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Oscars 2012: Actor in a Leading Role

20 Feb

Sarah: We’re taking the Oscar stuff category by category. I know we’re going to talk about our thoughts on Oscar snubs in another post, and the actor category is pretty strong. But I have to say I really thought Ewan McGregor got snubbed for his work in Beginners.

Doug: I agree with that.

Sarah: No offense to Brad Pitt in Moneyball, but he didn’t have to dig deep for that. That was Brad Pitt being Brad Pitt as a baseball general manager. Brad Pitt in Tree of Life as a nominated role, OK. But I can’t believe Brad Pitt is in for best actor, and Ewan McGregor is out.

Doug: You’re as pumped for this as I was about A Separation for best screenplay, but I’m with you. Ewan McGregor was 1000% the core of Beginners.

Sarah: I liked George Clooney in The Descendants, but there was so much more subtlety about Ewan McGregor in Beginners. It happens so often that the actor that nails it so well, and does it with such subtlety, gets overlooked for the actor who goes over the top with the emotion. It’s happened to Colin Firth several times. Ewan McGregor shows you so much, a whole range of emotions.

Doug: Yeah, McGregor nailed it. But here’s an example of where we talk about someone maybe having better material to work with, too. I’ve beaten this one to death, but Beginners was so perceptive about the myriad ways dealing with the death of a family member can affect you. The Descendants felt more like a stunt, using the death of a family member as a cheap plot prop. I don’t want to punish George Clooney for doing a good job with lesser material.

Sarah: So, we love Ewan McGregor in Beginners. Yeah, he definitely had better material than George Clooney. His dad is dying, and his dad tells him he’s gay, and the dad has the younger lover, and Ewan McGregor is falling in love himself, and grappling with the prospects of being alone. And it goes on. So, he had a lot more to chew on, but he did it soooo well. I told you before that I don’t cry at movies, but this one almost got a tear out of me! There were several scenes in this movie where I thought, this is just so touching. And while all this is going on, going through the steps of developing a relationship with this dying father that wasn’t really there for him. And McGregor pulled it all off.

Doug: Yup, now you’re the one that’s gushing. But the word I keep coming back to with Beginners is perceptive. And that perceptiveness can be on the page, but the actors have to bring it to the audience. Ewan McGregor definitely brought it to the audience. This might seem like a trite way to put it, but he kind of just showed what it is to be human. As much as you can in an hour and 45 minute movie, he really showed a broad range of life and…

Sarah: Human emotion and the human condition. If Ewan McGregor were nominated, I don’t think we’d even need to have this conversation.  He’d be it.

Doug: We haven’t even hit the list yet. On the list, in my mind, I keep coming back to Gary Oldman.

Sarah: I think George Clooney is probably going to win. But as far as human emotion and just the human experience, I wish they would give it to Demian Bichir, who was brilliant in A Better Life.

Doug: The Academy had to nominate Pitt and Clooney to make sure they’d be at the Oscars and on camera. Although I’m OK with Clooney’s nomination because he sort of put lipstick on a pig in The Descendants.

Sarah: You’ve said he held that movie up, and I agree with that.

Doug: And to keep the agreement train going, I’m with you on Pitt in Moneyball. It’s too much Pitt being Pitt, and the movie isn’t good enough for him to just do that and win an Oscar. Dujardin in The Artist, you can’t argue that it was darn fun. He made me smile. Maybe a little bit of a trick performance, a sort of sleight of hand.

Sarah: He had a little bit of an odd role to play. He had the fun part, but he also had to play the fallen star sections well, too. Sort of a 180 there when he hit the skids. And I think the audience went with it. You certainly wouldn’t be upset with him, there’s something to be said for that performance. Better than Brad Pitt, yes, but not better than the other four.

Doug: Like you said earlier, you’ve got some pretty wide ranging performances here. Do you go more for the understated performance, a Gary Oldman? Or Dujardin, who by necessity in a silent film, almost had to be over the top and overly expressive.

Sarah: That’s part of it. But basically you just have to decide which performance took more skill and craft.  I do tend to think that the subtleties are harder. Gary Oldman is so good at showing you that George Smiley is on the case and knows all and is putting the pieces together. But he doesn’t have to say anything to show it.

Doug: A pretty tough thing to pull off. Oldman is telling the audience everything without telling the characters in the story anything. He only really had the one scene in the movie where he really got to overact. But it wasn’t even really overacting. Because it was the George Smiley’s character’s way of telling his young assistant, OK, I trust you and I’m going to let my hair down with you to show you that. And Oldman played that scene perfectly, too.

Sarah: And once I show you I trust you, play time is over.  I’ve been in your shoes, and I’m going to let you know I understand what you’re going through.

Doug: But how fun was Dujardin?

