Against The Hype

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On the Lead Acting Oscar Winners

February 23, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: Uncategorized

seanBest Actor: Sean Penn in Milk
In hindsight, Sean Penn’s role as the charismatic, flamboyant Harvey Milk was just as much a comeback role as Randy the Ram was for Mickey Rourke, neutralising whatever advantage Rourke seemed to have in this regard. Faced with two actors who regularly “deglam” for their roles, the Academy might have seen Sean’s reglamming as the handsome, saintlike Milk as the greater acting “stretch”; after all, Penn hasn’t smiled since 1982, when he played surfer dude Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Atop this, more Academy voters saw and liked Milk than they did The Wrestler—which got only two acting noms, measly compared to Milk‘s Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, Editing, Costume Design and Score noms. The Academy also admires Penn more, dislikable as both men can be (Penn managed a nomination for “going full retard” in I Am Sam. QED). And for an institution that has so often lauded mimicry as the best type of acting, there was no way in hell—in this reactionary Slumdog year—that all four acting trophies would go to fictional characters: the only other biopic perfs nominated were Frank Langella’s as Richard Nixon and Angelina Jolie’s as Christine Collins, neither of which had Penn’s near-unimous raves and comparable shot at the prize.

kateBest Actress: Kate Winslet in The Reader
Much as I want Kate to have an Oscar, I didn’t want her to win for this role as a Nazi camp guard, or as her repressed housewives in Revolutionary Road and Little Children. Kate’s presence in the movies shouldn’t be a downer; her stardom revolves around those prickly but lovable free spirits from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sense and Sensibility, Iris—in other words, performances that seem like offshoots of her own celebrity persona: the glamorous, intelligent and potty-mouthed British lady. I don’t begrudge that the stars aligned for her this year, with no comparatively “overdue” contenders, but I don’t agree with the claim that no new performance can ever do justice to her career—she accomplished that a mere four years ago with Eternal Sunshine‘s fiery Clementine, and I believe she has at least one more classic bohemian girl in her, waiting to be unleashed.