Does ‘Rachel’ have Oscar legs?

Posted by · 9:00 am · November 1st, 2008

One advantage of the hectic festival environment is that, while seeing more movies in a month than is medically advisable, it offers a pretty ruthless method of separating the wheat from the chaff. If a film still sticks in your mind after seeing a million others in such a compressed timeframe, it clearly has something special. (For me, those would be the films in my London Top Ten list.)

On the other hand, there are a couple of films that, even if they seem quite impressive in the moment, ultimately get lost in the crush. And so it was with me and Jonathan Demme’s much-vaunted “Rachel Getting Married.”

One of the first films I saw in the festival press screenings, I enjoyed it for the funky looseness of Demme’s direction and a couple of interestingly barbed performances — even if I didn’t quite get the ecstatic wave of praise that greeted it in the US. A month later, however, with numerous other films jostling for attention in my brain, I find it difficult to remember much about the film at all… and that goes for the actors too.

Of course, that’s an entirely subjective test, one that is largely irrelevant to awards prognostication — there are still plenty of ardent devotees declaring it the best film of the year (huh?), and they will no doubt continue to do so. Still, something caught my attention yesterday which suggested I might not be alone. In their always-interesting Oscar Futures chart, those wicked guys at Vulture sense a downturn in momentum for Anne Hathaway in the Best Actress race:

This category is getting pretty competitive — was she really as good as everybody thought two weeks ago?

One has to wonder. Even Hathaway’s biggest champion, keen Best Actress-watcher Nathaniel Rogers, has his concerns, as Hathaway slides out of his projected five in the category:

She’s aces in the role of a needy addict with a sharp tongue, (but) sometimes you want to slap her “Kym” and Oscar can be stingy when it comes to females with abrasive edges. The film’s true appeal is in the broader ensemble feel rather than a star vehicle — I’m worried for her.

Tellingly, the contender supplanting Hathaway in Rogers’ predictions is “Happy-Go-Lucky” star Sally Hawkins, the lady who will no doubt be duking it out with her for the comedy Golden Globe — and who, I think, will ultimately win that race.

Hawkins may not have Hathaway’s star power, but her film has been equally adored by Stateside critics (for those who place stock in Metacritic scores, it’s sitting at 84 to “Rachel”‘s 82) and she has the likes of Roger Ebert waxing lyrical about her. It helps that her character, Poppy, is considerably more cuddly than Hathaway’s Kym, even if some viewers find her a bit hard to take.

Rogers’ point about the film’s ensemble nature is a good one too. Hathaway’s co-star Rosemarie DeWitt (who, I must agree with Kris, is the film’s real standout) appears to be gathering momentum in the Best Supporting Actress race — hopefully at the expense of Debra Winger.

Meanwhile, Cinematical is among those flying the flag for Bill Irwin in the Best Supporting Actor category, declaring his work “the richest, most generous performance I’ve seen from anyone this year.” (I beg to differ.) Whether these possibilities pan out or not, the fact that Hathaway doesn’t have the undivided attention of her film’s fans could be a disadvantage.

I’m not saying that Hathaway, or the film, are necessarily fading. She’s still well-positioned for a nod, even if a win is surely impossible. But as we’ve said before, Best Actress is an unusually rich category this year, with several strong seen contenders, and the heavyweight likes of Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road” and Meryl Streep in the just-glimpsed “Doubt” still waiting to pounce. Now is not the time to appear vulnerable.

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 11-01-2008 at 9:54 am

    Bryan said...

    The film left me ambivalent as well (I just saw it last night) but do praise both Hathaway and DeWitt–though I feel their performances are rather locked together where neither can exist without the other. And Irwin just rubbed me the wrong way. While Hathaway’s hopes slide, I sincerely hope DeWitt will get some recognition.

  • 2 11-01-2008 at 9:58 am

    N8 said...

