Archive | February, 2019

Best Actress: Close…Closer…Closest

22 Feb

The Wife marks Glenn Close’s 7th Oscar race. She’s never won and while she might not necessarily be a lock, given strong competition from entertainer extraordinare, ever-fabulous Lady Gaga and her blazing performance in A Star is Born, she might vey well be…you know, closer than she ever has been.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

 

1 The World According to Garp, 1982 (Best Supporting Actress): Before breaking into movies, Close worked steadily in theater, earning a Tony nomination for her featured role in the musical Barnum–opposite Best Actor winner Jim Dale as the fabled showman. Close’s success in that show led to her big screen debut in director George Roy Hill’s adaptation of John Irving’s tremendous best seller. Cast as the titular Garp’s determinedly single mother, Close brought warmth to a role that surely needed it. Nurse Jenny Fields, a feminist icon within Irving’s somewhat twisted conceit, is a humourless–starchy–pragmatist who somehow seems almost virtuous in Close’s capable hands. Also, dig that Close is/was only four years older than Robin Williams, cast as Garp (taking over the role from child actor J.B. McCall once the character reaches adulthood), and, to clarify, Close is not burdened by trying to perform beneath a lot of heavy old-age makeup.

Fresh-faced Close was an early Oscar frontrunner that season, reaping accolades from the likes of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, and the National Society of Film Critics, but the competition, overall, was fierce. For example, Terri Garr and Lesley-Anne Warren, likeable actresses who’d been bubbling along in the business for a bit longer than Close–though not necessarily much older–showed off fine comic chops in the likes of Tootsie and Victor/Victoria, respectively. Meanwhile, acting powerhouse—and previous Best Actress nominee (for 1964’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon)–Kim Stanley made one of her rare big screen appearances as real-life much lamented starlet Frances Framer’s domineering ma in Frances, starring Jessica Lange as the misunderstood Farmer. Ah yes.  That. The same year that Lange sparred futilely with Stanley, she also–and at Stanley’s behest–landed a plum role in Tootsie–alongside Garr. Lange was nominated for both films, a rarity, especially at that time: Best Actress for the searing dramatic role of a lifetime in Frances; Best Supporting Actress for the soft and cuddly soap opera actress who charms Dustin Hoffman’s masquerading heel of an actor in Tootsie. Cynics argue that since Lange had only the slimmest of chances in the Best Actress category, up against Meryl Streep’s colossal efforts as an irredeemably scarred Holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice, the Academy awarded her Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie as a consolation prize; another complaint is that Lange’s role in Tootsie was more leading than supporting, especially when weighted against Garr’s role as Hoffman’s frustrated acting pal. Whatever. I disagree on both counts, but it doesn’t matter. Lange won. Close lost, but she was only getting started.

2 The Big Chill, 1983 (Best Supporting Actress):  A year after her attention-grabbing work in Garp, Close solidified her appeal in writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s seminal seriocomic take on what happens when former hippie radicals from the 1960s begin feeling the effects of everyday life more than a decade after college. What was once daring now seems irresponsible; what was once seen as conformist now reads as stable and good.  Wealth and security are no longer the enemies. They might even be necessary and, once again, good. In Kasdan’s scenario, once close friends, now at least partially estranged due to geography as well as careers and families, reunite under the most unpleasant of circumstances, the tragic passing of a key group member, as charismatic as he was restless. Kasdan populated his flick with some of the hottest up-and-comers of the era, casting Close and Kevin Kline as the so-called “glue,” or mom and pop, of the group, meaning more grounded, less quirky–and, by extension, less comedic.  Reportedly, Kasdan had to coax both Close and Kline into participating due to the fact that characters he envisioned for them lacked the color or obvious appeal of, say, a TV action star in the throes of divorce (Tom Berrenger), a button-down corporate lawyer feeling the stirrings of her biological clock (Mary Kay Place), or a snarky reporter from People (Jeff Goldblum), among others. Instead, Close and Kline, doctor and entrepreneur respectively, seem well-suited for one another and enjoy a enviable life of material comfort.

While The Big Chill did not score unanimous raves, it was generally well-reviewed, thanks to Kasdan and Barabara Benedek’s witty script, and, especially, the lively performances; likewise, the public embraced the movie–it played at my old theatre for a walloping 32 weeks (think about it)–turning the oldies-filled soundtrack into a best seller, ushering a new term into the lexicon, and unofficially inspiring the late 1980s’ TV show thirtysomething. (As well, the movie arrived at about the same time as the ubiquitous term, “Yuppie,” that is young upwardly mobile professionals.) Oscar buzz began building the minute the film hit the screens with one recurring blurb proclaiming that the entire cast should be awarded one great big Oscar.  Alas, Close was the only cast member singled out by the Academy, and it’s easy to see why. The whole lot of them perform splendidly, but Close’s Sara Cooper is arguably the best written role, the only character with a fully developed interior life: affable host (to a full house) on the outside, grieving hardest on the inside, lamenting a former lover who touched her in a way that even her husband can scarcely imagine.  Beautiful. The role was Kasdan’s gift to Close, and she invested her everything into it–once she accepted the challenge.

