Thursday, December 10, 2009

Come Back to Me...Or Not.

Jose here with a look at one of the most misunderstood performances of the decade.



Nicole Kidman
is arguably the actress of the decade. The woman did everything in the past ten years: thrillers, Ingmar Bergman redux, classy biopics, astonishing musicals, big special effects epics and even Lars von Trier. The last few years however have been full of incomprehensible Kidman hate (if this were the 1930's she'd be deemed box office poison and sent to oblivion).

The backlash began with the release of Cold Mountain Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic which some had decided would be the new Gone With the Wind the minute it started shooting. When it was released and Nicole's Ada Monroe just wasn't Scarlett O'Hara, it was as if people decided Nicole had cheated them from what they all thought would be a third consecutive Best Actress Oscar nomination (it says a lot that she was the only member of the principle cast not to receive a nod, in a year where all the Best Actress nominees seemed rushed and second choices).

Nicole had had a so-so year at the box office with The Human Stain turning out to be a disappointment and Dogville deemed too shocking and even anti-American by more conservative crowds. Right away the attacks began and Kidman became the target of cosmetic surgery jokes and labelled a two-trick wonder. Some even found her age to be a fault. Perhaps her character in Cold Mountain didn't play out like the second coming of Vivien Leigh, but she turned out a wonderful performance.

Critics complained that you never felt the passion between Ada and Inman (Jude Law) and found it unconvincing that they spent almost three hours longing for each other. To me this was the very thing that made the movie fascinating. It's by no means a love movie, in the same way Gone With the Wind isn't a Civil War flick, instead it was a film about what to do once your entire world turns upside down. You never feel the intense love, because there's just no intense love to be felt there, Ada and Inman have become symbols for each other, a way to hold on to a lifestyle that has ceased to exist. They are illusions and their ideals of each other is the only thing that seems real in the middle of a battlefield or while planting corn with Renée Zellweger.

Cold Mountain
doesn't turn out to be the sweeping, romantic epic everyone wanted it to, but a dark study on what makes people want to stay alive. And as such Kidman was as brilliant as ever.

50 comments:

ferdi said...

Maybe Cold Mountain is the best Minghella movie. I loved Jude Law in the part and Kidman is brilliant and intense as ever but I think she was miscast... too old for the part. But she does the best she can

DJ said...

After reading the actual novel it's based upon, there's no doubt in my mind that Kidman played Ada perfectly. I think people who criticize her performace just don't understand the character she's playing; and I love Kidman for sticking so close to the novel. Ada is supposed to be rather awkward and shy. Maybe Kidman was a few years too old, but I think she played the part with grace and wit. Certainly deserving of a nomination, IMO.

And the more and more I watch the film, the more and more I love it. It's fast becoming one of my favorites of the decade.

Michael said...

I find it surprising (but also hearwarming) that not only do people who look back at Cold Mountain notice how great Kidman was but also see how awful Zellweger really was.

But alas, this decade really does belong to Kidman. Each one of her films and performances are different and I can't wait until the next generations go to film school and take classes just around her '00 films.

BTW don't you think it's lovely that Kidman book marked the end of her decade with a musical? Started with one and ended with one...

Deborah said...

I find it hard to forgive the way her accent comes and goes in random waves. Awkward, brittle, lost; all character. I just never believed her, whereas Jude Law convinced me utterly.

Trey said...

Preach it, brother! This should have been Nicole Kidman's third Oscar nomination. "Whale Rider" my ass. I can sort of get that this wasn't the film that people wanted it to be -- it was too mannered, too methodical, too cold, or whatever else that was thrown at it. But did they read the book? B/c Nicole was an excellent Ada and nailed her characterization down to a T. If there was a genuine backlash starting with her back then, it was for all the wrong reasons. She's proven time and time again that she's one of the premiere acting talents of our time, consistently seeks out challenging fare & directors when she certainly doesn't have to (and few of her peers would), and even tries (sometimes unsuccessfully) to balance her arthouse aspirations with commercial viability. She really should get more credit for that than she does. She should have seriously been in the Oscar hunt for this and "Birth." Hopefully "Rabbit Hole" will do the trick for that elusive third nomination next year.

Anonymous said...

Actress of the decade? REALLY???

:eyeroll:

MrJeffery said...

