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Marion Cotillard: The best actress performance you didn't see

Academy Awards betting pools worldwide became confetti when Marion Cotillard's name was announced Sunday as the best actress winner for her portrayal of tormented chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose.

Who? For what?

In hindsight, it all makes sense.

Movie fans love trying to first-guess academy voters, based upon history, sentimental politics and Hollywood buzz. We overanalyze everything from release dates (the closer to Oscar night, the better) to the academy's penchant for making statements or amends.

But sometimes voters do the (seemingly) unexpected: honoring a relatively unknown actor in a foreign language film that barely got released eight months ago. If you haven't seen La Vie En Rose, you have company. Its U.S. box office take is just about $10-million, compared with $206-million for animated feature winner Ratatouille.

I'm always accusing the academy of short attention spans. Sunday night, they proved me wrong. I was the forgetful one.

Here's what my June 28 review of La Vie En Rose noted about the French actor's portrayal:

"Plain and simple, this is an astonishing impersonation of (Piaf's) physicality — the gradually stooped posture, severe beauty with perfect aging makeup — and flawless lip synching to (her) voice. Days after a viewing, I'm still marveling at Cotillard's performance, which defies description . . . Awards consideration is certainly in her future."

And it's not just the quality of her work — Cotillard actually has something approaching tradition on her side. Choosing Cotillard reinforced a recent Oscar trend: that lovely young women who ditch vanity for the sake of art win Oscar gold.

Without the fake nose she donned to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Nicole Kidman likely wouldn't have an Academy Award. Charlize Theron (Monster) plumped and frumped into serial killer Aileen Wuornos to win. Hilary Swank ditched her femininity in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby to get the academy's attention. Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) won by channeling Grizzly Adams.

In case you didn't notice, Cotillard is a stunningly beautiful woman with an ooh-la-la accent that could charm the killer in No Country for Old Men. Piaf was a withering waif with a memorable voice. Makeup artists who won Oscars for transforming Cotillard into a convincing crone deserve lifetime achievement awards.

The academy cheers when such attractive women dial it down for their art.

But that doesn't explain how Tilda Swinton, who turned up Sunday night without apparent concern for glamor, won best supporting actress for her role as the conniving executive in Michael Clayton.

Best new Oscar trivia

Cotillard's and Swinton's

prizes, combined with Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) as best actor and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as best supporting actor, marked the first time since 1965 that all four Oscars went to European actors.

Bardem became Spain's first actor to win an Academy Award. Swinton and Day-Lewis hail from England.

In 1965 the British trio of best actor Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), actress Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) and supporting actor Peter Ustinov (Topkapi) led the foreign invasion of Hollywood, joined by Russian supporting actress Lila Kedrova (Zorba the Greek).

Best Oscar show suggestion

If anything about Sunday's telecast was too polished, it was the Kodak Theatre stage floor, which could have made for the kind of live TV disasters Oscar watchers love.

If John Travolta, Miley Cyrus and Colin Ferrell weren't so nimble, they might have become

YouTube sensations as best pratfalls at a formal affair.

The academy hired Jon Stewart as host to draw a younger audience to a show that could set a new record for poor viewership. Nielsen Media Research says preliminary ratings are 14 percent lower than the least-watched ceremony ever, the 2003 show, which drew 33.1-million viewers.

Maybe all they need is a dab of Crisco on the floor and paparazzi peeping from the wings.

Steve Persall can be reached at

persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365.

Marion Cotillard: The best actress performance you didn't see 02/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 7:07pm]

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