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Sunday, August 19, 2012
Months Away, But
Never Too Early To Look At Serious Oscar Candidates
Ann Dowd as Sandra From in Craig Zobel's psychodrama "Compliance".
Adam Stone/Magnolia Pictures
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Sunday, August 19,
The phrase "and the Oscar goes
to" won't be heard until next February but the dog days of August, and in all
respects (save three or four films) a poor movie summer -- marred by the tragic
and fatal shootings in Colorado -- compel this writer to jump ahead to
mid-winter to film awards season 2013. With four calendar months to go
before 2012 is history it is worth looking at some great Oscar-worthy or
nominee-merited work in the acting categories. (Note: the list starts with
my personal choice for Oscar in each category, followed by other acting
contenders, which are listed in alphabetical order. Some categories are
ANN DOWD, "Compliance"
At the top of the list comes the best performance on screen this year, man or
woman, and veteran actress Ann Dowd may well find herself on Oscar's radar.
An Academy Award is a well-deserved accolade for Ms. Dowd who plays Sandra From,
the harried manager at the ChickWich fast-food restaurant in Craig Zobel's
"Compliance". I was immediately struck by the
balance and authenticity Ms. Dowd gives Sandra, a complex character who executes
deputized duties conferred by a voice on a telephone without asking critical
questions. Sandra is plaintively empathetic even as her group-thinking
mentality, fueled by the regimented fast-food industry she works in, gets the
better of her. Ms. Dowd makes Sandra scary, notably in a scene late on.
Villain and victim, Sandra is both pliable tool and perpetrator. It's an
excellent bit of acting, and Ms. Dowd's brilliance in "Compliance" never wavers.
MICHELLE WILLIAMS, "Take This Waltz"
Open-hearted, vulnerable and ambitious as Margo, Michelle Williams explores the
character in "Take This Waltz" with a depth and honestly typical of the work Ms.
Williams does in other smaller, independent fare. The actress digs deep to
portray a palpable individual who struggles to stay faithful to her loyal but
limited husband. Her Margo is searching for peace and satisfaction, and
several scenes show Ms. Williams, a perennial Oscars bridesmaid, absorbing
silences and issuing facial expressions. The performance is internalized.
Watching Michelle Williams listening to a speech another character (Luke Kirby)
delivers is a riveting experience. She should expect to be nominated.
Wallis as Hushpuppy in "Beasts Of The Southern Wild".
Fox Searchlight Pictures
QUVENZHANE WALLIS, "Beasts Of The Southern Wild"
In her debut on the big screen -- and she was just six at the time -- Quvenzhane
Wallis was a stunning presence bringing charm, mystery and visceral punch as
Hushpuppy in Benh Zeitlin's drama. Miss Wallace never acted before on the
big screen yet possesses immense confidence, awareness and energy to galvanize
The Southern Wild". Onscreen for more than 80% of the film Miss Wallace, who's now
all of eight years of age, carries the film, making it more memorable than it
has any right to be. Oscar nomination chances are strong.
RACHEL WEISZ, "The Deep Blue Sea"
She's been in some good films ("The Constant Gardener"), some bad films ("Dream
House") and some in-between films ("The Bourne Legacy") but since her "Constant"
Oscar Rachel Weisz has been a constant on the big screen with good, interesting
performances. In Terence Davies' drama
"The Deep Blue Sea"
Ms. Weisz is great as
Hester Collyer, a woman swimming in melancholy in 1950's London. Hester is
trapped between a father-figure husband and a young Royal Air Force boozer she
falls for. Unlike Michelle Williams in "Take This Waltz", Ms. Weisz's
character has already explored both sides of the coin and her performance
captures Hester in tragedy and stasis, suffocating. The opening minutes of
the film alone are worth watching for Ms. Weisz's physical performance, which is
so good throughout.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, "Killer Joe"
Matthew McConaughey does the
best work of his career in William Friedkin's wicked NC-17 comedy-drama
"Killer Joe" as the title
character Joe Cooper, a Dallas police officer who moonlights as a contract
Mr. McConaughey makes this killer an appealing human being: charming, ritualistic and
oddly sweet and caring -- the kind of man you'd love your daughter to bring
home. Joe has lots of baggage however, and in the Texas-born actor's
hands, Joe is played as a seductive and romantic type, never breaking protocol
unless he has to. He's a hand-holder to the hapless, selfish and
gluttonous family who
has procured his killing services. Mr. McConaughey's very presence
flickers with tension, suspense and a deliberation that is unsettling and darn
brilliant. A sure-fire nominee for Oscar and a likely bet to take it home.
Black as Bernie Tiede in "Bernie", directed by Richard Linklater.
JACK BLACK, "Bernie"
This is possibly the best -- no -- it is the best work Jack Black has
ever done, playing Bernie Tiede, the real-life murderer of a woman who
emotionally abused him under his care in the 1990s. Richard Linklater's
"Bernie" is one of the year's most entertaining showcases, and Mr. Black launches
into a witty, sharply refined display as the title character. Despite
Bernie's flamboyance and exacting mannerisms Mr. Black never breaks the facade
and never winks at the camera as he has in past portrayals. He makes
Bernie annoying, sympathetic, heartbreaking and a thoroughly likable murdering
kind. Expect Mr. Black to receive his first Oscar nomination in January.
DWIGHT HENRY, "Beasts Of The Southern Wild"
Dwight Henry, who has never acted on the big screen, brings a fiery passion and
energy to Wink, the protective and beleaguered father of Hushpuppy in Benh
Zeitlin's drama. He embodies a battling man teetering on extinction,
and Mr. Henry, who rescued many during Hurricane Katrina, oozes physicality
throughout. He's literally like a wounded lion, passing on words of wisdom
to his offspring before his own species dies out. Mr. Henry throws
everything on the line with raw energy that sears the screen and manages to be
an inspirational figure at the same time both on and off it.
as Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse in Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer".
