Friday, February 22, 2008

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Will win: Someone seems to be missing, no? Settle down, we’ll get to that. Anyway, women are complicated, and handicapping this year’s Best Actress race is considerably more difficult than it is for Best Actor. (Makes me miss Helen Mirren; I know my buddy Johnny will miss her chest.) Fortunately, we can eliminate two right away. Cate Blanchett’s second nomination as Queen Elizabeth (bit of trivia: She’s the only actress to be nominated twice for playing the same character) strikes me as a “Barry Bonds court report” level typo – I’m absolutely convinced she’s on the ballot as the result of a clerical era. I really hope she isn’t turning into a younger, infinitely hotter Judi Dench who gets nominated every year just based on her reputation. Regardless, she has as much chance of winning this year’s Best Actress Oscar as Ron Artest has of winning the NBA’s Citizenship Award.

(Thinking about it, given that Dench won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998 for playing Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, and given that during the same year Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress for playing the virgin queen in Elizabeth, I’m wondering: Is it possible Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench are actually the same person, only they’re somehow living in different time universes? As my friend Akemi pointed out to me last year, Blanchett is an Aussie, whereas Dench is British, but they both have those lovely accents. Can we check their garages to make sure they aren’t hiding a DeLorean? And doesn’t this make Dench’s disturbing attempted seduction of Blanchett in last year’s Notes on a Scandal even more creepy? Anyway.)

Laura Linney’s nod is perhaps even more puzzling. The Savages was well-received by critics, but it died a quick death in theatres and garnered almost no awards buzz. The only major body that honored Linney with a nomination was the Chicago Film Critics Association. And while she’s an established, quality actress (she does have two previous Oscar nominations), she doesn’t have anywhere near Blanchett’s pedigree. So how the fuck did she get nominated for an Oscar? My guess is that the Academy decided to educate its members about something political like cruelty to animals, so they offered a special screening of Congo, and voters saw it and said, “Wow, this movie’s terrible – holy shit, that’s Laura Linney! She’s grown into a serious actress! We should reward her with a random nomination, even though she’ll never win.” It’s either that or they were compensating her seven years after the fact for her full frontal in Maze. In any case, if we’re equating this Best Actress race to an NBA Citizenship Award and Cate Blanchett is Ron Artest, then Laura Linney is Kermit Washington.

The relative chances of the remaining three candidates, however, will not be so easily determined. It’s almost March, so let’s think of this like the RPI. Imagine that Best Actress is a regional in the NCAA Tournament, and the Academy is charged with selecting one of these three candidates as the number one seed. Where does it start? Overall record. Remember that the Oscars signify the culmination of a two-month year-end awards season; various other organizations hand out their own brand of hardware to recipients they deem deserving. Although the Academy can certainly break from the main now and again (as with Crash), these ancillary awards tend to provide valuable insight as far as the Oscars are concerned.

Right now, Julie Christie has a sizeable lead in terms of the scoreboard. She’s been declared Best Actress for her performance as a victim of Alzheimer’s in Away from Her by 14 different evaluation boards, including what the RPI would term “big wins” from six: the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Golden Globes (in the drama category), the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Screen Actors Guild. To paraphrase the late Roy Scheider, she’s going to need a bigger trophy case. In contrast, Marion Cotillard (as French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose) and Ellen Page (as the pregnant title character in Juno) have each come away with six victories. Cotillard’s most high-profile honors are from the BAFTAs (essentially the British Oscars) and the Golden Globes (for best musical or comedy, which makes absolutely no sense because La Vie en Rose was neither a musical nor a comedy, but whatever). Page’s only noteworthy win has come courtesy of the Chicago Film Critics Association. So Christie is clear the frontrunner using this methodology.

But the RPI considers other factors besides overall record. Take strength of schedule, which we can translate to strength of genre. Juno is a comedy, and we know what the Academy thinks of those; since 1988, Helen Hunt is the only Best Actress winner who starred in an ostensible comedy (As Good As It Gets in 1997), so Page loses some ground. Cotillard gets to sing (or at least pretend to) in La Vie en Rose, and voters tend to appreciate song-and-dance-style frolicking. However, most of her dialogue is in French, and to the best of my knowledge, the Academy has never awarded a Best Actress Oscar for a non-English-speaking role (unless you count Holly Hunter in The Piano, when she played a mute and didn’t speak at all). And Cotillard isn’t just foreign, she’s French – big strike there. Christie, meanwhile, stars in a straightforward drama about mental illness. Nothing like a little disease-flavored boredom to stir the Academy’s soul. More points for her.

