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Why You Should See Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole

by Borderstan.com February 8, 2011 at 11:29 am 0

Mary Burgan Borderstan Movie Fan

Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan.

From Mary Burgan. Her movie column now runs weekly.

The front-runners in major contention for Oscars have now been named and the winners all but anointed. Natalie Portman for Black Swan and Colin Firth for The King’s Speech seem locked in.

And although the race for the best supporting actor category is more crowded, leading sentiment is that the male award should go to Christian Bale for his work in The Fighter while the female award should go to Melissa Leo for her work in the same film.

I like these choices, but there are significant nominees in more modest films that are less dependent on bravura performances by individuals than on ensemble efforts by unknown actors who carry their own roles unselfishly. I have canvassed almost all of them by now, and here I want to speak in favor of Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole — two domestic dramas that contain some of the best acting I’ve seen all year. They deserve a viewing.

I’ll talk about some other films — The Town, Animal Kingdom and Biutiful — in reviews before the awards are finally presented on February 27. Meanwhile, Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole are still in theaters here in D.C., and there’s a chance to see them before they leave and return on DVD.

Hurry to see Rabbit Hole because it’s only showing at the West End Cinema — an intimate new independent movie house (off M Street at 23rd) that deserves support.

Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole are worth seeing because they manage to convey the complexities of anger between members of couples who mean each other no harm, but who cannot escape the circumstances of their lives.

Although each has its own identity and each ends on a different emotional tonality, each is a sad kind of love story that bears the marks of contemporary, everyday life. Between the beginning and the end of each film, the actors perform with absolute authenticity. That is so true, indeed, that it is difficult to determine why the Academy of Motion Pictures singled out any one of the actors in each pair over the other.

Michelle Williams got the nomination for the unhappy wife in Blue Valentine, but Ryan Gosling is an equal match as her headlong husband, an amiable romantic who is content to be a house painter who drinks too much while his wife wants to move on up in her profession as a nurse.

The narrative of this film turns on flashbacks that render the original meetings between these two as in sharp contrast with the present. The lovely, generous spirit of the past permeates the present, but it cannot redeem it. That does not mean, I think, that the generosity was never real or there; it means that kindness is not enough over time.

Nicole Kidman was nominated for Rabbit Hole, though Aaron Eckhart matches her step by step in emotional pain as each tries to find a way to grieve the death of their child without stopping their own lives altogether. The film gives more time to Kidman’s character, however, for she is the one who has left a career behind to marry and raise a child. And the actress, preternaturally slim and restrained in movement, goes through the motions in almost total stillness — though she is still liable to break out in an anger that is potent because it comes suddenly, and even with a touch of cruel satire.

Meanwhile her husband suffers in his own kind of silence. Aaron Eckhart plays him as more outgoing, hoping to accept the death of their child and get on with it, but in one very telling scene, his behavior becomes extreme, and his loss is revealed as equal to his wife’s.

In addition to the “nominees” in each of these fine films, there are supporting actors who should be collectively nominated. I am thinking about John Doman as the angry father who helps create two excruciatingly painful dinner-table scenes in Blue Valentine. And I am thinking of Dianne Weist and Sandra Oh in Rabbit Hole, each of whom manages to convey a loneliness that glows sadly around their weaknesses.

These “minor” actors, and others who go unnamed in initial credits, deepen the art of the actors who are nominated. It’s too bad they get missed when all the awards come around this time of year. The “best” would be nowhere without them.

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