Most Known For: “Inglourious Basterds,” “Now You See Me,”
Snubbed For: “Inglourious Basterds,” “Beginners”
Quick, name the breakout star of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”!
I’m more than confident nearly all of you shouted out Christoph Waltz, and yes, you would be right. The Austrian actor not only wowed American audiences with his portrayal of the fiendishly charming Nazi officer Hans Landa, but he won over the academy taking his first of two wins for Best Supporting Actor. However, if anyone also shouted out Melanie Laurent, no one could really argue against that either.
While Laurent hasn’t had as much mainstream success since “Basterds” as Waltz has, she has definitely proved herself a gifted actress in Hollywood thus far and could have a bone or two to pick with Oscar.
First, though, we have to recognize that she didn’t just pop out of the blue. Laurent has been a steadily working actress since 1998 and was a budding star in France even before she started spewing Tarantino’s dialogue. In 2007 she gave her original breakout performance in “Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas” (“Don’t Worry, I’m Fine”) as a fraternal twin distraught over the disappearance of her brother. Laurent would win a variety of Best Newcomer awards from the Lumiere and Cesar Awards, and get nominated by the Globes de Cristal for Best Actress. In the year leading up to “Basterds,” she showed her talent behind the camera with a nomination for Best Short Film at Cannes.
Her hot streak would continue with “Basterds.” Laurent is superb as Shoshana Dreyfus, who actually carries a heavy load of the story. Brad Pitt and his Basterds are actually more cogs in the film’s plot devices – undeniably extremely entertaining cogs – while Laurent and Waltz are the ones operating the story; it is after all their scene that sets the whole story in motion. But with such a wide array of characters and stretches of time without her on screen, this might have led to some confusion for voters.
Critics groups kept shifting her between Supporting and Lead (our ACCA voters put her in lead), so there was never a unified campaign. She also lacked a signature win that could have helped clarify her status and given the spark to her campaign; her lone wins came for Best Actress with the Austin Film Critics and Online Film Critics Society. Though if the Weinstein Co. had really decided to make an effort for Laurent, she might have ended up in Supporting where Penelope Cruz’s nomination for “Nine” certainly doesn’t hold up. The awards narrative for “Basterds” became Waltz and Tarantino, and Laurent would settle for the SAG Ensemble award as her biggest prize.
Her next Hollywood film was Mike Miller’s “Beginners” and the story would surprisingly be pretty similar to “Basterds.” While her performance as Shoshana is the superior of the two, Laurent is splendid as Anna in the film as she and Ewan McGregor’s Oliver navigate their relationship. However, “Beginners” was even more dominated by Plummer, which makes her omission less surprising.
Since then Laurent has been bouncing back and forth across the pond to do films in France and Hollywood and in front and behind the camera. She had a supporting role in her first big budget popcorn flick, “Now You See Me” in 2013 and earned festival awards once again for her film “Respire” in 2014.
Laurent may have her chance at Oscar glory again this year, however, with another supporting role in Angelina Jolie’s “By the Sea.” While the headliner is seeing Pitt and Jolie star together in a film, Laurent is an enticing contender as she will play a local in the seaside town that Pitt and Jolie’s characters stop in when their marriage is in trouble.
Marion Cotillard is unquestionably the first choice when you think of talented French actresses in Hollywood, but once again, who could argue if someone were to make the case of Laurent. Perhaps soon the academy will have to hear that argument too.