Sarah: Actress in a leading role. Let’s start by acknowledging that neither one of us has seen My Week With Marilyn, so we’ll have to set Michelle Williams aside for discussion’s sake.
Doug: We don’t want to dis her. We’re sure she was excellent. But it’s not looking like the Academy is going to reward her, so we don’t feel quite as badly as we might otherwise.
Sarah: Let’s go down the list. Shall we start with Glenn Close?
Doug: This is your time, since I have also not seen Albert Nobbs.
Sarah (laughing): Not exactly a movie I would normally see, either, but it was a pretty good movie. You pretty much have to say Glenn Close gets lost in the role of being a man. And there’s a great scene where she puts on a dress and, at first, is really uncomfortable in it. But then she goes down to the beach and she becomes really free with it. She did a great job of showing someone who is very stifled by the requirements of her situation, pretending to be a man, etc. Glenn Close was very, very good. I think you could say Janet McTeer did an even better job, but Close was great.
Doug: And I had heard that this is a role Glenn Close had played as long as 30 years ago in the theater and that this was a role close to her heart for years. So, I guess it showed in her performance. Just for conversation sake, do we take points away because she had played the role before, or do we just say a great performance is a great performance?
Sarah: I don’t know, I hadn’t read that. But film is certainly a different craft than theater. So, I wouldn’t discount Close’s performance for that. But, still…
Doug: Are you saying a very good performance, but maybe not walking off with a statue?
Sarah: That’s probably it. This whole category is sort of unclear to me. I was positive on Bechir for best actor, but I’m not sure here.
Doug: I’m with you. For example, Viola Davis. What a wonderful, dignified performance. Really beautiful. But there’s the tiny doubt in my mind that maybe her performance looked better because, as my wife pointed out, pretty much all the characters in The Help other than Abilene were played as almost cartoon characters, ridiculously over the top. And that got me wondering how much I thought maybe Davis’ performance came off looking so great simply compared to the other performances in The Help, or at least how badly written the other characters were.
Sarah: Yeah, most of the other characters had no subtlety at all. But Viola Davis had it 100%. And I don’t think it was just in comparison to the other performances. She just had it.
Doug: I’m probably talking just a matter of degrees in deciding who I think should win this category. It’s clear as day that Davis was incredible, I’m maybe splitting hairs to get at who I think should win and am being maybe overly affected by the fact that I thought The Help was ultimately a pretty average movie. You’re right, good is good and Davis was good. But was she the best?
Sarah: Let’s skip Rooney Mara for a second. Let’s compare Viola Davis to Meryl Streep. In a way, a similar situation. Because I think both of us thought The Iron Lady was, to be kind, pretty weak material and another not so great movie. Did Meryl Streep seem really good because the rest of the movie was so bad? You could definitely say Meryl Streep’s Thatcher was just a caricature.
Doug: Oh, definitely.
Sarah: You couldn’t say Viola Davis’ performance was a caricature. She really embodied the character and was a whole person. And played this person as a very dignified woman.
Doug: In fairness, I was down on The Help a little, and I heard the book was much better and richer in portraying all these characters. And now I’m feeling a little guilty, because part of what originally was making me lean toward Meryl Streep a little was that I felt like she was so good with such weak material. But then I’m almost docking Viola Davis because she was so good in the middle of a movie that I also thought was pretty weak? Not real fair, in the end.
Sarah (laughing): That’s a little bit of a double standard there.
Doug: It is a double standard. And it’s not really fair. And I thought The Iron Lady was even worse as an overall film than I thought The Help was. Neither one of them exactly on my year end best of list. I really couldn’t even figure out what The Iron Lady was trying to be. A biopic? Just a human interest picture, the end of Margaret Thatcher’s life? A semi parody? I don’t know. There was a lot of fun, I guess, in simply watching Meryl Streep imitate Thatcher so well. But that’s about all there is.
Sarah: It’s a great imitation, but I don’t think, for me, you want to give someone an Oscar for that. Frankly, the better performance for me may have been the younger Thatcher.
Doug: And, not to get off on an Iron Lady tangent, but that may have been a more interesting movie, too, focusing more on the early years of Thatcher’s breaking into politics.
Sarah: Yeah, breaking into the old boys’ club, the struggles, etc.
Doug: A weird movie, because it really minimized the struggles she probably experienced. One day she stepped into the old boys parliament and then, in the world of the film, she was instantly prime minister. Whatever you think of her politics and the job she did, there had to be more than that. It seemed like there would have had to have been some battles in there, and exploring those would have been far more interesting than what Iron Lady ultimately was.