Sarah: His dancing was phenomenal. I think there should be an award for dancing.

Doug: His physicality, in general, was awesome. We’ve talked about different things we find underrated and tough to do, but physical comedy, I think, is really hard to pull off, and he is brilliant.

Sarah: I think you said this, but he really did capture exactly what the film was going for, the feeling of the old, classic movies.

Doug: I loved Berenice Bejo in The Artist, too, but I did find myself in little moments thinking of her as an actress of today playing an old time actress. With Dujardin, I never really thought that. Like you said, it felt like they just plucked him right out of the 1920s. There’s a whole lot to be said for that.

Sarah: To pull that off and have people come into that world with you, I can agree that’s talent.

Doug: We’re ultimately talking about nominated performances that are so different. It’s probably going to come down to Clooney and Dujardin. And for my tastes, I wish Oldman would get more serious consideration, because it seems like so much more of a serious role.

Sarah: But I’ve been schooled a little bit lately by friends, even about Midnight in Paris. Telling me “don’t underestimate a fun little romp.”  I think we’re right about Midnight in Paris.  It’s fun in places, but it doesn’t measure up as an Oscar winner, but The Artist, another fun little romp, is much better in terms of quality. Dujardin was so much better in it.

Doug: We talked about the section of The Artist where Dujardin’s character had the downward spiral, how we thought it went on too long, wasn’t edited well, etc. But Dujardin himself acted it very well. In a way, if I’m going to say it sort of jolted me away from the fun of the movie, which it did for me, that may be a compliment to Dujardin’s performance.

Sarah: Right. The scenes there were odd, but they were believable. It wasn’t him making it feel out of place. But I think the Oscar is going to George Clooney.

Doug: I’d be disappointed if it went to Clooney.

Sarah: I sort of would, too. But he’s already won the Golden Globe. And the Academy likes George Clooney.

Doug: Well, clearly, who doesn’t like George Clooney?

Sarah: True, there are few people. You’ve expressed your love for Gary Oldman, so let me tell you why I think Demian Bichir should win. It’s partly the story, which was really well written. And it explores some truths of life that a lot of people don’t want to face. Bichir did an unbelievable job of portraying someone in terrible conditions who rises above, going about his everyday life, and trying to be, and managing to be, a better person. But the story had to be pulled off with a naturalness and a dignity, and Bichir did it. There was a beauty in the way Bichir portrayed a man who tries to be a better person for his son, despite so many around him giving in to their circumstances. The movie was really beautiful, and Bichir embodied his role.

Doug: And there was an almost effortlessness in Bichir’s performance. It was certainly the most organic and natural feeling of the five here. I didn’t have any consciousness, really, that this was an actor playing a role. I can’t say that for any of the other four nominees, and that’s certainly a notch in Bichir’s favor.

Sarah: I like Dujardin, but I would vote for Bichir in this category. And I think Clooney and Oldman were very, very good, too. Brad Pitt is the only one I can’t see as a nominee, even though he made what could have been a boring subject for me pretty entertaining.

Doug: Yeah, I don’t think we’re saying Pitt was bad, he’s a cool guy. But we are talking about winning an Academy Award here.

Sarah: Yes. But it’s still just sort of Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt as a baseball executive. I thought Clooney was good, because normally when you see George Clooney in a movie, you think there’s George Clooney playing a politician, or there’s George Clooney playing a robber. But I don’t think you can say that as much about Clooney in The Descendants. He kind of lost himself in that role and deserves a lot of credit for it.

Doug: I still think a huge part of Clooney’s brilliance is his taste in choosing roles. Because if you see a George Clooney movie, there is never any question about who George Clooney is in the movie. But a lot of times, you’ll see a Gary Oldman movie and say, wait, that was Gary Oldman?  And in fairness to Clooney and Pitt, that’s one of the few downsides to their level of fame. How could you not think of who they are at this point when you watch them in a film? And maybe I just like Gary Oldman enough that I’m doing the whole lifetime achievement thing when I say I think he deserves the Oscar.

Sarah: There might be some of that, but I think you’re right that Oldman’s performance was great. There’s definitely the lifetime achievement angle on Christopher Plummer in the best supporting actor category.

Doug: Maybe you could say Clooney or Pitt’s fame works against them when you evaluate their performances, although in the end Clooney or Dujardin are probably going to win here. You might say that Bichir’s lack of fame helps him in a way, because this guy is a big star and he plays a role where you’re not thinking about that for a second. This is a movie like any other movie, but there were sections when Bichir was on camera when it felt almost documentary like. I don’t think you can be more complimentary to an actor. Unfortunately, the two guys I think deserve to be battling it out, Oldman and Bichir, have the least chances to win.

Sarah: I really, really wish we were able to talk about Bichir actually winning, because he really deserves it.

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