There’s a definite, and I assure you non-deliberate, theme of foreign-language and varying comedic performances in the fifth part of our delve into highlighting Oscar omissions. Take a look.
Jeanne Moreau for Jules et Jim (1962) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
You can still see the rules of the game being altered before your eyes when you watch the movies of the new wave of film-makers like Rohmer, Malle, Varda today. In the dawn of the 60s perhaps Godard was right up there sharing head of the table with François Truffaut. Imagine then, way over in America, if the legendary Jeanne Moreau made the Best Actress list to compete with the likes of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Geraldine Page. Two very different worlds colliding. In Truffaut’s fresh, audacious ménage-a-trois masterpiece Jules et Jim, Moreau’s incandescent and liberating Catherine is a joy to behold. Let’s not take anything away from the leads who share the title (Oskar Werner et Henri Serre) but this might well be Catherine’s movie – the real woman, the woman they love. She bewitches the young men, once not afraid to share women and revel in the charmed life. Moreau is mesmerizing and iconic here, whether you saw it back then or you see it now, simple as that. A performance bringing all manner of glorious moments of allure and joie de vivre to an enduring tale that does not perhaps play out the way you anticipated. So captivating and magnetic, Moreau does not allow the camera to blink or breathe, and she, like Truffaut’s masterful techniques, glides and spins leisurely in front of you, until you are dizzy, head over heels in love.
Alicia Silverstone for Clueless (1995) – – –Megan McLachlan @heydudemeg
Before Legally Blonde, there was Clueless, which had to have influenced the creation of Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods some six years later (even if Clueless itself is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma). Alicia Silverstone broke out in 1995 with this role, and she’s never really been able to outdo it, as it’s that iconic, a piece of perfect ‘90s nostalgia and one of the most memorable comedic performances of the decade. As a teenager, Silverstone was closer to the same age as her character than the actors she was playing against in the Amy Heckerling comedy (Paul Rudd was 25, while Stacey Dash was 27), and yet, it’s a very adult performance. Silverstone’s comedic timing is unique and natural. You never get a sense that you’re watching a stupid teen movie. You get a sense you’re watching a star in the making.
Paul Giamatti for Sideways (2004) – – – Robin Write @Filmotomy
Alexander Payne’s brilliant Sideways cruising through the awards season picking up big accolades left, right and center, was in the end a crushing anti-climax. As Million Dollar Baby crashed the party late on, I was mortified to find Clint Eastwood had Oscar experts ripping up their fine-tuned predictions as he landed a Best Actor nomination instead of many strong contenders. The real blow was that Paul Giamatti had to miss out for Sideways, a clear sign this movie was perhaps not going all the way after all. Bagging deserved nods all season-long, including with Oscar, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen were magnificent, but Giamatti’s Miles was the heart of the picture. Seemingly always verging on a nervous breakdown, Miles is crafted as a funny, vulnerable guy, but one who knows exactly what he wants albeit his aspirations appear far out of reach. Giamatti brings a defiant emotional response out of Miles, a sympathetic, often self-loathing figure, who can erupt at any time. That on-the-brink journey is a real delight, without mocking the poor guy’s luck or temperament. We experience him through his passion for wine and writing, and root for him as he gradually claims the affection of a good, like-minded woman, as well as hitting new heights (both funny and poignant) with his intolerable best friend. Giamatti puts in a full shift in every movie, but this sits right at the peak of his stellar work – and a Best Actor nomination should never have been up for debate.
Denis Lavant for Holy Motors (2012) – – – Bailey Holden @BaileyHoldenM
Double performances have a great history in movies, whether it’s Isabelle Adjani in Possession, Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringer or most recently Tom Hardy in Legend. However seldom have I seen an actor play more than this (One exception would be Peter Sellers in Doctor Strangelove playing 3 roles), so when the credits role around in Leos Carax’s masterpiece Holy Motors and you see ‘Denis Lavant x 11’, you know you’ve witnessed something very unique. There has frequently been a thematic through-line with double (or more) performance movies, where these characters physical link to one-another is indicative of a spiritual continuity. Here it’s no different, Lavant is technically playing one person, Oscar, whose job involves him dressing up as a huge variety of different characters for his several ‘appointments’ throughout the one day in which the movie takes place. These characters represent the confusing contradictory parts that make up the abstract enigma of each one of us, and Lavant is nothing if not enigmatic. Some actors play off of the fact that they are not ‘Hollywood attractive’, which Lavant definitely isn’t, he has such an interesting angular face, whereas most of that kind of actors tend to play ‘real people’ who you’d see on the street. Lavant does the total opposite, he doesn’t look like anyone else I’ve seen and it makes his expressions very hard to read, adding to the overall fugue of Oscar, or whoever he really is. There are some many great nuances in all 11 of these micro-roles, but saying any more will ruin the purity of this incredible piece of pure cinema.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Beyond the Lights (2014) – – – Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23
I feel as if I’ve talked about this rising young Brit actor several times last season, even when she didn’t get so much as a blip on the Academy’s radar. And it’s a real shame because they missed out on honoring a new, talented star. She plays a rising pop star who tries to off herself when the pressure from her mom manager (Mimi Driver) and the rest of the industry of becoming a unrecognizable, yet desirable, product but is stopped by a rookie cop (Nate Parker), also feeling the pressure from his father (Danny Glover) to become a politician, and they begin to fall in love. It may sound overtly familiar, but Mbatha-Raw digs deep to find the vulnerability and beating heart of an artist yearning to break free from convention and find her own voice. The scene where she’s up on stage in a karaoke bar, singing Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” conveys all of what I said, and breaks your heart, all at once. It’s a first-rate performance that should have earned her a spot alongside Julianne Moore and Felicity Jones at last year’s Oscar ceremony.