Tuesday, May 24, 2016

OVP: Supporting Actress (2014)

OVP: Best Supporting Actress (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

My Thoughts: We move on from the supporting actors of yesterday and go from a relatively weak year for that category into a particularly strong lineup for Supporting Actress, though I'll admit not quite as magnificent as it could have been had the Academy thought outside the box a bit.  Here, though, we have five actresses, all strong, and even a surprise nomination that I didn't expect (and I'm guessing, coming 23 years after her first, she probably didn't think it was on the menu either).  Normally I'd use that as a segway, but instead I'm going to randomly start with the person who most improved what is easily the least of these five pictures.

Keira Knightley deserves a freaking medal for what she did in The Imitation Game (which may be the point of the Oscars...gold statue and all that).  After all, this is a film that is largely unsalvageable in my opinion-it's posh, but without any true feeling and reduces a brilliant, complicated man into something that you can easily sell to a mass audience at the most rudimentary level.  However, Joan Clarke is a woman who actually seems to challenge the film and the people watching it in a darkened room.  Her Clarke, the victim of sexism and educational oppression, is still someone who has a fire to learn and exhibit her strength in mathematics, particularly in a way to save her country.  Knightley fills her performance with this nuance, like in the way she matter-of-factly disregards any hope of romantic entanglements in the future in hope of pursuing her current career.  So many actresses would have played this with outer-turmoil that showed during the speech, but Knightley keeps a guarded woman continually guarded.  It's a marvelous, CPR-like performance for the film, trying to keep it awake even when everyone else around her is letting the movie sink.

Patricia Arquette doesn't have this kind of heavy-lifting, as she's in a movie that is already terrific, but that might just be because it has Arquette at its center.  A longtime character actress who hadn't been given the opportunity to do something this extraordinary at the movies in at least a decade (in many ways we lost her to television during the run of Boyhood, and she returned soon after), Arquette finds her moment as a woman that has dreams outside of just her children and her failed relationship, but the world doesn't really want her to have those opportunities.  There's that great scene toward the end where she "thought there would be more," a protestation we all have as we get older and realize that life doesn't always imitate the most inspiring of art, but really every moment of this film is informed by a well-rounded, occasionally imperfect human being.  Arquette breathes life into her Olivia, making the twelve years that go by seem truly like she has lived within them.  It's a wonderful achievement and proof that when you give good, underrated actors a chance, they step up to the plate.

Meryl Streep is hardly what you'd consider an underrated actress, so unlike Arquette the bar is higher for her to surprise, and while she's fine in Into the Woods, the surprise isn't really there.  Streep gets a plum role in the Witch (playing this trope, considered a rite of passage for "women of a certain age"), but while she's a wonderful singer, there's very little nuance in this performance.  Perhaps it's time to acknowledge that while Streep still can turn in terrific work, her dramatic chops occasionally feel out-of-practice, and aside from "Last Midnight" and the campier moments in the film, she borders on over-the-top and doesn't quite bring the nuanced realism that this musical is trying to bring, even to fairy tales.  She's a fine singer, and ever-watchable, but this is hardly the woman that we were mesmerized in in a film like Kramer vs. Kramer or Silkwood or even The Devil Wears Prada.  Here she's more of a diva and a bit of a scenery-chewer, but we forgive because she's Meryl Streep.

I also wasn't super impressed with Emma Stone's work in Birdman.  Stone came onto all of our radars in Easy A, still her best piece of work in my opinion, but while she's eternally watchable and usually more fun than her film, she's never really gotten "there" with a performance in the way that her peers like Keira Knightley or Kristen Stewart have.  Her Sam is obviously a play off of the petulant celebrity child that we've come to worship in the press (everyone from Paris Hilton to Suri Cruise has become a walking poster-board for a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous internet culture), but she doesn't find enough humanity in her to feel like anything less than a caricature.  She doesn't seem so vapid that she enters the brilliance of Emma Watson in The Bling Ring, and aside from that great speech to Michael Keaton about how he's obsolete, she doesn't get enough strong moments in the film, certainly not to justify her crucial position at the film's finale.  I'm glad she's an Oscar nominee now, as I think there's still potential for genius there and the nod will get her better parts to show it, but I wish she'd done something to earn this first shot at the gold.

Finally, we arrive at the surprise nominee of the bunch.  Few people anticipated that Laura Dern would be the shock nominee of this quintet, as Wild had largely under-performed, but a year after her dad landed a longtime comeback nomination for Nebraska, it was her turn for playing an ailing parent.  While the role itself may have been the hook that landed her the Oscar-loving, it's the performance that got to me as this is the best Dern has been cinematically in years, possibly ever.  Her Bobbi is such a lived-in, heartfelt performance-the sort of woman who cannot quite admit that certain parts of her life are over, and that she's good with her decisions but might have some regrets.  It's a relatively small part (it's a truly supporting one, unlike say Streep or Arquette who border on the "lead"), but it's so effective-you feel her pull the rest of the film as we watch Reese come to grips with grief and letting go of the great love of her life.  Seeing the way that she approaches her daughter, whom she knows is still growing up emotionally and physically, Dern plays her Bobbi as someone we can all relate toward, even if we haven't lived in her final shoes.

Other Precursor Contenders: Unlike the Supporting Actor category, here we have at least something resembling variety, particularly in the slot that went to Dern.  At the Globes, it was all but the Jurassic Park star, with Jessica Chastain's blonde mob wife in A Most Violent Year making the cut, while at the SAG Awards we saw a surprise inclusion of Naomi Watts in St. Vincent (Arquette won both trophies). The BAFTA Awards skipped both Dern and Streep (they're not as wild about her as some other voting bodies), going with Rene Russo in Nightcrawler and (in a lovely surprise) Imelda Staunton in Pride (again, Arquette won).  In terms of the sixth place finisher, while it seemed obvious at the time that Chastain was the one to beat, considering the film's tepid overall response from the Oscars, I wonder if another surprise was also in store like Russo or Carmen Ejogo (Selma)
Actors I Would Have Nominated: This is the best of the four lineups that Oscar pulled together for 2014 (as you might be able to tell I wasn't wild about any of these lineups-none of them are "the five" or anything close to that), but it could have been an all-time greats list.  I surely would have included Chastain, who was remarkable in Most Violent and showed off her true movie star potential, as well as Russo's morally-compromised news executive and Tilda Swinton's ridiculous villainy in Snowpiercer.
Oscar’s Choice: 2014 was one of those years where the stampede to the Oscars were the same four people every step of the way, so Arquette easily bounced Knightley and Stone out of the winner's circle.
My Choice: It's a tough race, but I'll go with Arquette on top as I feel like her performance is the most-informed of the five.  Follow that with Dern, Knightley, Streep, and Stone.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Are we all (like the awards bodies, including the OVP) in agreement for Patty Arquette taking this trophy, or is there someone else who should have been in the cards?  Anyone with me on the Streep needs to do a straight drama idea?  And who was sixth place here-it seems like a very open-ended answer?

Past Best Supporting Actress Contests: 200820092010201120122013

No comments: