THE WOMEN: Predictions for Academy Award nominations and awards: Actress and Supporting Actress

As is the case for most of the categories, most of the noms have pretty much already been determined and there’s little that can be done to stop the runaway train, outside one of the potentials being arrested as a child murderer. Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Natalie Portman (The Black Swan) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) are in with the in crowd, Lawrence especially after her award for Breakthrough Performance from the National Board of Review. However, the fight for who will actually win is between Bening and Portman. I believe the award will go to Bening, because, as the cliché has it, it’s her time. Portman has many supporters, but she’s still new to the whole awards thingy and I believe the Academy will want to make her earn a few more dues before giving her a statuette.

The final two spots are a bit up for grabs. Nicole Kidman will probably be number four for the Rabbit Hole, the best and most interesting work she’s done in some time, even if the movie is just an excellent okay picture. The only hesitation here is that the movie has yet to open, plus an additional caveat listed below.

As for the last spot, it’s between Leslie Manville for Another Year and Tilda Swinton for I Am Love. I believe that most people have now forgotten about I Am Love, which means that if the Academy is looking for another art house nominee to add to Lawrence’s nom, they will probably go for Manville, a movie that hasn’t opened yet. Manville won the National Board of Review, which can’t hurt, and Mike Leigh, who directed the film, has a pretty good track record in getting his actors nominations. Which means, poor Tilda Swinton. I’m not sure why Swinton is being so overlooked. She won an Oscar, for God’s sake, yet she can’t get no respect for Julia last year, and this year, it looks like it’s a no go for I Am Love. It probably didn’t help that her movie wasn’t the Italian entry in the foreign language category. It would probably also help if her movies were released later in the year. What may make the final determination here is the end of year critics’ awards, which might turn the tide in someone’s favor.

Julianne Moore is also in the “can’t get no respect” situation as well. Last year she was overlooked for a nom for A Single Man for some ungodly reason. This year, she may be left out in the cold for The Kids Are All Right. There’s some talk of pushing her for Supporting Actress, which may be her only hope. Sally Hawkins has a chance of getting an apology nomination for Made in Dagenham after not getting a slot for Happy-Go-Lucky, but though some people like her latest film, it’s not really getting the buzz. The same for Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs; no one seems to really hate it, but no one is responding to it either. I think most people have forgotten that Secretariat has come out, which probably dooms Diane Lane (one of our most underrated actresses). Blue Valentine hasn’t opened yet, so it’s hard to say how Michelle Williams will do. She’s done an incredible job of making everyone forget she was ever in Dawson’s Creek, but I’m getting the feeling her chances will be hurt by the “do I really have to see one more film for Oscar consideration, and such a downer one at that” situation. At the same time, Weinstein is distributing the movie, and it’s never good to count a Weinstein movie out of the running. Noomi Rapace is also being touted for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but she seems to be getting lost in the shuffle; what actually may not have helped is the releasing of all three movies in one year—voters may wonder which one they’re supposed to nominate her for or even forget that the first one was even released this year.

However, there is one possibility of a huge monkey wrench: Helen Mirren in the Tempest. She’s liked; she’s playing a part written for a man (and written by Shakespeare); and it’s the sort of part that, if it takes movie goers by storm, could get her a last minute nomination. If it happens, this may spell doom for Nicole Kidman.

At this point, the Supporting Actress is the most suspense filled because there is no clear front runner. The most definite nominees as of now are Helena Bonham Carter (a lot of fun in The King’s Speech); Melissa Leo (for The Fighter, which hasn’t opened yet); Diane Weist (wonderful, simply wonderful, in the Rabbit Hole); and finally Jacki Weaver, who seems a sure shot at a nom because of her National Board of Review win for The Animal Kingdom. My friend Jerry in Chicago thinks it will go to Bonham Carter who will be swept up in the wins for The King’s Speech and because some might consider it her time. I’m going to go for Melissa Leo because I think the Academy has been dying to give her an award ever since Frozen River and since she is a character actress and not a lead, there may not be enough possibilities in the future; it may be now or never. Though Diane Weist is very moving in Rabbit Hole, the nom is all she’ll get. And as for Jacki Weaver, who quite possibly deserves it, well, let’s face it, it’s an Australian Film, and the Academy is loath to give an acting award, especially a supporting one, to a film made outside of the U.S., unless it’s England (the Commonwealth doesn’t count).

For the fifth nomination, many names are being tossed about, but the two who have the greatest chance are Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right, if she is pushed for the position, and Hailee Steinfeld, for the unreleased True Grit. Right now, I’d say Steinfeld has the momentum, but it does depend on who well received the movie is.

