Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Best Actress

  • Annette Benning - The Kids Are Alright
  • Natalie Portman - Black Swan
  • Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
  • Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
  • Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine
I'm not looking forward to this post. I don't feel like there was a slam dunk like there was in supporting actress or a number of very strong roles that excited me like lead actor. I was by and large pretty disappointed, so don't be surprised if I don't sound really excited when I talk about any of the performances here.

I'll be honest, I was surprised when I saw Benning had been nominated for The Kids Are Alright. She was certainly good at being cold and inconsiderate while still finding a maternal streak. I just didn't think she was stellar. I think all the actors in this film benefited from all the others doing a pretty good job. None of them were great, but none were awful. They helped each other look better, and I think that's ultimately why Benning got nominated - not because she was fantastic herself.

Portman has basically been handed the Oscar since Black Swan came out in theaters. When I saw the movie, I was really surprised and left thinking, "This is far and away the best performance we can imagine?" She definitely performed admirably, but her character felt rather flat to me despite all the obvious roundness. Still you could almost palpably feel her mind breaking from the stress of pressure to perform. She was sickeningly pure, and it was a pleasure to see her character spiral out of control. Portman did a good job, but she certainly wasn't that fantastic, and I think she benefited greatly from Aronofsky's directorial vision here. I think she'll get it, but I can't say for certain that she deserves it.

Lawrence, like much of Winter's Bone, was pretty forgettable to me. You may recall this opinion from my supporting actor post, and it still holds true. Lawrence was certainly touching, but overall this movie just fell flat for me. I'm sure I could come back to it in a couple years and find more things to enjoy in it, but I don't think Lawrence's performance is going to age as well as the movie. It's almost as though the director picked her up off the street and said, "Be yourself." And, no, I don't mean that she was so good it was like she wasn't acting at all.

Kidman did good job interacting with Aaron Ekhart to show her pain in having lost her son. She seemed rather disjointed, which I hope is what the character called for. She was struggling to come to terms with her loss while at the same time expunging it from her life. I think she translated that type of grief well. It was just hard to connect with someone acting so disconnected.

Williams did a very convincing job as a woman falling in and out of love with an abuser. She was charming and intolerable and you could feel her mind breaking down her life into all her poor decisions. She made her pain understandable and her withdrawal conscionable. Ryan Gosling performed well, pressing Williams' buttons, and through it all she displayed equally convincing resolve and collapse. I don't think Williams was fantastic, but, in a weak field, her relatable and accurate portrayal of a woman at love's end with a man making full use of the power/control wheel sends her home with the prize.


  1. I think ultimately, after sitting on this group for awhile, I agree with your pick. And not just because you referenced the power and control wheel, haha. But it's true that my work has something to do with why I think she should win. Watching Michelle Williams was like going to work, and while sometimes that's difficult for me to watch when I am hoping to unwind from the stress of my job, I felt like she was so convincing as someone who is completely at the end of a relationship where she has been torn down mentally. It's not a pretty performance, but it makes you think about how abuse can affect someone over time. I think she was fantastic in that performance. But I agree - overall, I felt that this was kind of a weak category, and I think Natalie Portman will win.

  2. I actually loved Natalie Portman's performance, and thought it was perfect .... at first understated and then all up in your grill .... the ridiculous last line at the end of the film, which to me was like old hollywood, like, Sunset Blvd or something .... i thought she showed great control, and then let everything spiral out as it went on .... just my opinion, but, i thought her perfomance was perfect and she should win

    Jennifer Lawrence was real good, i thought, and understated ... i don't know that she really deserves to be nominated, but, I loved the movie, and am happy that it was nominated for anything

    Personally, I feel like The Kid's Are All Right is the second most over rated movie of the year (behind the social network) .... it kinda pissed me off that finally there is a film that portrays an interesting Lesbian couple with children and she really cheats with a man .... it just buys into that whole male feeling "she doesn't like dick, but she'd like MY dick" that is in our society and it pissed me off that they went that route

    i really enjoyed Rabbit Hole, thought Nicole Kidman was good, but, not great .... but, that movie was real good

  3. Funny story guys:
    I had written almost this entire post and was halfway through my writeup of Williams when I changed my mind. I had planned on awarding Portman. Sitting on her performance I originally saw some flaws, but started to like it the more I thought about it yesterday, and I saw some more things you mentioned, Brian.

    As I was considering Williams' role, I thought more and more about her motivations and her character's life. Like you said Claire, it wasn't pretty, not at all, but it really felt accurate and helped me connect ever so slightly with someone at the point in their life.

    Brian, I hope you like my Kids Are Alright thoughts when I do my Best Picture post in a couple days. Rabbit Hole was good. I like Aaron Ekhart a lot in that movie. I just felt like a few tweaks would have brought out a lot more in that movie. That and replacing the teenage driver with a different actor that made me feel like he was a person with emotions instead of a cardboard cutout with a movable mouth.