Why Javier Bardem is Important

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One question that’s on everybody’s mind this week is who’s going to win at the Oscars. This year, the nominees for Best Actor include none other than Javier Bardem, or as I’d like to call him, Bardo. Yes, our valiant Spaniard will do battle against the enemy knights from Hollywood this Sunday. The chances of him actually netting an award is slim, since in case you haven’t stepped out of bed since last year, he’ll be going up against some real competition. The guys from The Social Network, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and 127 Hours will be out and about in full force, presumably with victory speeches already planned.

Well, why even bother with Javier Bardem then? The guy appeared in a little movie called Biutiful. Ok, so the movie itself wasn’t considered to be as rad as Amores Perros, but what is? But the strength of his acting was praised by everybody else (it’s still playing, so go and see for yourself). Also, there’s the little thing of being the first Spanish-speaking role nominated for Best Actor. Ever.

Is it a sign of the times? As more and more Americans are born with decidedly different surnames, this is cause for celebration since this signals the acceptance of languages other than English as being worthy for Best Actor honors. The weird thing is that the film itself is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, which is understandable since it’s a Mexican/Spanish production. Bardem already won Best Supporting Actor with No Country for Old Men in 2008 (and was nominated in 2000 for Before Night Falls). Of course, those roles were in English, but the guy has a great track record.

But would a win for Bardem have any effect? God yes. Ever since the dawn of cinema, film and nationality, and even culture, have been intertwined. But that belies the universal nature of the medium. American films have always enjoyed popularity around the world and foreign cinema has enjoyed respect and admiration here. In effect, his nomination has simply formalized an ongoing process: the popularization of films not in English. Indeed, the nomination is also a signal of the growing influence of the Spanish language in the arts. More importantly, the fact that a Spanish-speaking role has been nominated alongside Jesse Eisenberg, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, and James Franco can mean one thing: acceptance of Spanish as a native language, as American as English, in other words.

Actually, the film itself is quite emotionally draining and powerful; a meditation on death, fate, and parenthood. Ironically, the film was received with mixed reactions. Some lauded it as a masterpiece, while others claimed the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, was stuck on the same themes. They kind of have a point. Ever since his first film, the director has been unable to let go of death, quite possibly one of the most morbid directors ever. Judging by other standards, this is a fine film but the reality is that Iñárritu has visited this theme three times already.

Anyway, back to Bardo. The man should win, not due to the reasons listed above, although that is awesome. His reason to win is based purely on his talent. His performance in the film reeks of double win plus good amounts of skill and passion. How can you not look up to the screen and whisper “perfecto!” as the credits roll and you go home and cry while people avoid you on the bus? I couldn’t. That’s art for you.

No one can tell who the likely winners are. Bardem is competing with actors from films that have been hailed as the best in years. Many are placing their bets on either The King’s Speech or The Social Network. Times are grim indeed. But these are worthy challenges. Either Bardem will make history or he will burn the whole goddamn place down.

Plus he’s going to be on Glee later on, so maybe there’s some solace in that? Eh? Eh? Maybe not.