Cate Blanchett already has one Oscar worthy performance this year in Todd Haynes’ brilliant Carol. She will be now competing against herself with her performance as Mary Mapes in James’ Vanderbilt’s excellent new film, Truth. The way Michael Fassbender owns Steve Jobs, so does Blanchett embody Mapes — fiery and complicated, at the top of her game. Can Blanchett win a second Oscar so soon? It’s hard to say. There should be no doubt, however, that her performance will likely soar to the top of the list the moment anyone sees her Mary Mapes.
At a time when there are fewer films that feature seasoned actresses who are over 40, Hollywood almost always tends to want to go younger and younger with them. Look at this Dave Karger tweet:
While that’s probably close to true, it’s depressing to look at it like that, especially with performances like Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, Sandra Bullock in Our Brand is Crisis, and of course, Cate Blanchett in Carol and Truth. We already know Oscar voters like to choose young women but older men. They like pretty, fuckable women, but men who aren’t pretty. It is one of the biggest and most glaring standards for actresses, the reason being there’s very little industry regard for older actresses if all Hollywood and the Oscars want are younger actresses. Audiences certainly don’t feel that way – not with Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin making a lot more money at the box office than anyone anticipated.
Making matters worse, many bloggers are urging supporting performances “go lead,” which will also tip the scales against the veterans in favor of other younger actresses like Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl.
Rampling, Theron and Blanchett deliver performances that come from not just learning to become great actors, but also from bringing their life experiences to those performances. No offense intended against younger actresses but doesn’t it seem more logical to give awards to those who have accomplished something after years of hard work as opposed to those who are on their way up? I don’t think Hollywood sees it this way, not where women are concerned. They want a fresh plate of meat each year. Or so their stats would seem to back up. We know that women in their 40s, 50s and 60s have a much harder time winning, or even being nominated, for Oscars. I think this is creating a wasteful, disposable culture in American film that robs powerful women of their power. Frances McDormand, Susan Sarandon, Viola Davis — just three examples of older actresses who don’t get enough work and are still every bit as vital as they’ve always been.
But let’s get back to this year.
What is most exciting about Truth and Carol is that they demonstrate how great films can be when women are given more to do than prop up, turn on, or bitch at the male characters. For Truth, Vanderbilt deliberately chose to tell a story with a woman at the center — and not just any woman. He focused on one of the most powerful, intelligent, kick-ass news producers in the business, and detailed her demise at the hands of the Bush administration, its corporate lackeys, and a cowardly network that would rather kowtow to hysterical right-wing bloggers than stand by its reporters and its lead anchor, Dan Rather. Blanchett is mesmerizing as Mapes. She has the emotional complexity of Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, the steely resolve of ethical journalist Robert Redford in All the President’s Men, and gets to savage the opposition the way Al Pacino does in The Insider. She has a scene like that great “The cat TOTALLY OUT OF THE BAG.” Both The Insider and Truth are about CBS and 60 Minutes. Both are about the fight between journalistic ethics and bowing to corporate overlords (guess who wins that contest?) and both are brilliant ensemble pieces about chasing down a story. But Truth is a different film from The Insider and shouldn’t be compared to it except in the way that CBS took a cowardly stance and will now have to eat shit about it.
Blanchett is the kind of actress who evolves with each new performance. Even this year, with Carol and Truth you see two very different performances, two very different characters but each with a strong center — identities wriggling to be free amid circumstances and circles that throw doubt on her motives, underestimate what she can do, and question who she is. I haven’t seen a better performance by any female all year than Blanchett’s in Truth.
Lily Tomlin has the hard job of carrying a film that was literally written FOR her. She plays a cantankerous old lesbian whose granddaughter needs money for an abortion. Instead of turning the quest into a liberal screed that demands women have the same rights as men in deciding what is best for their bodies — although that part is hard to ignore — Grandma, instead, dives deep into the character of this woman. Her past. Her loves. Her own grieving. I am still reeling from the idea that someone out there (Paul Weitz) had the heroic notion of making this movie at all. How do you explain to people: “Oh, she won’t get in because she isn’t young and fresh enough.” How do you explain the peculiarities of voters? You can’t, really. It is what it is.
Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years could be the role that finally earns her an Oscar nod. Again, whose idea was it to make a whole movie about an old woman figuring out what he entire life has been about? My god, is this 2015 or what? Women, especially those of a certain ago, are supposed to be exiled to television — far out of site from men who grapple with erection pills and ticket buying audience that just keeps getting younger. And yet, here is a film that appears to be dazzling young male critics. It’s kind of amazing. Rampling gives such a tender, moving performance as Kate. When I remember back on this year I surely won’t forget Rampling’s face as it searches the face of her husband looking for the truth. When the truth finally lands? It hits hard.