Despite reams of publicity, The Big Chill only garnered three noms, including Best Picture, yes. If the film had loomed as a stronger contender, overall, Close might have had a better chance. For the second year in a row Close was in a tough race, led by the likes of mind-bendingly good Linda Hunt, crossing the gender line in Peter Weir’s fascinating The Year of Living Dangerously and pop superstar Cher stripping away the glam in a key role–a composite–in the otherwise fact-based Silkwood.  Hunt cleaned-up among the various critics’ associations though Cher nabbed the Golden Globe. Less likely but still worthy: Alfre Woodward (Cross Creek) and Amy Irving (Yentl).  Any of them could have won and no one would have been able to put up too much of an argument–I know I wouldn’t have–but Hunt’s achievement was singular and an Academy first.

3. The Natural, 1984 (Best Supporting Actress):  Barry Levinson’s wondrously scaled, golden-hued tale of a once promising yet seemingly doomed baseball player fighting for redemption during the waning days of the Great Depression, is as much about Bernard Malamud’s mythic 1952 novel, a bitter pill, that, as it is about star Robert Redford’s enduring “Golden Boy” persona. Purists balked at Levinson’s changes, but his choice of reshaping the material as a movie lover’s valentine to Redford made the flick an audience favorite.  Close portrays the one seemingly irrefutably “good” woman in Roy Hobbs’ life–among a trio of otherwise vexed encounters–although she is not without a secret of her own. Iris, that’s her name, seems to serve one purpose: to inspire Hobbs to be a better baseball player and a more honorable man. It’s a thinly written role, and Close once lamented that it, along with Jenny Fields and Sara Cooper, was too First Ladyish, but she makes it work due to some marvelous underplaying and genuine rapport with Redford; plus she’s lovingly lit and framed by master cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Oscar nominated then–and this year as well) . She even looks great in her period wardrobe.

Even so, a third consecutive nomination–and for a popular entry with multiple nods (but not, alas, for Redford in a signature role)–was not the ticket, not in the same year as Dame Peggy Ashcroft’s bravura turn as the increasingly agitated, nearly prophetic, Mrs. Moore in A Passage to India, one of the year’s leading Best Picture contenders (11 nominations) and Geraldine Page, still winless after 6 previous tries, devouring the screen in a smallish role with big emotions in The Pope of Greenwich Village. To the surprise of no one Ashcroft won, nary a false note in that performance, and Page had to wait one more year to be so celebrated. Close’s fellow nominees also included Christine Lahti, sashaying her way through Goldie Hawn vehicle Swing Shift, and Lindsay Crouse as Sally Field’s dutifully supportive sister (one with her own unfortunate sub-plot) in Places in the Heart, another Best Picture nominee. Of course, Lahti and Crouse continued to give strong performances in films and TV, but Close was on the verge of graduating to true big league stardom. (Meanwhile, I’ve longed believed that Amy Madigan, also in Places in the Heart, was more deserving of a nod than was Crouse, but I digress.)

The early to mid 1980s were particularly productive for Close as she triumphed on Broadway, earning a Best Actress in a Play Tony for Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing (1984), starred in landmark made for TV movie Something about Amelia (garnering Emmy and Golden Globe nominations), and graduated to big screen leading roles with back-to-back feature films in 1985.  Comic Maxie afforded her the opportunity to play dual roles as a the ghost of a 1920s flapper and a timid, no-nonsense housewife. The movie tanked though it has its admirers–and I know a few of them; nonetheless, it was a good showcase for Close and netted Golden Globe and Saturn nominations. At the same instant, Close starred opposite Jeff Bridges in the walloping legal thriller Jagged Edge, which scared and teased enthusiastic audiences into submission. I’ll admit that the movie gave me more than a few goosebumps–and a scary ride home with a friend after a midnight screening–but, even so, I found it a tad predictable, and Close’s performance as an attorney defending a sleazy client in a high profile murder case didn’t click for me. Nonetheless, it made a fortune, and Columbia Pictures lobbied hard for Oscar consideration though the effort failed–at least regarding Close. Robert Loggia, as a crusty investigator, nailed a Best Supporting Actor nod. Good for him. Even though Close was out of that year’s Oscar race, Jagged Edge‘s success no doubt helped her land her most iconic role.