Sarah: The dementia that they focused on, I guess, was the focus, but I don’t know. I didn’t get it all, either. And even those sections seemed like they were just caricature and imitation. And, essentially, since they focused more on Thatcher in the later years, it was kind of just Meryl Streep playing an old married woman with all the interaction between the confused Thatcher and her passed husband.
Doug: Well, I don’t want to get too far off on Streep’s performance because I don’t think either one of us think she really deserves to win, but I thought the dementia scenes were some of her best work in the film. But while I can see the draw to Streep of playing someone as recognized as Thatcher, how she thought this script was the one to roll with is beyond me.
Sarah: It completely glossed over the historical significance, good and bad, that Thatcher had. But, yes, we’ve talked a lot about a movie that we didn’t like a whole lot. And I think we agree that we don’t think Meryl Streep deserves to win for this, even though the Academy might give it to her.
Doug: I think it’s pretty well acknowledged that the Academy will give it to Meryl or Viola.
Sarah: And Rooney Mara is probably too unknown to win. I think we think Mara’s was the best performance. But to be fair, she may have been given the best material to work with.
Doug: The richest material, to be sure, and it’s kind of encouraging when you look at the types of roles the other nominees in this category played, that Mara got a nomination for this.
Sarah: The nominations for actress so often seem to be upsetting. You’ve got the usual suspects. A couple of bio picks, a couple of socially conscious picks. And even a woman who is actually playing a man. Come on. So, it’s good to see a different kind of role sneak in there.
Doug: It does make you shake your head. On an individual basis, you don’t want to criticize the roles. Taken on their own, they were each really good performances. But, you’re right. Streep and Williams for biopics, Close for a woman playing a man and, as delicate as it is, let’s face it, Davis for playing a maid? Where the heck are the roles for women that are even three inches outside the box? Alright, now I’m getting worked up over here. Now, I really want Rooney Mara to win, even though she won’t.
Sarah (laughing): Rooney Mara would probably be my pick, but I do have to put Viola Davis right there, too. And we have to acknowledge that we haven’t seen Michelle Williams. I have to say again that Mara had the best material to play, there was so much there. But she had to play up to all of it, and she really did. She had to play this character without being allowed to be real verbal about it. She wasn’t exactly talkative. She had to show you, the weird anti socialness and all of that. It all had to come through Mara’s performance.
Doug: If range is any factor, I’d lean toward Mara. Just the use of her eyes and very, very measured facial expressions. You could see the moments of humiliation, and of being unsure and the slow building of rage. And the difficulty of some of the scenes. She was clearly going places that none of the other actresses had to go.
Sarah: And playing all that, in my opinion, for a professional actress is probably harder in some ways than doing a more purely imitative thing like Meryl Streep did. The rape scenes, the anti social stuff.
Doug: Rooney Mara had a lot more to do, from the more subtle moments, to the rape and revenge scenes, right up to the almost pure action movie stuff. If anything, one thing I disliked a tiny bit about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was especially at the end, that Lisbeth was presented as almost too much of a super hero. I would have like to have seen more of the empowerment issues explored. But Rooney Mara played what she was given and she was so good with it. I think we thought that although all the performances were good, most of the other performances in the best actress category were actresses doing more with less. Rooney Mara did more with more, which is probably why I liked her performance the best.
Sarah: The material the other actresses got left with was relatively shoddy, which is really too bad. But the performances across the board were good here. Some of the best supporting actress roles were more interesting, frankly. Like Berenice Bejo in The Artist, a strong female character. And even as much as I didn’t like Bridesmaids, which was really sort of demeaning to women overall, Melissa McCarthy was certainly playing a pretty strong female role.
Doug: And don’t get me started on how Bejo in The Artist is a supporting role. How was that not a leading role? She really got short changed.
Sarah: There’s just not enough good material for women.
Doug: Like you said earlier, why do all the “good” roles for women have to be playing real women, or they have to have some sort of huge societal message. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but where are the good character roles for women. Why is just what we’ve talked about? Even Rooney Mara in Dragon Tattoo. An awesome female role. But even that came from a book and wasn’t written for the screen.
Sarah: You’re right. It wasn’t quite as bad in the supporting category, but where are the original characters for women? But, like you said, when you look at each performance taken for what it is, these women still turn in pretty great, strong performances. The question for us isn’t about the performances, it’s why aren’t there more options for female performers.
Doug: Right. So, we like Rooney Mara. Who do we think the Academy will go for?
Sarah: It’s going to come down to Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. I think the Academy would go Meryl Streep, but between those two, I’d go Viola Davis.
Doug: I agree with that. In the end, I’d have to say that maybe the reason Viola Davis seemed like she was doing a better job than everyone else in The Help, was because she was doing a better job than everyone else.
Sarah (laughing): It’s a possibility.