Oscar 2005: How to Win and Not to Win–Viggo Mortensen

There are many roads to get an Oscar nomination, but some are more effective and success-proof than others. Here is a brief guide for actors eager to get an Oscar:

Play an eccentric, a genius or even a madman

Play a hero-heroine inspired by a real-life personality

Gain considerable weight

Essay a heavy accent

Apply heavy makeup and age onscreen

Wear clothes that deglamorize your natural good looks
Play an alcoholic

Suffer physically or mentally, preferably both

Die a tragic death at the end of the film

Avoid subtlety and delicacy

Do all of those things in the same role, and you've almost guaranteed yourself an Oscar nomination.

Various forms of eccentricity are a common attribute of both the male and female Oscar-winning performances. And they go way beyond the genre in which the performance is contained. Players have used tricks other than heavy makeup to impress the Academy voters. Such antics do not necessarily win awards in themselves, but they contribute to the overall impact of the performance. Tricks of the trade often resulting in making a decent work look more striking and visible.

New Category: Best Performance by Unmasked, Non-Accented Actor

Perhaps the Academy should consider establishing a new category: Best Performance by a Non-Masked, Non-Accented Actor.

Two of the most accomplishedand subtlestperformances this year were given by Viggo Mortensen in “A History of Violence” and Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain.” While Ledger has been singled out by the N.Y. Film Critics Circle for his role as a quiet, reticent gay cowboy, Mortensen has not received any recognition from one of the major critics groups.

The Case of Morgenstern

As Tom Stall, owner of a diner in Small-Town Indiana, happily married to a liberal woman, and father of two children

He does NOT go mad

He plays an everyday man, who's NOT inspired by a real-life personality

He does NOT gain weight

He does NOT essay a heavy accent

He does NOT wear heavy makeup or age onscreen

He does NOT deglamorize his natural good looks

He is NOT an alcoholic

He does NOT suffer from a physical or mental deformity (though he is prone to violence, when it comes to protecting his family)

He does NOT die a tragic death at the end of the film

He gives one of the year's most delicate and subtle performances, one that anchors the whole movie thematically and emotionally.

Every once in a while there are pleasant surprises and subtle, understated performances do get the Academy attention via nomination if not Oscars. However, in the overall Oscar's annals, these quiet performances have been in minority. This may explain why natural, non-temperamental actors like Jeff Bridges, Laura Linney, or Ed Harris, to mention several brilliant actors, have not received an Oscar despite multiple nominations.

Morgenstern's acting, like Bridges,' Linney's, and Harris', does not call attention to itself. It never did. Mortensen was excellent in “The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that series was about director Peter Jackson, not his actors. The only player who received some recognition was Ian McKellen, nominated for Supporting Oscar, in the first segment: “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

A decade ago, in “Georgia,” it was Jennifer Jason Leigh who had the role with the range people associate with Oscar-caliber performance. Leigh, who won the New York Film Critics Best Actress, was cast as an ungifted singer, jealous of her successful older sister, played by Mare Winningham, who received a supporting nomination. Subtle performances such as Winningham's, which accentuated the character's tense but repressed emotions, are often overlooked by the Academy since they look so easy. For many, Winningham personified the phrase “less is more,” a quality that's rare in Oscarwinning performances.

In recent years, Kim Basinger in “L.A. Confidential” (who won) and Laura Linney in “You Can Count on Me” (who was nominated) have rendered clean, spare performances that were noteworthy for theirs lack of apparent technique. Always in minority, these “small” performances stood in sharp opposition to the excessive technique used by Maggie Smith in most of her six Oscar-nominated performances, including “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “California Suite,” and “Gosford Park.” Or for that matter, the difference between Smith's and her co-star in “Gosford Park,” Helen Mirren, who was nominated, like Smith, for Supporting Oscar, the head of the servants, but did not win.