Wednesday, August 11, 2010

High Praise

It amazes me to this very day to read movie websites and blogs that still harp on about Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan to Best Picture honours. Even though people don't seem to realise that Saving Private Ryan would have made for perhaps the most cliched Oscar-winner in the history of the Academy (Spielberg! Hanks! WWII! Vin Diesel!) In that debate I remain firmly in the camp of Shakespeare, but if given the option between that or The Thin Red Line... well, the call would be close.

Meanwhile over in the Best Actress category people still think Cate Blanchett was robbed for her performance in Elizabeth, who was beaten to the golden statue by Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. At the time I was all about Blanchett and in my very young life as an Oscar watcher (the first ceremony I remember sitting down and watching the entirety of was one year earlier when Titanic swept the board) I couldn't quite fathom how she lost. Since then I am all about Paltrow in the battle of Best Actress '98.

However, I imagine that all those people who cry foul over Blanchett's loss have never seen Lisa Cholodenko's High Art, for if they had they would have a far bigger snub complaint in the form of Ally Sheedy's performance as "Lucy Berliner". I had never seen it either and had only heard mythical whispering from the likes of Nathaniel Rogers and... umm... er, anyone else? Now that I have seen it, on the eve of Cholodenko's next lesbian love tangle The Kids Are All Right (released 5 September), I can wholehearted agree that Ally Sheedy should have an Academy Award on her mantel right now.

As Nathaniel mentions in the piece I linked to, "How could any of (the five nominated) performances not have been nominated", since there was Meryl Streep with cancer, the next big thing making Royalty Porn, Hollywood's daughter reciting Shakespeare, an aging international stay bonding with a small child and the star of a biopic of a tortured musical genius. Still, one watch of High Art and you've got to wonder the Academy let Sheedy's performance pass through their fingers. Is it because a) the film's confronting homosexuality (something I am unaware of them embracing at that stage), b) High Art came at the tail end of the '90s indie movement at a time when all the big names were breaking out and taking their culturally hip audiences with them along with their multi-million dollar budgets or c) they couldn't resign themselves to the fact that an actress who made a name for herself in 1980s teen dramas was actually capable of giving a performance richer than one by Meryl Streep and the traditionalists couldn't handle it.


Yes, "hmmm" indeed!

Nevertheless, Sheedy deserved that Oscar. It's interesting to wonder what may have happened if she had even been nominated. What would her career be like today? Since High Art in 1998 Sheedy's most high-profile work has come on TV series such as CSI, Oz and Once and Again. Her recent cameo in Todd Solondz' Life During Wartime should hopefully kick start something, maybe another auteur will notice her, remember how great she is capable of being and cast her in a great role.

It's interesting to look at the 1998 Best Actress race and wonder what happened to some of the also rans. Christina Ricci, so very good and Golden Globe-nominated in The Opposite of Sex, has slid so far down the chain of great actresses since that role that it's nigh on depressing (Black Snake Moan and Monster notwithstanding although even those have their detractors). Jane Horrocks' Golden Globe-nominated performance in Little Voice lead to this and it's arguable that Meg Ryan (also Globe-nominated) has effectively been a complete non-entity since You've Got Mail. Ally Sheedy's in good company then.

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