Oscar Face-Off: Marion Cotillard vs. Julianne Moore
Every year, Academy Award nominations produce at least one “group of death” involving a hyper-competitive category with many worthy candidates. Arguably, one of the toughest this year is in the Best Actress tilt, which offers up perennial populist fave Reese Witherspoon (Wild), audacious Brit Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), and relative newcomer Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). But the two early frontrunners are clearly French actress extraordinaire Marion Cotillard, for her role as a wounded, suffering wife and mother in the Dardenne Brothers brilliant Two Days, One Night; and longtime indie darling Julianne Moore, who plays the titular character battling early-onset Alzheimer’s in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Still Alice. The two women give absolutely scintillating performances the films, both of which open in Philly this weekend. They’re so good in their respective roles, it’s difficult to imagine either of them losing out on a statue, so how do we break it down? Let’s go to the tale of the tape!
Julianne Moore: 54. This is only noteworthy as the Academy has a tendency to give a kind of “lifetime achievement award” to actors and actresses who have hung around doing largely superior, if unheralded, work over the years. And often, by the time an actress, no matter how gifted, runs into her late 40s and 50s, there’s a growing sense that that reward might have to come sooner rather than later.
Marion Cotillard: 39. Though Cotillard is hardly a young neophyte, she’s still considerably younger than Moore, and therefore could be seen as still having plenty of time to win more hardware. Although, sometimes, as with Jennifer Lawrence, the Academy will just straight fall in love, in which case everything else goes out the door.
Winner: Moore, who has been steadily excellent throughout her distinguished career, and been bold and courageous in a number of her choices. She has also successfully switched back and forth from huge studio tentpoles (The Hunger Games) to the smallest of indie offerings (The Kids Are Alright, What Maisie Knew) with equal aplomb.
Number of Previous Nominations / Wins
Julianne Moore: Nominated four other times over the last 17 years, twice for Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights, The Hours) and twice for Best Actress (The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven). To this point, she has never actually taken home an Oscar.
Marion Cotillard: One previous nomination, Best Actress for La Vie En Rose, which she won back in 2008.
Winner: Moore. You would have to think Moore is more than due after all these years of near-misses.
Julianne Moore: As Alice begins her terrifying decent into infirmity, we not only feel her fear, but the tremendous toll it takes on her psyche. For a woman so used to having all the answers at her ready command, her brain’s growing dysfunction is a particularly poignant sort of hell.
Marion Cotillard: Sandra is coming off a medical leave for a devastating depression when word comes to her that her job has been given away by an unsympathetic supervisor. She is convinced to appeal the decision by both a loyal co-worker and her doting husband, but the toll of having to convince the rest of her team of her worth on the heels of finding herself utterly insignificant and unworthy is almost unbearable—especially when colleagues she formerly thought of as friends won’t even deign to speak with her.
Winner: Moore. As horrible as it must be to fight for one’s life when in the grips of depression, it still seems far worse to have to preside over your own failing faculties as you grow foggier and dimmer by the week in front of your family.
Julianne Moore: There are numerous possibilities, but the moment Alice, lying awake fitfully in bed with her neurologist’s preliminary diagnoses ringing in her ears, has to confess to her husband her situation ranks right up there. Moore is incredibly gifted at revealing her characters’ vulnerabilities—remember her star-making turn as the kind of den mother to wayward porn stars in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights—and never more so than in this tearful scene.
Marion Cotillard: Being that the film was helmed by the melodramatically eschewing Dardennes brothers, Cotillard tends to work in more subtle and nuanced ways, but the moment she faces her husband after having to return to a hospital is absolutely, heart-stoppingly powerful.
Winner: Moore, but this is largely due to the fact that she gets such moments to portray in her film, unlike Cotillard. This actually points to a significant weakness of Alice over all, which despite the yeoman work of its lead, can still play a bit like a spruced up, myopic TV disease-of-the-week flick.
Degree of Difficulty
Julianne Moore: It can’t be easy to show the progression of any disease, especially since Alice—like most other features—was likely shot entirely out of sequence, but there are certainly previous benchmarks to follow here. The film follows a set pattern in its narrative.
Marion Cotillard: It is a less-flashy kind of performance, by design, but Cotillard’s subtle character work utterly defines the entire film, in which she appears in nearly every frame.
Winner: Cotillard, by virtue of the emotional depth she expertly mines. Both films rely heavily on their female stars to carry them, but Cotillard is working with virtually no net, and a largely non-professional cast, while Moore has plenty of precedent to follow, and a solid cast of pros with which to work.
And the Oscar Goes To …
As much as I may prefer Two Days, One Night (in fact, it was my favorite film of 2014), as far as Oscar chances go, I’d have to give the nod to Moore, whose time may have finally come to win one of these damn things. If you enjoy watching actresses at the very height of their powers, however, you really can’t go wrong with either film.
Two Days, One Night and Still Alice both open at the Ritz Five this Friday.
Piers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly. Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his further 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.