This 5 features, in my opinion, one of the finest pieces of acting by a child I have ever seen – and the odds are most of you have sadly not even heard of the movie. Until now.
Christian Bale for American Psycho (1999) – – – Tim J. Krieg @FiveStarFlicks
Not all Oscar snubs are created equal. Some years there are only a few great performances, and so a truly remarkable performance going overlooked is a real slight. Other years the field is so deep that there are bound to be some unforgettable performances that get the shaft. The year 2000 was one of those really deep fields for lead actor, which unfortunately led to Christian Bale’s fantastic performance as Wall Street psychopath Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to go relatively unnoticed at the time. That year he was facing the formidable fivesome of Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls), Tom Hanks (Cast Away), Ed Harris (Pollack) and Geoffrey Rush (Quills), and regrettably he drew the short straw. In any other year any one of those performances could’ve walked away with the top prize, but for my money the best actor of the year was Bale. From the opening moments of the film you realize you are watching a master at work, as his physical prowess is matched by the steely cool of his voice-over work, and you get the sense right away that you are seeing and hearing something entirely original unfold on the screen. Over the course of the film you see Bale’s character slowly lose all track of reality to the point where not even he can tell if the events that are unfolding are real or not. His over-the-top style makes this performance both freighting and hysterical at the same time, an unnerving mix. One moment he’s discussing the musical merits of Phil Collins or Huey Lewis, the next he is chopping someone up with an axe or chasing them down the hall naked with a chainsaw. It’s these constant 180 degree twists that make it hard to look away from the screen, but cause a serious case of whiplash at the same time. He always keeps you guessing, and you can’t wait to see what happens next. He’s simply unforgettable. Fifteen years and a few billion dollars at the box office later, Bale is widely regarded as one of the finest actors working today. In 2000, he was simply the best.
Ingrid Thulin for Cries and Whispers (1972) – – – Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
History is strewn with nonsensical Oscar snubs for actors in Ingmar Bergman films – for all that the Academy’s actors branch made attempts at embracing his ensembles (though only when these ensembles were small and starry) in his later cinematic years, they made far too many oversights prior to that, given Bergman’s increasing popularity within the American industry through the 1960s and ’70s. If missing out on one of Cries and Whispers’ leads is one of Oscar’s more understandable faults (there are four of them, after all, and all female), it doesn’t mitigate the worthiness of Ingrid Thulin, tuning in masterful work in this masterpiece. Playing the stern, embittered sister alongside co-leads Harriet Andersson and Liv Ullmann, Thulin delivers thrilling, throttling work, seizing hold of this richest of all Bergman’s rich characters and wrestling from her an indelible performance. Whether it be a dining table bridge-burning where as much is communicated by what goes unsaid as by all of the particulars of what is said, or an unforgettable act of self-mutilation that shocks still today, Thulin is riveting in her role. She responds to one of the greatest writers of female characters of the 20th Century with one of the greatest performances of such characters.
Victoire Thivisol for Ponette (1996) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
Following the tragic death of her mother in a car accident, four year-old Ponette has to stay with relatives and endure some rather unfounded taunting about her very loss. Kids can be cruel, yes. This kid though, Victoire Thivisol (who was not much older than her character at the time), is a pure revelation – to see this little girl actually acting to such emotional power with your own eyes is a thing of wonder. I mean, Ponette is traumatized, grieving, a child not fully aware of the implications and reality of her great loss, and Thivisol appears to be a natural. And this is not a supporting role either, the film focuses directly on Ponette and her mourning, a journey that makes me feel the urge to reach for tissues just thinking about it now. I loved Quvenzhané Wallis, Mary Badham, Dakota Fanning, Linda Blair, but in all honesty I have never seen anything quite like this. Victoire Thivisol is the youngest ever winner of Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, but hardly anywhere else that year did she garner the support or acclaim she thoroughly deserved. A chance of Oscar recognition could have yielded a beloved and historical winner.
Even though most of the attention went to Casey Affleck’s fantastic performance as Robert Ford in 2007, Pitt delivered an incredible performance of his own – dark, haunting, mercurial – in Andrew Dominik’s dense and hypnotic neo-Western. Playing the titular character who gets got in the film’s own title, Pitt’s James plays both sides of almost every fence one can think of; inviting and distant, cruel and playful, enigmatic and engaging, Pitt conjures a legend who is aware of his own legend and seems to be not only be capable of using it as a weapon like that of his shooters, but also wary of it at the same time. The way he engages with others, especially with the Ford Brothers, shows a lot of what he considers and thinks of others in any given scene and throughout the film as well. A family man who is the ultimate outlaw, Pitt relishes in giving such a performance that he fuels of contradictions – it is very much a weird performance that allows him to capture, paint and emphasize those contradictions overall. Be it shooting a frozen lake, having near nonsensical conversations with former members of his gang that he eventually puts down for his own self-preservation to eating (as Pitt likes to do in his films) and horsing around, Pitt breathes an entire life into his Jesse James that knows he is at the end of his rope and he sees a kindred spirit in Ford to relieve him accordingly. Even his glances tell a story of what it means to be this particular man at the end of his particular time; ‘he had a condition refereed to as granulated eyelids that caused him to blink more than usual, as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept.’ At least the Venice Film Festival knew what they found in this one.
Marion Cotillard / Matthias Schoenaerts for Rust and Bone (2012) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
Oh look, I am talking about Marion Cotillard again. Well, is there any wonder? Had enough members of the Academy voted for her ridiculously emotive and penetrating performance in Jacques Audiard’s near-masterpiece Rust and Bone, there would not need to bring her up all the time. Okay, fine, I still would have. In Rust and Bone Cotillard shows us the suffering and acclimatizing following a harrowing accident leaving her without use of her legs. She is just so full of heartache and pain, yet somehow demonstrates a woman who still has it in her to blossom through it all. Cotillard is a remarkable talent, she has the presence and talent of a true movie star, bringing that endearing, poignant acting to these roles, while all the while showing an incredible range and depth. The central performance by Matthias Schoenaerts also deserves a huge mention, a dominant, compelling turn from start to finish. He also goes through a hard-fought journey, more of self-awareness than physical ailment. A brutal piece of acting, tugging at the emotional strings just enough for us to truly care about his plight. Together, Schoenaerts and Cotillard’s chemistry aligns deeply with Audiard’s raw directorial style – yet again making social pain and redemption a thing of cinematic beauty.