Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Clooney and Hoffman Will Win Oscars--Should They?

Conventional wisdom holds that Philip Seymour Hoffman (leading actor) and George Clooney (supporting actor) will run away the men's acting awards this year (I'll deal with the equally-certain female actors in a subsequent post). Hoffman won awards from the British Academy, Broadcast Film, Golden Globes, LA Film Critics, National Film Critics, Screen Actors Guild--well, you get the point. Clooney didn't accomplish quite the same sweep, but he did pick up the Golden Globe and other groups mixed up their praise (among Matt Dillon, Paul Giamatti, and Jake Gyllenhaal).

It's hard to argue against Hoffman's performance. Being able to credibly portray a celebrity isn't easy--you have to not only act, but do a pantomime of another person's behavior. I don't doubt that playing outrageous Truman Capote posed special challenges.

Hoffman manages to breathe full life into his Capote, not just impersonate him. In fact, if you hear Hoffman speaking or see pictures of him, it's amazing how far the deep-voiced, large Hoffman dissolved into the slight, whispy-voiced Capote. (Here's an audio clip of the the historical person--you can hear that Hoffman's take isn't slavish. It's representational.) More, Hoffman is given something to work with--they psychological trauma Capote felt during the episode of covering and writing the story In Cold Blood. In many ways biopics are forgiving for successful mimics, and I wouldn't want to say that this was the toughest role of the year--but seeing Hoffman, I believe no one could have done it better.

My vote--and the Jeffy--goes to Heath Ledger, however, for his role Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. As much as Capote was Hoffman's film, Brokeback was even more Ledger's film. Whereas the constrained plot of Capote gave a fair amount of tension to the story, the arch of Brokeback didn't amount to much--the life of a man increasingly isolated from others. There was no plot for Ledger to ride along with; once you learn that Ennis and Jack are gay, the plot is inevitable--the slow unspooling of a life. For Brokeback to succeed, Ledger had to be able to communicate this private descent, without the usual histrionics that Oscar voters love. It is a completely quiet performance, but the entire film depends on it.

I have a harder time seeing wherefore the Clooney love (for his role in Syriana) comes. He does a credible job, but it seems like the credit is due to stepping outside the usual roles to play a middle-aged spy who is more bureaucrat than 007. (And in fact, I think the real love is for doing what Hollywood considers most difficult of all--getting fat and growing a beard. Oh the humanity--give him an Oscar!) Needless to say, the Jeffy will not be awarded for sexy men braving a spare tire.

Instead, I'm giving the Jeffy to Matt Dillon for his role as a racist cop in Crash. Although many of the characters in the film are used to show the complexity of race, Dillon carries the heaviest load. We see him visciously badmouthing a black HMO receptionist who won't refer his ailing father for an appointment. It's an ugly scene, and Dillon's character seems unredeamable. Later, we see him humiliate a wealthy black couple he's pulled over to harass. As the husband watches on mutely, Dillon's cop does a "pat down" on the wife that's just short of rape.

But the movie's key scene also involves Dillon, as he discovers the same wife trapped under a burning car following an accident. In Dillon's attempted rescue, there is a moment when his petty hatreds are washed away and he is stricken with real panic and empathy. I was reminded of 9/11, which had the same kind of clarifying effect on people. Dillon has to play both selves credibly--the despicable and the transcendent--and make us believe they can both exist in a person at the same time. The movie depends in large measure on this character and the credibility of the rescue scene.

I admit--he's slender, fit, and cleanshaven. But still.

Best Actor: Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Best Supporting Actor: Matt Dillon, Crash

1 comment:

zemeckis said...

nice piece- keep it up!