Penélope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children
The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Interesting, with major stars working largely and intriguingly against type: Dench a villain, Streep a comic Medusa,
Mirren an introvert, Cruz a legitimate actress. Still, the casting is sometimes more interesting than the actual performances
or the films (Cruz and Volver excepted), and it's hardly the bumper crop that many in the popular media maintained. Ranking Oscar's Ballot
My Pick: Penélope Cruz, Volver ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Cruz puts the world back on notice that she can really act, without delivering the kind of strenuous, self-conscious
performance that's designed to prove she can Really Act. In keeping with the three major demands of successful melodrama,
she allows the audience to see her thinking, sometimes plotting, always making decisions and regretting her options; she moves
and shapes her body and her voice with an expressive rigor in keeping with the heightened colors, framings, and music; and
she communicates a potent emotional life that infuses all of her thoughts and movements with deep, credible feeling. Extra
points for the tartness and impatience she occasionally folds into the characterthis occasionally wispy movie needs some
extra tang. Too bad about the obvious lip-synching.
From There: Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestly so much more wittily and unexpectedly
than she might have, and with such principled, anti-chauvinist convictions ingrained within her plummy, mall-friendly villainy,
that the character doesn't quite play as a devil: we understand her too well, and we root for her a little too much."
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The movie's reactionary paranoia and muddled dramaturgy are so overpowering that Dench, keen as she is, can't always keep up:
Barbara's written as a dunce and a genius, and Dench can hardly be blamed for not always knowing which box to put her in.
She's often locked into clichéd expressions of longing, scorn, and emotional terrorism that reveal the script's machinations
instead of concealing them. And who could have survived that impossible scene where Barbara is cajoled into dancing in the
Harts' living room? Still, Dench does release some valuable blood into the movie: she grieves for her cat as memorably (and
harrowingly) as she covets Blanchett's Sheba, and her usual countenance of sour knowingness takes nicely to these lurid
Helen Mirren, The Queen ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Like Dench, Mirren enjoys the privileges of superb costuming and makeup and of a film that's utterly fascinated with her
performance. Sadly, what Mirren has to play often falls to banal polarities (even a woman this cold can feel!) or a hundred
unilluminating variations on brittle, internalized impassivity. Her finest moments come late, in her reenactment of the live
TV address and her final, barbed meeting with Sheen's Tony Blair, but she misses lots of earlier opportunities (the scene where
she finds Charles comforting his sons is a wash), and she manages to underplay without being especially subtle.
Kate Winslet, Little Children ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Winslet takes her first full-on Toni Collette part as a tetchy, uncomfortable, "unattractive" normal gal who is aroused but
also frightened by her attraction to a looker. In a rare misfire for Winslet (in a year where she truly bombed in All
the King's Men), her voice and line readings feel stiff, even in big scenes like her first, self-theatricalizing kiss
with Patrick Wilson and her book-group meeting about Madame Bovary, and she never once offers an iota of evidence that
her Sarah would ever have moved into this house, this life, with this husband (a wasted Gregg Edelman). Winslet's vibrant eyes
and potent eroticism are never boring, but she winds up feeling miscast in a role that should have been right up her alley,
and might have been in another few years.
Who gets your vote in this field, and on my dream ballot below? VOTE HERE!