‘An Education’: more than Mulligan

Posted by · 9:31 am · October 20th, 2009

Rosamund Pike and Lone Scherfig on the set of An EducationAt this morning’s press screening for “An Education,” which has its UK premiere at the London Film Festival tonight, I was impressed afresh by what a layered, deceptively gentle and generally terrific little picture it is.

Some have complained that it’s a little too soft, a little too easy — though only its overly pat denouement, for me, merits any such claims — but this is a film that knows its audience, as well as how to sneak more subversive material by them, and deserves credit for its intelligence in doing so.

I’ll admit that this morning, the thought of it actually winning Best Picture crossed my mind, albeit built on a shaky pile of ifs; either way, it strikes me as a genuine Academy film, and for a change, that isn’t meant as an insult.

So I’m interested to see how many seeds the film can plant in the contenders field, once awards season really gets into gear: it goes without saying that nominations for Carey Mulligan and Nick Hornby are a done deal, and if anyone was doubting Alfred Molina’s prospects before seeing the film, his knockout through-the-bedroom-door speech near the film’s end should clarify things for them.

But could there be more in store? As I watched this morning, I was struck by a couple of additional contributions that perhaps aren’t generating as much buzz as they deserve:

LONE SCHERFIG: Obviously, Scherfig is already in the Best Director discussion and has been ever since the film’s Best Picture nomination became a consensus prediction. But there’s still an unfair perception among many that she’s along for the ride, that the film isn’t enough a director’s showcase for her to merit serious consideration.

To which the obvious reply is that an ensemble this rich and cohesive (featuring relaxed work even from such previously stiff thesps as Dominic Cooper) doesn’t direct itself, and that the tech team isn’t solely responsible for its crisp pacing and evocative period detail. Two years ago, Jason Reitman surprised pundits by landing a nod for a film more celebrated for its acting and writing; I would be surprised to see Scherfig accomplish the same, especially if the media pushes the “year of the woman” angle.

ROSAMUND PIKE: I’m not the first to call for recognition for Pike’s unexpectedly wise supporting turn as a dim trophy girlfriend, but it seems to me that not enough others are. Never previously the loosest or most genial of actresses, Pike takes what could be a broad, ditzy caricature and imbues the role with subtle layers of awareness and melancholy — we’re never sure exactly much she knows or conceals. Which is not to say she doesn’t nail her comic beats either — her sweetly catty dismissal of Mulligan’s outfit in their first scene together deserves a line-delivery award of its own.

ODILE DICKS-MIREAUX and ANDREW McALPINE: The film’s costume designer and production designer, respectively, haven’t figured on many pundits’ contenders lists, though Gerard now has the former on his radar. There’s a reason for that: subtle, largely domestic period work doesn’t have a great history of Academy recognition, though last year’s surprising (to some) costume nod for “Milk” reminded us that needn’t always be the case. And the work on display in “An Education” is both immaculately detailed and story-serving: Dicks-Mireaux, in particular, invaluably aids Mulligan’s morphosis from girl to woman and back, throwing some lush frocks on screen in the process.

I’m not saying all these names will necessarily find themselves in the Oscar hunt — just that they merit consideration. Moreover, if any of them do start showing up in precursor lists, I personally think “An Education” could turn into more of a Best Picture threat than people realize.

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32 responses so far

  • 1 10-20-2009 at 9:47 am

    Evan said...

    I’m mostly surprised at the lack of buzz for Sarsgaard. Campaigning him in supporting would greatly improve nomination chances in a year where I’m having a tough time filling out the supporting categories with five performances. Kinda reminds me of the way another Sarsgaard performance was (mis)handled…Shattered Glass anyone?

  • 2 10-20-2009 at 9:55 am

    mark said...


  • 3 10-20-2009 at 10:26 am

    han said...

    based on the film’s lukewarm box office performance, it might be totally ignored by december.

  • 4 10-20-2009 at 10:28 am

    Ivan said...

