Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'll bite - Best Supporting Actress

Dorothy's posted her picks, I may as well post my own! The Best Supporting Actress nominees this year are:

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Blanchett's got the Globe. Dee's got the SAG. Ryan's got the critics' awards. Swinton's got the BAFTA. Ronan's got the most interesting part in a Best Picture nominee. So, who's the frontrunner?

I'll start off this analysis by saying that I've not seen I'm Not There in its entirety, but I have seen Blanchett's entire performance. The Weinstein Co., after Blanchett didn't sweep up the Oscar precursors as expected, has tried a different strategy to secure a win for her: they've not only sent out screeners containing only her performance, but have have started streaming all of her scenes online for free, here. The Weinsteins realize that many felt that the film itself was alienating and even pretentious. Blanchett doesn't appear until halfway through, so they are trying anything to make sure that her performance will be seen. However, this new strategy might rub people the wrong way. For me, at least, it comes across as being desperate. Add in the fact that Blanchett won three years ago for The Aviator, add in the fact that Blanchett never really picked up any momentum, and consider the uncertainty around this category (it truly could go anywhere), and I'd say her chances aren't as high as people initially anticipated. She could very well take it, but I wouldn't put money on it.

As for her performance...well, it was good, I suppose. Blanchett is one of the best actresses working today, but this performance came across as being gimmicky and a little cheesy. I'm the first person who will tell you that I don't know anything about the life of Bob Dylan, but I only feel confused after watching Blanchett's segment. Does hers, combined with the rest of the film, come together to have one ultimate message? What am I supposed to have gotten from her piece in the film? I was only left confused by her performance and by her entire segment in the film, which would be a non-issue if the performance wasn't so superficial. I feel as though she only skimmed the surface.

Ruby Dee is an interesting case, because, at this point in the game, I'd feel good predicting her for the win even though hers is the nomination I just don't understand. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is a major difference between being happy for the performer and being happy for the performance. I am thrilled for Dee, but disappointed she got nominated for what is, quite frankly, an uninteresting, throwaway role. Putting the flaws of the film aside, Dee's performance clocks in at about five minutes. Now, ladies like Judi Dench and Beatrice Straight have proven that much can be made of a small role, but Dee doesn't hit that level. It's not as though she turns in a bad performance, but she doesn't own the role, she doesn't make the character her own. After the movie was finished, I wasn't left thinking, "Wow, that Ruby Dee. I can't imagine anyone else playing that role." The reason for that being that I didn't think anything about her when the film was over, as it was an uninspired, uninteresting performance.

The Oscars love the sentimental vote, though. Dee has had an extraordinary career in film, television, and on the stage, and has gone unnoticed by the Academy. Being in a box office smash, starring opposite Denzel Washington in her scenes....well, it was time, I guess. I'd give her a slight edge here.

My favorite Briony in Atonement was Vanessa Redgrave (she gave the film the emotional punch it was lacking), but Saoirse Ronan's Briony is the most complex, challenging character in the film. Ronan handles the role with aplomb. Dorothy calls her a "child-villain," which she is, in some respect. I was reminded of Tracy Flick, from Election, while watching her, but in the end, I don't see her as being as manipulative as Flick, nor do I consider her to be a villain. I think she really, truly believes in what she's doing, not realizing that her misunderstanding, her story-telling is condemning a man to death, a couple to years and years of misery, for a crime he didn't commit. It's a remarkably accomplished performance, especially considering Ronan's youth and inexperience.

A nomination is all Ronan should hope for. It's a well-earned nomination, but she's not my personal pick to win it and I don't think she's got overwhelming support within the Academy. The fact that she is in a Best Picture nominee (which earned 7 nominations total) could play in her favor, but Tilda Swinton is in the same situation -- Michael Clayton earned 7 nominations, including a Best Picture nod -- but has a years of experience and a BAFTA in her corner.

Amy Ryan shocked everyone when she, not Blanchett, started picking up award after award from the critics groups for her turn as a drug-addled, grief-stricken mother in Gone Baby Gone (one of my top 10 films this year...criminally overlooked, I think). As Helene, the mother of missing girl Amanda, Ryan gives one of the best performances -- male or female, leading or supporting -- of the year. She evokes sympathy and compassion, but at the drop of the hat she'll disgust you, she'll shock you, and she'll, ultimately, scare you. It's a very ambiguous performance; you don't really ever know what her intentions are, who she is truly looking out for. She seems unperturbed by the loss of her child when you first see her, high and withholding information during an interrogation, then she is upbeat and carefree, before she is lost and devastated. She believes a very dangerous group of people to be involved, she thinks they are seeking revenge on her for stealing their money, and she leads cops down a bizarre trail. It's clear she's trying to protect someone, but who? Her little girl? Her lover? Herself? Capped off by that final scene in the film, I didn't really know how to feel about Helene, but Ryan's performance is so rounded, so full, that I'm not left unsatisfied by the questions those last three minutes raises.

