Annette Bening

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On Twitter, both Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley have been talking about the possibility for an Annette Bening upset over Natalie Portman on Oscar night. ¬†It’s really been down to these two actresses since the start of Oscar season. ¬†It will be interesting to see how Oscars 2011 go down – they’ll either be the most predictable Oscars ever or the least predictable. ¬†Will there be winners that come out of nowhere, like Adrien Brody did the year The Pianist almost swept the Oscars? ¬†Everyone had been heavily focused on the two favorites – Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York and Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. ¬†Looking back on it now, it seems like Brody would have won based on the performance alone. ¬†As someone who championed his performance like crazy back then — and The Pianist, I might add (I was ridiculed then as I’m ridiculed now for being an advocate) — it was one of the highs of the time I’ve spent covering the race.

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Tom O’Neil and Pete Hammond dish it up about Best Actress, wondering if Nicole Kidman might not come in and steal the Oscar away from Natalie Portman or Annette Bening (of Jennifer Lawrence, for that matter). Every day it feels like one or the other will win. First it was Bening, then it was Portman, then Portman got pregnant and then it was Bening, and now it’s Kidman, but then no one really cares about Portman’s pregnancy so maybe it’s Portman? Or maybe it’s Bening because of the popularity of The Kids Are All Right and her being overdue. She’s a heroic character, etc. Anyway, take it away Pete and Tom:

The Women Film Critics Circle gives out its own unique set of awards again this year.

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
Mother And Child

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
Winter’s Bone

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]
The Kids Are All Right: Lisa Cholodenko

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right

BEST ACTOR
Colin Firth/The King’s Speech

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence/Winter’s Bone

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right

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It always happens every year a unique film like Black Swan starts hitting the mainstream. There is bound to be some sort of freak out as people see the film that is creating such a stir. There is never any guarantee that it will be a movie they respond to. I’m thinking of Christmas time cinema going. While I no longer believe this idea that the Academy voters are either too conventional, too infantile or too old to “get” great filmmaking, I do understand that there are a good many who will be freaked out by Black Swan nonetheless.

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While the men characters are doing things like cutting off their arms to survive, creating a social networking revolution, learning to give speeches and becoming king of England while doing so, winning boxing matches, robbing banks and getting the girl – the women are coming apart. Many of them, anyway. There are a few strong oaks in the mix – Ree from Winter’s Bone and Nic from The Kids Are All Right (note that these are both written and directed by women). The stronger female leads, where the women are kicking ass and taking names, don’t seem to be featured as prominently as the crazy ones – Naomi Watts in Fair Game, Hilary Swank in Conviction. This year, we like them shaking and crazy.

Herewith, the top five craziest female characters in the Oscar race:

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The Daily Beast calls this a list of the “10 Steamiest Lesbian Sex Scenes” but most of them are merely humid and partly dewy. For a stark contrast with true sizzle on film, make your own mental list of the 10 Steamiest Straight Sex Scenes (and please share so we can compare notes).

  1. Black Swan: Natalie Portman & Mila Kunis
  2. Wild Things: Denise Richards & Neve Campbell
  3. The Kids Are All Right: Julianne Moore & Annette Bening
  4. Higher Learning: Jennifer Connelly & Kristy Swanson
  5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Scarlett Johansson & Penélope Cruz
  6. Mulholland Drive: Naomi Watts & Laura Harring
  7. The Runaways: Kristen Stewart & Dakota Fanning
  8. Bound: Gina Gershon & Jennifer Tilly
  9. Gia: Angelina Jolie & Elizabeth Mitchell
  10. The Hunger: Susan Sarandon & Catherine Deneuve

Almost amusing to see The Kids Are All Right at the top of the steamy heap, except that it’s such a sad commentary that anyone would think the wry comical couplings in that film are the least bit sultry.

