Academy Award Nominees, “Lost Daughter,” “Spencer,” “Belfast,” “Nightmare Alley”

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Academy Award Nominees: Some Unsolicited Thoughts about “Lost Daughter,” “Spencer,” “Belfast,” “Nightmare Alley,” and so much more…

The Oscar nominations came out and of course, there are always those nominations that one can agree with, some that one can quibble with, and a few that might have folks shaking their heads. For me, it is with the nomination of Dune” for anything other than technical achievements. To say I was waiting for the end would be an understatement. To know there is more coming feels like a threat. (I know those familiar with the book will disagree with me, but the film really makes no effort to engage those with little or no knowledge of the book. And as for entertainment value, say what you will about the David Lynch version, at least one could enjoy it for what it was, with little strain or eye sore for that matter.) I would also add Nightmare Alley” to my “shaking head” list. Impressive when conveying the carny life, but the portrayals by Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett render their characters either too gullible or too transparently evil. It leaves one longing for the relative subtlety and restraint of the original. (It also takes some major melodramatic liberties with the original novel—for those who are praising and defending it for its fidelity.)

Having gone a bit negative in the above, I am happy with the several nominations for “Belfast.” It’s a lovely, compact coming-of-age film from writer/director Kenneth Branagh, in which the lead character (and Branagh surrogate) is facing some grown-up trials and tribulations amidst the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in the turbulent Belfast of August 1969. Jude Hill as Buddy is a very appealing lead; his mother and father are beautifully portrayed by Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan. There are also formidable contributions from the nominated Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds as Buddy’s grandparents.

Though it will be a while before I return to “Lost Daughter” and Spencer,” the Academy recognition they have received is justified. Kristen Stewart has been quite successful out of the “Twilight” series and her performance as a troubled Princess Diana during a long, harrowing Christmas weekend among the Royals is exquisitely crafted. In her portrayal, once can see the aspects of Diana’s persona that made her so appealing to the British (and world) press, and in her exchanges with her husband and children, the intelligence, defiance, resignation and fragility that led to her ultimate break with tradition and the Prince. As for “Lost Daughter,” Olivia Colman’s vacationing educator (in Greece) is beset with as much inner turmoil as Stewart’s Lady Spencer.  Colman’s Leda has several unresolved issues regarding family, motherhood, identity and commitment—and she has formed somewhat of a bond with a young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson) who is also traveling, albeit with her daughter and her large extended family from Queens. Nina can’t handle her increasingly rebellious young daughter; the fact that the daughter can’t find her doll (which Leda has found—and not returned) complicates matters. Nicely crafted by Maggie Gyllenhaal (a fine actress making her directorial debut with this adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel), the narrative juxtaposes Leda’s current strife with revealing flashbacks (Oscar-nominated Jessie Buckley is superb as the young Leda) depicting her own struggles with motherhood, identity and self-esteem. It’s not for all tastes, but it’s a fairly rewarding film just the same. (And did I forget to mention Ed Harris, who delivers a gentle portrayal as a caretaker and potential companion for the lonely Leda? Well, consider it mentioned.)

How can one not be happy with the nominations for Being the Ricardos?” Well, if one can only accept Lucille Ball playing Lucille Ball, then you might have cause for concern, but for those willing to give Nicole Kidman a chance, she does a fine job, especially with the off-screen Lucille, no-nonsense, lacking the humor that marked her television persona, fiercely committed to the show, her character, and the art of comedy. I’m also pleased that Javier Bardem got nominated for Ricky/Desi, and both surprised and pleased that J.K. Simmons won a nomination for playing Fred Mertz (aka William Frawley). I would have been further pleased if Nina Arianda received a nomination for her Ethel/Vivian, but “Supporting Actress” is traditionally a crowded category. And for the record, I’m also pleased with the nominations for Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick…Boom!”) and Will Smith (King Richard”); on the other hand, I found Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog” a little too self-conscious and self-aware, and Denzel Washington’s Macbeth (in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”) a bit too restrained (and the film as a whole too controlled) for it to register the impact it desires…though there are a few effective set pieces along the way. And just to finish…I was hoping to see Nicolas Cage among the Best Actor nominees for his searing portrayal in “Pig,” but I guess Academy members have short memories. Oh well…

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Mike Peros
Author: Mike Peros

Mike Peros is an author whose new book, JOSE FERRER: SUCCESS AND SURVIVAL, the first biography of the Oscar and Tony-winning actor, has just been published by the University Press of Mississippi, while his previous book, DAN DURYEA: HEEL WITH A HEART is now available in paperback.