The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts is without a doubt one of the classiest, most reliable, and unselfish performers out there. The thing about Watts is that regardless of the part she's playing, she's always excellent. The size of the role doesn't matter. She's like Julianne Moore in that even in throwaway parts – such as the comically awry DIANA or the godawful MOVIE 43 – she'll give it her all (the Razzie gang were way off-base nominating her for 'worst actress' due to those movies – she was fine in both). When people are smart enough to cast her in something that actually gives her some substance, there are few out there that are any better.
A good example of this is BIRDMAN. While Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone walked away with all the awards and buzz, Watts – in a much quieter way – went toe-to-toe with them, in a part that absolutely grounded the film yet went mostly unrecognized around awards time (I'd argue her more-hyped part in ST. VINCENT was far less successful). Since bursting onto the scene with MULHOLLAND DRIVE, Watts has consistently delivered stunning work, with two richly deserved Oscar nominations under her belt (21 GRAMS & THE IMPOSSIBLE), a handful of blockbuster hits on her resume (THE RING, KING KONG) and acclaimed performances in nearly every genre, with her even dipping her toe into teen fantasy this week with INSURGENT. She's prolific, reliable, drop-dead gorgeous, and like a fine wine, only gets better with age.
This one is a close-tie between MULHOLLAND DRIVE and THE IMPOSSIBLE, but I'm going to give the edge to the latter. Her Oscar-nomination was richly deserved, and for my money she should have won. It's a harrowing turn, with Watts having been put through the wringer both emotionally and physically. Once disaster strikes, her character is faced with a nightmare scenario in that not only has she been perhaps mortally wounded, but she has to essentially deny the severity of her wounds for the sake of her own survival, as well as her son's. It's a stunning film that – amazingly – never really caught on in North America (where it only grossed about $20 million domestically) but was a massive blockbuster everywhere else.
One movie of Watts' that never got a good release was Rodrigo Garcia's MOTHER AND CHILD. Watts has a tough-role in this, being a woman who struggles with her own self-destructive nature (which includes seducing married men out of spite) when she learns she's pregnant. It's an incredibly uncompromising film, with standout work by Watts, Annette Bening, and Samuel L. Jackson in a atypical, highly restrained part.
A few years ago, I made a dig at Peter Jackson's KING KONG in one of my columns, and I was absolutely destroyed by talkbackers. Funny, I always thought of this movie as a failure, but it seems like there are an awful lot of people out there that think it's amazing. Maybe it's the fact that the original 1933 KING KONG is one of my favorite movies, but Jackson's film always struck me as bloated and often dull. That said, Watts is absolutely terrific in it, giving the part a ton of warmth, while looking very striking in the character's vintage 1930's style gowns. So while the movie is (in my opinion) overrated, the same cannot be said for her performance.
Amazingly, MULHOLLAND DRIVE started out as a failed TV pilot, and my theory is that David Lynch was compelled to finish it based largely on how great Watts is as the optimistic young L.A transplant, who starts a torrid affair with Laura Harring's enigmatic amnesiac. Watts' acting is incredible, especially in the now famous audition scene where she turns a half-assed script for a cheesy movie-of-the-week (opposite Chad Everett) into a tour-de-force performance that blows everyone's socks off.
Naomi Watts has a lot of stuff coming up, including INSURGENT, as well as the Noah Baumbach comedy WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (which I reviewed at TIFF), and a potentially award caliber turn in Jean-Marc Vallee's DEMOLITION.
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