4. Fatal Attraction, 1987 (Best Actress): Surely the most polarizing movie of 1987, Adrian Lyne’s steamy, sensational thriller about a one-night stand with terrifying consequences proved Close’s game-changer, besides introducing yet another term into the lexicon. As “Alex Forrest,” a seductive book editor brimming with dangerous energy who casts her alluring sights on a married lawyer, Close firmly established herself as a major player and smashed any notions of being able to only portray genteel First Lady types. The movie was everywhere in the fall of ’87 and even into early ’88: magazine covers, TV talk shows, you name it–and that was before the Internet as we now know it. Some analysts portrayed the flick as a metaphor for AIDS during a particularly fearful time while others blasted its sexual politics, demonizing a woman who is just as culpable in an illicit fling as is the married man (Michael Douglas) who breaks his vow (to saucy Anne Archer) but does not suffer consequences to the same degree. (Include me among those naysayers.) No matter. Word of mouth was killer-diller and audiences could not get enough. Easy to see why. Everything about Fatal Attraction is heightened: the sex, the atmosphere, the camera work, the editing and sound mixing–and, most of all, Close’s character. Not just her acting, but the whole conception of the character, her snaky blonde tendrils and over the top wardrobe, very much in the mode of 80s bigger is better styling. Close, who only landed the role after several other actresses were either uninterested or unavailable, immersed  herself into researching the psychological makeup of women like Alex, only to see her efforts undercut by a ghoulishly freaky ending, shot well after production had seemingly wrapped–and two previous endings were rejected as not delivering enough bang for the buck. Again, the naysayers pounced, calling b.s. on a preposterous third-act turn that sacrificed irony and insight for cheap thrills as Hollywood became more corporatized than ever and “high concept” became the hallmark. A friend once dismissed it as Peyton Place meets Night of the Living Dead.  I think the movie would have still worked, and would have still been a hit, without the slam bang finale, but we’ll never know. Despite the many, many negatives that Fatal Attraction invites, I don’t think, in retrospect, the Academy would have erred in honoring Close’s performance though, again, I did not feel that way at the time.

A couple of oddities marked the race for the 1987/88 Best Actress Oscar. For example, Meryl Streep continued exploring a wide array of roles in the little seen Ironweed, playing a Depression era derelict, full of dashed dreams. Streep was powerfully good though her role was clearly secondary to top billed Jack Nicholson, but even with top tier talent including author William Kennedy’s Pulitzer, the relentlessly downbeat film was a hard sell and tanked without much notice. Academy telecast viewers surely recognized Streep among the nominees but probably had no recollection of Ironweed. Sally Kirkland, an actress who’d worked consistently for a good long while without attracting a lot of mainstream attention, despite being well regarded within the industry as both performer and acting coach, commanded laudatory reviews for Anna, a low-budget indie scarcely seen outside the film festival circuit, save for obligatory Academy qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles.  Galvanized by high praise, Kirkland campaigned vigorously, sinking her own money into trade ads galore. Seemingly through sheer will, she propelled herself into a leading contender though, again, audiences watching that year’s ceremony were probably confused. Who? What? Holly Hunter weighed in as the hotshot newcomer, per James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News, but despite Hunter’s obvious promise–since fulfilled–she paled in the company of pros Close and Cher (Moonstruck).  At the time, Cher was enjoying a career rebirth, firmly establishing herself as a full-blown movie star with three major films in the span of one year; plus, swoony Moonstruck was a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy–with rhapsodic reviews–in which the pop diva made a game attempt at adopting a Brooklyn accent and successfully played against her flamboyant image in the role of a no-nonsense, unapologetically pragmatic bookkeeper experiencing unexpected stirrings of grand passion.  At that moment, America was yet again in love with Cher, rooting for her. Close’s film, and her performance in it, didn’t inspire that kind of admiration. That noted, Close deserves credit for her singular contribution to a film that became a cultural milestone…meanwhile, let it be noted, that while Cher’s hold on the public’s imagination seldom wavers, her film career peaked with Moonstruck per the random smattering of projects in the interim.

5. Dangerous Liaisons, 1988 (Best Actress): French author Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos’s 18th century epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses served as the basis for British playwright’s Christopher Hampton’s hit theatrical adaptation, netting a passel of Tony awards and launching the stateside career of Alan Rickman. Hollywood called, Rickman bolted for a juicy role in Die Hard, and Hampton adapted his own play with the anglicized title,  Dangerous Liaisons. Close, fresh from her triumph in Fatal Attraction. seemed ideally cast as the cunning  Marquise de Merteuil, whose need for spite, for control, motivates her to treat even those near and allegedly dear to her as though they were nothing more than petty amusements, lacking agency among their own affairs. Close is brilliant as the Marquise, slyly underplaying like a tightly wound coil until the point of no return, at which she surrenders her defenses and allows her emotions to spew, to burn, to rage.

