Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Brilliant, She Wrote

The ladies are writing it for themselves. With Brit Marling paving her own way into Hollywood, first with thoughtful Sci Fi tinged drama, Another Earth, and now with the fun, trippy, enigmatic Sound of my Voice, ambitious indie actresses seem to be starting a very commendable trend of writing the parts they want to play.

Outside of Marling, Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan's grand daughter) wrote, produced and stars in the smart & charming Ruby Sparks, Greta Gerwig co-wrote her career defining part in Frances Ha with boyfriend Noah Baumbach and Sarah Polley seems to have abandoned her promising career as an actress to write and direct  the remarkable stories she wants to tell instead; releasing two remarkable films back-to-back - melancholy relationship dramedy Take This Waltz and the much applauded, deeply personal pseudo-documentary The Stories We Tell.

Over in the world of television, Lena Dunham follows in the footsteps of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, taking the reigns of her own TV show - displaying either remarkable all-round talents or distinct control-freak tendencies, or both - as writer / director / producer / star of Girls. Since her acclaimed (in a Sundance kinda way) debut, writing, directing and starring in Tiny Furniture, Dunham has very much written her own significant success story and shows no sign of slowing down.

Hear hear to the young actresses ignoring, and re-writing, the fuzzy, chauvinist rules of Hollywood.

Spielberg's Actors

With Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones charging strongly into the Supporting categories, and Daniel Day-Lewis looking set to win his third richly deserved Oscar, for Spielberg's political epic Lincoln, it leads us to the interesting bit of trivia that no actor has ever won an Oscar for a Spielberg film. Quite something considering his extensive body of work.

So - who could and should have won, who should have been nominated, but wasn't, and who would we have liked to see as contenders that would never have been able to knock down the competition?

Should have Could have Would have been winners:

1. Whoopi Goldberg - The Color Purple (1985)
Although she would have faced strong competition from Meryl Streep (Out of Africa) and Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams), even if Geraldine Page hadn't taken the top prize, Whoopi's still-classic performance would have made for a fresh and deserving win. Like a slightly more upbeat version of Precious, with a killer final scene, she makes Celie deeply memorable. It's a pity she's never been able to equal the performance.

The Goldberg snub beats the Fiennes snub on the simple logic that her deserving win would additionally have spared us Halle Berry's cringe-worthy Oscar speech (as the first 'black' woman to win Best Actress) & opened up Supporting Actress to be won by the still Oscarless Anette Bening (The Grifters) in 1991 (over Goldberg's winning turn in Ghost).

(Incidentally, fellow Colour Purple nominees Margaret Avery & Oprah Winfrey are both great as well, but it's unlikely either could have taken Supporting Actress. It was Anjelica Huston's year, and her eccentricities are richer than Avery & Winfrey's tears. Non-nominee Danny Glover is on top bastardly form as well, but should have been campaigned as a Supporting Actor - where he could surely have knocked out Eric Roberts - rather than as lead - where he was up against a bunch of respected white dudes.)

2. Ralph Fiennes - Schindler's List (1993)
Honestly, how on earth did he miss this win? A classic, epicly intense villain that has effortlessly stood the test of time. And in the year's big Best Picture winner to boot. Sure it's easy to love Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, but watch the two performances side by side and then hand out an Oscar. It goes to Fiennes. Every time. Ironically, Jones is likely contending for his second Supporting Oscar this year for Spielberg's Lincoln. And Fiennes remains Oscarless.

Should have Could have Would have been contenders:

3. Sean Connery - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
A legendary movie dad, Connery was snubbed by Oscar after comfortably picking up nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assoc & the British Academy Awards for his thoroughly enjoyable comic performance. It's unlikely he could have beat Glory's Denzel Washington for the win, but scratch the frankly superfluous Dan Aykroyd and there's plenty of room in the Supporting Actor list for Connery and his bow tie. Curiously, his win two years before (on his sole career nomination for The Untouchables) didn't seem to count in his favour.

4. Jude Law - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
At the height of his popularity, Jude Law's gigolo robot Joe would have made a solid follow up nomination to his breakthrough as rich young cad in The Talented Mr Ripley, before he seemed to fall out of favour right after finally breaking through to the big time with Cold Mountain. I'd easily have bump Jon Voigt for Law.