I find Cold Mountain terribly uneven, unlike the beautiful book. However, I did really like Nicole in The Hours and The Human Stain and also Birth. I think she gets a bad rap but I love how she takes on varied roles.

bubba said...

Yes yes and yes: Nicole was way better than Renee in Cold Mountain; the backlash was unwarranted; and Nicole is well-deserved for another oscar nomination (Birth>Cold Mountain imo).

And despite the cheap sound byte denominations of her talent to jabs at her alleged plastic surgeries, she remains one of the most beautiful actresses to grace the screen.

love her.

mrripley said...

I too love her varation but feel she was miscast in CM never getting to grips with ada and sorry to all but the lips are ridiculous some of those close ups in australia were unforgivable.

re 03 actresses i don't think theron was any1's second choice.

Quen said...

Alleged? Alleged? LOL. People do have eyes you know. LOL.

Nika said...

What a great post! Finally, someone understood the point of Cold Mountain.

It's not the best movie ever, but it's so much more than most think.

Liz said...

Kidman rocks. I mean, she's so talented and beautiful. There have been a lot of haters, but she also has a strong fan base. I think with he postive buzz in Nine, her number, Unusual Way, was deemed by several critics to be the bets part of the movie, will get her some much deserved love.

Jeff said...

I definitely agree, on rewatch her performance just keeps getting better and Zellwegger's keeps getting worse.... the film belong to Law though.
Kidman is really the actress of the decade, that is certain.

NATHANIEL R said...

I can't say that I share Jose's enthusiasm about Nicole's Ada... but yes her performance runs circles around Renee's. But then I actualy think Renee's is one of the worst winning performances of all time.

that said... i do agree that people didn't understand the movie. I personally don't think the movie is very good but it's not because the love story feels so strained. the love story should feel strained.

to ANON... Actress of the Decade, yes. no eye-rolling required to appreciate that nobody hit the heights she did so consistently from 2001-2004 and a sprinkling of interesting underappreciated stuff thereafter.

I find that too often with 'decade's best' people lean on 'best of the last few years'. and obviously if you're only counting 2006-2009 Nicole Kidman is not The Actress of the Aughts. But if you're counting the whole decade... i don't see how she doesn't win or at least place in the top 3.

Anonymous said...

The huge misunderstanding in this case was praising Zellwegger's over over over the top performance.

In the near future, the Academy will feel embarrassed for giving her the Oscar for this.

Overacting worked in Nurse Betty because the role permitted it. But here, it is just Zellwegger trying very hard to cause an impression and that was all.

Marcelo - Brazil.

Sebastian said...

Renee was great in "Cold Mountain," and that was how Ruby was supposed to be played based off of that novel. I'm glad she won the Oscar for it.

Fernando Moss said...

I think the "thing" that happened here is like what happened with Michelle Pfeiffer in "Frankie & Johnny" (only Michelle was absolutely amazingly great in F&J and Nicole was just very good in CM)... , that maybe their beuty or age wasn't exactly what their characters required phisically but they nailed their roles. I think if two other actresses (let's say a not-so-beautiful-and-a-bit-older in MP's case and a younger one in NK's) have landed those roles and did lesser work they probably would have ended with Oscar nominations.

Deivith Coast said...

Nicole´s sensitivity in this film is so subtle but yet so real, so intense that you feel you can touch it. Everytime I see Nicole acting I think she´s watching me, and she talks to me, I´m not insane, it´s just that all her emotions transcend the screen because she is the characters, she really understands them, she´s so generous in all her performances, so respectful... Everyone of her creations has details that make them human, and beautiful... And that´s why she´s so beautiful. I has so much things to thank her in this life... Thanks for Rae Ingram, for Isabel Archer, for Suzanne Stone-Maretto, for Chase Meridian,for Gillian Owens, for Alice Harford, for Satine, for Grace(x2), for Virginia, for Faunia, for Anna, for Sylvia Broome, for Diane, for Margot, for Marisa Coulter, for Sarah Ashley, for Norma Jean (I really need to see Nine!!)... And for this wonderful Ada Monroe that breaks my heart everytime I see her. Yes people didn´t understand this beautiful film, and Nic is even better than Frazier´s Ada. She´s so romantic...

