Oscar History

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Months of Meryl: THE RIVER WILD

"Great post and comments. Yes, Streep had to navigate the rough waters of being in her 40's! I do think she smashed through the glass ceiling for women since she persevered and then became an even bigger star in her 50's." - Sister Rona

"One of my favourite movies from my teen years - I'm shocked at how long ago this was released. It was Meryl that sold this movie for me and is the reason I saw it. At the time, and I still feel this way, she is the reason to watch and believe this film." -Filmboymichael

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Q&A: Teen Carnage, Kiki's Oscar, and Golden Age Moderns

In the Q&A column Nathaniel answers 9 or 10 questions posed by readers each week. This week young actors seemed to be on your brain for which we must surely blame that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close trailer. Here we go again. 

Spencer: With your great passion for film and your auteur love have you ever thought about MAKING films?
Yes but not in any specific way which is why I never pursued it. I have some skill with editing which I studied briefly in college (or so my friend who is an actual film editor tells me) and I write but in truth, I probably wouldn't be happy unless I was directing (i.e. in control). I was honest with myself early on that I just couldn't see myself having the right temperament for it. Still, like anyone, I've had fleeting fantasy moments about making movies. It usually involves me being lauded as the director who finally brought the musical back for good. Mostly because I keep waiting for that savior to arrive and, as it turns out, Rob Marshall wasn't the answer.

I just recently watched the Martin Scorsese documentary on Fran Lebowitz called Public Speaking (which I recommend) and she put into words something I've always felt.

An audience with a high level of connoisseurship is as important to the culture as artists."

She explains why in more articulate detail in the film but I'm happy to do my small part in continuing the connoisseur tradition.

Basti: "Extremely Loud..." and "Hugo" ahead... What is your favourite performance by a male child actor?
I tend to not like child actors, at least American ones, because they're too precociously aware of the camera. That said I have nostalgic fondness for Mark Lester in Oliver! (1968) because I was obsessed with the movie when I was the age of its singing orphans. Jamie Bell was pretty special in Billy Elliott (2000) and I'm happy his career panned out. I liked Nicholas Gledhill in Careful He Might Hear You (1984) but the movie is a foggy memory. Oh, Haley Joel Osment! You can't even say "it was the direction" with him as you can with many great child performances, since he was deserving of Oscar nominations twice before he was even 13!  (The Sixth Sense and A.I. Artificial Intelligence). 

Philip: What does Kirsten Dunst need to do to see an Oscar nomination?
She's doing it right now. I don't mean that Melancholia will snag her her first Oscar nomination -- she has to share film carrying duties there and her cargo is too eerie and depressive for mass appeal -- but that she's making very smart moves at this point in her career as she rebuilds after that weird post Spider-Man 3 spell...

Her current decisions and ace work (All Good Things followed immediately by Melancholia? That's quite a twofer performance-wise.) are bound to pay off in terms of respect and career momentum as she reaches the magic years for female movie stars. Which, if you're wondering, is from about 31 to 35 years of age by my calculations. So many of the truly iconic performances have happened in that age range. Think of the best and most famous performances ever and then look up the age the actress was at the time. It's uncanny. Or maybe it's just when actresses have the best opportunities work-wise. Of course Oscar likes women best at age 29 (as previously discussed) but that's a different topic.

MrW: Chaplin or Keaton?
Keaton and with bells on. Uh, even though there's no sound.

Liz: What would you do to fix the foreign language category at the Oscars, particularly the strange eligibility and release rules? On one hand, it's frustrating that it's virtually impossible for moviegoers to see the movies before the ceremony. But on the other, it's a nice way to get these movies more exposure if they're able to put "Oscar nominated" on their posters. Quandry?
I am much more forgiving of Oscar's foreign film rules than most pundits. I totally understand why they have the one film rule and the percentage rules of language and the "is it Albanian enough?" rulings and all of that. That said, I do think there's one easy fix that wouldn't completely demolish Oscar's diversity-structure but would still better represent what's happening in world cinema  and maybe even prompt more ambitious release strategies. My feeling is the rules should stay exactly as is EXCEPT that if a film receives a regular release during the calendar year it also becomes eligible in this category, at least for write-in votes. Sure this would give France and India, for example, a multiple films edge each year (since several of their films see stateside releases) and other countries an edge in the years in which they have world cinema heat but why shouldn't the Best Foreign Film Category also reflect dominant film cultures? Why shouldn't, for example, Pedro Almodóvar be eligible with every release even if Spain doesn't submit him? It seems like the rules as is don't reflect success stories but only attempt to cause them (unlike every other category). 

