The dust from Oscar season has settled. The sky has opened up to reveal a glorious scene of birds chirping and a maternal, loving sun. Buds of creativity are in blossom as the next crop of films begin their festival circuit ascent. All is right with the world.
In moments of reflection, I think about how the 2014 film awards fervor transformed entire careers -- Michael Keaton being an obvious example. It is my hope, however, that the trickledown effect of six months of campaigning extends to more than just a former super hero star turned character actor.
I'm referring, mostly, to Rene Russo.
In fact, Russo's sublime work in Nightcrawler was not even recognized by the Academy. That didn't stop her from winning Best Supporting Actress Award from the San Diego Film Critics Society. She also raked up nominations from BAFTA, Denver Film Critics Society, Detroit Film Critics Society, Online Film & Television Association, and more. The National Society of Film Critics gave her third place, while LAFCA made her their runner-up.
She got about as close as an actor can get to Oscar attention without securing love from the Globes or SAG.
The oversight is irrelevant, as Nightcrawler garnered Russo unprecedented critical praise for her work, and renewed attention from millions of fanboys. And this coming from an actress whose appeared in the MCU, Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The acclaim lavished on Russo is well-deserved, highlighting an unheralded Hollywood career. Russo did not make her screen debut until her mid-thirties following a career modeling. Actresses well into their thirties like Kate Winslet and Reese Witherspoon are considered legacies, already transitioning into roles as moms and heavies. But 1989 introduced filmgoers to the late-blooming Russo in Major League. She was in her late 30s by the time she was cast in the Lethal Weapon franchise, and featured prominently into In the Line of Fire.
What is unique about Russo -- besides her unquestioned beauty -- is the combination of elegance and intelligence she brings to her characters. And, more remarkably, she always romanced characters in her age, a rare feat in an industry constantly casting young actresses in May-December romances. In 1995 and 1996, she held her own opposite John Travolta in Get Shorty, Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak, Kevin Costner in Tin Cup, and Mel Gibson in Ransom.
Her work in Get Shorty particularly stands out. Burdened with a stupid boyfriend in Gene Hackman, Russo is an aging scream queen who relies on her brains to outmaneuver the bad guys. It's a wry Hollywood satire that ultimately rewards Russo's Karen, who overcomes industry sexism by becoming a high-powered producer. It's quintessential Russo: whip-smart, self-aware and unafraid to challenge her often legendary co-stars.
At age 45, Russo seduced both audiences and Pierce Bronsnan with her sexy, alluring work in The Thomas Crown Affair. (Not to mention a generation of teenage boys.) I don't intend hagiography, but it's refreshing that an actress well into middle age was first cast, then embraced for such a blatantly sexual, yet affirmative role. In this regard, Russo has few peers.
Of course, the downside is Russo was mostly utilized as a love interest throughout her career. And two exceptions - opportunities to demonstrate range/ carry a film on her own -- were both dismal flops: Buddy and the Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
She spent the past decade sidelined besides her thankless work in the Thor series, which is why it was a pleasure seeing her return to prominence in Nightcrawler last year. Naturally, the film's writer-director was her husband, Dan Gilroy.
Now 61, Russo has another chance to secure her quiet legacy. Meryl Streep single-handedly dominates the conversation as the most prolific actress of her generation, and the new wave of female-driven projects seem primed to a younger batch of actresses. But we should not forget Russo's ineffable presence, an old movie star charm rarely seen these days. How many other actresses have held their own with the likes of Clint Eastwood? (Answer, as always: Streep.)
Many often disparage the endless cycle of awards, and most of the time they are right. However, if the (inadvertent) exposure gave an actress like Russo a second shot who might've otherwise been consumed by mainstream film's ageism, it can't be all bad. Onward with the comeback.
The question is: does Hollywood have a place for her?