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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Five Best: Understated Oscar Nominees of the Last 20 Years (Female)

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If you thought the last five best I did with understated male performances showed a little bit of favoritism, you ain't seen nothing yet. If you think it's tough for a man to get an Oscar for a performance like this, it's doubly difficult for a woman. She always needs to slap on an accent or have some sort of disease, it seems. Viola Davis is the closest we have to an understated performance in this year's race. Here are the best from the last 20 years that didn't win, but didn't succumb to the usual tropes. Here they are in chronological order.

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Laura Linney
You Can Count on Me (2000)

She may be my favorite actress, so she lands a spot on this list for her breathtakingly realistic performance as a single mother whose life is turned upside-down by the emergence of her struggling brother (Mark Ruffalo), whom she never sees. Linney has always been the go-to for times where they need a little more from an otherwise simple roles. Here, her work is consistently natural that you would expect this to be a re-telling of her own life.
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Diane Lane
Unfaithful (2002)

Now, the film itself may be a little overdramatic, but Diane Lane's performance as a woman who takes part in an affair is above and beyond what we were used to from her. Forever a romantic comedy actress, Lane created a wonderfully layered woman who betrays the man she loves, hates herself for it, but can't keep herself from repeating the offense. It's brutal to see her emotional turmoil, but her performance may be the best of her career.
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Julianne Moore
Far from Heaven (2002)

Todd Haynes' story of 1950s racial and sexual crises gave us one of Julianne Moore's most uplifting performances, as a housewife who begins to take interest in her African-American gardener after he marriage falls apart. Moore's mood is controlled (as a Connecticut housewife's should be), while dealing with an inner strife as she fights how she feels in a society that has yet to accept it. She is helped by great turns from Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert, but the the movie is Moore's.
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Carey Mulligan
An Education (2009)

She'd been in movies before, but the world's first major introduction to Carey Mulligan came in this coming-of-age drama about a 1960s London teenager who is shown a world she never knew by a man twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard). Mulligan's back-and-forth between a wide-eyed child and a consciously mature adult is the highlight the film, even against such accomplished actors like Sarsgaard and Alfred Molina.
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Jennifer Lawrence
Winter's Bone (2010)

Last year's breakout star showed major promise by carrying a dark, moody film through the Ozarks on her back. Trying to find out what happened to her father before the bank repossesses her family's house, Lawrence plays teenager Ree as a strong-willed, but physically undersized young woman forced to grow up way to fast and navigate the waters of murder, betrayal, and drug use. Lawrence is beaten and berated a number of times in the film, but never loses her cool. A great first outing by a talented young lady.

So, there you have it. Proof that Oscars don't have to be attached to loud, behemoth performances.

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