Not that you shouldn’t watch all the performances, but it’s difficult, at best, to find the time. As a rule, I don’t sleep, so…here are my observations of the nominated performances. I have also reviewed each of these films separately on this blog. Simply type in the name of the film in the search bar above, if interested….
SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE IN A FILM
Viola Davis – “Fences” (SHE GETS MY VOTE)
So, why she is in this category is anyone’s guess. This is about as much a “supporting role” as Japan was to Germany in World War II. Regardless, she is one of a kind. Ferocious, vulnerable, human and impossible to ignore throughout the length of the film. This will be the biggest no-brainer award of the evening.
Naomie Harris – “Moonlight”
Ms. Harris gives a fine performance in the films third act, but teeters on caricature through much of the film…granted, it is written thus. Nonetheless, she’s committed in her choices and, without her performance, the third act would lose much of its impact.
Nicole Kidman – “Lion”
Another performance that relies on a single scene to make her case. She’s, as always, very good…but the film isn’t really about her character…in fact, it drags when it does focus on her relationships…a directorial failing to be sure…but a definite road block to unseating Ms. Davis as front-runner.
Octavia Spencer – “Hidden Figures”
Ms. Spencer who, like Mahershala Ali, seems to be in everything these days, is hilarious, strong and specific in a role that could’ve easily fallen in to two-dimensional land. And, in this manner, she utterly elevates the script. Her relationships are real, her frustrations are felt by the audience and her victories make us cheer. A tremendous performance. BUT, she may not have even been the best supporting actress in the film…in my view, that belongs to Ms. Janelle Monae.
Michelle Williams – “Manchester By the Sea”
This is the definition of a true supporting role, and, as ever, Williams makes the most of it. She could very possibly win the award and would have done so quite easily had Ms. Davis not been put forth in the category. She’s a lovingly reluctant antagonist, perfectly matched to set alight Affleck’s PTSD symptoms. A tremendous performance that will last long in the memory…even if it cannot be compared to Ms. Davis’.
Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
I swear, he really HAS been in everything this year. He’s always good, but never great…with the exception of his final scene in “Moonlight”. Empathetic, tragic and present are words I would use to describe his brief, but important appearance in the film. And yet, it IS a fleeting appearance, and while it leaves an imprimatur, there are other nominees who give weightier and more consistent performances. Most notably…
Jeff Bridges – “Hell Or High Water” (HE GETS MY VOTE)
This is a practically perfect (and often great) film…in the same way TLC’s “Waterfalls” is a practically perfect single. Whether you are a fan of TLC or not, there is no denying the craftsmanship, density without heft, and simple pleasures of that song…the same of which can be said of this film (and yes, I’m aware I’m the only person who would compare those two offerings – I’m weird that way). But just as Left Eye’s contribution to the song is the most important, so, too, is Jeff Bridges. His effortless world-weariness, concern, disgust and humor are present all the time. And, let’s be honest, he’s the only actor in the category to carry the weight of antagonist. A burden he carries effortlessly.
Hugh Grant – “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Typical Hugh Grant. Charming. Affable. Invested. Real. But it’s just too lightweight a role to compare to the others.
Lucas Hedges – “Manchester By the Sea”
I suppose you could say he also acts as antagonist, although, I think Lonerghan wants Affleck’s inner tumult to act as its own antagonist. Regardless, Hedges is very, very good. I just felt Lonerghan didn’t challenge him enough…he gets let off the hook emotionally quite often throughout the film, and, thus, not quite as strong a performance as Ali or Bridges.
Dev Patel – “Lion”
This, to me, is the least successful of the performances in the category, and it’s not all his fault. Luke Davies screenplay wastes a LOT of Patel’s screen time on a romantic relationship that isn’t nearly as interesting as his own investigation, both physically and emotionally, in to his past. And since that part of the script felt so focus-grouped, Patel never really gets the chance to own those scenes. Garth Davis, however, gets the most out of his miraculous child actor, Sunny Pawar – which allows us to forgive a LOT in Patel’s missteps.
LEAD PERFORMANCE IN A FILM
Amy Adams – “Arrival”
Amy Adams has very rarely convinced me she is actually IN a film. I always feel like I can see her process…or artifice. The same is true here, although it’s a terrific film and she’s quite good in it. She’s much more successful in the “feeling” scenes than she is in the “discovery” scenes…but if they don’t work in consort…then it just don’t work.
Emily Blount – “The Girl On the Train”
Hated this film and had no idea what director Tate Taylor was trying to accomplish by making Ms. Blount so damned sleepy-eyed throughout. Just a mess of a film that poor Ms. Blount could not elevate, no matter how hard she may have tried.
Natalie Portman – “Jackie” (SHE GETS MY VOTE)
Breathtaking. Breathless. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Vain. Secure. Ferocious. Devastating. To me, this makes her “Black Swan” performance look downright Hallmark-esque. As great a director as Pablo Larrain is, it’s his collaboration with Ms. Portman that makes this thing go. If Viola Davis was in this category, we’d have a real competition on our hands. But she’s not. SEE THIS FILM so you can VOTE FOR THIS PERFORMANCE!