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My Oscar Poker partner, Jeff Wells, is worried that Lesley Manville won’t make the cut if they run her as Best Actress. He thinks she has a better chance of getting in in the Supporting Actress category. It probably isn’t going to matter what bloggers think about it – if the AMPAS wants her in lead, they will nominate her in lead. Although we keep talking up actresses, here is how I envision a scenario with Manville in:

Natalie Portman
Annette Bening
Jennifer Lawrence
Nicole Kidman
Lesley Manville

And then, you’d go:
Michelle Williams (all of this NC-17 business is great for her, actually, publicity-wise)
Naomi Watts
Julianne Moore
Sally Hawkins

The bottom line is that there IS room for Manville in the lead actress race simply because they will make room. Hers is, without question, one of the best of the year. She plays a character who is coming apart but was only barely there to begin with. Completely self-centered, unrealistic and neurotic, Manville’s portrayal could have slipped into caricature. But somehow, she keeps it grounded. The truth is, you can’t take your eyes off her. So, though it’s appreciated, I don’t see the need for a “Save Lesley Manville” campaign.

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It’s been said before, but let it be said again, 2010 is marked by an uncharacteristic tsunami of women. Sure, there are still some male-driven films that have risen to the top of the pile, namely Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech, Jessie Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield/Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, the brilliant James Franco in 127 Hours, (though I haven’t yet seen it) Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in The Fighter, and the upcoming True Grit with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. But let’s face it, this year it’s raining women.

The Oscar for lead actress is going to be competitive this year, which always makes for an exciting Oscar run. Even before I’d seen Black Swan, I felt like three women had a real shot at taking it: Natalie Portman, course, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence.

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It took me a while to finally see The Kids Are All Right. I knew the movie would be good, and I followed the trail of buzz that has it continually landing on lists of films that might make the cut for the Oscars. Some have asked why the film is always there when it doesn’t have any so-called buzz. The simple reason is that the film stands out not just because of the tuned and harmonious cast, but because the subject matter is daring, confrontational, and dare I say it, groundbreaking.

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The SBIFF already has a star-packed lineup slated for their fest, which takes flight January 27, through February 6. Just announced, Annette Bening will be the recipient of the American Riviera Award, which was “established to recognize an actor who has had a strong influence on American Cinema. Bening will join an illustrious group of past recipients: Sandra Bullock (10), Mickey Rourke (09), Tommy Lee Jones (08), Forest Whitaker (07), Philip Seymour Hoffman (06), Kevin Bacon (05) and Diane Lane (04).”

And thus, Bening’s year begins in earnest.

Other already announced honorees include James Franco honored for his difficult but effecting work in 127 Hours, and Christopher Nolan will be honored with the Modern Masters award.

Here is the first installment, but click over to the site to see the rest of the interviews. Participants include Helena Bonham Carter, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Hilary Swank, and Amy Adams.

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Nathaniel, over at The Film Experience, has done some exhaustive research that proves being younger isn’t always better when it comes to winning. We silly Oscar bloggers have been debating privately whether or not we think Jennifer Lawrence has the stuff to win. This, because Nathaniel sent us the link to his page. Basically his point is that Lawrence, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld would be in the “probably too young to win” category.

Two of us, Guy Lodge and me, think it’s possible she could win the whole thing. My reasoning for this is as follows: hers is the only truly selfless and heroic contender in the pack. Sure, there are other factors and other contenders – there is Natalie Portman (who may end the year with the most lauded performance) and there is beloved Annette Bening. I don’t think Lawrence is in the same position that Carey Mulligan was last year because Mulligan, though lovable indeed, was not caring for her younger siblings, her sick mother, trying to save their home — all the while delivering a spectacular performance. She’s a big threat. Make no mistake about that.

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It is being said that this is the Year of the Actress. It very may be, and if it is, it’s a long time coming. As we head out of the bulk of the year and into a very heated next four months, there are some things we know for sure. We know that Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan) are the two strongest contenders right now to win. We know that Jennifer Lawrence emerged with one of the year’s best performances in Winter’s Bone, and she will likely also be nominated. That leaves two open slots. And for those two spots, things might get a little heated.

There are many reasons why Bening and Portman lead, and only one of those is that their performances were memorable. Bening is a Hollywood fixture by this point, and though she came close to winning, has never won. Portman is a hard-working actress who also has yet to be recognized. She takes things to a whole new level with Black Swan, however, and though she really had nothing to prove, this performance will be one of the few, I figure, that lives up to the hype.