    Carey Mulligan offers one of the best female performances of the decade in An Education.

    My list by far

    Kate Winslet/Eternal Sunshine & Revolutionary Road
    Ellen Burnstyn/Requiem for a Dream
    Uma Thurman/Kill Bill vol. 1 & 2
    Naomi Watts/Mulholland Drive
    Nicole Kidman/Birth
    Amy Adams/Junebug
    Judie Dench/Notes on a Scandal
    Meryl Streep/Adaptation
    Sally Hakwins/Happy Go-Lucky
    and Carey Mulligan/An Education

  • 5 10-20-2009 at 10:29 am

    slayton said...

    I’m sure I’ve said it before on this site, but if you haven’t seen Rosamund Pike’s fireball supporting performance in The Libertine, watch it. She’s heartbreaking, vivid, visceral. I’d be so glad if she got awards attention for this role – it would open up doors for such a gifted actress.

    I have a feeling Mulligan & Molina will be the only acting nominees, sadly.

  • 6 10-20-2009 at 10:37 am

    slayton said...

    Haha… if we’re doing Top actress’ performance lists, here’s my Top 25 for the decade:
    1. Sally Hawkins — Happy-Go-Lucky
    2. Severine Caneele — A Piece of Sky
    3. Naomi Watts — Mulholland Dr.
    4. Kate Winslet — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    5. Rinko Kikuchi — Babel
    6. Oksana Akinshina — Lilya 4-Ever
    7. Eileen Walsh — The Magdalene Sisters
    8. Sylvie Testud — Murderous Maids
    9. Judi Dench — Notes on a Scandal
    10. Amber Tamblyn — Stephanie Daley
    11. Q’orianka Kilcher — The New World
    12. Tang Wei — Lust, Caution
    13. Tilda Swinton — Michael Clayton
    14. Eva Lobau — The Forest for the Trees
    15. Jeon Do-yeon — Secret Sunshine
    16. Brenda Blethyn — Clubland
    17. Marie-Josee Croze — Maelstrom
    18. Molly Shannon — Year of the Dog
    19. Amy Adams — Junebug
    20. Leslie Mann — Knocked Up
    21. Norma Aleandro — Live-in Maid
    22. Jennifer Aniston — Friends with Money
    23. Laia Marull — Take My Eyes
    24. Angela Bettis — May
    25TIE. Bae Du-na — Take Care of My Cat
    25TIE. Samantha Morton — Morvern Callar

  • 7 10-20-2009 at 10:51 am

    snowballa said...

    if this wins for best movie, it will be a mistake. the sudden use of voice over at the end alone exempts it for me.

    pike, mulligan and molina all deserve recognition. but i must say that the characterization of jenny and david dimmed carey and peter’s performance for me. but, that’s not their fault, it’s nick hornby’s.

  • 8 10-20-2009 at 11:06 am

    Jim T said...

    Ivan, I loved your idea! I’m really awful at ranking so I’ll just throw some performances I loved.

    Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine…, The Reader, Little Children)

    Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears…, Adaptation)

    Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Iris)

    Annette Bening (Being Julia)

    Laura Linney (The Exorcism of Emily Rose )

    Dench’s Barbara Covett is my no1.

  • 9 10-20-2009 at 11:10 am

    Sam Dodsworth said...

    What about Olivia Williams??

  • 10 10-20-2009 at 11:14 am

    Jim T said...

    I forgot Charlize Theron (Monster)

  • 11 10-20-2009 at 11:28 am

    billybil said...

    I found AN EDUCATION elegant and hugely accomplished in the way that films of the past seemed to be more often than they are now. This film seemed a bit old fashioned to me – a character study from the 70’s perhaps – and it bordered on being too careful in its approach. This is not a daring film to me nor is it one that seems to want to reach for the “stars” in terms of scope or emotional impact.

