Friday, August 22, 2008

Muriel Awards 2008 FYC #1

With the fall movie season just around the corner, I figure it’s not too early to begin plugging some of my favorites for consideration in the upcoming Muriel Awards. And I can think of few better places to start than with Rebecca Hall’s revelatory performance in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Hall first came to my attention in 2006’s The Prestige, in which she turned the role of Christian Bale’s troubled wife into a heartbreaking portrait of a woman slowly descending into madness because of her seemingly schizophrenic husband. But in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she announces herself as a performer- and screen presence- to be reckoned with. As Vicky, the more sensible of the two titular friends, she initially finds herself along for the ride as Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) pulls her along on an excursion with hunky artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). But as the film progresses, Vicky becomes the story’s emotional and thematic crux, torn between the tedium of her new marriage and the possibilities of sexy danger coming from Juan Antonio. A lesser actress might have made Vicky shrewish or fickle, but Hall subtly reveals her internal conflicts, such as the small stutter she uses when Juan Antonio propositions her over dinner, or the increasing chilliness of her conversations with her boyfriend/husband. In addition, she reveals a flair for Allen’s style of comedy (the way she tries to cover for a late-film mishap is pricessless) and demonstrates a real knack for the cadences of Allen’s dialogue- no small accomplishment, that. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have gotten most of the film’s press to date, but while they’re both very good, it’s Hall who owns the movie. Not only is she the closest Vicky Cristina Barcelona has to an Allen surrogate, but she’s also the best female lead of any Allen film since he last worked with Diane Keaton in Manhattan Murder Mystery. Really, she’s just about perfect here, and if Allen knows what’s good for him he’ll find a way to keep using her in his movies.

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