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It comes as no surprise that Sony Pictures Classics is first out of the gate (again!) with DVD screeners sent¬†to Academy voters. According to veteran AMPAS member Ken Rudolph’s¬†invaluable record-keeping, SPC¬†recently¬†mailed out Animal Kingdom,¬†a hopeful contender¬†for Jacki Weaver in Supporting Actress, along with other possible nominations, and¬†also¬†the Annette Bening/Naomi Watts vehicle Mother and Child. Two years ago, SPC¬†played early bird¬†with the Frozen River DVD, and we all know where that eventually landed Melissa Leo: right in Oscar’s wheelhouse. Of course,¬†not all screeners¬†produce such a dramatic impact, so only time will tell.

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Writing for the Daily Beast, Nicole LaPorte quotes others saying that the Best Actress race could be down to Natalie Portman for Black Swan and Annette Bening for the Kids Are All Right. This is one of the many post-Toronto and Oscar pieces floating around this morning. We can’t say for sure yet whether this is a big Toronto year or not; we’ll have to see how the biggest get out of there, The King’s Speech, ultimately does.

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Thanks to Ryan’s post, our thoughts turn to Nicole Kidman, who is said to do brilliant work in Rabbit Hole, a tough sell all around but given Kidman’s popularity and star power, a strong possibility.

Pete Hammond, new awards writer for Deadline, writes:

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Put Annette Bening and Julianne Moore at the top of this year’s Best Actress race, they are the heart and soul of The Kids Are All Right. They play a married couple that go through the same issues any other hetero married couple would go through. Bening with her devious but honest smile is a tour de force as Nic, a woman that only wants the best for her children, even when she can sometimes come out looking harsh and honest. Julianne Moore, playing Jules, is her wife. Jules feels isolated and resorts to an affair with their kids’ sperm donor Paul -magnificently played by Ruffalo (almost a sure thing for next year’s Supporting Actor race). The scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are tremendous, sexy, touching and extremely honest.

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So far, the field is already half-filled with Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Jennifer Lawrence. But out of Cannes, came three great performances. I saw two of them, Michelle Williams and Lesley Manville. I missed Naomi Watts in Fair Game, but word has it she won’t BE IGNORED, Dan. And then Tilda Swinton received her usual acclaim for I Am Love, which puts her in the running.

But there are more to come this year.

The question is, how well will these early names hold as the festival season kicks into high gear? What names will rise to the top of the pile? Will it be a newcomer? Or will a veteran finally get her due?

After the cut, a list of possible contenders, both seen and unseen.

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Animated films continue to rewire the frustrating disconnect we often see between critical and box office success, as Despicable Me pulls in $60 million this weekend ($17,000 per screen). But perhaps the more important numbers were those racked up by The Kids Are All Right, bringing in half a million bucks in only 7 theaters for an astounding $72,000 per screen. Two days ago Mark Ruffalo parsed the factors that seem be coming together for box office magic:

“The 600-pound gorilla is that it’s a lesbian movie and we’re in the middle of this huge debate about gay marriage,” said Ruffalo. “But I really loved was how quickly the novelty of the gay marriage and the sperm donor thing just fades away.”

“It’s a real honest movie about family,” he added. “I’ve seen the audiences laughing, and they are laughing because they see themselves. It has Julianne and Annette, that’s it own draw to a certain group. And the idea of them as lovers is also it’s own draw. It’s a nice counter-programming moment.

Credit reader phantom for pointing out parallels to another Sundance success story in 2006.

Just to put it in perspective Little Miss Sunshine – also a critically acclaimed family dramedy starring popular actors with a summer release date – made a 53K PTA in 7 theaters 4 years ago. And LMS ended its run with almost 60M.

The best news for Focus Features (and for us) is how the Kids strong opening establishes a promising platform for wider release so we can look forward to an interesting roll-out on weeks to come. Meanwhile, with Despicable Me settling in comfortably with a metascore of 72 (just 2 points lower that How to Train Your Dragon) we’re seeing the roster for Best Animated Featured quickly fill up with worthy contenders. (And when’s the last time we had two of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year open on the same weekend?) It’s getting pretty hard for killjoys to claim 2010 is a weak year for nominees.

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