“The same girl did ‘The Fighter’ and ‘The Master’ and ‘The Muppets?’ Give me a break. She can do absolutely anything—and better than anyone.” – Paul Thomas Anderson
Amy Adams has been gracing our screens for decades. From her first major role opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can to this past year’s Vice, she has been turning out masterful performance after masterful performance to great acclaim. She has proven herself a favorite among critics and audiences alike – a small but devoted army of Twitter fans (myself included) and six Oscar nominations exist as evidence of this adoration.
After her most recent loss at the 91st Academy Awards, it seems that now is a good a time as any to revive the rallying cry and confirm: it’s time to talk about Amy Adams.
I mean – I personally always think it’s time to talk about Amy Adams, but maybe I should give my barista at Starbucks a break from my unsolicited thoughts on her appearance in The Office.
The DiCaprio Comparison
It’s ironically fitting that Amy’s first major film role was opposite Leo, an actor who was destined to achieve a certain reputation as a consistent Oscar loser. Each year, the fervor surrounding his perceived snubs grew louder and louder until, when The Revenant rolled around, the win felt a bit inevitable – the local outcry seemed to imply that Leonardo DiCaprio simply deserved that statuette.
The same energy has not been applied to Amy Adams (or the similarly outstanding Oscar-less Glenn Close!), despite the fact that Amy managed to accrue a higher number of nominations in a shorter career window than DiCaprio. While there is certainly a small but impassioned outcry each time Amy has not claimed victory with the Academy, the digital noise does not have the same scope. This isn’t to say that Amy Adams deserves to win on the idea of being “overdue” alone — rather, she is overdue for a win because her performances have just been that good. Let’s explore.
Critical and Popular Breakthrough
Following her endearing performance in Catch Me If You Can, Amy found her critical breakthrough through her role in Junebug. Her performance as the wide-eyed, talkative Ashley catapulted her to a new threshold of success. She imbued the part of the young woman, anxious and excited and extremely pregnant, with enthusiasm and radiance. She steals the entire film away – even her audition is worth the watch. Critics immediately fell in love with Amy, as any reasonable set of people would, and her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress was a lock.
Rolling off of the momentum from the success of Junebug, she went on to beat out almost 300 other actresses for the role of Giselle in Disney’s smash Enchanted. Her genuine joy and three-dimensional energy complete the film. It simply would not have worked without her performance. The attention to detail and level of nuance that she captures in her physicality and in her voice (both speaking and singing) is remarkable. The reception to the film confirmed Amy as a sought-after talent to watch.
After the massive success of Enchanted, she began turning out role after role in a golden period of critical acclaim. Her transition from ingenue roles to the more dramatic began with Doubt in 2009 – she rounded out an all-star trio opposite acting powerhouses Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film follows a Catholic school embroiled in scandal with Amy appearing as a wide-eyed nun caught in the crossfire. Doubt locked in her second Oscar nomination.
Shortly thereafter, boxing drama The Fighter provided the first iteration of a couple of major pairings: Adams’ first appearance opposite Christian Bale, and her first time working with director David O Russell, who would go on to direct the pair again in American Hustle (Adams and Bale reunited yet again for this past year’s Vice). This role marked the most significant departure from her filmography at the time as this even grittier figure gave her the chance to truly demonstrate her vast range, locking in another Oscar nomination as a result.
Continuing her work with acclaimed directors, Amy joined Paul Thomas Anderson for the disquieting psychological drama The Master in which she worked again opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman’s enigmatic cult leader. The Master featured a stacked cast — in addition to the central performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the film included appearances by Laura Dern, Rami Malek and Jesse Plemons, but Amy’s scenes as Peggy Dodd are the most chilling and severe – the effects linger even in moments she is not present. Sweet, angelic Amy of films past is nowhere to be found: Giselle could never! Disney was left shaking! Yet another round of nominations rightfully poured in for this part, but the momentum was not enough to derail Anne Hathaway’s eventual Oscar win for Les Misérables.
Her sunnier role in The Muppets (a return to form, if you will: Disney was left joyful and not shaking), and sultrier performance in American Hustle continued to reinforce the range she has at her fingertips. The latter film led to yet another nomination, this time for Best Actress, in the same year that she appeared in Her (which was also nominated for Best Picture that year). Someone needs to quickly write a film starring Amy in a gender flipped re-telling of the King Midas story, because every project she touches turns to gold. Except, apparently, specific evenings in the Dolby Theater that involve small golden statuettes. Anyways!
It’s worth mentioning that American Hustle is a great watch for Amy alone, if for whatever reason a crime caper set in the 1970s doesn’t appeal to you, nor does it matter to you one way or another that Bradley Cooper’s hair was in rollers at some point and the resulting perm is absolutely insane. Regardless: the cuts on Amy’s dresses in this film are deeper than Timothée Chalamet’s character in Lady Bird thinks he is, so, in other words, the film is a delight.
The Big Snub
This brings us to The Big Snub, which is not a sequel to The Big Sick, just to clear up any confusion in advance. Amy’s work in 2016’s Arrival yielded some of the strongest praise in her already fairly illustrious career, and with good reason. Her work in the film is exemplary.
Arrival tells the story of Louise Banks (portrayed by Adams), a linguist recruited to assist with communication when a small collection of extraterrestrial creatures land on earth. The science-fiction film is, under the surface, a quiet and intense exploration of grief and humanity, and certainly atypical for the genre in which it initially seems to fit. Arrival lacks many of the traditional hallmarks of science-fiction, and while it does feature alien lifeforms and spaceships, the small cast and sparse script push it to a categorically different place. By the time the devastating conclusion is reached, audiences have been completely swept into the world that Louise Banks inhabits. Amy carries the entire film on her petite but capable shoulders – her watchability in this film cannot be overstated.
While Arrival was released to rapturous reviews, with words of praise particularly focused on its central actress, the Academy failed to recognize Amy Adams in the lead actress category. Arrival received eight nods, ultimately winning for Sound Editing only, and audiences and critics alike were truly shocked by the snub. This would have perhaps been the most appropriate role for which she could have accepted the Oscar statuette, and the decision to omit her from the nominations entirely is all the more confusing when the movie landed in categories like Best Picture. The film would have been very different, if not impossible, without her.
Here is a brief list of things Amy Adams successfully does in Arrival:
- Captures the viewer’s entire heart and soul in the first three crushing minutes
- Seems like the loveliest college professor of all time and makes me feel briefly nostalgic for classrooms?
- Shuts down the people around her who think they know her work and her career better than she does, solidifying Dr. Louise Banks as a low-key feminist icon
- Reacts convincingly to Jeremy Renner unconvincingly delivering a line that was not written too well at a pivotal emotional point – if you’ve seen it, you know the one, but if you haven’t, pause on your read-through of this article and go rent Arrival (2016) and then circle back with me
The first time I saw Arrival in theaters, I cried the entire eleven minute drive home to my apartment, which could be a personal problem, but within the context of this article is meant to emphasize how enthralling her work is in this film. If eliciting that kind of reaction from a viewer doesn’t deserve an Academy Award, then what possibly could? Do I cry at most movies? Yes. Do I believe that WALL-E deserved Best Picture? MAYBE! But this article is not about me, it is about Amy Adams.
After her most recent loss for Vice, solidifying her name towards the top of all lists focusing on those in the industry with the most nominations without a win, it would appear that the tides may turn soon. A legacy isn’t dependent on the awards collected, and Amy Adams certainly has an incredible portfolio of work that will exist as a testament to her abilities, but after so many losses on such incredible work, Amy Adams deserves a victory – and we deserve to see it happen.