Emma Stone – “La La Land”
So, just because I think Natalie Portman is without peer in the category, does not mean I disliked Emma Stone’s performance in “La La Land”. Actually, she’s quite brilliant in it. And she’ll probably win, since her portrayal of a rank-and-file, “please-let-me-make-enough-to-keep-my-insurance” actress in L.A. is so spot on (down to the beautiful expressions of self-doubt) most of my Union compatriots will want to see her succeed. I believe every single thing she does in the film…a film, btw, that requires copious amounts of suspended disbelief. All I can say is I think Ms. Portman was better. Much better.
Meryl Streep – “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Let’s elect her President after her Golden Globes speech! I’ll leave it at that…except to say that she was stuck in a film in which the director never could decide how we, the viewer, were supposed to accept it..comedy? tragedy? It doesn’t really work as either, so…meh.
Casey Affleck – “Manchester By the Sea”
This is a wonderful and incredible representation of how PTSD truly affects the relationships (to oneself, to others, to family) of those who suffer from it. As I wrote in my review of the film, it’s about negative space…what’s NOT said, as opposed to what is. That’s really difficult to pull off and Affleck does so with complete conviction. If Denzel hadn’t given a performance for the ages, Casey would be my choice in a second. But Denzel did, so Casey is my choice for second.
Andrew Garfield – “Hacksaw Ridge”
In an war epic that has more to do with makeup and choreography than character, Garfield acquits himself well. But it’s just too shallow a film to allow him to come across as much more than a Forrest Gump impersonator.
Ryan Gosling – “La La Land”
So, I don’t feel like Mr. Gosling has worked hard since “Drive”. His performances feel lazy to me…like he’s playing the movie star instead of the emotions and character. He’s terrific in this film, but I can think of a handful of other actors who might have done more with it. He doesn’t come close to matching Emma Stone’s reality and depth of emotional capital. Again, a fine performance in a very good film. But that’s all.
Viggo Mortensen – “Captain Fantastic”
What a bizarre little film, held together by Mr. Mortensen’s utter commitment to his choices. He plays an actual arc satisfyingly. He brings the same intensity he brought to “Eastern Promises” and “History of Violence” to “Fantastic”, but this time in a family film. He’s really very, very good…in a film about twenty people saw. But it doesn’t compare to…
Denzel Washington – “Fences” (HE GETS MY VOTE)
Fifty years from now, we will be using Washington and Davis’ performances in this film as a how-to. We’ve not often been given the gift of words as beautiful as Mr. Wilson’s coming from actors as brilliant as the two of them…maybe not since film versions of Arthur Miller’s work. Washington is a hurricane. Devastating. Passionate. Bullheaded. Misguided. Fallible. Sympathetic. And, while the film felt long for some, I got so lost in his performance, I forgot to notice.
ENSEMBLE IN A FILM
This is SAG’s version of Best Picture. All five of these ensembles are terrific, but we’re looking for the best cast OUT OF CONTEXT from the rest of the film-craft. In other words, a lot goes in to making a great film. So if we are to judge the best acting ensemble, we must stick to the best top-to-bottom performances…not the best overall film.
While Katherine Hahn, Steve Zahn, George MacKay, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, and a whole mess of brilliant kids, are terrific…this is basically a one-man show. Still very much worth seeing…but not close to the best ensemble of the year.
My runner-up, “Fences” is quite close to a perfect ensemble piece…except that there are a couple performances that just can’t match how great our two (three if you include the brilliant Mykelti Williamson) leads are. This is a two (and a half) person show.
Henson has never been better. Spencer is, as stated earlier, perfect. Monae is a marvel. Costner is getting more and more sympathetic as he ages. And Dunst, Parsons and Ali are all very good. But, and I LOVED this film, it’s just this side of too crowd-pleasing to compare to the risks taken by the other ensembles.
“Manchester By the Sea”
This is really a great ensemble. From the three leads, to the always great Kyle Chandler, to the note-perfect smaller roles like Chicago’s own, Heather Burns, or the character actor, C.J. Wilson (although the less said about Matthew Broderick, the better). I wouldn’t be too upset if it won. It’s a terrific cast…even if it really is about Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler.
“Moonlight” (THIS GETS MY VOTE)
So…remember the list of words I wrote describing Natalie Portman’s performance in “Jackie”? They are equally applicable to this ensemble. As a reminder: Breathtaking. Breathless. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Vain. Secure. Ferocious. Devastating. You just can’t avoid falling for the six young males that make up the story of these two boys becoming men. Note-perfect throughout, the ensemble is a huge part of why “Moonlight” was my favorite domestic film of the year. And while, to me, Andre Holland is the stand out, there is not one false note amongst the cast (with the exception of a couple missteps by Naomie Harris due, mostly, to some hackneyed dialogue written for her in the film’s first two acts). This film has yet to leave my mind’s eye since I saw it a few weeks ago…and that’s, in great part, due to the quality of these quiet and subtle performances.
Next up? 2017 SAG Awards Viewing Guide – Part 2: TV Drama Awards
Written on 1/10/17