We’re approaching that moment when nominations for “best picture” and “best actor” will be anointed by various constituencies, but I’d like to pay homage to a different category — “best campaign.”
I cannot recall a more persuasive or better-orchestrated effort than that mobilized on behalf of Mickey Rourke for “best actor.”
Rourke has a great underdog story to tell and he’s been telling it relentlessly in the press, on TV and “live” before a range of empathetic and collegial audiences. He’s the beat-up, battered, almost-superstar, the man who once surrendered to his own addictions and insecurities but is now in full comeback mode.
He’s willing to confess all his foibles. He’ll relate how he turned down a lead in “Pulp Fiction” because he thought his career as a prizefighter was more important. He shows up on time for his confessionals, escorting his geriatric Chihuahua, and he is uniformly polite and articulate.
In so doing, Rourke also is drawing attention to his underdog movie, “The Wrestler” — a film that desperately needs media attention. But his own comeback tale is casting a long shadow over the chances of his rivals in the “best actor” category.
Sean Penn was brilliant in “Milk,” but he wears a permanent scowl when confronted by the media. Frank Langella, a memorable Nixon, is all but invisible on the interview circuit. Brad Pitt was a fascinating Benjamin Button, but to him an interview with a reporter is akin to a cocktail date in Mumbai.
Then there’s Leonardo DiCaprio: Admirers of his fine performance in “Revolutionary Road” are too busy wolfing down antidepressants to recall the specifics of the film.
To be sure, no one also remembers Robert Downey Jr., who invented a new “Iron Man” — his film made far too much money to gain recognition during the kudo season. Forgotten, too, is Brandon Walters, the half aboriginal 11-year-old who stole the show in “Australia.” Technically, he’d be listed in the supporting category and has since been exiled by Fox to the Outback whence he came.
The “best actress” category hasn’t generated quite the heat as the guys. Kate Winslet is competing against herself (“The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road”). And Angelina Jolie seems more intent on controlling the press than exploiting it.
“Slumdog Millionaire,” which seems to be everyone’s favorite movie, boasts such a plethora of performances of different actors at different ages that it’s hard to sort them out.
All of which brings us to that most unexpected of campaigners, Meryl Streep. At 59, Streep has signaled that she welcomes not only kudos but also the gross participations that often go with them.
Entertainment Weekly’s cover story last week labeled her the “Queen of Hollywood” and a “box office titan.” All this clearly is more in recognition of the $500 million box office return of “Mamma Mia,” on which she was critically hammered, rather than her cool and nuanced turn in “Doubt,” for which she was praised.
The magazine went out of its way to describe its “Queen” as “far from cuddly,” even warning of her “impassioned responses” to questions. Yet her interview is essentially tame except for a complaint about money: Streep repeats her charge that male stars have bigger paydays than female stars.
She adds ambiguously, “Don’t worry about me — I’ve got a huge back end.”
I’ll take her word for that. Streep is a formidable presence, but she doesn’t have the comeback tale of Mickey Rourke. She doesn’t even seem to have a Chihuahua.