Best Actress 2007
Winner: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en rose
Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★
Great years of work don't always lead to great nomination fields, especially when some of the best performances arise in rough sexual thrillers and European art films and bouncy teen-targeted musicals and wry Hal Hartley divertissements. But even setting all that work aside, Oscar found an exceptionally rich field of performances, especially if we sideline Blanchett's keeping-herself-amused reprise of her Elizabeth role: a nomination, like Juliette Binoche's for Chocolat, that unfairly denigrates the rest of the field. In fact, Christie, Linney, Page, and semi-surprise winner Cotillard make for the highest four-way average this category has seen since at least 2004, and maybe since the banner year of 1996.

Ranking Oscar's Ballot
My Pick:
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en rose ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Like Charlize Theron in Monster, Cotillard barrels forward with a dialed-up, emotionally febrile, cosmetically grandiose, but technically stupendous and emotionally sincere performance that got unfairly lumped together in some quarters with the general biopicking trend in Academy voting. To be sure, Oscar has sprung for more than his share of celebrity effigies in the last decade, but compared to the obedient, doll-like gloss on Frida Kahlo that Salma Hayek contributed or Helen Mirren's prim, incompletely shaded version of the Queen or Jamie Foxx's gesture-perfect but somehow less-than-substantial Ray Charles, Cotillard digs so deeply into the character's loneliness, talent, confusion, terror, and self-theatricalizing tendencies that we understand why she had to look and sing and live as she did. In other words, her fiercely but specifically etched inner life explains the bizarre and overwhelming exterior, rather than allowing the latter to imply the former. The moment-to-moment accents of facial telepathy and physical gesture that she tosses off during those musical scenes—darting from self-confidence to petulance to split-second distraction to sudden bashfulness to total absorption in the note—are utterly virtuosic. Her flexibility with age and physical decline are magnificent, and poignant, but also confrontationally severe, like Philip Seymour Hoffman's disconcerting acidity beneath the affectations of Capote. Though I believe that Foxx's Ray and Blanchett's Katharine Hepburn and Geoffrey Rush's David Helfgott and some other recent nominees and winners ride the coattails of a certain fetish for astute mimicry, Cotillard belongs rightly with the Therons and the Hoffmans and the Anthony Hopkins-as-Richard Nixons, performers who went Big to find truths and tones that felt even Bigger. I didn't compare Cotillard to my (cursory, mostly aural) impressions of Piaf. I compared her to what the film was alleging, how the story was moving, to what the light and the camera were implying, but mostly to the heaving, harrowing strength and range in that voice, its strong and ragged sorrow, and the kaleidoscopic nerves and muscles of Cotillard's own face and body. Against those measures, she excels, marvelously.

From There:
Ellen Page, Juno ★ ★ ★ ★
If you think The Savages could have been recast to its detriment, drop Amanda Bynes (able, but limited) or Hayden Panettiere (ditto, with less enthusiasm) or Hilary Duff (!!) into Juno, and take a big whiff. Honest to blog, it smells worse than soup. (I know, right?) What amazes me about Ellen Page's work as Juno MacGuff is less that she finds a way to sell the character, though surely that took some doing, especially considering how widely she has succeeded in selling the character, but that she is able to do so while staying within a fairly narrow range of overt affect. The self-protective Juno, who doesn't admit how many guards she tosses up even as she comes knocking on other people's discomforts and hypocrisies, is perfectly honored by Page's dry, taking-it-all-in demeanor, which savvily keeps throwing attention on the people and situations that Juno so wryly diagnoses or engages instead of Juno herself. She doesn't scramble up and down a big emotional ladder, or parse Funny Juno and Nasty Juno and Frightened Juno and Flirty Juno and Sad Juno into a whole bunch of exhausting, self-obsessed iterations. Juno may not know what kind of girl she is, but Page has got her pretty pegged, without condescending to her or holding herself away or forbidding herself from looking surprised, and showing surprise, when Juno takes a left turn: sidling up to Mark, leaving a note for Vanessa, tracking Paulie down on the track. While the psychological astuteness of Page's approach is already enough to recommend the discipline and wisdom of her approach, its complementary glory is how wonderfully Page allows all of the other very different actors in the ensemble to engage with her and jockey with her, rather than relegating them to minor space junk surrounding Planet Juno, in some Parade of Overpersonality that the script superficially allows (even though the script palpably wants someone smarter than this in the role). Juno's cool-kid enough to say "vag" and mean it, and doting and happy enough to seem genuinely fond of her dad, and gentle enough to take care with Paulie when he comes closer than ever to revealing his love for her. I'm not sure whether any other Juno would have worked (Melonie Diaz's, maybe?), but Ellen, as far as this girl goes, general and also particular as she is, I don't see what anyone sees in anyone else but you.

