Three cheers for Marisa Tomei

Posted by · 10:12 am · December 16th, 2008

One of the wearying things about the sheer multitude of critics’ awards (next up: the Northwestern Topeka Women Film Critics Society awards) is that there is dispiritingly little variety in their picks. I love “Man on Wire” too, but it’s hardly the only award-worthy documentary out there. Ditto “Let the Right One In” in the foreign-language field, or various other names we’ve been hearing an awful lot of this past fortnight.

So it’s worth noting when one organisation throws up a different name to stem the unanimous tide in a certain category, and even more so when others latch onto it, forming something of a counter-wave.

Such is the case with Marisa Tomei, whose wonderful performance in “The Wrestler” has garnered no fewer than three critics’ prizes (San Francisco, San Diego and Phoenix) in the past 24 hours — an intriguing new mini-trend in a category that has hitherto been pretty much one-way traffic for Penelope Cruz. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that makes Tomei and Cruz the two most lauded Supporting Actress contenders, surging ahead of Viola Davis.

Granted, they’re not the most high-profile awards, but I’m still pleased by this turn of events — and not just because it shakes things up a little. Tomei’s performance in “The Wrestler” is a beautifully judged, lived-in portrayal, an exemplary supporting performance in that she reflects and responds to Mickey Rourke’s powerhouse lead turn without ever feeling the need to show off against him.

Flashy scene-stealing performances, like Cruz’s admittedly dazzling turn in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” tend to hog the attention in the supporting races, so I’m glad to see some factions acknowledging Tomei’s humbler, more delicate work. She would get my vote.

I can only hope the Academy is paying attention too. For me, it remains one of the last Oscar season’s less excusable oversights that, in one of the weakest Supporting Actress races in years, Tomei’s blazing performance in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” gathered no momentum whatsoever. She’s probably used to it: in years past, she’s had impressive work in such interesting under-the-radar films as “Factotum” and “Unhook the Stars” go similarly unnoticed.

You’ve probably gathered by now that I’m a fan. I admit that partly stems from the fact that, at the age of nine, I correctly called her now-notorious “My Cousin Vinny” win, a decision I suspect is only sneered at by people who haven’t watched the film since 1992 and have consequently forgotten just what a ballsy, entertaining performance she gives in it. But more importantly, I admire her for shrugging off the (frequently very cruel) jabs and growing into a consistently interesting, risk-taking character actress who is an asset to anything she appears in. Isn’t that what more Academy Award winners should do with their clout?

A second Oscar nod in 2001 for “In the Bedroom” was a well-earned vindication. Let’s go for a third. Who knows, maybe Penelope Cruz doesn’t have this as sewn up as people think she does. Early days yet.

In the meantime, Tom O’Neil enjoys a nice little chat with the thesp here:

→ 20 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

20 responses so far

  • 1 12-16-2008 at 10:40 am

    Lev Lewis said...


    She should certainly have been on last years ballot.

  • 2 12-16-2008 at 11:04 am

    J.S. said...

    Great for Tomei. She was good in “The Wrestler.” I doubt this has any effect on the race, though. Does anyone (outside of us) pay attention to these minor critics awards?

  • 3 12-16-2008 at 11:09 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not really, no. But it’s an indication nonetheless — clearly the performance is resonating with more people than I might have thought.

  • 4 12-16-2008 at 11:44 am

    daveylow said...

    I hope Tomei get nominated. I’m a fan of hers from way back. She’s always truthful in her acting. I loved her in Happy Accidents and recently on Rescue Me.

    I think she adds a lot of class to The Wrestler.

  • 5 12-16-2008 at 11:49 am

    Aaron said...

    I love Marisa Tomei. She’s fantastic. And I agree, Guy, she should’ve been on the list last year from Before the Devil Knows You’re There–personally, she resonated the most with me from that feeling (she definitely stood her ground with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke).

    Guy–just curious but did you enjoy Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona?

  • 6 12-16-2008 at 11:50 am

    Aaron said...

