Saturday, March 11, 2017

          My vote - Best Actress 1962

Following my take on the rather dull 2016 Best Actress race, there was a real need to sink my teeth into a juicier Best Actress lineup, so I went for one that tends to be considered among the all-time best, with some urban legends and colorful roles.

Anne Bancroft won for recreating her Tony-winning stage role. Bette Davis later claimed that Joan Crawford sabotaged her potential win, but I suspect the race was closer than imagined with any of the 5 ladies having a decent shot.

Here is how I would have voted:

1. Katharine Hepburn, in Long Day’s Journey into Night

The role: Katharine plays Mary Tyrone, a drug addicted matriarch who over the course of a day relives the dark moments of her life.

The film: Eugene O'Neill’s semi-autobiographical (and most acclaimed) play is adapted in a very stagey fashion. It works at times; at other times it really needs some editing. Mostly excellent acting.

The performance: I went into this race having already seen this performance many years ago, but I was surprised to discover I didn’t remember this level of excellence. As far as I can say, this is a career best for Hepburn, which means a lot, and one of the best performances to ever grace the screen. It’s to be seen to be believed – the role offers a lot, but Kate surprised me with her complete dedication to the character’s vulnerability and mental state. The grandeur Kate sometimes carries to her performances is completely gone here – she perfectly captures the tragedy of the character, the struggle with addiction, the frustration of her clinical depression, in such a manner that completely dominates the screen without it feeling intentional. It’s acting magic and Top 5 best performances I’ve ever reviewed here. The camera is fascinated with her.

2. Bette Davis, in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

The role: Bette plays Baby Jane Hudson, a former child star with deep emotional issues, who now takes care of (and tortures) her invalid sister.

The film: For the first half it feels like a juicy B-movie, but Bette’s acting just keeps getting better and the film makes some bold choices. Hard not to like.

The performance: Just like Kate’s performance, this one’s also about dropping the vanity. This performance goes beyond the crazy makeup and the loud line-readings. As the last chapter of the film proves, Bette digs deep into finding the character and providing humanity beyond the big laughter and the cruelty. Sure, the superficial stuff is delicious and very few American actresses of that age and from that era would’ve had such fun with the role, without any intention of taking themselves seriously. But the fact that she also brings emotion and vulnerability and sells the backstory is a wonderful bonus and takes the performance to the next level. They’ll be talking about I’ve written a letter to daddy even 50 years from now.

3. Anne Bancroft, in The Miracle Worker

The role: Anne plays Annie Sullivan, the real-life miracle worker who teaches a girl who is deaf and blind to communicate.

The film: It was the first time I saw this film and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s aged well and there’s something really special about the direction. Patty Duke rules. The ending made me cry.

The performance: There are a couple of key elements that make this a great performance. The emotion, the empathy and the passion are there, as you’d expect. But there is also wonderful charisma and Anne brings plenty of likeability to a character that can sometimes act a bit edgy. It’s easy to cheer for her and her journey, because Anne makes it believable and you do get caught in the character’s life and mission. It’s an intelligent performance, but subtly so, and also very energetic. Which takes me to the final but essential element of success: the physicality of the role. I was more than impressed with the interaction of the two leads, and there is a lot of sign communication, but also fighting, pushing, attacking that must’ve required a special choreography that both actresses perfectly deliver. It’s a dynamic and convincing performance.

4. Geraldine Page, in Sweet Bird of Youth

The role: Geraldine plays Alexandra Del Lago, a movie star whose career is on the rocks who ends up entangled in the personal and career ambitions of a young hustler.

The film: I am not its biggest fan because it doesn’t always land as interesting. Some performances are good, some ideas too familiar.

The performance: How does such a delicious, playful performance end up only as my #4?! Speaks a lot about the level of this field. In a way, I have an instinctive unjustified love for this performance. Just listen to that name: Alexandra Del Lago. What could be cooler? And she’s drunk and smokes pot and acts like a horny cat. And she’s theatrical and excellent at it. The personal struggles of the character fade by comparison to the others’, but there are two aspects to look out for: the movie star worried about ageing – and Geraldine nails this so-called worry – and the fun she is having with the performance. Nobody plays hysteria the way Geraldine does: the big reveal towards the end and the amused, vulnerable, playful reactions over the phone are played with great precision and even a comedic timing. It’s a juicy diva role done really well.

