When Naomi Watts was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild the pundits kind of giggled and twittered about it being a major coup by the Weinstein Co. to bring an out of nowhere performance onto the Oscar stage. But really, that was just an example of dropping the ball, of being too locked into the consensus to consider other options. Watts steals the show in St. Vincent, which is one of the most entertaining films I saw this year. I know it isn’t going to light the critics on fire but it’s making money at the box office and who knows, maybe it might turn up here or there despite it being dismissed in the “conversation.”
Watts is joined by co-star Melissa McCarthy, whose tender and vulnerable turn is a sharp contrast to the slapstick comedy she did in Tammy, one of the biggest hits for women of the year.
Watts is also a standout in Birdman, along with co-star Andrea Riseborough. Emma Stone is getting all of the attention, of course, because she’s the younger, hotter of the bunch. She’s great, no doubt, and has the bigger part. But the other two women are fantastic, especially Watts.
Another unsung contender (though I’ve heard In Contention’s Kris Tapley writing about her) is Renee Russo in Nightcrawler. She takes what could have been a standard cliche, borrowed straight out of Faye Dunaway’s Network and turns it into something more human. She isn’t a success crazed automaton but is a woman being driven out by a business that needs a continual stream of fresh blood. Though I don’t think Nightcrawler is a metaphor for our news media so much (no metaphor needed – it’s straight up how our news media is) but the way we all devour and deliver news online now, how the beast is endlessly hungry, all ethics secondary, is what Nightcrawler is about to me.
Two actresses have knocked it out of the park in a variety of ways, though because they have so many performances that are hard to categorize it’s not easy squeezing them into the Oscar race. Also, judging by the work of Tilda Swinton and Jessica Chastain it’s more clear than ever how much these nominations are tied to Best Picture contenders. But for the odd standout here or there, the supporting actress not only must back up the male protagonist now and for all time, they also must appear in a film deemed worthy by the critics and the industry. Not an easy cup to fill.
Tilda Swinton once again delivers a delicious array of diverse work with Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Snowpiercer. She is brilliant in all three though how to categorize her? She’s like Scarlett Johansson, breaking the mold as she goes but there is no place in the Oscar race where she can fit. Swinton is the best thing about Snowpiercer but she must pay the price for the film not being “Academy friendly.”
Ditto Jessica Chastain in Interstellar, and in lead for the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, lead in Miss Julie and Supporting again for A Most Violent Year. The JC Chandor Lumet-inspired drama features Chastain as a firecracker of a wife, with the nails and the cleavage. The categorization of her and her work this year feels too small to me and yet we all know that is exactly how it’s all going to turn out.
I’m not saying the five in line for the nomination right now don’t deserve it. They absolutely do. The industry is bursting with supporting work for women – men do the hard jobs but they need women to help them figure it all out.
Laura Dern is not getting any love, it doesn’t look like, for Wild. That film was not one of my favorites because I am uncomfortable with movies about women where empowerment is all there is to it. If seeking out personal happiness and empowerment isn’t good enough for a male lead, it shouldn’t be good enough for a woman. But looking at Wild a different way and a better movie emerges for me and that’s the one where Reese Witherspoon must recover from the agony of losing her beloved mother, embodied so beautifully by the unsung Dern.
Meryl Streep is always great no matter what she’s in but to me the real standout in Into the Woods is Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. What’s a sister gotta do to get recognition? I love Ms. Streep and I’m all for her nomination this time around but I feel like Kendrick’s work is going unrecognized.
Kristen Stewart’s work has been singled out for the chances she took this year with three films, only two that came out. But her best work that I saw was as the daughter in Still Alice. Stewart brings so much honesty to the part, as she tries to deal more directly with her mother getting Alzheimer’s than her two other siblings. She might have had a better shot with the Clouds of Sils Maria, where she was getting the most heat. But that’s been pushed to next year.
Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma is another unsung performance, though admittedly that isn’t the kind of showy role that often gets recognition. But it’s worth noting, Keira Knightley’s in Imitation Game is one the same level yet for some reason she’s an instant contender where Ejogo isn’t – that’s probably to do with star power. Selma will end the year the more popular film, I think, yet Ejogo probably won’t crack the top five.
Finally, it’s been an inexplicable fact of Oscar season that somehow Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon hasn’t flipped he switch on anyone’s radar. Coon has all of the great lines in Gone Girl and delivers them like she’s shooting an automatic rifle. She is the antithesis of Amy, who glides smoothly through the film like a sharp knife cutting through frosting. Coon is the opposite – sloppy, honest, raw and trapped. Great performance, the year’s most underrated.
We all know that the Oscar race is about buzz. We know it has little to do with really finding the best. Sometimes they manage to flail around and reward the best. Time confirms it. But most of the time, the popularity contest is just about the right now, not necessarily the right.