I watched Into the Woods today. I’d been dreading this since I heard it was happening, and I was also absolutely certain I’d end up watching it, not least because I was convinced that they’d give Meryl Streep another Oscar nomination. They always do, even when everyone seems to agree that the movie is a piece of crap, because the Academy seems to have forgotten that they don’t actually have to nominate her for things. What’s really infuriating, though, is that I’ve seen Sophie’s Choice. I know she can act. I just kind of feel like she hasn’t pretty much since then.
This is a thing. I kind of maintain a mental list on this subject. This isn’t Cary Grant, who mostly acted like Cary Grant but did it really well. This is more like Angelina Jolie, who has turned in a handful of absolutely brilliant performances and then phoned in a bunch of others. And I tell you, if Meryl Streep had beaten Angelina Jolie for the Oscar the year Changeling came out, I would have been bloody furious.
It can be really, really frustrating if you watch a lot of movies. Because you’re going to end up watching the bad ones. Just in hope. “Maybe this time, John Wayne will act!” (That one is going to be a long, long wait; I’d say he acted in something like five percent of his movies.) Or else you give up on someone you know to be talented, because you can’t sit through another Robin Williams schmaltz fest or tepid comedy.
It only gets worse, because acting is such a personal thing. Like my Meryl Streep thing. Before Julie and Julia even finished filming, I heard Oscar buzz. At the time, we had no real reason to believe she had anything more than a glorified cameo, if you’ve read the book, because Julia Child is barely even in the book. But some people love Meryl Streep so much that they’re convince anything she does will be Oscarworthy. I probably drive them nuts. Similarly, my boyfriend pretty much dislikes Katharine Hepburn more often than not, because he doesn’t like her voice. There are movies he likes anyway, but hearing she’s in a movie is a strike against it for him. There is no better way to pique my interest in a film than to be someone who knows my tastes well enough to say that you think I would like it based on other things I like.
It seems to strike across genre, too. Take Ben Affleck, which I know a lot of people would rather not do. I honestly think he’s one of the best parts of Shakespeare in Love, which I admit isn’t really helping my case. But he’s also fine in Dogma, in both movies putting a little emotion in his comedy. On the other hand, sometimes, that makes it just look like he can’t take the movie seriously, either. He may be another actor, not unlike Brad Pitt, whose great failing is that his looks got him considered a leading man when he’d probably be better as a character actor. Which is I guess a reason not to look forward to him as Batman.
Anyone can have an off performance, and having a bad director generally doesn’t help. (I tend to think Christopher Nolan’s greatest accomplishment is Insomnia, when he got understated performances, at least through part of the movie, out of both Robin Williams and Al Pacino.) And I do find it interesting that my list tends to skew male; I’m not sure what that means. But sometimes, it just feels as though the actor is coasting, like Leonardo DiCaprio for several years post-Titanic. Or that they only really fire up for a good script, like Angelina Jolie. Or something. It’s just one of the things you learn to live with as a film buff, I guess.