Thursday, March 3, 2011

Oscar contenders - Best Actor: Colin Firth

First posted 2 Jan 2011:

Time to start looking at the Best Actor race.

Colin Firth is right on the top of the pile. Fresh off his acclaim for A Single Man last year, he has walked into career-best reviews this year for his very Oscar-friendly turn as royalty with a speech impediment in Tom Hooper's inspirational tale of leadership & friendship, The King's Speech.

Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone is Colin Firth’s biggest fan. She swears he has been brilliant in everything, ever, & is the most underrated actor in the business.

I’ll concede that you have to search long & hard to find a bad Colin Firth performance (although merely having your name in the Mamma Mia! titles is not great for anyone's credibility), and that he is always imminently watchable, but I will admit that I find many of his past performances to be a bit same-ish.

Colin Firth is already embedded in the hearts of discerning female BBC mini-series watchers across the world as the unsurpassably perfect embodiment of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. And he deserves it. It is a perfect performance.

To his credit, he also managed to mine new charms in a Darcy repeat role in Bridget Jones’ Diary. He is a remarkably subtle actor that lives into his characters, and perhaps it is only due to a lack of strong roles that he has, in the past, been confined to the 'reliably solid' category (in my mind, at any rate). But all that has been changing in the last few years, with a series of increasingly excellent gems culminating in his soon-to-be Oscar-winning performance in The King's Speech.

As the grieving widower trying to work through his & his daughters’ hurt in Michael Winterbottom’s enigmatic grief snapshot, Genova, Firth employed his usual techniques to channel new depths of subtle emotion and carry the mood of the film.

In the unexpectedly good Noel Coward adaptation, Easy Virtue, he plays a war veteran & long-suffering (or is he?) husband of somewhat highly strung (but with reason?) Kristin Scott Thomas. With biting wit & sorrow and a few surprises up his sleeve, he showed us a Firth we have not quite seen before.

Last year saw the biggest leap in his career since Pride and Prejudice, with his role in Tom Ford's adaptation of A Single Man, channeling all his understated skills to play George, a grieving Literary professor mourning the loss of his young lover with a quiet, palpable ache that scored him a richly deserved Oscar nomination. Although Firth's depressed gay professor was never going to beat The Dude himself essaying a spectacular boozer wooing Maggie Gyllenhall with beautiful, sad country songs, many felt he stood the best chance of stealing the award from Jeff Bridges.

He didn't. But this year he’s back in a role far easier for Oscar to digest and, by general consensus, his best to date. As another George, this time King George VI, he plays a man feeling the weight of his responsibility as his country's leader when he has to overcome a debilitating stutter in order to deliver a speech that will lead his country in a time of war. Although it is his humanity that really makes the performance, the equation adds up even if all the Academy voters see is the trailer: British royalty: tick. Physical disability: tick. Great Reviews: tick. Guaranteed Best Picture nominee film: tick. Leftover acclaim from A Single Man: tick. Likeability: tick. Colin Firth cannot lose.

The cherry on top of the cake is that the performance is, reportedly, more than the sum of its Oscar-friendly parts. Like Helen Mirren before him, he embodies the hidden pressures & emotions of a real person with royalty thrust upon him, trying to navigate the best interests of his country and his personal struggles. He plays a good man coming into his own as a King and finding the courage to be a leader, while building an unexpected friendship with Geoffrey Rush’s eccentric voice coach. It just gets better and better, and makes for some welcome lightness after all the grief of his recent work.

Barring any major upsets or catastrophes, Colin Firth should have no trouble riding this one all the way home.

Pride & Prejudice:


The trailer really doesn't show off his performance, but it is the best I could find. Gosh people post weird stuff on YouTube (home-made montages of bad quality stills from the film set to cheesy piano music... not cool). Liking Arcade Fire on the soundtrack.

Easy Virtue:

That cheesy American voiceover really sucks, but I really actually enjoyed this movie.

A Single Man:

Such a slick trailer