William Shimell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying James Miller in Certified Copy.
Now that description of the film's plot sounds excessively simple as it does not articulate the complexity within the film, which on one hand seems like a chapter of the Before series with two people talking in a European locale however, this film lacks the context of those films on purpose. The most context we are given before the initial direct meeting between the man and the woman is that the man is a British writer who has written a popular book, in Italy, on the nature of copied art, meanwhile the woman is at his public reading with a disruptive son. That is all we know before they later meet seemingly as strangers. We are never given the name of the woman, making the man's name technically equally meaningless in this story. It is then in what they speak to one another and the performances in which we are to gather some sort of understanding of the pair's relationship. This is a notable pairing at the center as we have the seasoned actress Binoche as the woman with William Shimell. Shimell is not a seasoned cinematic actor or even a traditionally dramatic actor. His background being as a baritone opera performer with his only previous onscreen credits being in TV filmed performances of operas and oratorios. This choice may seem strange but seems pointed to the intentions of the film.
The film never informs the viewer what is going on exactly. The pair appear to be strangers, or at best minor acquaintances, at first yet the conversation gets increasingly familiar between the two of them as the film goes on. Of course this directly relates to the title of the film as well as the novel that James has written. In that it examines that issues of authenticity in art are meaningless as all art must be copied from somewhere. This gathers doubt to the nature of this relationship that we are witnessing whether it is authentic, or is it a copy, which by the charge of the book, perhaps the film as well, is just as meaningful as the real thing. Then again of course it is a copy of real relationship if one were to also keep in mind the nature of a fictional film. This eventually brings me to Shimell's performance, which that context is needed to understand fully his work, as well as I'd say his casting across from Binoche. Shimell's performance is not on the same level of Binoche's. Binoche's work is fascinating as she plays the part from so many angles, sometimes with the playfulness of a game, sometimes deadly seriously, and with so many in between. She allows multiple interpretations yet never seems vague in her approach. Shimell's allows for the interpretations however his work is far more direct and precise in this sense.
Where Binoche's performance is in this state of constant flow, Shimell portrays more of an exact set of phases, though with this they do carry their own ambiguity because of this. Although he's certainly subdued most of the film you could almost describe as operatic in that Shimell focuses on the overtones. Initially Shimell is quite good honestly in presenting just the straightforward intellectual writer giving his views first in the formal way at a public reading, then later when he initially encounters the woman. Shimell delivers his lines with a casual quality even within philosophy or even if it is approaching sensitive material. The man seems careless as though he is just with a stranger, even a fan of his work, but of course the conversation continues. Shimell does bring one overarching quality in his performance is there is a detachment about it, and presents everything seemingly exactly as you should see it. Although what makes this ambiguous in his own way is his transitions throughout the film. As we continue Shimell becomes more distant the more intimate the conversation becomes. Shimell actually allows you to read two ways, properly so, in that he is a man either tired of this charade, or he's tired of his situation with who is potentially his wife.
Shimell is consistent in the way his detachment defines the man relationship with the woman as really the woman's investment defines her relationship with him. She seems to be after something from the conversation, while the man avoids it. In turn Shimell only portrays a greater investment in terms of greater frustration seemingly seeking detachment. He more or less becomes less affable than anything even towards the end, when there seems to be any sort of reconciliation between the two. Even in that moment Shimell only really reduces his frustration seemingly giving in to whatever he is giving in to only a moment, but still with a detachment as he essentially says he has to leave soon no matter what. This performance honestly probably wouldn't quite work on its own yet it does as a foil to Binoche's performance. What she does works effectively in creating this strange window into this mysterious relationship, and she almost works against him as this wall of sorts. Again it comes back to the casting as Shimell's work isn't that of a seasoned veteran actor. His work isn't on the same level as Binoche's yet it works nonetheless in creating this particular dynamic. Now is it possible that an equally complex turn could have worked with Binoche's performance? Yes. Would that have been better? Maybe. Nevertheless Shimell's performance in tandem with Binoche's succeeds in creating this fascinating if enigmatic relationship that essentially is the film entire.