By John H. Foote
With four Academy Award nominations and one win for Best Actress in The Hours (2002), Nicole Kidman appears headed for her fifth nomination this year as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.
Her win for her performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours left many cold. Much was made of the prosthetic nose she wore and her very limited screen time. I felt she was outshone by a trio of actresses including her co-stars, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Toni Collette. It certainly is not a weak performance, but I thought Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven (2002) was the only choice for Best Actress in 2002.
When Kidman is in the right role, with the right filmmaker, she can be among the greatest actresses working in modern film. Following are the performances for which she deserved to be Oscar nominated but was snubbed. As far back as 1995, Kidman deserved to be in the Academy Awards mix, but time and time again has been ignored. In some cases, she has given the finest performance of the year but still without even a nomination. Here are her snubs.
TO DIE FOR (1995) — Based loosely on a true story, Kidman is a ruthless social climber who dreams of television and lands a job on a local TV station as a weather reporter. When her husband, played nicely by Matt Dillon, makes clear his future intentions, it will impact her ambitions, so she seduces a young student, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix to help her kill him. She befriends the students, letting them drink and smoke pot in her home, and has sex with Phoenix. They are thrilled that such a beautiful, sexy adult would be interested in them. Directed by Gus Van Sant, he guided Kidman to a brilliant, unsettling performance. That final frame haunts me.
COLD MOUNTAIN (2003) — This is among her finest work as Ada, a pampered young woman, steeped in literature, who is suddenly left on her own when her father dies. With the Civil War erupting, the townsfolk allow her to stay in the house, where, to Ada’s chagrin, the local Home Guard keeps a close eye on her. A young woman shows up—Ruby (Renée Zellweger), who has lived off the land most of her life. The two women become fast friends, loving one another as sisters. Fearless, Ruby teaches Ada how to survive, and by the time she is reunited with her lover Inman (Jude Law), she is a changed woman. It is a profoundly brilliant performance that was ignored by the Academy. Cold Mountain is one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever seen, and on so many levels. The love story between Inman and Ada is compelling, but so is that of Ada and Ruby, and Ruby and her wayward father. The final image around the outdoor table is bathed in love, and you can feel the presence of Inman through their daughter and Ada.
BIRTH (2004) — The most daring performance of her career, Kidman is astonishing as a widow about to marry again when a little boy comes into her life claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. He knows everything about her, their marriage, intimate details a child could not possibly know. A strange reconnection seems to be happening as Anna (Kidman) has no doubt the boy was once her husband, much to the anger and rage of the man she is about to wed. There are bold scenes that will make you uncomfortable, yet Kidman brings a beautiful dignity and grace to them.
FUR (2006) — With Nicole Kidman as famous photographer Diane Arbus, this film is not a biography but a story of the friendship between Arbus and one of her subjects. Lionel, a man with a condition called hypertrichosis, has endless body hair, enough to make him resemble a dog, He is beautifully portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. Lionel is a sweet-natured man who allows Diane to take his photograph and becomes her friend. Something is awakened in Diane, and she finds her inner artist with Lionel as well as her soul mate and lover. It is a film with bold performances but again, both Kidman and Downey Jr. were ignored.
THE PAPER BOY (2012) — In the sweltering heat of the deep South, Kidman is remarkable as a woman who falls in love with a killer doing time in jail. She plays her part with an indisputable sexual magnetism. When she finally meets the evil killer she loves, portrayed with insidious brilliance by John Cusack (cast against type), he asks her for her panties and begins to masturbate in front of her. Their entire union is about sex, and she knows this, though even she is not enough to satisfy him. He grows bored of her and kills her. Both Kidman and Cusack gave ferocious performances and both deserved Oscar nominations that did not come. The most frankly sexual performance of her career.
THE BEGUILED (2017) — A superb, underrated remake of the Don Siegel film of the 70s starring Clint Eastwood as a wounded soldier taken in by a group of women. After seducing one of them, or more, they begin surgically removing his body parts. Colin Farrell is the soldier this time, Kidman the matron of a girl’s finishing school, still operating despite war all around them. When one of the enemy stumbles, wounded onto their property, they realize it is their Christian duty to care for him before turning him loose. But some of the young women are sexually curious, and the soldier is only too happy to oblige, earning the outrage of the Head Matron, Kidman. Magnificent.
DESTROYER (2018) — One of the most shocking and unforgettable performances of her career, Kidman is unrecognizable as a cop, messy, unwashed, a legend in the force but also something of a joke because of an undercover operation that went terribly wrong. When she believes the leader of the gang that ruined her is active again, she begins a merciless trail of revenge. She is willing to do everything in her power to get what she wants, which is to destroy the man who killed her partner. This was an astonishing performance in a challenging and difficult film, in which Kidman towers. How was she missed? This kind of performance comes along once in a generation!
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.