Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Leading Ladies of 2007

Happy '08! I hope everyone had a great New Year's Day, my favorite day in the entire year to play it cool, keep things close to home, hang out on the futon and on the phone—and hence, no blogging yesterday. But, there will be copious entries soon enough, with end-of-year best lists to compile, and a major birthday to celebrate. (And no, I'm not talking about Todd's 47th today, though I should be — bon anniversaire, mon cher!)

Moviewise, I've got two heavy hitters blowing into the Windy City this weekend—critical darling There Will Be Blood and well-reviewed documentary The Price of Sugar, an Oscar semifinalist. Basically, I'm waiting on these titles and Persepolis (opening on Jan. 11), plus some last-minute rentals like Offside and The Namesake, before my theatrical survey of 2007 will be complete enough to draft my annual Honorees. Errant 11th-hour releases like The Great Debaters, The Kite Runner, and the is-it-out-or-not? Grace Is Gone also have outside shots in at least one category, but they're a tad less pressing.

So what does every movie on my Still To Be Seen itinerary have in common? Not a single one of them has a female lead... well, give or take Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You and little Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass, neither of whom looks remotely prepossessing in the trailers, and I'll probably pass on both movies anyway. All of which makes Best Actress (and isn't this fortuitous?) the one category for which I can already posit a semifinalist list. And what a list it is! Anybody here would have qualified for my final five in '01, '03, or '05, and given how many of them are solid Oscar hopefuls, I'm expecting an Academy shortlist that trounces last year's admirable derby of Cruz, Dench, Mirren, Streep, and Winslet. Here are the fourteen glorious contenders:

JULIETTE BINOCHE in Flight of the Red Balloon
NIKKI BLONSKY in Hairspray
JULIE CHRISTIE in Away from Her
MARION COTILLARD in La Vie en rose
CATHERINE FROT in The Page Turner
ANGELINA JOLIE in A Mighty Heart
LAURA LINNEY in Jindabyne
LAURA LINNEY in The Savages
ANAMARIA MARINCA in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
PARKER POSEY in Broken English
TANG WEI in Lust, Caution

If that list isn't stupendous enough, consider that I've already elected against work as strong as Nina Hoss' in Yella, Amy Adams' in Enchanted, Marina Hands' in Lady Chatterley, Ashley Judd's in Bug, Luisa Williams' in Day Night Day Night, Julie Delpy's in 2 Days in Paris, Christina Ricci's in Black Snake Moan, Mirjana Karanović's in Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, and Amber Tamblyn and Tilda Swinton's muted but interesting pas-de-deux in Stephanie Daley.

Other people would have advocated for Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding, but I just didn't find much modulation or depth in her admirably sour exterior; or Keira Knightley in Atonement, but her vocal work drove me batty and she didn't find a way into the character that I felt or believed, though the script is certainly not her friend in pursuing that venture; or Isabelle Huppert in Private Property, refreshingly casual and direct as a discontented mother but abandoned by the script before she's broached any deeper territory; or Jodie Foster in The Brave One, nailing Erica's tough carapace but pretending to be in a smarter movie than she's in (plus she takes that unsalvageable ending even further over the top than it's already going); or Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire, who mostly shows how much better she'd be in Monster's Ball now than she was six years ago, with an artfully restrained and shaded but still rather limited performance; or the much-beloved Carice van Houten in Black Book, but I found her to be more of a pose-striker and an agreeable, flexible participant in Verhoeven's flamboyant mise-en-scène than a particularly whipsmart or engaging performer. (She also, for all of her virtues, made Ellis/Rachel a bit of a wash as a spy: how many sidelong fretful glances and nervous fingers and anxious over-the-shoulder looks is a disguised Jewish spy at war with the Nazis really supposed to allow herself? Tang Wei knew better than this little minx.)

