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 many 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
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
The surprise of the year? Mary J. Blige, who is known for being anything but subtle in her pop career, gives a performance that is brilliantly small yet a tornado of power in this wonderful, difficult and important film. If not for Janney and Metcalf, she might have won the Oscar. (On a side note, sure would be nice of the Academy to award Dee Rees for her direction…she obviously knows how to get the best out of her actors).
Hong Chau, “Downsizing”
Much as I would like to see more diversity in the WINNERS circle of our awards, I’m still pleased to see Chau earn a nomination. Without her performance, the film loses 90% of its heart. Maybe more. Hey Hollywood, give her lead roles, please.
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
People have been referring to this film as lightweight. While it is a comedy, and Nanjiani will never be confused as a dramatic presence, Holly Hunter, more than anyone in the film, carries the weight of grounding the reality while still bringing the funny. She is my favorite piece of the puzzle. Just not my favorite supporting actor. (Side note #2: Hey Amazon, just send us the damned DVD and keep all your cutesy business cards, flyers and anything else. It’s tantamount to being bombarded with junk mail, never mind the material waste. “Call Me By Your Name” just sent a DVD with no packaging at all. That works just fine. Thx!)
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Listen, I think Ms. Janney is a terrific actress, and she is an undeniable force in “I, Tanya”. But the script gives her NO room to grow, or shift or change. She is simply asked to be horrible from beginning to end. As a result, and for that reason alone, I found her character to be the least interesting in the film. It’s certainly an accomplished and forceful performance, and she’s going to win the Oscar, methinks, but I hope our Union looks past the juiciness and rewards the three-dimensional work of…
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird” (SHE GETS MY VOTE)
Like Janney, Laurie Metcalf plays the central organizing figure/antagonist. But her version of “mother” is much less cartoony…more grounded as something verging on relate-able and true, more universal. Her interplay with Ronan is the best scenework of the year, in my estimation. AND it’s the best we’ve seen of Ms. Metcalf for some time. That’s saying something. I hope it leads to much, much more.
Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes”
Not sure how Mr. Carell squeezed in to this nomination. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s terrific, but I don’t even think he’s the most important supporting player in the film (that would go to Andrea Riseborough). He brings so much more than what the script gives him, mainly because this is not a film about Bobby Riggs. It may have started out as a shared experience, but this is Billie Jean King’s story…at least when it comes to its emotional underbelly. I would have preferred the Nominating Committee rewarded Rob Morgan for his performance in “Mudbound”, a performance I would have voted for.
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
I am not a big fan of this film, and certainly not the adult acting in it, EXCEPT for Dafoe, who, along with the photography, was the movie’s only lure for me. And while it has seemed a foregone conclusion for some time that he’ll win the Oscar, I’m not sure there’s enough there there to overcome the two heavyweights from “Three Billboards”.
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (HE GETS MY VOTE)
Not sure why everyone is talking about Rockwell when this movie would be a TRUE mess without the relationship McDormand has to Harrelson’s chief of police. Capturing and communicating self-awareness, understanding and empathy for others, while showing us ego, power and pain is a helluva tightrope act, especially when doing so in a film that wants to be quirkier than it actually is. It’s masterful. And it’s time to recognize.
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Listen, I’ll watch Richard Jenkins read the phone book…if there was still such a thing. But, while he has moments that are heart-crushing, it simply doesn’t carry the weight of the story that some of the actors’ characters do. Nonetheless, it’s one of the better performances (outside of Sally Hawkins, who is brilliant) in a film filled with two-dimensional archetypes.
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Okay. So, Rockwell is great as a truly terrible and massively flawed person. But his character has so little backstory, it’s kind of difficult to be terribly excited about his journey. That’s not his fault…it’s the main flaw of the film. And, as a result, it seems just this side of chewing up copious amounts of scenery. Harrelson’s more honest work is the winner of the two. Without a doubt. But if he wins…I hope he doesn’t forget to thank his agent. <cue eye roll>
LEAD PERFORMANCE IN A FILM
Judi Dench, “Victoria & Abdul”
Dame Dench is, as ever, brilliant in this frivolous, paint-by-numbers flick. In fact, her performance deserved better than this film…which is the only reason I suggest that the performer who SHOULD have taken this slot is Meryl Streep. They’re both so consistently excellent we take them for granted. But Streep is just… The only reason the NomComm gave it to Dench, as far as I can tell, is because they weren’t given copies of “The Post” in time. Dench is really, really good. Really. Streep is off the charts. You get where I’m going with this…
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Hawkins could have been nominated for TWO performances this year, as her work in “Maudie” (a better all around film) is just as engrossing. But she is outstanding in “The Shape of Water”. She’s asked to carry the emotional weight of the movie without saying a word – and by film’s end she has transformed into a completely different person. She is powerful, simple, complex, voracious…all these things…so let’s just go with “real”. She could easily be your choice. That she’s not mine simply speaks to how terrific the competition is.
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
McDormand gives us the most motivated character in this bunch. And she is certainly given the needed space to react internally to the feelings brought on by the plot’s external interplay…space she makes the most of. Unfortunately, for me, I found that director Martin McDonagh’s style got in the way. I think McDonagh lost control of the film pretty early on. As a result, McDormand, like Rockwell, veers in to funny-character land whenever he holds on to the reins too tightly. Nonetheless, a masterful performance…just not quite as connected for me.
