Each Friday through the week of the 2017 Academy Award nominations in January, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.
The best actress race is still the most competitive contest of them all, and while so much of the attention has been paid to Emma Stone for “La La Land,” Natalie Portman for “Jackie” and Annette Bening for “20th Century Women,” another actress has been silently collecting hardware for two performances this year. She hasn’t appeared in any of the trade magazines’ actress roundtables or one-on-one interviews. Instead, her work is doing the promoting. Her name is Isabelle Huppert.
The veteran French actress has been a favorite performer among cinephiles, but her reach has not expanded into mainstream audiences. The 63-year-old has a career that has spanned across four decades, claiming awards all over the world along the way. While she has yet to gain the same level of fame in the U.S. as fellow French actresses Juliette Binoche or Marion Cotillard, she is on the verge of achieving that this season.
Huppert was introduced to American audiences in the 1980 epic “Heaven’s Gate.” The five-hour-plus film was troubled from the start, and after that she starred in mostly European movies. Over time, it was hard to imagine a prestigious film festival not screening a Huppert-starring selection. According to Internet Movie Database, Huppert is the actress with the most competitive screenings at Cannes with 18 films. She has been the muse to two directors, Michael Haneke and the late Claude Chabrol.
It was her role as the strict and sexually repressed music instructor in Haneke’s 2001 film “The Piano Teacher” that garnished much attention. Huppert portrayed Erika Kohut, a middle-aged woman who lives with her controlling mother and develops an obsession relationship with a young male student. It’s one of the many brave performances Huppert has gone on to play, including “White Material,” “Amour” and “Abuse of Weakness.” Despite an early misfire, Huppert has appeared in American films “I Heart Huckabees” and the three versions of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.”
This year, Huppert is earning rave reviews for her performances in two French films. In director Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” Huppert plays a rape victim who seeks out the man who assaulted her. Huppert also stars in Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Things to Come” as a teacher adjusting to having her husband leave her by starting a new romance with a younger man.
This week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Huppert with its best actress for both performances, and the New York Film Critics Circle recognized her work in “Elle.” She is also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Critics Choice Award for her role in “Elle.” If she’s nominated for a Golden Globe next week, we’re certainly in the middle of Huppert season.