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For Your Consideration: 5 Lead Performances That Deserve Oscar Recognition

by Oliver Lyttelton
December 20, 2012 12:05 PM
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Rust And Bone Matthias Schoenaerts
Matthias Schoenaerts - "Rust & Bone"
Like we said, it's possible that Marion Cotillard may or may not pick up a nomination for her performance in "Rust & Bone." But however good she is in the film (the answer: very), it's not her we've been thinking about since we saw the film -- instead, it's her lesser known co-star Matthias Schoenaerts. Originally intended to be played by a non-professional actor from the boxing world, director Jacques Audiard handpicked Schoenaerts after seeing him in the excellent "Bullhead" (an unlikely Foriegn Language nominee last year), and the gamble paid off. The Belgian actor plays Ali, a single father who comes with his son, Sam, to the South of France to find whatever work he can, only to fall into a curious friendship with a killer whale trainer (Cotillard) who lost her legs in a terrible accident. And he's positively magnetic, bringing a tremendous physicality to the part (he'd lost the weight from "Bullhead," and trained up again to an entirely different shape), along with a sheer screen presence that many have compared to Tom Hardy. But there's far more to it than just presence; Ali's a good man at heart, as demonstrated by the way he never treats Stephanie as a victim, but he also has no idea how to live with his son, or articulate his feelings, as he struggles to find some semblance of stability. Schoenaerts might not be in the running in a tough Best Actor field this year, but there's every chance of it happening down the line (perhaps in the upcoming "Suite Francaise," opposite Michelle Williams. Speaking of... ).

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Haneke's Amour
Emmanuelle Riva - "Amour"
This pick isn't within the realm of impossibility. In fact, Emmanuelle Riva, the co-star of Michael Haneke's sobering, brutal, but compassionate "Amour," has an outside shot at a nomination, but so far she hasn't snagged any strong augur nominations like the SAGs or Globes. And it’s also a French-language drama -- a tough one at that -- so it has that working against it slightly as well. Co-starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, “Amour” focuses on an retired elderly couple, with a daughter who lives abroad. When Anne (Riva) suffers a stroke it paralyses her on one side of her body, leaving her husband (Trintignant) to look after her. And it’s difficult to watch, as Anne transforms from lovely elderly lady, to a someone who is gradually losing their grasp on the world, becoming more frail, angrier and then essentially mute, forced to be completely dependent on her husband. Sequences where Anne is still cogent, but unable to move her arms are particularly moving and resonant; she loathes pity and the slow dissolution of her dignity makes her bitter at the world and the ordeal she has to go through. When the character is bedridden, your heart bleeds when she’s lost the will to live, and all of this nuanced decay comes directly from Riva, who puts in a stunning performance (we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Trintignant and Huppert, but it’s Riva that has the almost impossibly difficult task to bear). Will it happen? Hard to say. It’s a crowded field and Helen Mirren (“Hitchcock”), Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”) and Rachel Weisz (“The Deep Blue Sea”) seem to be jockeying for the last slots in this category, but we certainly wouldn’t be mad if she snuck in there for this truly deserving performance.

Take This Waltz Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams - "Take This Waltz"
Given that she's had two nominations in the last two years (for "Blue Valentine" and "My Week With Marilyn," with a supporting nod for "Brokeback Mountain" not too far in the past either), perhaps it's unsurprising that Michelle Williams is sitting the race out this year. But in a young career stuffed with outstanding work, we think the peak so far might have come in Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz" as Margot, a happily married twentysomething who finds temptation away from her husband (Seth Rogen) in the shape of neighbor Luke Kirby. Thanks in part to Polley's writing and direction, it's an extraordinarily detailed portrait of a curiously recognizable woman; a sort of gender inversion of the manchild trope we've seen so often on screen. Somewhat naive and babyish (in part because of her relationship with Rogen), Margot, once she meets Kirby's Daniel, starts to get that grass-is-greener feeling we've all felt at one time or another. The brilliance of Williams' turn here is that she doesn't court any sympathy from the audience (one of the reasons many took so fervently against the film). Margot can be silly, insufferable, frustrating, even a little vacant, and her quest to fill that empty void is clearly not going to end well. And yet Williams never judges or points in one way or another, and because of that, you feel deeply for her. It's a gift of a part, and while it'll go sadly unrecognized by the Academy, we'll cherish it for a long time to come.

Your thoughts? There's obviously a bounty of actors and actresses you submit for your consideration pieces in 2012 and you may see some more from us later in what's left of the year. Follow all our 2012 For Your Consideration pieces here.

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  • Alan | December 20, 2012 11:21 PMReply

    Émilie Dequenne is extraordinary in 'Our Children'. That's a film that zero people will see in the states, but - without extensive makeup - she gives an amazing physical transformation over the course of the film, stripping down layers until she gets to a very vulnerable and dark place, emotionally. That was easily the best performance that I had seen this year, and I hope that international filmmakers will see that role and cast her in prominent projects.

  • Jimbo | December 20, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    Hurray for this article. Michelle Williams, whose previous performances - particularly Marilyn - haven't wowed me especially, gives quite easily the performance of the year, if not many years, for me, in 'Take This Waltz'. She's stunning, and what's more, she isn't playing someone afflicted, or someone with a cause, or someone historical or royal, as most Oscarbaiters are: she's playing an everyday woman. And she does it sensationally.

    But then I've not taken the Oscars seriously since The Ice Storm earned no nominations for doing the same thing.

    Emmanuelle Riva is also incredible but just too out there for Oscar recognition. Good to see The Playlist giving them their dues.

  • Alan | December 21, 2012 5:51 AM

    I have no idea why this happens, but the Academy tends to overlook outstanding work by actresses in favor of obvious awards bait. I have a strong feeling that Mirren will get the nod this year for 'Hitchcock'.

  • Jah | December 20, 2012 6:54 PM

    Michelle Williams was seriously, seriously overlooked for "Wendy & Lucy." That year in particular a lot of strong female performances were overlooked.

  • DG | December 20, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    Agree with all of these wholeheartedly except maybe Williams. Great list tho

  • Andrew | December 20, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    Mary Elizabeth Winstead!

  • Tom Weitz | December 20, 2012 12:17 PMReply

    Lavant is mesmerizing in Holy Motors, my performance of they year. Just to add a few more names who deserve recognition, imo. Mads Mikkelsen in 'The Hunt', and two people might find surprising, Robert Pattinson in 'Cosmopolis' and Jack Black in 'Bernie'.

  • Rodrigo | December 20, 2012 12:30 PM

    The Hunt is technically a 2013 film otherwise, oh man, it would most certainly be here. All of us who have seen it were floored by his performance. I like your other picks too.

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