While checking The Film Experience, a personal favorite blog/Oscar prediction site updated daily, I read about StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blogathon, which is a listing of different blog's tributes to different supporting actresses. That's actually really cool, considering most of the great work is done in the Supporting Actress category (the Leads are usually small in number, while the Supporting nominees could number a thousand most years; the inverse is true in the Actor categories).
However, while I was thrilled to see an entry about Mo'Nique's role in Precious (a true marvel), I was saddened to see that no one had written about Anna Kendrick, absolutely brilliant as corporate chipmunk Natalie Keener in Up in the Air and, in my opinion, an Oscar winner this year, had Mo'Nique not flattened all competition, that is.
Looking back on Air, the acting really wasn't that special (George Clooney was turning in a George Clooney role where he smiled and mugged his way to an Oscar nomination, Vera Farmiga was distractingly "mysterious," and not in a good way). The movie was far more a tribute to Jason Reitman's expert hand at making every element of a movie come together (Juno, anyone?), but there was one performance that was note-perfect, and that was easily Anna Kendrick's neurotic corporate ladder-climber.
"I'm a better actor than you. Deal with it, Fantastic Mr. Fox."
The third quarter of Air was decidedly less than impressive, and I would say that is because Kendrick's imprint had disappeared. From her first moment on-screen, you know that this is someone to watch. Natalie Keener is made to be an irritating drag on Clooney's charming Ryan Bingham, but I see them as equals, battling between the modern and the classic, much like Rachel McAdams and Russell Crowe should have been in State of Play.
Kendrick has an ease with which she bats words back and forth with both Clooney and Farmiga, and is easily the most quotable character in the film ("I type with purpose;" "I appreciate everything your generation did for me"), but what is most impressive is her ability to command the screen in an extremely subtle way the likes of which I haven't seen since Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada sniped her way into our hearts.
Unlike Blunt, however, it is never difficult for us to like Keener, and to like Kendrick, as she mercilessly teases Ryan Bingham and deals with her own personal struggles. It takes a gifted actress to play the hotel breakdown scene as charmingly as she did, and though we didn't cry with her, she made it easy to laugh at her. In fact, Keener was a lot like Gilmore Girls' similarly ambitious Paris Gellar, yet by toning the ferocity down a bit, Kendrick allowed the audience to truly pull for her.
The fact that Kendrick has to face Mo'Nique head-to-head and will most certainly lose is as devastating to me as when Meryl Streep had to face Helen Mirren three years ago: like Kendrick, Streep was faced with a certain loss. However, when I rewatch Up in the Air again ten years from now, I will double over with laughter at her drunken rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" just as hard as I did the first time.
To me, that she gets to inspire that joy is as good as any Oscar.