Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2002: Nicole Kidman for The Hours

Barely recognizable Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf as she writes the novel Mrs. Dalloway and deals with mental illness.

This is a highly unusual movie, in that it tells the story of three women living in different times, whose stories are related but don't really intersect at all until the very end, when two of them meet. All three of these women are played by extremely talented actresses, all giving fantastic performances. In the opening credits, they are billed in this order: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman. Streep has 42 minutes of screen time, Moore has 33 minutes, and Kidman has 28 minutes. The reason I'm pointing this out is that, given this, it makes very little sense that Kidman was nominated for Best Actress, Moore was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and Streep, Queen of Oscar Nods, wasn't nominated at all for this movie. This has baffled me for years, but I think I've finally figured out why. That year, Julianne Moore was also nominated for Best Actress for a different movie, and you can't be nominated twice in the same category anymore. Streep was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for something else, so if Kidman had also been nominated in that category, the thought probably was that the three of them would cancel each other out. As it was, Catherine Zeta-Jones got the supporting Oscar that year, despite being nominated against someone else from her movie, and poor Julianne Moore had to be one of the few double nominees who didn't win either.

All of that was just a very long-winded way of saying that, had circumstances been different, Kidman's role probably would have been considered a supporting one, rather than a leading one. I also can't help feeling that her prosthetic nose had a lot to do with her win. Seriously, if I didn't know it was her, I don't think I would have recognized her at all. Her nose combined with her relatively short screen time makes it tempting to call the Oscar undeserved, yet I can't quite go that far. The scenes she is in are very well acted. She incredibly effectively conveys the almost overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and alienation that eventually lead Virginia to suicide. She does a particularly good job in the scenes when she's around other people but only thinking of her story, and I find her confrontation with her husband convincingly heartbreaking. I also admire her dedication to the role: Kidman is left-handed, but Woolf was right-handed, so in the scenes when we see her writing (of which there are many) she uses her right hand. And if I hadn't known that, I never would have guessed that she wasn't using her dominant hand. While she didn't try to imitate Virginia Woolf's actual voice, she still changed her voice in a way that is perfect for the emotions she's trying to convey, and probably way more consistent with the character than an imitation would have been. Though the nose helps a lot, ultimately I think her acting has a lot to do with why she's unrecognizable, and from that perspective, she definitely deserved an Oscar.

To summarize, Kidman gives a very interesting and well-executed performance, and though I'm still not convinced that it deserves the distinction of a leading role, or that it was better than the other performances in this film, I won't deny that it was worthy of some recognition. I just don't think this should have been the film's only Oscar. It's a very intriguing, thought-provoking, and well-made film, and if it were up to me, at the very least the three main actresses would have gotten to share this award. But the other two have won Oscars for other movies, and Kidman hasn't, so it works out well that she's the one who got it this year.

This was Kidman's second Oscar nomination, her first being for 2001's Moulin Rouge! I have to wonder if that also helped her win this year. Since The Hours, she has been nominated for one more Oscar, for 2010's Rabbit Hole, but I'll be very surprised if she doesn't receive more nominations at some point, given her incredible talent.

Following barely recognizable Nicole Kidman will be barely recognizable Charlize Theron, so stay tuned for that.

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