Dylan: Cast 4 child/teen actors in a middle school production of "God of Carnage".
What's with all the "young actor" questions this week? This one made me LOL so I had to respond. It's so Bugsy Malone. Tweens and young teens in these purposefully middle age roles is just so wrong. It's as wrong as that classic Onion piece about the grade school production of Equus or Anna Kendrick's age inappropriate rendition of "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch" in Camp (2003). I'm sure someone with more familiarity with young actors would have more fun doing this. ANYONE WANNA TAKE THIS QUESTION ON? Honestly, I tend to not pay much attention until actors are adults -- I like fully formed or visibly forming star personas way more than embryonic blank slates. The only time I think about the teen actors (who are usually on television which I don't watch as much of) is when they're just so good that I can't ignore them (like Evan Rachel Wood in thirteen. Holy hell but that was a great performance. I want a recount of those Oscar votes that led to the "youngest Best Actress nominee ever"... it was just the wrong one).

One thing I would like to see is Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning at war onscreen so maybe I should cast them both here in the Jodie/MarciaGay  & Kate/Hope roles? Who cares about the guys!

Jorge: From the 'Inception' top supporting players (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy), who do you think will be the next to get an Oscar nomination?

Or you think it will be Page, Cotillard or Caine to get a second one sooner than those two?"
I think Cotillard mostly due to the amount and the type of roles she's offered in prestige projects. JGL's problem is that he's still a bit too young for Oscar (they are so weirdly ageist in opposite ways with men and women) and I think Tom Hardy's problem may be the physicality of his roles. Oscar seems to reacts to attention-grabbing male physiques best if they're in distress (i.e. weight gains, weight losses, disabilities, etcetera) and Hardy's physicality has become such a focus of his work that I think that might be hard to get around for people in terms of people recognizing him for his acting talent alone.

Dean: Which of the following films would you most want to see made, and who stars and directs: Extreme Tinker MarthaLoud Tailor MarcyIncredible Soldier MayClose Spy Marlene?
I have to give you mad points for originality, combining three of this year's wordiest movie titles to make four theoretical but awesome sounding movies. I want to see all four actually but I'm most partial to Loud Tailor Marcy because I picture a, like, sassy comedy about a fashion designer's assistant starring some eccentric beauty with an oversize personality who cannot shut up. I want Ari Graynor for the lead role because she needs a plum vehicle and I want David O. Russell to direct it since I worship his smart and chaotic comedic sensibility. My second choice is Extreme Tinker Martha for which I have to have Ellen Page on the condition that she never has to spout any exposition because that just killed her in Inception. I want to love her again. (To be directed by...?)


Craig: Which actress (or actresses) from Hollywood's Golden Age could have a career today? Conversely, which of today's acclaimed actresses would have had stardom 70 years ago?
I think the obvious choice is Barbara Stanwyck. She had a certain ease with genre-hopping (how many people are equally good at playing dangerous women in noirs and goofy screwball comedy goddesses?) which I think today's stars have to do more of. Plus, she reads modern. (I'd love to think that Bette Davis would be equally huge in today's Hollywood but the sad truth is there probably wouldn't be so many projects built around her thorny persona and non-traditional beauty.) Drew Barrymore would have been a star in any era, but I think since her persona leans so cheerful and flirtatious without being overtly erotic, I think she would have excelled in the studio system which, at least for mainstream comedies, had way better scripts. Romantic Comedies were once one of the smartest of movie genres. I know I know; impossible to imagine even though it's true.

Stanwyck Vs. Barrymore

I've said before that Charlize Theron would have done much better in the past, where her innate glamour would not have had to be separated from her actual acting skill -- back then they could use both at once which is so much less true today in the obsessive need for naturalism in movies. Using that same formula: Uma Thurman. Two younger options (who have worked together) both of which I absolutely believe qualify for this question: Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt.

I'd love to hear readers take on this one. It's equally interesting to think of the reverse. I don't think, for example, that my two redhead godesses Julianne & Nicole would have fared as well in old Hollywood, despite their very impressive gifts. 

So... YOUR TURN in the comments!

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Reader Comments (22)

I just imagined Saoirse Ronan shouting: ..and I wipe my ass with your human rights!

But really, I hate to whine (and I do that a lot offline) but I hope some day you'll answer a question asked by me as lame it may be. (I'm so needy, I know)

Re: Golden Age Actresses, I suspect Garbo wouldn't have a career in Hollywood but she would be big in Europe.

October 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

OMG, I was totally going to ask you a child actor question (why hasn't there been any noms lately in both TV and film when its been better for example...) this week but I forgot, forgot, forgot.

