Glaring Omissions: Rosamund Pike and Timothée Chalamet
By Drew Shannon, Ph.D., Associate Professor
In a year of surprisingly senseless Oscar oversights, two in particular stand out, and both roles, coincidentally, are based on real people.
The first is Rosamund Pike’s superb performance as war correspondent Marie Colvin in "A Private War." Pike, a Brit (and who was Oscar-nominated for the vastly inferior "Gone Girl" in 2014), utterly transforms herself into the tough-talking New Yorker Colvin, whose gruff demeanor, eyepatch (Colvin lost an eye in Sri Lanka in 2001), and fearless style made her a legend among journalists.
Colvin was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs in 2012, just hours after making a broadcast to CNN and other outlets about the humanitarian crisis there. "A Private War" traces the last decade of Colvin’s life, and Pike’s depiction of Colvin’s drive, determination, guts, and struggles with PTSD and alcoholism is searing, uncanny, and completely convincing.
Colvin’s black humor comes through: She wears La Perla underwear beneath her fatigues, saying, “When they drag my body out of the ditch, I’m gonna be well-dressed.” Watch footage of the real Colvin next to Pike. You’ll be amazed.
"In Beautiful Boy," Timothée Chalamet, a nominee last year for the brilliant "Call Me By Your Name," plays Nic Sheff, the drug-addicted son of journalist David Sheff. Playing opposite an uncharacteristically subdued Steve Carell as his father, Chalamet fully inhabits the skin of a hyper-bright, thoughtful, and poetic teenager who somehow, for reasons that are unclear, drifts from the straight and narrow path.
The film seems less concerned with explanations for Nic’s behavior than with mood, and with a depiction of the emotional chaos and turmoil a family undergoes when a child turns to drugs. In a film with many standout performances, Chalamet, as with his turn in "Call Me By Your Name," strikes not one false note, and he makes Nic difficult, demanding, bratty, and obnoxious, but at the same time so loving and so worthy of love that your heart breaks.
There seems to be nothing that Chalamet can’t do, and I’m already eager for his portrayal of Paul Atreides in the new adaptation of "Dune," directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Actors in “First Man” Overlooked
By Karl Zuelke, Ph.D., Director of the Writing Center and the Math & Science Center
Sound editing and sound mixing amount to half of the four nominations received by “First Man", the dramatization of Neil Armstrong’s journey to the Moon in 1969 and the anxieties borne by Armstrong and his family as he faced the dangers of early space travel. While the sound, production and visual effects of the film are amazing, I can’t help feeling that some of the performances of the lead actors were overlooked.
I tend to think that the roles in “First Man” weren’t scintillating performances enough to attract the attention they might have because the actors were asked to play roles that are understated and filled with anxiety, but contained. This is arguably the most thankless kind of role an actor can be asked to play. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy handle their roles with a passion that is deep, but veiled. So no nominations.
Take Gosling as Armstrong. Armstrong had feelings—all through the movie we sympathize with his grief over the loss of his young daughter. But the professional Neil Armstrong was a notoriously cool customer, steady and unflappable, which is why he was chosen to command the Apollo 11 mission. It turned out that NASA made a wise choice.
On at least three occasions Armstrong survived ordeals that would almost certainly have killed anyone less capable, notably when he had to pilot the lunar lander away from a field of boulders and a crater while on his last drops of fuel to a safe landing on the Moon. Only his level-headed refusal to panic saved him. But Armstrong’s utter lack of color doesn’t translate easily to the screen.
In "The Right Stuff", a different kind of movie about the space program, John Glenn is facing the press and delivers a patriotic speech about the opportunities that being born in America give a guy who has determination and holds the right, can-do American attitude. Facing the same situation, asked if there is anything he’d like to carry along with him to the Moon, Armstrong responds: “I wish I could carry more fuel.” Klunk. But that was Armstrong. He knew exactly what he was facing and had little tolerance for publicity.
What he was facing was monstrously dangerous. One of the film’s real achievements—through its sound and production design—gives us a feeling for what claustrophobic tin cans those early space capsules were. They were thin-walled, they roared and rattled, and they often tried to kill their occupants in terrifying and unpredictable ways. It took the steadiness of a Neil Armstrong to work with them.
A last word on Claire Foy. Her performance as Armstrong’s wife is terrific. Knowing she could lose her beloved husband at any time, and trying to protect her son from what frightens her, Foy’s character strains to tamp her emotions down. She can’t always do it, and forcing her stoic husband to acknowledge the feelings his career causes in his family is incredibly difficult. Foy pulls it off. To have been overlooked for a nomination for Best Supporting Actress was a mistake. This is a great movie, with two brilliant, subtle performances, and to my mind Claire Foy demonstrates that she is one of the finest actors at work right now.