Sunday, January 24, 2016

2003: Charlize Theron for Monster

Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who kills a john in self-defense and ends up becoming a serial killer.

I think this might be the best performance I've ever seen. It's such a demanding, intense role, and Theron nails every moment. At the beginning of the movie, she's already totally messed up, but she still has some hope of turning her life around and finding happiness. Things actually start to look up when she finds someone to love, but then her hope begins to fade, and is eventually completely extinguished. Incredibly, you don't even really need to be paying attention to what's going on in the story to see this transformation as long as you're closely watching Theron's face and mannerisms. I don't know how she does it, and I don't even really know how to describe it, but somehow you can see the hope draining from her and the impulse to kill replacing it. You can tell that she knows that what she's doing is wrong but no longer has the strength to care. This is just one of the many ways that Theron takes this incredibly complex, damaged, probably mentally ill woman, gets completely inside her head, and makes her accessible to any audience. I cannot stress enough how difficult this must have been or how apparently effortlessly Charlize Theron pulls it off.

Before watching this movie, all I knew was the basic plot and that Theron was made up to look ugly, which doesn't seem like it would be possible, but clearly it is. I kind of expected it to be more like Nicole Kidman's win the previous year, when it was difficult to tell whether the embodiment of the character was more due to the makeup or the acting. But after watching this film, I have no doubt. Though the makeup certainly helps - particularly I'm sure for people who remember what the actual Wuornos looked like - it's not what makes this performance Oscar-worthy. It's not just that she looks the part; she actually becomes the part. I know that that's the whole point of acting, and yes, to a certain extent, all the women I've talked about on this blog have done the same thing, but never quite as well as this. Theron completely embodies her character in every possible way. The rage and despair from her troubled past, the fear of getting caught that she all but buries, the love for Selby that she barely understands or knows how to express: it's all there, seemingly part of her. Which is kind of terrifying if you think about it. That's actually a really good way to describe this performance: she's so good it's terrifying.

This was Charlize Theron's first Oscar nomination. Since then she has received one more nomination, for 2005's North Country. While she may receive more awards and nominations in the future, I think it's highly unlikely that she will ever be able to top this performance. But you never know.

Next up: the return of Hilary Swank, in the 11th and most recent Best Picture Winner to receive a Best Actress Oscar

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