It is easy to forget fantastic performances in smaller movies that come out early in the year. The only ones that tend to survive are the ones from bigger movies with enough money behind then for a strong campaign.
The Namesake came and went with little noise despite a grade of 82 on Metacritic and a whopping 85% on Rotten Tomatoes . (I doubt “Babel” got close to that).
So I decided to look at the reviews and was struck by the reviews for the performances.
First the supporting:
”Tabu's Ashima, though, is the film's most extraordinary performance and one of the great acting jobs of the year so far. With incredible subtlety, Tabu ages her character from period to period, carving character without dialogue, playing the scenes as much between the lines as through them.” - Chicago Tribune
”Veterans Khan and Tabu, tap into considerable reserves of depth and subtlety”- L.A. Times
”The assured performances by Khan and Tabu, are powerfully arresting. Their believable transformation intensifies the poignancy and depth of their characters and mirrors the trajectory of their relationship from tentative to loving.”USA TODAY
”Tabu was apparently not the first choice, but after watching her in the role it's hard to imagine anyone else -- she's heartbreakingly good. If anything, it is her story that is the key to the film.”Paula Nechak – Seattle Post
Then for the lead:
”So well does Penn capture the callowness of youth that I felt annoyed at the character as I watched him. It's a terrific performance.”- Chicago Tribune
”This should be a breakout role for Kal Penn, holding the dramatic center of a film for the first time. His Gogol is a funnier and more believable creation than the books”- Los Angeles Times
” The film has a crackling star performance by Kal Penn” - The New York Times
”What might have been a blurry central figure becomes both specific and universal, deepened by the small ironies of life. Penn could turn out to be the Desi Tom Hanks. Scratch that -- he could be the next Tom Hanks,”- Boston Globe
”Penn's transformation from petulant teen to smoothed-out, capable, but still self-absorbed adult could be one of the year's finest pieces of acting.”- Premiere
These are better reviews than a lot of actors who end up getting nominated receive.
I can imagine these reviews on campaign print ads in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, but sadly I doubt the studio will spend the money. You need BIG performances and BIG names and BIG movies. No one wants real anymore.