Next let’s consider historical performance (call this one strength of conference, to continue the already stretched RPI theme). Christie already has one Oscar to her credit (for Darling in 1965), as well as two other nominations. In a sense, she’s already received her due, whereas this is the first nomination for both Cotillard and Page. Interestingly, were Page to win, she would become the youngest actress ever to win the award at 21, which is an alluring bit of trivia. I’m not sure the Academy would honestly consider something like that in their voting, but this is the Oscars, so you never know.

Finally, one big factor for making the NCAA tournament is late-season performance (this isn’t technically the RPI, but it definitely relates to seeding, and I’ve gone too far with this metaphor to stop now). A hard-fought win in March in a conference tournament holds considerably more weight than a non-conference victory in December. And this is where I think Page can make up some ground. Away from Her was released in theatres all the way back in May – other than Christie’s performance, it’s been largely forgotten as a movie. Juno, on the other hand, has been riding a tidal wave of momentum ever since New Year’s. As such, while voters may not perfectly recall Christie’s work in Away from Her, Page’s endearing performance in Juno remains firmly in their minds, and likely their hearts as well.

Still, Christie has too much going for her – her myriad wins, her classical beauty, the tear-jerking nature of her role – not to be considered the favorite. If I’m doling out the seeding, she’s playing the role of this year’s Memphis Tigers at the top of the bracket. Page would be Duke, the second seed, with Cotillard playing the possible spoiler role of a team like UCLA. (If you want to carry it all the way through, Cate Blanchett would probably be Gonzaga, and Laura Linney would be Appalachian State.)

Here’s the thing though: Last year, I was faced with a similar situation for Best Supporting Actor. Eddie Murphy had won most of the prior awards and was generally regarded as the favorite for his performance as a drug-addicted Motown crooner in Dreamgirls. Alan Arkin, however, was gaining some buzz for his charmingly cranky portrayal of a caustic grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (which, remember, is last year’s version of Juno). Chickenshit that I am, I played it safe and went with Murphy. The winner? Arkin. (When this happened early in the telecast, my Dad absolutely freaked out because he thought Arkin’s victory augured well for Little Miss Sunshine’s Best Picture chances; if that movie had won true Oscar gold, he probably would have transformed into Arkin’s character and just started snorting heroin and insulting everyone he met. So yeah, one more reason to celebrate the success of The Departed.)

Well you know what? I’ve learned my lesson. Favorites don’t always win. If favorites always won, I wouldn’t have started off two consecutive Manifestos bitching about that piece-of-shit movie Crash. If favorites always won, I wouldn’t have lost a single game of ping-pong to my buddy Rookie before beating him 864 times in a row to teach him a lesson. If favorites always won, I wouldn’t be able to walk the streets of Boston without some drunken Patriots fan screaming “19-0!” out of his Chevy Impala. Favorites do not always win.

So this year, I’m pulling a Lebowski and saying, fuck it Dude, let’s go underdog. Juno is hot, Away from Her is not, and I need to take a chance for once. Ellen Page takes the Oscar this year, and in doing so, she becomes the youngest Best Actress winner of all-time. Bravo.

(Unless, you know, Julie Christie wins. Which is entirely possible.)

Should win: If the Academy did the job right and honored five worthy recipients with its Best Actor choices, it more than made up for it by botching the Best Actress selections. This is particularly unfortunate because this year, unlike in the past, I honestly felt there were a number of outstanding female lead performances, none of which the Academy recognized. Disgraceful.

As for the nominees, Cotillard’s inclusion is the one that actually bothers me most. I was never awed by her portrayal of Edith Piaf (affectionately known as The Little Sparrow), but I was at least on board based on her impressive work in the various musical numbers. Then I learned something: She isn’t fucking singing. She’s lip-synching. What the hell is so impressive about a woman who effectively lip-synchs the songs of a famous singer, especially when that singer doesn’t even dance? I suppose it speaks to the skill level of her lip-synching that I assumed she was actually singing herself, but are we really thinking about giving the Academy Award to a woman because she’s a good lip-syncher? With the exception of one haunting, brilliantly executed scene late in the film, Cotillard’s performance in La Vie en Rose is absolutely ordinary. In related news, she has a respectable chance of winning. And I thought leaving Jose Calderon off the All-Star team was a stupid move.

