We'd Like to Help the Academy is our Oscar column highlighting the outliers that should be nominated (but probably won't be).
When I decided on Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea as my Best Actress pick for this column, her chances of getting similarly recognized elsewhere seemed slim. That changed considerably when she won the New York Film Critics Circle award and got nominated for a Golden Globe, but highlighting a performance I admired less just for the sake of going with an outlier felt somehow disingenuous. (Were I to do that, it would probably be Anne Marsen in Girl Walk // All Day.)
The point of this column is not merely to come up with a few out-there choices, but rather to highlight people and movies that a.) genuinely deserve them and b.) somehow fit into the Academy's own framework. This was true of Matthew McConaughey and Besedka Watson, it's true of my as-yet unpublished choices for Best Picture and Best Director, and it's true of Weisz.
A previous winner in the Supporting Actress category for The Constant Gardener, she carries one of the best films of the year with her beautifully melancholy (and, when it calls for it, melodramatic) turn as the self-destructive Hester Collyer, a World War II-era housewife whose affair with a Royal Air Force pilot is both the flame that keeps her going and the cause of the grief that pushes her closer to the edge. Hester's passion-fueled woe is so deeply felt that we end up feeling it almost as strongly as she does. It's the best performance of the year — male or female, lead or supporting — and if you haven't already seen Terence Davies's adaptation of The Deep Blue Sea you should do so immediately.
There are few points at which we've much optimism for how things will turn out for Hester, and even fewer at which Weisz isn't utterly compelling in bringing her to life. That the film, depressing though it may be, isn't entirely awash in dolor is owed largely to the magnetism of her performance. Hester is often her own worst enemy, but it's impossible not to feel for her.
What these nominations often come down to is name recognition and the power of a given studio's For Your Consideration campaign: screeners, advertisements, and other promotional materials meant to sway voters. (Kirsten Dunst should have been a lock last year for her performance in Melancholia, for instance, but Magnolia's pockets aren't quite as deep as the Weinsteins'.) Weisz has the former more than she does the latter, but momentum is on her side: notable wins and nominations gain voters' attention. Whether she can keep it remains to be seen.