(Awards season) At the Movies: Revisiting recent Oscar snubs

  • Keira Knightley for Best Actress for A Dangerous Method

Originally fashioned as a star vehicle for Julia Roberts, and based on writer Christopher Hampton’s 2002 stage play The Talking Cure and the novel A Most Dangerous Method (1993) by John Kerr, A Dangerous Method (2011) depicts a semi-fictionalized account of the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), one of the first female psychoanalysts.

Director David Cronenberg has stated he picked Knightley to play Spierlein because of her ability to transpose herself into another era and do period films. She was definitely a winning pick. I remember seeing A Dangerous Method when it first came out at a now-closed movie theater and being very impressed by the film, and mostly by Knightley’s incredible performance. It was one of those rare times where it’s the lead actress’ considerable acting skills, not the sure-fire plot twists, that keep you on the edge of your seat. As I wrote before, I’m not that fervently interested in the awards race nor make predictions. Yet 2012 was the year I actually expected Knightley to be nominated for any – any – major award – she wasn’t – and even watched the Academy Award nominations’ announcement to see if she received her much-deserved nod. And I was struck when she didn’t. It was the only time I went all “no-fucking-way!” about an Oscar snub.

Looking at Academy Award winners, you can see a certain pattern: mental illness and historical figures. Knightley played both at once this time, and yet… Nothing… Why? Her performance was nothing short of extraordinary. She made the most out of her very compelling character and gave some of the very best acting of her career. Actually, her performance in this film wasn’t just one of the best female performances of the year: it was the best performance of the year. She’s completely mesmerizing. She is able to bring to life Spierlein’s facets and the phases of her evolution as a woman and as a professional with considerable virtuosity, never oversimplifying her character’s trials and tribulations. Her muscles clench, unclench, and clench, then she opens up her mind and Knightley’s performance becomes even more interesting. It is so detailed that, if analysed over and over again, you can always find something new, intricate and fascinating. She gives her best and the result is highly hypnotizing. Knighley is absolutely fantastic and a joy to watch. She is a wonderful reminder of how enjoyable performances can be. Watching her act makes you feel ecstatic.

This year, Knightley’s nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as cryptanalyst Joan Clarke (pattern watch: historical figure) in The Imitation Game. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I believe that if she wins, it’s also to make up for her horrendous snub for A Dangerous Method. Cheers.

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2 thoughts on “(Awards season) At the Movies: Revisiting recent Oscar snubs

  1. Good call, and a very good film. A bit of a departure for Cronenberg, but excellent to see how he allowed the plot to develop through actors talking to each other, trusting their body language and the things they said to keep it going instead of inter-cutting with superfluous action scenes e.g. some visual representation of their dreams.

    As for Keira Knightley, she really did shine in it. Quite something to come out of a film starring Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as the most memorable performance, but then she stole it with the development of her character, the facial and bodily contortions in the early scenes of her hysteria blending into controlled poise, whilst the emotions are writ just as large.

    A shame about the Oscars snub, though in fairness I think the voting process within the Academy often has so little to do with the best work and performances that who gets it is rendered meaningless. This was the year that Meryl Streep won it for playing Margaret Thatcher, wasn’t it? Not a bad impersonation, not a patch on this, but then it’s Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher. It was a shoo-in.

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  2. There’s no denying there’s some real issues at the moment with the awards. And as you pointed out – it’s not just BLACK or WHITE. I had this discussion with a friend earlier about race and cinema. The idea of a black James Bond. Fair enough, but…what about an Indian James Bond? Or Hispanic? Or Asian? The awards highlight such issues even more, focusing so much on race….in many ways when clearly it should just be a case of the winner goes to ….whoever was the best, so open up the flood gates and start to recognize more films and talent from all over the planet. It’s mad isn’t it?

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