PART 1: Over at Awards Daily I've written a piece on the Oscar prospects of the male performances I saw @ the New York Film Festival
I can't say I have a lot of hope for the whole thing.
-Margot (on the way to) the Wedding
PART 2: The Women
And again the disclaimer: Since this is an article and not a novel, we'll skip the stuff that's not either a) great or b) Oscarable which are sometimes the same thing but not, as you know, always the same thing.
Marisa Tomei in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Kelly Macdonald in No Country For Old Men
Both are guy's guy movies --bloody unforgiving crime dramas. Marisa and Kelly are "the girls" and, as such, are on hand to tease and soften respectively. Neither are getting close to the Oscar Supporting Actress shortlists unless the Picture showcasing them is a major player. This is no knock against either performance just the facts of Oscar traction when your role doesn't carry its own bait. Macdonald plays "Carla Jean Moss" the wife of a man who makes a really bad decision when he encounters $2 million in cash. She isn't onscreen much but this Scottish actress (most famous for supporting roles in Trainspotting and Gosford Park) makes a convincing Texan and brings warmth to an often cold film and she nails her last scene, crucial to her hopes of surviving memories of the film.
Tomei's "Gina" on the other hand is a major player in Before the Devil... As Phillip Seymour Hoffman's wife she brings her usual flashes of wit, sly character hints, and knock out beauty. Unfortunately the movie never quite knows what to do with her --the screenplay has more interest in her body (frequently displayed 'If you got it...') than her voice. For example: the movie employs the now well worn device of mixed chronology to retell its story multiple times. The chapter titles that come with each jump are always titled in relation to the crime ("the day before the robbery", etc...) but they rather misleadingly suggest changes in points of view since character names also appear. But this is no Rashomon retelling. There's no true shift in perspective despite the named chapters. You're just getting more information. But even if there were, Lumet and the screenplay never imply that this woman deserves a chapter of her own. In other words, Marisa Tomei is working harder for this movie than it's working for her.
Anamaria Marinca in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Do-yeon Jeon in Secret Sunshine
These films are already known to awards-watchers as two of the submissions for Oscar's Foreign Film category this year. They're also both Cannes winners (the Palme D'Or and Best Actress, respectively). The Romanian and Korean films have one last thing in common, too: both are elevated and powered by skilled lead actresses.
4 Months is often referred to as an 'abortion film' but it's much more layered than that reductive tag implies. For starters the lead character is not the one in need of the procedure. The lead is Otilia, an older friend to Gabita the 'girl in trouble' and she's played by Anamaria Marinca with unfussy resolve and understated intelligence. The writer/director Cristian Mungui leans heavily on Marinca's gift. He coordinates the camera work to match her moods and she is almost never off screen. The film is quite literally following her around, reacting to every shift in temperament. It's a strong naturalistic performance but it's also egoless and as such, will not be finding awards glory. Voting bodies look for starrier and more effortful looking work when it comes time to name their "best" (prev 4 Months post)
I've already read festival coverage comparing Lee Chang Dong's Secret Sunshine to truly masterful films like [safe]. I wasn't as bowled over by the film which I found effective and insightful but far too tedious and repetitive to champion. But Do-Yeon Jeon impresses. She plays Shin-ae a young widowed mother seeking a fresh start in a new town with her son. But God just has no mercy on this woman. Her life heads into Job like territory. As with Otilia in 4 Months the camera is almost always on Shin-ae and the actress playing her never stumbles. There is one scene in particular, a climactic prison visit, in which she is transcendent. Emotionally speaking she has the rug pulled out from under her in the sequence. Jeon barely moves but you can see a cataclysmic storm gathering in her soul as her face clouds over. It might be the best single scene work I've witnessed this year ...but this is not an Oscary film and who knows when it will be released at that.
Cate Blanchett as "Jude" (i.e. Bob Dylan) in I'm Not There
People can't get over the gimmick. I'd read the early Telluride and Venice reports "Blanchett is amazing!" The NYFF reaction was roughly the same. In the press conference she was seemingly the subject of every other question. "How did she do it? How did you decide to cast her? How did she prepare?" And yes the Oscar was evoked, repeatedly. It's as if no woman had ever played a man before. If memory serves the last time this happened the woman in question won the Oscar (Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously). Oscar prospects are very bright (I was personally more excited about Charlotte Gainsbourg ... previous I'm Not There thoughts)
Nicole as Margot at the Wedding of Pauline who is Jennifer
Given that I am generally nutso for Nicole Kidman's dramatic work (my #1 actress of the aughts) and that I was enamored of Noah Baumbach's last picture The Squid the Whale, my hopes were high going in to Margot... It's sadly quite a step down from the earlier picture's razor sharp vivisection of a divorcing family. This one is a portrait of estranged sisters and as such it has considerable merit. Both Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are game for the challenge and there's wonderful stuff happening between them: a thorny characterization from Kidman and a surprisingly warm one from Leigh is complicated by the fact that you can often see where the more abrasive sister is coming from in her mercilessly vocalized judgments. But the screenplay betrays their efforts. It's both under and overwritten: stuffed with subplots (half of which don't work), distracted by its supporting characters, and the slice of life plot which should play with improvisational flair has too many overly determined beats.
The critical fervor that greeted Squid will be absent here, resulting in an Oscar pass but Leigh could still shortlist if (and it's a big if) the media really rallies for her. Kidman is committed to the abrasive and ultimately sad Margot but almost no one will want to cozy up to this woman and you know what they say, 'Academy members vote with their hearts.' Plus, critical awards will be hard to come by. She's given at least one impossible crucial scene to play, a comeuppance in a book store. The scene plays awkwardly like a "scene" when it needs to be the believable gut punch from which the movie doubles over and looks frantically for an exit sign as it enters its final reel.
Related: Best Actress & Best Supporting Actress Oscar Predictions (updated!)