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Under the Circuit: Maria Bello

Maria-Bello-Prisoners

Most Known For: “A History of Violence,” “Prisoners,” “Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”

Snubbed For: “The Cooler,” “A History of Violence,” “Prisoners”

The sixth man award is a cool thing that basketball does; honoring a player that is not among your five starters – often your team’s biggest stars – but who is a consistent contributor and a key member of the team. If Hollywood had an equivalent trophy, Maria Bello would very likely have won it at least once by now. There is no such thing in the industry, more importantly for this columns purpose within the Academy, and as a result Maria Bello’s career often floats just under the radar despite consistently strong and reliable performances.

Bello started her career on TV with some brief appearances on a number of different shows. However, her career would really get going when she landed a recurring role on the ‘90s show that nearly every actor or actress who came to prominence in the 2000s starred on, “ER.” She would be nominated as part of the ensemble for “ER” with SAG.

Her film career also took a little while to find a spark. Roles in the Mel Gibson actioner “Payback” and “Coyote Ugly” ended up being moot points. 2003 was when audiences and critics got their first real taste of what Bello could bring to the table.

5thecooler_bello_macyIn Wayne Kramer’s indie film “The Cooler,” Bello plays the romantic interest to William H. Macy’s perennial loser, helping him to turn his life around. The film is a solid piece of acting from all parties, with Bello and co-star Alec Baldwin receiving the biggest laurels. Bello would be nominated for both SAG and Golden Globes as a Supporting Actress, but all of the Academy’s focus went to Baldwin, who received his lone Oscar nomination for his performance.

It wouldn’t take long for Bello to find herself in the mix again, as just two years later she would shine in another strong ensemble piece from David Cronenberg, “A History of Violence.” Bello played the wife of Viggo Mortensen’s character, who seems a mild mannered man until an act of violence brings revelations about his past to the surface, jeopardizing his family.

Maria_Bello_in_A_History_of_Violence_Wallpaper_3_1280Awards bodies couldn’t decide amongst themselves who deserved the most praise in this film. Mortensen was honored by a number of groups, Ed Harris was singled out a couple of times, as well as William Hurt. Bello, however, received the most attention, earning the only acting honor from the Golden Globes and wins from the Online Film Critics Society, Online Film and Television Association, New York, Kansas City and Chicago Film critics and another nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Once again, the Oscars rolled around and overlooked Bello for her co-star, as Hurt ended up with a nomination for his brief but memorable turn.

There are some nice fillers in her resume as well. She gave a fun performance in Jason Reitman’s feature debut, “Thank You for Smoking” – my personal favorite film of his – and would be cited again by some voting bodies for “Downloading Nancy.” She’s also been in some head shakers, including filling Rachel Weisz’s shoes in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and roles in both “Grown Ups” and “Grown Ups 2.”

We don’t have to look back to 2005 for her most recent snub, though, as she and the entire cast of “Prisoners” was unjustly ignored for their great performances in the dark thriller. While Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal gave the film’s best performances, the supporting cast led by Bello, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano were all in top form for director Denis Villeneuve. How this cast got as little recognition as it did is beyond me.

On the horizon for Maria Bello is the Disney movie “McFarland” alongside Kevin Costner. It hasn’t been getting a lot of attention, but the film is firmly planted in the middle of awards season with its Nov. 21 release date, and has the inspiring story angle going for it.

Bello may never gain the star power of a Julia Roberts or Cate Blanchett, but she has found a great niche as a supporting player and has shown just how valuable she can be to an ensemble. If that first Oscar nomination ever does come, it will be met with near universal approval for this well respected actress.

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Written by Michael Balderston

NoVA native who has returned to the Washington D.C. area after two years in L.A. My biggest annoyance since leaving L.A. is not having immediate access to indie films on their first weekend, but I'm making due. When I'm not tracking the year's Oscar players or exploring film history, I'm rooting for my Philadelphia sports teams.

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