Winslet Takes All
She may be our best movie actress right now, but Kate Winslet has outed herself as a complete luvvie over the course of this awards season. It started with her matching set of over-the-top thank you speeches at the Golden Globes. Sure, it must be nice to be named both best actress (Revolutionary Road) and supporting actress (The Reader) of the year. That's a good way to break a losing streak that includes five previous Golden Globe nominations, five Oscar nominations and four Bafta nominations. (She did win a supporting actress Bafta for her first nomination, Sense and Sensibility, way back in 1995, but that must feel like a long time ago. She was 20 at the time.)
Kate, no one should be that grateful to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - those hacks should be thrilled you would even deign to show up at their little soiree, an event whose only importance is to give the Oscar voters a timely nudge. Hyperventilating on stage? Leave that to the Gwynnies. We Brits are supposed to above that kind of thing. Let me refer you to the Academy Award acceptance speeches by Emma Thompson and Tilda Swinton: yes they were pleased, but that didn't mean they couldn't witty and eloquent at the same time. Emma joshed about sharing the box office stats with Jane Austen. Tilda ribbed George Clooney about Batman and Robin. Now that's class.
Winslet was marginally better when it came to picking up her supporting gong for The Reader at the Screen Actors Guild function last week, so maybe the more she wins, the better she'll get. Even then, her comment that "everyone should be given a medal" was still pretty idiotic. If actors deserve medals as well as fame and fortune for playing make believe, then how might we reward nurses, firemen, or sanitation workers, prey tell?
What are the odds of a Winslet victory speech on Feb 22 anyway? When it came to best actress, the Screen Actors Guild closed its eyes, offered a collective shrug, and decided that if in Doubt, plonk for Meryl Streep. (Whose own speech was breathless but funny.)
The Academy has already shown its unenthusiasm for Revolutionary Road, pointedly ignoring the movie, director Sam (Mr Winslet) Mendes, costar Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate herself. Instead, Winslet found herself nominated for best actress in The Reader - even though Miramax was campaigning on her behalf for a best supporting actress nomination.
Having tipped her to win for Mendes' film just a week ago, your humbled correspondent has a theory or two about this travesty. Her role in The Reader calls for a German accent, working class body language, frank sexuality and a form of disability - not forgetting a long courtroom scene. This is "acting" of the most easily identifiable sort: something foreign, strange, and a little bit brave. We're not really asked to identify with Hanna, or even understand her (it's part of the point that Michael - Ralph Fiennes - fails to) but we can see her from three or four different perspectives: lover, sinner, sufferer. There's enough material here for several Oscars. Plus, as Ricky Gervais was so quick to point out, it's a Holocaust movie - which is always good for a gong. The Academy voters are right, it's not a supporting performance. But it's also not Winslet's best of the year.
In Revolutionary Road, you don't catch her acting. Winslet's character April is so much closer to home: attractive, educated, married with kids, but fundamentally unfulfilled. We know this person so well, perhaps there's a temptation to think anyone could have played it. And the truth is, any number of American actresses could have. But Winslet is unstinting in her commitment to a character who is admirable in some ways, but also tragic. She makes us want to believe in her dreams, even w hen we know they're unrealistic; to forgive her failings, even when they're so damaging. Her work here is supremely subtle and unforced, full of nuance and conviction - it's certainly as fine as anything she's done before.
Good as Winslet's fellow Oscar-nominees are - Angelina Jolie as a single mom in Changeling; Melissa Leo making ends meet by smuggling people into the US in Frozen River; Anne Hathaway as a recovering addict in Rachel Getting Married; Meryl Streep as a forthright nun in Doubt - I don't think any of them feels so present and at the same time so haunting as Winslet in this film. It seems somehow fitting that this portrait of unrealized promise should itself be overlooked.
Winslet's Beautiful Losers
In a role not dissimilar to April in Revolutionary Road, Winslet plays Sarah, a married mom who falls into an affair with a stay at home dad (Patrick Wilson). Kate was Oscar nominated opposite Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz and Meryl Streep, but the award that year went to Helen Mirren for The Queen.
With funky blue hair and a larger than life spirit, Clementine Krucyynski gave us a very different side of Winslet. Her fellow nominees included Imelda Staunton, Annette Bening, Catalina Sandino Moreno and - the winner - Hilary Swank, for Million Dollar Baby.
As the young Iris Murdoch, Winslet was energetic and smart, a livewire who seems too bright for a premature fogey like Hugh Bonneville - and yet you believed in their romance. She was plausibly paired with Judi Dench too, as her older self. Nominated in the supporting category (Dench was senior after all) Winslet was up against Marisa Tomei, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren again, and the winner, her Little Children costar Jennifer Connelly for A Beautiful Mind.
The movie was a box office phenomenon and it won 11 Oscars from 14 nominations. But it wasn't an actor's film. Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't even nominated. Winslet - playing the more proactive role - lost to Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets. Her fellow nominees were Brits Julie Christie, Helena Bonham Carter, and Judi Dench.
Another nomination in the supporting category; costar and scenarist Emma Thompson was nominated for best actress as Marianne Dashwood's sister Elinor. Joan Allen, Mare Winningham and Kathleen Quinlan were also in contention, but they all lost to Mira Sorvino for her squeaky blonde in Mighty Aphrodite.