a theatre, film & pop culture review
Let’s get this out of the way: my top pick was not even nominated (this is like Enron all over again). Critics raved, I raved, you raved, the random people reading this blog that I’ve never met raved, and yet, on the morning of the nomination announcements… crickets. So what happened?
Sony Classics pushed Manville as Best Actress in a Leading Role. Their argument is understandable — Lesley Manville‘s is the character our hearts ache for, root for, who we’d all give a great big bear hug to if we could. But just because her character moves us the most, that does not make her the lead. This is especially tricky to discern in a Mike Leigh film — in other words, in any ensemble piece. But Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are the lead actors here, as the entire story centers on Tom and Gerri’s relationship and the people who float in and out of their lives, including Manville’s Mary. Admittedly, their characters are not as captivating as Manville’s, but that doesn’t cancel out the fact that the story is theirs and Mary is just one part of it.
What it comes down to is this: had Sony pushed for Manville’s nomination in the Supporting category, there is no doubt she would have been nominated, and more than likely, she would have won. It really doesn’t matter how much screen time an actor has, how interesting the character is, or who has the greater “arc.” What’s important here is that the deserving receive due recognition, and if that means submitting them for a particular category, who cares? An Oscar is an Oscar. And I’d think Manville — and now, Sony — would agree.
As with the supporting actors this year, the actual nominees here are rather underwhelming. Melissa Leo is the crowd favorite despite her rather tacky self-promotional ads (see right), which apparently offended the media more than the voters. A viscious white trash mother with a cigarette dangling from her dry lips and a sweaty can of Budweiser always within reach, Leo’s boxing mom (not unlike a stage mom) rages against anyone in her path, including her own sons. Her performance here isn’t nearly as complex as her other Oscar-nominated role in Frozen River, but it’s the showiest of the bunch. Amy Adams in the same film demonstrates she’s got some grit under that sunshine-y demeanor, and she pulls some of the hardest punches in The Fighter.
In a film few voters would have heard of before her nomination, Jacki Weaver is so much the Aussie underdog, the Academy’s all but forgotten she’s been nominated. Truth be told, her role in Animal Kingdom is quite small, and it isn’t until her final few scenes that she puts her full, ferocious power on display: viscerally manipulative in her cruelty, she guards her criminal sons with a protectiveness that is truly frightening. 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld is the category’s true underdog, not only because of her youth, but because of her experience (actresses making their film debuts in this category have only won 8 times in 73 years). And letting go of the fact that she is in the wrong category here, she effortlessly portrays a steely, no-nonsense youth who lusts for the blood of her father’s killer. And she holds her own against fellow actors Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin — a feat that demands recognition.
Though this is one of few categories the The King’s Speech isn’t anticipated to win, Helena Bonham Carter‘s performance is magnetic: restrained and charmingly prudish, it’s her steely reserve that not just balances, but supports, Colin Firth’s Bertie’s emotional discovery and eventual triumph. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Harvey Weinstein somehow managed to pull off a win here after all.