Elevating Ebert

Posted by · 6:57 am · January 28th, 2009

Roger Ebert has yet to weigh in with his formal Oscar predictions, but for now, he’s trying something a little different — selecting winners purely on the basis of “elevation,” which is to say the nominees that have had the most profound emotional impact on him. (He offers an in-depth explanation of this rationale here.)

He has run through three categories so far, and using his criteria, I am hard-pressed to disagree with any of them. Melissa Leo — whose performance is, I think, in a different league to those of her fellow nominees — is Ebert’s personal favourite in the Best Actress category; he aptly describes her work as “close to the bone, closer to the soul.”

Meanwhile, he celebrates “Milk” in the Best Picture category, with Gus Van Sant skilful use of existing footage of the candlelit Castro Street parade in Harvey Milk’s honour the clear emotional tipping point for him. I must concur here, even if “Milk” as a whole isn’t my favourite of the nominees. (I can’t say I was as moved by “Slumdog Millionaire” as I was grandly entertained.)

However, I particularly love Ebert’s verdict in the Best Actor race, as he offers a point-on appreciation of what makes Mickey Rourke’s performance such a singular achievement:

(“The Wrestler”) is his comeback on his own terms, as a full-force, heedless, passionate physical actor, with strong undercurrents of tenderness, loneliness, and need. He did a lot of his own wrestling in the film, including a scene where he deliberately cuts himself, and he was painfully honest in the scenes with women. What you see is a man with what he knows is the role of his lifetime, and willing (I am convinced) to die for it.

Bingo. I’ve been struggling for a while to put my finger on exactly why I am that much more affected by Rourke’s performance than I am by Sean Penn’s impeccable inhabitation of Harvey Milk, but Ebert nails it. There is so much visibly at stake in the former; it’s about as autobiographical as an ostensibly fictitious performance can be.

→ 11 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

11 responses so far

  • 1 1-28-2009 at 7:53 am

    Kate said...

    I loved Milk, but Penn’s performance just didn’t do it for me. I mean, he was excellent, no doubt about that, but it was just off for me. I can’t explain it. Mickey Rourke on the other hand was absolutely flawless, as was The Wrestler itself. Rourke’s performance is emotionally stirring. Maybe because the story so closely mirrors his own. And you can tell Rourke threw himself into the role completely, physically and emotionally. Very beautiful.

    I’ve always thought Penn was overrated anyway. I mean, he’s good, but he’s not that good. You can always tell he’s playing someone. It doesn’t seem natural.

  • 2 1-28-2009 at 8:30 am

    Ronn said...

    Great stuff, Guy! I absolutely could not agree more. I’ve actually seen “The Wrestler” 3 times now and each time I pick up on new things Rourke does. It’s well documented on this site that it’s my favorite movie of the year and I would be absolutely ecstatic if it brings Mickey and/or Tomei (unlikely I know) an Oscar.

  • 3 1-28-2009 at 8:35 am

    T.S. said...

    It’s Penn or Rourke for me — they both brought nuance and pain to their roles, both moved me, both were splendid. The acting categories this year haven’t drawn particular favorites for me, except supporting actor. In the rest of the categories, I’d be happy if one or the other won — Penn or Rourke (tilt Rourke), Hathaway or Leo (tilt Leo), Cruz or Davis (tilt Cruz).

    More to the point, and as lame as it may be to say, I’m thrilled to see Mr. Ebert trying new things. His alphabetical top-20 this year was a welcomed departure from the traditional ranking, and I was elated to see him following his heart and writing up personal preference blurbs before his annual out-guess contest. His blog has been wonderful, and I think his writing is still in top form (although his overall assessments have been a little more lenient than years past). Nonetheless, it’s a great transition from a newspaperman into an online writer, and that can’t be said for all newspaper writers.

  • 4 1-28-2009 at 10:28 am

    Scott Ward said...

    What I have been saying for years. You can rag on Ebert and disagree with him all you want, but I don’t think that I would have ever gotten into an argument with him because he always backs up his points so well.

  • 5 1-28-2009 at 4:03 pm

    Neel Mehta said...

    Still haven’t seen “Milk,” but Rourke and Langella were an interesting contrast. I bought Rourke’s performance until the last half hour, when he got kind of wordy all of a sudden, as if Aronofsky felt some Oscar clips were needed. As for Langella, I was removed and skeptical until about the last half hour, where I suddenly started to accept the immersion.

    Edge to Rourke, as he’s playing an original character — somewhat tied to himself — and does not have the luxury of working opposite Michael Sheen.

  • 6 1-28-2009 at 4:10 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Frankly, I think working opposite Marisa Tomei is more of a luxury than Michael Sheen, but that’s me.

  • 7 1-28-2009 at 9:03 pm

    Zan said...

    Too bad Ebert’s a senile fogey whose better days are behind him, or I’d actually listen to him. Only pick I can agree with is Rourke.

  • 8 1-28-2009 at 10:14 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    You’re exactly the type of people I was talking about Zan. Cause I’m sure you’re reviews would be so much better because, after all, you are right.

  • 9 1-29-2009 at 7:47 am

    Jim said...

    I still enjoy Ebert’s reviews a lot.

  • 10 1-29-2009 at 5:18 pm

    Mike V. said...

    Hope Sean Penn wins. My dream Oscar night would be:

    Adams or Davis, or even Tomei
    Milk (Best Picture)