RE-POST – Originally Published September 2015.
Here are 5 more acting performances not nominated for an Oscar. And might I add even further gratitude to those writing for me at the moment, your enthusiasm and talent is highly appreciated.
Bryce Dallas Howard for The Village (2004) – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
With The Village continuing the steady decline of the career of one-trick pony M. Night Shyamalan, I can still find a couple of great things about the mediocre 2004 thriller. They are both called Howard. For one, James Newton Howard’s incredibly provoking, transcending score, which owes a lot to Hilary Hahn and her violin I might add. And secondly, actress Bryce Dallas Howard making her breakthrough lead role. I wonder how many of you recall the minor echoes of support for Howard as a possible Oscar Best Actress contender. That never unfortunately amounted to a serious challenge. In the end the movie’s poor reception damaged its chances and even the Best Original Score nomination was considered a surprise (it was most certainly well-deserved). Bryce Dallas Howard does the best with what she has to work with here, her blind Ivy Walker is the most endearing and sympathetic character in The Village – noted this is an actress known for playing quite unsavory characters. Howard’s performance here is both truly engaging and appropriately sedate, she gives Ivy the innocence and determination that sets the narrative in motion. An impressive, affecting portrayal of a girl who cannot physically see nor anticipate the life-changing secret before her. A pleasure to watch, I’m a real sucker for this performance (many of you likely feel this selection itself is a bit of a Shyamalan-style twist), and not sure Bryce Dallas Howard has been this captivating since.
Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) – – – Al Robinson @AlRob_MN
When the Best Lead Actor nominees were announced in 2014, Oscar Isaac’s name was nowhere to be found. This is a tragedy. In Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac plays the title role of Llewyn Davis. He’s a singer-songwriter who is stuck in a major rut. He tried to get his career started, but then his singing partner jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn so well because he finds the pain and anger his character has and works it into his wonderful line delivery and facial expressions. You can also see it and hear it when he performs folk songs at different times during the film. He sings with a sadness and despair that only a person doomed to fail knows and possesses. Oscar is also great when working with other actors like Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Adam Driver. He understands his place in the film. My favorite scenes (when he’s not playing songs), is when he’s working with the cat – in the film itself, the metaphor being that Llewyn is the cat. And Oscar Isaac played the cat wonderfully. It’s a shame that Oscar wasn’t nominated for the Oscar, but at least his performance will live on for years to come.
Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia (2011) – – – Bailey Holden @BaileyHoldenM
God. No one gets better performances out of women than Lars Von Trier, there were so many to choose from. I could have gone for Nicole Kidman for her twist for banal to malign in Dogville, Bjork for her stunningly convincing realistic pathos in Dancer in the Dark, Emily Watson for her deep inner conflict in Breaking The Waves (she was nominated). And yet, even with all those performances, brilliant as they are, I have chosen one of the more abstract performances in a Von Trier film, Kirsten Dunst as Justine in Melancholia. Depression is a heavy topic to explore for any filmmaker, especially one as famously insensitive (intelligent though he may be) as Lars Von Trier, and yet, almost miraculously here we have the best on-screen vision of depression I have ever seen in the form of one Kirsten Dunst. It’s a significantly less tangible performance than those aforementioned, Dunst has an airiness almost vacant quality about her in the first half, making the bathtub scene where all the stress and anxiety seep through the cracks all the more hard hitting. But what’s even more interesting is how her performance changes in the second half of the film, once the whole world knows that the eponymous planet Melancholia is going to consume the whole of earth, she gains a power, a smugness almost unseen in her character before. Depression makes the whole world around you feel so dark that your feelings are justified, and when Justine realizes she was right all along she gains a power both inner and supernatural, the ultimate depressive state’s fantasy.
John Huston for Chinatown (1974) – – – Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
One of the greats of film directing turns in one of the great displays of film acting in Roman Polanski’s classic noir Chinatown. It’s a performance rooted in a fearsomely keen understanding of this type of tyrant – John Huston plays water tycoon Noah Cross with a powerful presence attained equally through the vividness of his work and the precision of it. Huston never overplays an overpowering role, instead provoking in the viewer a response of bone-chilling intensity that matches the intensity he’s put into it, only as potent as it is because Huston’s Cross is so horribly believable. He communicates a lifetime of work, wealth and a deep-seated superiority complex that this pessimistic picture implies will endure as long as it is designed to – forever! Huston truly makes us believe that at any time, in any place, he at least is capable of anything.
When Cristian Mungiu’s New Romanian masterpiece came into the world and won the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes festivities, Marinca’s performance in particular was described – among a number of platitudes – that in a perfect world, she would’ve cleaned up awards and have a world renounced career ahead of her. Although that may not have happened (in regards to the Oscars – who are usually very anti-Cannes – and Hollywood in general), Marinca’s work as the Romanian student Otilla who in 1987 has to juggle a number of plates in the air – study for finals, have dinner with her boyfriend’s parents, schedule an abortion for her roommate (you know, average college stuff as one does) – and serves up a masterclass in how to display frustration and dogged determination with everything in an actor’s disposal, including most importantly, their face. With abortion a highly criminal federal offense in Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime (for anyone involved), clear steps must be taken and Otilla goes through everything to a tee. From hustling to get American cigarettes to securing a hotel to even allowing oneself to be blackmailed by the back alley abortionist she has contacted beforehand, Marinca’s physicality shows the weariness of all this takes out of her, the tension that accumulates with each passing second of what could happen if just the slightest thing goes wrong. How she’s framed in shots, how the camera follows her and doesn’t, her back against the camera, how she occupies space in so many of the classic long static shots that the film employs, Marinca takes advantages of everything the film – and the time period of that film as well – limits her to, and is able to make everything soar all-around her. The final shot between Otilla and her friend, Gabriela, is a silent one but is weighed with so much deft and subtext, and it’s the perfect final period for Marinca’s landmark performance as well. Hard work hardly pays off, or is even appreciated, but it’s amazing to witness it done so well at this level.