Like most people in Los Angeles, I will be going to a party today to watch the Oscars. While in years past, I have seen all the films with nominations for the big awards, Best Picture, Best Director as well as those tapped for the acting and writing awards, this year, like last, I have not seen all of the nominated films, indeed have seen only two of the Best Picture nominees (Litte Miss Sunshine and The Queen). I’ll be rooting for the former for Best Picture (though I wonder why Dreamgirls was not nominated in that category).
Of the movies I have seen, I have really been quite impressed with the acting — and some of the writing. Litte Miss Sunshine and Pan’s Labyrinth had first-rate scripts. And that latter had simply amazing Art Direction — as did The Prestige.
But, it was in acting where I saw some real talent this year, with amazing performances by a number of talented actors, most from those from whom we expect such work like Alan Arkin, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. And also those from performers about whom I had previously heard little (or nothing at all) or from whom I was not accustomed to seeing such topnotch performances. I had never really thought of Mark Wahlberg as an actor, but friends who have seen his performance in The Departed agreed that he deserves his Best Supporting Actor Nod.
The performance that really blew me away was that of Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls. I have enjoyed Murphy’s performances in comedies since I was in college, always seeing Murphy not so much as an actor, but as an entertainer, a comedian with the gift of his presence and timing. His performances seemed little different from Beverly Hills Cop to The Distinguished Gentleman to a number of other films where he has played comedic roles. What distinguished him was his attitude, his inflections and his gift for impersonation.
Impersonation, however, is not acting. It’s when a performer represents — in exaggerated, caricatured form — the stereotypical behavior of a certain individual — or a class of individuals. And whereas an impersonator specializes in stereotypes, an actor realizes the archetype, the true nature of an individual character. But not just that. In revealing a character’s archetypal quality, aspects of his personality which reveal his fundamental weaknesses (and strengths), qualities common to all men (and women). So did Eddie Murphy realize James Early on screen.
We truly saw the this man’s ambitions, his weaknesses — and the depth of his suffering. I was blown away because I had never expected that Eddie Murphy could so powerfully portray such pathos.