Robin Wright directs herself in Land, a stirring, moving actor’s showcase about a woman moving to a cabin in the mountains in an effort to escape from unbearable grief. One of the things I loved about this dynamic is that there is no barrier between herself and the director. She is the director, which made it, I think, slightly more intimate of a performance; she has no one to impress except herself. Perhaps that’s why we see her go deeper than we’ve ever seen her go before as an actress. I don’t know how this is possible when directing, how to pay attention to so many things at once and be able to find that sort of emotional space to take it that deep, but she does it.
I loved being so up close and personal with her face, which remains untouched with time and thus, so much more expressive. When it comes to directing, usually the choice is to focus more on staging performers or framing compositions, but here, maybe because it is located mostly in one place, it’s just Wright directing her character’s emotional journey. I myself having just gone through the process of grief I can tell you that this film feels wholly authentic to that experience, and it might be Wright’s best performance, or certainly one of them.
Can she break into the top five? Well, for starters, we don’t know who the top five will be. We think we know, but that has yet to be confirmed. I will consider Wright as being a strong contender at this point. There are several performances that might be considered under the radar if you go by what we the pundits are predicting, or as we like to say in the game, who are “in the conversation.” Of course, the conversation at the moment is just between us chickens. We don’t know whether that will translate more broadly.
The conversation at the moment is swirling around:
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Those three, at least right now, seem to be the strongest names floating around. After that, it might look something like:
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Zendaya, Malcolm & Marie
Amy Adams, Hillbilly Elegy
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
These are the central names being bandied about. But there are so many contenders this year that we have a lot of under the radar picks, like Michelle Pfeiffer in French Exit. An early contender in the race, Pfeiffer is better here than she’s been in years. There is Kate Winslet for Ammonite, which could get a boost at the Golden Globes. Clare Dunne plays a young mother on the run from an abusive husband in Herself. Rashida Jones in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks. And Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead, not to mention Nicole Baharie in Miss Juneteenth, and Meryl Streep in both The Prom and Let Them All Talk.
What will determine who gets in has to do with that elusive animal, “buzz.” What film are people buzzing about? That gets harder and harder to gauge this year, considering not all of the voters are going to be plugged into social media. Sussing out what a certain demo might go for is also not that easy anymore considering how the demographics have changed so dramatically in the country.
I would imagine that the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will have something to do with the way this will go but I’ll be doing a longer piece about that in a day or two. Suffice it to say, it COULD be the year the Academy breaks their record of only one black actress in 93 years of Oscar history winning in lead. If it’s going to happen any year it’s likely to be this one. As to that, there are several contenders this year who could win.
Either which way, I’d keep an eye on Robin Wright in Land – where she gives a career best performance. It is a competitive year and it feels packed already. The embargo lifts January 31.