No doubt she´s the best of the decade, there´s no actor in this world who can reach that grade of honesty, of magic. Nicole doesn´t act: she writes beautiful love poems to the women she creates

john said...

Jose, actually if she was deemed box office posion in the 1930s, she would n't be sent to oblivion...like Kathrine Hepburn and the others she would have gone onto becoming one of the most iconic actors in the history of cinema.

Michael said...

John,

She IS becoming one of the most iconic actors in the history of cinema. She's basically putting her career in her own hands, with Rabbit Hole and The Danish Girl, and it seems like she knows what she's doing.

I'm so glad I'm only 19, for I will get to watch Kidman grow to be a legend.

Kel said...

^^Yes.

adelutza said...

I don't think that liking Kidman's performance should negate Zellweger's. I like them both, even if I haven't seen the movie since. A second viewing would probably change a lot . I don't like Zellweger too much , but I don't remember to have hated her at all in Cold Mountain.

stella said...

As much as I like Kidman, she was simply not believable as a young southern belle (the movie implied her age to be twenty-ish) in the grips of first love/obsession. But that's the casting director's fault. The whole movie was terribly contrived and formulaic oscar bait from the start. Tried to be the next Gone With the Wind? A movie should never *try* to be another movie, any more than these young stars *try* to be the next Audrey Hepburn or Robert Deniro or whatever. This is getting off tangent, but one aspect in which The Dark Knight failed it was trying too hard in incorporating a sleazy Godfather Part II-like subplot.

Lorenzo said...

Great post Jose! I've always loved this movie for the exact reasons you name (but you say it better!). The only part of it I disdain is Renee Zellweger and her terrible overacting... Nonetheless, Nicole Kidman is far from being the actress of the decade, imo. I loved her in Portrait of a lady, Eyes wide shut, The others, Moulin Rouge and Dogville but I think she DID lose a bit of her magic after that...

Brian Z said...

Thank you for this. Made my day.

Anonymous said...

You know what role needs to be revisited from the past decade? Angelina Jolie in Original Sin, it's underrated...just saw it again. Great performance...she used to be such a wild animal on screen.

par3182 said...

my favorite memory of 'cold mountain' was the review (possibly libby gelman-waxner's) that read: kidman strides through the film like a six foot alien from the planet fashion

GayAsXmas said...

I think that Cold Mountain got trapped in a backlash not only against Nicole Kidman (hugely undeserved!), but also against Miramax, and most sadly, Anthony Minghella. Minghella was a filmmaker whose 'crime' seems to have been to try and make demanding, high class movies out of difficult source material. After The English Patient swept everything away, I felt that critics just had him in their sight. You saw it in the obituaries at the time of his death with many critics calling Ripley his best film, and yet it received some pretty bitter and dismissive reviews at the time.

I don't think Cold Mountain worked as a cohesive whole, but there were individual scenes of enormous power in it and each actor gave precisely the performance that I think Minghella wanted from them.

Slightly O/T, but has anybody listened to Minghella's commentary tracks on DVDs? They are absolutely brilliantly - really smart, interesting and compelling in their own rights and have let me see things in each film that I missed. It was a sad loss to film when he died

Ben said...

I liked her in the part, but I remember watching Natalie Portman and wishing she had played Ada. Still, I like the movie much more than most now do. It's my top 10 (albeit number 10) for 2003.

Arlo said...

I think Kidman had the most interesting decade of any actress. Perhaps.

I think for some reason, people largely focus on her failures. Australia, The Golden Compass, Invasion, Bewitched and The Stepford Wives really didn't do her any favors though. What about the underrated The Interpreter though?? I remember liking it when it came out, but haven't seen it since. I guess it was largely unseen.

Miguel said...

I love Nicole Kidman, I think she can do no wrong; but I do believe that Meryl Streep is the Actress of the Decade ( she was no argument the Actress of the 80's). C'mon. The Hours, Adaptation, Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, and Julie and Julia. . The lady received 3 Oscar nominations this decade (soon to be 4); and I believed she should have been nominated for The Hours, Prairie Home Companion, and her scenery chewing performance in The Manchurian Candidate. Plus 100 million plus box office hits like Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia and Julie & Julia, then soon Its Complicated. Any one wants to argue??

