Friday, February 25, 2011

The other upset I'm hoping for on Oscar night

By now, it's probably a done deal: Natalie Portman will win the Best Actress Oscar on February 27 for portraying a ballerina's descent into madness with such exacting skill. While I loved Black Swan and Portman's performance, it wasn't my favorite of 2010. That honor would go to Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. I suffered right along with her grieving mom, and Kidman never once resorted to shameless hysteria.

Despite my love for Kidman and my admiration of Portman's dedication to character and craft, like so many people who have deemed Annette Bening overdue for years, true Hollywood royalty (whatever that is), I'm rooting for her to pull an upset. Not because I thought she was any better than usual in "The Kids Are All Right," or because it was a particularly Oscar-worthy role, but because if Bening wins, we finally can leave her in peace and focus on far more overdue actresses (Glenn Close? Sigourney Weaver? Michelle Pfieffer? Hel-LO?!).

For once, though, Best Actress isn't the most exciting acting race. This year, it shares that distinction with Best Supporting Actress. The Fighter's Melissa Leo is clearly the frontrunner, in spite of the recent backlash over her financing of her own For Your Consideration ad, with True Grit's 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld nipping at her knock-off heels. This is generally the category where upsets are most likely (Marisa Tomei's 1993 win for My Cousin Vinny is still deemed one of the Academy's great blunders, though the actress has more than proven herself worthy of the "Oscar winner" title in the years since), and a win by any of the 2011 nominees is a more-than-remote possibility.

That said, Melissa Leo probably will take it, but if she does, it will be going to the wrong mother from hell. As impressed as I was with her mama bear in The Fighter, as I watched her, I couldn't help but feel that I'd seen her somewhere before. It wasn't until near the end that I realized where: Angelica Huston played a very similar type in The Grifters (and received her only Best Actress nomination in the process). Now that I think of it, the similarities are glaring: same frosted hair, same perfectly mix-and-matched tailored outfits, same prickly disposition, same disdain for the object of their beloved baby boy's affection. If Leo wins, it won't be a travesty, but we've seen it all before.

For your consideration: Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. I just saw this Melbourne-based crime drama, and I am convinced that had it received a wider release in the U.S., Weaver would be a shoo-in for the grand prize. Her monster mom is a monster grandma, too, who hovers over her criminal brood like Mother Nature, kissing her grown boys on the lips and ordering a hit on her grandson. At the beginning of the film, when she found out that her estranged daughter had died of a drug overdose, and she didn't even flinch, I knew she was going to be a piece of work.

What I loved about Weaver's performance is that hers is a completely unique creation, even more loathsome than her murderous sons for so blindly enabling them. Despite the slightly sinister twinkle in her eye, she looks the granny part. There is not a single moment of her performance that seems over-the-top or tailored for awards-season attention. She deserves the acclaim she's gotten -- and all of the work she'll hopefully get going forward -- and she deserves to take Oscar home, too.

May the baddest mama win.

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