Thursday, January 6, 2011
A major reason why you are reading this commentary instead of a Black Swan review is because when I walked out of Darren Aronofsky's film last week, I was completely blown away by the director's latest work, including the incredible acting that took place in it. Not only was Swan incredible, but I was particularly taken by Natalie Portman's performance as a troubled ballerina who gets the lead part in Swan Lake. When I expressed my curiosity for a Portman Oscar bid, my wife alerted me to the fact that she was already nominated for a Golden Globe...which means an Academy nomination is the next natural progression. Before I let out a confident statement about how the Best Actress Award is all but hers, I had to ask the question, "Who else is nominated?", and for good reason.
As if I didn't already know that the fix is in on the awards circuit, I wanted to know what exactly defines the quintessential best actress in Hollywood. It seems that winning an Oscar for a female actress is unfortunately more crapshoot than anything else. In the instance of Best Actress for the last few years, the key to winning the award seemed to be based on the character rather than the performance of the actress.
Take for instance last year. Sandra Bullock was the hands down favorite to win Best Actress for her work in The Blind Side. Critics' raved relentlessly how Bullock's performance redefined the thespian profession. Based on a true story, Bullock played Leigh Anne Tuohy, an unselfish woman who opened her heart and home to an unprivileged young man. In reality, Tuohy gets nothing but respect for being a wonderful human being. And after I sat down to watch Blind Side for the first time a couple weeks ago, I think that is the reason why Bullock won the honor. In fact, it has to be the reason. No offense to Sandra Bullock, who I have total respect for as an actress, but her "universally unequal" performance was actually very basic at best. She played a tough Southerner who maintains a take-no-crap attitude. That's it. There was no character transformation, no inner emotional struggle, no dramatic turn. Just surprisingly vanilla in contrast to the endless praise she received.
Bullock's win last year reminds me of Julia Roberts' victory with Erin Brockovich in the early 2000's. Roberts played Brockovich - a woman with a take no crap attitude, albeit with her pop-up bra thrusting her boobalas out at the camera the entire time. Roberts was the Hollywood darling at the time and portrayed a character out of her scope. So like Tuohy, Brockovich is a triumph in reality, but Roberts' performance was only passable. This instance is another reason why I feel the way I do when it comes to best actress winners. Bullock's character in Blind Side was "Sandra Bullock PLAYS Leigh Anne Tuohy" just as Roberts' character in Erin Brockovich was "Julia Roberts PLAYS Erin Brockovich".
Now back to Portman. I just read some articles playing up the "pregnancy" angle because she will be expecting when Oscar time comes around, even though she would not be the first woman to win an Oscar with child. This particular article is written as if Portman's performance alone would not be enough to justify her as the front runner. What the heck does her pregnancy have to do with winning the Oscar?
If you have not seen Black Swan yet, I implore you to do so immediately...but only if you can tolerate Aronofsky (I dig him). Unlike watching Bullock PLAY Tuohy or Roberts PLAY Brockovich, you forget you are watching Natalie Portman about 2-3 minutes in. Unlike the character she portrays in Swan, Portman loses herself in the role; bringing the audience along with her.
Other names thrown into the arena with Portman for Best Actress could potentially be former winner Halle Berry. And Michelle Williams has been recently receiving praise for her turn in Blue Valentine and is a strong dark horse. Could it be a battle of Black and Blue battle for the award? Sorry I couldn't resist. The more interesting name this year is Nicole Kidman, a big name actress who is being touted as the comeback kid since she has been a bit MIA since her Oscar win in 2002 for The Hours (ed. notes: Thanks, Emily!). And the Academy always LOVES a good comeback, so this angle might be worth keeping an eye on.
Maybe the Academy should stop giving out the awards to the hot hand or Hollywood darling of the year and start awarding actresses based on their performances. I admit that the same could be said for other awards, but the Best Actress category just makes it a bit too obvious.