Monday, May 12, 2008

Emmy FYC: Mary McDonnell

If there is any justice in the world (and, sadly, in the awards community there very rarely is), Mary McDonnell will get an Emmy nomination for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her amazing performance as President Laura Roslin in "Battlestar Galactica," easily the best show on television. She has been consistently great as the cancer-stricken President of the less than 40,000 surviving humans of the 12 tribes, but the first few episodes of this current season have been, quite simply, a spectacle of this two-time Oscar nominee's skill. And the best showcase of this so far is this week's episode, "Faith." Simply fantastic. This episode should definitely be the submission for the campaign for McDonnell's nomination.

Emmy FYC: "Battlestar Galactica" for Best Drama Series, Mary McDonnell for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and whatever else the show is eligible for.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Women of Cannes 2008

*Information and rankings updated to reflect the film details now available on the Cannes website.

In Saturday's article, I went through the 67 Cannes Best Actress winners since 1946, in anticipation of what could very well be the most exciting race in recent years. While cineastes celebrate Festival de Cannes for its usually bold, unconventional choices, there's no denying the thrill that the international film-going community felt when it was announced that among the 22 films In Competition would be anticipated and potential Oscar contenders Blindness (Fernando Meirelles), Changeling (Clint Eastwood), Che (Steven Soderbergh), and Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman). When was the last time that the Fest seemed so much like the arena for pre-Oscar competition? And what do these four titles mean for the Fest's Best Actress category? Julianne Moore, Angelina Jolie, Amy Ryan, Franka Potente, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and at least five possibilities from Synecdoche. Add to that list a bevy of world cinema's ingenues and veterans, and it's a dream slate for any actressexual (for the uninitiated, that's a term coined by Nathaniel Rogers of Filmexperience that refers to love for or obsession with actresses and their performances).

Now that we've looked at the history of the category, it's time to dive into this year's race. To get some extra perspective, we must of course be aware of who will be deciding the winners for this year's competitions. The 2008 Festival de Cannes Jury is headed by director and Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, and the other members are: French actress Jeanne Balibar; director Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory); Italian actor Sergio Castellito; director Alfonso Cuaron; actress Alexandra Maria Lara (Control); Oscar nominee Natalie Portman; author and director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis); and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

In order of likelihood of winning

Blindness (Brazil/Canada/Japan)

Role: A doctor's wife who becomes the only person who can see in a town afflicted with mysterious blindness.

Status: Moore has been Oscar-nominated several times before, including an uncommon double-dip in 2003. After a string of relative missteps, Blindness could be her chance to return to the awards spotlight.

Chance: Very High.

FOR: The film enjoys much hype because of its source material and its high-profile director Fernando Meirelles. It's the Opening Film. It could also be the return to form for Moore that everyone is waiting for. Americans have historically performed exceptionally in this category. Jury Plus: It sounds like a role that Portman would love to try, and the film looks like something right up Cuaron's alley.

AGAINST: The last American actress to win this award was Holly Hunter for The Piano in 1993. In recent years, two Asian performers, an ensemble of Spanish actors, an Icelandic pop icon, and others of previously unrewarded nationalities have broken the dominance of French, Italian, British, and American actresses. Then again, that could actually work for Moore.

Leonera (Argentina/South Korea/Brazil)

Role: A 25-year-old pregnant woman who is sent to jail for murder and has to raise her son in prison.

Status: Gusman starred in only one film prior to Leonera. She has more credits as a producer and costume assistant.

Chance: Very high.

FOR: Imprisonment (Lee Grant, Krystyna Janda, Maggie Cheung) and struggling to raise a child (Sophia Loren, Anne Bancroft, Cher, Bjork, Cheung, Do-Yeon Jeon) seem to be good formulae for a Cannes Best Actress win. Cannes also has not turned a blind eye to young actresses and performers from Argentina.

