Now that we're in the middle of the awards season, it's time to look back and praise the performances the world forgot -- and perhaps even complain that they did so. Everyone's going to be doing it. Variety's Timothy Gray did today, noting that he thought Paul Rudd and Gerard Butler turned in fine performances in I Love You, Man and Law Abiding Citizen, respectively. As he wisely puts it, "There are three types of good pics: awards front-runners, dark horses and the terrific work that, for whatever reason, does not seem to be considered a contender ... This isn't one of those 'what's wrong with the awards voters!' screeds. There are enough of those at this time of year, and they're almost always silly. (The subtext is usually 'Those voters are idiots because they didn't pick my favorites.') The point is that awards recognize terrific work, but they can't be expected to honor all terrific work." I don't want to launch into one of the aforementioned screeds, but two of my favorite performances of 2009 have completely fallen off the radar. I thought I'd praise them now, complain a little bit, and then open the floor to you.
The first on my list is Viggo Mortensen in The Road. For whatever reason, The Weinstein Company thought they could only champion one film this awards season, and it was Nine. The Road fell by the wayside. (Pun not intended.) Critical consensus seems to be divided on the film itself, and your opinion may vary, but I thought the film was bleakly brilliant. I thought Mortensen was outstanding -- haunting, starved, and desperate. It was all there. If anyone was able to actually watch him put a gun up to his own son's head and not shiver at the look behind his eyes, I'd be surprised. It was equal to anything Jeremy Renner did in The Hurt Locker, or any of George Clooney's frowns in Up in the Air. My personal opinion was that it surpassed it, but that's just my take.
It's honestly perplexing to see Mortensen be shut out again and again. He's as method as Daniel Day-Lewis, but it's as though there's only room for one of those. How the various award organizers ever remembered to nominate him for Eastern Promises remains a mystery, but I'll always be grateful they did so.
My other all-but-forgotten pick is Billy Crudup in Watchmen. There are probably a lot of viewers who have come away dismissing his soft monotone as a bad performance. Watch it again. Dr. Manhattan was a character I couldn't grasp onto in the book. I never could hear his voice, I never could understand him to any degree because he was just so unnatural. Crudup nailed that, and yet made it instantly relatable. He's so detached, distant, and cool. Yet there's warbles of uncertainty, bewilderment, and sadness in his voice. For all those reasons, I think my favorite scene in the movie is the Mars flashback sequence, and this bit in particular:
Of course, I'm not silly enough to think that just because an actor isn't named among four others, walks a red carpet, or gets filmed nervously waiting for a gold statuette that their performance is gone. It's there, ready to be watched and appreciated again and again. I also know that movie history is filled with wonderful performances that were remembered long after their winning contemporaries were forgotten. Nor do I mean to disparage anyone who is nominated. This was a pretty damn good year for movies any way you look at it. I'm just disappointed that no one is talking about these two once they left the multiplexes and headed towards the DVD shelves. But here, we can talk about them, and all the others you favored too.