A couple of things are unusual about the Academy Salute to Vanessa Redgrave, an AMPAS tribute evening (not to be confused with the Governors' Awards) dedicated to the Oscar-winning British acting legend, and taking place next Sunday. For one thing, it's being held in London, where Redgrave is currently performing on stage in a West End revival of "Driving Miss Daisy" -- the first time one of these AMPAS Salutes has taken place outside the US. (Which is lucky for me: I've got an invite.)
Furthermore, I can't remember the last time one of these evenings -- which have in recent years been held for the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Robert Evans and the late Hal Ashby -- was staged for someone already in the thick of Oscar talk that year: Redgrave is currently a Best Supporting Actress frontrunner for her tremendous performance in Ralph Fiennes's revisionist Shakespeare adaptation "Coriolanus." A tribute evening like this has no real bearing on the awards themselves, but this is nonetheless a nice bit of lily-gilding to kick off what promises to be a busy awards season for the veteran actress.
If nothing else, it promises to be a super evening of star-watching: Meryl Streep, Fiennes, James Earl Jones (her current "Daisy" co-star), Eileen Atkins and Redgrave's daughter Joely Richardson will all be on hand to deliver tributes; esteemed playwright and screenwriter David Hare is hosting the event, while former AMPAS president Sid Ganis will introduce the evening. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to be going; needless to say, I'll be bringing you a full report afterwards.
"Coriolanus," which The Weinstein Company is opening in January after a December qualifying run, will bring a busy year for Redgrave to a rousing finish. She's already had three films in theaters this year: the less said about "Miral" and "The Whistleblower," the better, while weak reviews and box-office for "Anonymous" have killed off any buzz she might have had for her ripe riff on Elizabeth I.
Happily, she's saved the best for last. it seems an eternity since I saw "Coriolanus" at the Berlinale back in February, and while elements of Fiennes's uneven directorial debut have receded in my memory, Redgrave's fire-breathing take on the plum character of Volumnia still burns very bright for me indeed: it's remains the best work I've seen in its category all year.
For those of you who weren't with us back then, here's what I said in my review nearly nine months ago:
"As the crowd staggered out of the auditorium two hours later, the name being murmured most approvingly was that of the film’s oldest and most distinguished star. And with good reason. As Volumnia, the proud, politically-minded mother of the titular Roman general, Vanessa Redgrave gives one of 'those' performances, an Olympian masterclass in classical acting that conjures spontaneous emotional fire upon a bed of immaculate technique.
"Just listening to the richly controlled tremors and modulations in her voice as she powers her way through a titanic final monologue — turning her son’s political persuasions through reams of exquisite language — is enough to raise hairs on the back of your hands; all too rare are the opportunities to watch our greatest actors wrestle such material on screen.
"Indeed, in recent years, Redgrave has reserved her most committed thespian efforts for the stage: as valued a supporting presence as she has been in film projects ranging from 'Atonement' to 'Letters to Juliet,' it’s safe to say she hasn’t had a big-screen showcase this generous since 'Howards End' nearly 20 years ago, and still, her work here outstrips that for difficulty and magnitude.
"Berlin isn’t usually the festival for such pronouncements (nor are such predictions ever wise, least of all in the dark days of February) but I’m going to make one anyway: Vanessa Redgrave will receive a 2011 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. If the performance itself weren’t enough to set a campaign in motion, the fact that 'Coriolanus' has just been acquired by The Weinstein Company certainly is."
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