Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Final List of 2011: 10 Reasons Why Juliette Binoche Will Always Be My Best Actress

1. She taught me that you can't fight the feelings. And you can't run from love either. In 1993's Three Colors: Blue, my favorite movie of all-time, after the death of her husband and young daughter in a horrific car accident, Binoche's character Julie retreats from life. Love, she decides, is a trap. The only way to survive is to not feeling anything. Try as she might -- and she does make a valiant effort -- she finds that something, or someone, keeps pulling her back to life. Ultimately, she realizes that life without love, and the risk it brings, isn't really life at all. It's a lovely sentiment, one that continues to rule my life.

2. The English Patient was bearable because of her. When, against all odds and pretty much every prognostication, she beat Lauren Bacall for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1997, the phone calls started pouring in. All of my friends wanted to congratulate me. To know me is to know that I love her.

3. She says it all when she says nothing at all. Her most powerful moments onscreen are when she's simply listening, to Jeremy Irons' amorous entreaties in Damage (a movie, which, in all fairness, Miranda Richardson stole in under five minutes -- a few of them topless!), to Ralph Fiennes' scarred soldier recounting his tragic love story in The English Patient, to Certified Copy's cold writer (and possibly her husband) recalling the mother and son he saw in Florence -- she was always walking a little too far ahead of him -- who inspired his latest book. Binoche's tears broke my heart and helped make the performance one of the year's best.

4. Death becomes her. I'll never forget her final scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, before the car crash. Binoche: "What are you thinking about?" Daniel Day-Lewis: "I'm thinking about how happy I am." Or something like that. I hope I get to say words to that effect sometime before I die, and hopefully, I won't die right after I say them.

5. She's no snob. She can work with some of the most highly esteemed directors on the planet, ones who are known mostly to die-hard cineastes but are usually under Oscar's radar, and still play Steve Carell's love interest in Dan in Real Life, or costar with Channing Tatum, Tracy Morgan and Katie Holmes in Son of No One.

6. She takes the high road. When fellow Gallic legend Gerard Depardieu laid into her during an interview a few years ago, labelling her "nobody" and "absolutely nothing," Binoche didn't stoop to his level. But she got the last dig: While speaking to the Guardian after the attack, and after making nice with him, she said, "Perhaps I should send him my reviews." Well played, Mademoiselle Juliette.

7. Crap can be watchable if Binoche is in it. I'm not talking about Son of No One, which I haven't seen and I have no intention of doing so. I'm referring to Chocolat, for which she received a 2000 Best Actress Oscar nod; Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, her first film with Ralph Fiennes; and Jet Lag, her sort of terrible 2002 romantic comedy with Jean Reno. Confession time again: I've seen it more than once and even bought the DVD.

8. She can wow in multiple languages. In Certified Copy, she does so in three: her native French, English and Italian. Can Marion Cotillard top that? Maybe I'm still bitter about Cotillard's sabotaging of Julie Christie's bid for a second Best Actress Oscar a few years ago, but while watching Midnight in Paris, I couldn't stop thinking how I would have liked it so much more with Binoche instead of Cotillard, who, to me, came across as the archetypal free-spirited French beauty.

9. The bright lights of Hollywood haven't blinded her. I read somewhere that she turned down Steven Spielberg's attempt to cast her in Jurassic Park in order to make Blue. Good choice, and Binoche makes a lot of them. Sure there are duds in her filmography (see No. 7), but after winning the Oscar, she could have chosen to work with any director and become an even bigger star, but she picked interesting projects, often in French, that weren't likely to make her the next Julia Roberts. God knows we have enough of those.

10. Duh! She's this blog's poster girl. For 13 years after seeing Blue at the Quad Cinema in New York City, I slept with a framed Blue movie poster over my bed. Unless I had company, Binoche was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. In the last five and a half years, waking up and falling asleep just haven't been the same without someone, my beloved Binoche, to watch over me.

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