Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Kids On the Block

This year is looking to be full of breakthrough performances from young actresses, with at least four potential star-making turns coming up in the next few months. Every year it seems like there are a few actors who break onto the awards scene and become the talk of the town. These four young women are all in line for a lot of attention for much talked about work in four very different festival hits.

First is Abbie Cornish in Bright Star, the Jane Campion film about the poet John Keats and his romance with Fanny Brawne. Cornish has starred in a few other films - Candy with Heath Ledger and last year's Stop-Loss - but EW's Dave Karger says that this is her star-making role. The film's debut at Cannes garnered quite a bit of attention, with Variety stating Cornish delivered "an outstanding performance." The Hollywood Reporter sang her praises too:

"Cornish has the acting skill to match her striking beauty and she makes the small loving gestures that the British might call soppy both real and touching."

Campion directed both Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin to Oscar wins in 1993's incredible The Piano, and Barbara Hershey to a nomination in Portrait of a Lady. Cornish could be the fourth woman to make a trip to the Academy Awards with Campion, but she'll have some stiff competition. Bright Star's limited release is scheduled for September 18th.

Katie Jarvis landed her role in Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank after a casting agent saw her having a heated argument with her boyfriend at a train station and asked her to audition. She plays Mia, a troubled and aggressive working-class teen with a passion for dance and her mother's new boyfriend.

Those who have seen the film have been wowed, especially by Jarvis' performance. Guy Lodge's review for In Contention said Jarvis brought "vivid physical charge to the character" and called her "an astute and fully-formed actress (not to mention a great dancer) in her own right".

Fish Tank tied for the Jury Prize at Cannes, and has US distribution with IFC Films, though no official US release date has been named. UK theaters will begin playing the film this Friday.

Carey Mulligan in An Education has been the one to keep an eye on since Sundance. She plays Jenny, a young girl torn between a college education and a romance with a much older man who shows her the ways of the world. Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere has been ecstatically shouting her name from rooftops since he attended a screening if the film in January:

"I know that special old-soul-mixed-with-youthful-effervescence quality that you see in very few actors and actresses over the years, and trust me, Mulligan has it. A wondrously true and satisfying film has broken out of the Sundance '09 pack, and a brand-new actress with just the right face and just the right approach and precisely the right touch of sadness in the corners of her mouth has hit one out of the park."

Mulligan's performance and the film have been capturing the hearts of almost everyone who sees them all year, with Mulligan widely thought to be the one to beat in this year's Best Actress race. Something about her is charming and winning, and I have to admit this is the performance I'm most anxious to see this year. Look for it in theaters October 9th.

Another Sundance hit, Precious, stars Gabourey Sidibe in the title role. Precious is an illiterate Harlem teen pregnant with her second child by her father. She endures physical and emotional abuse from her mother and endless, cruel bullying from her peers over her obesity.

Most of the talk has been of Mo'Nique and her brutal performance as a montrous mother and Mariah Carey's non-glamorous role as a social worker, but Sidibe has earned raves as well. From the Hollywood Reporter:

"As Precious, Sidibe is superb, allowing us to see the inner warmth and beauty of a young woman who, to her world's cruel eyes, might seem monstrous."

It's a brave first performance to be sure. Precious hits theaters November 6th.

All four names are sure to be floating around quite a bit as we come into the awards season. As far as Oscars go, Jarvis is a long shot due to her film's obscurity, and Sidibe will have a rough time keeping up with Mo'Nique's powerhouse performance. Mulligan is supposedly good enough to be a lock, and Cornish's chances are bolstered by the genre strength of the doomed period romance.

Sight unseen, my money is on Mulligan and Cornish, who will be battling it out in the coming months for the impressive newcomer vote.

As I've said, I'm most interested in Carey Mulligan, who's been drawing comparisons to Audrey Hepburn (who had her own breakthrough with Roman Holiday) for months. Who are you most excited about? Are there any other newcomers on your radar?


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