Sony Pictures Classics
Not all Oscar bait is created equal. Glenn Close trolling the Academy with 2011’s shameless Albert Nobbs isn’t in the same wheelhouse as her fellow always-a-bridesmaid Annette Bening, who actually seems, whatever the performance, like there are plenty of other motivators for her work beyond gold-plated statuettes. Make no mistake, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in which Bening plays aging Hollywood icon Gloria Grahame, is a tailor-made awards showcase, but the actress doesn’t settle for mere look-at-me mimicry.
Bening nails Grahame’s hyperventilator’s voice and flighty demeanor, as well as the seemingly out-of-nowhere sultriness that, for example, Nicholas Ray (Grahame’s second husband) used to striking effect in the 1949 noir A Woman’s Secret. Yet Bening also gives you a full sense of Grahame’s often-tortured depths, be it the obsession with her looks (her upper lip being the prime offender) or the scandal she courted. A prime plot point here is her marriage to Ray’s stepson, Anthony, in 1960, which led to the waning of a film career that included such highlights as 1950’s In a Lonely Place and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won a supporting actress Oscar.