But I do believe that Nicole Kidman took more chances artistically. So really its a tie for me.

Miguel said...

... and yes, I do LOVE her understated performance in Cold Mountain. It was a good contrast to the comic relief that was Renee Zellwegger.

Miguel said...

... and Naomi Watts for 21 grams shouldve won that year; despite my respect of Charlize's performance.

Pedro said...

Nicole is no contest the actress of the decade.. no other actress delivered as many great performances... Moulin Rouge!, The Hour,The Others,Dogville,Birth,Margot At The Wedding, Australia... and some good ones like Fur and The Golden Compass.
Meryl? probably second The Devil Wears Prada,Angels In America, The Hours and Adaptation are her amazing performances this decade, much less than Nicole...

notanotherblog said...

There is no backlash against Nicole Kidman. That was last year. Now there's just as many people who are defending her, including Nathaniel. IFC just called her the actress of the decade too, and although there's a plastic surgery mention there, they still understood what she's all about.

Nonetheless, Naomi Watts arguably has a better CV, Cold Mountain isn't Kidman's best, Cold Mountain isn't Minghella's best although it is a very pretty movie.

Rick said...

Kidman is NOT the actress of this decade or any other ... Sorry!

Pablete said...

Nicole Kidman: Actress of the 2000s without a doubt!

Anonymous said...

Denying Kidman's impressive works in 2000s is pretty funny. FUNNY.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by 'some even found her age as a fault'?

Urban Cynic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Urban Cynic said...

Hmmm, I don't have a problem with Cold Mountain per se; the problem I have with Nicole Kidman is that I simply don't think she's a very good actress.

I've always found her acting really stilted; she doesn't really throw herself into a role wholeheartedly. For me she distracts from a film & it has to work much harder simply because she's in it!

If you compare her to actresses such as Bette Davis, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Samantha Morton, Imelda Staunton, & Katherine Hepburn she (pardon the pun) pales in comparison - She's homogenized & insipid.

She also lacks a certain something for me... a moveable face & talent.

Anonymous said...

She's going to win Best Actress in 2011 with "Rabbit Hole" or "The Danish Girl"... And haters will be shocked!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Urban Cynic @ blah blah blah..

- Melisa

Urban Cynic said...

Thanks for the constructive educated feedback Melisa... bla bla bla

Nice to see that I'm allowed to express an opinion that differs from the authors & other readers - who I thought might be able to tell the difference between a good actress & a mediocre one. Or maybe welcome the debate.

This is my first experience of this blog - thanks for making me feel welcome.

Steolicious said...

After "Moulin Rouge!" Hollywood was crazy about her and now it´s like "She´s the one and only: the boring Botox-Diva!". Stupid!

I´m not a fan of "Cold Mountain", not because I expected something else it´s just my opinion.

She was perfect in "The Hours", "The Others", "To die for" and "Moulin Rouge!". But I also adore her performances in "Birth", "Dead Calm", "Cold Mountain", "Dogville" and even "Australia".

Iggy said...

This is slightly off-topìc. Well, completely off-topic, actually. But wouldn't this picture of two Nine ladies Kidman and Cruz be a great opportunity to make up an imaginary dialogue between them? ;P

http://justjared.buzznet.com/photo-gallery/2401030/nicole-kidman-ruffled-up-04/

Marshall1 said...

When I first saw the movie, I actually love it, especially the longing between Law and Kidman. Yes, Renee was the weakest link in that movie, but it's so fun to see her chewing the scenery and it provides a strong contrast to the inwardness of the other characters.

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julien said...

Urban Cynic, you clearely don't know Nicole Kidman. See To Die For, Dogville, Eyes Wide Shut, Portrait of a Lady then we'll se if you still have the courage to call her "insipid".
Kidman's talent is indubitable, she has demostrated her incredible abilities many times in 20 years of career. Nicole Kidman is the actress of the decade and one of the greatest actress in movies history.

pomme said...

i dislike the movie(it doesn't work with me) and she miscated for me(too old)but she's intense and graceful .And yes Renée is ridiculous.

recently, i again saw "portrait of the lady".I didn't remember how i LOVE this kind of movies :it's better after every view.
so i again see "cold mountain", "australia"(sorry but i can't ),"stage beauty"(yes! yes!)or "the piano"(i had a better memory).