    Everything about the film seemed seamlessly and completely under control – with a reassuring eye for period accuracy and emotional/ character truth. It is definitely a very well made film and I do think it deserves recognition. It remains to be seen for me if it deserves one of the ten Best Picture spots. It very well could.

    I think you’re correct in bringing a little more attention to Rosamund Pike. I found her work the biggest surprise in the film – fascinating because, like you suggest, I was never quite sure what her character was thinking or where she was going. Her ability to be snide and yet simultaneously kind toward Mulligan’s character is a wonderful accomplishment and keeps the film from feeling simplistic at times when it came a bit close.

    And although I found Carey Mulligan extremely competent and wonderfully fresh (not faint praise by any means!!) I certainly did not find her performance worthy of the oscar itself. She is, indeed, a charming young woman with a capacity for naturally conveying intelligence as well as hurt but it did not seem like a performance for the ages to me – certainly not when I recall the truly special work from last year of one of her colleagues in this film – Sally Hawkins. Of the performances I’ve seen so far Streep and Cornish fall higher on my list but there are still 3 slots open until I see more and I think Mulligan could very well deserve one of those. But, and I will admit I’m a bit conflicted about this, I think a strong argument could be made that the work Pfeiffer did in Cheri contributed more “magic” and more “emotional” depth to her film than Mulligan’s did here. It is difficult not to be influenced by the quality of the film surrounding a performance, isn’t it?

    I was also surprised by Dominic Cooper – by his ability to portray slease without be sleasy. He portrayed an intelligence and confidence which I didn’t see a hint if in MAMMA MIA.

    Molina certainly dominates the film – in terms of energy and power and his importance in the story – it’s his struggles, his compromises that seem to have the most resonance for Mulligan’s character as well as for the audience. He certainly deserves a nomination but, at this time without having seen Damon, Tucci, Plummer, and McKay, I would still give the Oscar to Christopher Waltz because that performance transcended the norm while maintaining believability and consistency within his film.

    Peter Sarsgaard is always excellent and he, too, kept me guessing about his character far more than I would have expected (since his character’s “role” had already been made clear by many reviews and blogs). He can be so charming, can’t he? However, it seemed like another extremely adept performance which I don’t believe deserves recognication as one of the five most “special” of the year.

    For me, Molina and Hornby would be the strongest contenders for an Oscar nomination from this film and, next, I think I would agree with you that the work of Dicks-Mireaux and McAlpine deserves recognition (more so than Inglorious Basterds). I couldn’t help but watch Carey’s clothes change in subtle ways throughout the film while keeping an eye on Pike’s to see how they compared.

  • 12 10-20-2009 at 11:30 am

    KyleXy said...

    Sarsgaard was good, but nothing outstanding.

    Mulligan was very good, but sorry, not one of the best of the decade.

    Please, put Hawkins annoying Happy Go Lucky performance away. The critics creamed there shorts over that piece of crap film and performance and the ones who really count- SAG, BAFTA, and OSCARS all said no, nothing great and didn’t even nominate her.

  • 13 10-20-2009 at 11:40 am

    Liz said...

    Well, KyleXy, if we know anything, it’s that all excellent performances are nominated by the Academy.


  • 14 10-20-2009 at 12:00 pm

    KyleXy said...

    The ones that win major critic’s awards usually are. And, it wasn’t just the Academy that said no. SAG – actors, BAFTA – her homeland peeps.

  • 15 10-20-2009 at 12:12 pm

    red_wine said...

    That’s another Oscar front-runner that has your approval Guy after The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air. Won’t it be disappointing if even you start endorsing the Academy’s taste? But I kid. Lets see how its goes with you and Precious. It seems this year’s slate will atleast have something pleasing for everyone (unlike last year’s debacle).

  • 16 10-20-2009 at 12:16 pm

    red_wine said...

    KyleXy, the ignoring of Hawkins, Leigh and their film by their own people is an indelible stigma on Baftas. But they had their other British film to cheer on, so they forgot all about this one.