THE WOMEN: Reviews of I Am Love; Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; Cairo Time; The Girl Who Played With Fire

There is something luminous about I Am Love from the opening shot. Much of this may be due to the gorgeous and entrancing cinematography of Yorick Le Saux. Or maybe it’s just the glowing skin of the lead Tilda Swinton that does the trick. Or maybe it’s both, seeing as how Le Saux also photographed Swinton for her earlier film Julia. It could also be the sweeping operatic music of John Adams that dots the action, or the ravishing production design. Whoever is to blame, I Am Love is luminous and enthralling to watch. Why it is so enthralling may be a more difficult question to answer. For the first third very little happens. An upper class Italian family, the Recchis, prepares for a birthday dinner for the patriarchic grandfather who still owns the manufacturing company that provides the family with its fortune. There are no major conflicts, no obvious inciting incidents, no melodramatic twists or turns. It’s just a quiet study of an upper class family living its life. There are some hints of trouble in paradise. The father Edoardo is upset that his son Edo didn’t win a race during a track meet; the grandfather Tancredi announces he is leaving the firm to both his son and grandson, something Edoardo doesn’t think is a wise idea; and Emma Recchi (Swinton) meets Antonio, the man who defeated Edo in the track meet and who hopes to open a restaurant with Edo’s support. By the time the story is over, Edo is dead and Emma leaves Edoardo to be with Antonio. As enthralling and mesmerizing as the film is, there does seem to be something missing here and that is the central cause of this family crumbling. There is some intimation that the foundations are rotting due to Edoardo’s repressiveness. He berates Edoardo over something as petty as losing a track meet; the daughter Elisabetta only tells Emma she is gay for fear of what Edoardo would say; Edoardo betrays Edo by selling the company out from under him (though Edo never really seemed all that interested in the business in the first place); and there seems to be no passion between Emma and Edoardo (though why is never explored). But somehow, in spite of all of this, the director Luca Guadagnino and the writers Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo and Walter Fasano, emotionally overwhelm us in the way those grand old melodramatists like Visconti and Sirk managed to. At the end, when Emma is rushing about collecting her things to leave, Adams music takes over and sweeps us along, making us scream out “leave”, even though we’re not quite sure why she is acting the way she is. It’s like a flood; there’s no fighting it, so just grab onto a log and go with the current.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is one of the most brutally honest films I have seen about someone in which the person documented fully cooperated. Whatever else you might say about the movie, by the time it is over, you feel like you know Joan Rivers; really, really, really, really know her, warts and all (well, no warts, her cosmetic surgeon wouldn’t allow it, but you know what I mean). There’s one point where Rivers is readying herself (both physically and emotionally) to be roasted, terrified at what they are going to say, telling us and Kathy Griffin that she sure wouldn’t be doing this if she had enough money. What’s striking here is that this whole film is just one whole roast, hold the jokes. Nothing’s off limits here. Her husband’s suicide and her anger at him about it; her being blacklisted by NBC after she left Johnny Carson to do her own show; her desperate need to work (she’ll do anything, anywhere if you’ll just meet her price); her frustration at never being considered a good actress (for those of you who want to know what she might have become, you might check out the movie The Swimmer where she has a refreshing scene with the star Burt Lancaster). It’s all there. Rivers would probably call it a Brazilian bikini wax of a movie. The documentary, directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg and which is the most successful one of the year so far, is riveting. It follows a year in her life where she has trouble getting work (her schedule is full of white spaces); opens a play in the Edinborough fringe and then takes it to London; does Celebrity Apprentice; and keeps up with her stand up. If you look up workaholic in the dictionary, her picture is next to the definition. The year is full of more downs that ups and you can feel her desperation, which, like the rest of her life, she is more than willing to show the audience. She wants to be loved and is not afraid to tell people that. I came away admiring and even liking Joan Rivers, but could I be in the same room with her? At one point, she has to fire her long time manager, Billy, because he keeps disappearing on her. We never find out exactly why, but it’s easy to see that it was probably due to burn out. When I talked to my friend Beriau about this, I told him that if he had left her years earlier, they could probably have stayed friends. Beriau was not so sure. As he said, one doesn’t leave Joan Rivers; how does one leave a whirling, dark vortex that sucks you in? He has a point. Thank God it’s just a movie.