The above were at least runners-up. Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, Vittoria Mezzogiorna in Love in the Time of Cholera, Markéta Irglová in Once, and Belén Rueda in The Orphanage never excited me all that much. Cate Blanchett was almost as bored as I was during Elizabeth: Full Throttle. Don't even get me started on Helena Bonham Carter, as blank and superficial in her acting of Sweeney Todd as she is patently deficient in her singing; or Molly Shannon in Year of the Dog, disappointingly inadequate to her movie's difficult tone and to all of her close-ups; or Keri Russell, exuding the same lockstep mediocrity and lack of real ideas or feelings as is the rest of Waitress; or Asia Argento, who won lots of fans at Cannes but broods her way through The Last Mistress in a series of increasingly dull grimaces and off-putting bits of naughty-bobcat improvs; or Marianne Faithfull in Irina Palm, well-buzzed on the festival circuit but pitifully stiff and inert in an underconceived part.

So, with all of that said: my list of 14 semi-champions will be whittled down to five later this week, as we kick off the 2007 Nick's Flick Picks Honorees. In truth, four of them are already locked for inclusion, four are confirmed also-rans, and the other six are competing for that fifth spot on the final list... so go ahead and state your cases for your favorites! Plus, we've got 19 other categories to sort through, and even more to say about actresses of the past as well as the present. But you'll have to stay tuned for those tidbits. Enjoy '08, vote Democratic, and keep coming back!

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Blogger Catherine said...

I've seen many great leading actresses this year (including, from my messed-up release dates, Laura Dern in Inland Empire, which was released this year in Ireland - I'm still in awe at that performance). But I have to say that Laura Linneyin Jindabyne was my number one.

6:59 PM, January 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"naughty-bobcat improvs". Hee.

I'm hereby FYC'ing Kate Dickie in Red Road, which I just saw and which is a lock for my year-end top ten. Dickie is just superb--her performance really snuck up on me.

9:29 PM, January 02, 2008  
Blogger Yaseen Ali said...

I hope Linney makes it in for the right film! ;)

And although you seem to have a pretty good idea of how your shortlist will look, I think a case could be made for Tabu being upgraded to Leading Lady status. Some critics agree with me, as I recall some votes sent her way in that category.

10:36 PM, January 02, 2008  
Blogger Yaseen Ali said...

(I forgot to add that it was in the indiewire and Village Voice polls that she was mentioned.)

10:40 PM, January 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list. My own looks like this at this point:

1. Tang Wei
2. Laura Linney (for Jindabyne, but really also for The Savages)
3. Amy Adams
4. Keira Knightley
5. Nikki Blonsky

With major apologies to Kidman, Christie, and Cotillard (any of whom might make the list depending on my mood).

2:02 AM, January 03, 2008  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

I love that you've included Kate Dickie in your shortlist. She's 2006 for us Brits but she was in my five last year. A harrowing performance.

Have you had any opportunities to see Loach's 'It's a Free World...'? Tis a decent film and lead Kierston Wareing is top drawer. See it if you can Nick!

6:44 AM, January 03, 2008  
Blogger John T said...

All right, you have officially convinced me to see Jindabyne before I figure out my year-end awards (it is now to the top of my queue). Binoche isn't eligible for me this year, cuz I don't count it if the film was only released at a film festival (which I had no chance of seeing).

It's interesting that four out of the five Best Actress frontrunners for Oscar are also on your shortlist Nick. You should be very happy come Oscar nomination morning. I would beg to differ, however, that this year's shortlist will top last year's (for me, few do).

6:19 AM, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I'm glad to see Angelina Jolie on your shortlist, as well as Parker Posey. I really hope Jolie makes it into the top five. With all the hoo-hah about Cotillard and Christie, nobody's paid attention to Jolie who turns in a powerful performance. It's sad that her nomination for the Oscar is just going to be an 'also-ran' when she should be considered as a heavy competitor.

7:33 PM, January 05, 2008  
Blogger tim r said...

So great to see Frot on here despite your dislike of the movie...

4:53 PM, January 06, 2008  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Ooh. Two performances that you probably haven't seen but I think you would love if you saw them, Mr. Nick.

Jeon Do-Yeon in Secret Sunshine; South Korea's foreign film submission this year.

Joan Chen in The Home Song Stories; one of my favourite movies of this year and one of my favourite performances.

I hope you get to check 'em out this year sometime!

6:42 AM, January 07, 2008  

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