Winslet, Kate: Big Year

It’s rather shocking to realize that the extremely gifted Kate Winslet is only 33, considering the stellar career she has had over the past 15 years, including six Oscar nominations.

This season, Winslet shines again in two different films, “Revolutionary Road,” directed by Sam Mendes (her husband) and “The Reader” by Stephen Daldry.  So far, she has won two Golden Globe Awards (lead and supporting for the two films), as well as Supporting Actress Awards from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Right now, the two frontrunners in the Best Actress category are Meryl Streep for “Doubt” and Winslet for “The Reader.”  This is the fifteenth nomination for Streep, arguably the most accomplished actress working today, who has not won an Oscar since “Sophie’s Choice,” in 1982 

Though “Doubt” has been seen by more people, Winslet has the advantage of appearing in a high-profile film that’s also nominated for Best Picture. With some luck, and savvy, aggressive marketing campaign from the Weinstein Company, Winslet’s brilliant interpretation of a tough, demanding role that occupies the story’s center should finally bring her the coveted Oscar Award.

In this column, I’d like to sing the praise for Winslet as one of the gutsiest, most ambitious, and gifted actresses working in today’s cinema. I can think of only one other actress in Winslet’s cohort who’s as talented and as versatile, Aussie Cate Blanchett (two “Elizabeth” biopics, “The Aviator,” “I’m Not There”), who’s slightly older than Winslet.

Known for her selective, risk-taking approach to film roles, Winslet has excelled in both period pieces, such as Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), for which she received her first (Supporting) Oscar nomination (Emma Thompson was that films star) as well as modern dramas, though, surprisingly most of her work so far has been in costume dramas (see below).

Smoothly navigating between British and American films, big Hollywood flicks and smaller indies, Winslet has demonstrated an incomparable range, with equal adeptness at drama and comedy. If memory serves, the only genre Winslet has not attempted yet is musical, but I wont be surprised is she can sing and dance as well as she can act).

Winslet, who was born in Yorkshire in 1975, can do accents as effortlessly as other thespians, and she can wear heavy makeup and transform herself physically beyond recognition. Yet what’s most impressive about her work in Todd Field’s “Little Children” is how clean, natural, unmannered, and pure her acting is as Sarah, a frustrated wife, mother, and woman stuck in listless marriage to a boring man, who’s sexually repressed and emotionally stifled.

Among many other qualities, Winslet may be the only actress whose nude/sex scenes (and there are plenty of them in Little Children) dont call attention to her or her body, but serve the narrative as a whole. And I’d speculate that when viewers look back at Fields amazingly audacious expose, they would be as much haunted by other images of Winslet than her with her nudity. (Unlike, say, the Sharon Stone nude scenes in “Basic Instinct” and other flicks, which are deliberately suggestive and consciously sleazy).

Winslet’s Track Record

The first time I saw Winslet on screen was in Peter Jacksons Heavenly Creatures, a brilliant fact-based movie that never found its audience, perhaps due to tough subject matter, dealing with two teenage killer girls.

Winslet gave an auspicious debut performance in Heavenly Creatures, in which her mastery of the fine line that separates between adolescent friendship, lesbian affair, and murderous spree was the heart of the feature. She was only 17, and thus close in age to the real-life character that she played.

In a little over a decade, Winslet has worked with some of the best directors around, included the aforementioned Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, for which she has made Holy Smoke (1998) opposite Harvey Keitel, Philip Kaufman (Quills), Kenneth Branagh “Hamlet”), and others.

Some of Winslet’s films were only seen by the art-house crowds (the Jane Campion features), but lets not forget that she was the figurehead of the most commercial picture in films history, James Cameron’s “Titanic,” which garnered her the second (and first Best Actress) Oscar nomination. Grossing $1.8 million worldwide, Titanic swept most of the 1997 Oscars, including Best Picture, even if the Academy scandalously snubbed her onscreen lover, Leonardo DiCaprio (See DiCaprio Oscar Alert).

Winslet has practically elevated every movie in which she has appeared: Michael Winterbottom’s Jude (1996), Gilles Mackinnon’s “Hideous Kinky” (1998), as the bespectacled helper in the British Hitchcockian thriller “Enigma” (2001), directed by Michael Apted).

As the bright maid, Winslet lent honorable support and offered grounded counterpart to the eccentricities Geoffrey Rush, who was over the top as the Marquis De Sade in Philip Kaufman’s severely flawed “Quills” (2000). And she was ravishing young author Iris Murdock in Richard Eyre’s compromising biopic “Iris” (2001), in which Judi Dench played the writer as a mature woman.

Winslet’s fourth Oscar nomination (and second in the lead category) was for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an art film more championed by critics than the large public. The Charlie Kaufman-written movie received a well-deserved Oscar for its original script, but it was the year of Clint Eastwood and “Million Dollar Baby.”

Kate Winslet’s Oscar Nominations

Sense and Sensibility (1995), Supporting Actress

Titanic (1997), Best Actress

Iris (2001), Supporting Actress

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Best Actress

Little Children (2006), Best Actress

The Reader (2008), Best Actress