Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pros/Cons

Here's the second installment of our "Guest Columnist" feature. This time, K, a regular at Goldderby and here at MCRO tells it like it is. Get ready for an exhaustive breakdown of the pros and cons in Marion's road to Oscar. Thanks so much for this valuable contribution to MCRO, K.

Marion Cotillard became the first major contender for the Best Actress Oscar back in the early spring, and now, several months later, she is still universally considered the frontrunner. However, naysayers and critics of Cotillard’s film (La Vie en Rose) are not quick to acknowledge her presence this upcoming awards season, constructing asinine obstacles to lessen the buzz. Here’s my take on the top reasons people are giving as to why Cotillard will not win or, in some cases, even earn a nomination:

#1: Her film wasn’t very well received by critics.


Whichever way you choose to interpret the reviews, this statement can be true or untrue. Either way, it is irrelevant.

At Rotten Tomatoes, the film earned a 75% “Fresh” rating (anything below 60% is “Rotten”) with 127 reviews tallied. This isn’t a bad rating, but it’s not amazing. It should be noted that it has received similar critical reactions as recent Best Picture winners Crash, Gladiator, and A Beautiful Mind (though more reviews were tallied for those three pictures). The point I’m trying to make, though, is that nobody is predicting La Vie en Rose to take the Best Picture Oscar, and, as far as I know, Cotillard isn’t even eligible in that particular category.

Critics have certainly listed the faults of the film – it draws on for too long, it tries too hard to be artistic, it is a little too melodramatic – but the praise surrounding Cotillard’s fierce turn as Edith Piaf is deafening. The Chicago Tribune, which gave the film a 2.5/4, says Cotillard is “dazzling;” L.A. Weekly, which also gave the film an unfavorable review, calls Cotillard’s performance “stunning,” adding: “…Cotillard raises France’s poor, beloved chanteuse clean out of mundane pathos and into the ruined grandeur she deserves.”

Even so, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a film that has achieved mixed reviews can contain a revelatory performance. People tend to ignore the fact that Girl, Interrupted, which earned Angelina Jolie the Best Supporting Actress statue at the 2000 Academy Awards, wasn’t a critical (nor box office) success at all. Jessica Lange won the Best Actress award in 1995 for Blue Sky, which also earned split reviews. The same can be said about Denzel Washington’s win for Best Actor in 2002 for Training Day, which earned decent reviews but wasn’t subject to any overwhelming praise (apart from acting). And who can forget Johnny Depp’s 2004 Best Actor nod for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a summer popcorn flick based on a Disney amusement park ride?

The fact of the matter is, when a performance is amazing, it’s amazing – the flaws of the film surrounding the performance, though they can be distracting, don’t detract from that.

#2: Her film only made $10 million at the U.S. box office.

This is true; La Vie en Rose barely cracked the $10 million mark at the box office. Conveniently overlooked, however, is the fact that the movie only played on about 180 theaters tops nationwide for its 19 week run in the States.

The Last King of Scotland, which won Forest Whitaker nearly every Best Actor award out there in 2007, only grossed $17.5 million here in the States and it played on twice as many screens as La Vie en Rose. And if the box office numbers had any real effect on the Oscars, then Philip Seymour-Hoffman probably wouldn’t have won Best Actor in 2006 for his performance in Capote, which only grossed $27 million despite hitting a high of 1200 theaters and running for about 30 weeks. By this logic Felicity Huffman, too, likely wouldn’t have even earned her Best Actress nomination that same year for Transamerica – which only just passed the $9 million mark despite starting out on nearly 700 screens in the U.S.

The fact of the matter is, a box office flop in the U.S. these days is a film that makes less than $100 million dollars for its entire theater run. Pictures like La Vie en Rose, The Last King of Scotland, Capote, and Transamerica don’t delude themselves by masquerading as big budget moneymakers like Transformers or the Spiderman series. They’re not out to make the big bucks, made more evident by the fact that they don’t merchandise. (Can you imagine, though, Edith Piaf sponsored eyebrow tweezers, or La Vie en Rose brand toothpaste?)