Period pics are always a gamble in corporate Hollywood, especially in such cases wherein men sport poufy wigs, tri-cornered hats, fancy jackets, stockings, and knickers, but Dangerous Liaisons, replete with the finest trappings, turned out to be surprisingly commercial, especially in its ability to draw repeat viewers–as oh so many of my friends–and I–can attest. Close’s magnificent performance was certainly worthy of an Academy award, but that year’s race for Best Actress was as tight as the previous year’s had been wobbily. Setting aside Meryl Streep (A Cry in the Dark) and Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist), two fine actress turning in exceptional performances, all the heat came from Close, Melanie Griffith (Working Girl), and Jodie Foster (The Accused). Regarding Griffith, her film was a lark of a comedy, a cross between All About Eve and 9 to 5, that no doubt benefitted from director Mike Nichols’s expertise, 20th Century Fox’s splashy promotional campaign, strong word of mouth, and the general public’s fascination with star Griffith, buoyed by tabloid headlines regarding her then recent stint in rehab and apparent rekindled romance with first hubby, TV and film actor Don Johnson. Griffith’s star power was undeniable. In the end, though, Foster triumphed. An easy call in retrospect; after all, Academy voters, in step with the rest of the country, had either grown up with Foster–yours truly–or had watched her grow up in movies and on TV over two decades and were rooting for her to succeed, especially given the challenges she’d faced when attempting grown-up roles after taking time off for college.  At a mere 5’3″, Foster commanded movie screens giving a fearless, no-holds barred performance as a rape victim trying to correct her reputation after the legal system serves expediency rather than justice–inspired by, but only loosely based upon, a true story.  Simply, after seeing Foster muscle through The Accused‘s punishing demands, Academy members felt good about honoring her achievement–even amid such formidable competition. Come awards night, Foster delivered a memorable speech that effectively justified the Academy’s faith in her. Mission accomplished. Foster had arrived, and superstardom followed. On the other hand, Close took a different course

Foster would win a second Oscar a mere three years after her first victory; however, Close would not be in another Oscar race for more than two decades.  To clarify,  after Dangerous Liaisons, Glenn Close continued to star (or co-star) in high profile films, including Reversal of Fortune along with Franco Zefferelli’s Hamlet, and Disney’s campy live action reboot of classic 101 Dalmatians, chewing the scenery as legendary baddie Cruella DeVille–earning a Golden Globe nomination in the process. Broadway beckoned, again, and Close won Tony awards for a “straight” play (Death and the Maiden) as well as a lavish musical (assuming the coveted role of neurotic silent screen star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, a role which she recently revisited more than a decade after its original run). On TV, Close regularly flexed her versatility in the likes of Hallmark’s highly lauded Sarah, Plain and Tall, a major Emmy contender, along with a couple of Emmy winners: Serving in Silence: the Margarethe Cammermeyer Story (based on a landmark case involving the constitutionality of banning gays and lesbians from joining the military), and Damages, a legal procedural series in which Close starred as a scruples impaired lawyer for five seasons. She even took on the role of Nellie Forbush in a teleadaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical South Pacific. Once the aforementioned Damages wrapped, Close was ripe for a big screen return.

6. Albert Nobbs, 2011 (Best Actress): Close’s most recent Oscar nod came for this mild curio, in which she effectively starred as a trans man, well before there was even such a term, working as a butler in Dublin, circa, say, 1890.  Nobbs has worked hard to reinvent himself and is generally successful though that has also come with the hefty price, meaning a life of loneliness. His goal, to borrow from Gosford Park, is to be the perfect servant, meaning to anticipate a client’s needs while also allowing that disappearing into the background is the better part of valor. Whatever its merits, Albert Nobbs was a dream project for Close as she donned additional duties as co-producer and co-screenwriter, adapting the script from a play by French playwright Simone Benmussa–itself based on a novella published in the 1920s by George Moore. Close had actually starred in an Off-Broadway staging of the play in the early 1980s, around the time of The World According to Garp, and even netted an Obie award (that is, the  Off-Broadway equivalent of a Tony). Not bad. She spent years trying to make the film happen, and the Academy recognized her diligence accordingly, but the film isn’t an unqualified success. Close’s performance is a bit too mannered, too obviously actor-ish, drawing more attention to the effort involved than to necessarily illuminating anything within the character. It didn’t help Close’s chances that she was all-but blown off the screen by cast mate–and Best Supporting Actress nominee–Janet McTeer, who had just the right amount of swagger in a role similar to Close’s Nobbs, meaning born female but successfully living as a male. Now, that was a performance, practically seamless.

