Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Supporting Actress 2006

I've realized over the course of this project that it's taking a lot longer than I had originally planned. I didn't actually expect to be done by this point, but I did hope that I would be in at least 2004, not starting 2006. But that's all right; my hope is to finish the year 2006 by the end of the month so that we can hit 2005, one of my favorite Oscar years of the past decade, next month. If all goes according to plan, I can finish 2006, get through the first two seasons of True Blood, then get started on 2005. Maybe.

Anyway, on to the supporting actress field of 2006. I'm going to try a new format for this, let me know what you think about it. The Oscar winner of each year is noted with a star (*).

Adriana Barraza, Babel

I will admit that I liked Babel a lot more than a lot of people did. The story is somewhat taxing to believe at times, with the global connections tenuous at best, but the performances of the excellent cast help carry it. Barraza truly gets a chance to shine as Amelia, the Mexican housekeeper of the Jones who decides to take the kids south of the border to a wedding, to disastrous results. Barraza plays Amelia as a woman who has nothing but good intentions, but is prone to making mistakes and not fully understanding situations. She becomes a portrait of quiet desperation when she's left in a perilous situation with the children, and even though she continues to make awful decisions, Barraza is smart enough to never make her unsympathetic. It's a terrific, moving performance that stands out in a movie full of great performances.

Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal

I'm actually not that big of a fan of Blanchett's; I know she's a strong actress, yet only a few of her performances have truly moved me (I'm Not Here, for example). And in Notes on a Scandal, her role of Sheba Hart should be juicy, the teacher carrying on an adulterous affair with a student while befriending another teacher (Judi Dench) who becomes obsessed with her. However, for most of the film Blanchett plays it rather dryly, never really sinking her teeth into the role but rather making her way through it. Sure, she's supposed to be a looser, more liberal foil to the iron-fisted Barbara, but Blanchett doesn't add much to the character, making her seemingly uninteresting beyond her looks and attitude. However, she does have a terrific third act, capped with a powerful roar of "Here I am!" before a pack of photographers that taps into the energy that's been missing throughout the film. It's a shame she didn't bring that kind of energy to the rest of the film.

Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine

How can you tell when a child actor is really good? There are some who claim that great child performances are the work of good editing. I, however, don't believe that. I think there are child actors out there who are genuinely terrific, who understand (in some way) their characters and put forward great work. And judging by her early work here in Little Miss Sunshine, Breslin certainly had talent at her young age. However, I wouldn't say it's a fully-formed performance. Yes, she's adorable as beauty-pageant moppet Olive, but she never really gets a moment to shine beyond her hilarious, age-inappropriate dance to Rick James' "Super Freak." It's a fine performance, yes, and hints at the talent that would develop in later years (how great was she in Zombieland?), but it's not necessarily an Oscar-worthy one.

Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls*

It's still hard to believe: an former American Idol finalist becoming an Oscar winner. But then, it's not at all surprising when you consider how incredible Hudson's performance is. Even though it was her acting debut, Hudson dived into the role of diva Effie White like a seasoned professional, wringing out big emotion both in song and in silence. She embodies the rage of Effie, who's cast off and tossed around while Deena (Beyonce Knowles) becomes the face of the Dreamettes. Of course, Hudson (who was on AI back when I watched it, and I maintain to this day that she should have won) knocks the vocals out of park, especially in the show-stopping, gut-wrenching "And I Am Telling You," but she also shows immense talent as an actress, embodying the character and making her truly sympathetic, especially late in the film. Her performance is a triumph, and certainly worthy of the attention it received. Hopefully one day Hudson will find another meaty role like this one.

Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

As I said earlier, Babel triumphs on it's performances, and none was better than Kikuchi's startling work as Cheiko, a deaf Japanese teenager. Though her story is barely tied in with the rest of Babel's narratives, she becomes the heart of the film, most perfectly embodying the film's theme of communication by being the only one who truly can't do so. Without using any spoken words (only Japanese sign language), she expresses the frustrations of being unable to communicate with anyone, feeling completely alone in the largest city in the world. It's a remarkable performance, and though perhaps best known for the physical nudity involved, she's emotionally nude for the entire film, wearing her emotions on her very expressive face. It's a phenomenal performance, one that is heartbreaking and shattering.

My ballot:

1. Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
2. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
3. Adriana Barraza, Babel
4. Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
5. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine

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