It is yet another reminder of the absence of the Golden Globes that we don’t even have a placeholder for performances like Emma Stone’s in Cruella, which absolutely would have been in the mix, not to mention the leads for In the Heights. Heck, even Annette would have a shot if the Globes were still here. But they’re AREN’T, Blanche. They AREN’T. So we have to make do with what we have.
We’re about to find out how good some of the performances we’ve been waiting on will be when Venice and Telluride screen some of the films this week. It is important to remember that the reactions in Venice especially, but also in Telluride don’t ever tell the whole story. Believe it or not, I was among the very few on Film Twitter saying Gary Oldman had it in the bag for Darkest Hour. Seriously. That happened. You just never know. We thought Waves would be a player. It wasn’t. I was certain First Man would dominate the Oscars. It didn’t. Everyone thought La La Land couldn’t lose. It did. We think we know but ultimately, there can still be surprises on Oscar night. My own tragic flaw as an Oscar blogger is my own certainty of things. Even the best predictor can turn out to be wrong.
It is also important to factor in fandoms online. They do tend to sometimes skew results. We’re going to have a clash of the titans if the race comes down to Lady Gaga vs. Kristen Stewart in terms of fandoms. Boy, if Beyonce was in the mix it would be a blood bath. But as it is, these two actresses have very strong online groups that will drive engagement in their direction. Mentioning Kristen Stewart online will get you a lot of engagement so people who cover the race will be inclined in that direction just for the sake of clicks. But it is always important to be truthful. Can she win? Of course she can. But we haven’t yet seen the movie.
We will be seeing Kristen Stewart become Prince Diana in the next week. We will also see Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which very likely will have Kirsten Dunst, along with many powerhouse performances as Campion is particularly good with actors. We will also be seeing Jodie Comer in The Last Duel. If you aren’t familiar with Jodie Comer yet you are about to be. If you watched Killing Eve you will already know just how versatile and talented she is. She’s also great in the little-seen Doctor Foster. I can’t predict Best Actress until I see what she’s going to do with The Last Duel. And of course, Lady Gaga‘s work in House of Gucci is waiting to be seen. Then there is Rachel Zegler in West Side Story to contend with.
We’re waiting on three-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand to become Lady Macbeth (!), and Nicole Kidman to become Lucille Ball. And we’re waiting for Jessica Chastain to become Tammy Faye Bakker. There is also Penelope Cruz teaming up Pedro Almodovar, which could be a knock-it-out-of-the-park kind of thing.
The best performance I’ve seen so far this year is Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in Respect. A well-rounded performance that takes us through every stage of Franklin’s life and is thoroughly satisfying. It is with her singing that Hudson touches the spirit of Franklin in a way no one else ever has in my view. Anyone who comes after her will have to top that performance, which isn’t going to be easy.
Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga have already turned in formidable performances in Passing, which Anne Thompson has on her list (of the films she’s seen), along with Emilia Jones in Coda.
The Best Actress race should really have two other performances in it but there is just no room for them. And that’s Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton in Mass. Both are apparently “going supporting,” because that is really their best shot considering the competition this year, which is insane. Of course, we don’t know how many of these will be left standing by year’s end, but given the scale of this movie — small indie — it’s going to be hard to compete. However, anyone who actually values the craft of acting will have to take a look at these performances. It’s been days since I’ve seen it and these characters are still with me.
Without a doubt, Mass is something that could have been a Broadway play. Maybe it was written as a play first. Probably. But that doesn’t matter. Acting is acting and you might not find better acting than in the two female performances in this movie.
Mass is a film about two sets of parents on each side of a school shooting. The first part of it is written in such a way that you do not understand exactly what they’re talking about. We just know that they have been brought together to have an uncomfortable conversation about something. As the story unfolds, so do the characters and so do the performances. Martha Plimpton has been acting for most of her life. No joke, kicking it all the way back to 1981. She’s given some great performances throughout that time. My favorite of hers was in Woody Allen’s Another Woman. But I was nonetheless unprepared for just how deep she digs with this performance. What surprised me most about it is that it did not go where I thought it was going.
The same can be said of Ann Dowd, who is doing her best work in the later part of her career and here has delivered her best performance yet. We’ve seen Dowd play a wide array of types of late and usually she’s tasked with playing the villain, more or less. But here we see her play completely against type, as a woman almost crippled with pain. She is not frozen emotionally, as Plimpton’s character is, and in a way if she had been there would be no interplay between the two of them. But we see each of them reaching out, then pulling back in such interesting ways throughout this actors showcase.
Of course, the two men are very good too, Reed Birney and Jason Isaacs. This is an ensemble of adept and highly skilled actors using the best visual effect they have: themselves. What I love about this, having come from an acting background myself (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) is that the director, Fran Kranz, really spent time with them as only directors of actors can do. He didn’t dress up the movie with visuals in the least bit. But you can see how complex the character development is here when there is a bit of “business” with some flowers. The flowers are a symbol for the thing that they can’t talk about, what they can’t deal with, something they do not know what to do with and can’t really look at.
Every so often you see work by an actor that reminds you what great acting is all about. It doesn’t happen often anymore, honestly. Movie stars aren’t always great actors. They don’t have to be. Their charisma does the work for them. We just like looking at them doing whatever they do. But ACTING, great acting is few and far between. Watching these four actors in Mass, particularly Plimpton and Dowd, is like listening to a great violinist or a great pianist.
A director once told me that some actors are so good you don’t have to do anything with them. They know what they’re doing. Other actors you have to pull the performance you want out of them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. These four actors are clearly so good they didn’t need to have their performances pulled out of them. They really just needed the right material and the right director to show us what they can do.
We have not yet begun to shape the supporting actress race yet, but an early standout is Olga Merediz in In The Heights. She has one really good song in the film which could put her in the race. Probably either Ann Dowd or Martha Plimpton will be on that list too. Who knows, maybe both.
Mass is one not to miss.