5. Lee Remick, in Days of Wine and Roses

The role: Lee plays Kirsten, a woman who marries an alcoholic and who starts losing control of her life as he pressures her to join his drinking habits.

The film: It’s a real drama, hard to enjoy because I found Lemmon’s character to be kind of disgusting, so sitting through the film was not a pleasant experience.

The performance: I feel like I am being somewhat unjust with this rating, but I guess it’s impossible not to compare it a bit with what the actresses ranked higher here got. Lee is good, but not distinctively good, meaning the potential stands in the role and the scenes (the big drunk scene in the hotel, the character’s last scene, etc), with opportunities coming from the page - and that she delivers. Her acting in such important scenes is good to great – especially the hotel scene, which is the Oscar one, but you don’t necessarily feel it’s something that another good actress from her generation couldn’t have delivered. It’s a solid, dependable performance that wins a lot even through its silent scenes. She brings some likeability to the film, but I feel there could’ve been even more. A very strong 3.

Conclusion: My #1 was easy to choose, also my #2. Anne and Geraldine feel on the same level to me, with Anne getting the edge for the difficulty factor of the role.

How the voting went: Maybe the 1st time I am avoiding to assume a ranking here. I really do think it was close, and that even Remick was a contender. There are arguments both for and against each one’s chances of winning. So I have no idea, anyone’s game.

What’s next: 1999 I guess, since I’ve already watched again 4 of the 5 films. I’ll finally see Boys Don’t Cry for the first time. J

Sunday, February 26, 2017

          My vote - Best Actress 2016

I am a bit angry at the lineup we got and in some ways my ranking is a bit of a fuck it, I am going with what I enjoyed most. Because it needs to be said, that with the exception of Jennifer Lawrence, any/all the other 4 nominees from last year’s Best Actress (Rampling, Blanchett, Ronan and Brie Larson) would easily win this category for me.

In a rich field that could’ve given us Amy Adams (perfect, 5 stars & almost career best in Arrival), Annette Bening (a performance of profound intelligence and wisdom in 20th Century Women) and… get ready for it… Emily Blunt (haters will hate all they want; Girl on the Train is awful – not as awful as Jackie though – but she is superb & mesmerizing playing a troubled alcoholic), we ended up with this group. I couldn’t get excited: Meryl is wonderful, but she’s lucky her Meryl tricks really work here. The others don’t stretch too much either: Emma plays a young actress auditioning and being A smart-ass, Isabelle plays a cold distant bitch, Ruth plays a nicely behaved, soft spoken housewife and Natalie… bless her heart, she tries, but no point when you’re so wrong for the part and the director is so wrong for the film and the screenplay is crap.

With an open heart and mind, I mostly gave them another go.

Here is how I would have voted:

1. Meryl Streep, in Florence Foster Jenkins

The role: Meryl plays Florence, a socialite with a kind heart and many unfulfilled aspirations, who decides to give it a go as an opera singer.

The film: I liked it just a bit better now, because it’s indeed funny and catchy. Nothing groundbreaking, but strong performances and appropriate directing.

The performance: It would be easy to underestimate this performance and I needed a second view to be remembered of the dramatic layers. It’s not all about bad singing and eye-rolling (which are indeed very effective). Look at it carefully, there’s real character construction here. Surprisingly, the screenplay helps, as it alternates the comedy with stories of the character’s sad past – the scene with the doctor is heartbreaking, just like all the other scenes that deal with trauma and regret. Meryl brings much needed vulnerability which works to reflect emotion and empathy towards Florence; and also to give credibility to the giggly almost-teenagerish personality she has. The comedy itself is perfect – yes, with Meryl’s trademarks – but her divaness & extra gesturing really do work here.

2. Emma Stone, in La La Land

The role: Emma plays Mia, an aspiring actress in Hollywood, who falls for a good-looking jazz player and they sing and dance and play out their relationship.

The film: It works better on the big screen, because when I also checked it on my laptop and some of the magic was lost. I like its ambition, the songs are a plus, I salute the charismatic actors, while the director is clearly the star.

The performance: I almost gave it the win and I almost ranked it higher, but I won’t hide around the obvious: it’s not just the character’s description, but the role is not the biggest stretch. For what she has to do, Emma succeeds – she is charming, down to Earth (much needed for the role to function), has a beautiful voice and those expressive eyes. The film wouldn’t work without her; yet putting the technical aspects aside, the character is only this deep. She is so damn charming and uses this gift wisely. I respect the performance more than actually loving it.

