Keira Knightley

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By most estimations, Jennifer Lawrence has the Oscar race for Best Actress sewn up. The one-two punch of her work in Silver Linings Playbook, currently receiving very good reviews, and the $400 million she generated for the Hunger Games franchise, gives her the edge heading into the race.

But there are a few competing factors at play. The first, Jessica Chastain is about to hit with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Chastain carries the film. Unlike Lawrence, she isn’t “the girlfriend” but is the CIA agent obsessed with the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Imagine that, after all is said and done a woman gets to take credit for that? It is arguably among the best characters of the year.

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Marion-Cotillard-in-Rust-and-Bone

Two pieces of important information have come to light recently that may impact the Best Actress race: Anne Hathaway will be campaigned for lead as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and Jessica Chastain will also go lead for Zero Dark Thirty. Whether either of them will break through in a crowded race is a different story. Much will likely depend on the nominations at the Globes, then the SAGs and the Critics Choice Awards. By then, a consensus will have emerged. Those early awards are great for pruning the crowd. Once the nominees are named, voters get to sit on judgement about whether those are deserving nominations or not, whether there are more deserving names that got left off the list, and how each nominations or win would make them feel.

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An interesting essay over at  Fandor.com comparing two stage adaptations being released this year, Carnage and A Dangerous Method (The Ides of March and War Horse are two other prominent stage productions to be brought to film this year).  I agree with the writer who says that the trick in making Carnage is successful is choosing the right actors.  Polanski, I think, did a marvelous job as director hemming in the story.  At any rate, the subject of Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method is brought up:

Knightley has taken a lot of undeserved flack for the extremity of her performance in the early scenes of A Dangerous Method, when her character is manically all-over-the-place. Her sexually unhinged Sabina often falls into a jutting mannerism with her chin when she’s really unsettled, a bold choice on Knightley’s part; it looks like she’s chosen an animal of some kind as a pattern for Sabina’s physical behavior, and she goes all-out with this choice. As someone with more than a passing acquaintance with the mentally disturbed, all I can say is that Knightley’s chin mannerism here is exactly the kind of protective physical thing that people who are clinically ill often cling to, and it is also exactly the kind of thing that actors shy away from when they are playing mentally disturbed characters because it is wildly unflattering.

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There probably isn’t a better actress working in Hollywood who hasn’t yet won an Oscar than Glenn Close.  Charlize Theron, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Hudson, Marisa Tomei, Sandra Bullock have all collected their Oscars.  So to say that Close’s Oscar worthy role in Albert Nobbs is a long time overdue is to spotlight the obvious.  Oscar voters like to think that they vote for the most deserving in a given year with little regard to whether they’ve won before or not.  However, their voting history, upon closer inspection, reveals their preferences year in and year out.  What does winning an Oscar really mean? It means that, in any given year, the Academy “liked” the actress, the character she plays or in some cases their actual performance itself enough to vote for them.  It is an anonymous vote with no consequences attached.  No one is ever accountable for their choices because it is THEIR club.  But few actresses have done more to earn a place in that club than Glenn Close, which is why it seems odd that so far an Oscar win has eluded her.   It’s hard to not cry foul when you look at the performances she’s turned in – one brilliant, expressive performance after the next.

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Like many of the great David Cronenberg’s films, A Dangerous Method keeps you at an arm’s length as it dives into the world of the perverse and the key forces that shaped how we think about our own subconscious, our dreams, our sexual desires.  The film is set at a time when no one really talked about fetishes or deranged sexual needs — or any sexual needs at all.  The civilized world, polite society and all of its trappings, seemed to work counter to our animal nature, thus a subversive culture was born.  Freud was perhaps the first to delve into this, seeing that there were clearly two conflicting worlds at play: the civilized realm of the conscious and the subversive realm of our inner thoughts, our subconscious.  For better or worse, this madness.  Living contrary to one’s nature will always produce madness, insanity even.  That’s whether you’re Sabina, Keira Knightley’s character who is driven by a sadomasochistic fetish, or Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who is trapped in a marriage that doesn’t give him the sexual satisfaction or intimacy he requires.  They each seek freedom — but freedom is the one thing, at that time, that eludes them.

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