OSCAR PREDICTIONS AND OSCAR NEWS
Oscar 2004: Laura Dern
The strongest performances this year have been in independent, not mainstream, films. Over the past few weeks, a number of performers have begun to generate Oscar buzz after their films premiered at high-profile festivals like Telluride and Toronto: Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside). Both Staunton and Barden won the Venice festival's acting accolades.
The two terrifically gifted Lauras: Dern in We Don't Live Here Anymore (a movie that opened in July) and Linney in P.S. should get serious consideration for the Best Actress nomination.
Both actresses serve notice as soon as they appear, and are very much missed when theyre not onscreen. Both women dominate their films, imbuing their parts with great depth, albeit in different ways. Laura Dern shines in a film that's an ensemble piece, with good work from Mark Ruffalo and Naomi Watts but a disappointing turn from Peter Krause. In contrast, Linney is the center of a narrative that's handicapped by weak secondary characters.
The two Lauras share other similarities in common. Both Dern and Linney are in their late thirties and both have done good work that's been recognized by the Academy. Dern received Best Actress nomination for Rambling Rose (1991), which made Oscar history as the first time that a real-life mother and daughter receive nominations for the same film. Linney was singled out by the Acting Branch for her breakthrough film, the Sundance festival hit, You Can Count on Me (2000).
You can practically write the history of the New American Independent Cinema just by focusing on Laura Dern's work. A child actress, Dern is the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd who early on could be seen in some of her parents films: White Lightning (1973), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974). After playing a bigger part in Foxes (1980), Dern made her mark in 1985 with two very different roles, in Peter Bogdanovich's Mask, as the blind girl, and as the bored adolescent seduced by Treat Williams in Joyce Chopra's Smooth Talk. David Lynch was instrumental in Dern's career, casting her in two roles that were poles apart: the virginal adolescent Sandy in Blue Velvet (1986) and the hotshot Lula in the fable Wild at Heart (1990).
A tall, languid blond, Dern has specialized in playing gutsy, uneducated (often working class) women who confront their sexuality head on. A rare performer who inhabits rather than plays her role, she projects an inner nerve, edge and magnetism. In the intensely intimate We Don't Live Here Anymore, Dern plays Terry Linden, the moody, volatile, and abused wife of college instructor Jack (Rudfalo). A headstrong, distracted homemaker, she's overwhelmed by the endless chores and struggles to make ends meet. She's contrasted with in the film with her best friend Edith (Watts), the quiet, tidy wife Hank (Krause), Jack's best friend.
The two couples socialize in dinner parties where they booze and joke, laugh and flirt. The seemingly balanced relationships of this quartet are thrown into disorder, when during one wild party Jack and Edith volunteer to go to the local store and buy beer, while Terry is left with Hank. Jack and Edith carry on in the car, while back home, Hank makes an unexpected move and kisses Terry. What begins as a spontaneous, playfully lascivious affair between Jack and Edith evolves into a full-fledged infidelity that crosses all boundaries and threatens to destroy the two marriages.
Known for her ability to burst the bounds of a role, Dern gives more than what she's given by the writer or director. Projecting an aura of sensuality and danger, she's a magnetic actress capable of both scary outbursts and eerie calm. In each film, Dern offers a complete surprise, without carrying any residue or mannerisms from role to role. Her performance in We Don't Live Here Anymore shows both technical flash and emotional substance. Sparkling with energy, she conveys the painful vulnerability of a wife still in love with her husband and almost forced into an illicit affair by him. Dern has become the nakedest of performers, able to disclose her innermost feelings. In her latest film, she brings a spark to a tough material without ever begging for audience sympathy.
This article was written in September 2004.
related article 1: We Don't Live Here Anymore.
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