With awards season upon us, it tends to be a warm topic of conversation about how some of the big winners in history, in the acting categories, kind of trampled all over the quality of the film itself. Sometimes it is a handicap, sure, sometimes the performance becomes the film. Speaking of which, the following five screen performers include a front-runner in contention for the current season, one stand-out from an unpopular Best Picture victor, and the daughter of an Academy Award winning director. Go see for yourself.
Thandie Newton / Crash
Winning the Best Supporting Actress at the BAFTAs for Crash, Thandie Newton was one of several of the varied cast to impress. Unfortunately, Paul Haggis’ film would go down in history as one of the phoniest Best Picture Oscar winners. Only Matt Dillon would be nominated with AMPAS. But as tricky as it is to simply push aside Crash as a worthy picture, that cast and their performances warrant much more praise. Crash is part condescending, part off-the-mark, somewhat pretentious, but very accomplished in places – with a couple of spine-tingling set-pieces. Though even those are contrived in hindsight.
As a wife on the receiving end of some stodgy sexual assault from a police officer, Thandie Newton might just have the most vulnerable, believable, emotional slingshot of all the ensemble. Her character also has to explore the direct friction in her marriage, when her husband is mistreated, almost degraded, because of his race, and garners the reputation of lacking a strong backbone. Newton allows her heart and morals to ignite through unfiltered anger, tears of frustration, and a desperate appeal for her own acknowledgement, and place in the marriage – not just this depiction of social vulgarism. – – – – – Robin @Filmotomy
Malin Akerman / Rock of Ages
In the catalogue of modern Hollywood musicals, Shankman’s Rock of Ages is a sore item to remember. And perhaps the height of an era that thought throwing in decade’s old pop music, famous actors, and a fickle plot was enough to make for a great movie. Perhaps this was all because of the much more enjoyable Mamma Mia that succeeded years before (both as a musical and its cinematic counterpart) as well as a decent following from its own theatre production, so in fairness the assumption wasn’t unearned but it was certainly misunderstood. Rock of Ages is a different beast to all the others, both in audience and (should have been) in production. For a film trying to capture the glam-metal attitudes and live free spirit of 80s classic-rock it played far too much into pop redux covers of rock anthems and a tone that mistakes famous actors for character development.
Maybe that works as a jukebox musical where the bliss is in the sing-a-long factor, but a film about rock needs more… which brings me to Malin Akerman. In the film, Akerman portrays a tense journalist named Constance Sack, who during an interview has become infatuated with rockstar royalty Stacee Jaxx (played by Tom Cruise, in a performance that maybe deserves its whole own analysis for another day). Now this performance isn’t worth enduring the entire film for, but the former-singer-turned-actress is the only person in this ensemble who plays her character exactly to what the film needed to be. Akerman owns it as she chews the scenery so delicately, with the perfect amount of self-awareness, and works harder at giving the ballads heartfelt rock-style passion before sweet pop tones. – – – – – Jon @jonnbridges
Robert Pattinson / The Lost City of Z
Robert Pattinson is an actor who may have been unfairly maligned once or twice early in his career. (Honestly, that does seem like maybe that’s the price you pay for starring in Twilight.) But the past is the past, and ever since wrapping on the chaste vampire romance series, he’s been working double time to establish a reputation for himself as an actor who consistently chooses interesting projects. The Lost City of Z is undoubtedly a step on that path, as he takes on the role of Henry Costin, the steadfast companion of Percy Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam) on his journey to Brazil in search of a legendary lost Amazonian city.
The film itself is a bit underwhelming, saddled with an unengaging hero in an unevenly-paced narrative that leans into its white colonialist origins too frequently. But Pattinson is almost unrecognizable, bringing depth and a quiet sort of courage to his performance as Costin, and imbuing the somewhat underwritten character with a sense of pathos that was an unexpected surprise. – – – – – Audrey @audonamission
Glenn Close / 101 Dalmatians
I’m surprised there was still scenery left when the credits rolled—that Glenn Close didn’t set everything aflame with her rampant energy then inhale it all through her extravagant cigarette holder is… remarkable. She is truly unmatched. I have a hard time believing she was given even a spot of direction. I prefer to think she just went wild. Every John Hughes-penned line (for example: “You’ve won the battle, but I’m about to win the wardrobe!”) is uttered with such an uncaged, camp-filled fervor.
To paraphrase a minor character, it’s not simply a hatred for a villain that makes them a great antagonist, but rather the desire to see them annihilated. And Close serves us several reasons for wanting to witness Cruella’s defeat. Her scheme to murder a hundred-odd puppies to make a coat for the sake of, um, fashion is, you know, one of the big ones, obviously. But, unfortunately, the rest of this film cannot keep up with her. Everyone else is there doing their job, making a fun family-friendly picture, but Close is on another level as she sashays her way through like Norma Desmond on steroids. – – – – – Brandon @BrandonStanwyck
Bryce Dallas Howard / The Village
Honestly, I am not even sure I can label The Village as one of my guilty pleasures. In fact, you take Bryce Dallas Howard out of the equation, the answer to that is no conundrum at all. No director in the history of cinema has hit magnificent heights with a single motion picture only to plummet into oblivion as M. Night Shyamalan. His downward spiral, each film seemingly worse than the next, is unfathomable. The Village, then, might well be in the filmmaker’s better tier – but that is not saying much. You can see his handling of mystery, chills, the ill-fated twist, becoming murky. The Village shows us the last of his talents, but he and his film’s likability factor, were already falling fast – unable to even maintain the one-trick-pony mantra.
Let’s turn our attention back to Bryce Dallas Howard’s portrayal as Ivy, the blind daughter of a village chief elder. Ron’s breakout daughter is perfect here. And I say that in full knowledge, and no hesitation, that M. Night still had the allure to bring the likes of William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Judy Greer, Brendan Gleeson, Celia Weston – phew – on board. In character, spirit, magnetism, this is Howard’s picture. Deftly handling the fumblings of the visually-impaired, but also shimmering with raw, empathetic range of emotions, as well as being our radiant, willful guide. Taking us by the hand, across the unknown landscape, and perhaps even leading us out of, not just the village, but the movie itself. – – – – – Robin @Filmotomy