Angelina Jolie: Changeling
Meryl Streep: Doubt
Melissa Leo: Frozen River
Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married
Kate Winslet: The Reader (winner)
2008 appears to be one of those years where the performances I like come from actors in general. It’s either that, or 2008 was a year where many of the movies I like didn’t have a lot of actress performances that were dominant in the film. This would include films like Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Hurt Locker, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Still, there are some improvements that we can make here. Lina Leandersson was barely a teen when she played Eli in Let the Right One In, but it’s a hell of a strong performance in one of the best genre films of the current century. As much as I didn’t love The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I’m a little surprised Cate Blanchett isn’t here. I know genre films never really get a lot of play come Oscar time, but Lisa Houle is great in Pontypool. The criminal miss, though, is Sally Hawkins in the lovely Happy-Go-Lucky.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. 2008’s Best Actress performances are perhaps unique in just how unpleasant most of these characters are. I won’t judge who is the most unpleasant, but the most unpleasant aspect of this Oscar race is that Kate Winslet, so deserving so often, won an Oscar for this awful film that attempts desperately to make an illiterate Nazi sympathetic. It’s a case where it was clearly her turn to win a statue, and this was the role that came up for it. It’s such a shame, because Winslet deserves to be rewarded for much better performances in her career.
4. Anne Hathaway is very good in Rachel Getting Married. It’s again, one of those performances that is unpleasant in a lot of ways because the character is so unpleasant in so many ways, but Hathaway handles the role brilliantly for the most part, playing the rehabbing Kym as someone both deeply troubled and deeply selfish. It’s actually a hard performance to judge in a lot of ways because of how deeply unpleasant it is. Sadly, it’s not a movie I want to revisit, so I may never really shift my opinion on her in it.
3. Of the five roles, it is probably Angelina Jolie who plays the one that is the most sympathetic in a lot of ways. I don’t consider myself a huge Jolie fan; she’s fine, but I don’t really seek her movies out. Of those that I’ve seen, Changeling is almost certainly her best and most accomplished performance. Probably the best praise I can give her is that at no time during the film did I think she didn’t belong in the role. Since she is one of those actors who can very quickly pull me out of the movie (“Hey, that’s Angelina Jolie!”), that’s not insignificant praise.
2. It might well be that Meryl Streep’s character in Doubt is the most unpleasant of all five of the characters nominated. This is a frustrating movie because of just how awful everyone in it is. It’s also one of those rare movies that earned four acting nominations. Of them, Meryl’s is probably the most deserved in a lot of ways. Sister Aloysius is perhaps the embodiment of the worst ideas of nuns. She is what Nurse Ratched would have been had she opted for the habit. As awful as the character is, though, it’s Streep’s genius that really makes her despicable.
1. Frozen River is one of those movies that serves up a series of gut punches and then somehow provides something close to a happy ending. While Misty Upham was certainly snubbed in a supporting role, it is Melissa Leo who grabs this film with both hands and holds on with everything she has. She is so easy to root for in her situation and simultaneously so awful in so many ways; desperation does that to a character. It’s a hard balance to get right, and Leo does it perfectly. Of the five, she’s my choice, but not my choice overall.
No, I’m giving this to Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. In the film, Hawkins plays a character who would be easily pegged as a manic pixie dream girl, but Hawkins doesn’t play her that way. In lesser hands, Poppy would be one of the most annoying characters of her decade, but in the graceful hands of Sally Hawkins, Poppy is simply someone hard to take at times, and yet still charming. That comes entirely from Hawkins, who is masterful in this role, and should have been rewarded for it.