This was an interesting year. All strong performances. You can click the title above to go the actual smackdown, but here are some extra thoughts I had about the movies and the actresses--
First off, I love Howards End, and think it's a great adaptation of the book. I thought it would be interesting to post Mrs. Wilcox's entrance in the book:
They were all silent. It was Mrs. Wilcox.
She approached just as Helen's letter had described her, trailing noiselessly over the lawn, and there was actually a wisp of hay in her hands. She seemed to belong not to the young people and their motor, but to the house, and to the tree that overshadowed it. One knew that she worshipped the past, and that the instinctive wisdom the past can alone bestow had descended upon her--that wisdom to which we give the clumsy name of aristocracy. High born she might not be. But assuredly she cared about her ancestors, and let them help her. When she saw Charles angry, Paul frightened, and Mrs. Munt in tears, she heard her ancestors say, "Separate those human beings who will hurt each other most. The rest can wait." So she did not ask questions. Still less did she pretend that nothing had happened, as a competent society hostess would have done. She said: "Miss Schlegel, would you take your aunt up to your room or to my room, whichever you think best. Paul, do find Evie, and tell her lunch for six, but I'm not sure whether we shall all be downstairs for it." And when they had obeyed her, she turned to her elder son, who still stood in the throbbing, stinking car, and smiled at him with tenderness, and without saying a word, turned away from him towards her flowers.
"Mother," he called, "are you aware that Paul has been playing the fool again?"
"It is all right, dear. They have broken off the engagement."
"They do not love any longer, if you prefer it put that way," said Mrs. Wilcox, stooping down to smell a rose.
It's a beautiful entrance, illustrating her control over everything. Redgrave takes an interesting tack in making her almost more of a mother nature than a completely in control mother figure. What's strong about it is it makes everyone in her spell unaware of the power she has over them, and how much she is caring for all. It's a brave choice to make her so ethereal as to seem almost a walking spirit. The danger is coming off simple, which Redgrave does not. She makes Ruth the ghost that controls the proceedings without anyone knowing she is. It's a great turn.
Judy Davis I loved, and most because she fearlessly plays the character. She is completely unlikeable, almost terrifying so, but you don't ever question her magnetism to those around her. Not a lot of performers would be unafraid to be so unlikeable, and it's what makes this performance so lasting. There are no soft edges, no secret vulnerability the actress shows us to let us know that secretly there's a soft, furry forest creature inside. She's just hard, hard, hard. And she's riveting. Interestingly, I found it a hard movie to watch, and some of the others almost actively annoyed me, including Farrow and Allen, and I'm a Woody fan. I did, surprisingly, like Juliette Lewis alot, and might have even nominated her in place of Plowright. I was impressed, but something about the film overall was just whiny and humourless to me. I suppose that's why I liked Davis in it. She was just as challenging, but she was actually funny while being awful. The scene in which she says she's not meant for marriage and then five minutes later says she's one of those people who should be married is excellent. And certainly, the first date where she just borrows the phone to yell at her husband is painful, hysterical, and a master class.
Marisa Tomei surprised me. I assumed I'd like it, as she's an appealing performer. What I didn't expect was that she elevated the movie and the material. Do I think it's an Oscar winner? No, but I don't doubt that she really turned it out in this one. She made a three dimensional stereotype in a movie that didn't ask her to be more than a plot device. She's the only reason to even watch it for me, and it's a rich, honest comedic performance. She's playing with the clothes, the hair and the accent all made to make her a joke, and making them feel like an integral part of who this woman is. Never once does she condescend to the character. It's wonderful work.
Joan Plowright does a good job with a stock character in Enchanted April. She acquits herself well, and has a believable transformation. It's a very solid performance. As many of these nominated perfs, it certainly is not out of place in the annals of Oscar. She doesn't make the film for me, but she's very good in a strong ensemble cast. Polly Walker for some reason started to bother me, but perhaps it's because she allowed her husband to remain such a twit and only softened to him as the film went on. And Alfred Molina, for me, can do no wrong, even in this device.
Miranda Richardson was the only thing I liked about Damage. Yuck. I really disliked this movie. I'm supposed to care about some priviliged intelligent man completely destroying his life for an erotic obsession? Didn't hold water for me. I suppose it's happened (Eliot Spitzer, anyone?), but it didn't work for me as presented. There were many self-important ridiculous things in this movie, not the least of which was people walking into rooms where characters are just standing and staring into space when the door opens so they can turn around and look serious. At least that seemed to be all Juliette Binoche's character did. I can see why she's so erotically interesting, since staring off into space and being unknowable is FASCINATING isn't it? Unbelievable. There was a great moment, though, when Leslie Caron comes in wearing orange (!) like she's Maureen Stapleton in Interiors (although this movie at least had black and grey in addition to beige), and says to everyone that her daughter's fiancee looks exactly like her dead brother who committed suicide over obsessive love for her sister. Then she says "Oh, did I say something wrong? Surely you must have noticed." No, mom, that's in the "What every bride wants to hear on her wedding" handbook. It's number 5. Just ridiculous.
So into this self-involved boredom comes Miranda Richardson, with one great scene, built on scene after scene of quiet mistrust. She's great. And when she says to Irons' character "It's a pity I ever met you" we know exactly how she feels. It's certainly nom worthy, and I wish it was in a more believable pic. The novel was popular I remember, and scandalous. Maybe some things are more believable on the page. Like I said, Richardson's great, but I kept waiting for this movie to be over. I think my eyes got a little sore from rolling over and over.
It's such an interesting year, since people remember the Tomei win in the field she was in. Looking at it, though, it's an impressive group, her included. I don't begrudge her the win anymore, and it raises some interesting questions. Isn't it more commendable to turn out terrific work in a substandard vehicle, like Tomei did, or terrific work surrounded by terrific people (Redgrave, Davis, Plowright, Richardson). It's hard to say. I'm glad we did this one, though.