Another miserable lot to wet your awards season appetite. Not that I am grumbling, mind, it’s hard to argue with any of the next 5 terrific performances.
Berenice Bejo for The Past (2013) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
Here we go again with the actresses of 2013. I know I have covered a few already in this very series. And I’ll never get bored of talking about the immense female talent that year that did not get a mention come Oscar nominations announcement. To the general consensus sucked in by the awards season I think we all agree that perhaps Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) was the most surprising omission give her form going into the final furlong. The most commanding, naturalistically solid female performance of 2013 though might well have been Berenice Bejo for her remarkable show in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past. We may best know Bejo for lighting up the screen with her song-and-dance, and truly affecting, routine in Best Picture winner The Artist. An Oscar nominee there, and perhaps ought to have won, but her impressive, gripping lead role in The Past was sinfully not even talked up as a contender. In fact as Iran’s Oscar entry they could not even nominate the ever-consistently-brilliant Farhadi for Foreign Language Film. Months earlier Bejo took the Best Actress prize at Cannes, up against some tough competition, once again proving those juries sure know how to highlight true talent. The Past is a bleak gem, and Bejo’s enormous screen presence has so much venom and passion she deserves a lion’s share of the movie’s merit.
Maggie Smith for The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987) – – – Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
It’s performances like these that give us Brits a good name! Best known today for playing increasingly tiresome, derivative variations on her brilliant turn in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, alongside her role in the Harry Potter movies, Dame Maggie Smith’s career is dotted liberally with all-time great performances, none greater than Judith Hearne in Jack Clayton’s 1987 drama. An alcoholic piano teacher in drab 1950s Dublin, Judith lodges with a cruel landlady and her boorish son, and a conniving former doorman whose affections she haplessly seeks. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is a portrait of a particularly hapless though hopeful soul, a woman whose misplaced faith in the kindness of other people and the guidance of her church brings her to places of desperation and heartbreak as she struggles to find a place in a society that would rather forget her entirely. Smith is devastating in her portrayal, evoking an intense sympathy in the viewer through her own sympathetic performance. She relishes a role upon which an entire film has been constructed – if that film is occasionally too maudlin for its own good, Smith makes up for it – she’s all the good any film could ever need. She’s a tear-jerker all by herself, an honest and accurate interpretation of arguably this experienced actor’s finest role. It’s not just her finest performance too, it’s one of the finest in all of cinema. A travesty that it was ignored by the Academy, Judith deservingly brought Maggie her fourth of five competitive BAFTAs.
Giulietta Masina for Nights of Cabiria (1957) – – – Asif Khan @KHAN2705
One of Federico Fellini’s greatest classics, Nights of Cabiria features a memorable and impressive performance by his wife Giulietta Masina. She plays a naive prostitute hopelessly searching for something greater through the streets of Rome. Something greater would be better life, better way of living and love. Disappointments, heartbreak, physical abuse, emotional torture is all she receives. Yet despite all that, this titular character always fights back, never stops for a minute and gets up. She is beaten down and cries but self-pity is rarely something she likes to waste her time on. A film I identify the word ‘spiritual’ with. This happy-sad journey of a woman looking for love and happiness just like anyone else is filled with an overwhelming sadness. Fellini beautifully mixes laughter with bitterness, joy with cruelty, hope with sadness and spiritual with vulgar. Giulietta Masina won best actress at Cannes Film Festival and the film was awarded with a foreign language Oscar but sadly, Masina was overlooked. Nights of Cabiria is where we witness one of the greatest actor / director collaborations, in a performance that has since been counted among the brightest and most overwhelming performances ever given by any actor. Masina’s confident and assured dialogue delivery as well as her supremely expressive face is something she was known for. Packed with such graceful as well as tragic moments, Masina’s showstopping final moment when she smiles through her tearful face is the one that devastates you the most.
James McAvoy for Atonement (2007) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
In my humble opinion the highly accomplished Atonement did not receive the credit it deserved come the final act of Oscar time. The movie, directed by Brit Joe Wright (somehow not nominated for Best Director) was ultimately swept out to sea in the popularity stakes by There Will be Blood, Juno and No Country for Old Men – very good company all be told. While the delightfully scornful Saoirse Ronan was rightly nominated for Supporting Actress, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy missed out. McAvoy’s Cambridge-educated son-of-house-help Robbie is the object of affection for teenager Briony, but he is in love with her older sister Cecilia. What is most impressive about McAvoy here is the painful journey he takes Robbie on. From the opening longing and sexually driven aura of envy and lust, through eventual betrayal and despair which means Robbie is imprisoned before having to venture into war. As good as he is in the first act, the scenes McAvoy plays in and around Dunkirk really nail him down as a compelling, affecting leading man. His resentment and rage are evident, as he trundles around during war, injured both through physical wounds and a battered heart. His love for Cecilia still shining through, keeping him strong until in the end it is a sorrowful, tragic affair. McAvoy has dabbled with all manner of roles, but this stand-out central performance in Atonement is the peak to which he should be striving.
There is one scene in Philippe Claudet’s searing drama where Thomas’ Juliette is at a dinner party with a friend that she has gotten close with over the course of the narrative, and everyone is trying to figure out what the deal is with beautiful, enigmatic and mysterious Juliette. Centered in the frame and surrounded by all of the guests, she faces them and tells them point blank and center that she was in prison for 15 years for a horrifically personal crime. It’s a damning moment in time for everyone sans Juliette, who has not only internalized her pain and crime, but also unleashes it on others with no regards to their judgment. And Thomas utilizes that quality with such effectiveness – even the many uses of space that the film uses to craft her character around – it gives her the basis to show much much her crime has affected her as a person, a woman, a sister, a mother and so on but also how it affects her in regards to being able to reach out to others as well. How can you reach out to loved ones who want nothing more than for you to do so? It’s a difficult question, but Thomas answers it quite well with her looks, her body language, her moments of crying, yelling and just observing the life around her. A smaller film that went under the radar that year’s award season amongst more recognizable, flasher performances, Thomas’ performance is not only a career best in her oeuvre such as hers but also one the best of emotionally nuanced performances that would benefit more organizations as a whole.