Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous is an interesting case in that it may very well be its director’s best film; however, a better director is the one thing it surely needed. Worlds away from 2012, this conspiracy-driven drama is juicy, supremely watchable stuff, but even without the leveled buildings and mass deaths, you can still sense Emmerich’s usual artless frenzy, from the compositions to the triple-stacked flashbacks to the boorish handling of a huge cast of Elizabethan bed-hoppers. Suffice it to say, Emmerich won’t be getting much attention from the director’s branch this year, nor will Anonymous have even an outside shot at any major voting body’s big awards. The film lands in the Oscar discussion because it’s one of 2011’s showiest exhibitors of lavish period garb, and because it features busy Hollywood royal Vanessa Redgrave in full, baity regalia as Queen Elizabeth I.
Through the years, few roles have garnered more awards attention for more actresses than Elizabeth, so it’s only natural to assume that someone of Redgrave’s esteem would continue the trend. Though often buried under a great deal of makeup, jewels and fabric, the actress looks drastically old in the film, a reminder that the window of opportunity for late-career honors is getting smaller by the day. The performance itself is appropriately fun, a balance of power and levity in which both she and the character seem acutely aware of the necessity and burden of all that pomp and circumstance surrounding the queen’s life (a better scene sees her meet with an advisor and plop down on the floor, her legs spread out as she blithely dirties a fabulous skirt that nearly engulfs her). But Redgrave’s work isn’t on a par with that of Judi Dench, who famously netted a Supporting Actress trophy for playing Elizabeth for all of eight minutes in Shakespeare in Love. And seeing as Redgrave splits the role with daughter Joely Richardson, who plays Elizabeth at a younger age, it’s conceivable that voters may view the character as not being owned and defined by a single actress. A more probable Redgrave nomination would be for her supporting turn as Volumnia in Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus, another Shakespearean film that’s earning her raves.
The woman most likely to emerge from this Tudors-esque affair with a crown is costume designer Lisy Christl, whose only true claim to fame thus far is her work on the upper-middle-class threads in Michael Haneke’s Caché. For Anonymous, Christl whips up an ornate feast of collars, corsets, jackets, and headpieces—a vast and detailed wardrobe that convincingly dresses everyone from the sovereign to the rabble. One need only look to 2009’s otherwise unawarded Costume Design winner The Young Victoria to see that the Academy regularly favors the elaborate in this category, even if the source isn’t widely beloved. Christl’s chief competitors will include Hugo’s Sandy Powell, The Artist’s Mark Bridges and Jane Eyre’s Michael O’Connor, but at this stage she stands a stronger chance than fellow technicians Sebastian Krawinkel, Stephan O. Gessler, and Simon-Julien Boucherie, whose Art Direction and set decoration, as seen through Emmerich’s lens, aren’t afforded the cinematic awe they deserve.
The most inspired move here would be a Supporting Actor nomination for Rhys Ifans, whose Earl of Oxford and supposed true Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, is less the lead character than the vivid standout of an ensemble. Known mainly to audiences for his screwball work in films like Notting Hill, Ifans has never offered so accomplished and meaty a performance as he does in Anonymous. A man akin to Geoffrey Rush’s Marquis de Sade in Quills, Ifans’s de Vere is a delicious character, at once urbane and desperate, commanding and deeply tragic. It is a revelatory performance in that it brings to light the perpetually sidelined character actor’s capability of carrying a film, even if he does remain somewhat peripheral amid the wild beehive of conniving, incestual figures. His character’s elitist, intelligence-fueled humor is paired with a whole lot of poignancy, which, though feeling somewhat out of place alongside Emmerich’s bombast, makes Ifans’s effort all the more memorable. Like de Vere, whom one character calls “the soul of the age,” Ifans is, appropriately, the soul of the movie.
Surest bets: Best Costume Design.
Possibilities: Best Supporting Actress, Vanessa Redgrave; Best Art Direction.
Shouldn’t be Overlooked: Best Supporting Actor, Rhys Ifans.