Here’s my take on the Oscar-nominated best-actresses and the movies they star in, STILL playing at a theater near you! See them before the Oscars are handed out on 2/22!
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Marion Cotillard (Best Actress Oscar winner for LA VIE EN ROSE) stars in “Two Days, One Night” (in French with English subtitles), her glamor (but not her luminosity) tamped down to reveal a performance of earthbound grit and unadorned emotional transparency. Here she plays a lower middle class wife and mother who has just lost her job after her colleagues were offered the choice of a bonus or her dismissal. The entire film finds Cotillard, in the course of one weekend, going door to door, face to face with each of her co-workers, trying to convince them to change their minds, revote on Monday morning against their economic self-interest, and save her job. Can she do it? Could such a premise sustain? With Cotillard’s simple but compelling performance, I hung on every encounter and continually pressed myself for an answer in each case as if I were in their shoes. Not so simple.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Felicity Jones stars in “The Theory of Everything” as the wife of brilliant wheel-chair bound English Physicist Stephen Hawking played by the extraordinary Eddie Redmayne. More romance than science, the film zeroes in on the couple’s relationship, and Felicity Jones proves as smart and steadfast as she is lovely in the role of steadfast partner battling the crippling ALS that destroys her husband’s body but not his mind. Jones rivets our attention in what might have been a secondary part, and radiates the personal courage that it took to hold body and soul together in the early years as Hawking finds his footing in the pantheon of brilliant minds. It’s a performance of subtle wit, dignified compassion, and enormous charm.
Julianne Moore stars in “Still Alice” as a linguistics professor and mother of three who is suddenly diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a quiet film with a devastating performance by the hugely sympathetic Moore who guides us through the experience of an extremely competent woman whose work depends on her intellectual acumen. The movie takes its time tracking the slow erosion of her memory and the various meticulous strategies she uses to compensate as she starts to lose her grip on the world and who she is. Moore also takes us inside this struggle, and we feel her frustration, sadness, anger, and fear at having to relinquish control. In one stunning scene, Alice makes a speech to fellow sufferers that is a formula for living and letting go– which all of us must–Alzheimer’s or not. The ending finds her “still Alice,” and we find ourselves weeping in joy and sadness at Moore’s sensitive performance. She is the front-runner to win the Oscar.
Rosamund Pike stars in “Gone Girl” as Ben Affleck’s missing wife Amy. Based on the runaway best seller– which I didn’t read– the film kept me guessing. Pike is gorgeous, mysterious and tantalizingly opaque in the role, playing it on the edge until we get deeper into the proceedings and the film begins to whip itself into a frenzy of media proportions. Pike is a dazzling presence- we can’t take our eyes off her, her beauty, her intelligence, her surface calm, and inner tension. The film has been re-released in theaters.
Reese Witherspoon stars in “Wild” as a young woman who sets out on an 1100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail– solo–in order to get her head on straight after a life-altering tragedy. To me, Witherspoon is the weakest link in the chain of stunning performances in this category. This film adaptation and Reese’s performance never really get under our skin. Witherspoon has great calves and looks a bit haggard with that giant pack on her back, but it feels more like she’s lost her makeup bag and needs a good blow out, than an emotional/spiritual cleansing. This is an oddly unexpressive performance; despite her wild sexual, and pharmaceutical adventures, I never really felt like I saw her sweat. Not so the great Laura Dern (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) who stars here as Reese’s mother in flashback. Now there’s a heartbreaking performance to be reckoned with.