Oscar Watch: Bening Could Beat Portman, Exclusive The Kids Are All Right Video, Tribute Q & A

by Anne Thompson
February 10, 2011 3:55 AM
12 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
Annette Bening is a classy theater actress who came late to movies--she was almost 30 when she took her first lead role in Milos Forman's Valmont. She went on to work for future husband Warren Beatty on Bugsy and Love Affair, and had three Oscar-nominated roles, in Stephen Frears' The Grifters, Sam Mendes' American Beauty and Istvan Szabo's Being Julia before landing a fourth for Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right.

That career longevity--and her popularity as a class act in Hollywood--gives Bening a good shot at beating Natalie Portman for best actress, for playing a cuckolded lesbian parent in The Kids Are All Right (see our exclusive clip below). The Oscars can be a popularity contest, and the warmth in the room at Monday's Academy Luncheon and last week's tribute in Santa Barbara attest to the good will heading Bening's way. While Bening and Portman won Comedy and Drama, respectively, at the Golden Globes, Portman won the SAG Award for her best performance to date in Black Swan, which marks a high degree of difficulty. But Portman was snarky to the Academy lunch press about being asked sartorial questions, and is turning up in too many movies of late. The Oscar is hers to lose. But Bening could steal it.

"I know how fleeting it all is," she told moderator Roger Durling at Santa Barbara, where her Open Range director, Kevin Costner, presented her with the Riviera award that went to Sandra Bullock last year. "Some movies work out and sometimes they don't. When something comes together, the way [The Kids Are All Right] has, it's a great celebration."

Most Oscars come because there is a money scene that begs for recognition. Bening swiftly saw that the dinner sequence when she realizes her partner (Julianne Moore) has cheated on her could be key, "if we got the rest of the movie right," she said. "I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach." She praised Cholodenko for keeping things "very simple. Lisa is so quiet with the camera. When the camera comes in [for a close-up] it's such a luxury. You can go inside somebody. A close-up is a joy. You do feel very exposed."

While she loved the dense, rich dialogue in Bugsy and Aaron Sorkin's American President, she has learned that film, as opposed to her first love, theater, is less about parsing the text and more about the visuals. "I love the athleticism of theater," she said. She has played Medea and Hedda Gabler on the stage of late. In film, "less is more." Silence is golden. "Great movie directors don't say a lot. They don't have to pull it out of you. They create an atmosphere where something feels organic." The practicalities of filmmaking dictate that "you have to learn to be ready when they are ready."

Clearly Bening is not worrying about how she looks in these films. She displays a lack of vanity in those close-ups. She has often played characters sans make-up and at age 52, has not resorted to any cosmetic surgery. "I never thought about what I looked like when I was acting. It's liberating to say, 'I'm not going to worry about it.'" She puts herself the hands of the director, character, story. "You are the character's advocate, their ally. You don't have to judge them, just get behind their point-of-view and empathize. All of us aren't always at our best. We sometimes have a hard time, a problem."

Bening thought less about the fact that The Kids Are All Right was about two lesbians than the story of keeping a family together, which "felt organic," she said. "I hope the movie opens hearts and minds." (Here's my earlier flip cam interview with Bening.)

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12 Comments

  • Willie | February 19, 2011 7:49 AMReply

    Can't Annette be our White Swan, and Natalie our Black Swan?

  • Afrika | February 12, 2011 5:30 AMReply

    Portman fanboys are rabid and ridiculous. Team Annette all day. I am sick of these excessive and melodramatic performances winning actors. Whatever happened to "acting"? The scene at the dinner table, when Nic finally discovers the secret is the stuff great actors are made of. Nic's reaction, quiet and explosive, deserves an Oscar for Annette. No weight loss, no making out with a girl, no masturbation, no ballet stunt double, no melodramatic outburst, JUST INGENIOUS ACTING.

  • Jon | February 11, 2011 1:36 AMReply

    Can someone explain to me why Annette deserves to win without saying she hasn't won yet, and without making a reference to her previous work? I'm just curious, because I thought that every other nominee, and some actresses that weren't even nominated (i.e. Lesley Manville, Tilda Swnton) were far better than Bening.

  • Gina | February 10, 2011 11:45 AMReply

    I agree with Anne. Annette is going to win it all the way!

  • Chris | February 10, 2011 10:54 AMReply

    I felt the same way when Sandra Bullock was being pushed down everyone's throats for what was a mediocre performance in an average movie. The excuse was she was overdue, the same one everyone is using for Annette Bening. I agree everyone deserves the right to speak freely about who they support. And yes I'm a male who supports Portman, but I'm gay so what she looks like has nothing to do with it. She gave a much better performance then Bening in my opinion.

  • Annie | February 10, 2011 10:49 AMReply

    And I love how people come to Anne's blog to trash on her for liking Bening when so many other bloggers from Sasha Stone to Jeff Wells to Kris Tapley to Tom O'Neill have been pushing Portman.

  • Annie | February 10, 2011 10:47 AMReply

    I know this may come as a great shock to some of the Portman fanboys (most who just hapoen to be males) but many people believe Annette Bening, Jennifer Lawrence, and even Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams were better than Portman. Your right it has nothing to do with personality.

    This race should have NEVER been as open and shut as the precursors and bloggers made it out to me.

  • B.W. | February 10, 2011 9:32 AMReply

    Anne you should become an actress and then you could cast your vote for Annette.

    It's not a personality contest it's to determine the best performance by an actress in a leading role in 2010.

    In the words of Monique last year, I'm sure the voting academy will "do the right thing."

  • Annie | February 10, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    What is causing you to think this may happen Anne? Are you getting this sense when talking to voters? Thats how you called the Kings Speech surge.

    I see the same Portman losers show up every time posts anything positive about Bening on the blogs. That alone makes me want to see Portman lose to anyone.

  • Chris | February 10, 2011 6:14 AMReply

    Too many things are in Natalie Portman's favor to win this award. I know you love Annette's performance Anne, but at the end of the day "The Kids are all Right" didn't have the same impact with audiences that "Black Swan" did. I believe Natalie will also win the BAFTA award, and it's pretty much in the bag for her.

  • jt | February 10, 2011 5:55 AMReply

    Give it up, Anne Thompson ! Your Favorite , Annette Bening, will not win the Gold man at this upcoming Oscars. Plus, she didn't deserve the Oscar nomination ; she gives very chilly & hideous acceptance speeches ( which will hurt her Oscar chances more) .

    I would love for the Oscar- worthy Nicole Kidman surprise with an upset.

  • David | February 10, 2011 4:50 AMReply

    I don`t see it Portman`s role is just too big to ignore at this point i know you like the kids are all right but come to your senses anne.

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