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Oscars: Can Charlize Theron enter the Best Actress race? – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: The watercooler talk swirling around this year’s Best Actress race has heated up as of late.

Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady” began screening this week, allowing certain bloggers to bang the drum for Meryl Streep and her performance as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “As far as I’m concerned it’s a Streep vs. Michelle Williams (i.e., as Marilyn Monroe in ‘My Week With Marilyn’) contest with [Viola] Davis half-elbowed aside,” Jeff Wells summarized.

Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter chimed in, saying, “If anyone needed a reminder that Streep is the world’s greatest living actress, this performance is it. … It’s almost beside the point to talk about the film overall, since Streep’s performance so dominates it.”

Outside of the Streep raves, fellow contenders made the rounds and earned headlines. Olivia Colman spoke “Tyrannosaur” with us during her West Coast jaunt. “The Help” star Viola Davis continues to impress, and Disney’s Oscar campaign no doubt will pick up additional support as the film prepares to drop on DVD and Blu-ray shortly.

Copies of “Albert Nobbs” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” started arriving in the mailboxes of critics’ group members, giving those who’ve yet to see them long looks at Best Actress-worthy talents such as Glenn Close and Tilda Swinton, respectively.

But I was able to catch up with one performance over the weekend that, in my opinion, deserves to be in the conversation, and that’s Charlize Theron’s fearless, vulnerable and flat-out witchy turn at the head of Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult.”

Oscar has recognized the statuesque beauty before, rewarding her for playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ 2003 drama “Monster.” But her self-centered, judgmental, darkly cynical yet equally ugly transformation for Reitman’s brutally honest film knocked me sideways.

Theron plays Mavis Gary, a small-town girl made good (to an extent) who’s disturbed to learn her ex-flame (Patrick Wilson) – now happily married – has had a baby. Compulsively driven to ruin his life by working her way back into it, Mavis ventures home to Mercury, Minnesota to “bless” the rural population with her presence and win back the man who doesn’t miss her and is much better off now that she’s gone.

Reitman tells me he sees Mavis as a mirror, reflecting onto his audience all of the harmful qualities they might recognize in themselves. And Theron, for her part, peels back each layer with a calculated grace. To reveal too much about Mavis too early would be to spoil this film’s devastating life lesson. So while Reitman – working from Diablo Cody’s best script – plots and edits “Young Adult” like a train barreling off of its tracks, Theron guarantees that it’ll all hold together until the last possible minute, when reality crashes her character back down to earth.

“Young Adult” doesn’t reach theaters until Dec. 9, when it opens in limited release. But Paramount wisely embarked on a promotional road trip, bringing the cast and crew to select markets to pre-screen, hold Q-and-A sessions and drum up support. It should pay off. “Young Adult” isn’t easily marketable ahead of time. It’s a cynical, honest, negative, painfully realistic reminder that we often can’t go home again. It’s melancholic with the weight of regret, and it’s structured around one of the most fascinatingly flawed characters you’ll see this year.

But Theron’s amazing performance as a potentially unlikeable “monster” (as well as invaluable contributions from Reitman, Cody and a fantastic Patton Oswalt) that helps “Young Adult” complete its tightrope walk over some devastatingly uncomfortable material. I hope Theron finds her way into the Best Actress race, if only because it might convince more people to give this film a try.

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