Wednesday, December 9, 2015

1990: Kathy Bates for Misery

Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes, the self-described #1 fan of famous author Paul Sheldon. So when his car goes off a cliff, she rescues him and nurses him back to health. Unfortunately for Paul, Annie has some psychotic tendencies, and what initially seemed like a miracle turns out to be nothing short of an absolute nightmare.

I want to say that I love this performance, but that doesn't seem quite right because it completely terrifies me. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I'm in awe of this performance. Annie is a very complicated character, and her complexity must be revealed in a very specific way for the story to work. I think it would be easy, tempting even, to ruin her, by being either too crazy at the beginning or not crazy enough at the end. But Kathy Bates nails it. At the beginning, she seems like a kind, concerned fangirl who has just been given the chance every fangirl dreams of: to save the life of her favorite celebrity. Something might seem a little off about her, probably more because the opening credits already told you it was based on a Stephen King novel than because she reveals anything unnecessarily, but you don't start getting nervous until the first time her temper flares up. She recovers from that outburst quickly, so it seems, but then in the next scene she's having Paul burn his manuscript. From there her madness escalates steadily, so you know that something bad is most certainly going to happen when she finishes his latest book and learns that he's killed off her favorite character (which was revealed to us at the very beginning). And by the end, once her character has gone completely psychotic, Bates just goes for it 100%, with a conviction that turns what could have been a totally ridiculous climax into a horrifyingly believably intense one.

I have to give some credit to the writing, of course, but Bates drives the suspense of the well-written story with the way she plays Annie. We are terrified of her, but hesitantly so, because we never know if she's going to be rational or not. She is completely unpredictable. What's so disturbing about her is that she clearly believes that everything she does is totally justified and normal. I don't know how Kathy Bates was able to get inside Annie's head enough to portray her twisted logic with such conviction. Perhaps this is why I'm not an actress, but in my defense, there are few actresses who could have pulled off this character. Fortunately, they found quite possibly the best of those few.

This was Kathy Bates's first Oscar nomination, and her only one in this category. She has also received two nominations for supporting roles, for 1998's Primary Colors and 2002's About Schmidt, though she didn't win either. She's not a typical movie star, but she's a very talented actress, and I'm sure we'll see more fabulous performances from her in the future, though it would be very hard for her to top this one.

Next up: Jodie Foster is back, in the ninth Best Picture Winner with a Best Actress winning performance

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