3. Isabelle Huppert, in Elle

The role: Isabelle plays Michèle, a strong independent very tough woman, who won’t allow her life to change after being the victim of rape.

The film: I still think it’s quite offensive in the way it handles the topic of rape, but even so I can’t deny the power of some secondary storylines and it’s especially well directed.

The performance: I looked at it again and I don’t get it – this insane buzz around a performance that Huppert could play in her sleep; and not just that, but also the stubbornness against a touch more emotion or something impactful or a bit of an arc or something new or… something believable. It’s not a performance that moves me or that I can really feel empathy towards; it doesn’t impress me, it’s just flat. Of course, she’s Isabelle Huppert and even a simple line reading comes with some intelligence, elegance, determination, class, but why do I feel like she keeps holding back on the good stuff or no interest in putting that much effort. Where I found the performance to work best was in the mother-daughter, father-daughter and even mother-son relationships, which were interesting from the character’s perspective and had a bit more life in them, which is why I didn’t rank it lower.

4. Ruth Negga, in Loving

The role: Ruth plays Mildred, a black woman who marries a white man and suffers the legal consequences for it in 1960s America.

The film: I guess it has a certain charm to it, being almost poetic, if not a bit too slow and slightly boring at times.

The performance: …Which relates in many ways to the performance, as I wonder if the director somehow killed any intention of energy that Ruth would’ve injected in the character. Ruth has a very beautiful face and very expressive eyes and that helped a lot in a couple of scenes (two of them with her talking on the phone) where she gets to react in a more emotional way. The quietness of the performance can leave the impression we are not seeing enough, but also creates this aura of mystery around Mildred and if sensibility is something she was trying to convey, we get the message.

5. Natalie Portman, in Jackie

The role: Natalie plays Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady, in the hours and days following her husband’s violent death.

The film: Hated it. Not much to add.

The performance: Just because there are tears and big, important scenes doesn’t mean I automatically fall for it. First, she’s insanely miscast; I’m not talking about the voice or accent (though that pronunciation of Camelot is now stuck in my brain to bring back the bad memories), but just the kindness and sensibility that Natalie should show us and it’s just not there the way it should be – in a relatable way. No believable warmth, nothing human enough to grab on. From her own acting choices to the direction she’s given, it’s all pompous, pretentious, it lands as fake. So let’s just say I wasn’t moved; but this is not a 1 star because it’s clear the director’s the first one to blame (and I want to leave Anne Bancroft the exclusivity of being the only performer so far, for Agnes of God, to get the abysmal 1 star from me) for stirring her on this unfortunate path. And she does try try try, but I am not impressed.

Conclusion: My first reaction was that I don’t want to pick a winner, since I feel none of them deserves that Oscar, but I feel very confident now by going with Meryl.

How the voting will go: Emma will win, and Isabelle is the potential spoiler, with all the campaigning and buzz and fake buzz that have been going around. Meryl is 3rd because she gives great speeches. Natalie must be 4th and maybe Ruth last.

What’s next: Probably 1962, since I’ve already started seeing the films. And I need a GREAT year to make me forget about 2016’s lineup.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

          My vote - Best Actress 1940

I would say this is widely regarded as the most prestigious Best Actress race of the 1940s. 

I chose this year having seen 3 of the 5 films and knowing, and in some case hoping, they will be pleasant to sit-through. And so they were, with the monumental exception of Our Town, which was quite bad. 

Ginger Rogers surprisingly won the race against two previous winners and one remarkable breakthrough performance in a Best Picture winner. I expect fellow readers familiar with these performances will quite disagree with the following ranking. :)

Here is how I would have voted:

1. Bette Davis, in The Letter

The role: Bette plays Leslie Crosbie , the wife of a 1920s plantation owner in Indonesia, who shoots her lover in a moment of rage and tries to escape the consequences.

The film: I like it because it’s so well directed, never boring, and captivating through its performances. Let me say again what a subtle achievement this is for William Wyler, a director too often forgotten nowadays.

