Her Smell was one of the best–and somehow most underrated–films of 2019, featuring a standout lead performance from Elisabeth Moss as self-destructive punk musician Becky Something. And director Alex Ross Perry is now urging the Academy to recognize Moss’s work and include her in the Best Actress race, writing an open letter (published in full on IndieWire) praising her “astonishing” performance.
Perry’s letter comes on the heels of major Oscar campaigns financed by huge companies (like Netflix’s push for The Irishman and Marriage Story). Her Smell was a small movie with a small distributor, Gunpowder & Sky, and thus they couldn’t afford to launch a large-scale campaign. Perry’s letter reads as a plea to Academy voters to ignore the flash and honor quality.
“Why am I writing this letter on behalf of Elisabeth Moss, commonly regarded as one of the finest actresses of our generation?” he begins. “It’s not like people haven’t realized this by now. She has nothing to prove and has an undeniable track record in both television and film.” Perry goes on to point out that it’s been fifteen months since the film’s official festival premieres, and that audiences may have forgotten about it since its release in April. But he urged Academy voters to really look at Moss’s performance, describing how she shaped it. Perry writes that Becky was something of a spontaneous creation–while Moss had lived with the script and practiced guitar for months, both director and actress “wanted to fully discover the character for the first time while the camera was rolling.”
“I guess I’m just trying to say that I am unspeakably proud to have played any part in willing this performance into existence,” he concludes. “Yet still, on my 100th viewing, it feels like magic to me. Lizzie rigorously calibrated this whirlwind of maniacal insanity, sticking to the script while working off impulse and instinct. It wouldn’t be honest of me to pass up an opportunity to give this performance one final cheer from the sidelines and hope that it is seen as the once- in-a-great-while alchemical blend of writing, directing and, most crucially, acting that it is.”
Her Smell ruled. It may be wise for the Academy to listen.