Editor’s Note: It’s Oscar season and although we might scoff at the Academy Awards, Nouse is taking a look at the feature film categories and seeing how our tastes align with the Film Academy, leading up to the day of the ceremony on February 28. Here’s Lauren McNeilage starting us off with the excellent Best Actress roster.
Cate Blanchett in Carol
Brie Larson in Room
Jennifer Lawrence in Joy
Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Trivia: Two of the nominees are starring in a film nominated for Best Picture; all five of the nominees are the top billed performer in their respective; among them they have accumulated a total of 15 Oscar nominations and 3 wins; 3 of them play characters living in New York; 3 of them play single mothers; each of them is featured in the last shot of their respective films
I think I should probably begin by stating that I think Jennifer Lawrence is horribly overrated. I would never go so far as to deny that she’s a good actress, but does she really deserve yet another Oscar nomination? I liked Joy and I thought she did a good job; but only good. Nothing about her performance said to me “this deserves an Academy Award”. Her performance in Winter’s Bone remains, to me, her most impressive work to date, and the only one of her four Academy Award nominations that she’s really deserved. I think that the Academy’s obvious love for her (this is her fourth nomination)is indicative of a much bigger issue, namely the fact that white actresses are judged differently to actresses of colour. Of course, this is hardly Jennifer Lawrence’s fault. But even so, it’s hard not to be a little bitter when she’s won so many prestigious awards for good-but-not-great performances, when wonderful actresses like Gugu Mbatha-Raw go largely overlooked.
Saoirse Ronan, on the other hand, is a young actress who is utterly deserving of her critical acclaim. She probably has the most expressive eyes of any actress working today, and she has the amazing ability to convey in a look more than many of her contemporaries could in a monologue. My favourite role of hers will always be the eternally 16 year old Eleanor in Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, but her portrayal of Eilis in Brooklyn is definitely her strongest performance yet, and she more than deserves her nomination. In Ronan’s hands, Eilis is sensitive but not fragile, a little naïve at first, but also intelligent and fiercely determined. Brooklyn is essentially the tale of a young woman growing up and learning to decide what’s right for herself, and Ronan was the perfect choice for the role.
The last of the twenty-somethings vying for Best Actress is Brie Larson, nominated for her portrayal of Joy “Ma” Newsome in Room. Although the least well-known of the actresses nominated, I was already a fan of her work prior to Room, having been deeply impressed by her performance as Grace in the criminally underrated Short Term 12. I realise this may be stating the obvious, but what I love most about Larson is that she makes you forget she’s acting. She brings an earthiness and an authenticity to every role, which is why she plays troubled characters so well. Her portrayal of Ma in Room feels totally natural, unpolished in the best sense of the word. It’s a completely raw, utterly honest performance, tough to watch at times (although for all the right reasons), and ultimately an absolute joy.
Of the “older” performers, I can say without hesitation that Carol is my favourite of the films for which the lead actress has received a nomination. In spite of the hype surrounding it, the film still managed to surpass my expectations, and then some. Cate Blanchett is undoubtedly one of the most talented actresses of her generation, and as Carol Aird she gives what is easily her best performance to date. The chemistry she has with Rooney Mara is remarkable, understated and yet utterly electric. The relationship between Carol and Therese has been criticised by some for being too “cold”, but I think that the problem here is with these critics’ perspectives rather than the actresses’ performances. To put it bluntly, straight people aren’t used to having to read between the lines when it comes to cinematic depictions of romance, as man/woman romances are two a penny. Same sex relationships, however, are so rarely depicted that gay and bisexual viewers are often forced to find romance in a lingering glance or the brush of a hand. When you’re used to having to resort to that level of scrutiny, a canonical relationship like that of Carol and Therese is a revelation, and not “cold” in the slightest. Far from it, it sizzles. As Carol, Cate Blanchett is utterly irresistible, charming and beautiful and totally magnetic, and no viewer with a grain of sense would wonder why Therese is so drawn to her. In all honesty, it would have been a crime for Blanchett not to have been nominated.
Finally, that leaves us with Charlotte Rampling, nominated for the role of Kate Mercer in 45 Years, a subtle and deeply sad film about a couple realising that their marriage is built on secrets and uncertainty. Rampling’s performance is heartbreaking, her depiction of Kate’s descent from happiness and confidence to helplessness and doubt as enthralling as it is tragic. The final scene, in which she and her husband dance to the strains of The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is agonising to watch, Kate’s pained expression and increasingly absent gaze contrasting with Geoff’s oblivious merriness. When she finally wrenches her hand from his, leaving her alone in the middle of the crowded dancefloor, it feels like an unspoken confirmation that the connection they once had has been severed irreparably. 45 Years is a wonderful film and Charlotte Rampling is the best thing about it; I can’t imagine anyone who could have played Kate better.
This brings us to the all-important question: who do I think deserves to win? With the exception of Jennifer Lawrence, I think all of them do. However, if it was up to me, it would be between Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett. In regards to who I think actually has the best chance of winning, I have a feeling that it might be one of the three younger actresses nominated. Which is fine with me. Unless it’s Jennifer Lawrence, that is.
Who are you rooting for?