(Also, don’t try to counter with the “Well, what about Jamie Foxx in Ray?” argument. No, Foxx didn’t sing any of Ray Charles’ music in Ray, but his singing – or lack thereof – had nothing to do with his winning the Oscar. He won not only because he perfectly drilled all of Charles’ quirky physical mannerisms but because he completely convinced us that he was actually blind. He was so convincing that it was jarring in that foolhardy scene near the end where he’s given sight in a dream sequence – up till that point, we had completely forgotten that the actor was able to see. Marion Cotillard may have turned in a serviceable impression of the real Edith Piaf, but her performance was nothing like the extraordinary subterfuge Foxx pulled off in Ray.)

I can’t really make any complaints about Laura Linney’s performance in The Savages, except to say that I barely remember it. I like Linney – she’s a sturdy, reliable screen presence, and she’s essayed a variety of impressive supporting characters over the past decade, most memorably in The Truman Show, Mystic River, and Kinsey. And to the best of my recollection, she was just fine in The Savages. The problem is that the only scene I can recollect in any detail (other than the amusing final one with the adorable dog) is the painful moment when she fumbles a come-on to a male nurse at a hospital, only to be humiliated when he gently tells her he has a girlfriend. In that moment, the barren circumstances of her life are cruelly visible. Otherwise she stays true to her character, lets the screenplay do the work, and takes no chances whatsoever. It’s a safe, serviceable performance. And it’s landed the beauty her third Oscar nomination. Go figure.

(I admit, I also remember Linney’s stellar performance during her first sex scene, in which she appears to be nothing except completely and unmistakably bored. That was probably the most terrifying scene most men witnessed all year.)

Julie Christie is the frontrunner to win Best Actress (like how I keep mentioning that so it mitigates the impact if she wins and my upset pick of Page doesn’t work out?), and I wish I knew why. She has a few affecting scenes in Away from Her, especially when she first checks into the care facility and begs her husband to leave her be (“I need to stay here, and if you make it hard for me, I may cry so hard I’ll never stop”). But once her memory leaves her for good, the challenges of her role leave as well, and she’s simply playing a confused old woman without an emotional register. Her illness is the focal point of Away from Her, but as a character, she’s really just an object; it’s up to her husband to convey the sense of loss and desolation this terrible disease inflicts on humanity.

Christie may be a past Oscar winner, but here she also commits the unforgivable sin of overacting. It takes place early on in the film; she and her husband are hosting a couple for dinner. They’re chatting amicably, and she stands up, locates a bottle of wine, and asks, “Would anybody like some more …” – and then she stops. She can’t remember the word for the bottle she’s holding in her hand. She stutters and gasps for about 30 seconds before coming up with something that sounds like “ween” as tears fill her eyes. It’s meant to illustrate her sudden sense of confusion and desperation, but it merely comes off as laughable and crudely done. I applaud her for taking a risk, but she fails in it, and miserably.

Cate Blanchett could probably be accused of overacting as well, but I fully enjoyed her second turn as the stately monarch in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. She plays the queen in a full range of emotions, and while she’s effective in the quieter, more reserved scenes, the most memorable moments are those when she unleashes her virginal fury. “I, too, can command the wind!” she shrieks to a foreign dignitary who has insulted her, and indeed fire blazes from her eyes. Later she turns her wrath on two of her closest confidants, a scene in which Blanchett brazenly strips Elizabeth of her dignity and shows us only a wretched, scorned woman. It is this shrewd decision to avoid deifying the sovereign that adds depth to Elizabeth as a character. Righteous rulers are much more interesting when they aren’t always right.

The problem is that as a film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is too poorly focused to properly maximize the power of Blanchett’s performance. It isn’t a bad movie – it is appropriately gorgeous and splendidly acted – but its screenplay meanders. Director Shekhar Kapur seems uncertain whether he wishes to make an intimate character study of the queen or a stirring historical epic, and he fails to find the proper balance. This is no fault of Blanchett’s, of course, but it nevertheless diminishes the power of her performance.

