The Tilda Situation

So why hasn’t Tilda Swinton‘s heartily-praised performance in Luca Guadagnino‘s I Am Love popped through in this year’s Best Actress conversations? For one thing I Am Love is not universally admired. It’s all lavish and cranked up in a orchestrated Visconti-ish sense. That’s what’s sublime about it, of course, but at the same time it feels like an art-film exercise in “quotes.”

And yet the reviews Swinton got were something. “Tour de force” and all that. Consider this paragraph from New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, written as part of his I Am Love review last June:

“This is the film toward which Tilda Swinton has been tending. Put together the chill of her majesty in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the brunt of her motherly love in The Deep End; the leonine wildness that ate her up, in Erick Zonca‘s Julia; and the awful sense, in Michael Clayton, of a woman waiting to buckle beneath the formal demands of a working life — package all that, and you get Emma Recchi, winding the ribbon from a newly unwrapped gift around the spool of her worried fingers.”

But by Oscar season rules, it’s probably naive to think that a performance might rank as a contender for one of the Best Actress slots on mere “quality of performance” alone. And it’s pretty clear to everyone, I think, that Swinton’s Love performance just isn’t punching through. She’s not percolating. She has no heat. The last thing Tilda did that got people’s attention was that Laurel & Hardy flashmob dance number at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

On the strength of her performance alone (and I Am Love itself, which is like Visconti back from the dead) Swinton is quite mesmerizing. Quite the passionate woman, and slightly mad by way of erotic abandon. But I don’t have to tell anyone that the game, certainly at this stage, is about much more than that.

In a few weeks, I’m told, Swinton will be in LA for a big round of screenings and then on to New York. Magnolia will be sending screeners to the entire Academy, SAG Nominating committee and HFPA for starters.

In an email, columnist Scott Feinberg says that Swinton “has a very real shot at a Best Actress nod. Obviously the field is very crowded, and it may be tougher to get some voters to watch a two-hour foreign-language flick that came out months ago, but I suspect that those who do will not only vote to nominate her but place her very high on their ballots.

“Keep in mind that she’s very popular among her fellow actors, who I imagine admire her fiercely independent streak on-screen and off. While her supporting performance in Michael Clayton — which was good, but far from her best — lost the SAG Award, it won the Oscar, and it’s worth considering who she beat if you want to appreciate just how well-liked/respected she is.”

Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone says “you never know with Tilda” and that “nothing is set in stone right now.”

Cinemablend‘s Katey Rich says this reminds her of “last year’s situation with Julia, another tiny movie with a terrific Tilda Swinton performance that couldn’t get any traction. During the NYFCO vote for Best Actress there was a strong cadre of support for Swinton, but Meryl Streep wound up winning anyway. This year it feels like even fewer people have seen I Am Love, and plus the performance is a lot less baity — more restrained, more technically impressive but less gritty, desperate, that kind of flashy stuff that really gets you noticed.

“So she probably doesn’t have a chance. And with plenty of other female performances out there that need a champion — Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman, maybe even Lesley Manville — there just might not be room for Tilda.”

Swinton’s p.r. rep claims that “there are many champions for this film out there. Like Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor and Melissa Leo in Frozen River, this is a performance and film that was the talk of the fest circuit at Toronto and Sundance last year, and the film did very well for a foreign film at box office. Buzz may not be crackling at the moment but it’s out there. Actors have seen the film although several key awards-season bloggers calling the race haven’t yet.”

In Contention‘s Kris Tapley says, “I still need to watch it. It’s sitting on my DVD player. I imagine it’ll be the same for Academy members all season long unless they feel a great need to give it a look.”

Coming Soon‘s Edward Douglas says he “barely got through 45 minutes of the movie.”

The Oregonian‘s Shawn Levy says he “can’t see” a Swinton headwind kicking in “but then I was an outlier on this: I believe I gave I Am Love its lowest score on Metacritic. I found it unbearable. But bully for Ms. Swinton if they can do it, I guess.”

Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson says “the only way for Tilda Swinton — who is admired by critics and art house audiences alike — to make the best actress Oscar grade this year for I Am Love is for critics to make a fuss over her in their year-end wraps and ten-best lists, and for critics groups and the Golden Globes to reward her and thus turn the screener into a must-see for SAG and Academy actors. Swinton has been nominated once (and won, for Michael Clayton).

“Metascore critics (32) gave it a 79, which is a strong score — they love Swinton’s performance. Who will the critics groups single out for best actress? Will Tilda Swinton beat out Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Annette Bening, Jennifer Lawrence, Lesley Manville and Diane Lane? The problem is that someone has to mount a viable campaign for her. Magnolia has not beaten the bushes for Oscars in the past. But the movie reached an almost $5 million gross which is good in today’s market.

“It’s not impossible.”

Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet says, “I’m probably not the best one to ask when it comes to this film, as I didn’t like it in the slightest. I can understand where people are coming from when they found it sensuous and passionate, like biting into that perfectly ripe piece of fruit, but it didn’t move me in that way. In fact it moved me in the opposite direction.”

But there are plenty of admirers out there, enough so that one can say that Swinton ought to at least be in the running along with the others. Do I think she has an actual prayer as things stand? Nope. I mean, not the slightest tendril of a slender reed of hope. But maybe I’m wrong, and I wouldn’t mind at all if I was.

I Am Love has an overall 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. The I Am Love Bluray/DVD came out on 10.12.

  • Edward

    I love Tilda Swinton. She’s such an interesting actress. She’s so sexy evil in the first Narnia film. I can’t think of anything I haven’t liked her in.

