Once again, the ladies have kicked the fellas’ asses this year. There are two standout performances and three also-rans, but overall the calibre is so much better than the Best Actors. Let’s take a look…
BRIE LARSON – “Room”
I don’t know much about Brie Larson, except that she has a silly name and looks too much like Merritt Wever for me to tell them apart. After watching Room, however, I now know that she is a very, very good actress and I’d like to see more. As already discussed, Room is a difficult drama to watch at times, but Larson’s performance as a young woman kidnapped and held captive for seven years while having to raise a child fathered by her attacker, is incredibly moving and quite astonishing. You absolutely feel every shadow and line on her face, every nuance and breath and, most importantly, you believe entirely that she is the mother of young Jack (a knockout performance by Jacob Tremblay), with every emotion that being a mother dictates.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Larson in anything before, which made her seem so real, but she had me hooked from the first scene and, barring a little too much melodrama later on (screenwriters should never adapt their own novels), it was an hypnotic two hours of acting because she’s in virtually every scene. So was Tremblay, though, and the Academy completely ignored what was a brilliant turn by this amazing young actor, which is a real travesty. I hope Larson wins, because you just know she’s going to dedicate it to Tremblay, without whom she wouldn’t have been able to shine like this.
9/10 – She’s the favourite and she already has the Golden Globe
SAIORSE RONAN – “Brooklyn”
The 13-year old Ronan was mesmerising in Atonement (for which she was first Oscar-nominated), so I’ve tried to keep up with her career ever since. Now 21, Brooklyn is a perfect vehicle for her and she is, as expected, extremely watchable and has no problem commanding the screen and encouraging us to go along with her character’s emotional journey through 1950s New York and Ireland. Nobody could have done a better job than Ronan, but unfortunately the film wasn’t as amazing as she was, so I’m not sure this will be her year. She’ll do it one day, definitely, but she needs a better role.
8/10 – Outstanding actress in an average film
CATE BLANCHETT – “Carol”
Cate Blanchett is one of those actresses that would have fitted right in to the Golden Age of Hollywood alongside the Katharine Hepburns, Rita Hayworths and Grace Kellys. She’s effortless sophisticated and elegant, so the role of Carol – an upper class lesbian in 1950s Manhattan – is tailor made. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Price Of Salt, the film details the forbidden affair between Carol and a young ingenue, Therese (Rooney Mara). Being a Highsmith adaptation, there’s plenty of psychology at play, from the abhorrent behaviour of Carol’s estranged, cuckolded husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), to the underplayed jealousies of her best friend and former lover, Abby (Sarah Paulson). Blanchett is on brilliant form as Carol expertly seduces Therese, while struggling to stop Harge from gaining full custody of their bizarrely-named daughter, Rindy.
The dynamic between Blanchett and Mara is terrific, and you totally believe their attraction to one another. Blanchett obviously deserves her nomination, but it’s strange that Mara, who has equal – if not more – screen time than Blanchett, was only put forward in the supporting category. This is really Therese’s story, not Carol’s, so it’s a bit cynical of the producers to discard Mara in favour of Blanchett being the better horse. Great as she was, it’s still Blanchett being Blanchett and nothing out of the ordinary, even if her ordinary is always excellent.
8.5/10 – Blanchett at her dependable best.
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING – “45 Years”
I love Charlotte Rampling, she just gets better with age. Her own life story would make a great film and she just has this innate charisma which means you can’t take your eyes off her. 45 Years is a great film. It’s the story of Kate (Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay), a seemingly-stable couple who live in rural isolation in the Norfolk Broads. As they approach their Sapphire anniversary (hence the title), and prepare for the party they’ve organised, news arrives of a grim discovery in Switzerland – the body of a woman has been found preserved in a glacier. The woman is Geoff’s lover, Katya, who fell into a crevasse during a hiking trip with Geoff in the 1960s.
Although Kate has always known about Katya (Kate and Geoff didn’t meet until a few years later), Kate becomes concerned at Geoff’s changing mood, as he begins to internally eulogise about what might have been with Katya, and how she may look exactly the same now, frozen in the ice. He contemplates travelling to Switzerland to see her perfect, youthful face once more, which upsets Kate, who questions whether Geoff ever loved her as much as he loved Katya. The gentle unravelling of Kate and Geoff’s relationship takes place over just six days and, as the day of the party arrives, we wonder how Kate will get through it.
It’s a gently-paced tale with most of the scenes taking place in the Mercer home or out on the beautiful, misty Broads. Almost theatre-like in its simple, set staging, it’s a glorious two-hander for Rampling and Courtenay to really get their teeth into, and it’s great to see two older actors take centre stage in what is essentially a kitchen sink drama for the middle classes (and Rampling does stand at the sink a lot). There are lots of poignant silences plus tons of knowing looks and awkward glances, all of which weave multiple layers of emotion through a story which must feel, look and sound so, so familiar to anyone who’s been married for as long as the Mercers. This is why it’s such a great film, because it feels real. Even scenes where Rampling takes a full twenty seconds to fill a glass with water, take a sip, then rinse the glass, in total silence, conveys authentic emotion.
Director Andrew Haigh (who also adapted the screenplay from David Constantine’s short story In Another Country) is paying tribute to the best of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh as he leads us on an emotionally suspenseful journey into the psyche of British relationships. Rampling is just superb, she manages to show us exactly who Kate is just by looking into her face, and Courtenay (one of our finest actors) is magnificent as Geoff and it’s quite simply criminal that he did not make the Best Actor shortlist, especially when you look at the generally mediocre calibre of those who did (NB. Both Rampling and Courtenay won Silver Bears at the Berlin Film Festival).
These are powerhouse performances from two veteran actors who have more talent in their little fingers than your so-called Hollywood A-listers have in their entire glittery bodies, and Rampling more than deserves to win. I think Larson will shade it, but if Rampling does get the gong, then it’ll be the best surprise of the night.
9.5/10 – This is how it’s done, kids!
JENNIFER LAWRENCE – “Joy”
The Oscars wouldn’t be the Oscars without Jennifer Lawrence being up for Best Actress. Or rather, it wouldn’t be the Oscars without a Jennifer Lawrence-Bradley Cooper film being up for “something”. Is it in their contracts that they have to make at least one film a year together? At least in this one there’s no romance, although there are moments when you think it’s going to happen. Yawn.
Joy is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, a single mother who made a fortune with the invention of the Miracle Mop. Told in a very irreverent way with lots of funny moments and colorful characters, Joy is the only sane person in the madhouse which is her life. Her mother (Virginia Madsen) is away with the fairies, addicted to daytime soap operas with no clue where the TV ends and real life begins. Her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro) is a bit of a waster who’s romancing a wealthy widow, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). Joy is constantly at odds with her half-sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who looks down on Joy and her humdrum life. Only Joy’s grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd) believes in Joy and her inventive aspirations. Eventually Joy manages to get her mop manufactured, helped by QVC boss Neil Walker (Bradders), and she makes a fortune, but not after lots of family trouble and setbacks.
It’s very quirky in parts, and nobody does quirky better than Lawrence. She’s eminently watchable, as ever, so she’s a fair outside bet, but I don’t think she’s quite good enough to eclipse the magnificent Brie Larson, or Charlotte Rampling, who is beyond compare anyway.
One last note – it’s a shame that Madsen didn’t get recognised for her brilliant performance as Joy’s dotty mother, Terri, who steals every scene she’s in.
7/10 – This won’t be Jennifer’s year