5. Samantha Morton - Minority Report (2002)
Tom Cruise & Max Von Sydow are cool & effective, Lois Smith gets her epic moment with some scary plants, but it's Samantha Morton's turn as doomed pre-cog Agatha that really stays with you. There's so much happening on her face, suggesting a whole universe of meaning with her looks of perpetual terror. She had broken into the Oscar race two years before as a lovely mute for Woody Allen in Sweet & Lowdown, and had been nothing but brilliant in between (Jesus' Son, Dreaming of Joseph Lees, Pandaemonium, Morvern Callar). She overcommits to a minor part in Minority Report and the results are splendid, but Oscar did not take notice.

6. Djimon Hounsou - Amistad (1997)
Anthony Hopkins feels a bit like a token nominee and was never going to spoil Robin Williams' (Good Will Hunting) moment, but since this is Spielberg's other slavery film, it would have been decent of the Academy to recognise Hounsou's intense and powerful central performance. He could have bumped Dustin Hoffman's Wag the Dog nomination (as enjoyable as he was, he wouldn't be overly missed).

7. Teri Garr - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Melinda Dillon got the nomination, but Teri Garr is just as good in the earlier half of the film. Nomination or no, neither of them was going to beat Vanessa Redgrave's Julia. Incidentally, the other lauded Encounters performance is Francois Truffaut but, though he gives a solid performance, there's nothing overtly awards-worthy about it other than the fact that he is the great Francois Truffaut.

Close misses:

7. Harrison Ford - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 
A broad performance, yes, but an iconic & very well judged one. A nomination as Best Actor? It seems unlikely, but perhaps not such a stretch considering the film's very respectable 8 total nominations, including Best Picture, and 5 wins. Realistically, though, there's no-one he could easily have bumped. Considering the legacy, skill & sentiment behind Henry Fonda's winning performance in On Golden Pond, nothing was going to dismantle him. Every other actor seems pretty much indispensible, outside of, arguably, Dudley Moore in Arthur. But, come to think of it, between Ford & Moore, I'd probably have voted for Moore as well. Sorry Harrison!

8. Christopher Walken - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Probably more memorable for being the start of Leonardo DiCaprio's significant comeback, Christopher Walken owns the whole film (along with John Williams' great vintage score) in a tiny performance that kicks total ass. No-one could have played Frank Abagnale Sr the way he did; he imbues his few moments on screen with so much eccentric inspiration & melancholy wisdom, he's infinitely memorable. A deserving nominee, then, but could - and should - he have been a winner? I'd never vote against Chris Cooper (Adaptation) & Walken has his epic Oscar for The Deer Hunter. In any case, if Cooper hadn't won, Ed Harris (The Hours) or Paul Newman (Road to Perdition) would have claimed the prize before Walken even came into the conversation.

9. Ben Kingsley - Schindler's List (1994)
It's hard to imagine how the great Sir Ben Kingsley wasn't nominated for his very touching, unshowy performance in an Oscar milestone film. It's also hard to say, though, who should have bumped for his sake - possibly Pete Postlethwait for In the Name of the Father, but that feels like a different minor injustice, or Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, but he's a little bit iconic in that role. Though it's a pity, Kingsley has had - and will have - plenty other occasions to shine.

10. Frances O'Connor - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Another great performance in Spielberg's fascinating, odd Sci Fi (a labour of love on behalf of Stanley Kubrick). O'Connor is fantastic and makes a big impact as robot child David's very human mother, but it's hard to think whose place she could have taken. I don't begrudge Jennifer Connelly Oscar for Ron Howard's sentimental & overrated, but still excellent, A Beautiful Mind, and I love all the other nominees, down to Marisa Tomei's sensitive idiosyncrasies in In the Bedroom, and Dame Maggie Smith's ample charms in Gosford Park (lately exploited to breaking point in Downton Abbey). Perhaps I'm resisting change, but I like the line up & don't see space for O'Connor.

11. Robert Shaw - Jaws (1975)
How great would it have been to have Robert Shaw contending for supporting actor? They would have needed a bigger boat.