    ***sry I meant Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead…i don’t know what i was on lol

  • 7 12-16-2008 at 11:51 am

    Aaron said...

    ***and substitute “feeling” for “film”…wow, I’m retarded!

  • 8 12-16-2008 at 12:27 pm

    JAB said...

    last year was weak for supporting actress? really? It could’ve easily gone to Cate Blanchett, Ruby Dee, or Amy Ryan, Tilda Swinton just managed to come out on top.The girl from Atonement was the only nominee that really had no shot. And Catherine Keener and Jennifer Garner had a shot to break in. Not to dismiss Tomei’s work, but last year was not a weak year in the category.

  • 9 12-16-2008 at 12:28 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Aaron: Yes, I thought Cruz was terrific in “VCB.” But of all the Supporting Actress contenders I’ve seen, Tomei remains my favourite.

  • 10 12-16-2008 at 12:30 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    JAB: Just because it was a tight contest, doesn’t necessarily that the standard was that high.

    Frankly, I think Blanchett was so superior to the other nominees, it was kind of ridiculous. But that’s just me.

  • 11 12-16-2008 at 12:35 pm

    JAB said...

    can’t disagree about blanchett.

  • 12 12-16-2008 at 12:38 pm

    alynch said...

    Huh, I’ve been operating under the assumption that Tomei, along with Davis and of course Cruz, was one of the locks for a nomination. Have I been presumptuous?

  • 13 12-16-2008 at 12:50 pm

    Billyboy said...

    Yes, I think Cruz, Davis and Tomei are pretty much locks for a nomination. Maybe even DeWitt.

    But I have a strange feeling that this category will bring some surprise nominees. Someone like Vera Farmiga or Samantha Morton (Synecdoche, NY). I still have some hopes that even Rebecca Hall might show up in this category…

  • 14 12-16-2008 at 1:13 pm

    Chad said...

    I thought Tomei was good in a poorly written role in The Wrestler, but not good at all in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. For my money, Best Supporting Actress should go to Ronit Elkabetz in The Band’s Visit.

  • 15 12-16-2008 at 2:17 pm

    Aaron said...

    I would say Winslet is another lock for The Reader for supporting actress too along with Tomei, Cruz, and Davis…it appears like everyone is really ok with going along with her supporting campaign for the film (knock on wood—but she has received BFCA and Globe nods already)…

    …the last slot is a real head-scratcher and it’s a big fight between Rosemarie DeWitt and Taraji P. Henson…but obviously I think it’s possible it could go to someone really off the radar…maybe if the Academy is obsessed with Doubt (although they prob won’t be), Amy Adams might have a slight shot.

  • 16 12-16-2008 at 2:27 pm

    Patrick said...

    Hope MT is not robbed again. “Devil” was unjustly overlooked in several categories, especially supporting actress.

  • 17 12-16-2008 at 2:38 pm

    Billyboy said...

    Aaron, I’m not so sure the Academy will buy the Winslet-Reader category fraud.

    By Thursday we should have a better idea of what to expect from this category…

  • 18 12-16-2008 at 4:05 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Her performance in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is a disaster… an overwrought, trashy caricature that never turns into anything even remotely appealing or realistic. The role is poorly written, yes, but she does absolutely nothing to rise above it.

    I’m really looking forward to “The Wrestler” however, and from what I’ve seen it looks like a great, naturalistic performance.

  • 19 12-17-2008 at 6:01 am

    John Foote said...

    Wow Speaking English, I so disagree with you about Tomei’s work in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”, I thought she was terrific and deserving of some Oscar attention – have always loved her, and have always believed she deserved that Oscar she did win for “My Cousin Vinny” as it was a terrific piece of comedic acting, incredible timing — I think the rumors that Jack Palance read the wrong name is hurtful and cruel — she is a wonderful actress and will be nominated again for ‘The Wrestler” and would be a most worthy winner — have had the pleasure of interviewing her and she is as beautiful in person as she is on screen…and a nice gal.