This is why the argument that La Vie en Rose’s United States box office “failure” will hinder Cotillard’s chances at a nod make no sense. The 2005 Oscars alone had several box office flops occupying their nominee list:

-Hotel Rwanda earned only $23 million at the U.S. box office, but garnered nominations for Best Actor (Don Cheadle), Best Supporting Actress (Sophie Okonedo), and Best Original Screenplay (Terry George and Kier Pearson)-
-Being Julia didn’t even reach the $8 million mark, yet Annette Bening earned a Best Actress nod
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind made $34 million, and won Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondrey, and Pierre Bismuth the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and also earned Kate Winslet her fourth Best Actress nomination
-Maria Full of Grace grossed roughly $6.5 million, with Catalina Sandino Moreno earning a nod for Best Actress
-Vera Drake didn’t even hit the $4 million mark, but Imelda Staunton earned a Best Actress nomination that year at the Oscars
-Closer, which made $34 million, earned Supporting Actor and Actress nominations for Clive Owen and Natalie Portman respectively
-Kinsey just broke the $10 million mark, nabbing a Supporting Actress nod for Laura Linney at the Academy Awards

Really, if the amount a film grossed had any influence at the Academy Awards, then we should be expecting to see Jessica Alba walk away with the Best Actress Oscar for The Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer and Tobey Maguire winning Best Actor for Spiderman-3.

#3: Her film isn’t in English.
This is also true, though I’ll admit that I’m very relieved that an Edith Piaf biopic wasn’t spoken in English. She was, after all, a French icon who hailed from Paris. What other language would you imagine the dialogue being in?

The only language barrier present is the one people put up themselves. As far as I’m concerned, if Academy members are too lazy to read subtitles (lines, basically), then maybe they’re in the wrong industry.

The fact that a film is spoken in another language doesn’t make the performance any less effecting or powerful. I’m sure plenty of people here would take offense if people in, say, Germany discredited Robert De Niro’s Oscar-winning performance in Raging Bull because the dialogue was in English. And, along that same line of thinking, people from the States wouldn’t take kindly to Scorsese casting a German actor as Jake LaMotta for the sake of winning an Oscar if the Oscars were held by the German film industry.

If you think about it, several foreign language films and performances have been honored at the Oscars. To name them all from the past twenty years (1987-2007):

-Letters From Iwo Jima, 2007 Best Picture nominee-Adriana Barrazo, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Babel
-Rinko Kikuchi, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Babel
-Penelope Cruz, Best Actress nominee for Volver
-Catalina Sandino Moreno, Best Actress nominee for Maria Full of Grace
-Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, 2001 Best Picture nominee
-La Vita è Bella, 1999 Best Picture nominee
-Roberto Benigni, Best Actor winner for La Vita è Bella
-Fernanda Montenegro, Best Actress nominee for Central do Brasil
-Il Postino, 1996 Best Picture nominee
-Massimo Troisi, Best Actor nominee for Il Postino
-Catherine Deneuve, Best Actress nominee for Indochrine
-Gérard Depardieu, Best Actor nominee for Cyrano de Bergerac
-Isabelle Adjani, Best Actress nominee for Camille Claudel
-Max von Sydow, Best Actor nominee for Pelle erorbreren
-Marcello Mastroianni, Best Actor nominee for Oci ciornie

And if you want to get really nitpicky about not being able to understand a film character, think about these three performances:

-Rinko Kikuchi, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Babel, who plays a deaf-mute that interacts with her Japanese-speaking companions using sign language
-Samantha Morton, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Sweet and Lowdown, who plays a mute woman
-Holly Hunter, Best Actress winner for The Piano, who plays a mute (by choice) piano player

One thing I don’t understand is how people believe that French dialogue/English subtitles will hurt Cotillard’s chances at a Best Actress nod, and yet Babel’s “language barriers” were never an issue. Babel’s six languages – English, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Berber, and [Japanese] Sign Language – I guess didn’t confuse them at all. And what do you know? The film went onto earn seven Academy Award nominations, including two acting awards and a Best Picture nod.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If a performance is amazing, it’s amazing, regardless of language, regardless of the number of box office receipts the film racks up, and regardless of the number of critics who disapprove of the film’s structure. Hell, if those things had any real impact on the Oscar nominations, Anouk Aimée would not have been a Best Actress nominee for her performance in the artsy French film Un Homme et une Femme.

Now let’s take all of the apparent Oscar-hindering aspects of La Vie en Rose off the table, and let us analyze the Oscar-bait qualities of the film/character. When predicting the Oscars, ask yourself the following questions:

First: Does the character battle substance abuse?
Yes, as a matter of fact she does! She battles both an alcohol addiction as well as an addiction to morphine. She even does a stint in rehab.

Second: Does the character contract an illness and/or get involved in a serious accident?
Both. Edith Piaf suffered severe injuries from a car wreck (only one out of three accidents is shown in the film), and then eventually dies of liver cancer after it had been infiltrating her body for years.

