Karen Durbin writes up some memorable performances coming this Fall.
On Robin Wright Penn in The Lives of Pippa Lee:
But at first this model wife and hostess is like a ghost at her own feasts. As Ms. Wright Penn plays her, she has a veiled quality, a remoteness from what‚Äôs going on around her, even as she extends herself to give people what they want.
Eventually we learn, along with Pippa, why she is like this: she‚Äôs doing penance. As her guilt lifts, so does her veil. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm awake,‚Äù she says, in what is ostensibly a mundane statement of fact.
But of course it‚Äôs much more. And Ms. Wright Penn demonstrates this, filling with such quiet vibrancy that it‚Äôs as if we are seeing her in living color for the first time. Like Pippa, she has bloomed.
Christian McKay as Orson Welles:
But while the large gestures and emphatic diction of the stage are well suited to portraying such an outsize character, they are often calamitous onscreen. In only his second film role, Mr. McKay, who is English, makes the transition beautifully.
Much of Mr. McKay‚Äôs performance takes place on his smooth, temporarily Wellesian features. His Orson is a wily enchanter who can talk people into and out of just about anything. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre what I call a God-created actor,‚Äù he tells Richard with such grave sincerity that you could believe he means it if he didn‚Äôt say the same thing to other cast members. Elsewhere Welles‚Äôs eyes harden into something ugly as Mr. McKay shows us the smallness of a man determined to punish anyone who challenges his ego.
Catalina Saavedra in The Maid (I cannot wait to see this):
Exploring the bad faith inherent in master-servant attachments, ‚ÄúThe Maid‚Äù is often humorous, but there‚Äôs nothing silly about Ms. Saavedra‚Äôs Raquel, the loyal live-in servant of a wealthy, liberal family in Santiago. After 23 years their relationship is approaching a crisis, with Raquel moody and tense, popping pills to alleviate daylong migraines and at bitter odds with the family‚Äôs teenage daughter. When the family tries to celebrate Raquel‚Äôs 41st birthday, Ms. Saavedra creates a portrait of accelerating instability that‚Äôs an unnerving tour de force.
And, of course, the woman who will be tough to beat come Oscar time (and is probably the frontrunner to win), Gabourey Sidibe in Precious:
Lee Daniels took a bold gamble in casting a total film novice, Gabourey Sidibe, in the arduous lead role of his award-winning, Harlem-set drama ‚ÄúPrecious: Based on the Novel ‚ÄòPush‚Äô by Sapphire‚Äù (Nov. 6). Claireece Jones , known as Precious, could hardly have a more bittersweet nickname. Illiterate, mocked by neighborhood boys for her obesity and, at 16, pregnant yet again by her come-and-go rapist father, she lives in a private hell of abuse and humiliation at the hands of her violent, jealous mother (Mo‚ÄôNique). Offered the chance to enroll in literacy classes at a small alternative school located in the Hotel Theresa, she leaps at it, convinced that education will be her escape.
Ms. Sidibe makes Precious a sympathetic figure but not a sentimental one. The toll her suffering takes is evident in the brusque way she rebuffs the overtures of a younger abused child in her building. She softens when kindness and help enter her life, but only gradually and with glints of sardonic humor in her eyes. Nobody knows the trouble she‚Äôs seen ‚Äî until she finally begins to talk about it. And a moment comes when she suddenly gives a prized possession, her silky red scarf, to the girl in her building, as if passing a baton to the next runner in a long and terrible race.
Finally, the great Carey Mulligan in An Education:
When associated with young women, the phrase ‚Äúloss of innocence‚Äù usually means sex. But Ms. Mulligan makes Jenny‚Äôs morning-after musings so coolly scientific and inadvertently brutal that they are a comic delight. Of course Jenny does lose her innocence, in the ways that matter, and makes us see things in ourselves and others that we wish we didn‚Äôt have to. Ms. Mulligan rises to that occasion too, passing through something like the stages of grief: anger, denial and finally an acceptance so heavy with sadness and shame that we see Jenny standing for the first time on the threshold of being an adult.