Soon after the 4.2 finale of HBO’s Big Little Lies it was clear that Nicole Kidman‘s performance would be getting the big Emmy push. The pushing will last several weeks as Emmy nomination voting runs from 6.12 to 6.26. The articles and tweets have mostly advanced the career-tribute narrative — it’s not just Kidman’s turn as Celeste-the-abused-wife but her whole 28-year career. If you count Dead Calm as the beginning, I mean.
That’s a pretty good trick considering that over the last six or seven years Kidman has made herself into a kind of Queen of the Indie Bs, giving her all in one eye-rollingly bad, mezzo-mezzo or not-good-enough film after another — Trespass, The Paperboy, Stoker (which I hated), The Railway Man, Grace of Monaco (grotesque), Before I Go to Sleep, Paddington, Strangerland, Queen of the Desert, The Family Fang (a decent film that quickly disappeared), Secret in Their Eyes and Genius. Yes, Kidman was reasonably okay in Lion but don’t get carried away.
Kidman will soon be seen in the Geraldine Page role in Sofia Coppola‘s The Beguiled (Focus, 6.23). She’ll have three films in Cannes — The Beguiled, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ The Killing of a Sacred Deer and John Cameron Mitchell‘s How To Pick Up Girls At Parties.
What Kidman performances have really and truly earned the gold medal? 13 in all. I’ve listed them not in order of preference but sequence: Dead Calm (’89 — I knew when I first saw this that Kidman had “it”), My Life (’93 — Michael Keaton‘s taller wife standing by as he dies of cancer), To Die For (’95 — probably her pinnacle performance — certainly the cleanest and most confident), Moulin Rouge! (’01), The Others (’01), Birthday Girl (’01), The Hours (’02 — “by a nose”), Dogville (her second best ever, just a notch behind To Die For), The Human Stain (’03), Birth (’04), The Interpreter (’05 — I have a soft spot for this Sydney Pollack film), Margot at the Wedding (’07) and Rabbit Hole (’10)
I’m glad that Kidman has achieved a kind of bounce-back effect with Big Little Lies. But there’s no disputing she’d been in a long, slow downswirl cycle for seven years prior. On the plus side she had a vivid, luminous career for 21 years before that (i.e., starting with Rabbit Hole and working backwards).