E: Here we are with the second in our series on the Oscar nominees, winners, and the performances that were unjustly forgotten. To see our thoughts on the supporting actor category, go here.
MMGF: So, here we have one of our, shall we say, less competitive competitions? And the Academy obliged by giving us who we all expected.
E: Now, I’m thinking both of us are incredibly sick of Anne Hathaway at this point, right? Not that I didn’t love her in the movie, of course. Well, first maybe we should start with who should have been nominated. No, wait, why don’t I list the nominees: Amy Adams ( Peggy Dodd, The Master), Sally Field, (Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Fantine, Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (Cheryl Cohen, The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Dolores Solatano, Silver Linings Playbook). There! Okay, back to Anne H. Would you pick her?
MMGF: I certainly would not have, no, heh. Out of the nominees as they were, my choice, hands down, was Helen Hunt. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s start before all that, shall we, and talk about our best case nomination scenarios?
E: And yeah, if I didn’t think Helen Hunt was really the lead, I might pick her as the best, too; it’s so funny that she doesn’t get offered a lot, or chooses to work less or something, and then boom, there she is, wonderful. But, as you were saying, we have some other things to get through first.
MMGF: I should really do a better job of keeping a list throughout the year of my favorite performances, because come this time, I’m always stumped by that question. I know she had an even smaller role in Les Miz than Anne Hathaway even did, but in my mind, the best performance in that movie was Samantha Barks, as Eponine. It’s a shame that character was cut so much from the film. You know who else I thought was great in a small but fairly important role, was Tamara Tunie (who we all know and love from L&O: SVU) as the flight attendant in Flight. Who else am I forgetting?
E: I thought both Tamara Tunie and Samantha Barks were stand outs, definitely, and I could see either of them before Jacki Weaver, a terrific actress with a really low key role. I was also a fan of Kelly Reilly’s performance in Flight as well. (It’s so funny that both of us took to Flight; readers should have seen the emails from last fall where we moaned about not wanting to see it and hoping it wasn’t nominated for anything.)
MMGF: Jackie Weaver’s nomination stunned me. That role was so so small, and so subdued. I don’t knock her talent at all – she was scathingly, wickedly good in Animal Kingdom, brilliant. But, there was just nothing really there in that Silver Linings Playbook character that I could see that would lend to a stand-out performance. It’s very surprising to me that she got that nomination. I’d have subbed in Samantha Barks, I think. Oh, and as much as I love Amy Adams, I might exclude her as my #6 and put Tamara Tunie in instead. (Kelly Reilly was excellent, too. I somewhat wonder if I don’t prefer Tunie just because I’m more familiar with her, and loved her work on SVU? Quite a topic for another time, that kind of bias, which clearly happens.)
E: I might actually accept your substitutions of Barks for Weaver and Tunie for Adams. No, stop. As much as I like Barks, I think I might have to go with someone I know better, too – Emma Watson as teen heartbreaker Sam in The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Have you seen that yet? Because it was lovely, really lovely. One of my favorite films of last year for sure. I can’t remember if I talked up Ezra Miller in supporting actor or not, but I should have – and Watson bring such grace to a fully realized, rounded, unique character.
MMGF: Ugh, no, I haven’t seen all of Perks yet. That said, I’ve seen, oh, maybe half of it? So, I can’t evaluate Watson in that. I admire her as an actress, so maybe she was great.
E: I cannot recommend that movie enough, it’s passionate and beautiful and just so well done. And I don’t want to be dismissive of Jacki Weaver, because hers is a tricky case; she’s far more in the vein of, say, Brenda Fricker in My Left Foot, winning for being so normal you almost don’t see it as acting. So while I’d say it wasn’t unworthy, I would probably pick Tunie over her; Tunie was wonderful as the lead flight attendant on Denzel’s doomed plane, strong and terrified at once. She’s the moral center of the film. Barks over Adams for me is a tougher scenario, partly since Barks’ role (while epic) was so slight and Adams as true believer wife Peggy had a much more substantial (though clearly supporting) part in the film. Should that matter? I enjoyed the layers of her character (the steel beneath the sweetness), and she has a real arc. I just wish Eponine had more screen time. I’m on the fence there.
