Oscar 2013 oldest and youngest Best Actress nominees share a spotlight
The Best Actress Oscar is known for showering favor on 20- and 30-something leading ladies from Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow to Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Yet Oscar also likes to mix things up, and this year is no exception in the Best Actress category.
In fact, this year is exceptional, with the oldest and youngest Best Actresses nominees ever included in the category up for the golden statuette this year. They are Quvenzhané Wallis, now nine years old, for her portrayal of the fiercely independent Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and Emmanuelle Riva, 85, who portrays Anne, a former concert pianist in failing health in “Amour.”
Each performance is remarkable, and though multiple generations separate these actresses, their performances share some important qualities. The first is that each of these characters is at turns innocent, and then all too aware of the world falling apart around them.
There is a child’s innocence about the world seen through Hushpuppy’s eyes as she survives in flood-prone Bathtub, a tiny Louisiana bayou town that civilization seems to have forgotten. She believes her story will be remembered for all time, handed down through the ages. Yet she is wise beyond her years, perhaps even a visionary, as she imagines a world inundated by melting polar ice caps, and an understanding that her home won’t survive this. Yet that is in the far distant future. For now, she must protect her home at all costs and save herself from the bureaucratic society that wants to swallow up her way of life.
At times, Anne in “Amour” displays childlike innocence. Perhaps it could be denial about the reality of her condition, mental lapses that are an early indicator of an impending stroke. At times, she actually reverts to childhood, encouraged by her husband to repeat rhymes learned in school to maintain her mental faculties. At other times, the tragedy of her illness hits home, and she can’t contain her frustration that her body has betrayed her in old age.
The characters also face the harshest conditions that life can dish out in the starkest terms. Hushpuppy faces poverty, hunger, grief and abandonment. Anne faces terminal illness and the ravages on the human body that old age can sometimes bring. They live the ugly reality of human misery but they do so with poetry. Hushpuppy has the power of her imagination, and Anne has her music, even if it’s only a recording from her prized student.
These actresses were working from incredibly different palettes when creating these performances. Quvenzhané’s palette is full of the colors of childhood, but no previous acting experience. Emmanuelle Riva’s palette is inscribed with some of the towering cinematic works of European cinema including “Hiroshima mon amour” and “Three Colors: Blue.”
These two beautiful performances by the oldest and youngest Best Actress nominees are being recognized for what it really comes down to: raw talent. These performances need to be celebrated. “Best” is only a label. Hushpuppy’s dream to be remembered is realized in Quvenzhané’s accomplishment, and the character of Anne, who often struggles to remember, will never be forgotten.
Please check out my review of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: Quvenzhané Wallis stars in post Katrina allegory
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