Emmanuelle Riva: Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts: The Impossible
Jennifer Lawrence: Silver Linings Playbook (winner)
Jessica Chastain: Zero Dark Thirty
There are a bunch of movies I like from 2012, but it’s not a great year for Best Actress. Of the five nominees, I’m really only comfortable with three of them being on the list and see only one clear winner. The problem is that many of the movies from 2012 that I like: The Avengers, Moonrise Kingdom, Cloud Atlas are far more ensemble casts than they are featuring a single strong female performance. Even with Moonrise Kingdom and how enchanting I found Kara Hayward, she’s only barely a leading role. Isabelle Huppert was deserving of a nomination for Amour, but probably a supporting one. I hated Ruby Sparks, so I’m not including Zoe Kazan. Dredd’s Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey were great, but not in a typical Oscar movie. Emma Watson for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, maybe, but that’s based on reputation because I haven’t seen the film. My inherent dislike of Aubrey Plaza probably keeps her off my list for Safety Not Guaranteed. In fact, the only addition I feel completely comfortable with is Sofia Oria in Blancanieves.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Goodbye to Naomi Watts and The Impossible right away. The main reason for this is that I simply don’t recall Naomi Watts in this movie much at all. I remember the special effects (they were excellent) and I remember feeling manipulated by the screenplay. I also remember thinking that for a disaster film that happened in Asia, this film was extremely American- and Euro-centric. My distaste for some of the issues this movie brought up for me may well be coloring this ranking, but I’m human and I can’t help that.
4. I’m probably getting rid of Jessica Chastain and Zero Dark Thirty. This isn’t a bad movie and Chastain is decent in it, but there are so many overarching issues I have with the movie that I’m sure how I move her up higher in the queue. It’s interesting that the role of the lone rebel working against the system is given to a woman in a military film, but Chastain’s role is pretty much exactly the same as plenty of other roles you and I have seen in our lives. It’s a cookie cutter role with the addition of breasts.
3. Placing positions two and three were the hardest for me with this award, and on another day, I may flip them. I’m going to put Quvenzhane Wallis and Beasts of the Southern Wild here for one specific reason. Wallis is far and away the best thing in the movie, and in my opinion, she’s really the only good thing in the movie. Ultimately, this is my least favorite of these five films, but Wallis manages to transcend what I found to be a weak and uninteresting story and screenplay. I hope she has a great career and a ton of nominations ahead of her, but she’s not above third for this group.
2. Actually, I’m probably putting Jennifer Lawrence in second for a second reason beyond liking Silver Linings Playbook more than I liked Beasts of the Southern Wild. Lawrence had a good year in 2012 with both this film and The Hunger Games. Here, she showed that her nomination for Winter’s Bone was not a fluke. It’s easy to dislike her win because of how ubiquitous she became in the years that followed, but it’s a good and meaty performance in a good and interesting film. I like it and I get her win, but I don’t agree with it.
1. My vote and my private Oscar goes to Emmanuelle Riva and her heartbreaking and beautiful work in Amour. Riva’s performance is, in my opinion, one of the truly great acting performances of this current decade. I found it incredibly affecting, the sort of character who stays with the viewer for days and weeks after the viewing. Riva died last month, and I should probably go hunt down more of her movies, because Amour showed that she was one of the most capable actresses to ever stand in front of a camera. I’d have given her this Oscar and make no apologies for it.