The nominations: Actress
The film: The Bennett family, father Henry (Ewan McGregor), mother Maria (Naomi Watts), and their sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas and Simon decide to take a tropical Christmas vacation in 2004 to Khao Lak, Thailand. The resort is beautiful and the children enjoy their presence and the beach immensely, but Henry worries about his job back at their home in Japan. Maria, a doctor, urges him not to worry but rather to relax, suggesting that should he lose his job that they move back to their home in the U.K. and she will go back to being a practicing doctor instead of being a stay-at-home mom. But the day after Christmas while the family is enjoying a day at the pool, a devastating tsunami hits Thailand, its destruction calculating it to be the worst in history.
Maria and Lucas are separated from the rest of their family, swept inland by the water and debris. After getting a hold of one another and waiting for the water to subside, the mother and son go looking for help and other survivors. As they wade into shallower water, Lucas is terrified to see his mother is badly hurt with a massive wound to her thigh and a deep gash on her breast. Maria puts together some makeshift bandages and the two carry on hiding with another survivor, a small boy they found alone, up in a tree should another wave hit. A group of locals pass and they are able to help Maria and Lucas, getting her to a truck and taking her to the hospital. As Maria waits for surgery to save her leg, she encourages Lucas to help whom he can in the mass of people left hurt and stranded.
Meanwhile back at what remains of the resort, Henry, along with Thomas and Simon, wait for help to come. Henry tries his best to protect his young boys and sends them off to a camp up in the mountains as he stays behind to search for Lucas and Maria. After a young German tourist named Karl (Sönke Möhring) lets a distraught Henry call his family in the U.K., they decide to look for their families together, going form shelter to shelter with no luck. Back at the hospital, Lucas waits with the ailing Maria certain that his father and brothers are dead and that he is about to lose his mother as well, unaware that his father is searching for him.
The odds: There are always a handful of movies that come out every year that have a timely resonance with what’s going on in the real world. After a hurricane wrecked the homes of so many people in the Northeast United States and the harrowing cold weather barrage it went through just recently, The Impossible offers a touching and empathetic point of view for those going through hard times and inspires prayers of thanks in the rest of us. Five years ago director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Sergio G. Sánchez came together to make the masterpiece of Spanish horror The Orphanage, and now they are together again retelling the of the amazing survival story of the Belón family. Bayona is unafraid to confront the audience with the terror of a story and proves it again here. The turning scene when the tsunami hits is relentless and unforgiving and so incredibly effective, opting to use water tanks rather than CGI. He puts every viewer under the water with Watts’ heroine Maria, holding you under the tumult of mud and debris and raging water, only letting you up for the occasional breath. In fact the whole movie feels this way, with the list of hardships and very real pains stacking up on each other constantly. Watts carries the torch for the whole cast who are so completely a family; McGregor, who’s never been nominated, delivers a sobering performance equal to Watts as does Holland as the eldest son whose conviction, which is so rare amongst young actors, is bound to make him fodder to any keen director around. But Watts as the vulnerable yet tenacious mother is so fully natural and endearing, consoling her horrified son at his sight of her brutal wounds and filling him with the conviction of humanity as she urges him to help rescue a trapped child in spite of those wounds. And then her thankfulness at the kindness of the native Thai people who help her and her son to the hospital: every ounce of sadness suppressed by her survival and mothering instincts comes pouring out in tears and a mixture of happiness, sadness, and graciousness. Watts is a master at her craft and will, though likely not this year, be recognized for it.