Emotions are a tough thing for critics and award prognosticators, especially at this time of year. We start talking about who’s done the best, most memorable work and must separate our own personal likes and dislikes in favor of a more objective look at it all.
This is why I am so torn on the subject of dear Melissa McCarthy, a recent Emmy-winner for the debut season of CBS’ Mike and Molly. McCarthy’s name has been thrown out there as a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for this summer’s comedyBridesmaids. Now I love this actress. I’ve adored her in every single episode of Gilmore girls (still a criminally underrated show that approached mastery) as Sookie St. James Belleville. I have been a fan of hers for more than a decade, and have rooted for her success. And she’s riding a career high, between the movie, the Emmy, an SNL gig that showed off her improv roots (with LA’s Groundlings), and the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s 2011 comedy issue.
But an Oscar nomination? For Bridesmaids? It’s time for calmer heads to prevail. Sure, she was funny enough as Megan, the bawdy in-law-to-be of Maya Rudolph’s character in the movie. And her several scenes included some raunchy modern references and one belabored heart-to-heart with Kristen Wiig’s lead character near the film’s end. It wasn’t necessarily subtle, but the role offered a nice blend of humor and pathos, an attractive combo.
Yes, she was good. But good isn’t good enough when it comes to awards. We shouldn’t throw out accolades just because an actor did his or her job. They already get paid (handsomely) to do just that. An Oscar should recognize what was superb. It’s scintillating work that lasts. It’s lightning in a bottle, not just something people saw this year that they kind of liked.
And my stance has nothing to do with genre, style or size of role. The only thing a performance – or any work of art – needs to accomplish to be the best is to be rich. There are plenty of comedic roles of which I’ve been a huge fan, ranging from Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada to Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor and Bowfinger to Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters (really! You try saying “I am Zuul!” and not cracking up) and Working Girl to Peter Sellers in, well, just about everything. Same goes for Whoopi Goldberg and Dianne Wiest’s Oscar-winning work.
Sometimes Oscar gets it right – smallish performances like William Hurt in A History of Violence and Viola Davis in Doubt were textbook performances in how to tell a complete story for a character with very limited screen time. And other times, the voters get caught up in the wave of media hype. I like playing a game in which I wonder, years later, if voters would still nominate and award the same performer once they have been separated from that person’s campaign momentum. Would Cuba Gooding, Jr., have won again? Quite possibly – his was a perfectly written role in Jerry Maguire. But what about Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite? Or Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona? I doubt it. Both of those, like McCarthy inBridesmaids, were really too slim to hold up over time.
I do wish the best for McCarthy, and would love to see her on the red carpet. But not this year. Will others agree with me? We’ll find out very soon, when the National Board of Review’s Thursday awards announcement officially kicks the 2011 race off.
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