It is the season for gongs. As at the time of this scribbling the culmination of it all, those Oscars, are yet to be announced. But it’s a fair call that, with their nominations, Eddie and Julianne would be, for many ardent cinema goers, the hot tips in their respective best actor categories. One is a near novice, the other an old hand – and after viewing the two vehicles transporting them towards golden statuettes, I can see where many keen observers would be coming from.
For my money, as terrific as his performance was in ‘The Theory of Everything’, Eddie Redmayne would still be behind Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Keaton. To start with, their films (‘The Imitation Game’, ‘Birdman’), were much stronger products. As for the ladies, Felicity gets a look in for the main gong as well, but Julianne’s was the more demanding outing – although I would suggest one still short of Academy standard.
‘The Theory of Everything’ and Ms Moore’s ‘Still Alice’ remain extremely worthy movies. They are well crafted affairs and a pleasure to sit through – and that’s saying something, considering their potentially harrowing subject matter.
It seems Eddie, with his particular body and looks, was a dead cert to play the great Stephen Hawking – although Benedict has had a go too in a production for the small screen. Hawking’s mega-intelligence is beyond my comprehension, as is how he has lived on all these years, considering his disabilities. His initial distressing prognosis was one of only a warranty for a couple more calendars. He’s had two marriages and produced offspring – so there! Eddie’s physical performance is mesmerising – the contortions he had to force his body and face into! The outcome was a thoroughly convincing semblance of the wheel-chair bound, mute scientist – but the strain on the actor must have been immense. There is little one could quibble with over his garnering of a Golden Globe. That Keaton became the parallel bestie makes for an interesting tussle at the major award. The film, at times, attempts to explain, in layman’s terms, Hawking’s ground breaking theories, but this punter was none the wiser. This aspect of his life is downplayed, though, to concentrate on his personal affairs. It strongly features his first wife – after all, the film is based on her memoirs. One cannot fault another contender in Felicity Jones here – but I thought the more interesting performance came from Maxine Peake as his nurse/second missus. It took me a while to figure out this was radiant star of ‘Silk’ and less radiant one of ‘The Village’, two classy television offerings. She is a scene stealer in this. It was sure tough for Stevie H and his first Mrs Hawking, as his disease took hold, in the days before fame alleviated their financial woes somewhat. There was little that could be done to aide his shrivelling body, or ease the pressure on Jane to cope, in these early times. I imagine, in reality, it would have been ten times tougher than the film portrayed, as would have been Alice’s struggles in the movie that carries her name. Prior to my outing to see the former gem, I only vaguely knew about the famous physicist’s private life. ‘The Theory of Everything’ opens this up and – sorry if this is a spoiler – it is gratifying that both Stephen Hawking and Jane achieve happiness in their later lives.
Of course, for the affliction carried by Julianne Moore’s character in ‘Still Alice’, there is no possibility of a happy ending – not even Hollywood could conjure that. Alzheimer’s doesn’t grant second chances – and it is particularly churlish towards its host when it is early onset. I was disappointed in some ways by this movie – but conversely glad I was. I must admit I was expecting something more akin to the gut-wrenching ‘Amour’ – with the Oscar contender’s performance needing to be more extreme – for want of a better word. We all know what this highly regarded actor is capable of and she has truly been one of my favourites for many a long year – ever since she stunned me, the world and the Dude in the classic ‘The Big Lebowski’. But with ‘Still Alice’, despite the ravages the disease inflicts on her mind, her role was not as confronting as I expected. The package as a whole seemed a mild take on what must be so incredibly difficult for any family unit in such circumstances. Maybe because this one is relatively affluent, with the funds to make it as comfortable as possible for an afflicted mother and wife, this was not so much the case. Hopefully, though, the movie’s success may bring dementia sufferers in from the cold. At one stage Alice states that she’d rather have had contracted any form of cancer than the mental hell she knew was on the cards for her – then she would have felt less of a social outcast. Moore carries it all off with aplomb, and there are scenes that one thinks ‘shoot me if this ever happens to me.’ Praise must also be given to those actors playing off both her – and equally with Redmayne’s offsiders.
I have a soft spot for Felicity Jones after watching her in her entrancing previous turn, as Dickens’ lover, in ‘The Invisible Woman’. And she was up to speed as Hawking’s wife in ‘TTOE’ – but I think the fact that she too is nominated for best actress says something about the quality of roles for women available over the last twelve months. As Jane she is believable as a woman torn between being a dutiful spouse to a man a mere whisper of the one she fell in love with and with wanting to lead a normal life. This predicament becomes especially galling when a very comely music teacher becomes a de facto member of their family. Another old hand, in Alec Baldwin, gives a quiet but nuanced performance as once more a partner going above and beyond the call. In some reviews he has been criticised that his emotions should have been more overt throughout – but he’s male, he holds stuff in – and of course he adores his Alice dearly, in any form. He stands back – it is Moore’s show.
So, we’ll soon find out if my Oscar ruminations will come to pass – but my tips are compromised due to those wild horses that wouldn’t drag me to the cinema to see films like ‘American Sniper’ or ‘Whiplash’ – and I found ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ clever but trite. Still, the two films above continue the run of cinematic excellence the brand new year has produced. Go Benedict and Michael.
Trailer ‘The Theory of Everything’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8QYUgO-tZo
Trailer ‘Still Alice’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrXrZ5iiR0o