Oscar History

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« FYC: "Okja" for Best Visual Effects | Main | 'The Shape of' the Critics Choice Winners List »

FYC: Michael Stuhlbarg for "Call Me By Your Name"

by Chris Feil

It’s the final day of Oscar voting before the nominations are announced before the nominations are announced on Tuesday January 23! Who knows if most Oscar voters have their nomination ballots in or not, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from screaming last moment FYC hosannas for the procrastinators that mights be listening. My last minute plea would be for one performance that I find shocking to have received so little traction over the season: Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name...

Stuhlbarg has been seen elsewhere this movie season, too, with solid work in The Shape of Water and The Post. He’s built an enviable filmography that has made a potential awards run all but an inevitability. Yet his career is still an underpraised one ever since his masterful performance in the Coens’ A Serious Man. Much of the talk around this performance comes down to a climactic moving moment between Stuhlbarg and his son Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet.

In this breathtaking final speech, Stuhlbarg’s Professor Perlman both acknowledges his son’s love affair without confrontation and quietly pleas that its ending not leave him jaded. There is so much said and unsaid, with the actor lending it all with an undercurrent of affection and dire stakes. It’s an increasingly personal moment as the actor thaws Perlman's defenses, and it’s not until we’re on the other side of it that we realize it’s yet another crucial moment in Elio’s life: the first time his parent truly treats him like an adult. With how he handles Perlman’s parental soul-baring, Stuhlbarg creates a gorgeous, miracle feat of acting - a heart-to-heart that gradually widens from love to youth to life.

Stuhlbarg’s kindness is a whole other kind of pain for the film, one that refuses to break our gaze though we might want to look away in shame, another of the film’s emotionally raw moments. He’s not just reaching into Elio’s heartbreak and mending something bruised, but he does so for the audience as well. If the love story is the audience’s connection to their own history with thwarted first love, then Stuhlbarg reminds us of our first steps to healing. Maybe what continues to ail us, as well.

To reduce what Stuhlbarg achieves here to mere third act monologuing is to deny the grace with which he handles the preceding build up, and his understated plucky humor. The exuberance with which he approaches seemingly insignificant scenes of introductions and casual parenting contextualizes the comparatively sober heart-to-heart. It gives that final, crucial moment so much more meaning, and the actor shows that our parents (as much as ourselves) remain beautifully unknowable no matter how much they reveal of themselves. Perlman may have seemed a fully formed man, but he is as much a work in progress as his young son. And with his soul just as naked to us.

So what gives? Has he been largely ignored in favor of his more famous costar Armie Hammer? Is it indicative of a larger indifference that the film is weathering from straight audiences? Or is Stuhlbarg’s delicate work simply too precious for this cruel world? Regardless, it’s a performance that should have been in the conversation all season long - but Oscar can remedy that come nomination morning.

Other 2017 FYC candidates from The Film Experience:

mother! | Salma Hayek - Beatriz at Dinner | Hong Chau - Downsizing | Tiffany Haddish - Girls Trip | Lucas Hedges - Lady Bird | Tracy Letts - Lady Bird | Documentary Tech Achievements | Baby Driver's Editing | Best Production Design of 2017 | The Beguiled's Costume Design | Killing of a Sacred Deer's Cinematography | Wonderstruck's Cinematography and Original Score 

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