Academy of One: Best Actress in a Leading Role 2012

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

Experience and inexperience often come up against each other as one of the most divisive reasons for not choosing someone or something.

For my purposes, inexperience often refers to the raw talent within a performer to excel despite not having worked their way into their position. With regards to this category I’m referring to one of the youngest nominees ever Quvenzhane Wallis and to a woman we know as having accomplished an incredible amount in a very short time, two time (at this point) nominee Jennifer Lawrence.

Also, here, experience refers to an actress who has made her career working and performing for a significant portion of her life. Of course, I’m referring to one of the oldest nominees, Emmanuelle Riva, and one of the best actresses of her generation, Naomi Watts.

Then there’s the last nominee who’s an amalgam of the two, Jessica Chastain, who has been working steadily since she graduated Juilliard, but exploded onto the scene in the second decade of the 21st century with ten major roles in just two years, culminating in her first Oscar nomination, this being her second.

I’ve ruminated a lot on the ideas about what makes a good actor and have chosen a few from each camp for this blog. There’s no right answer when it comes to experience vs. inexperience in actors or actresses. It’s all about capturing the right moment at the right time. I’m excited to dive in and really get into it.

So, here are the nominees in list form.

  • Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty

  • Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook

  • Emmanuelle Riva - Amour

  • Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Naomi Watts - The Impossible

As I expounded upon at the top, this is a good group. There’s a lot of choice and the roles are quite diverse and dissimilar in nature and approach, but I can think of one actress who has been left off this list that I think can manage to break into it.

  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed

Alcoholism is an ugly disease and it’s often disingenuous when actors attempt it on screen, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead is able to tap into the dark corners of the disease with a lot of nuance and grace.

O.K., I will be adding Winstead to my list of contenders, so I need to decide which original nominee to displace. Here’s the original list again.

  • Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty

  • Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook

  • Emmanuelle Riva - Amour

  • Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Naomi Watts - The Impossible

For me, the weakest link in this group is Emmanuelle Riva. I already described my tepid response to Amour as a film, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise to you that its leading lady left me cold.

I do think it’s a good performance I just don’t think she captured well enough the character’s departure from herself. When I described my appreciation for Julianne Moore’s depiction of a woman dealing with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, I remarked on the way she handed the disorientation and fear that comes with the disease, but I didn’t see that in Riva’s portrayal.

I was far more distracted by the instances of elder abuse in the film. I couldn’t concentrate on Riva when I was too concerned about what her husband, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, was about to do. The film distracted me from what others saw of the performance.

All right, here’s what our list looks like now with my addition.

  • Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty

  • Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook

  • Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Naomi Watts - The Impossible

  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed

Now, it comes down to one question. Will I uphold Jennifer Lawrence’s first Oscar win? Short answer, no.

Lawrence has now made a career out of playing women either wiser than their years or older than she is in life, but I feel like that doesn’t pay off for her here.

For my vote it’s only Jessica Chastain. In the hands of any other filmmaker (any male filmmaker), Maya, Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty, would have been pushed to be likable, but under Kathryn Bigelow’s superb direction, Maya is as intense and calculating as any of her male counterparts, which is exactly as she should be.

Chastain is able to dig in deep into the obsessive, stalwart Maya. She pushes through those possible vulnerable moments, when everything seems to want her to quit, and makes them believable, not pretending that Maya’s some kind of robot. She survives a bombing, an assassination attempt and the death of her close colleague without missing a beat, but struggles to comprehend how it all fits together.

That fierce determination is on Chastain’s face this entire film and when it’s all over, when she is able to identify the body of the world’s most wanted man, she can finally stop. She can finally feel relief, but it’s also so much of an expression of not understanding what’s next for her, what she does when she’s not chasing down leads. She’s at a loss when the pilot of the cargo plane asks her where she wants to go and she doesn’t answer because she doesn’t know.

It’s a performance that completes a circle from innocence, to experience and really something to behold.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday when I dive in to the Best Actress in a Supporting Role nominees for 2012.

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