Close generated a lot of goodwill with this big screen comeback of sorts, but she stood almost no chance of going home with an Oscar in a year dominated by Viola Davis, making a leap to super-stellar status in the humongously popular The Help (from the runway best seller by Kathleen Stockett), and Meryl Streep, working extra hard to humanize former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, often referred to The Iron Lady, a nickname not always used affectionately among Thatcher’s detractors. Streep, already a two-time winner, dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, was well overdue for a third Oscar after more than a dozen nominations in the interim. The Iron Lady film itself is a mixed bag, as much a curio as Close’s project, but it was the right vehicle for Streep and at the right time, apparently. If she hadn’t won, Davis would have been the likely beneficiary, and well deserved. Close was back in the game, but she watched from the sidelines with Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, an especially generous choice on the part of the Academy…and I typically appreciate Williams). Not only that, but did I mention that Close was all-but blown off the screen by cast mate–and Best Supporting Actress nominee–Janet McTeer, who had just the right amount of swagger…

Now, we have The Wife, in which Close is jaw-droppingly, staggeringly good as a woman who has spent the better part of her adult life playing the unsung helpmate to her acclaimed novelist husband, recently selected as a Nobel Prize winner for literature. We all know the old adage, “Behind every great man, there’s a woman,” and that is what this tale, based on Meg Wolitzer’s same-named novel, gets at as Close and her husband (Jonathan Pryce) travel to Stockholm for the award ceremony. A series of flashbacks, in which Close’s younger self is portrayed by her real-life daughter Annie Starke (a fine lookalike),  details the couple’s courtship and subsequent partnership, the end goal being to elevate and maintain the husband’s literary profile. The relationship, flawed as it is, works until it doesn’t. The mere pressure of being in a foreign country while dealing with the fine protocol of what is expected at such a prestigious international event builds to the breaking point as Close is generally ignored–when not being condescended to–and Pryce’s ego runs amok. Close is expected to be the dutiful, deferential, caretaker, and/or troubleshooter. Easier said than done. She’s hardly a pushover.

Is Close “a lock”? I don’t think she is in spite of a bevy of prizes, including the Golden Globe for Drama, the SAG award, and a tie with Lady Gaga for the Critics’ Choice awards, among a host of other honors. She’s been endearingly gracious in all her televised acceptance speeches, and that fosters additional goodwill. Six previous nominations notwithstanding she’s in an uphill climb as her film, directed by Björn L Runge and adapted by Emmy winner Jane Anderson, is hardly a box-office blockbuster, and that’s an understatement. On the other hand, Lady Gaga, updating a role made famous  by the likes of Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand (none of whom won Oscars for their performances), is in a blockbuster, but she’s also not a sure thing; after all, Ms. Gaga is also nominated for co-writing her movie’s anthemic power-ballad “Shallow,” which means, at least in theory, the Academy can honor Gaga as a songwriter (as was the case with Streisand), clearing the way to a more assured victory for Close. There’s also the matter, recently addressed by a few critics as well as Camille Paglia, that in Bradley Cooper’s version of the familiar showbiz tale, for which he directed, co-wrote, co-produced and starred, the emphasis, for once, is more squarely on the male superstar doomed in a downward spiral of addiction rather than the ascendant female whose love for her man is no match for his addiction, in spite of both their best intentions. Gaga is truly a force, but her role seems secondary to Cooper’s, and it’s an awkward balance compared to the way Close dominates her film.

The only nominee who seems truly down for the count is Melissa McCarthy, charting all new dramatic territory as infamous literary forger Lee Israel in Can You ever Forgive Me? We’re all happy for McCarthy’s success, now that she has moved beyond the in your face brand of raucous comedies that followed her breakout success–and Best Supporting Actress nomination–in 2011’s Bridesmaids, but the nomination is likely its own reward.  Olivia Colman (The Favourite) and Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) have the benefit of appearing in the two most nominated flicks of the year, 10 each, which raises their respective profiles, and Aparicio, the first ever indigenous person to be nominated for Best Actress, is a Cinderella story in the making as Roma is also her film debut. On the other hand, versatile, much-admired Brit Colman is an upset waiting to happen as she transforms herself into The Favourite‘s real-life grotesque Queen Anne. Even so, in spite of the fact that there is no story without Queen Anne, the role itself is secondary to the dueling supplicants portrayed by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. The movie is more about them than it is about the queen herself. How to reconcile that?

