Welcome to the fifth in my series of Academy Award picks! In this installment we’ll wrap up the acting awards with my selection for Best Actress, or—as officially proclaimed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences—the award for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.” Let’s hope this year’s casting call of nominees is as outstanding as the fancy title!
And, the nominees are…
Glenn Close — Albert Nobbs (didn’t see it)
Viola Davis — The Help
Rooney Mara — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (didn’t see it)
Meryl Streep — The Iron Lady (didn’t see it)
Michelle Williams — My Week With Marilyn
Hmmm… Once again, we find a category where the nominating committee and I do not find much common ground, as I saw only two of these “Oscar worthy” performances. Of course, I had good reason for skipping the three performances I missed. Let’s assess:
I could not bring myself to see Albert Nobbs, which stars Glenn Close as a woman pretending to be a distinguished butler in Merry Olde Ireland. Nothing wrong with the premise, which has been done to great effect throughout the history of cinema. But in the trailers, Glenn Close just looked… creepy! Plus (and this is admittedly juvenile of me), I could not get beyond the pun in the film title and kept imagining Beavis and Butthead watching the film.
He said, knob…
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Rightly or wrongly (and I’m sure many of you can come up with examples to the contrary), I’m of the general belief that Hollywood remakes of excellent foreign films seldom live up to the original. Having seen the 2009 Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s novel, I already had an image in my mind of who should play Lisbeth Salander, that being Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who was thoroughly well cast in the original. I hear Rooney Mara was fine in the remake, but apart from sharing a double-O in both their first names, Mara didn’t quite compare to Noomi Rapace. So did I really need to see the remake? No. And… I did not.
The Iron Lady
Yes, Meryl Streep is one of our truly great actresses, but did I really want to sit through a film about Margaret Thatcher?!?!?! No! What kind of story can you cook up about the Prime Minister of England? Unless the movie revealed that Margaret Thatcher was secretly a vampire and ruled a Parliament of the Undead, I’m not interested. For that I would be rewarding Streep with an Oscar.
With those three unseen performances out of the way we’re left with two shrug-worthy choices for Best Actress: Viola Davis and Michelle Williams. I know Viola Davis is the crowd favorite front runner, with legions of Oprah Book Club devotees raving about her performance as Aibileen Clark, but I thought she was seriously upstaged by Octavia Spencer in the very same film. Davis gave a very nice performance, but… Apart from significantly more screen time, was her performance was any more noteworthy than her previous nomination as Best Supporting Actress in Doubt? I give it a tilt of the head, a raised eyebrow, and a noncommittal smirk. Nice job Viola, but I didn’t think it was the best acting job of the year—even in a mainstream film.
As for Michelle Williams, whose work I typically love, her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe was upstaged by… Marilyn Monroe! She was fine, period. Just… fine. But she wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in much the same way that Julia Ormond was not Audrey Hepburn in the remake of Sabrina. Some people and roles are just untouchable, and to convincingly play Marilyn Monroe is pretty much impossible. So my pick won’t be going to Michelle.
Are you beginning to see my dilemma with this category? I have a list of nominees and no desire to rip open the envelope and tell you who has won! It’s like Best Supporting Actor all over again! This is why I’ll probably never be a presenter on an Oscar telecast. I’d stand there on stage in the Kodak Theater (by the way, what do we call the place now that Kodak has declared bankruptcy?) looking out at all those gowns and black tuxedos. I’d reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a wooden match. I’d strike that match against the windscreen of the microphone, and light the gilded winner’s envelope aflame, while the accountants from Pricewaterhouse Coopers looked on in horror.
From my back pocket I’d slip a second envelope, this one not quite as fancy and sealed with my own spit. I would announce that the category of Best Supporting Actress has been hijacked, hold the envelope aloft, and read a new list of nominees, printed on the back in my own steady hand. And the more deserving nominees are…
Lubna Azabal — Incendies
Kirsten Dunst — Melancholia
Helen Miren — The Debt
Kate Winslet — Carnage
It is without shame that I include Kirsten Dunst in my list of nominees—mostly to buy time while the security guards begin squawking into walkie-talkies and scrambling from the wings. Dunst had received considerable Oscar buzz for her sedative-laden detached performance in Melancholia, so—after first announcing the wholly unexpected (and very well-deserving!) Azabal, the mainstream members of the Academy might just buy my alternate list as a last second change in the program. I don’t know; maybe the women on the original list had not paid their SAG dues or something. In truth, I thought Dunst’s performance was a bit wan and one dimensional. Love Kirsten Dunst, but I blame director Lars von Trier the Danish Duke of Cinematic Despair.