Its weird that you don't think Julianne would have fared well because she was the first that came to my mind. Is it because her work is mostly heavy (gravitas not physical)? I envisioned her as a Joan Crawford type if that makes any sense.

October 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbleh

Kate Beckinsale would have been the biggest star...had she been born 90 years ago. She deserves so much better and she really is a good actress. Too bad 'Nothing But The Truth' was never released...

Oh and Carnage as a middle school production? GENIUS. Here's my picks...Kiernan Shipka (from Mad Men) as Nancy (Winslet)...Elle Fanning as Penelope (Fostert)...Hunter McCracken (Tree of Life) as Michael (Reilly)... and Nolan Gould (Modern Family) as Alan (Waltz)...

Lastly...Bale was not in Inception!

October 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike B.

I love Barbara Stanwyck. She's so much her own person that she always seems modern. Another choice would be Lillian Gish who professionally was tough, adaptable, and smart, weathering the changes from D.W. Griffith silents to The Night of The Hunter. And artistically, she is amazing. When I see her silents, I hear her voice in my mind as her lips move, not because I can lip read, but because her whole being is invested in the meaning of that moment. She illuminates with her inner light. I think she could have had an Isabelle Huppert-like career.

October 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

adri -- ooh, i love the idea of Gish and the adaptability you speak of is a great great point.

Mike -- hmmm. i'm not sure what Jorge meant (maybe he meant to type "Leo"?) so i deleted the Bale reference.

Bleh --- with Moore and Kidman i think it wouldn't have worked as well because they both mostly excel in very auteur driven films with the kinds of topics you didn't see in the golden age and hte kind of psychological detailing that was rarer pre-Method.

James T -- sorry. i just grab whichever questions i can think of answers to while i'm typing it up. i'll keep an eye out for you :)

October 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Judy Davis would've been more successful had she exisited in 40s Hollywood. Weaver could've been a big deal in the 70s-- Glenn Close would've won Oscars in the 70s

I can't imagine Meryl Streep outside of her 80s prime. She makes the most sense in her time because the business was no longer invested in the "serious film" actress of the past. Lange is a classic beauty-- thank God for Shepard. When I think of Nicholson touching her in Postman-- ick.

Nathan, I don't believe Bale will receive additional nominations unless his current work matches or surpasses The Fighter. His original style prior to didn't inspire much in awards bodies-- I don't see why that's changed unless his performance in that picture has moved him to new things in his approach.

For Carnage I would pick:
-Dakota Fanning (Nancy)
-Abagail Breslin (Penelope)
-Rico Rodriguez (Michael)
-Callan McAuliffe (Alan)

Alt choice: Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney as Nancy and Alan (Wouldn't it be fun to reunite the two stars of super 8)

As far as actresses from a different era working today, I'd like to think Vivien Leigh would still be great (she's like the predecessor of Kiera Knightley). She could easily carry big epic romances and also do deep psychological stuff. Could you imagine what Black Swan could have been like with her in that lead role in her prime?

I really think that (though I personally can't stand her) Katherine Heigel would have fit right in with the screwball era. Maybe Mila Kunis or Scarlett Johansen as femme fatales? Both actress are at their best they get to mix sexy with sinister...

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerence

BOooooooo! Chaplin RULES! Keaton... well, Keaton is also one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but... uh... Okay, this doesn't really work, does it? Never mind.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Barbara Stanwyck immediately did come to mind while I was composing this question, in a large part because of her modern persona. I also like to think that Irene Dunne could have a similar career as Stanwyck -- they both excelled at sophisticated romantic comedy (unfortunately sorely lacking in today's cinema) and did hold their own in dramatic roles with the best of their contemporaries.

Davis's prickly personality aside, I could see her tackling modern romantic drama roles or in straight drama. Imagine her in Far from Heaven. I think that her performance as Charlotte Vale in Now,Voyager matches Moore's nuanced characterization of Cathy. Both women were repressed in their daily lives but blossomed later in their respective story arcs -- due, in part, to a love of a forbidden man. You have to remember that in the 30s and 40s top stars made several films every year as opposed today when most A-listers only do a couple of films a year. An edited Davis would work well today in the right roles.

I like adri's suggestion of Lillian Gish; I think the same can be said of Louise Brooks -- both timeless actresses.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Since you mentioned Marion Cotillard above, I think she could have been a star in the 1940s playing Ingrid Bergman-type roles -- and vice versa, if Bergman were a young actress today she would have a career like Cotillard's. Yes, Bergman was Swedish and Cotillard is French, but other than that, they strike me as similar in a lot of ways: beautiful, dignified European women who speak English with a charming hint of an accent, and excel at acting in romantic dramas. Hollywood always seems to have room for a few actresses who fit this description -- Juliette Binoche is another one who comes to mind.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarissa

Isn't JGL 30 now? He's not THAT young.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertony r

This was a particularly enjoyable set of Q & A, Nat (Aside from the child-actor questions; I don't care for the whippersnappers either unless they do something really amazing like HJO, or Alakina Mann as Anna in The Others.)

