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David Poland

By David Poland

Your Likely Best Actress Oscar Winner

There are some great performances to come, no doubt.

But in spite of a fairly mediocre movie around her, Michelle Williams gives a performance that is, simply, beyond.

Like Charlize Theron’s turn in Monster, this is not something you will see again from Williams. But also like Theron, Williams embodies her character completely, never showing herself to be an imitator, even as we can hear and see so many similarities. She becomes a woman who might well have been Marilyn Monroe. She floats and seduces and loses all the life in her eyes and body and in way that is oh so rare, becomes an enigma that you can’t stop watching.

The movie, My Week With Marilyn, is based on a memoir and it is the story they chose. I can hardly demand that they changed it to better effect. It’s a rather ripe moment in Monroe’s life, so that’s great. (Another real standout in the film is an unrecognizable Dougray Scott – aka The Man Who Would Be Wolverine – as Arthur Miller.)

Williams great performances have, mostly, been about her skill is exposing herself emotionally… amongst the most raw, painful, real women you will see on film. But here, she finds that intense, sad, intimate truth, but also puts on a show as a showstopping sex bomb… and really brings to life how Marilyn’s power was about the energy she offered and not just boobs and butt and lips.

When she asks, “Should I be ‘her’?” at one point in the film and transforms herself instantly into the embodiment of her image, it’s not a movie moment… pretty woman turning the tables… it’s a glimpse into a person who knows so much, but who cannot bring that rational insight into the rest of her life. It’s not the great O’Toole moment in My Favorite Year, when he can finally take a bow, overcoming his fear and reveling in his status, but sometime deeper… more poignant because there isn’t the relief… it’s no nightmare on the surface, but it’s a deadly trap.

The performance could be compared to Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-winning transformation in La Vie en Rose or Theron’s turn… but I have to say… this performance owns its own space because the emotional shifts are tougher. The director has clearly studied all of Monroe’s photos and there are a ton of very specific references, which sometimes makes it feel stunty. But then, once Williams has some space to breathe as a character… well, I know this actress’ work and I have spent some time chatting with her and I didn’t see anything of the Michelle Williams I am familiar with in this entire film, with the exception of 2 consecutive shots in one scene. I can’t say that of her other terrific performances, however varied.

I give a lot of credit to cinematographer Ben Smithard and director Simon Curtis (both TV guys stepping up in class) for how they shot her face… but the light behind those eyes all comes from the actor.

She’ll likely be up against Oscar winners Streep and Theron, and perhaps former nominees Davis & Close. All great performances (I am assuming on Close, whose film I haven’t seen, but for which she has been endlessly praised)… but I can’t imagine that any of them is the kind of magic trick pulled off by Williams… who also is in the classic winning position of having been previously nominated more than once, including last year. (See: Colin Firth)

I wish the movie was as good as the performance, but then again, the eco-sytem that led to the performance deserves a lot of credit as well.

32 Responses to “Your Likely Best Actress Oscar Winner”

  1. El Bicho says:

    Haven’t seen Williams yet, but Close is very impressive. You might reconsider

  2. movieman says:

    Speaking of the NYFF, here’s something interesting:

    We’ve added a film to the 49th NYFF! It’s a movie that no one has seen yet!
    The New York Film Festival is proud to announce that for the second time in our 49 year history, we have the privilege of presenting a work in progress from a master filmmaker. The film is due to be released in theaters this year.
    We hope you will join us at Avery Fisher Hall on Monday, October 10th at 7PM.

    My guess is “Hugo.”

  3. Hallick says:

    “But in spite of a fairly mediocre movie around her, Michelle Williams gives a performance that is, simply, beyond.”

    I was going to say something about nobody ever taking the prize when people find the rest of the movie generally mediocre, but we’ve seen Sandra Bullock do it with “The Blind Side”, Kate Winslet for “The Reader, and Nicole Kidman in “The Hours”. But your odds definitely seem a lot better if the movie’s getting a lotta love too.

    In Michelle’s favor, this could also turn out to be one of those mini-lifetime achievement things that push her over the top in recognition for the work she’s done in Brokeback, Meek’s Cutoff, Blue Valentine, Wendy and Lucy, etc.

  4. movieman says:

    Isn’t Glenn Close more overdue (and deserving of) a “lifetime achievement” award than Michelle (“Deception”) Williams?

    Close should have won for “Garp.”
    Or “Fatal Attraction.”
    Or “Dangerous Liaisons.”