There is nothing diminishing whatsoever about Ellen Page’s turn in Juno. Many viewers are na├»vely dubbing it her breakout performance, but such praise, while well-intentioned, is erroneous. Her breakout role came two years ago in the taut, gruesome thriller Hard Candy, in which Page plays Hayley, a seeming innocent who turns the tables on a pedophile (played by the suave, oily Patrick Wilson). Her defining characteristic in that role was a fierce, beyond-her-years intelligence. She was smarter than Wilson’s character, and she was going to win in their dirty little game, you had no doubt.

That intelligence is critical to her success in Juno. Diablo Cody’s screenplay is rife with stinging one-liners, and Page issues her acerbic dialogue fluidly and with no exertion whatsoever. The real key, though, is her generosity of spirit. As with Hayley in Hard Candy, Page’s Juno is probably smarter than everyone else, but in this movie she never condescends. She admires quirkiness and individuality, which is why her boyfriend of choice, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, excellent again), is a bit of a goofball who adores orange tic-tacs. She may in fact be superior (there’s a reason I equated her with Duke earlier as opposed to North Carolina), but she never acts like it.

Page generally keeps Juno on a relatively even keel (despite the extremities of her situation), but this is far from a monotone performance. She allows a variety of emotions to filter in, including anger, joy, pain, and betrayal. That last arises in an excruciating moment with the planned surrogate father of her child, during which Page swiftly and adroitly switches from security to injury. It is the movie’s most surprising, most revealing scene, and Page effortlessly expresses the wound it inflicts on Juno and her view of humanity.

But there is true happiness in her portrayal as well, and her declaration of love near the end of the film is touching and note-perfect. Juno, for all its grown-up subject matter and mature dialogue, ends with a tender, chaste kiss, and the warm affection Page has brought to the picture makes it one of the most romantic moments in cinema in recent memory.

Keira Knightley, Atonement. Keira Knightley is beautiful. That may seem to be a simple statement, but it has a hidden subtext, so please allow me to explain:

Of the dozen or so emails I sent out immediately after seeing Atonement – imploring people to go see the film because it’s so incredible – one of them went to my sister. She wrote me back with a wink-nudge reply: “Was it incredible, or was she incredible?” My sister did not need to specify whom she meant by “she”. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I am enraptured by Keira Knightley. I do not shy away from this, nor do I apologize for it. I firmly and truly believe her to be the most beautiful woman in the world, as well as one of its finest actresses. (The answer to my sister’s question, by the way, was simple: “Both”.)

My sister was chiefly joking, of course – she knows me well enough to know that I won’t so violently insist that she see a movie merely as a result of a single performance. Yet it was somehow telling that she chose to even glibly imply that the presence of Keira Knightley was what made me so enthusiastic in my feelings for Atonement as a whole. This was not indicative of her knowledge of my personal passions; I’d like to think that I am a discerning enough moviegoer that I can set aside personal prejudices (good or bad) before entering the theatre, and I hope my sister would support me in that assertion. Rather, it was a testament to Keira Knightley’s current unshakable status as a stunner. At this point in her career, her beauty exists as a commodity. There is no debate going into a film regarding whether or not she will be beautiful – it is simply taken as a given.

One of the brilliant facets of Atonement, then, is that it does not take her beauty for granted but instead recognizes it, nurtures it, and ultimately features it as part of its plot. You see, for Atonement to function successfully, it is imperative not that Cecilia be attractive and appealing but that she be beautiful. The movie is rooted in the fragile, potentially ridiculous notion that after the briefest of encounters, Cecilia’s and Robbie’s only reason for existence is each other. In order for this concept not to fall into fantasy – in order for their love story to ring pure and true – we must unreservedly accept that they have found each other as soul mates. And for that to happen, Cecilia must be beautiful. She must be Helen of Troy.

And right now, in this modern world, Helen of Troy has taken the form of Keira Knightley.

Yet Cecilia’s beauty, while essential, it is only part of the equation. She must also display the capacity to love unconditionally, as well as the ability to engender that love in return. It is here that Keira Knightley succeeds as no other actress can. Consider the scene when Robbie arrives at the estate for dinner, and it is Cecilia who answers the door. This is a mere prelude to their fateful union in the library, but it’s here where the true seduction begins. She sizes him up. They politely discuss a certain letter that Robbie mistakenly sent, a letter that has brought formerly submerged emotions boiling up to the surface. Cecilia then turns and walks gracefully toward the library, leaving the door open so that Robbie may follow.

