I love movies. I don’t get to see as many as I want, or as many as I used to. Seeing movies on Netflix just isn’t the same; and as for watching on my smartphone — no. I watch the Oscars every year semi-religiously.
Last night during the ceremony, I got to thinking about the actors. The women actors this year are all upstanding, talented women, some of whom are able to buck the trend that older women cannot get decent parts. (I am still disappointed Viola Davis did not win. As for Octavia Spencer, she was too cute for words. I bet that is the first time that the state of Alabama has been thanked in an Oscar acceptance speech. And I am very curious to see what Rooney Mara does with the rest of her career.)
But the male actors… I am trying to figure out what makes an actor attractive. It’s not just handsomeness, although that can be a big factor, but intelligence and authenticity. I suppose it is strange to speak of authenticity about a career that definitionally is about being someone other than who you are, but an actor can portray a character which is recognizable to the rest of us.
George Clooney has this. I am not a Brad Pitt fan by any means,* but he did this in spades in Moneyball. Christopher Plummer, Colin Firth (who, along with Pitt, gets sexier every year). Owen Wilson — who all too often plays what seems like the same character — was completely relatable in Midnight in Paris.
But my favorite two performances this year were from one actor who won, and one who didn’t.
Jonah Hill turned in a wonderfully realistic performance in Moneyball. I know these guys. I went to school with some of them. Hell, in some sense I am one of them. These are people completely in love with something which is beyond their reach to ever conquer.** People who are — or used to be — sneered at if they become coaches or commentators because “they never played the game.” (One reason it took so long for a woman to break through as a football journalist.) It is every klutzy nerd who loves baseball with a passion. It is every woman who lives for the start of football exhibition season or spring training. There was authenticity, and affection, in Hill’s portrayal as the gifted statistician who helps turn the team around.
Even more so in Jean Dujardin’s work in The Artist. Even though he was an actor playing an actor, his character was first and foremost a human being. It would have been so easy to make George Valentin a cartoon, but Dujardin found the person at the center of the star. His desperate descent into obscurity was all the more believable, especially given that he had no spoken dialogue to help carry the illusion.
And Dujardin radiated joy. Before his fall, Valentin went through life with a twinkle in his eye. I have to wonder how much of this came from Dujardin himself. His Oscar speech was wonderful — the shouted end brought to mind the ecstatic speech by Cuba Gooding, Jr. when he won for Jerry Maguire. I am in love with this actor and I hope he does many more English language films. (I plan to hunt down his French films — after all, I’ve already seen the man in a film with subtitles.)
I wonder what this year will bring. Along with all the sequels, and the stupid ideas ripped off from board games (Candy Land? Seriously? What are you guys smoking?) there have to be other movies and performances that show us ourselves.
At least I hope so.
*That may be as much a result of his tabloid life as anything else, which is totally irrelevant to his skill as an actor.
**I am convinced this is why fantasy sports leagues exist.