I think it’s a mistake for skeptics to assume that if Close wins, it will be a well-intended “career” acknowledgement rather than an achievement specific to her particular performance in The Wife.  The complexity of her character, the nuance, and the full range of emotions Close brings is beyond compare, really. Especially up against the more familiar trajectory of A Star is Born, in which a brilliant pop-star plays….a pop-star, albeit brilliantly. Is that an achievement?  A local TV host summed it best just a few days ago, explaining that, yes, she was skeptical about all The Wife hoopla–until she actually saw The Wife, and then she knew. Look at the play of conflicting emotions in Close’s face even when she isn’t speaking. Acting gold, if you will, but words barely do Close justice. As the TV host noted, The Wife has to be seen to be fully appreciated; after that, the competition is not even…..well, you know.

Thanks for your consideration…

 

 

 

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Best Supporting: To SAG or Not To SAG ?

11 Feb

Well, the Screen Actors Guild awards, also slangily known as the SAGs, were not much help as a prognostication tool regarding this year’s Best Supporting Actress and Actor awards.

Here is what we know. Once known exclusively as SAG, the labor union representing 160, 000 entertainment industry professionals, everything from high profile TV and movie stars to DJs, broadcast journalists, puppeteers, and voiceover artists, is now officially recognized as SAG-AFTRA, following a merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The organization dates back to the 1930s, founded practically in protest of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but has only been producing an annual televised awards ceremony for about 25 years.

The SAGs might be a more reliable barometer of Oscar voting than the much hyped Golden Globes for the simple fact that members of the Academy’s acting branch most definitely overlap as members of SAG. Of course, the guild encompasses a much larger voting body that also spans markets all across the U.S., allowing for more voices outside the Hollywood hierarchy; nonetheless, the groups share a relatively small but influential membership.

Do the SAGs and the Oscars always match up? Not always, but often, though some categories are more standard in that regard than others. For example, the last two SAG winners for Best Supporting Actor, Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards…) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) triumphed at the Oscars; however, Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln, 2012) and Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls, 2006) are two high-profile exceptions–among many. On the other hand, Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, 1997) is an example of a performer whose work had gone relatively unrecognized during that year’s award season until he won the SAG–and then the Oscar. On the other hand, one has to go all the way back to Kate Winslet who won a SAG as a supporting player for 2008’s The Reader, to find a split for Best Supporting Actress between the SAGs and the Oscars, the twist being that the Academy nominated Winslet as a leading player for the same role–and for which she won. But I digress. Winslet’s bump to Best Actress worked out well for Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona) in the supporting category, btw.

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In a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion, Best Supporting Actress nominee Regina King shared a story about how when she was a child on TV’s 227, star Marla Gibbs stressed the importance of always being present for other actors in a scene, advice she clearly heeds during tense, awkward confrontations in If Beale Street Could Talk. (IMAGE: https://kidskunst.info/linked/regina-king-on-if-beale-street-could-talk-and-the-power-726567696e61.htm)

Here is what happened in the Best Supporting Actress category at the recent SAG awards. Magnificent Regina King, whom we’ve all loved and watched grow up in movies and TV for decades (227, Boyz n the Hood, Friday, Jerry Maguire, Ray, Southland, and so much more), has dominated voting for much of the season thanks to her work in If Beale Street Could Talk as a devoted mom, circa 1974, trying to do the best she can in an unsettling situation (pregnant daughter whose boyfriend, and also the baby’s father, is apparently falsely accused of a crime and awaits a retrial in jail) . Her character is a woman on a mission, but the mission overwhelms her, especially when she embarks on a last ditch effort for redemption in Puerto Rico. Brilliant stuff. Even with a Globe and a Critics’ Choice award, among a whopping handful of accolades, King was somehow overlooked by SAG voters–surprising, that, given that she has worked steadily on both big and small screens for so long–and so well, earning three Emmys in the process (two seasons of American Crime and again in Seven Seconds).

With King out of the running for the SAG award, interest seemingly shifted to Amy Adams, for her portrayal of Lynne Vincent Cheney, wife of former VP Dick Cheney in Vice. Between leading and supporting categories (specific to film as opposed to TV), Adams has been nominated for the SAG award eight times, winning only as part of the American Hustle ensemble during the 2013-2014 derby; likewise, Adams has never won an Oscar in 5 previous races, the most recent being a run for Best Actress, per, once again,  2013’s American Hustle.

