from Vanity Fair Daily / by S.T. VanAirsdale
Over at his blog And the Winner Is…, Oscar prognosticator Scott Feinberg lays out an interesting case for La Vie en Rose star Marion Cotillard as a serious contender in this year’s Best Actress race. Not that anyone has written her off (God knows we haven’t), but let’s face it: Among Academy voters, a performance for the ages is often no match for sentimental favorites (Julie Christie, Away From Her) or precociousness (Ellen Page, Juno). Roll back the star power a few notches, add a foreign language, and just like that, you’re an also-ran.
Except for Cotillard, whose turn as Edith Piaf spans about 30 years and just as many pounds of wigs and makeup as the iconic singer careens toward heartbreak, illness, revival, and death. As Feinberg notes, the Academy loves this kind of cultivated ugliness—almost as much as it loves actresses around Cotillard’s age (32), singer biopics (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Walk the Line) and winners of other seasonal hardware (she did claim a Golden Globe). Apparently even Oprah is rooting for her, an endorsement that may have more influence on DVD sales than Oscar votes but nevertheless represents an important populist bellwether.
I’ll add a less obvious X-factor to Feinberg’s analysis, however: Look out for Bob Berney, the Picturehouse boss whose company distributed La Vie en Rose and who, as the president of Newmarket Films, almost single-handedly guided Charlize Theron to Golden Globe and Oscar wins in 2003 for her feral, fearless performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. He also coaxed a nod that year for 13-year-old Whale Rider star Keisha Castle Hughes, making her the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscar history. Berney is a genius with this stuff, a grass-roots guy whose acumen behind the scenes may not be infallible (Picturehouse’s 2006 foreign-language nominee Pan’s Labyrinth was arguably the year’s biggest surprise loser) but is hardly worth betting against.
His method is not entirely dissimilar to that of Fox Searchlight, which pushed Juno to its four nominations on the basis of a phenomenon as opposed to the all-inclusive technical merits of films like No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood. In fact, La Vie en Rose is a thoroughly unremarkable film with only Cotillard’s work to recommend it; like Monster and the recent Best Actress winners Monster’s Ball and Walk the Line before it, it has merely been seasoned with Oscar bait, not made from it. Which, as this category’s history indicates, may be all it needs to win.
Bob Berney hardly invented this paradigm, but his selectivity, taste, and—this is important—campaign moderation make Cotillard both a front-runner and backlash-proof. For further evidence look to Away From Her distributor Lionsgate, which is cribbing Berney’s strategy in its push on Christie’s behalf. Its advantage: The industry loves this woman, who is edging toward retirement. Its disadvantage: It loves her so much that she’s already won an Oscar. So count me among the Cotillard true believers; there’s a higher power than hype at work here.