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Monday, February 22, 2010

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Helen Mirren

We're gearing up for one of our favorite nights of the year, The Oscars. Even though in recent years, all the surprise has gone out of the "opening of the envelope", it's still a fun show and one of the most watched t.v. events in the world.
(helen mirren)

And with the Oscars so near, the classic movie networks, TCM and AMC show a lot of Oscar winning films. Last night AMC aired "The Queen", which won Helen Mirren a Best Actress Oscar in 2007. It was first time we'd seen the film since its debut in 2006, and it allowed us to play one of our favorite Oscar games, "Who Really Should Have Won?"

Helen's competition in 2007 was Meryl Streep for "The Devil Wears Prada", Judi Dench for "Notes on a Scandal", Kate Winslet in "Little Children" and Penelope Cruz in "Volver".

We can eliminate the easy ones first. It wasn't Penelope's "time", meaning that Oscar voters often have to "warm up" to giving someone an Oscar by nominating her a few times first, and the members of the Academy in 2007 were still warming up to Cruz. It's similar to how figure skating judges won't give a skater a win the first time out; the skater has to earn the win over time. Meryl Streep could have won, but the part wasn't really that meaty, and the Academy tends to take Streep for granted, thinking she'll always be around giving great performances, and they can always reward her later. Plus, she already has two Oscars, which makes a lot of voters think "she has her two, let someone else win."

Kate Winslet was nearing the end of her "warming up" period, and the Academy was definitely ready to reward her, (she won two years later), but Winslet's role in "Little Children" just didn't have the power punch that makes someone put a check beside her name on the ballot. A lot of voters think, "If she's this good in a lightweight role, then she'll get a better role in a couple of years, and we can give it to her then." (And they were right, Winslet won in 2009 for the more substantial "The Reader".)

(cate blanchett and judi dench in "notes on a scandal")

Which brings us to Judi Dench. In our opinion, she was the only other nominee that could have won that year. Dench was absolutely scary in her role, creating an unforgettable character frought with drama, depth and weight. The role had "the range" of the entire spectrum of human emotions, and Dench's performance had a real arc, she transformed the shocking character right before our eyes, forcing us at times to sympathize with the character and at other times, hate her and root for her demise. It was a fantastically written role and incredibly played, which in lesser hands would have surely become horror camp.

So why did Helen Mirren win? When there are two performances which are truly worthy, other things come into play: who's turn is it, is it the last time they can win before they die, etc., but sometimes it just comes down to personal preferences. At first glance, one wonders how Mirren could win an Oscar for playing a character whose emotional range is so limited, and one whose actual face even barely moves. But upon watching the film last night, we remembered why Mirren was so unbelievable. Without moving her face, and with very little change in vocal tone, she managed to display a wide range of emotions, and as with Dench's character, at times we hated her and at times felt sorry for her. Mirren's performance was a slight twist on the "Jane Wyman/Holly Hunter" Oscar winning performances in which they played mutes who couldn't speak but displayed all their emotion on their faces. Mirren couldn't display any emotion on her face but did it all with her voice.

In the end, Dench and Mirren's performances were so completely different, it's apples and oranges, so we're guessing the vote that year came down to personal preferences, and the fact that Dench had already won an Oscar. Both women deserved to win that year, and we would have been happy with either win. If you've never seen "The Queen", take a look at it, and see if you don't come away thinking, "Wow, she did a lot of fast dancing in that role when it looked like her feet were barely moving!"

And then again, maybe Mirren won because she's over 60 and still sexy as hell. Wow!

Feel free to play the game. Why do you think Helen Mirren won?

(helen mirren)

1 comment:

John said...

I agree that both Dame Helen and Dame Judi's respective performances in "The Queen" and "Notes on a Scandal" were unforgettable.

I think Dame Helen won because:

1. Her performance was every bit as complex and nuanced as Dame Judi's (though much subtler)- for example, in the stag scene where she is required to convey bemusement, frustration, depression, surprise, joy, anxiety, terror, relief, acceptance and strong-willed determination all in a matter of MINUTES.

2. Her performance was also gutsy (playing a beloved living monarch) and on-point accurate (every QEII gesture, quirk and speech pattern has been memorized by the British for over 50 years). Had Dame Helen deviated an ounce from what is considered acceptable or realistic QEII behavior or given any hint that she was merely doing a QEII impersonation, it would have sunk her entire performance.

3. Dame Helen was an unstoppable juggernaut that year - she won virtually EVERY acting award that year. (She even won the African-American Critics Award for Best Actress!)

4. It's cliched but true - after nearly 40 years in films, 3 Oscar nominations and worldwide acclaim as one of the greatest living actresses, Dame Helen was truly DUE for an Oscar.

lol: Now, if someone can just explain how Julia Roberts' performance in "Erin Brockovich" beat out Ellen Burstyn's tragic and unforgettable performance in "Requiem for a Dream".......