Adams seemed like a lock for the SAG trophy, a move which might have jump-started an Oscar victory, but the award failed to materialize. Instead, the guild honored ever-versatile Emily Blunt for playing the expectant mom–who indeed goes into labor while being stalked by massive creepy crawlies–in last spring’s terrific thriller The Quiet Place. Blunt was a “wow” in the demanding role. Of course, she was as she almost always is, but the trouble is, c’mon, she was clearly a star player in the enterprise (directed by her co-star and real-life hubby Jonathan Krasinski), and to even consider her as anything less is rubbish–AND an insult to young Millicent Simmonds as Blunt and Krasinski’s resourceful daughter, a true supporting player. No fair. The twist in all of this is that Blunt is out of the running for an Oscar, so with Adams still trying to muster momentum, the heavy betting likely favors King, keeping in mind that director Barry Jenkins clearly has the winning touch per his work with Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) only two years ago.

I can’t imagine that either Rachel Weisz or Emma Stone, effectively star players slumming as supporting aspirants, has much hope for The Favourite–even though the film is one of the year’s top nominees (10 nods, including Best Picture). Both are previous Oscar winners, with Weisz earning a most deserved win for 2005’s The Constant Gardener (supporting) and Stone only two years out from capturing Best Actress honors for La La Land. Stone, in particular, is too big to be handed a Oscar as a supporting player so soon after her first victory, but neither actress deserves supporting actress consideration in a film in which they–not the real life queen portrayed by Best Actress nominee Olivia Colman–drive the plot. The Favourite is an oddity in that it really has three leads, the gag being that without Colman’s Queen Anne, there cannot be a story, yet she is simply a prize, a dupe, even, to the women who manipulate her in a game of outfoxing each other. With neither actress offering Academy voters a compelling reason to choose one over the other, the likely scenario is that they will split votes. What a waste.

Roma‘s Marina de Tavira figures as the question mark in this guessing game. The Mexico City native, well established at home (per a previous pair of awards from the Mexican Cinema Journalists), plays employer to Best Actress nominee Yalitza Aparcio in director Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in the 1970s; effectively, Tavira portrays a character based on the director’s mother.  Besides the merits of the performance itself, Tavira benefits from being a fresh-face to many Academy voters, meaning less actressy without baggage from previous efforts. Plus, her film’s 10 nominations, comparable to those of The Favourite, signify strong support within the Academy, and who knows how that might play out on the final ballot.

The Academy’s generosity toward Weisz and Stone comes at the expense of gifted actresses who wowed audiences in true supporting, or featured, roles, beginning with Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina (standouts in the incredibly overlooked Crazy Rich Asians), as well as Danai Gurira, thrilling as Black Panther‘s Okoye.   A fun longshot would have been Michelle Williams in I Feel Pretty.  Williams, often strong in Oscar nominated dramas (such as 2016’s Manchester by the Sea), demonstrates enviable comic chops as a squeaky voiced cosmetics tycoon, sharply contrasting her work as the embattled mom fighting for her kidnapped son’s life in 2017’s All the Money in the World (for which a fifth Oscar nod would have been just), but I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer, performed only mildly at the box-office, not enough to qualify as a true achievement–though attention grabbing roles in blockbusters clearly didn’t favor Yeoh, Awkwafina, or Gurira.

Mahershala Ali, meanwhile, appears to be a lock for Best Supporting Actor, thanks to his masterful turn in Green Book as real-life pianist Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American in need of a chauffeur–i.e, bodyguard–during an early 1960s concert tour through still deeply segregated states in the southern U.S..  As noted, Ali won in this same category just two years ago for Moonlight, playing a drug dealer who takes on, uneasily, the role of a mentor to a young boy, struggling for acceptance in a chaotic world. Ali’s work in Green Book is worlds removed from Moonlight–and worlds removed, furthermore, from his role as Katherine Johnson’s (Taraji P. Henson) gallant suitor in the blockbuster Hidden Figures, released the same year as Moonlight. As Dr. Shirley, Ali’s great at conveying the character’s artful management of his own identity, always performing; plus, he credibly manages the dexterity required to portray a pianist. He has a Golden Globe, a SAG, a Broadcast Film Critics Association award, among others, to prove it. Additionally, he’s garnering extra attention right now thanks to his leading role in the revived True Detective series. Good for him.