In any case, I suspect the rumble of confusion might die down once I announce Miren and Winslet. The trained monkeys in the crowd know these names, and no doubt they will reward each announcement with respectful applause and a swell of building enthusiasm.
The ceremony is now mine!!
It matters not that few in the crowd saw any of these four films, nor witnessed the excellent performance from each one of my new nominees. Miren is an Oscar winner! Winslet is an Oscar winner! Dunst is the token up-and-comer! And Aza… Azaba… Azabalalal is the token foreigner to appease the people who see independent “art films” and make those of us in the crowd feel as if making movies isn’t really about making money! Yay!
I would then pause, allowing one last round of applause for all the nominees. The words would then slip from my lips with a note of mischievous drama, “And the Oscar goes to….”
Here, as is my right was presenter, I would faux-fumble with the envelope. Breaths would hold tight. Face would lean forward. A billion TV eyes and ears would anxiously wait.
The envelope rips, and out slides a crisp beige square of parchment.
I would give that familiar Oscar-presenter-chuckle, and read,
“Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In!”
The theater would erupt in applause!
The applause would lasts exactly 1.8 seconds.
The audience would then realize that Helen Miren didn’t win. Kate Winslet didn’t win. Nor did Kirsten Dunst or that Lubna woman whose name they have already forgotten. And wasn’t Meryl Streep up for this award? Four people continue to stand and clap, one of whom is Pedro Almodóvar. He would be flanked by Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem.
Security would swarm the stage and drag me off into the gloom of back stage. Cameras would flash, microphones would stab, and into a police van I would be tossed.
Later, under interrogation, I would sit handcuffed to the metal leg of a precinct desk, still clutching the crumpled winner’s parchment. I would try to explain how disappointing 2011 was for film, and express my frustration over the lack of a clear winner in the category of ”Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.” Sympathy would doubtlessly not be on my side, as it would be readily apparent that the detective and assembled staff are big fans of Adam Sandler, comedies based around marginal “holidays,” and anything with a sequel. It would be highly unlikely that my interrogators have heard of Elena Anaya.
“She was the star of the latest Almodóvar film,” I would explain. “She was great!” Blank stares. “The Skin I Live In? Did you see it?” I would offer with some hope. “It was really good! Super intense, unsettling, and filmed like a piece of visual art. It really freaked me out!” Steely-eyed distrust and suspicion would rim the room. This would not go well.
“Look,” I would try to explain, “It’s a Spanish film about a doctor who lost his wife in a car crash, and he keeps a young woman—Elena Anaya—under some kind of medical house arrest, and—”
Just then a sergeant would burst into the room. “Stop!” she would yell. “Don’t give it away! Have you no decency for anyone who hasn’t seen the film?!?!?”
I would be completely flummoxed by this turn of events, as there would be no way to justify my actions without revealing key plot points that bolster my praise for Anaya’s performance as Best Actress!
Frustrated by my predicament, my eyes would dot and dart about the desk, searching for anything that might get me out of this mess. Eureka!
With a quick rattle handcuffs and a snatch of my free right hand, I would grab a nearby Sharpie, and scribble across the manilla envelope that holds my ever-thickening case file:
S P O I L E R A L E R T ! !
Okay, bear with me… If Glenn Close can be nominated for playing a not-so-lovely woman pretending to be a not-so-handsome man, why can’t Elena Anaya be nominated for playing a not-so-happy woman who was once actually a not-so-respectful man who has been forcibly transformed to be a totally gorgeous woman—and do so in a manner that we as the audience never see it coming?? There! I gave it all away, but it’s only in the reveal that you discover the disturbing psychological depth of Anaya’s performance in this richly twisted masterpiece of a film.
Congratulations Elena Anaya for earning my un-nominated (and conveniently tongue-in-cheek) pick for Best Actress of 2011!!