Ryan took all of the critics awards (LAFCA, NYFCC, BFCA, NBR, among others), but has had some trouble at the larger, national groups. Though not eligible for the BAFTA this year, Ryan couldn't beat Blanchett for the Globe or Dee for the SAG. Can she beat them -- as well as Swinton and Ronan -- for the Oscar? I sure hope so...and I think it will happen.

This is the one performance in this category that I haven't seen, though the film will be arriving within the next week or so via Netflix. Because of this, I don't feel comfortable speaking about her performance yet, but I will say that she is a very well-respected actress, who many feel was overdue for a nomination, and who has lately been picking up a lot of steam. While Atonement has a Best Picture nomination and a Writing nomination, the rest of their nominations are scattered amongst technical categories (which aren't unimportant at all). Michael Clayton has heavy, heavy support in every major category: Best Picture, Best Director (Tony Gilroy), Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Best Original Screenplay (Tony Gilroy). If there's a real "surprise" win, it'll be Swinton.

Final Wrap-Up:

Will Win: Amy Ryan
Should Win: Amy Ryan
Spoiler: Ruby Dee
Dark Horse: Tilda Swinton
Don't Count Out: Cate Blanchett

Final Rankings:

1. Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
2. Ruby Dee, American Gangster
3. Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
4. Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
5. Saoirse Ronan, Atonement


Dorothy Porker said...

I'm glad we both predicted Ryan!

k said...

I think she was the best.

Though I've yet to see Swinton.

I'm really pulling for Ryan to take it. She so deserves it.

Eegah said...

I'm hoping for Saoirse, such conviction and steely reserve in a challenging role (though there may be some patriotism in there too ;P) I think while Redgrave was very touching and classy - she relied on all the emotional investment of the rest of the film and of course the powerful score and imagery in the final scene. Both Ryan and Dee were breaths of fresh air in their respective films but I totally agree that Ryan was far more substantial and brilliant - so much nuance and disgusting charisma - I wish she'd been in it more, and I can't believe this woman played Chris Cooper's wife in Capote. Lol. As for Tilda? Well I've yet to see her - but very interesting from the clips I've seen on YouTube. I am rather a fan of Cate Blanchett's performance - because while it's true that I didn't feel anything emotionally for her character (or really anyone in the film) - her spot-on mannerisms, comedic chutzpah and extraordinary way of relating obscure ideas - it really was a gift. Her section of the film is probably the most accessible and exciting actually - though I am a fan of Ledger's and Franklin's storylines. It really is a dense and bewildering experience on the whole, and I agree it's sort of cheap and disrespectful of the Weinsteins to butcher Haynes' film and post it on YouTube like that for the sake of another Cate victory.

Oops. Didn't mean to turn this into an essay. Anyway - I really think this category is anybody's game. It's very exciting!

k said...

I like your comments.

I have high hopes for Ronan...I think she's got a real strong future ahead of her. She gave an incredibly mature performance in a very challenging role.

And Dee wasn't bad, but I would never have imagined she'd get the accolades she has for her performance.

I know Bob Dylan's physicality, and I know his voice, so I think Blanchett did a decent job there, but the segment as a whole was a tired exercise and she just wasn't able to rise above it. It tried too hard to be obscure and wacky, and I don't feel as though I got anything from it. I guess I just don't feel strongly for the performance either way -- I don't love or like it, but I don't hate it. I'm rather indifferent towards it, I guess.

And yes, I think the maneuver the Weinstein Co. pulled is disrespectful to Todd Haynes, to the film's crew, to Cate Blanchett, and to the rest of the ensemble.

Ryan, for me, left me confused like Blanchett did, but unlike Blanchett, she gave a very provocative performance. She leaves you confused and bewildered, but questioning, thinking, wondering. There was, forgive me, a rather hollow feel to Blanchett that left me unsatisfied, it didn't help me to understand the man at all, and the segment was structured in a way that it almost felt like Haynes doesn't WANT people to question it. You should just accept it for its obscurity and move on with it. With Ryan, she fleshes out her character fully, and while you never quite understand her, you WANT to. That is the major difference for me.

Not that you asked, haha.

Anonymous said...