David Lee/Variance Films
CLARKE PETERS, "Red Hook Summer"
A veteran actor of stage and screen, Clarke Peters (in HBO's "Treme" and "The
Wire") hits a grand slam home run in Spike Lee's
"Red Hook Summer" as Da Good
Bishop Enoch Rouse, a gregarious preacher at the Lil' Piece Of Heaven Baptist
Church in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It's a magnetic, multi-faceted performance:
volcanic, pained, riveting, soulful and rich with pathos. Mr. Peters is
relentless with his fine, effective and affecting work but allows his character
to contemplate and send signals in quiet unguarded moments, particularly in the
film's first half. Mr. Peters is the single greatest reason to see Mr.
Lee's new film, and in several long sermons he carries the film and its raison
d'être on his back. Galvanizing, searing work well deserving of accolades,
and an Oscar nomination -- at worst.
Best Supporting Actress
DREAMA WALKER, "Compliance"
Thoroughly deserving of an Oscar nomination for such a difficult role, Dreama
Walker transforms from a happy, likable teenager with boy crushes and smiles
into a ragged, humiliated and objectified being. It's a powerful,
devastating performance Ms. Walker gives as Becky, a fast-food employee accused of something she hasn't done. Ms. Walker gives Becky intelligence
and poise even under fire but what is impressive about her work in Craig Zobel's "Compliance"
is her adaptability without any hint of change in her performance. You
never sense that Ms. Walker has to outwardly exert herself in what is such an
incredibly vulnerable and physical role; it all comes from within, even when she
appears naked in a nauseating way. Her physical predicament doesn't swamp the character
or the performance, and that is generally almost never the case when actors are naked
in the movies. Ms. Walker is naturalistic without being forced, and lets the
situations Becky endures wear on her face and in her eyes. Amazing
DONNA MURPHY, "Dark Horse"
The emotional lynchpin of Todd Solondz's well-crafted film, Donna Murphy (who
has appeared in the "Bourne" film series including the latest film) expertly
secretes longings and desires playing a character borne out of romanticism and
maybe fantasy. She appears to do little but she is doing a lot more in a
spare performance. Sometimes Ms. Murphy holds back and even in those
moments the power of her suggestion runs deep. It's a great supporting
turn that stands out yet calls little attention to itself.
Omar Sy as
Driss in the French comedy-drama "The Intouchables".
The Weinstein Company/Gaumont
Best Supporting Actor
OMAR SY, "The Intouchables"
Without Omar Sy's charisma, comic timing and skillful execution
"The Intouchables" would be just another black-white
male buddy film that lacks strength.
This film is great, not for its central relationship between two very different
men but for the endeavor its actors take on. The relative newcomer Mr. Sy
revels as Driss, and though he is often sanguine and satirically caricatured (by design of
the filmmakers) the inner depths of his being are projected and propelled by
pain. We get this in one scene (and I wished for more) where we see the
core of Driss and get a glimpse of Mr. Sy's hidden dramatic talents as an actor.
MICHAEL CAINE, "The Dark Knight Rises"
The best he's been since "The Cider House Rules", in
Knight Rises" Michael Caine adds such depth and poignancy to his role
as Alfred the butler that we ache for him as he expresses his concerns.
Mr. Caine hits high notes that most of the other performers (and especially the
film itself) do not reach. Alfred is a palpable soul, and the emotive
force Mr. Caine breathes into him spells as much a hint or worry about Alfred's
own mortality and fears surrounding it as his care and concern for Christian
Bale's Bruce Wayne character. Stellar, memorable work from Mr. Caine.
PAT HEALY, "Compliance"
Creepy, disturbing and utterly anti-social, Officer Daniels is an authority
convinces Sandra to order some distressing things to happen to her subordinate
Becky during "Compliance". Pat Healy has to spend hours (and in shooting
days weeks) on the telephone, and his voice has to be convincing enough to make
this true-life horror real on the big screen. The bigger challenge is to
have the demeanor and physical comportment to match the voice the audience hears
at first, and Mr. Healy makes it work exceedingly well. It's a performance
that is unnerving, and that is its strength. At the same time deep within
this sickening, loathsome character Mr. Healy offers a sadness and pathetic
sense of power that is devastating.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, "Magic Mike"
Irresistibly infectious, outgoing and sad, Dallas (played by Mr. McConaughey)
has ambition beyond his own realization at a strip club he intends to take on
the road to Miami in
"Magic Mike". With all the fervor,
confidence and relentlessness of a coach like Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers", Mr.
McConaughey makes Dallas a wide-eyed and naive optimist who perhaps has long
since talked himself out of the truth about his circumstances. It's an
entertaining and live-wired turn, one that the Academy will likely remember.
MARK RUFFALO, "The Avengers"
Operating on economy and quick-thinking, Mark Ruffalo superbly creates an
authentic and perhaps the best Bruce Banner that the big screen has ever graced
Avengers". Mr. Ruffalo strikes a deft balance between
intellectual strength and physical strength, and because his alter ego is
computer-generated I felt Mr. Ruffalo presumably had to work backwards from his
character's post-altered state to get the underpinnings of Bruce Banner correct.
When you watch Mr. Ruffalo you can see where his "darker", or rather, greener
moments might originate. He is so good here, and effortless, whether
bantering with others or going one on one in quiet moments. Mr. Ruffalo
was outstanding in "The Avengers" as Dr. Banner, operating as a welcome presence
who inhabited Banner and made him thoroughly his own.
as Becky in Craig Zobel's psychodrama "Compliance".
Adam Stone/Magnolia Pictures
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