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Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Actress.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

I remember the good ol’ days when I could talk about Portman‘s riveting  and undeniably Oscar-worthyperformance of a ballerina in a yin-yang struggle for perfection.  Too bad she’s dead to me now.  I’ll be honest, I don’t quite see why Bening should be nominated for her portrayal of a lesbian Mama Bear protecting her cubs, but she appears to be in a two horse race for the statue.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a slight on the actress (I would probably give a nomination this year for Mother and Child), probably more a reflection that everyone else in the world seems to see something in the film that I don’t.  I’m also maybe a little bit lower on Lawrence than others, but that may be more due to my issues with the script and my belief that people have just zeroed in on the concept of a backwoods girl struggling to keep her family afloat than looking at the actual movie itself.

LIKELY IN

  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

I haven’t seen any prognosticators leave Kidman out of the final five, but her place just feels a little shakier to me than the others.  Maybe it is because I’m not really sure Rabbit Hole has registered with voters. Or me, I guess, because I haven’t felt like being mortally depressed for two hours yet.

LAST ONE IN

  • Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

The last spot in this category is huge crapshoot.  I changed my pick a few times before settling on four-time Oscar nominee Moore, who I think gave a more memorable performance than Bening.  John bemoaned the traditional Oscar wave of films the Academy loves racking up nomination after nomination, but it does seem like it will happen again and seems as good a reason as any to pick someone for this slot.

FIRST ALTERNATES

  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
  • Lesley Manville, Another Year
  • Hilary Swank, Conviction
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Yeah, there’s a lot of them, but I don’t think anyone would really be surprised should any of these four women pull down the last nomination.  Michelle Williams stole my heart in The Baxter, so I’m probably rooting for her here.  Mike Leigh has a well-established history of getting his actresses Oscar noms, so Manville has a great shot even if she may be the least recognizable name on the list.  I’m really hoping I don’t have to see Conviction, which probably means that Swank should be the leading contender here.  We’ve discussed Steinfeld‘s category fraud, we’ll just have to wait and see if she ends up the category she should be in, the category she’ll win, or if the confusion made her miss in both.

DARK HORSES

  • Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Tilda Swinton, I Am Love

Rapace has been mentioned on enough lists that maybe she’s a bit more than a dark horse, in a weaker year she might have been able to break through.  A bunch of people are obsessed with I Am Love, the film clearly isn’t my cup of tea, but Swinton turns in her usual solid performance.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

Emma Stone, Easy A (duh)
Naomi Watts, Mother and Child
Patricia Clarkson, Cairo Time

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I can’t figure out Tilda Swinton.  Part of it is that she creeps me out, and I don’t know why.  Maybe it is her more than passing resemblance to Conan O’Brien and Beaker.  But I can’t decide what sort of roles she should be playing.  In thinking about this piece, I was also thinking about who is comparable to her.  I just came up with John Malkovich, and I’m not sure there’s going to be anything better.

She’s the star of Julia, which is relevant here because of the buzz that Swinton has a shot (albeit a long one) to get a Best Actress nom for the title role.  And I’m of the opinion that with a better fleshed-out character in a better fleshed-out film, she might have had a pretty good case.  Which is perhaps a bit odd, given that the movie clocks in a little over two hours and Swinton is the focus of nearly every minute of every scene. Swinton’s character is an alcoholic, and as with many who suffer from the disease, it defines pretty much everything about her.   I was struck by how director and co-writer Erick Zonca  decided to depict Julia’s alcoholism.  I think he (with the obvious help of Swinton) manages to successfully walk a fine line in showing how sad Julia’s life is without ever going over the top or resorting to cliches.  It is all too easy to glorify alcoholism or turn a drunk into some melodramatic wretch.

At an AA meeting and later after a night of drinking/blacking out, Julia meets Elena (Kate del Castillo) who happens to also be her neighbor.  Elena claims that her son’s rich paternal grandfather has custody of the boy and asks for Julia’s help, offering a substantial sum of money.  Elena is soon written out of the film, somewhat clumsily, but not before a scene that would have put her into the Supporting Actress race, had she been a higher profile name in a higher profile film.  The rest of the film has Julia stumbling through kidnapping the child, with the idea of getting a ransom, which leads her to Mexico, where the kid gets kidnapped from her.

One of the film’s major problems is that Julia isn’t a compelling character (though she is, to be sure, quite interesting).  She’s mean, greedy, basically just not a nice person.  Which probably is directly related to her alcoholism, perhaps she doesn’t quite know how to relate to people while sober.  It hard to feel anything other than vague disgust toward the character, even her redemption is murky.  And that’s a significant stumbling block to a character-driven film where Julia as a person is supposed to maintain interest in what is otherwise a fairly uninteresting kidnapping story.

I liked the supporting cast, I mentioned del Castillo, but Saul Rubinek was definitely underused.  The revelation to me, though, was Bruno Bichir (who, according to imdb, has had some success in Mexican entertainment and is good friends with Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal).  He plays a suave stranger Julia meets in Mexico, and just might have been the most interesting character in the film.  If I were to have recut the film, I would have left manic del Castillo in a little longer, given Rubinek a stronger roler, probably cut out a good chunk of the middle section, which drags, and transferred that time to the Mexican scenes, exploring Bichir’s character more in depth.  So, OK, maybe I’m just looking for a sequel spinning off his character.

Obviously it is pretty early in the year to be assessing Best Actress nominations.  Swinton is certainly memorable here, but I’m a little skeptical it is going to rank among my favorite performances, and given the film’s low profile, it seems relatively unlikely Swinton will grab her second Oscar nom.

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