The Nominee: Naomi Watts

Mulholland Drive Watts

Naomi Watts’ filmography is one of great variety.  Since she wowed critics and audiences alike in her role in David Lynch’s psychological thriller, Mulholland Drive, she has appeared in several films, all very different from the other.

Mulholland Drive launched Watts’ career, bringing her out from under the radar and into the consciousness of filmmakers and moviegoers.  She’s a subtle actress, yet she possesses a powerful screen presence, holding her own next to heavyweight actors and consistently executing both quiet and bold performances in many genres of film.

No film showcases Watts’ range as an actor better than Lynch’s film.  In a way, Watts could identify with the character she plays in the film since one of the film’s various plot lines revolves around a young Hollywood starlet (played by Watts) trying to fulfill her dreams of movie stardom.  Before landing the role, Watts was trying to do just that in her own life.

Watts didn’t have it easy trying to forge a film career and an identity for herself in the movie industry.  She was 31 when she got her big break in Mulholland Drive, a relatively late start compared to her counterparts in the biz who had established themselves as film heavyweights in their twenties. But the struggle to make it is where the similarity between Watts and naïve, small-town girl, Betty Elms, whom she portrays in the film, ends.

Watts has managed to star in good movies while remaining out of the glaring spotlight and off the tabloid train.  Even after two high-profile romances – a two-year long relationship with the late Heath Ledger and her current long-term union with actor, Liev Schreiber – Watts has avoided becoming the fodder for gossip, and doesn’t seem to set flashbulbs popping wherever she goes.  She’s achieved critical acclaim as an actress and has helped bring a character focus to films that could have simply been special effects vehicles (The Ring and King Kong), and she’s made a mark off screen without personal drama to raise her profile.

She followed her star-making turn in Mulholland Drive with an entirely different kind of film – a remake of the Japanese horror film The Ring.  The film is a dark horror about a video that brings certain death seven days after you watch it.  Although the look of The Ring is good and certain scenes make your spine tingle, the storyline was, in my opinion, a bit absurd and the climax of the film too drawn out.  That said, Watts brings a degree of legitimacy to the film as the female lead and savior.

Watts played another splendid heroine in the blockbuster remake of King Kong.  Although a disappointing remake that runs far too long, the film is a slick, stylized and somewhat entertaining one.  Watts delivers the film’s strongest performance by expressing a superb range of emotion in her interactions with Kong, instilling the outlandish premise with a sense of authenticity and believability.

The role that stands out most for me on Watts’ resume is her Academy Award nominated performance in 21 Grams.  Watts’ performance as a recovering drug addict, whose stable, happy recovery is derailed by unimaginable tragedy and loss, is gripping and deeply moving.  I remember how absorbed I became as I watched Watts’ character set off on a path of renewed substance abuse and revenge.

Some of her other notable films include Eastern Promises, The Painted Veil and Funny GamesThe Impossible, for which Watts received her most recent Oscar nomination, is about a family caught in the tsunami in Thailand in 2004.   The film showcased not only the physical destruction that the country endured, but through Watts’ character, gave a vivid and unflinching view of the destruction the tsunami wreaked on people caught in the brutal storm.  Watts superbly portrayed a married mother of two who is separated by her family when she is pulled under the rushing waters only to survive against all odds thanks to her will to live and her incredible strength of character.

Last year Watts had a successful year with two acclaimed films – St. Vincent and Birdman, both very different films that once again highlighted Watts’ wonderful character acting. Watts may not be out there all the time like other actresses, gracing magazine covers every month or headlining entertainment shows, but her work earns her plenty of notice and recognition, and it’s nice to watch a performance by an actress without all of the other outside stuff getting in the way.  With Naomi Watts, it’s about her acting and her films, and they usual give us lots to talk about.