Charlize Theron plays arguably the most talked about film character of the year, at least so far. Sure, maybe that doesn’t mean much to Oscar voters, but Theron is tough, a leader and a far better shot than her co-star, Tom Hardy. But if that was all there was to her performance it wouldn’t be so memorable. It’s rather the deep pain of what’s happened to humanity that bleats behind her sorrowful eyes. Like the other actresses on this list she carries Fury Road almost completely. That is, she’s the most exciting thing in it and considering the cast, that’s saying a lot.
Regina Casé in The Second Mother is another remarkable turn in a film that will likely be shut out of the acting race. It’s hard to break into the major Best Actress race with a foreign language film. But that shouldn’t prevent us from praising that great great performance. Case manages so many different levels of emotion here — conveys feeling awkward around both her employers and then around her daughter. She does it all without being self-pitying in the least — and is actually quite funny. The Second Mother is so much about being young vs. being older and is a film everyone should see.
Another role of note, Julianne Moore in Freeheld, which I have not seen.
But yes, the Oscar race will probably not be about any of these magnificent women but will instead give the edge to the younger actresses. It’s hard to complain about anything in a year with so many great roles for women, both older and younger. So as for the new generation, our frontrunners become:
Brie Larson in Room is another standout this year. As a mother trapped in a tiny space with her young child, Larson has to be two people. She has to be the young woman kidnapped and regularly assaulted by her kidnapper (a typical loser), and she has to be the mother and role model for her young son. We all know as moms that we have to put on the mom face. We have to. We have to hide some of the truth of things. We have to nurture, protect, teach, instruct and eventually inspire. We get all of the credit and we get all of the blame. Larson, not a mother herself in real life, surely had the right kind of relationship with her own mother in order to really get that. Since the film unfolds from the child’s point of view, what Larson does is even more remarkable. It’s as though she’s having a silent conversation with the audience. We’re let in and shut out at key moments. We love her, we hate her. Eventually, if nothing else, we understand her.
Carey Mulligan in Suffragette and Far from the Madding Crowd. Probably Suffragette is going to be the ticket for Mulligan who is just phenomenal in the role, particularly since the camera is so close in on her face the entire time. She holds on tight to everything she’s been brought up to believe about a woman’s role in the home. As it dawns on her that she has no rights, no power and no path out of a trap, she begins to develop the strength to fight back. It is a subtle shift for Mulligan but gives her a chance to show us what she can really do when given great material.
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. This is supposed to be a wonderful film all around (I’m seeing it tomorrow) and Ronan’s performance is said to be beyond anything she’s ever done. Of her performance, Gregory Elwood said, “The Oscar nominee delicately maps out Eilis’ growth from sheltered small-town Irish girl to an independent and sophisticated metropolitan woman. And when Eilis has tough choices in front of her, the tears flow and they flow in buckets, but Ronan never lets these moments ring as anything but true.”
Emily Blunt in Sicario. Blunt plays a tough-as-nails FBI investigator who is tracking the leader of a drug cartel. Blunt is one of those actresses who is always so good but has never been given an entire movie to carry on her own. She comes close here, and is really good at playing both tough and vulnerable. Like many of the roles already mentioned, Blunt’s is a representation of a strong, capable woman, not just a gazing supporting character and is certainly one of the best performances of the year.
The big performance everyone is waiting to see is Jennifer Lawrence, who at last earned a lead role from David O. Russell in Joy. She won for Silver Linings Playbook, was nominated for American Hustle, and will likely, at the very least, be nominated for Joy. She is on a winning streak for sure — the sky’s still the limit.
If these are the names that we are going to be working with, it is hard to say how Best Actress will go. But you can never go wrong in following Dave Karger’s predictions. I hope that it isn’t just younger actresses, not in a year with so many vets turning in such astonishing work. Alas.
If I had to predict Best Actress right now I think I would order them this way, in terms of likelihood of being nominated.
1. Cate Blanchett, Truth
2. Brie Larson, Room
3. Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
4. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
6. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
7. Lily Tomlin, Grandma
8. Sandra Bullock, Our Brand is Crisis
9. Emily Blunt, Sicario
10. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
So, in the end, it looks as though Dave Karger is probably going to be right — that all but one of the Best Actress contenders will be under 30.