  • 17 10-20-2009 at 12:48 pm

    Liz said...

    KyleXy, if you put so much stock in the Oscars, SAGs, and BAFTAs that you believe that a performance that wasn’t nominated by them can’t be any good…well, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    According to your criteria, there have been very few good performances given outside of the English-speaking world. Yes, even some that were ignored by their own countries.

    red_wine put it best regarding the embarrassing BAFTA snub. People won’t let them forget about that misstep any time soon.

  • 18 10-20-2009 at 1:58 pm

    Beau said...

    Rosamund in the car, when they’re discussing education, and her shiver: PRICELESS.

    Definitely deserving of a nom. Sarsgaard made a strong impression as well, I wouldn’t be adverse to the idea of his being nominated as well. Molina? Cooper? Thompson? All strong but nay, nay, nay.

  • 19 10-20-2009 at 3:01 pm

    Mike said...

    Top female performances of the decade

    Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine)
    Cate Blanchett (Benjamin Button, Aviator)
    Judi Dench ( notes on a scandal)
    Meryl Streep ( the devil wears prada, Julie and Julia)
    CharlizE Theron (monster)
    Marion Cotillard (la vie en rose
    Ellen Burstyn (requiem for a dream)
    Laura Linney (you can count on me)
    Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)
    Nicole Kidman (moulin rouge)

  • 20 10-20-2009 at 4:43 pm

    Jamie said...

    A best picture nomination is very likely, but it won’t get anywhere near a win in the category. Mulligan performance, as good as it was, might be too subtle of a performance to win it. You can argue that Mirren and even Winslet won for subtle performances recently, but the situations with those ladies are highly different, mainly because they were multi-nominated actresses who had not won yet.

  • 21 10-21-2009 at 5:04 am

    Brent said...

    love that list slayton.

  • 22 10-21-2009 at 1:03 pm

    annia said...

    the film is doing great at the box office Han, in fact better than I thought.

  • 23 10-22-2009 at 9:29 am

    slayton said...

    Thanks Brent! I love it too :D
    I must admit my actors’ list is not as strong, but I had to sacrifice many actress’ performances to get the 25 on that list.

  • 24 10-22-2009 at 10:09 am

    daveylow said...

    I share your love for An Education. One of my favorite films of the year, mostly because it’s such a pleasure from start to finish. Maybe not the deepest or most emotionally challenging film of the year but one of those films I wanted to see over again immediately.

  • 25 11-04-2009 at 2:29 am

    Andrew said...

    I find Mulligan to be completely overrated in An Education. Her character is lame and uninteresting. I don’t understand the “transformation” she underwent to play this part, considering that she was playing someone 6 years younger than her [she was 22 when filming].

  • 26 11-04-2009 at 3:45 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Who’s saying she underwent a transformation?

  • 27 11-04-2009 at 5:09 am

    Jim T said...

    Not relevant to the post but since some of us listed our favorite performances of the decade, I would like to say that I’d be really interested in reading Kris’, Guy’s and John’s similar lists (a colaborative list like the one on horror films would be great). Just a suggestion. I’m not talking about now of course since there are some performances not seen yet.

  • 28 11-04-2009 at 5:24 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m sure we’ll have such a discussion towards the end of the year, Jim. (I’m not sure how a collaborative list would work, though, given how different our lists would probably be!)

  • 29 11-06-2009 at 6:25 am

    tony said...

    Andrew..I agree with you.
    Mulligan was very good. but I don’t think she’s Performance draw people’s attention.

  • 30 11-06-2009 at 6:26 am

    tony said...

    ‘she’s’ => her

  • 31 11-06-2009 at 6:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m confused … if Mulligan’s performance isn’t drawing people’s attention, as you put it, then why has she been installed as an Oscar frontrunner since January?

  • 32 11-07-2009 at 12:15 am

    tony said...

    Oscar?! It is critics’ attention.
    but that doesn’t mean much for drawing people’s attention.