The performance: Bette delivers in a film that is mostly a vehicle for her amazing talent and consistent run of remarkable performances. Maybe I am a touch subjective, but there is no wrong note, nothing false, no hesitation: she manages to blend her experience of owning a scene with touches of sensibility and vulnerability. When the camera is on her, she is breathtaking and always captivating. Those expressive eyes bring extra layers of depth to the character, who could have simply been a delicious slightly crazy diva. This ranks easily as one of my favourite performances of hers.

2. Katharine Hepburn, in The Philadelphia Story

The role: Kate plays Tracy Lord, a socialite whose upcoming wedding is crushed by her ex-husband, two reporters and some romantic entanglements.

The film: While the film lacks a clear direction in the second half, it’s considered something of a classic today, also because of its rich group of actors. I like it when it’s funny, but don’t worship it.

The performance: First, it needs to be stated that it’s a strong performance throughout the film, covering both of its aspects. The comedic first half is handled in a relaxed way, but with that specific Hepburn touch of intelligence and independence even when the screenplay is being a bit silly. The few more profound (dramatic doesn’t feel right) scenes in the second half somehow work against the film as they throw it a bit off balance, but they take the performance to a different level, giving Kate a chance to show vulnerability and to stand out from her fellow cast mates. Jimmy Stewart might have (undeservedly) won the Oscar, but she is the star of the film. 

3. Ginger Rogers, in Kitty Foyle

The role: Ginger plays the title character, a woman from a modest background who, through a series of experiences, comes out as an example of the modern woman.

The film: Nothing remarkable, really, but not awful. Some choices in the story feel kind of fresh for that era, but the film ends up forgettable.

The performance: This has to rank as one of the most forgotten Best Actress wins in Oscar’s history and also one of the less seen. Given how it must’ve been voting nostalgia for the Ginger Rogers – Fred Astaire days of her career, I expected it to be bad. Actually, it wasn’t. What stops it from being a great one is the film itself; it offers a platform for a strong performance, and, while it’s not dull acting we are seeing, there is nothing too memorable either. There is honesty in the way Ginger creates the character, and also smartness, and also sentiment. But doesn’t feel like an exciting winner (or performance).

4. Joan Fontaine, in Rebecca

The role: Joan plays the Second Mrs. de Winter (unnamed), a young naïve woman, who marries a mysterious widower, with a complicated past.

The film: It’s arguably my favourite Hitchock film: a great combination of a haunting story, remarkable characters, an incredible sense of noir and at least a scene that ranks high among the best in world cinema.

The performance: …and still, with all this love I have for the film, I can’t embrace Joan’s much-acclaimed performance. Clearly, she was a favorite to win the Oscar and I know at least one blogger who would rank this as being remarkable, but Joan’s style of acting (that I also penalized in 1941’s ranking with Suspicion) is too visible for me, too obvious and predictable. So many uh’s and ah’s on her face in each damn scene. No subtlety and a dated style of acting. I feel generous with my ranking. The scenes where all this exacerbated ingenuity works are the ones in Rebecca’s room, with the help of the director. Her ability to show tears and fear as she succumbs to dark thoughts is appreciated even by me. Beyond that, I was mostly unimpressed. A 2.5.

5. Martha Scott, in Our Town

The role: Martha plays Emily Webb, a character we follow from her teenage years to adulthood, throughout her normal life in a small town.

The film: I can only imagine the play must be just as bad. It’s a boring, uneventful film that suddenly turns what the fuck and then boring again.

The performance: Only once has it happened for me to give a 1 start ranking to a performance and up to the last 20 minutes or so I was convinced I was about to do that again. But something happened plot-wise that showed potential, it was unexpected and gave Martha something to work with. Gone were the silly affectations of a woman playing a teenager and we were discovering something dramatic, tragic, a life and death situation. But that lasted only a few minutes and while aptly delivered, it didn’t change my overall take on the performance drastically. We could still do without such a nominee.

Conclusion: It was easy for me to pick a winner here. The performances by Hepburn & Fontaine and even Bette’s (though she’s the best) have taken somewhat of an iconic status over time.

How the voting went: It must have been insanely close. I am sure Rogers winning must’ve had something to do with all the love & popularity gained during her dancing on screen years. But Fontaine was a shoo-in for the win, hit all the right Oscar notes. So she was definitely 2nd. And Hepburn a close 3rd. My darling Bette had won 2 Oscars in the previous 6 years so they weren’t willing to consider her for another win. Martha 5th, I imagine (and hope).

What’s next: Best Actress 2016, of course. :)