I'm curious, Nat - you didn't say why you chose Keaton over Chaplin, particularly since Chaplin is so lauded (perhaps to the point of being overpraised/overrated) and would have been the easy almost knee-jerk answer. (And not that I'm disagreeing, btw. Keaton has been extremely underrated by comparison, but his work onscreen strikes me as more "modern" or contemporary in many ways, and more nuanced. Maybe I just answered my own question.)

I'm loving the return of Kiki and I agree she's been really smart in this phase of her career. I suspect that when she gets nominated there will be a degree of "welcome back" as well as "gee we didn't know you could do that/forgot how good you are". (This seems to work better for women than for men, another case of that weird sexism.) I thought she had an amazing career ahead of her when I saw her in Interview with a Vampire (a reaction I rarely have toward child actors), and I'm glad for once I was right. But, enough about me...

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Well, four of them are in The Dark Knight Rises, but I think Best in Show notices for that movie would LIKELY go to Hardy (Nolan wouldn't use Bane if he couldn't get a genius performance out of it) and Cotillard (possibly Talia Al Ghul), though I (personally) think if Oldman doesn't get the Lead Actor nom this year, he'll get the Supporting nom he deserves next year for Rises.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Woo, thanks for answering my question! It's something that's been bugging me for a while, and since you try to cast as much light as possible on foreign films, I thought it would appeal to you! This part was especially spot on:

It seems like the rules as is don't reflect success stories but only attempt to cause them (unlike every other category).

And like you said, this rule change would maybe provide a kick in the ass to U.S. distributors. Wouldn't it have made much more sense to release "Uncle Boonmee" in summer 2010 to capitalize on the Cannes buzz? Fast forward to April 2011, and after missing an Oscar nomination, the movie barely makes a ripple domestically because everyone has pretty much forgotten about it.

*bangs head against wall in frustration*

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

Katharine Hepbuen is obviously a modern actress. She has always benn an outsider with a taste for risky projects. She would be a modern Nicole Kidman.

Of course, Cate Blanchett would be a divine 30's star, with her exotic aplomb, like a less beautiful Greta Garbo (why is Cate Blanchett so entrancing in period pieces? She surely has a past era mystery).

But, most of all I's like to see Scarlett Johansson was a Euro-cinema movies around 60's. She is so charming and fresh, and is brilliant in auteur driven movies with lots of silence and heavy moods, like Monica Vitti... She is not at all a line reading actress.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Cal -- good call on ScarJo. I actually listed her in the rough draft but my answer was getting so long.

Liz -- i've long thought that US distributors have underestimated Cannes momentum for arthouse pics. The people who follow Cannes news are the same people who you're trying to get into the theater a year later and they have just moved on. It's as simple as that i think. There's just got to be speedier solutions to film distribution for so many off-mainstream titles.

October 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh and Volvag. No way is the new Batman getting acting nominations. That was a one shot deal brought on by very very very very very unusual circumstances. Superhero pictures don't get acting nods.

October 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Even though it's not going to be every year, I think it's going to be happening more often. They won't slide into the lead category for maybe ten years or so, but they're going to be in the supporting categories on occasion.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Thanks for your answer, Nathaniel. I think you're probably right - Marion Cotillard seems to be on a hot streak right now (almost making up to those who didn't like her in 'La Vie En Rose') and could AND SHOULD have been the nominee from 'Nine'.

In a toss-up between Gordon-Levitt and Hardy, I think I'd go with the former just because I think he's more versatile, has more Hollywood support and has been around for a long time so it's just a matter of time for him to get a plum lead role in a weaker Best Actor year and get a nomination.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

What a shame, you're a Keaton man.

Of course, Keaton was a comedic genius and admittedly funnier than Chaplin (and that by far), but most of his films just make me chuckle and laugh, but leave me rather cold otherwise.

Now the gentle and lovable presence that is Charlie's little tramp on the other hand make me love his films in ways that no Keaton film (with the possible exception of 'The General' and the final scene of 'Sherlock, jr.') comes even close.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

I love your Fran Lebowitz reference!
I'm in love with that woman and the documentary. I've already seen it twice. I strongly recommend it to all your readers.

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Your solution to foreign film category is what I've been saying for years. It's the only way that makes any logical sense. That way I Am Love could have potentially been a nominee and not been hindered by Italy's weird bias.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks
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