' ' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: The Ruffalos

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Countdown to the Oscars: The Ruffalos

Back in the halcyon days of Bill Simmons’s late (best) web site (ever) Grantland, when I checked it as regularly as my Midwestern forefathers would check weather reports, my favorite podcast on the Interwebs was the aforementioned site’s liltingly titled Do You Like Prince Movies? It was hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Wesley Morris and ace culture scribe Alex Pappademas. And in the run-up to the Academy Awards of three years ago they bestowed their own set of acting prizes affectionately called The Ruffalos.

Mr. Morris and Mr. Pappademas did not define the criteria for their awards so much as just sort of shout out random guidelines in the discussion, but that was part of their charm. Ruffalos went to “People who aren’t getting nominated for anything.” To earn one “you gotta be playing the background a little bit,” or maybe not since some of the recipients were more in the spotlight rather than the background. And whatever, because The Ruffalos were more ineffable, something less stately and more tossed off, make-believe statues concerning a life-force that was more indelible than mere pomp. And because Grantland and, in turn, Do You Like Prince Movies? have been shuttered, Cinema Romantico, this itty bitty blog that most people stop reading at the first sign of a ham-fisted Keira Knightley reference, has taken on the task of keeping them alive. We did last year, and the year before that, and we do again this year.

The Ruffalos go to.....

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Good Time. Because this turn was just so damn good we cited her on our Favorite Performances of the Year List too, which might make her mention here redundant, but Leigh is, to me, the quintessential Ruffalo recipient. Her frayed performance exists sort of on the periphery, and appears in but a couple scenes, but nevertheless feels so entirely, indelibly lived in that you can practically feel her life still running concurrent to the rest of the movie. She gives her exit, head buried in her arms, the air of a student at her desk who doesn’t wanna do her homework, and it was so palpably pitiful that it haunted me as much as anything in a 2017 movie.

Sarah Paulson, The Post. Deliberately written as The Supportive Spouse, Paulson’s character is nevertheless allowed to transcend that archetype in one unforgettable, key mid-movie monologue which she plays not like, say, a butterfly emerging from its cocoon but like, and I apologize for the obscure reference, Mrs. Hernandez of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” suddenly speaking up and saying, hey, dummies, I was right here the whole damn time.

Tracy Letts, Lady Bird & The Post. As the father to the eponymous, self-monikered “Lady Bird”, a movie specifically about a mother and a daughter, Letts stays out of the way, even when he is in scenes, a fairly deft trick, and carries himself with this sort of regal dispassion as a man in the midst of literally watching the world pass him by. In “The Post”, meanwhile, as Meryl Streep’s foremost professional confidant, he exudes a plainspoken honesty, and in the ultimate moments has his character project, maybe in spite of himself, the unspoken knowledge that gender norms are being re-tooled right in front of him.

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lady Bird. His Father Levitach, a Catholic school drama teacher, is a testament to how Greta Gerwig really writes everyone in her movie, but McKinley Henderson (who was a Ruffalo recipient last year for “Fences”) also fills that writing out, playing the part with the sort of earnest zeal reminiscent of any small town, starry eyed community theater player, and even utilizing a Method exercise to unmask a lurking sadness.

Hilary Swank, Logan Lucky. Much like Daniel Craig, an actor who never gets to have enough fun in movies, was allowed to cut loose in “Logan Lucky”, so too was Swank, another actor always being forced to be cinematically serious. But as an FBI agent on the case of the film’s narratively paramount heist, Swank plays the part with an omnipresent smirk that seems as much about the character reveling in the chase as knowing when she is being fed b.s. And when she occasionally tilts up her chin while listening, she’s like a hound that’s just caught a delightful scent.

Vella Lovell, The Big Sick. Her character is brought in for a couple scenes to expose Kumail Nanjiani’s character’s doofy cowardice at going through arranged dates for potential arranged marriages, forever leaving the woman on the other end of the date hung out to dry. She exits stage left by essentially calling Nanjiani on the carpet with a Really, Dude? righteous honesty born not of indignation but exhaustion.

Lucy Davis, Wonder Woman. If Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince moves through a patriarchal world with guileless determination, like she just assumes she belongs because why wouldn’t she, Lucy Davis as Etta Candy moves through a patriarchal world that she is both mindful of and indifferent to. This is best evinced when Etta is briefly made to squire Diana’s sword through a crowded London street, a moment Davis lends a Get-Out-Of-My-Way comicality, one suggesting she does not necessarily need a bladed weapon to show that she belongs.

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

This is great. I love all of your picks, but Swank in particular. You're right, she never gets to have a good time in movies, and it was such a joy to watch her dig in here.