As most of our readers probably know, that’s one of Big Daddy’s most memorable lines from Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. I’ve always thought it was the contrast between his hard-scrabble roots and the elegance of his vocabulary that help to define his character so specifically.
Well, Big Daddy, I’m about to cause some trouble of my own. Maybe I’m getting old like you. Maybe I’ve just turned bitter and cynical. But I, and at least a few of my colleagues, feel frustrated with this latest circus called “awards season.” Because I don’t know whether to be surprised, outraged, or merely disappointed by the yawning gap between my own taste in films, and the performances within them, and the choices made by Academy members.
I’m cherry-picking here, but one definition of “mendacity” is “the tendency to be untruthful.” Which has always been the hit on Oscar nominations. Every year around this time, commentators (like myself) complain that some actor, actress (or group, as is the case this year for African-Americans) has been neglected. Someone gets left out, because the voting membership is too old, too white, or too something to recognize a raft of great actors, directors, writers (I think the Oscars for Technical and Craft nominations are far more indicative of the true talent of the membership, as the voting members need to themselves be similarly skilled).
This year, for example, I find it hard to believe that Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paolo Sorrentino were denied nominations for their collective work in YOUTH, my favorite film of the year.
Even more astounding are some of the performances (and films) that have been nominated: SPOTLIGHT? Really? That’s our best film??
Films like SPOTLIGHT and CAROL are just variations on the theme of “flag-waving”—a modernized form of self-righteousness that is reflected in mannered performances that have the powerful scent of…mendacity. Not that we are talking about bad actors, or bad issues. But sometimes, when actors perceive that they are doing “noble” work, they begin to make specific acting choices that are “interesting” instead of “interested.” They begin to look like missionaries doing the work of God, wearing their acting moments like cloaks of piety (or even at times, like crowns of thorns).
Just do me a favor. Watch Cate Blanchett in CAROL; Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams in SPOTLIGHT; Eddie Redmayne in THE DANISH GIRL.
Then watch Mark Rylance in BRIDGE OF SPIES. Watch Michael Caine in YOUTH. Watch even Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling or Steve Carrell in THE BIG SHORT. Watch Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor or almost any of the actors in THE MARTIAN.
In my not-so-humble (I lost my humility after my first 10,000 hours of casting) opinion, the latter performances are seamless, acting without commentary or evaluation. The former? I leave it to you to comment.
– Rick Pagano