    You make a very lucid arguement. I think Hathaway will come away with a nomination anyway because she is well-liked and is diversifying her resume with this movie, but I do agree that she isn’t as safe as many people believe…

  • 3 11-01-2008 at 10:42 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I felt from the start that this film was peaking too early in terms of buzz. There was no way it could sustain long enough, which is why Hathaway has hovered at the bottom of my list of five actress predictions for a while now. But I expect there will be plenty in the Academy that hate this film, so even the three agreed-upon placements aren’t solid bets.

  • 4 11-01-2008 at 11:38 am

    head_wizard said...

    I saw, this and then saw Happy Go Lucky and I have to admit I though Rachel Getting Married was a better film and I keep thinking about it. As for performace wise I haven’t made up my mind if Hawkins or Hathaway was better. i hope Rachel has legs because so far its my favorite film so far this year.

  • 5 11-01-2008 at 11:41 am

    Speaking English said...

    Hathaway is getting in… if she doesn’t, they will have royally screwed up.

  • 6 11-01-2008 at 1:39 pm

    John Foote said...

    Hathaway gives a great performance, no doubt, but like Maggie Gyllenhall in “Sherrybaby” it seems destined to be remembered as one of those career defining moments that Oscar snubbed, but for any other reason than the category was too crowded. With Hawkins, Jolie, Scott-Thomas, Winslet and Streep as potential nominees, sadly, they may miss Hathaway. Too bad, her scalding performance was the best thing in the film. Luckily enough people in the business saw the film to know and appreciate the lady can act.

  • 7 11-01-2008 at 3:16 pm

    Bryan said...

    I don’t know how firm a grip Jolie has on the top five. She could slide.

  • 8 11-01-2008 at 3:17 pm

    AJ said...

    Well it hasn’t gone wide yet so that should help…if it goes wide

  • 9 11-01-2008 at 3:34 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Bryan: Yeah, I think Jolie’s going to slide too. I didn’t mean to imply that the other four slots are fixed. Far from it.

  • 10 11-01-2008 at 4:11 pm

    Andrew L. said...

    I think Hathaway’s performance was good in terms of the actual performance and in terms of her being able to elevate the whiny one-note character that was presented in trailer.

    I like John’s aforementioned reference to Sherrybaby. The structure and conclusion of each film is similar; each character arrives to cause a fuss, only to exit again, leaving behind an equivocal feeling of whether there was any progress or if there will be any further progress.

    I’m also confused about DeWitt’s lack of attention, and even more confused on why Winger has gotten any at all. One impromptu hit to the face, and it’s “She’s overdue”? Didn’t we already have that last year with Ruby Dee?

  • 11 11-02-2008 at 3:09 am

    Rob Scheer said...

    “Rachel Getting Married” IS the best movie of 2008.

    And Winger doesn’t deserve attention because of her impromptu hit to the face scene, she deserves it for delivering a rich, complex etching of a character in just a few minutes of screentime.

  • 12 11-02-2008 at 12:04 pm

    Aaron said...

    It’s funny reading this, because sure enough Rachel Getting Married is the film that still lingers in my mind the most. But of course I do not speak for everyone.

    I think both Hathaway and DeWitt will eventually walk away with nominations. Neither one will win. Personally I think it’s fair to say that Hathaway’s competition, Sally Hawkins, were both equally praised by critics. Both actresses received unananimous, glowing, “star-making” reviews.

    I am one who is more concerned for Angelina Jolie. I think her film can easily fade more than Rachel Getting Married and Happy-Go-Lucky. The reviews for the movie are not in the same league as the former two. RGM and HGL, for the most part, received raves. I’m seeing Changeling today, so I will make up my mind then. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet are the only solid bets for this category. Kristin Scott- Thomas is a good possibility, but I don’t think she’s a slam dunk like everyone think she is. The reviews for I’ve Loved You So Long have been good, but personally I was expecting them to be better.

    It’s interesting, though, because the best actress race has NOT been this exciting in a long time. Last year it was truthfully down to 6 solid contenders, with Jolie missing. Remember 2006–everyone had the top 5 ladies predicted since early fall. This year there are at least 10 strong conders: Streep, Winslet, Jolie, Scott Thomas, Hathaway, Hawkins, Kidman, Leo, Blanchett, Williams. Even Beckinsale could make it.