There are some sturdy performances nominated at the 89th Academy Awards this evening; from Emma Stone’s textured delivery of determination in La La Land, to Casey Affleck’s sombre approach towards grief and parenthood in Manchester By The Sea, to Mahershala Ali’s stoic knight in Moonlight – there’s good work about to be acknowledged. The nominees are more diverse than recent years and overall the standard of films are strong.It’s a good year, but perhaps not a great one.
Mostly because La La Land, with its 14 nominations, will go home with Best Actress, Director and Film. The film is full of heart and imagination, but it’s not one for the ages. And though Stone’s performance chisels at the frame of her character, redefining the contours of Mia throughout the picture, it’s a less memorable than roles that have previously won the accolade. It got me thinking about who might be the finest actor current working.
It got me thinking about what makes a performance special, and who has managed to reach that elusive height. It got me thinking about just how good Cate Blanchett is.
The term chameleon is thrown around a lot when talking about actors. Given that their job is to take on characters, it is perhaps surprising that we’re impressed when they transition from one role to the next. Do we have such minimal expectations for our screen actors that we commonly allow them to carry a suitcase of go to gestures and behaviours from one film to the next?
It’s fair to say Cate Blanchett is not an every woman. I certainly don’t look at her and see myself in any way. She’s the sort of woman who can wear white with confidence, leaves a trail of light Channel perfume wherever she glides and sips one glass of red before heading home to read German poetry. I’m still hopeful the red wine stain on my teeth from last night will fade by dinner time.
She doesn’t have a public persona that I see mirrored in her roles. Nor can I chart a through line of characters that she’s taken on: Queen Elizabeth I, Bob Dylan, Galadriel…Even the thought of those characters in the same room is enough to give a social butterfly anxiety, let alone entertaining the thought of entering deep into those chatacters’ psyches.
Blanchett doesn’t have that familiarity that other actors do. Like many Australian actors, she’s had a stubborn grip over some of the meatiest, most complex roles in recent film history. Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman have had equal success with similarly diverse roles. But there’s something unique about Blanchett, it’s her utter alienness that renders me in awe.
Aside from her role as an actor, she also co-ran Sydney Theatre Company with her husband Andrew Upton, starring in at least one production a year there whilst also raising 4 children.
It’s pretty fucking impressive.
I started to consider my favourite Cate Blanchett roles. Undeniably, there’s a whole slew of performances which could be ranked as her best. Her deft turns in The Talented Mr Ripley, The Gift, Coffee and Cigarettes and Veronica Guerin could have all of made it in. But the performances I’ve chosen stand out for me, for one reason or another.
- Little Fish, Rowan Woods, 2005.
A dark Australian indie released in 2005, featuring Hugo Weaving and Sam Neil, and starring Blanchett as Tracey Heart, a former heroin addict working in a video store in an area of Sydney known as Little Saigon. Tracy desperately tries to keep her head above the water as she swims in the sticky residue of her past that she is unable to sever contact with. There’s a wild vulnerability to Blanchett, like a wounded fox that refuses the help it needs for survival.
2. The Aviator, Martin Scorsese, 2004.
Blanchett rejects likeability for authenticity. She plays Katherine Hepburn with such bolshie rigour that, she’s both brilliant and painfully annoying. Evoking the spirit of Hepburn, she brings to the screen, the athletic sweatiness of Hepburn. New shades of womanhood shining brightly in DiCaprio’s face.
3. Carol, Todd Haynes, 2015.
Blanchett stars as the titular role in this meticulous film about the quiet, yet all-consuming, allure of love. Watching her and Mara is like watching marathon runners; scene by scene they exhibit unshowy athleticism that results in something truly spectacular. The cinematography in Carol only adds to the immaculate style of Blanchett.
4. Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen, 2013
All screwed up. Blanchett plays a neurotic plagued with anxiety and nightmares. Blue Jasmine sets its sights on depicting the unraveling of someone with a picturesque life. Blanchet punches through Allen’s script to make the film entirely her own.
5. Gross und Klein, Benedict Andrews, 2011
I’ve seen Cate Blanchett on stage twice, once in Uncle Vanya and then in Gross und Klein – both at the Sydney Theatre Company.
There’s a section in Gross und Klein where she’s wearing a tight, sequin dress which almost looks like an ice skating costume and she thrashes around on stage in a moment of undoing. Like a fire raging on stage, spitting up speckles of light in new shapes with a furious heat. It was a savage moment. I was 21 when I watched her and onstage she was powerful and frantic and a complete mess, and it was amazing.
You can watch the trailer here:
Cate Blanchett might be an alien. Or, she might just be a really good woman.