  • Krillian

    Maybe because she’s already got her gold for Michael Clayton, no one feels the need to push.

  • Rich S.

    She was the best part of Constantine (unless you count watching Shia get bounced to death by an invisible demon). She was perfect for the part of the androgynous, yet dead sexy, rebel angel Gabriel.

  • DiscoNap

    Suffering from the premature Oscar syndrome. I know she was overdue for a nod, and her sweaty slightly zaftig desperation in MICHAEL was excellent and oddly attractive, but it wasn’t something that should have won, and the Oscar should have gone to Blanchett. (Not that I think any of this shit matters, ha). Now people can relax knowing Tilda Swinton Has an Oscar, and I imagine it’ll be awhile before she’s at the dance again. Meanwhile epic performances like JULIA and I AM LOVE go unheralded. One has to be America’s boomer sweetheart to get nominated for everything they do.

  • DiscoNap

    Also Rich S. is right, her performance as Thin White Duke era Bowie in CONSTANTINE is one for the ages.

  • Mark

    She will get nominated. A lot of people will be seeing IAL and Winter’s Bone on DVD over the next 6 weeks, and I Am Love is the one that people will conclude must receive at least one major nomination. And since Italy did not submit it for Best Foreign Picture, that leave’s Jeffrey’s girl Lawrence out in the cold.

  • Barnes78

    Why does Kidman need a champion any more than Swinton? Both ladies have won the gold guy. Clear the field and let Bening and Moore fight it out across the aisle. I still remember the look on Bening’s face when Hilary Swank was called. Priceless.

  • Ray DeRousse

    With her I get the feeling that I’m supposed to love her delicate performances, but she’s hard to love onscreen. She’s like an ice cube frozen to the highest precipice in Antarctica. She should stick to playing Ice Queens instead of starring in something called “I Am Love.”

  • rayciscon

    Never boring and always interesting, even in less than successful films, i.e. “The Beach”.

    I’ve loved work ever since I saw her in the video for “The Box” by Orbital.

  • Mark

    Being sandwiched between Jennifer Hudson and Monique may cheapen Swinton’s Oscar just a tad. She deserves a lead nomination.

    BTW, she’s much more believable in a sexual role than lead winners Swank and Kidman. (Though if I get to watch any of them do a sailor in black and white, I’ll still choose Kidman.)

  • bobbyperu

    LOVED the film, but on its own terms. It definitely doesn’t come to you easily. Honestly, the fact that Tapley is going to see this on about 42 inches is a huge disservice to the movie, a big screen film if there is one this year. To me, “barely got through 45 minutes” and “unbearable” say more about the writer’s attention span than about the film, which is one of the year’s most well-constructed and beautiful movies. This is an “ART” film through and through, and definitely not for all tastes, but it’s undeniable the care and detail and nuance that was put into it.

    Jeff, why post three negative reactions from Coming Soon, Oregonian and Rope of Silicon, when there are plenty of raves from top tier pubs? Ebert? Variety? Washington Post? LA Times? Even Dargis, who one gets the sense was in the middle, had some great stuff to say…

  • MikeSchaeferSF

    One of my favorite films of the year. I’d argue that far more people have seen “I Am Love” than “Julia” — IAL got a prettty big art-house push (played for months here in SF), but “Julia” barely got a theatrical release.

  • Estados Alterados

    Jeff, wasn’t this the film you saw in Toronto or some other festival that you fell in love with, but left the screening 30 minutes before the end? Then you saw the whole film later and reversed your judgment, because you felt in the last 30 min it dropped the ball completely? I have tried to find your review (if you ever wrote it, that is) to no avail. Maybe I’m totally wrong about this. For the record, I loved the film.

  • MechanicalShark

    Eh, the film isn’t all that great (I understand that insistent over-vividness, but it still grates, especially in the mid-section). Swinton, however, should be a regular fixture at the Oscars. I’m pretty much convinced now that she’s the most consistently great working actress now. Can you name anyone else who knocks it out of the park all the time, even in movies that don’t deserve it?

  • bobbyperu

    Estados, if I’m not mistaken Jeff left early on Mother and Child and then revisited later…

  • Rob

    “I still remember the look on Bening’s face when Hilary Swank was called.”

    Erm, which time?

    I Am Love is in my top five for the year so far, but boy does it cry out for a big screen. DVD might not be the answer for Tilda.

  • actionman

    Orlando POWER. Tilda rules.

  • DarienStyles

    “Orlando” was her greatest achievement and she wasn’t nominated for it. I don’t expect to see her in the list of nominated actresses. While the film was a success in the art-house circuit, her performance has been forgotten. In the end, history will assure her place.

  • bfm

    I always find Tilda vaguely repellent. In the right film, that works for her. But the thought that she should have two Oscars and Bening should have none…crazy.


    I’m not surprised at all that the film I Am Love is not garnering the kind of attention it would if it weren’t first an art house film and second a story about layers, both external and internal factions waging a war against one another that appears very often in subtle undertones through the film. Swinton is marvelously subdued, characteristically evocative and while the film belabors its own revelations and perfunctory details it is a film to be taken in gently, like breath, rather than devoured whole heatedly in typical American fashion. I don’t think you’ll find the outward emotional expressions as say in The Hours or even Michael Clayton (to which Swinton won a much deserved Oscar) but that is precisely why one must embrace the film for all the reasons you might not otherwise.

    Some nice comments here and there.

    I’d like to offer my review of the film for further consideration and discourse.

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