Monday, February 22, 2016

2014: Julianne Moore for Still Alice

In what is currently the most recent Best Actress winner (for the next 6 days), Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor who, at the age of 50, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

This is a truly heartbreaking story that is made even more so by Moore's incredibly believable and relatable performance. Probably the most demanding, and consequently the most impressive, aspect is the portrayal of the progression of the disease. When the film begins, she's only just started to notice symptoms, and by the end, she's barely there at all. Given that she's playing a character who is literally losing her mind, some overacting would probably be forgivable, but I didn't notice any. The progression seems very real and natural and not at all forced. Toward the beginning, there are a lot more scenes when she's struggling to find her memories, whereas later on she no longer realizes that she's forgetting things. This is brilliantly executed, and she does a fabulous job of conveying her state of mind to the audience at every moment. Julianne Moore has very convincing confused and unfocused expressions, so we can always tell when she knows what's going on versus when she's not quite sure versus when she has no clue.

Though we don't see Alice before her symptoms begin, Moore clearly understands who she is, which enables her to show us the person and not just the disease. She is losing her memories and her sense of self, but that wouldn't be nearly as tragic if she didn't seem so real. Moore manages to make her accessible to everyone while still believably struggling with a disease that most of us don't have, and that has to be what earned her the Oscar and so many other awards for this performance.

Julianne Moore received her first Oscar nomination for her supporting role in 1997's Boogie Nights. She received her first leading role nomination for 1999's The End of the Affair. She was nominated for both a leading and a supporting Oscar for 2002 films: leading for Far from Heaven, and supporting for The Hours, for which Nicole Kidman won Best Actress. She then went 12 years without a nomination before winning for Still Alice. I think pretty much everyone knew that she was going to win this one, partly in recognition for past work and partly because she did such a great job.

One thing I noticed that I must point out: this was the fifth year in a row that the Best Actress winning character had some sort of mental illness. Is this because actresses these days are particularly good at portraying mental illness, or because such roles seem more difficult and thus stand out more, or for some other reason, or just a coincidence? I don't know, but I still think it's interesting.

Next up will either be the second win in this category for Cate Blanchett or Jennifer Lawrence, or the first win for Brie Larson, Charlotte Rampling, or Saoirse Ronan. We'll find out this Sunday night!

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