Cairo Time has been compared to Brief Encounter, the staunch English film about two people who meet by chance at a railway station and consider having an affair, but never do. Though they have a point, it’s actually closer to Summertime, the Katherine Hepburn vehicle about a woman who goes to Venice, finds herself totally at a loss, and ends up having an affair with a man she meets. The reason it more closely resembles Summertime is that no matter what else it is, it really is no more than a travelogue disguised as a love story. There’s nothing wrong with that. Such a movie can be done well (like here or Summertime) and done badly (like Three Coins in a Fountain); but there are times when the sights and sounds of Cairo seem to be more important than the character’s journey. Patricia Clarkson steps into the shoes of Kate Hepburn here, playing Julia Grant, a writer who journeys to Cairo to see her husband who works for the U.N. and is overseeing a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Her husband, however, isn’t there to see her because there are complications at the camp. Instead, Julia spends her days drifting through this romantic city of the Pyramids trying to stand the heat and figure out how to spend her time since her reason for being there isn’t there. Into her life comes Tareq Khalifa (Alexander Siddig), a man who once worked with her husband, but has retired and now owns a café with the best coffee in Cairo. He takes it upon himself to show her some of the sights and help her fill up her days. The only sight Julia refuses to see are the pyramids, something she has promised to see with her husband. But as Julia and Tareq drift along, they also drift into becoming emotionally attached, not because Julia’s marriage isn’t working or there isn’t any passion left with her husband—it is and there is—it’s more because both are emotionally adrift and nothing seems to be stopping them. Julia nearly, but doesn’t, sleep with Tareq, but she does finally give in and commit emotional adultery by seeing the pyramids with Tareq. And of course, as in all tales of love affairs, just as they do, the husband returns. Unlike most stories like this, though, the husband never finds out what was going on behind his back. He goes with Julia to the pyramids, but she lies and says she has yet to see them. It’s a lovely story, though the driftiness of the plotline (written and directed by Ruba Nadda) tends to take over somewhere in the middle and the story slows a bit. But Clarkson, perhaps not quite as luminous as Swinton, is luminous enough and the movie overall is touching, if a bit minor.

I went with my friend Jim to see the Girl Who Played With Fire, the sequel to the hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which I also saw with Jim). I came out thinking there must be something wrong with me because, unlike the rest of my friends and the critics, I liked it much better than the first. In the …Dragon Tattoo, I felt that the story didn’t start for about thirty minutes and that the mystery never made much sense. Here the story begins immediately and, though I have some doubts about the plot hanging together, I felt it worked much better and was more convincing than the first. Noomi Rapace is back as Lisbeth Salander, giving another intense and thrilling performance as “the girl”, a woman with a mild case of Asperger’s, but who is a brilliant computer hacker. She becomes the chief suspect in a triple murder connected to a story about sexual slavery being investigated by a paper who employs Mikael Blomkvist (also back and still played by Michael Nyqvist). There really is no mystery here because it soon becomes clear who really did it. The plot driving the story is Lisbeth and Mikael’s attempts to prove her innocence combined with an extra twist as to who the murderer is and what he has to do with Lisbeth. My friends didn’t like it because they felt there wasn’t enough of an emotional connection when it came to the characters, and they have a point. Lisbeth and Mikael don’t even meet up until the end (when Mikael finds her at a farm, though it’s unclear how he knew where the farm was located, but what’s a mystery without a few glitches between friends). There is something disjointed about it all. At the same time, I didn’t care. The mystery, Rapace’s performance, and a nice supporting job by Micke Spreitz as a man who can feel no pain, carried me all the way, even with the somewhat anticlimactic finale that is more set up for the next movie than it is an ending.

BAD GIRLS: Movie reviews of Julia and Easy Virtue

What do you do with a problem like Julia? Half the time I found myself screaming at the screen at how ridiculous and inexcusably stupid the seemingly never ending plot turns were. The other half I was riveted to my seat just having to know how the whole damn thing was going to turn out. Julia is an alcoholic barfly (what my father once called a good time girl) with the sociopathic tendency to lie and manipulate people into getting what she wants. The irony is that she’s so successful at it, fascinatingly so at times, it just keeps digging her in deeper where she has to lie to fix the problems caused by her previous lies (just like that great sociopathic liar Craig’s Wife played by Rosalind Russell). Whatever one may think of the plot, the real driving force of the movie is the magnificent Tilda Swinton. She does one of those Bette Davis, go for broke, I don’t give a damn what I look like, performances. It’s written by Michael Collins, Camille Natta, Aude Py and Erick Zonca (maybe the number of writers is why there are so many plot turns) and directed by Zonca (who directed the beautiful The Dreamlife of Angels). In the end, one has no choice but to admit it is highly entertaining in spite of the questionable plot runs and an ending that seems too curt, as if the authors had just gotten too exhausted to fully resolve things.

Easy Virtue is based on a play by the witty Noel Coward, though the movie doesn’t seem to have that much wit to it. Whether this is Coward’s fault or the adaptor’s (Sheridan Jobbins and Stephan Elliot) is unclear since I’m not familiar with the source material. In the end, one spends most of the movie watching a young woman try to ingratiate herself into a family when she is so obviously so out of their league. There’s no suspense because you want the character to fail and it can be a little annoying spending an hour and a half waiting for someone to realize the obvious. The acting is fine, with Colin Firth (as a shell shocked war veteran that does a wicked tango); Jim McManus (as a dipsomaniac butler); and Kirsten Scott Thomas (as the “there’ll always be an England” aristocrat) taking the honors. Jessica Biel, somewhat ironically, is a bit out of her league, but she has such luscious lips and is so wonderfully American, you know she’s going to win the battle.