by RISHI AGRAWAL
And tonight, yet another installment in Commentary Track’s Academy Awards preview. You can click on the links if you want to read Part 1 or Part 2. In today’s preview, I am going to talk about the two major acting awards: Best Actor and Best Actress. Now, if you don’t already know who is going to win these awards, you just aren’t paying attention. But, still, hopefully I can say something interesting about them.
The nominees: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland; Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond; Peter O’Toole, Venus; Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson; Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness.
Awards so far:
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland – Golden Globes, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, Critics’ Choice, Boston Critics, Chicago Critics, Los Angeles Critics, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, New York Critics, Online Critics, Southeastern Critics
Okay, just to make things clear, Forest Whitaker did not win every award. There were a couple of dissenters who gave the award to Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat. However, as Cohen was not nominated in this category, there wasn’t a point to mentioning his awards so far. In any case, the result is clear. I can’t see Forest Whitaker winning every other major award and then suddenly not winning the Oscar. His portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland was spot on. I particularly like the way his emotions could turn on a dime. He would be laughing one minute and then suddenly be ready to murder someone the next.
Some people seem to think that Peter O’Toole will win because he has never won an Oscar before, despite the fact that this is his eighth nomination. O’Toole did win an Honorary Oscar in 2003, but it’s not the real thing. Not to say that O’Toole wasn’t good in Venus, but if he wins this, the Academy is making up for not giving him an Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia. Frankly speaking, it’s too late to make up for past indiscretions.
(On a side note, I was curious so I found out who O’Toole lost to in the past. Here’s a partial list: Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird; John Wayne, True Grit; Marlon Brando, The Godfather; Robert De Niro, Raging Bull; Ben Kingsley, Gandhi. Man, I remember reading an article on the Internet lately talking about the Oscar curse and how people fade into obscurity after winning, but I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten.)
I am going to go ahead and defend Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in Blood Diamond, since everyone is trashing the Academy for picking the wrong film. They feel that DiCaprio should have been nominated for The Departed. I think that DiCaprio’s character in The Departed was more complex and nuanced, but, man, I really can’t forget DiCaprio in Blood Diamond. He was such a great anti-hero in that movie. He would pretend to be your best friend, and then slit your throat, take your diamonds, and sell them on the black market. This is a character you do not want to cross. Any time you thought Archer was going to grow a heart of gold, he did something unexpected to throw you for a loop. I enjoyed The Departed a lot more than Blood Diamond, overall, but DiCaprio’s performance just got lost in the shuffle amongst a fantastic cast.
One of my friends today told me that I must really hate the Academy because I am disagreeing with all their choices. First of all, let me just say that if I really hated the Oscars, I would probably ignore them and not even watch them. I certainly wouldn’t be discussing them. The Academy rarely, in my opinion, gives the award to the best film in any particular year. However, I will also admit that the Academy rarely, in my opinion, gives the award to an outright bad film. In fact, of the last ten Oscar winners for Best Picture, I have only disliked one of them (and, believe it or not, it’s not Titanic). Then again, though I didn’t make Top Ten lists before 2000, I would probably say that two of the last ten Best Picture winners coincided with my very favorite film of the year. Film, like an art form, is fairly subjective. If everyone had the same impressions of movies, it would be a fairly dull topic of conversation. So, basically, what I am saying is that I don’t hate the Academy or Forest Whitaker. And I don’t resent that the Academy is going to give the Best Actor award to Forest Whitaker. But still, if I had a vote, I would vote for Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson.
Who will win: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Who should win: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
The nominees: Helen Mirren, The Queen; Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal; Kate Winslet, Little Children; Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada; Penelope Cruz, Volver.
Awards so far:
Helen Mirren, The Queen – Golden Globes (Drama), BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, Critics’ Choice, Boston Critics, Chicago Critics, Los Angeles Critics, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, New York Critics, Online Critics, San Francisco Critics, Southeastern Critics, Toronto Critics
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada – Golden Globes (Comedy)
Helen Mirren in The Queen has been even more dominant than Forest Whitaker. Obviously, she will win this Oscar. Judi Dench, after being snubbed for Casino Royale can take solace in her nomination for Notes on a Scandal. Honestly, over the past couple weeks, I have gone back and forth over whether I think that Mirren or Dench should win this award. I could almost flip a coin to cast a vote, if I had a vote to cast.
Dench had a much more layered performance. The fact that you could clearly see the difference between the way she acted and what she thought just from her emotions was amazing. Of course, the voice-overs, also done by Dench, helped. But, watching a woman who thought she had so much control becoming slowly unhinged was fascinating. Dench has a reputation for playing overbearing women, but this character had so much vulnerability as well.
Mirren, on the other hand, had the challenge of portraying a real person, Queen Elizabeth II. She had to be prim and proper on the surface and we didn’t see as much range in her performance. The emotions had to be kept below the surface. It is a testament to Mirren that it really felt like there was something underneath that cultivated exterior. And, most importantly, the reason that I would vote for Mirren rather than Dench is that, in the end, I actually believed that she was Queen Elizabeth II. For moments during the film, I actually forgot that she was acting. Sure, a lot of the credit has to also be given to the costumer and make-up artist and the set designer. But, just for that, she clearly deserves the Oscar that she is going to get.
By the way, I would be remiss to not mention that I adore Kate Winslet. And, I also enjoyed her portrayal of a suburban mother in Little Children. A general sense of dissatisfaction with one’s life is a hard thing to get across on film, and Winslet pulled it off so well. In a weaker year for female performances, I would definitely think that Winslet deserved an Oscar for this movie, but, alas, it was never meant to be.
Who will win: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Who should win: Helen Mirren, The Queen