Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Best Actress 1977

A very interesting line-up, an iconic performance that changed both fashion and comedy acting and all movies that were also nominated for Best Picture. These are the 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1977:

from left to right, I have the pleasure to introduce:
  • Jane Fonda, for Julia
  • Diane Keaton, for Annie Hall
  • Marsha Mason, for The Goodbye Girl
  • Anne Bancroft, for The Turning Point
  • Shirley MacLaine, for The Turning Point
Which one's my favorite? I could give a wild guess now :) but I'd rather watch the movies again.
I'll just take each performance, one at a time and talk about it. I'll do the ranking at the end and decide my winner.
Oh, the '70s... fun! fun! fun!

p.s.: an interesting trivia: Herbert Ross is the only director to have 3 leading actresses competing in the same year for Best Actress (Marsha, Anne & Shirley).

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Next. and some Opening Night confession

I was thinking about what year / category to do next. After some thinking I decided to stick with the Best Actress category at least until I do a year for each decade of Oscar. It will be very interesting for me to tackle some older nominees. But unfortunately I have only two or three options / decade as some movies are still impossible to find here.
I would have went for the '90s next, but an accidental viewing of this movie made me go for the '70s first, 1977 to be more exact. The film is Opening Night, by John Cassavetes. I didn't really like the film, but Gena Rowlands was AMAZING in it! And, still, she DIDN'T :(( receive an Oscar nomination.
I obviously knew this, but watching her incredible performance, I was like: WTF, Oscar?? Didn't you voters see this?? It's a way of saying she was totally SNUBBED of a nomination and possibly a win.

And the year wasn't even that strong + she got a Golden Globe nom for it, so I don't see what happened. F*ckin' outrageous!
I won't do a profile, as she's not one of the nominees. But I'll just mention the plot: An actress suffers an emotional uproar in her personal life after a fan dies trying to see her. And I'll mention an interesting trivia: this was the inspiration point for Almodovar's (masterpiece) Todo sobre mi madre (1999).

Gena Rowlands is SO good especially in the first part, playing desperation and anxiety to perfection. It's not an easy character to follow and the film gets messy. But this is Oscar material to say the least and she gives a performance that should be a landmark and studied by any young actress outthere.

So Best Actress 1977 is next, to get a better look at the 5 ladies that stole Gena Rowland's nomination.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

There's justice in the world

I salute the Emmys for recognizing Mad Men as the Best Drama Series of the past season. Has there ever been a show this classy on television?
P.S.: Joan rocks!!!

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Final Conclusions - Best Actress 2000

Due to personal sh!t (that unfortunately I’ll keep in mind for the rest of my life), 2000 took much longer than expected. I’m certainly more willing to move faster and I already have a new year chosen and ready to jump for the movies.

But back to Best Actress 2000, a couple of things noticed:
  • Bjork was snubbed of both nomination & win – but I guess that didn’t need saying :)
  • It’s a way better year than I remembered it to be. So it’s safe to say that this category was vastly underrated and one of the best of the decade regarding Best Actress.

  • Julia Roberts should have won a popularity contest, but not the Oscar. Oh, wait: aren’t these the same? Ha ha. No.

  • I think that Julia Roberts won because she’s in every scene of Erin Brockovich. I know Laura Linney was probably the runner-up, but I’d like to think that Burstyn actually had a chance. Julia Roberts had 115 minutes of screentime, while Ellen Burstyn only 35 minutes. You do the math.

So here's how I scored these ladies (based on the analysis made in previous posts) and a small recap:

1. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream

With the biggest story arc of them all, she takes the character from nice old lady to an unexpected drug addict monster. It could have easily been a boring one note performance or overacting like hell, but Burstyn embraces the loneliness of Sara, creating a warm, sad, believable character. Her gestures in the monologue scene are gold and she sells every sequence she’s in even the crazy ones.

2. Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me

Can one scene bring the Oscar? It seems not. But, although a bit too tight at first, Linney shows dramatic range and lots of fun playing this almost desperate housewife. She’s so natural, it’s just crazy and you have to fall for her. I love the reading of Because I feel sorry for them, when justifying why she sleeps with men. And the last important scene of the film makes you understand the entire performance.

3. Joan Allen, The Contender
There’s lots of political talking in this movie and Miss Allen (as always) lives up to the challenge. She’s serious, incredibly natural, she looks sharp, smart and has a strong grip on the vulnerabily of the character. Joan is flawless and totally adequate for a mostly restrained role.

4. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
She’s in every scene of it, playing white trash woman turned human rights hero. She has a big mouth, a willing to fight and a certain charm to attract the audience. Julia mixes a bit of vulgarity with tons of hotness to create an effective performance, that unfortunately has too much of a Hollywood feel on it.

5. Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
I love the character to death and those red shoes alone deserve some kind of an award. But she’s meant to be nice or sad and she has only a scene or two that show some fierce power. Almost delicious to look at, she’s there 100% when the script asks her to.

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Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream

This is a performance that sits on the edge of supporting, yet it’s such a shocking role and delivery, a brilliant piece of acting, that it suddenly becomes the center of the movie and I honestly stopped caring about any other character in the film. It’s a crazy, Oscar-baity role in a movie that is dying to shock you. Don’t you just love a comeback? After 20 years, here she goes again, better than ever…
35 minutes and 36 seconds
36.8% of the film
Requiem for a Dream
The hopes and dreams of four ambitious people are shattered when their drug addictions begin spiraling out of control.
Hell, yeah:
Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly; the crazy editing that sometimes actually works. Ellen Burstyn’s monologue is fabulous, the music is great, creepy & it stays with you.
Oh, no:
Requiem is ambitious, but it comes down with a student movie feeling attached to it. Don’t get me wrong, a great student movie, but still: the stories were a bit undeveloped, it felt rushed at times and the ending… well, rather predictable, I would have chosen something more sophisticated and less moral. And too much crazy editing bothers you at times.
Ellen Burstyn, as Sara Goldfarb
Here you have one of the greatest actresses of her generation (I mean it; go see The Exorcist again) on the top of her game. Of course the monologue helps but it’s Burstyn who does miracles with the character by giving us just the right amount of Sara, enough to create a small addiction to the character :) We want to see more of Sara, although it’s easy to predict that she’s not gonna end up well.
In a sentence, Sara Goldfarb is a nice old widow trying to lose weight because she’s dreaming of appearing on a TV show; she starts taking the wrong pills and insanity is just one step away. The character suffers a full transformation during the 90 minutes of the film. In the beginning, we see Sara as being either childishly excited about her future TV appearance or upset about the fact she’s not losing any weight. Anyone who’s ever been on a diet (I subscribe) knows how obsessive that feels.
Burstyn portrays Sara as any other mother or grandmother out there, she nails the gestures of a simple woman trying to enjoy what’s left of life. Her forced optimism is heartbreaking and it betrays the deep emotional wounds of this woman. As the monologue scene unravels, we realize the immense tragedy of the lonely woman getting old.
We know from the start that her son is no good and that her husband has died. Yet it’s not until this scene we notice the true loneliness of Sara. I recommend you watch the scene again on youtube. It’s the monologue on loneliness.
So her son comes to visit, and she’s already taking drugs and losing it a bit, but to the people outside she seems normal. It’s the last scene before the character sinks full speed into madness. First Sara is very happy to see her son, but provoked by him, she starts explaining her unhealthy devotion to small think like losing weight or the neighbor’s opinion.
I’ve got no one to take care of, she says while breaking down. Burstyn is great in this highly vulnerable moment. It’s an explanation of the tragedy of getting old. She perfectly balances the tears, her eyes show the deep fear of the character that has been abandoned by her son and husband. She has nothing to live for, except for this cruel promise that she’s gonna be on TV.
The scene is played with such experience that I was instantly moved, I listed and understood every word Sara said. It’s a powerful scene and a moment in the performance that changes ones real life perspective on a matter like this one.
Monstrous thing getting old; that’s what I thought. And Burstyn is there, doing more than justice to the character. She gives a smile, yet keeping the tears, an attempt of the character to cheep on when it’s obvious that everything around her is crumbling. An Oscar moment, if there ever has been one.
Then, from Sara’s perspective, the movie takes a horror turn. You can feel it even starting with the camera shots. She’s losing her mind and the fears and the desires come mixing with the real life.
She’s scared, not able to separate the fantasy from the reality. Sara is like a child scared by the monsters. We like her, we want her to get better. But we know she won’t.
Aronofsky is a sadist son a bitch. He makes us see her reaching the lowest of the low. We don’t want to look, but we can’t help it.
I just wanted to be on the show, she tells the producers. Her monstrous look certainly helps the performance. Burstyn doesn’t hold back in portraying the magnitude of insanity.
It’s very very dramatic as we know how normal she was at the beginning, before the pills stepped in. It’s a tragedy, yet something magic for any movie fan interested in seeing an actress going for it without any self-control.
A bold performance, if there has ever been one. It could have seemed unnatural, comical in some way, but it’s done perfectly by Burstyn who understands the real tragedy of the character. There photos as just as heartbreaking by themselves.
A performance not (just) because it’s showy, but because it’s deeper then what you might remember and it was brave for Burstyn to take the role. And she did magic with it.
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me