Still, I think it’s a cheat that he’s being, what, shoe-horned into the Best Supporting Actor category for a film in which he clearly stars as a co-lead, sharing the screen with Viggo Mortensen, as Tony Vallelonga (aka Tony Lip), Dr. Shirley’s driver–a bouncer in need of a short-term gig while his usual post—the famed Copacabana–undergoes remodeling. Yes, Mortensen’s character is the audience’s path into the story, so he has a few minutes more screen time than Ali, but without Ali’s Dr. Shirley there is no story, which means Ali is, at least, a second lead. Of course, this is how studio interference and the politics of marketing manipulate and even corrupt Academy voting. Rather than honoring both men equally, the studios split them, affording, yes, better chances of BOTH winning, but also securing Ali out of Mortensen’s way and increasing the latter’s odds as the now three time Best Actor nominee is, so far, winless. But buzz for Mortensen has faded after a strong start (due, no doubt, to some unfortunate–ignorant–comments he made regarding racism, using the actual N-word when he could have just used the euphemistic “N-word” instead, and everyone would have gotten the point). At any rate, Ali might enjoy the last laugh. Not that any of this is a laughing matter.

Ali’s biggest competitor is none other than legendary hunk and damned fine actor Sam Elliott, up for his role as Bradley Cooper’s much put upon older brother–and general caretaker–in A Star is Born. The two actors’ performances are perfectly calibrated, a nifty feat. Of course, Elliott has been a working actor for, gosh, decades, with credits in movies and TV going all the way back to 1969’s Judd for the Defense (at least). His many, many credits include a season of TV’s classic Mission Impossible along with 1993’s righteous Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday; Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for Buffalo Girls, plus the likes of Mask and The Big Lebowski, along starring roles in acclaimed indie films, such as Lifeguard, Hero, and I’ll See You in My Dreams. Oh, and this veteran of oh so many cowboy flicks is a six time honoree, per the Western Heritage Awards. This is his first Oscar nomination and while I do not believe for an instant that he can’t triumph here–and Academy history shows that veteran actors do quite well in this category–I also freely admit that I blinked when he didn’t win the SAG award, and, yes, to clarify, he was nominated. I expected a win, given Elliot’s reputation and longevity–his popularity among actors in all media (including voiceovers)–but maybe Elliot like, say, oh, Harrison Ford, for one, is so good at what he does that it never seems like acting. Whatever. No, he’s not down for the count yet and if he wins, good for him.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) on his first ever nod, as well. The lanky Brit, of Swazi descent, has been a vibrant presence in movies and TV, in the U.S. and abroad, since the 1980s with key roles in Withnail and I, The Player, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Gosford Park, and, of course, Game of Thrones, among many, many others. Alas, I haven’t seen Grant’s nominated offering, for one reason or another, but, even so, I like him enough as a performer to be all about the nod even if only in the abstract. I can’t imagine NOT being thrilled if he wins, but his chances remain slim against the likes of Ali and Elliot.

The rest of the lot doesn’t offer much excitement. I’m a fan of Adam Driver, nominated for his role as John David Washington’s white ally in BlacKkKlansman, but I’m not rooting for him, either. Driver, of course, has already earned plenty of recognition for his work in the TV series Girls (3 Emmy nods), Hungry Heart (Best Actor, Venice Film Festival), Paterson (LA Film Critics, Toronto Critics), and, of course his villainous turn in the recent spate of Star Wars flicks. His nod here is a nice touch; nice, but goofy, given that Washington was overlooked by the Academy for his most compelling performance in the leading role. Given that, it’s hard to work up much excitement for Driver.  Least likely? Sam Rockwell, last year’s winner (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), back again for impersonating no less than President George W. Bush to Christian Bale’s Dick Cheney in Vice. Merits of the film aside, what are the odds of back-to-back wins? Not great. The last time in this category, specifically, was when Jason Robards triumphed  first portraying Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in 1976’s All the President’s Men and then following that up by taking on the role of popular novelist Dashiell Hammett in Julia (1977). I don’t think Rockwell’s work approaches the same level of gravitas–not compared to Ali and, yes, Elliot. (To clarify, Tom Hanks won back-to-back Best Actor trophies for 1993’s Philadelphia and 1994’s Forrest Gump.)

With Rockwell practically guaranteed to go home empty handed, his nod seems a bit of a waste. I would have loved for Jonah Hill to have been recognized with a third nomination in this category for reinventing himself in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, giving an extremely affable performance as a fey guru-12 step sponsor to Joaquin Phoenix’s recovering wheelchair bound alcoholic . Hill, last in an Oscar race for 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, has rarely seemed so relaxed–unforced–onscreen; plus, he seemed to have generated heaps of goodwill for his feature length directorial debut, Mid90s. Alas, his only awards consideration has been a nomination from the Indiana Film Critics Association.

I’m pulling for Regina King, SAG or no, and I’ll be fine with either Mahershala Ali or Sam Elliot. It would be hard to begrudge victories for Amy Adams, possibly Marina de Tavira, or even Grant…hard to begrudge, mind you, but not impossible.

Thanks for your consideration.