Sunday, 24 February 2008

Oscars 2008: Regretful and Forgetful Performances

The big names are out for Oscar again this year. What's the big deal?, asks Robert Duffin.

“Who is this French harlot sporting two pillow covers for a frock?!” I’m pretty sure that’s what most people were thinking when they watched Marion Cotillard take the Best Actress BAFTA home for her turn as French warbler Edith Piaf. Olivier Dahan’s La Vie En Rose did modest business after a careful counter programming summer release last year and as a result Cotillard was a relative nobody when she took the red carpet. Ask anyone a few weeks ago and they would have told you Julie Christie was a shoe- in for her performance in Away From Her. Not that anybody actually went to see the Sarah Polly -directed drama either, but people at least knew who Julie Christie was. “Brad Pitt’s mum in Troy, right?”

Both performances are solid, but are typical awards fodder that you see every year. Despite its pointlessly looping narrative, La Vie En Rose can’t hide its standard music biopic storyline that has been so popular in recent years with the likes of Ray and Walk The Line. (Remember that interesting and controversial period during World War II when Piaf was aiding the French resistance? Neither does the revisionist filmmakers.) Cotillard is the soul of the movie, but when she ages and becomes the bug eyed older Piaf (think Catherine Tate doing Amy Winehouse) it becomes a histrionic hair and teeth performance that would make Russell Crowe’s scrotum- faced John Nash at the end of A Beautiful Mind blush.

In the blue corner is the rheumy-eyed Christie, this year’s Peter O’Toole, staring into space and mumbling, “when I look away, I forget what yellow means.” Alzheimer’s is not a topic to take lightly, but Polly’s script rests on such contrivances it’s hard not to see this as Movie of the Week material. Would any care home welcoming a new patient really refuse to let anyone see her for a month? I don’t think so. Polly proves to be a better director than writer, and Christie’s dignity holds the piece up, but I can’t help but feel that Christie’s stature combined with the subject matter guaranteed her a nomination before a frame was screened.

To be fair, the Best Actress categories this year, be it BAFTA or Oscar, are uniformly weak. Ellen Page’s spunky turn in the sharp if shallow Juno will probably be the most watched but is unlikely to win. The perennially nominated Cate Blanchett is the sure fire dud, with no chance of a win for a poorly received film (that, again, nobody saw.) Thankfully though she got pregnant so she could avoid the awards season altogether. No sour face Cate this year. From one medieval superbitch to a WASPish modern day counterpart, Oscar has favoured Laura Linney, nominated for Tamara Jenkins’ forgettable The Savages, which was in cinemas for as long as the ticket ripping usher. BAFTA preferred Keira Knightley for Atonement, but ultimately not as much as Mademoiselle Cotillard. It’s often said there are no good roles for women, and sadly, maybe this year ‘they’ are right. Who will win on Sunday? I reckon Cotillard’s apocalyptic synthesis of music biopic and getting fugly for her art might just clinch it.

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