(Â© 2007 The Weinstein Company)
While trying to connect the dots of the many rock 'n' roll movies -- particularly rock biopics -- that were unleashed on the public in 2007, I failed to mention one key point: almost as savvy as the filmmaking was the acting in the feature films. And, if you'll allow me some creative license to include another music-related biopic that didn't rock per se, it might have been the grandest of years.
That's because Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose -- which, despite Felicia Feaster's excellent review, wasn't one of my favorites this year -- should contend with another icon-wrestler for the Best Actress statuette also known as Oscar. There are many film-critic cliches used to describe movies and performances, and one of them is when we say an actor "disappears into a role." Can anyone argue that Cotillard, as the waif Piaf through the star Piaf all the way through to the aging/dying Piaf, wasn't, well, Piaf? There's a boldness and richness to Cotillard's performance that transcended the mere gimmick of mimicry (which dominated, say, Jamie Foxx's turn as Ray Charles).
We know all eyes will be on Cate Blanchett for portraying one of the six Bob Dylans in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. (A film that gets better the more I ponder it.) You could even make the ironic argument that Blanchett, playing a man, is an early frontrunner for the Best Actress award, and deservedly so for the same reasons that Cotillard dazzled so. Others have grumbled that it's a novelty performance, and there's some truth to that, but it doesn't detract from that fact that Blanchett -- already one of the bravest actresses of her generation -- portrayed the rock-star, substance-abusing, self-doubting and preening Dylan with a fierceness you don't see much on screen these days.
If it was a tour de force performance, then Sam Riley as Joy Division's Ian Curtis in Control was a tour de force performance for just the opposite reasons. As external as Blanchett's Jude Quinn was, Riley's was just as internal. Which is weird considering that Riley's been called a dead ringer (no pun intended) as Curtis, and the resemblance is indeed canny. But more importantly, Riley bought into director Anton Corbijn's strategy of simplifying Curtis' pain. Maybe all Curtis was dealing with was a love triangle (wife, mistress) and a condition (epilepsy) that were beyond his control. Unlike Haynes with Dylan, Corbijn wasn't trying to present Curtis as a larger-than-life figure, and Riley deserves extra credit for not taking that as a cue to make Curtis a mere brooder. And Samantha Morton shouldn't be ignored for her equally subtle turn as Curtis' wife/widow, who in real life wrote the book upon which the film is based. Morton is just as talented as Blanchett but not quite as big a deal yet (why, I cannot comprehend), but her moments of innocent anguish at losing her man to both another woman and his own weakness is a study in restraint.
Before we get too far past I'm Not There, it's also important to remember at least two of the other Dylan turns: Heath Ledger as Robbie and Christian Bale as Jack. I was all wrong when Ledger hit the scene, dismissing him as a pretty boy. Brokeback Mountain took care of that, but really, he's been doing this kind of work for years, and talk about a brooder! Ledger's as good as the next one and more, while Bale takes piercing stares to a new level. Blanchett will probably hog all the nomination hype, but Ledger and Bale are no less worthy for creating their own, less flashy Dylans.
It's almost tempting to nominate Blanchett in the Best Actor category so she wouldn't steal Cotillard's thunder and we could have two women take the top acting awards, or maybe drop Blanchett down to Best Supporting Actress (which she really was, considering all those Dylans puttering around in that flick). Regardless, Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf and Ian Curtis couldn't ask for more moving tributes to their complicated personae.