Whenever the women in this year’s crop of female Oscar probables do show any independence or act for themselves, they’re usually playing a man, like Cate Blanchett as one of the incarnations of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Otherwise, the female characters’ actions are passive-aggressive or indirect or born out of ignorance and invariably invoke catastrophe. As with Amy Ryan’s slutty, irresponsible mother in Gone Baby Gone. Or Atonement’s 13-year-old Briony, played by the uncanny Saoirse Ronan, whose misapprehensions and fabulation ultimately lead to, it is suggested, the disaster of Dunkirk.
Will there be no Atonement?
Atonement — that’s something missing in this list of nominees. Not just the lushly produced, elegant, and inert adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, but any reference to the spiritual process itself. The Foreign Press and the Golden Globes might have awarded the film with “Best Motion Picture — Drama,” but Americans — critics and audiences alike — never warmed to the movie.
Nor did audiences flock to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, though critics (myself included) loved it. Its hero, far from being Shiva the God of Death, is one of his victims, totally paralyzed and struggling to communicate with the world. How very 1989, when Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July battled it out for best actor as disabled heroes.
Well, maybe next year. Meanwhile, Julian Schnabel should get a best-directing slot for Diving Bell; after all, he’s an artist, and we know how demonic they are. Otherwise, the notion of redemption through art or suffering these days seems a lot less relevant, exciting, and award-worthy than the vicarious thrills of destruction, despair, and damnation.
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Peter Keough's Outside the Frame: http://www.thephoenix.com/outsidetheframe