  5. Hallick says:

    Pointing out the good will Williams’ has stocked up in the last few years wasn’t a knock against Glenn (“Chumscrubber”) Close’s chances in the race.

  6. Rob says:

    Williams vs. Close reminds me a little of Portman vs. Bening. Voters just aren’t that compelled to give lifetime achievement/makeup sex Oscars to women of a certain age.

    With Helen Mirren, the performance was undeniable. Other than her, it’s been women under 50 for best actress since Jessica Tandy.

  7. Findley says:

    The Academy loves to give Oscars for biopics!

  8. movielocke says:

    hmm, her voice is so distinctive, yet the trailer it just sounded like Williams, so she overcomes not sounding like Marilyn? impressive.

  9. Prettok says:

    The Blind Side, the Hours, and The Reader were all nominated for best picture, so not everybody thought they were mediocre.
    When was the last time the best actress winner was the sole Oscar nominee for her movie?

  10. movieman says:

    Williams has engendered zero goodwill with me lately, Hallick.
    I don’t think I’ve liked her in a movie since “Brokeback Mountain;” maybe “Wendy and Lucy.”
    In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more aggressively mannered, flat-out annoying actress currently working in films today than the Method-besotted Williams.
    But, hey: that’s just me, lol.
    P.S.=If “Deception” wasn’t bad enough for you, what about “Mammoth”?

  11. The Pope says:

    Obviously I haven’t seen My Week With Marilyn, but what about Viola Davis in The Help? Grrrrreat role, stomping performance (without indulgence) and a very popular film to boot.

  12. movielocke says:

    And let’s not forget Rooney Mara in Dragon Tattoo.

  13. The Pope says:

    I think Hallick may have been referring to the goodwill the Academy have had for Williams in the last few years.

  14. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    Best female performance, and maybe the best performance I’ve seen all year, is Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

  15. movieman says:

    Pope- I merely opined that I personally feel no particular goodwill towards her. (The opposite actually.)
    The Academy is another story, and a Best Actress win wouldn’t surprise me at all (Harvey Weinstein definitely has a knack for this sort of thing). Unless the film totally stiffs, that is.
    What (originally) set me off was the contention that Williams was somehow deserving of a “lifetime achievement award” (and at such a young age, no less) when a veteran trooper like, say, Close seems infinitely more deserving of such an accolade.
    And I personally dislike knee-jerk “l.a.” awards for previously snubbed performers/directors/whomever. I’ve always felt an award should be won (or lost) strictly on the merits of the performance/direction/whatever they’re nominated for that year.
    Who knows? Maybe Williams will surprise and delight me in “Marilyn,” and I’ll switch camps. Stranger things have happened.
    It definitely sounds like the kind of “showbiz insider” movie I enjoy.

  16. Joe Leydon says:

    Have to say, I want to see this one mainly to see how Kenny plays Larry.

  17. movieman says:

    Re: my first post on this thread.
    It looks like I guessed right.

    The New York Film Festival’s unusual, work-in-progress screening of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming 3D outing “Hugo” serves as the strategic launch of the film’s fall campaign for awards attention.
    Reps from the NYFF wouldn’t confirm the addition of “Hugo” to the sked, but a couple of insiders verified what the rumor mill had begun to see as the logical choice, given the clues dropped by NYFF and the fact that Scorsese already has a doc, “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” in the fest’s main slate.
    Given the festival’s reputation as a small, exclusive showcase of the year’s films — the main slate consists of only 25-28 pics per year, with 27 movies on the menu this year — NYFF can serve as a high-profile tastemaker launch for a fall film, as evidenced by last year’s world preem of “The Social Network.”
    The NYFF outing can serve as an early thumbs-up from the famously discerning festival programmers, and could act as an attention-getter for more serious-minded auds who might be tempted to dismiss “Hugo” as kiddie fare.
    Based on Brian Selznick’s illustrated, young adult novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” “Hugo” centers on an orphan in 1930s Paris who struggles to reanimate a robot that his recently deceased father had made work. Film stars Johnny Depp, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jude Law, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Kingsley, among others, alongside Asa Butterfield as the central orphan.
    The fest announced late last week it would be adding a sneak-preview screening of a work-in-progress film by a “master filmmaker.” NYFF wouldn’t reveal the film’s title even when the screening went on sale Friday, but organizers did confirm the movie was due to be released prior to the end of the year. “Hugo,” from production company GK Films, is skedded for a Nov. 23 release from Paramount.
    When NYFF first announced the mystery addition, early speculation ran toward “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close,” a pair of upcoming films from producer Scott Rudin, who bowed “Social Network” at NYFF in 2010. Also in the mix were other high-profile fall offerings including Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” and Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar.”
    Although unconfirmed by NYFF, it’s said the film is due to screen in 3D, though still in an unfinished cut.

