Will the 2010 Oscars be a whites-only club? Gregg Kilday and Matthew Belloni projected the possibility in the Hollywood Reporter back in September, and as this awards season has moved forward, indeed, the focus has been on a collection of Caucasian colossi.
Where are the faces of color? Minority stars have been busy cranking out big commercial movies this year rather than Oscar-type fare, goes the prevailing industry wisdom — Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable,” Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson in “Iron Man 2.” The dearth of African-American, Latino and Asian players in the critics’ awards picks is either 1) just a coincidence or 2)another result of the recession, as distributors fail to pick up independent films that feature minorities, and studios “play it safe.”
Before we get too carried away with this theme, however, the picture could still change. There are Oscar-worthy performances by non-whites in this year’s crop of films, performances that merit more attention than they’ve been getting, starting with Djimon Hounsou in Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest.”
Two-time Academy Award nominee Hounsou plays the enslaved island native Caliban as quite literally a force of nature, the offspring of a witch and the devil. The actor studied Butoh, an ancient form of Japanese dance that represents nature, to prepare for the role. He moves with raw, animalistic grace. He went through five hours a day having makeup applied to his nearly naked body, a process the actor admits always left him in a terrible mood — which he used in his performance as a not-quite-human being consumed by rage.
Taymor continues to have the artistic audacity to follow her own creative instincts rather than playing to critics’ or audiences’ expectations, which has resulted in a “Tempest” that’s excited passionate responses both negative and positive. That this film, with its flawless performances and unforgettable stark imagery, will stand the test of time is without doubt, whether the Academy pays more attention than critics’ groups or not. “The Tempest” opens tomorrow
Meanwhile, would Kimberly Elise be getting more notice for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman who submits to abuse in “For Colored Girls” if it weren’t for the fact that Tyler Perry directed the film, and critics don’t like Perry?
The flaws of Halle Berry’s “Frankie and Alice” — also opening, in limited release, tomorrow (12/10) — have been widely enumerated, but there is no ignoring the daring performance of Oscar-winner Berry as a severely emotionally damaged woman with two alternate personalities.
Almost certainly, Javier Bardem, another Academy Awards nomination veteran, will be remembered for his portrayal of a terminally ill criminal in “Biutiful,” which already won him Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival. That, at least, will add a dash of Spanish flavor to the mix.