The camera then cuts, and we are now looking at Cecilia from the library door as she is approaching us. It’s a brief shot – it lasts maybe three or four seconds – but then, my God, look at that face! High cheekbones barricading the slightest flush of red, her steely eyes suddenly dancing, flashing a longing both elegant and animal. She strides directly past us, her movements purposeful, her actions premeditated, her dress – yes, that dress – swishing gracefully with the contours of her body. It is an image of pure desire, and also desirability. She doesn’t even say a word. She doesn’t need to.

There’s more, so much more. There’s that first moment early in the film when she steps out of the fountain and realizes what’s happening – her clothes dripping wet, Robbie staring at her, paralyzed, and we see that she feels … what? Humiliated, yes – the anger in her eyes is fierce, blazing fury – but there is also a hint of vulnerability, and the slightest whisper of elation. It all happens so quickly, and then her face liquidly transforms into a frosty rage, and she stalks out of the frame, furious with him and herself.

Then later, with the pitch of the film so much darker, there’s that wonderful yet awful reunion in the restaurant. The most powerful moment begins before any dialogue is even spoken. Robbie enters from afar, sees Cecilia sitting, changes his mind, walks away, changed his mind again, turns around, and there is that face of Keira Knightley again. This time it isn’t shifting from one emotion to the next at all but frozen, deathly still, locked in longing. With a single look she communicates three and a half years of separation, of agony. When Robbie and Cecilia next part, there is such a potent mixture of sadness and hope in Keira Knightley’s bearing that she recalls Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. But this is no mere imitation – it is entirely unique, forceful, and new.

If I sound a bit out of breath, that’s because Keira Knightley has delivered in Atonement a literally breathtaking performance. She has brought to the role of Cecilia everything in her power – her beauty, her training, her soul – and laid it bare for us to see on the screen. This is dramatic acting at its most raw, persuasive form. Atonement is a tragedy, true, but it is also a love story of overwhelming power, and it works because its actors successfully articulate a love without inhibition, without quarter.

Cecilia is given a spoken refrain in Atonement. She says it again and again, beseeching, such a simple plea: “Come back. Come back to me.” Listen to Keira Knightley when she says that. Listen to her earnestness, her tenderness, her love. Look into her eyes. Tell me you wouldn’t do everything in your power to comply with her request.

(Excuse me for a moment, I need to catch my breath.)

(O.K., moving on.)

Amy Adams, Enchanted. Is it too late to get the jump on pegging Amy Adams as a star? I guess it’s already public knowledge, huh? I thought her Oscar nomination for Junebug might be obscure enough to keep her unnoticed, but between a recurring role in “The Office”, a lovely supporting part in Charlie Wilson’s War, and now a high-profile Disney release, she rose fast (like a 12-year-old’s dick, as Mark Wahlberg would say in The Departed). It’s not hard to see why. With gorgeous red hair and a beaming smile, she’s a natural crowd-pleaser. But what she brings most winningly to Enchanted is a wondrous sincerity. The movie is a glib sendup of classic Disney conventions, and had Adams chosen to play her role as an animated fairytale princess transplanted to the mean streets of New York City tongue-in-cheek, it probably would have worked fine. But by playing it completely straight, she creates some tremendous comic opportunities. Check out the confusion on her face when Patrick Dempsey’s character asks if she wants him to call someone for her: “I don’t think they would hear you from here.” I mean, that is funny.

(As for Dempsey, I know he’s McDreamy and everything on “Grey’s Anatomy”, so I recommend he go home, watch some old David Caruso flicks, and realize he should stay in television. He is completely outclassed in this movie. It isn’t close. Enchanted undoubtedly would have been a better film if someone with superior acting chops had been cast opposite Adams (perhaps Brad Whitford?). As it is, the movie functions splendidly on a comedic level but is farcical when it tries to forge emotional connections. And absolutely none of this is Amy Adams’ fault.)

(Also, Enchanted might have the lowest quality-of-trailer vs. quality-of-movie ratio in the history of cinema. The Common began showing the trailer about four months in advance, so by the forty-seventh time, not only had I memorized the entire trailer, I was absolutely convinced it was going to be the worst movie of the year. It looked horrible. You know how some comedies hoodwink prospective viewers by dumping all of the funniest parts of the movie into the trailer? Enchanted did the exact opposite. The trailer had exactly one funny line (Adams’ heartfelt “Thank you” after being welcomed to New York), whereas the movie had me grinning throughout. Go figure.)