AGAINST: Cannes has had a tendency to honor performances from relatively more experienced actors. But it wouldn't really deter the jury from choosing her. The real problem about being a neophyte this year is having to go against seasoned veterans like Moore and Deneuve.

Un conte de Noel (France)

Role: A woman who rigidly heads her disintegrating family and throws out her wanton brother.

Status: Consigny has appeared in over 30 projects and has been nominated for a Cesar. She was last seen in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Chance: High.

FOR: Hers seems to be the central role and one of the more emotional in this film, and that's saying a lot when your co-star (and onscreen mother) is Catherine Deneuve.
Historically, French actresses or actresses in French productions have had the best performance in this category. She has an additional hook in that her son is an adolescent with serious mental problems. Cannes has been friendly to such mother roles.

AGAINST: Catherine Deneuve. Even if her role is larger, the mere presence and stature of Deneuve may overshadow her.

Un conte de Noel (France)

Role: The matriarch of a family challenged by death and strained relations.

Status: Deneuve is an Oscar-nominated and multi-Cesar-awarded French screen legend. She served as the Vice President of the Cannes jury in 1994, and she has been in 14 Cannes selections, including eight In Competition.

Chance: High.

FOR: As you can see above, Deneuve has been no stranger to the Festival. But she has never won. Her role is likely substantial enough to warrant a strong rally for her to win her first Best Actress award from Cannes.

AGAINST: This isn't the Oscars, so the "career award" rule does not necessarily apply here. If the performance is too conventional, or it takes a backseat to that of Anne Consigny (who plays her daughter), then the jury might not feel inclined to give her the award.

Er shi si cheng ji (China)

Roles: Three factory workers whose lives over the span of 50 years will be chronicled, culminating in the demolition of the factory to give way to a skyscraper.

Status: Chen was for a time the most famous face in Asian cinema. After a few missteps in Hollywood, she has regained her status as both actress and director. She is fresh off critical acclaim and awards for her role in The Home Song Stories. Tao has few films credited to her name. Tao appeared in director Zhang Ke Jia's Venice winner Still Life. Liping is more seasoned, with nominations and wins from bodies in China and Japan.

Chance: Considerable.

FOR: Since Maggie Cheung won for Clean in 2004, another Asian, Korea's Do-Yeon Jeon, has won the top prize. 24 City is the only major Chinese film selection this year, and it's directed by a recent favorite of international festivals, Zhang Ke Jia. Chen is practically an icon in world cinema, though underrated. She has won awards in most festivals with the notable exception of Cannes.

AGAINST: There's no telling at this point if any particular actress has a role that is significantly more substantial than the others'. Cannes juries have given ensemble awards before, most recently for the actresses of Volver in 2006, but this year's judges might not be so keen on doing the same so soon after that.

L'Echange (USA)

Role: A mother whose lost child is returned to her, but not as she had known him.

Status: Jolie has won one Oscar. She is known more for box office hits than critical favorites, and her public persona has eclipsed her status as an actress. Like Moore with Blindness, Jolie could get a career resurgence with this film directed by Clint Eastwood.

Chance: Considerable.

FOR: The film is arguably even more anticipated by Oscar-watchers than Blindness, since it has iconic Clint Eastwood, no stranger in Cannes, at its helm. The role, that of a tormented mother, is quite popular in this category, and the extra twist in the theme may work well. Jury Plus: Penn, the head of the jury, won his only Oscar so far for his role in Eastwood's Mystic River.

AGAINST: Jolie is not as critically acclaimed as Moore, and she may be too mainstream and controversial for the tastes of a Cannes jury, regardless of who comprises it. And a jury headed by an Eastwood actor may not be too keen on becoming controversial should they award Jolie.

Synecdoche, New York (USA)

Roles: The women in the life of a theater director, including a celebrated actress (Wiest) and his lover (Morton).

