Maybe tonight you’re aching for someone you’re dreaming of

As per the tradition around this digital space, the day the long, arduous Oscar season draws to a close is also the day that I type up my version of an actors branch Academy Awards ballot, ranked in accordance with the nominating rules. Were I given the privilege of filling out such a ballot, and if it did it with the utmost honestly–even where tempted to fill in the name of some favorite performer whose work I didn’t necessarily love (or even see) just because I felt they deserved some Academy love for an esteemed career–this is what it would look like.

I always need to preface this with the reminder that my ability to see every potentially worthy performance is naturally limited. I only have so much time and money to devote to my film-going habit, and I lack the benefit of having DVD screener copies delivered straight to my door the way genuine Academy members do. This year, it’s compounded by a variety of factors (including Oscar season fatigue, quite frankly) which make me less well-versed in the actual award contenders than I have been in years. I haven’t seen either of the presumptive winning performances in the lead acting categories, for example. I have to think back to my teenage years (which was a long, long time ago) to find another Oscar night where I could say that. The absence of a familiar name here is as likely to be due to that shortcoming on my part than any dim view I take of the performance. I suspect this is more pertinent in the Best Actor category than in Best Actress, but who knows. I thought Sandra Bullock deserved a nomination for unconventional Oscar fare at least once before.

Anyway, on to the people that I’d scratch onto my fanciful ballot…

1. Carey Mulligan, An Education
2. Rachel Weisz, The Brothers Bloom
3. Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
4. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
5. Julia Roberts, Duplicity

Except for Rachel Weisz, wonderful in the sadly underloved Bloom, this seems like a fairly conventional list. Even Roberts probably could have been in the mix had Duplicity come out in the fall, when it probably would have also fared better at the box office. Streep could very well win tonight, but I maintain the Academy will wait until she does something a little weightier to give her the third Oscar that’s got to happen at some point. I’m not saying that’s what they should do. Streep is clearly having as much fun acting as she has at any time in her career, and that’s combining with her astounding acting chops to create performances that are as worthy as any in her career. Still, I think its going to be Bullock winning tonight. I’m doubtful about the worthiness of the performance, but the worthiness of the person is another matter. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way, and that’s going to get her plenty of votes.

1. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
2. George Clooney, Up in the Air
3. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
4. Mark Ruffalo, The Brothers Bloom
5. Ben Whishaw, Bright Star

The worthiness of the career is a factor, too, which is why Jeff Bridges will win in Best Actor tonight. Hell, I’d probably check the box next to his name, because he deserves to be an Oscar winner on the basis of his collected work in the likes of The Last Picture Show, Starman, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, Fearless and feel free to add four or five more of your choosing. Otherwise, I remain perplexed as to why Michael Stuhlbarg didn’t get more attention for his fantastic work in the well-regarded A Serious Man.

1. Rinko Kikuchi, The Brothers Bloom
2. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
3. Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
4. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
5. Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds

I’m at something of a loss to sort through my preferences regarding the matching pairs of great performances from Up in the Air and Inglourious Basterds–at any given time, I might rank that foursome differently–which helps elevate Kikuchi to the top for me. It’s also consistent with my earlier celebration of that performance, of course. You’ll note that I didn’t feel compelled to include Mo’Nique’s soon-to-be-Oscar-winning work in Precious: The Movie With the Unduly Cumbersome Complete Title. I think she’s very strong in the film, and nails her big scenes, but every performance I list above is a more fully realized exploration of a full character. I think the shortcomings in Mo’Nique’s performance can be largely attributed to choices make by director Lee Daniels, but they’re shortcomings nonetheless.

1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
2. Paul Schneider, Bright Star
3. Alfred Molina, An Education
4. Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia
5. Woody Harrelson, Zombieland

Waltz will win tonight. Waltz deserves to win tonight. If they show a clip, I hope it’s not the “bingo” clip that everyone else has been using. Anything from the opening sequence is a far better representation of the tenor of the performance. There was a time when Schneider was actually considered a likely nominee for Bright Star. It’s too bad that film faded almost entirely out of the Oscar picture, because Schneider’s craft work merited attention. Similarly, Alfred Molina was though to be a shoo-in at one point, and it’s very sad to see him left out. By most accounts, they picked the wrong performance for Tucci, and it would have been a nice acknowledgment of the loveliness of his duet with Streep, which is instrumental in bringing her performance beyond mere impersonation. As for the fifth name there, I’m dead serious. Great acting comes in all derivations, in all types of films. That’s one of the pleasures in making out a ballot like this.

(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)

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