a theatre, film & pop culture review
Missing: Albert Brooks, Drive
If we want to be honest — and we do, do we not? — Nick Nolte grappled with the heaviest, most “difficult” role of the alcoholic dad trying to make amends with his estranged sons. I put the difficult in quotations, you see, because no one thinks comedy is difficult, but Drama — with a capital D, mind you — is the stuff Oscar salivates for. Truth be told so do I: Nolte’s performance, specifically the casino scene when his son played by Tom Hardy viciously chucks coins at him, and then the resulting alcoholic regression in the hotel room directly thereafter, is extraordinarily uncomfortable and heartbreaking. The latter, with Nolte’s Moby Dick-inflected drunken ramblings, was largely improvised by the two actors and is some stunning work. If it were any other year, I’d be at bat for Nick, but I’m not too worried about him: the loquacious and philosophical 71-year-old actor is is doing more and more interesting work lately. We’ll be seeing him again.
Jonah Hill, on the other hand, I don’t expect to be seeing again, nor do I understand why I’m seeing him now. I suspect he’s as surprised as we are by his nomination for his unfunny, underdeveloped baseball statistician with a fondness for the über-underdogs in Moneyball. His Peter Brand doesn’t do a whole lot besides dispassionately spout off stats, so I can understand why folks are a bit perturbed that he stole the nomination from the more deserving Albert Brooks who was scarily corrupt in this year’s most-snubbed film, Drive.
This is Kenneth Branagh‘s second acting nomination (though he’s had three additional nominations for directing, writing and a live action short), and while he has no shot in hell of winning, his Sir Laurence Olivier is a delightfully self-important and charming asshole. Branagh obviously wished he had more scenery to chew, but by god he made the most of this slight role, lip-smacking and bulldozing his way through My Week with Marilyn with a brazen flourish. It’s great fun to watch him have such great fun.
Unfortunately for Max von Sydow, he is not this year’s reigning octogenarian (and you know I have a soft spot for him, being in The Exorcist and all). It’s not his fault, of course: he plays a grief-stricken mute in the year’s most undeserved Best Picture nominee, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Director Stephen Daldry (who I normally love) gives von Sydow little more to do than mime his way (with a teary look or two) through the god-awful film.
Like von Sydow, this is only Christopher Plummer‘s second nomination (he was nominated two years ago for his brilliant performance as Leo Tolstoy), but the esteemed 81-year-old actor has performed in well over 100 films. It wasn’t until The Insider that his movie career really saw an upswing, despite his most well-known role as Captain Von Trapp in the film that he not-so-fondly refers to as The Sound of Mucus. As he points out, film wasn’t exactly his first love:
I loved the theater and I stayed in the theater most of my life and I was a bit snobbish about it. I made a lot of movies through the ’60s and ’70s which were pretty awful, but then most of the movies in the ’60s and early ’70s were pretty awful. The quality wasn’t always there, unfortunately, but the money was. And I was grateful for that because I could afford to then do what I wanted to do in the theater.
I was lucky enough to see Plummer perform Lear in Stratford years ago, and it was one of the most thrilling live performance I’ve ever seen to date. The Academy could certainly do worse than offer this regal Canadian an Oscar as a “Lifetime Achievement” of sorts; he has after all managed to snag nearly every other major award for this performance including the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG. But the truth of the matter is: he actually deserves it. As Hal, the widower who, 6 months after his wife passes and at age 75, comes out of the closet to finally and fully embrace life, Plummer seduces the audience with the passionate vigor of a man coming into his own even while at the same time facing his own mortality. Finding the humor and ecstasy even in the tragedy, it’s in those quiet moments of revelation he has with his son, when the camera comes in tight, exposing the intense vulnerability lurking behind the confidence. The performance may not be flashy, but it is most deserving of the recognition Plummer is sure to receive come Oscar night.