Laura Linney, The Savages ★ ★ ★ ★
Yet again, as when she was nominated for You Can Count on Me, Laura Linney takes my runner-up prize for a performance as subtle and natural and theater-trained as the victor's is large-scale and fluorescent and unmistakably 35mm. (Funny, the spoiler in both cases was a 70s icon lured back into prominence by a young indie with a big casting idea.) But Wendy Savage isn't Sammy Prescott for any number of reasons, starting with the obtuse self-absorption and quick trigger to panic that Wendy has to resist much more regularly than the surprising but still more centered Sammy does. Sammy is Target, and Wendy is thrift shop, and not just in their sartorial proclivities: there is a loose, casual, almost corduroy feel to the comic spark Linney brings to Wendy, who tosses off great lines and sometimes smiles at herself for devising so quickly and wickedly. That deadpan-sass "Where is it?" in response to her brother's debris-laden couch is priceless. But Wendy also harasses herself for not being a better, more original, less clichéd stage-manager of her own life, however defensive (indeed, proudly deceptive) she is about her own foibles and errors in judgment. Lots of actors might have leapt at The Savages: imagine it with, say, Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz, or Jamie Foxx and Regina King, or Jake Gyllenhaal and Katherine Heigl with a really young senility case on their hands. Every one of these combos, and especially these ladies, would have found some of the funny, but only where it's most obviously sitting, whereas Linney makes pauses, silent reactions, and seeming exposition funny. These other actresses also, I suspect, would have found too much funny. Whatever Linney has decided about what makes Wendy lie and postpone and kvell and worry this much, we feel the emotional tug, and we don't often laugh at it. (P.S.: I got to ask Linney about this performance; here is what I wanted to know, and how she responded.)

Julie Christie, Away from Her ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A critical favorite all year, and a strong threat to win: in both cases, it's easy to see why. Especially through the first hour, Christie plays the dissipations of Alzheimer's with something like the knowing, bemused lightness of her Afterglow performance, rather than the colder, crabbed impenetrability that Judi Dench brought to her disappearing Iris in 2001. Christie's looseness on screen has often been her cardinal virtue, the sign of her creativity actively at work, and when she blithely puts a just-cleaned frying pan in the freezer or holds a bottle of wine, suddenly wondering what it is, her intent to illumine the disease with a warmer, more humane light than histrionic suffering is both overt and appealing. She's even better in the script's darker corners, repressing a flash of contempt for her doctor when she's caught floating out of reality and reaching for her coat during a diagnostic interview, or terrified and irritated when her husband (Gordon Pinsent) tries to strong-arm her back to lucidity in the second hour. If I'm not more (after)glowing about the performance, it's because Christie's delicate, sketchbook approach to her characters often teases the border of imprecision, and while it's a relief that she refuses to overact, she might fairly be accused of underacting from time to time. Her Fiona is sometimes too gossamer to really plumb the script's deepest waters—is she taunting her husband in her final weeks of semi-clarity with a flirtation and an excavated memory of his infidelity? What does she feel for her incapacitated rest-home companion (Michael Murphy), and on what level does she feel it? I wanted to know a little more than Christie showed, but sometimes, just clutching her husband's arm out of view of the nurses, or starting her conversations with an indulging smile as if her visitor, not she, were the person in need of careful handling, is more than enough to make Away from Her a rewarding, poignant experience.

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "Blanchett, blocked in most of her attempts to dig into Elizabeth or connect with the period, does what she can to show us a smarter but also a coarser woman who has replaced the strawberry-blonde neophyte of the first movie, and since I've always regarded that first performance as eminently improvable, I wasn't uninterested to watch her delve back into the part with almost ten years' more experience in front of the camera to lead her way. Unfortunately, now that she's a more agile psychologist and a more flexible stylist than she was in 1998, Kapur strands her amid a film that only wants to gaze at her and derealize her and hyperbolize her and subtly degrade her and dress and undress her. Blanchett, just like Elizabeth herself, has become an unquestioned ideal within the universe of Elizabeth: Book of Shadows, filling the space where a great and admired actress is presumed to be. Would that the film really wanted a performance, instead of a stitched-together fashion show of moods and comportments, gaudily embellished with obscure conspiracies, hazy alliances, clichéd gender politics, and an unfathomable urge to give Elizabeth the baby she never had."

Who gets your vote in this field, and on my dream ballot below? VOTE HERE!

My Favorites from 2007:
(Favorites in All Categories)

My Pick: Tang Wei, Lust, Caution
Nominees: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en rose
Nominees: Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Nominees: Laura Linney, Jindabyne
Nominees: Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Honorable Mentions: Parker Posey, Fay Grim; Ellen Page, Juno; Laura Linney, The Savages; Kate Dickie, Red Road; Julie Christie, Away from Her; Catherine Frot, The Page Turner; Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray; Parker Posey, Broken English; Ashley Judd, Bug; Nina Hoss, Yella; Julie Delpy, 2 Days in Paris; Marina Hands, Lady Chatterley; Luisa Williams, Day Night Day Night; Tabu, The Namesake; Amber Tamblyn, Stephanie Daley; Tilda Swinton, Stephanie Daley

Further Research: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Golden Door

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