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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Their Best Scenes: Oscar's Best Actress Nominees

Every time I look at Oscar's best actress category, it reminds me of nothing but missed opportunities (seriously, no Annette Bening, Amy Adams, or Taraji P. Henson?). So, choosing the best scenes from each of the nominated performances was not exactly an easy task. But, I put on my big girl pants and really thought long and hard about what makes each performance at least special.

Continuing my week-long series highlighting the best scenes in each acting nominee, here's what I think about best actress:

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Somewhere deep in the midst of rape fantasy and victim neglect is a marginally interesting performance by French actress Huppert, who plays Michèle, an apathetic, successful businesswoman hated by most the people in her life—including her employees, ex-husband, and son. She's relentless, really, without a redeeming quality about her or any sense of vulnerability. So when she finally tells off her oblivious adult son, in a climactic scene we're anticipating the whole movie, it both re-affirms her lack of empathy and the satisfaction she feels about her own dominance.

Ruth Negga, Loving
Throughout Jeff Nichols's beautifully simple real-life drama is a landmark civil rights moment happening around its two protagonists, humble married couple Mildred (Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton). And while Richard is the protector, Mildred appears to be the quiet, passive, doting wife who just wants to live happily with her husband. That is, until their case garners nationwide attention, with the possibility of their interracial union no longer being illegal. Mildred then becomes the driving force in their case, allowing a Life Magazine photographer into their home to capture their simple lifestyle. While both Edgerton and Negga are in this scene, just sitting on the living room couch, it is Negga's presence, the embodiment of hope, happiness, and defiance, that personifies the entire film.

Natalie Portman, Jackie
Much of this political portrait is shrouded in mystery over who its subject, First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Portman), really was. Reliving the tragedy of her husband's assassination, interwoven with a dodgy yet surprisingly revealing interview with a reporter (Billy Crudup), is director Pablo Larraín's approach here, which further aggravates the typical nonfiction narrative. Faced with a complex character, Portman's controlled performance is best highlighted in the scene when Jackie gets emotional recounting her death, lights up a cigarette, and tells the reporter that he can't publish any of what she just said (and that she's not a smoker). 

Emma Stone, La La Land
Beyond the romantic effects. choreography, singing on a highway, there is one scene in this otherwise hollow musical dramedy that actually differentiates budding actress Mia (Stone) from her beau musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). It's at the end of the film at Mia's make-or-break audition when she nervously sings the film's emblematic song, "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," as her eyes well up with tears, overwhelmed with the desire to nail this and each lyric that directly relates to this moment in her life.

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
I'm going to need your help with this one, because I still haven't seen this film. So, I couldn't tell you if there are any actually compelling scenes here—with or without Streep. (But those I know who've seen it, fail to recall much about it aside from how wonderful Hugh Grant apparently is in it). Leave your reader's choice for favorite seen in the comments section.


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