MMGF: Oh, I love that comparison of Weaver’s work to Brenda Fricker’s in My Left Foot. Amazing to see the Academy get that right that year, a small name in a small film, up against names like Huston, Roberts, Wiest. (I’d love to discuss sometime the way Oscar sometimes gets it very, unexpectedly right, against the odds – Fricker, Marcia Gay Harden, Jim Broadbent.) I would even go further, and relate it to, say, another Brenda – Blethyn, in Secrets & Lies. A quiet role in a small movie. And that was a lead role, where, had there been no Fargo and no Frances McDormand, Blethyn would likely have come away victorious. So, there’s certainly precedent for a less-showy role! As for the Barks-Adams thinking, I can certainly see that struggle. Barks shone so bright in her few minutes in Les Mis. But, the role was cut so much. Meanwhile, Adams’ character was such a crucial piece of The Master. It’s hard to compare the two, honestly. I just barely lean to Barks, still, I think, just because she was so brilliant in what she had, probably – for me – the best part of a very, very good movie.
E: Of course, there’s a level to which it’s very difficult to judge adaptations, especially when you’re really familiar with the source material. Do I love Barks performance as much as I just love Eponine? I really need to see that movie again. And bring more tissues.
MMGF: Ha, and I feel like *I* need to see the original stage musical again, to see how much of Eponine was cut from the film!
E: It’s a plan! Let’s find where it’s playing and go!
MMGF: Road trip! Now, is this a good time to get back to Helen Hunt? It’s tricky, but interestingly enough, I do, in fact, see Helen Hunt as a supporting role in The Sessions. I can somewhat see the case for a lead nomination, but I feel like the movie was about John Hawkes’s character, about HIM the most, rather than it being a story about the two of them, and her character supported his.
E: You’re making me think about Helen Hunt for sure. Those categories can be rather porous. While Mark was the main character, the center of the story was the bond that he formed with Cheryl – and very specifically that the bond worked both ways, that he affected her, too. She had scenes without him, giving us a view into her home life. I can understand that your point, though. I’m not positive I agree, but you make a reasonable case for it, anyway.
MMGF: Oh, I think the case for Hunt works both ways. Her character certainly had her own things going on, too. So it wasn’t like she was exclusively there to serve Hawkes’s character and advance HIS story. This is actually one of the better examples for me in recent memory of a role that could be promoted for either character. (She’d been promoted as supporting the entire time, which was almost always Hathaway’s award. I wonder if she’d had a chance to win if she’d been nominated in the lead category. While that one ultimately did go to the front-runner, it certainly was a more up-in-the-air result than supporting actress ever was.)
E: Quite so. I don’t want to sound down on Anne Hathaway, because I do think she’s a terrific actress; she was outstanding in Rachel Getting Married, for example, as well as Brokeback Mountain. Heck, or even as Catwoman. And she has those gorgeous, big, liquid brown eyes that make you want to think well of her, especially seeing her suffering as Fantine. When I came out of the theater having seen Les Mis, I knew she was going to win and felt that she deserved it completely. Sometimes when a performance just gets locked onto like that, I get bored with it winning everything, that’s all, but that’s not her fault. I think in the end, history will call it the right choice, and we’ll feel okay about it too.
MMGF: Oh, you just explained part of my feeling perfectly. It’s weird how, for me, sometimes I lose sight of a great performance just because of fatigue from seeing the awards pile up. It’s almost like I need the drama and story of the award season as much as I need the enjoyment of the individual performances. I do like Anne Hathaway just fine. (And this argument will hold true for me with Jennifer Lawrence, too.)
E: I really think it will. Get on the Lawrence train! Okay, stop, that’s a debate for later. Anyway, back to Anne.
