In Cannes earlier this year I chatted with Josh Brolin, who was promoting two films of his own but seemed most excited about his pal Javier Bardem’s turn in Biutiful. “Sean Penn told me it’s a f—ing masterpiece,” he said to me. “And Guillermo del Toro says Javier’s performance is unprecedented.” When I saw the film (directed by Alejandro González Iñarritu) the next day, I understood what Brolin was talking about. Bardem, a past Best Supporting Actor winner for No Country For Old Men, is nothing short of devastating as a Barcelona dad struggling to keep his family together amidst unspeakable personal and professional tragedies. But something bizarre has happened in this awards season so far: Despite being selected by Mexico as its official foreign-language entry, the film has failed to gain any awards traction for Bardem. No Broadcast Critics nomination for him, no SAG nod, nothing from the Golden Globes even. When I got Globe nominee Ryan Gosling on the phone on Tuesday, Bardem’s was the omission he was most troubled by. “Look at Javier,” Gosling said. “How could you not acknowledge that?”
Several of my Oscar-blogger colleagues (like The Wrap’s Steve Pond and Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells) have expressed their displeasure at the repeated snubbing of Bardem. (I’d also add Rabbit Hole’s Aaron Eckhart to the list of guys who are being inexplicably overlooked, by the way.) When I put together my first round of predictions for our Holiday Movie Preview issue last month, I had Bardem right next to Gosling, Jeff Bridges, and Robert Duvall in my grouping of contenders that sat just below full-on locks like Colin Firth and James Franco. And Bardem has been tirelessly supporting the film out here in Los Angeles, attending countless screenings to ensure as many voters as possible see the film in a dark theater as opposed to at home or (shudder!) on a laptop.
So what’s the problem? Since he already has an Oscar to his name, do some critics and voters feel like he’s been recognized already? That shouldn’t matter. I happen to enjoy what most people would consider “depressing movies” (as if you couldn’t tell by my love for Blue Valentine), but I fear that many people simply cannot, or do not want to, handle such an emotionally intense drama as Biutiful. No, you won’t finish the movie and want to dance a jig. But it’s a film – and a performance – that’s as life-affirming and inspirational as it is sad. Here’s hoping more people realize that.