January 26, 2008

Handicapping the Oscars: Acting

Posted in Movies at 11:34 pm by Calico Jack

And the nominees are:


George Clooney in Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises

Having just seen There Will Be Blood last night, I must say that this is Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar to win. He is the best part of a good but somewhat underwhelming film, and his teetering-on-madness performance is riveting in every scene. George Clooney suffers from the same problem he always has, in that he never seems to come across as playing anything but a version of…George Clooney. Sometimes the script manages to wrangle in his natural charisma, such as in the Ocean’s trilogy, but Michael Clayton didn’t deserve a Best Actor recognition. Johnny Depp and Viggo Mortensen were both quite good in their respective films, and would probably be a decent contender in any other year; but there simply isn’t any way they’re going to compete against Day-Lewis. My pick for dark horse, however, is Tommy Lee Jones’ mournful, haunting portrayal of an Army father searching for clues to his son’s disappearance. In the Valley of Elah is unnecessarily didactic, but I hold Jones’s acting in the highest regard.


Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie in Away from Her
Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney in The Savages
Ellen Page in Juno

My pick for Best Actress is based mostly on the goodwill that Ellen Page seems to have engendered amongst even the most hardened and cynical of critics, who acknowledge that she sparkles in this titular role, regardless of whatever problems there may be with the rest of the film. But there are several other noteworthy performances here, including Marion Cotillard as French singer Edith Piaf and Julie Christie as an elderly woman facing the onset of Alzheimer’s. I haven’t seen The Savages, so I can’t comment on Laura Linney’s performance, but I will suggest she is owed an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Cate Blanchett is her own worst enemy in also being nominated for a supporting actress role for I’m Not There. Ellen Page, however, has all of the momentum, and this is one of Juno‘s strongest categories.


Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton

My projections here are based mostly on wishful thinking, rather than a grim acceptance of what will happen on Oscar night. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely adore No Country for Old Men, one of the finest films I’ve seen in many years; and Javier Bardem’s characterization of ruthless killer Anton Chigurh is a wonderful piece of acting. Yet for this award, my heart belongs to Casey Affleck’s performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. His is a utterly complete, startling immersion into a character unlike anything else depicted this past year. I’ll be shocked if he wins, but sometimes you have to cheer for the underdog. And any of the other three actors winning would be an enormous upset. I simply don’t see that happening.


Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There
Ruby Dee in American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton

Of the four categories here, this one is the most difficult to predict. Every single one of these performances is tremendous, and I have a feeling this award could swing any different way without it being considered unjust or an upset. I do think Ruby Dee, Amy Ryan, and Cate Blanchett have a slight edge over Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett, the former because it’s Vanessa Redgrave’s soliloquy which seems to leave Atonement‘s most indelible impression, and the latter because, well, she’s split her own vote. My tentative pick is Amy Ryan’s searing performance as a Boston mother looking for her kidnapped daughter; it’s full of the kinds of things Academy Award voters look for in an acting role. However, she faces stiff competition from Ruby Dee, who might get the nod based on lifetime achievment (she’s long overdue for something); and Tilda Swinton stands a decent chance of scooping up Michael Clayton‘s only acting award. I think the momentum lies with Amy Ryan, even after Blanchett grabbed the Golden Globe earlier this month. But I’m quite prepared to be wrong on this one.


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