MMGF: She was great in Rachel Getting Married. I just would have loved a shake-up, I guess. Well, and there IS more to it for me, I think. I did find the performance too over-the-top. I also – and this isn’t a fair factor to judge on, so I like to think I wouldn’t consider it when voting – just didn’t enjoy her acceptance speeches and what not. They always seemed so fake and silly and like she was feigning surprise. They just didn’t seem genuine to me. That said, again – I don’t hold that against her. The performance should live on its own.
E: Oh, I know. I feel guilty about holding Anne Hathaway’s speeches against her – that more than anything is why I got bored of her winning everything. I am ultimately okay with her taking the Oscar; it’s more like it’s just not fun from an Oscar-watching point of view, especially if you take “Oscar-watching” to mean what we do – seeing all the movies and all the award shows. It seems unfair that at such an exciting moment, we’re sitting out here judging them on their every response.
MMGF: Heh. And we do! (Not that we’re the only ones!) But not everyone can be a Meryl Streep at the podium. (Er… not that everyone can have as much PRACTICE as the divine Madame Streep, either, I suppose. And, hey, yay, I got to give Meryl a shout out!)
E: Yay, Meryl! That said, it must be very difficult to win every time and act surprised. Remember how rotten at pretending to be surprised Renee Zellwegger was? Heck, Hathaway was such a sure thing Seth McFarlane built a joke segment around it. Of course, the equally expected Daniel Day-Lewis managed to show how moved he was, and be funny as well, so it’s possible. I feel bad for the people like Jennifer Connelly or Kim Bassinger who are so terrified of public speaking that they genuinely can’t even look out into the audience – but Anne had the presence of mind to remember every name on her laundry list of people to thank, so clearly she didn’t have that problem.
MMGF: You’re certainly right. I might have yawned at the result, but she wasn’t boring, and ultimately – now that we’re a little removed from the moment – I’m fine with her win. But back to my dreamland, who do I have? Hunt, Hathaway, Field, Tunie and Barks. Whew, while I love what Barks did, I think I still go for Hunt. Not really a fair competition there, since Hunt was in so much of the film (helping your case for her to be considered a lead) while Barks was in mere minutes of hers. But, well, it’s like when Catherine Zeta-Jones was up against Queen Latifah for Chicago. Latifah unquestionably deserved that nomination and was fantastic. But how do you look at her role and award her over Zeta-Jones? It’s not her fault that she had a lesser role, but, well, she had a lesser role.
E: Now that’s how I feel about Adams versus Tunie. BUT! I don’t have to worry about that, because in my world, Hunt is a lead actress, and so I can have Adams and Watson and Tunie – almost all my cake – along with Field and Hathaway. I might have handed that win to Field, even though she’s already got two Oscars to her name. Oh. Actually, maybe that matters to me and I don’t want to make her equal to Meryl, because I don’t think she is. Is that fair?
MMGF: Ooof, you’re peeling back rotten layers of the onion here, because I think (spoiler alert!) the reason I’m so reticent to give Best Actor to Daniel Day-Lewis may be the same thing. Three Best Actor Oscars, when Meryl Streep took so long to get one supporting and two lead Oscars? Maybe we’ll get to this later… (But, for the record, all’s fair in love and Oscar, and if you and I are thinking that way? Then there are plenty of other members of the Academy thinking the same.)
E: Oh, that is definitely a good conversation for another day. So who does that leave me now? Like I said, I think once I stop wishing she got someone to write her an actual speech (more than a laundry list with the one nice wish at the end) I’d probably change my mind back to Hathaway. So maybe I lied at the top of this post, and I’ve talked myself back to the actual winner. How boring of me!
MMGF: Nah. Only being wishy-washy could be boring. And, actually, I’d have thought you’d have picked Adams out of your five, so in my mind, you picking Hathaway is actually an upset!
E: Yay me, making the expected unexpected again! And yay you for looking at our choices in the kindest possible way. So, readers – anyone else out there still thinking about the best films of 2012?