Best Actress

One of the most talked about categories at this year’s Oscars, and one of my personal favorites, is the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  This year features one of the most unique fields the category has ever known.  Not only does Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) become the oldest Best Actress nominee of all time (85 years, 321 days), but Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) also becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee of all time (9 years, 135 days).  An even more impressive fact about Wallis’ nomination—she was actually only six years old when the movie was made!  The rest of this year’s group features actresses that have previously been nominated for Academy Awards.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany Maxwell, an eccentric widow with emotional issues due to her husband’s death.  In every way possible, Lawrence gives a performance that everyone will remember for a long time.  She plays a character that is oddly twisted and severely bizarre, but the emotion and dexterity she brings to this portrayal is something I watched in absolute awe.  In a year with some startlingly remarkable female performances, Lawrence stands out and deserves this great honor.  Lawrence was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone (2010).

2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

In Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA agent that devotes a decade to hunting down the world’s most dangerous man—Osama bin Laden.  Even though this film has been met with great criticism over the content, one thing that has not received anything but sheer admiration is the performance Chastain gives as the determined agent.  I went back and forth about who I thought truly gave the better performance this year, but even though Chastain would probably win this Oscar in any other year, I concluded that it was not as dominate as Lawrence’s performance.  Chastain was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011).

3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva plays Anna, a retired music teacher that suffers a stroke.  After her incident, she is never quite the same, and the enduring, loving relationship with her husband is tested in every way.  As the oldest nominee of all time for Best Actress, Riva takes on one of the most complex roles of the year.  The role is not just multifarious for the emotional requirements of the performance but also for the physical characteristics that it mandates.  I was more than impressed with her portrayal, and as a fan of film, I am lucky to have seen Riva’s astounding performance this year.  Riva has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a 6-year-old girl living with her father Wink in an area known as “The Bathtub” below the levee in southern Louisiana.  A deadly storm is on its way to the region, and Hushpuppy and her father must fight to survive.  Wallis gives one of the brightest performances of any actor or actress this year, and it is amazing to think someone so young could provide us with a gem like this.  Some absolutely stellar performances will more than likely beat out Wallis for this Oscar, but if her future portrayals are anything like this one, she is sure to be back at the Academy Awards many times in the future.  Wallis has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

In The Impossible, Naomi Watts plays Maria Bennett, a woman on vacation in Thailand with her family when a devastating tsunami comes ashore and demolishes everything in its sight.  The film is based on the true experiences of the Belón family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  While Watts does give an emotional performance, and arguably one of the better portrayals of her career, I was more than surprised when she received a nomination.  She did a good job, but it was nothing spectacular by any means.  There were a handful of non-nominated performances this year that justifiably should have received a nomination in her place.  Watts was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 21 Grams (2003).


Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 7 – Amour

Amour is a French-language film directed and written by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.  The movie follows an elderly couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anna (Emmanuelle Riva).  Both of them are retired music teachers that enjoy spending time together and listening to classical compositions.  One day, Anna suffers a stroke, and after that, nothing seems to be quite the same with her.  Their daughter, who lives abroad, comes to visit often and wants to help in any way she can, but Georges prefers to care for his wife by himself.  These two have endured a lifetime of love and compassion together, but after Anna’s incident, all factors of their relationship are drastically tested.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Michael Haneke is one of the great filmmakers of this era.  The world’s grandest film festival is the Cannes Film Festival in France, and the biggest award given out is the Palme d’Or, an award presented to the filmmaker of the best feature film at the festival.  Only seven filmmakers in the history of the competition have received this award twice, and Michael Haneke is one of those directors (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  This track record proves why Haneke is one of the greatest directors in the modern film industry.

Amour is up for many awards at this year’s Oscars, including Best Picture, becoming only the seventh foreign-language film to be nominated for this award.  A lot of people strongly dislike foreign films, but I think this characteristic makes you ignorant as a fan of film.  Some of the greatest movies ever made were not in the English language, such as The Seventh Seal (Swedish), Wings of Desire (German), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Mandarin), Downfall (German), and Letters from Iwo Jima (Japanese).  Everyone can attain a greater level of understanding and respect for the world film industry by taking the time to watch foreign films.

In Amour, Haneke has created one of the most unique tales of true love that the film industry has ever seen, and his outstanding script and story are made to look even more dazzling due to two unbelievably powerful acting performances.  One of the most critically recognized performances is from Emmanuelle Riva as Anna.  Riva has been nominated for many awards, including Best Actress at the Oscars, and the attention her portrayal has received is very much deserved.  Her unprecedented level of skill and sentiment in this role makes her a true contender for the Oscar.

My favorite performance from the film, however, is that of Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, Anna’s husband.  It is easily one of the greatest portrayals from a male lead in recent memory, and the ways in which Trintignant defines love and compassion on the screen are nothing short of amazing.  Trintignant has already been nominated and won for Best Actor at numerous film awards ceremonies in Europe, but for some reason that I still cannot quite understand, he was snubbed at the Oscars.  I felt his performance was the strongest in the entire film, and that is saying a lot considering Riva clearly gave an Oscar-winning performance herself.

This film was by far one of my favorites of the year, and even though it probably won’t win for Best Picture, Haneke will most definitely be receiving his first Academy Award win for Best Foreign Language Film.  Amour is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including a disturbing act, and for brief language.

Academy Award nominations for Amour:

Best Picture (Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, and Michael Katz, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Emmanuelle Riva)

Directing (Michael Haneke)

Foreign Language Film (Michael Haneke)

Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo