, maybe she was once but no longer. She is holding most of the cards – controls her sexuality like the loaded weapon it is and never loses sight of the bigger picture: survival, winning the game. There is a lot to the movie that doesn’t have to do with her yet somehow she emerges from it as the only thing worth remembering. Probably Academy members are going to turn off to this film as audiences have (grade D by Cinemascore, bad reviews, etc), which probably means no nomination for Diaz. But if ever there was an actor worthy of one it’s her.

Supporting Actress, so far, looks like this:

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
June Squibb, Nebraska
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
Lea Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color
Sarah Paulson, 12 Years a Slave
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

With American Hustle coming, Jennifer Lawrence might take one of those spots. There might be others from other films that haven’t yet been seen. It’s too early to see whether she’ll get in or not – probably not. But Cameron Diaz gives a performance better than most this year.