  18. Joe Leydon says:

    Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies? I am so there!

  19. LexG says:


  20. Tuck Pendelton says:

    Michelle Williams is on another level than most actresses her age. I put her and Amy Adams on a pretty high pedestal. I can’t wait to see this.

    But sometimes if the movie falters or doesn’t get traction the nominees endup not winning. I’m thinking Cate Blanchette in I’m Not There, which is sublime. At least her section. But she lost to Tilda Swinton who is in the more well-liked Michael Clayton.

  21. GexL says:

    Michele Williams is very appealing, more so as she ages into grownup parts such as in this picture. I prefer a mature woman with some experience, not an inchoate girl. Out of this year’s likely Oscar nominees, my most stimulating fantasy would be an afternoon romp with Streep in full ‘Iron Lady’ makeup while Viola Davis vacuums just outside the door. Believable women in realistic situations. That’s sexy.

  22. Joe Leydon says:

    GexL: So you want to fuck a conservative icon while an African-American maid does housework. Jesus, please tell me this is some kind of joke.

  23. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Shouldn’t the LexG parody be named “SexG”?

  24. GexL says:

    Since when is Meryl Streep a conservative icon?

  25. Joe Leydon says:

    GexL: You do know that the “Iron Lady” is Margaret Thatcher, right?

  26. Foamy Squirrel says:

    What? I thought she was the love interest for Iron Man 3…

  27. GexL says:

    Yes, Mr. Leydon, I do. My original comment stands. Nailing Meryl Streep AS the Iron Lady is not the same thing.

    I never expected you to be so obtuse about this admittedly-subtle COMEDY PYRITE I’m dropping here.

  28. Joe Leydon says:

    Note to self: Don’t feed the trolls.

  29. Stephen Holt says:

    I totally agree with you, David. Michelle has got it. I was there at the NYFF Press screening and the reception was so TUMULTOUS that Harvey W. has now moved the release date BACK three weeks later to right before Christmas! I can’t ever remember something like this happening before! And I LOVED the film, too! It reminded me very much of…*drum roll* “The King’s Speech”! The tone, the Brit-A listers. Kenneth Branagh is a nom for his ohsoaccurate Sir Laurence Olivier. And Dame Judi Dench steals the picture as Dame Syble Thorndike! Harvey will get HER nominated, too, in Supporting. It’s bigger part than the one she won her only Oscar for, also in Supporting, also with Harvey, “Shakespeare in Love.” But he’s also got Berenice Bajos “The Artist”, and vanessa Redgrave in “Coriolanus.” If Zoe Wanamaker lands, too, for “Marilyn” with her acid-deep portrayal of Paula Strasberg, Harvey could have FOUR Best Supporting Actresses in that category! Yikes!

  30. LexG says:


    Not saying that in a degrading way, since I’m the biggest HALLOWEEN fan ever, but just MIND BLOWING to me that 13 years on from H20, from THE CREEK, that Michelle Williams is the most acclaimed actress of her generation. Never had anything against her, but on THE CREEK she was like the low-maintenance “Jennie Garth” to HOLMESY’S Doherty-ish vixen-next-door, she was the unassuming, pleasant, “accessible” also-ran who you wondered how someone so LOW WATTAGE was cast opposite Josh Hartnett and Michael Myers.

    Now she’s a critics’ darling and has usurped pretty much EVERYONE she started with; To think she used to summon images of BAD PAULA COLE SONGS and PACEY and HARTNETT… Now she’s THE go-to American actress of the day.

    Come to think of it, JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT was in H20, too. Wonder if Hartnett or JODI-LYN O’KEEFE ever sit around their game room wondering how the fuck THAT happened.

  31. yancyskancy says:

    I always thought Williams was the best thing about DAWSON’S CREEK, and that she was doing award-worthy work even then.

  32. Joshua says:

    “hmm, her voice is so distinctive, yet the trailer it just sounded like Williams, so she overcomes not sounding like Marilyn? impressive.”

    Marilyn didn’t speak the way she did in a lot of her movies in real life.

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