Status: Wiest is an acclaimed actress who has two Oscars and one other nomination. Morton is also highly regarded, with two Oscar nominations to her credit. The rest of the women in the ensemble (Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Hope Davis) are themselves respected actresses, most with at least one Oscar nomination.

Chance: Fair.

FOR: This is potentially one of the greatest showcases of female talent in recent cinema, assuming that they all have substantial roles that don't tastelessly clash with each other. Given Wiest's longevity and Morton's role, they may have the biggest chances among the women in both Cannes and the Oscar nominations for the 81st Academy Awards. Jury Plus: Morton has worked with both Penn (Sweet and Lowdown) and Lara (Control). Wiest has worked with Penn (I Am Sam). Keener was directed by Penn in Into the Wild.

AGAINST: How does each role complement the others? Are they just accessories to Philip Seymour Hoffman's central performance? Just like with the trio of 24 City, the jury might not be so keen on giving another ensemble award so soon after Volver's similar victory.

Le silence de Lorna (Belgium/France/Italy)

Role: A young Albanian woman who must decide whether or not to keep silent about the impending crime against a man she had married for Belgian citizenship.

Status: Dobroshi has appeared in only two films prior to The Silence of Lorna.

Chance: Fair.

FOR: On paper, the role (mixture of tragedy and hope) sounds like it could be an awards-magnet, particularly in international film festivals. This film was directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, winners of the 2005 Palm d'Or for L' Enfant.

AGAINST: Like the lead in L' Enfant, Dobroshi is a neophyte. She has to be exceptional, with such a responsibility of carrying the whole film on her shoulders.

Delta (Hungary/Germany)

Role: A young woman who is punished by townsfolk for a relationship with her brother that they deem inappropriate.

Status: Toth has been acting in films since 2002 and has won several awards in her native Hungary and elsewhere.

Chance: Fair.

FOR: This type of role, with hints of suffering and familiar struggle, has performed quite well in past Cannes years. Several Hungarian performers have also been awarded in this category.

AGAINST: Though Cannes has not shied away from touchy subject matters and graphic depictions of violence, it would take something extra to have a performance, particularly from a relative newcomer, shine through.

Serbis (Philippines/France)

Role: The matriarch of a family that runs a prostitution service within an old provincial movie theater.

Status: Pare
ño is a veteran actress in her native Philippines. Her performance in last year's Kubrador was a significant comeback and earned her accolades there and abroad.

Chance: Fair.

FOR: This category has historically been friendly to the roles of mothers in trying conditions. Though Pare
ño herself does not play a prostitute, the profession has also enjoyed representation among the winners of this category (Giulietta Masina and Melina Mercouri). Two Asian actresses have won since 2004.

AGAINST: Philippine cinema is only beginning to have a resurgence; the last time that a Filipino film was In Competition was in 1984. Pare
ño's performance, usually understated, nevertheless has to be powerful enough to make an impression.

The Other Contenders:

as a woman who faces daily life after a car accident causes her to lose her connections with people in La mujer sin cabeza (Argentina/Spain/France); FRANKA POTENTE as community revolutionary and spy Tamara Bunke in Che (USA); LAURA SMET as a woman who haunts the man who left her as he is about to be married in La frontiere de l'aube (France/Italy); ANNA BONAIUTO as the wife of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in Il Divo (Italy/France); GIOVANNA MEZZOGIORNO as a young Italian woman who crosses paths with a hotshot German photographer in Palermo Shooting (Germany); LILI MONORI as the mother of two scandalous siblings in Delta (Hungary/Germany); GWYNETH PALTROW and VINESSA SHAW as two women vying for the affections of a bachelor in Two Lovers (USA); HATICE ASLAN in Uc Maymun (Turkey/France/Italy); RACHEL BLANCHARD in Adoration (Canada); ISABELLA ROSSELLINI in Two Lovers (USA); CATALINA SANDINO MORENO in Che (USA); AMY RYAN in L'Echange (USA); JACLYN JOSE in Serbis (Philippines/France).