I knew this was gonna happen and I’m very happy it did: finding a performance that I totally dismissed years ago, but completing changing my mind now – years after. It’s part of the reason I started this archive: to clear things up in my head and give a true second chance to one performance or another. Before giving another chance to these 5 performances, I was quite sure Laura Linney is going straight for #5. Happily, that's not the case now…

approximately 67 minutes and 4 seconds
63% of the film
You Can Count on Me
A single mother's life is thrown into turmoil after her struggling, rarely-seen younger brother returns to town.
Hell, yeah:
The two leading actors; I didn’t expect Mark Ruffalo to rise to the occasion, but he did, with one or two great moments. It’s nice to see a loser done right. :) About Laura later on. There were one or two funny scenes, but let’s face it: without Linney, there wouldn’t be much to say about this film.
Oh, no:
It’s a quiet small indie film and that might be a problem if the genre is not your coup of tea. I found it to be nice, but at times too quiet indeed. I didn’t like Matthew Broderick, but I forgive him because of a shitty role. Although it has its moments, the screenplay didn’t wow me. The characters are dislikeable at the begging, even Linney’s.
Laura Linney, as Sammy Prescott

The Good:
This is a performance that just goes from a bit annoying to ok to great to FABULOUS in her last scene with her brother. It was probably built that way, trying to give some intensity to the otherwise trite ending. I’m quite sure Laura brings to the table much more than the role demanded the actress to give. She’s always a step ahead of the character, and I say that in a good way. It’s a performance that carries the character and not the other way around.
We see Sammy as the loving sister to a loser brother. It’s the first important scene of the film and although Sammy seems like a frigid fake woman, that’s not exactly true. Linney can play the neurotic Sammy, but also gives clues that this not a one-dimension hysterical woman – she’s also kind and loving and has moments of crazy honesty.

Her dynamic with Ruffalo’s Terry becomes more successful as the story takes a shape. We also find out that Sammy is not a robot; her instinct puts her in crazy situations at times, like sleeping with her married soon-to-be-a-father boss. As the film progresses, we feel like the character is finally starting to “get a life”.
I especially liked one scene where Sammy goes to the catholic priest to confess her adultery. There’s a funny line delivered perfectly by Linney, who’s using her comedic talent full speed: I don't know what the church’s official position is on fornication and adultery these days…
But Sammy is also a single mom and she faces a very difficult moment when she’s put in a way to choose between the brother she loves and the son she adores but wants to keep safe. She tries to keep them both close to her, but vanities are too high.
And we slowly get to my favorite scene, acted brilliantly by Laura Linney. It’s close to the end of the film and she has to say goodbye to her brother who’s leaving town again.
I found myself taking snapshots every 2 seconds during this 5 minutes or so scene. It was a really fascinating piece of acting. The moment where she says she feels like she’ll never see him again is heartbreaking. But he tries to calm her down telling her everything will be fine. It’s a totally different Sammy from the beginning of the film. She’s not a control freak, just a vulnerable human being. Her crying is so natural and heartwarming. These are photos from that scene - way too many :)
The Bad & the Ugly:

Nothing bad, but there were scenes where I felt like… oops, Laura, you’ll be still doing the same scene 7 years from now. Yes, this was made waaaay before The Savages, but in a couple of neurotic scene or uncomfortable ones, Sammy seemed just like Wendy from Savages.
Even the same look. But as this was first, it’s totally excusable.


Would it be fair to give an Oscar just for one scene? Of course, Julia won, but I’m talking about my Oscar, my vote, what could I base it upon? Laura Linney gives a good performance even before we get to the end of the film. But it’s obvious that my are based 90% of that 5 minutes scene. Laura knows when to make Sammy obnoxious, funny, frigid, crazy, neurotic, she has a good grip on the character and gives it much more than its potential. What happens if I’m interested only in the final part of the character’s arc which translated to a great interest in the last touches of the performance? Who knows. Yet, it’s a performance which without shocking does leave a mark.

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