So here’s my question on Amy Adams: When she’s accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes 50 years from now (I know, that’s a generous assumption, but I’m banking that the Globes will still exist) and they show clips of all her old movies, do you think they’ll show a scene from Cruel Intentions 2? I’d slip the producer 20 bucks to make that happen. O.K., 10. Anyway, next she’s coming out with Sunshine Cleaning, also starring the sizzling Emily Blunt. Sign me up.

Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. I’ll discuss this gritty, brilliant Romanian film in slightly further detail later on, although I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Marinca’s intimate, tender portrayal of a loyal friend is nothing short of spellbinding. Director Cristian Mungiu’s approach of extraordinarily long takes is rewarding, but it is also extremely challenging for his actors to behave so naturally over such a sustained period of time, yet nothing about Marinca’s performance appears forced. Watch her face during the scene in which she’s compelled to have dinner with her boyfriend’s family; it’s a single, static shot that may have lasted up to 15 minutes, and she’s dead center the entire time, barely speaking, the image of helplessness, of abduction. When the phone rings, she turns her head slightly, desperate to answer, hoping against hope it might signal her opportunity to escape, and we agonize with her as she remains trapped at the table. It’s extraordinarily composed work, especially given that it’s her first theatrical role.

Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man 3. I’ve never really understood why people seem to dislike Kirsten Dunst so intensely. I don’t think she’s a great actress, but she’s generally appealing and serviceable. Along with her surprisingly nuanced role as a juvenile receptionist in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Spider-Man 3 represents her best work to date. With the inversion of the film’s characters, Mary Jane becomes the film’s emotional fulcrum, and Dunst portrays her unexpected descent into shame with sadness and sensitivity. She isn’t just some stock girl Peter Parker loves – she’s a complete individual, and her own hopes and dreams have just been chewed up and spit out. The key feature of the Spider-Man franchise is how it combines amazing action with true emotion, and it’s Dunst’s performance in the third installment that ensures we remain invested in these characters.

Jodie Foster, The Brave One. December Syndrome, Part One. Foster was generally regarded as a shoo-in for her fifth Oscar nomination for her searing portrayal of a vigilante when The Brave One arrived in theatres in September. Now it’s an afterthought. While it’s by no means her best performance (that remains, of course, Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs), it’s nevertheless gripping and harrowing. Under Neil Jordan’s direction, her alleged moral dilemma may be a tad trite, but she approaches her character with a fascinating combination of vengefulness and fear. The movie’s script is too clumsy to articulate its morality with clarity, but Foster’s performance makes up for it – a simple look is all it takes, and we can see the revulsion buried beneath her wrath.

(Also, if people tend to find Kirsten Dunst annoying, they seem downright terrified of Jodie Foster. This attitude was epitomized by my friend Raashi; when I asked her if she wanted to see The Brave One, she eschewed the standard “I have to wash my hair” excuse and simply stated that Jodie Foster is “creepy”. I don’t get it. I’ll acknowledge that she’s uniquely intense, but doesn’t that just mean she’s a good actress? Shouldn’t people be seduced by a talent such as this rather than repelled by her? Or am I myself just too creepy to understand? Now excuse me, I need to go print out some more racy pictures for my 600-page Emma Watson scrapbook.)

Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart. December Syndrome, Part Two. Released all the way back in June, the portrait of Mariane Pearl coping with her husband Daniel’s kidnapping and ultimate murder in Pakistan was supposed to represent a surefire nomination for Hollywood’s most glamorous actress. The strange part is that she deserved one. I’m unfamiliar with the real Mariane Pearl, but Jolie’s inhabitation of her character – her French accent, her curly hair, her pregnancy – is absolutely credible. For all its politically charged content (and A Mighty Heart is at times impressively outspoken and also curiously objective), the movie is really about a determined woman’s search for her husband and her gradual descent into despair. When Mariane finally receives confirmation of Daniel’s death, Jolie erupts into a volcano of wordless rage and grief. It’s one of the most painfully memorable moments of the year.
AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia. Keep your eyes on this one. The role of Leslie Burke in this monumentally sad children’s tale is tricky to get right, but Robb balances Leslie’s quirky vivacity with warm, honest candor. She has natural poise, a radiant smile, and stunningly bright eyes. Her future could be just as bright.

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