Third: Does the character have to deal with the death of a loved one?
Yes. She loses the love of her life, Marcel, in a plane crash. It is also revealed that she lost her young daughter, Marcelle, to meningitis.

Fourth: Is the character a hard ass/diva with a heart of gold?
In her own special way, yes. Edith Piaf was notorious for her diva-like demands, but was also known for being a very vulnerable and sensitive person – as expressed through her music.

Fifth: Did this character overcome a childhood tragedy?
Yes. Edith Piaf was raised in poverty after being abandoned by her parents, she spending much of her childhood in her grandmother’s – for lack of a better word – whore house. While there, she loses (and then miraculously regains) her eyesight. In her late teens, she sang on the streets for money so she could purchase meals.

Sixth: Was this character actually a real person at one time?
Yes. Edith Piaf will be known forever as one of the greatest singers who has ever lived.

Why do people always underestimate the power of the biopic for an actor? The Oscars love biopic performances because it tests the actor’s ability to literally become someone people are familiar with worldwide. Biopic actor nominees and winners of the past five years (2002-2007):

2007

-Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Best Actor winner for The Last King of Scotland
-Will Smith as Chris Gardner, Best Actor nominee for The Pursuit of Happyness
-Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, Best Actress winner for The Queen

2006
-Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Best Actor winner for Capote
-David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, Best Actor nominee for Good Night, and Good Luck
-Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, Best Actor nominee for Walk The Line
-Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash, Best Actress winner for Walk The Line
-Judi Dench as Mrs Laura Henderson, Best Actress nominee for Mrs Henderson Presents
-Paul Giamatti as Joe Gould, Best Supporting Actor nominee for Cinderella Man
-Also note: Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes (character based on Lois Jenson), Best Actress nominee for North Country

2005

-Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Best Actor winner for Ray
-Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, Best Actor nominee for The Aviator
-Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie, Best Actor nominee for Finding Neverland
-Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, Best Actor nominee for Hotel Rwanda
-Alan Alda as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Aviator
-Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Best Supporting Actress winner for The Aviator
-Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana Rusesabagina, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Hotel Rwanda
-Laura Linney as Clara McMillen, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Kinsey

2004

-Charlize Theron as Aileen Wournos, Best Actress winner for Monster

2003

-Adrien Brody as W_adys_aw Szpilman, Best Actor winner for The Pianist
-Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, Best Actress winner for The Hours
-Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo, Best Actress nominee for Frida
-Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale, Sr., Best Supporting Actor nominee for Catch Me If You Can

2002
-Will Smith as Muhammad Ali, Best Actor nominee for Ali
-Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash, Best Actor nominee for A Beautiful Mind
-Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch, Best Actress nominee for Iris
-Jim Broadbent as John Bayley, Best Supporting Actor winner for Iris
-Jon Voight as Howard Cossell, Best Supporting Actor nominee for Ali
-Jennifer Connelly as Alicia Nash, Best Supporting Actress winner for A Beautiful Mind
-Kate Winslet as Iris Murdoch, Best Supporting Actress nominee for Iris

So, there you have it: a comprehensive breakdown of the major reasons people feel will hinder Marion Cotillard on her road to the Oscars. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how things play out this awards season.

7 comments:

k_obrien said...

Huh, I guess some of the formatting (Adrien Brody's character in The Pianist) didn't transfer.

Also, I made a bit of a mistake...Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wasn't Kate Winslet's fourth Best Actress nomination, but her fourth nomination total. Whoops.

Anonymous said...

In your examples of strangers nominated for an Academu Award, you could also had added another Oscar nomination for Adjani, for The Story of Adèle H in 1976.

k_obrien said...

I only went back to 1987 (20 years). There are a good number of foreign performance before then, I know, but I didn't feel the need to list all of them.

Anonymous said...

well, this is the best article i've read about Marion's chances for the oscar: Very complete and totally coherent, unlike the haters comments

well done =D

Cotillard-Admin said...

I agree. K definitely knows her stuff!

k_obrien said...

Thanks!

siutou_amy said...

Good article... I've been having thoughts of my own regarding her chances.

Being a bio-pic, it definitely raises her chances. Oscar loves real people, specially if they suffer and end up tragically something.

Marion's got the whole physical transformation, which also aided Kidman and Theron to earn theirs. Plus for Cotillard there...

Actually, I am pretty sure she could be IT... she's also been doing a bunch of promo in the States... the fact of the matter is, there's only been one actress who's won with a foreign language role. Sophia Loren. That is IT. Roberto Benigni is also the only one winning with a foreign language role...

I hope Marion gets to be one of them~~~ That'd be awesome. My friend and I would dance and scream~