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Can we talk about that scene? Winning an Oscar for a single scene in Les Misérables

March 8, 2018

'Can we talk about that scene?' is a periodic instalment where memorable scenes are discussed. Given the nature of these pieces, we will be entering major spoiler territory and the film(s) in question will be stated upfront. For additional entries, please click here.

 

SPOILER ALERT for Les Misérables (2012).

 

Is it possible to win an Oscar for just a single scene in a movie? I suppose we can never know for sure, but with Anne Hathaway in the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables, I'm willing to bet a lot of money that this was the case. The scene in question is Hathaway's rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Like many other people in the theatre that day, I'm sure, I wanted to stand up and give a long standing ovation at the end of those beautiful 3.5 minutes. The musicality of the scene certainly played a huge role here, but as far as I'm concerned, this was simply the power of cinema being echoed by a great thespian.

 

This was a long take so powerful and mesmerizing that even thinking about the scene generates a feeling of mental exhaustion. It's a comment that by no means aims to criticize the film or Hathaway's performance, because this sense of exhaustion is exactly what the scene was meant to create. To point out the obvious, Les Misérables is a bit of a depressing story. It's not meant to be fun, and I Dreamed a Dream is a sobering moment of truth and clarity within the story's internal narrative. The song serves as a transition point where the brutal circumstances of 1800 France is realized in a humanistic way, and is arguably one of the most important scenes in the film (or musical, novel, etc.).

 

In short, it's a towering moment of importance both narratively and emotionally, and the stakes are even higher given the pop cultural significance of the song itself. I Dreamed a Dream might not be as overplayed as My Heart Will Go On for most of the general population, but for anyone familiar with Broadway, it probably carries a similar sentiment. In other words, Anne Hathaway had an impossibly difficult task, and by some miracle, did the impossible created one of the most memorable scenes in recent memory. The Oscars aren't always a true marker for the 'best' of the year, but in 2012, there simply could not have been another best supporting actress winner. And although her entire (short) performance in the film was spectacular, I can't imagine anyone exiting this one scene without thinking - and very quickly, agreeing - that she deserves an Oscar. In fact, when I first saw Les Misérables back on boxing day in 2012, I had the urge to award her the trophy right away, at that very moment. Not that I have that kind of power, but when a performance in a singular scene is that damn good, you can't help but think crazy things.

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