Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In Praise of Kate Winslet

Another Oscars show came & went Sunday night, and Kate Winslet, at age 29, is now 0 for 4.

I actually watched them this year, the first time in more than a decade. I'd read about them after the fact, but the show itself wasn't, imo, worth the 3-hour-plus investment of my time (especially since the folks I want to win never seem to -- indeed, they're rarely even nominated).

I think just about everybody had picked Hilary Swank to win, with Annette Bening as the possible upset choice. And by most estimates, Ms. Swank gave (another) performance of a lifetime and very much deserved to win. I haven't seen Million Dollar Baby, but I saw Boys Don't Cry so at least I know just how good Ms. Swank can be and I'm sure her performance in MDB is every bit as good. But I was just kind of hoping Kate Winslet would win, especially after re-watching Heavenly Creatures last week.

Awards like the Oscars & Golden Globes & so on aren't supposed to be cumulative, of course. But I look at the career of someone like Winslet and, darn it, it does deserve some sort of cumulative acknowledgment, both for the quality of her performances and the sheer chutzpah in some of her choices (my personal favorite "what the hell was she thinking?" Winslet moment was watching her follow up Titanic with Hideous Kinky, a quirky little movie set in the desert and about as underappreciated as the big boat movie was over-appreciated).

Heavenly Creatures is a superb film. It’s imaginatively written, something rare indeed when recounting a true story; wonderfully staged & shot; beautifully directed by Peter Jackson and featuring two of the most stunning début performances ever given from the young leads, Melanie Lynskey & Kate Winslet. It’s the story of two teenage girls in 1950s Christchurch, New Zealand, and depicts the close bond between them and how it came to be severed forever. The camera serves almost as a sly interloper, weaving, dancing, flying in & around the girls as their imaginations feed one another and they themselves seem to soar with happiness and wonder. The dream world they share is colorful, wonderful, dreadful. Peter Jackson wisely chooses to allow us entry into that world, and the viewer can understand and even envy the girls for the special thing they have. It’s a movie unlike any other, I’d say. By turns tender, sad, malevolent, witty ... the girls come of age, as it were, with something of a splash.

Being such an admirer of that movie, I’m predisposed to like Winslet in just about anything else. She’s done fine work indeed in Sense & Sensibility, Iris, Holy Smoke!, Hideous Kinky, Finding Neverland, Quills, Jude, Enigma, Hamlet. She was the best thing about Titanic. And in the ten years or so that she’s been making movies, she’s been nominated for an Oscar four times, for Sense & Sensibility, Titanic, Iris and this year for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman is a god amongst writers). She could easily have been nominated for Heavenly Creatures and Jude.

Give the kid a break and let her win one already, you know?

Back in late 1970s and on through the 1980s, it seemed like there were only about 7 decent parts for female actors (& Meryl Streep got 6 of them). Streep was doing good work, as was Michelle Pfeiffer (hampered, perhaps, by being too beautiful) and Glenn Close. But it was sad slim pickings for the ladies. But something happened in the 1990s. All of a sudden, just when it looked to be an increasingly exclusive boys’ club, meaty roles for women were once more being written. The problem became something different: having those roles be noticed by audiences and perhaps acknowledged by the movers & shakers responsible for various & sundry awards. Many of the most exceptional performances by women in the 1990s received little attention or recognition. If you want to have the ultimate movie weekend sometime, settle in & watch Juliette Binoche in Les Amants du Pont Neuf and Trois Couleurs: Bleu. Both movies feature performances that are much richer than the (perfectly adequate) performance she gave in The English Patient (for which she won her Oscar). Winslet herself gives perhaps her best performance (so far) in the overlooked Michael Winterbottom film Jude, giving us an essentially perfect manifestation of Sue Bridehead as she was meant to be played. Folks might remember Kelly Macdonald from Gosford Park or Trainspotting (her small but memorable début role), but how many folks saw Stella Does Tricks, which features an absolutely devastating performance from Macdonald? How about Mary Louise Parker & Mary Stuart Masterson in the far more mainstream Fried Green Tomatoes? The list can get pretty long fast. (And that’s just the 1990s. Mulholland Drive (2001) features two awesome but overlooked performances from Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, to name just one example.)

In a more perfect world, those performances would have gotten the praise and attention they deserve.

Here’s hoping the world gets a little more perfect soon.

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