Some truly crazed and murderous men acting their socks off here – and one man just trying to stay alive. Not one made the short-list come Oscar time. Part 15 of our list of 100 Academy Award Absentees also includes some terrific work by the female branch, their range covers extreme loss and self-abuse. Let’s crack this wide open, though, and start with a Bond girl…
Eva Green for Casino Royale (2006) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
I don’t need to scout out various lists of the best Bond Girls to know that Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale is one of the greatest of all time. Vesper molds Bond deeper into the emotionally-enclosed man we know (or should I say, not really know at all – until now). We often wonder if Bond has met his match in his various entanglements with women, and this time he, and the franchise itself, certainly have. That connection in Casino Royale comes from a deeper, vulnerable place. That’s right, 007 was slap-bang in love with Vesper. It’s a volatile relationship, sure, but not only does Vesper save Bond’s life, she also knocks down his walls and pulls off his armor. The actual first Bond girl, French actress Eva Green is a perfect choice for vesper. Seductive, beautiful, intriguing, Green is the sure-fire bet to play a character you’re not ever fully aware whether you should trust or not, but fall head-over-feels for regardless. She is heartbreaking in a Bond chapter given a real, true back-story, and she is allowed to simply soak up the screen time, imploring you the audience to feel too. Green makes Vesper a human, not an ornament, she is extremely, complicatedly smart and slick, both mentally and physically. A strong female character with depth and strength, Eva Green shook and stirred Daniel Craig’s secret agent into life, giving the phenomenon that is Bond a multitude of layers and a beating heart. A series that is such a huge part of film’s history has now given us a remarkably assured performance from Green, easily worthy of an Oscar nomination, but the Academy sadly are a far tougher cookie to break.
Anthony Perkins for Psycho (1960) – – – Joey Moser @JoeyMoser83
The first time we see Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s incomparable Psycho, he’s running through the rain from his house to greet Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane at the Bates Motel. Having just stolen a huge amount of money from her employer, Marion needs a quiet, safe place to stay, and it appears that she has found the perfect refuge in the virtually abandoned lodging. Norman Bates is one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history, and the most terrifying thing about him is how normal he is. When Marion meets with Norman for an impromptu dinner in the Bates Motel office, he is relaxed, charming, and completely likable. He gets agitated when it’s suggested that he put his beloved mother in a home, and we get a sliver of his buried malevolence. Norman is the ultimate mama’s boy – the original. Perkins was nominated for nothing for his portrayal. Sure, horror films are almost completely ignored by the Academy, but Leigh picked up a Best Supporting Actress nomination and a Golden Globe Award. I recently re-watched the film, and I was surprised by how much it actually scared me (I’ve seen it millions of times). The scariest thing about Perkins’ Norman Bates is that you might know a Norman Bates. He’s the guy who helps you with your luggage. The young man who genially helps you to your car. The one who answers every beck and call of his loving mother.
Whether it was by lack of marketing, a lack of talking, or it just was not their taste of poison, the industry at large (or the machinery behind it) seemed to grasp to Redford’s performance in J.C. Chandor’s survivalist picture and then quickly cooled as the nominal season pushed forward as it does. Which is a shame, since the chance was missed to recognize a living legend in Redford for the best acting performance in his long and storied career, up there with such defining portrayals such in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Three Days on the Condor, The Sting, Jeremiah Johnson and much more. In fact, its those performances and Redford’s entire career in general, which is what makes his performance in All Is Lost so mesmerizing – the entirety of his character (who doesn’t even have a name, and is known just as ‘Our Man,’ because Redford for so long has been our man) is nestled in our acknowledgment of Redford the actor, the presence, the man. It’s a pure movie star role – and who has been one of the better stars than Redford – that relies entirely on who this person is, what they have been able to accumulate over a long period of time and most of all, how we respond to them onscreen because of that connection. And it works incredibly, as we witness Our Man stranded out in the middle of the Indian Ocean after a brutal storm trashes his boat and he has to make with his wares to survive as long as he can. The work that Redford serves up, without much talking except for a few grunts, some calls into the radio and frustrated swears, is a sterling text of physical acting; his weathered face says so much about his condition, who he is and how he can depend on his wits and experience and about what his dire straits are as this continue to be exhausted future and further into the story. Even when all is lost, it is not. That pure adrenaline to see Redford survive, to see Our Man survive, to ourselves survive along with him in this forgiving and overwhelming circumstance is a crowning testament to what the actor was able to convey onscreen, it’s just a shame that those are able to award such a performance were lost along the way.
Evan Rachel Wood for Thirteen (2003) – – – Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23
If Mean Girls was a semi-dark comedy inspired by John Hughes coming-of-age pictures and a commentary on high school cliques and the effect it has on young girls’ self-worth & image, first-time director and co-writer Catherine Hardwicke’s harrowing drama is Mark Waters’ take on high school girls gone damn-near pitch black. At the center of youth gone to stray is Evan Rachel Wood’s Tracy, a middle school student who is bright, intelligent and struggling to fit in with her peers, along with grappling with her parents being divorced and mom recovering from alcohol addiction. She is taken under the wing of popular girl Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the screenplay) and the two instantly bond due to shared fears and coming from broken homes. What happens is a whirlwind of drugs, sex, theft and constantly egging the other to find new ways of getting high and acting out, and it’s horrifying to watch Tracy transform from where she started at the beginning to where she eventually ends up. Yet she never forgets to show us the humanity of this character, at her core: a lost girl screaming out for help. In a year where we had young talent like Keisha Castle-Hughes get an Oscar nomination, it would have been nice to see Wood recognized for this brave and brutal portrait of a girl gone wild in the worst possible way.
Paul Dano for There Will Be Blood (2007) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
Paul Dano showed encouraging signs of an actor not afraid to explode feelings outward from his character in Little Miss Sunshine. In fact, the signs say he relishes this type of role. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s deep, dark There Will be Blood, Dano has to compete with the immovable Daniel Day Lewis who made career-best acting look easy. Quite a challenge then, and Dano was way beyond up for it, such an achievement, it was hardly questioned whether he would join his co-star on the gold-list. His Eli, a young pastor at the local church on oil-dwelling land, is a highly strung fellow who meets Day Lewis’ Plainview head-on. Humiliated and insulted, Eli still eventually manages to squeeze some remorse from him, though it is ultimately to his own downfall in the end. Dano is eerily good at bringing Eli’s own corrupt obsession, greed and sly nature to the screen. One of the most fascinating, brilliant performances of the year, a genuinely major surprise that Dano missed out on a Best Supporting Actor nomination given the movie’s popularity come awards season. Blessed he was not.