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
A twenty-something Aussie national playing a 15-year-old Portland, OR angst-ridden teen with subtlety, hope, disappointment, and an inability to find a familial path to understanding is a tough task. Robbie nails it. She’s terrific, engaging and pretty difficult to take your eyes off of. The “scene in the mirror”, as it will come to be known, is worth an award by itself. And the only actor keeping her from getting my vote is…
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird” (SHE GETS MY VOTE)
A twenty-something Irish national playing a 17-year-old Bakersfield, CA angst-ridden teen with subtlety, hope, disappointment, and an inability to find a familial path to understanding is a tough task. But we have to vote for one, and I think Ms. Ronan is simply more successful from beginning to end. Much of that has to do with the faux-doc style of “I, Tonya” and the ultra-realism of “Lady Bird”. But Ronan is, to me, our next Streep. Between this and “Brooklyn” we’ve seen how universal her character’s existences can be while still imbuing them with stunning individuality. THIS is, in my mind, the slam dunk performance of the year, overshadowed only by Gary Oldman’s. Maybe.
Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
A twenty-something…oh, never mind…you get the point. His bits of discovery are occasionally annoying, but overall he’s pretty great…much better here than in “Lady Bird”. But I don’t really feel a journey in his performance…more of a decision…until the last scene of the film. But, let’s be honest, as much as he accomplishes in this film he ain’t Oldman.
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Well…I haven’t seen it. I was going to, but decided against it because, y’know, actors are allowed to change their minds and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty by, let’s say, a powerful acting teacher just for deciding they’d rather not take their tops off during the shooting of a scene in a strip joint for said teacher. The teacher could’ve certainly found a different way to shoot the scene without making the women feel degraded. Right? Right. So I missed it. Enjoy your Globe, Mr. Franco. Oh, and regardless, he ain’t Oldman. (that was sidenote 3-16)
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
A fantastic performance in a fantastic film with a brilliant script….and Kaluuya should reap almost as much of the credit as director/writer Jordan Peele. Especially when one considers this is his first lead role in a feature. It’s difficult enough to play the protagonist in a scary film as a sympathetic, three-dimensional character, nevermind being asked to carry the considerable weight of the film’s social message. But he accomplishes both with ease. If Oldman is going to lose to anyone, I hope it’s Kaluuya. All that said, he ain’t Oldman.
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” (HE GETS MY VOTE)
This is the true no-brainer of all 2018 awards’ no-brainers. Listen, he recently referred to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as “a bunch of ridiculous wankers” and he STILL won the Globe. His Churchill is the most human, accessible, complex, sad, ferocious, terrified and hilarious you’ll see in a year that gave us not one, but THREE outstanding versions of the man (Brian Cox in “Churchill” and the incredible work of John Lithgow in season 1 of “The Crown”). Actually, best Churchill ever. Give him the damned statue. No one deserves it more.
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
This is a very different performance for Washington. He’s still a massive presence within the film and he certainly has his moments of absolute scenery chewing, but this is a much smaller personality…more complex…not so much of a singular purpose (which dot his previous works). The problem is that the film itself asks way too much of the character he’s presenting. His changes within the flow of the film are MASSIVE and as a result, seem forced. So, this year, anyway, he ain’t Oldman.
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.
“The Big Sick”
A lovely film, “The Big Sick” relies heavily on its three best performances (Nanjiani, Hunter and Romano). The problem for me is that the rest of the cast, as a result of the film’s premise, MUST play two-dimensional straight men (in the comic sense, not sexual orientation). As a result, compared to the other nominees, it’s the weakest link. Nonetheless, great work from the big three!
In many ways, and to a lesser extent, “Get Out”, in context of comparison only, suffers from the same issues as “Big Sick”. The film requires stellar performances from Kaluuya, Catherine Keener (thank god she’s back!), and LilRel Howery. But beyond that, the performances are fairly one-note. Whitford and Stephen Root add to the overall FEELING of the film, but it’s just not as strong an ensemble as the remaining films.
“Lady Bird” (THIS GETS MY VOTE)
Now we’re talking. The weakest link in “Lady Bird” is Chalomet, who plays his character as an icon instead of a human. But EVERYONE else, Ronan, Metcalf, Tracey Letts, Lucas Hedges (brilliant), Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush…and on and on…perfect from beginning to end.
Like “Lady Bird”, everyone in this film pulls their weight. Jason Clarke is a very poorly written role, but that’s not his fault – and Garrett Hedlund (while trying like hell) can’t really hang with the rest. Regardless, Mary J. Blige, Jonathon Banks, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, and every minor character in the film, are ferocious and they all seem to be of this place and time so very successfully. This film, in my estimation, possesses the only cast that gives “Lady Bird” a run for the prize.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
So, everyone in this film is great…McDormand, Harrelson, Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters and more. My only problem is many of the characters completely change throughout the film…and not in a evolutionary sort of way. Hawkes, for instance, starts as a monster, and then is suddenly a comic figure. There are several examples of this outside of our three leads. Maybe it’s me…I just thought McDonagh was trying to shoehorn these very real characters in to the quirky idiosyncrasies that dot his previous cinematic creations. In other words, I felt the acting had nothing to do with the director’s vision. This doesn’t diminish the performances, only their places within the film. I’ll understand voter’s decision to select “Three Billboards”, I just don’t think it matches “Lady Bird” or “Mudbound”.
(Side note #27: wouldn’t it be nice for a female directed film to win a best something?)
Next up? 2018 SAG Awards Viewing Guide – Part 2: TV Drama Awards
Written on 1/12/18