It’s hard to always be the bridesmaid, never the bride. It’s even harder to be the perennial wedding attender and never even in the wedding party. There are so many working, talented actors in this very spot, still waiting on their first nomination. Around six years ago, suggesting that Kristen Stewart deserved a spot at the Dolby theater as a nominee, or even as an awkward presenter, would have gotten me laughed out of a room. I know this because it happened to me, multiple times. However, the Twilight series has ended and Stewart has delivered on her very early promise.
Kristen Stewart has given two Academy Award nomination worthy performances in the past two years, effectively repositioning the star from box office movie star to talented indie darling. It’s easy to see that this role is a much better fit. After taking a year off following 2012’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Stewart came back with two independent projects. The first was Camp X-Ray, which saw Stewart stretch herself playing a soldier at Guantanamo Bay who befriends a prisoner there. While the film received middling reviews, she received strong notices and signaled that there was an actress outside of the blockbusters.
While a low profile indie might not get an actor a ticket to the Oscars, it set Stewart up perfectly for her second role that year. Stewart landed a plum role in Still Alice, the film that won Julianne Moore an Oscar. She played Lydia, the youngest daughter of a linguist suffering from Alzheimers. Stewart gained some talk as a potential Supporting Actress nominee, even if precursors didn’t follow suit. However, I would’ve replaced Meryl Streep in Into the Woods with Stewart.
Still Alice set her up perfectly for 2015, as Clouds of Sils Maria brought her within arms length of a nomination. As Valentine, an actress’ personal assistant, Stewart used her star image to bring to life a fantastically meta performance. It worked on multiple levels as Stewart brought untold layers to Val. Despite opening in April, Stewart reaped a slew of critics prizes. She won ten critic accolades, including the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Circle. She even became the first American actress to win Best Supporting Actress at the Cesar Awards. In addition, she won second place at the Los Angeles Film Critics. Out of the crop of Supporting Actress performances that year, she would’ve easily been my winner. Missing out on the nomination as the critic’s favorite gives her a major Oscar IOU she is looking to cash in this year.
While people say Kristen Stewart only recently showed prowess as an actress, her talent was present in her early films. Her first brush with stardom came in David Fincher’s 2002 thriller, Panic Room. Her performance as Jodie Foster’s asthmatic daughter trapped in her home during a burglary brought many to compare her to her two time Oscar winning co-star. From there, she had solid turns in mid level films such as Zathura, The Messengers and In the Land of Women.
Stewart got her first and only SAG nomination in 2007 as part of the ensemble for Into the Wild. In no more than 10 minutes of screen time late in the film, Stewart is able to create a fascinating enigma of a young girl. She nearly detours the central protagonist, Chris McCandless, from going on his mission to Alaska. Despite coming off as confident, yet aloof, Stewart’s Tracey has this undercurrent of insecurity and longing that surprises in interesting ways. While Catherine Keener stole most of the supporting actress heat for that film, Stewart was integral to elevating the ensemble. It was clear from here she would emerge as an actress worth her mettle.
Into the Wild helped net her the role of Bella Swan in Twilight, introducing her to the masses. While the series landed her Teen Choice Awards and Razzies, it also made Stewart one of the highest paid actresses. This allowed her to take on smaller projects here and there. Adventureland was her first collaboration with Jesse Eisenberg (her Cafe Society co-star). As Em, an amusement park worker tangled in a love triangle, Stewart found the perfect vehicle for her “over-it” star persona. This star persona persisted to rub people the wrong way in more mass affair, such as Twilight. However, when amplified, such as in The Runaways, as legendary rocker Joan Jett, Stewart really found areas to shine. Even in uneven films, such as On the Road, the more Stewart grew in popularity, the more she was able to challenge her public perception.
No longer trapped in any series, Stewart seems to have set her sights on Oscar. No less than three performances this year have earned her significant buzz. In Cafe Society, Stewart stars as Vonnie, a secretary for an agent in 1930s Hollywood. She could be a safe supporting actress bet, as Woody Allen frequently gets women into this category. She reteamed with Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper, which inspired raves and boos at Cannes. Her best bet this year will probably be Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a contender in many categories. As the army vet title character’s sister, Stewart should have a plum role in an Oscar favorite. Coupled with her recent ascendance in indie cinema, she might not be an Oscar virgin for long.
“Clouds of Sils Maria” – Valentine
“Still Alice” – Lydia Howland
“Into the Wild” – Tracey
“Adventureland” – Em Lewin
“The Runaways” – Joan Jett