Friday, August 27, 2010

Gosford Park, Howards End...

No, I haven't seen them again, but it's my moral obligation / pleasure to indicate some writing that Andrew (Encore's World of Film & TV) did on these two film, which are some of his alltime favorites. He's actually doing a countdown and I congratulate him for such a brave idea.

I was happy to contribute with some short writings on these two film and it so happens that I wrote some of the best paragraphs I ever did - which surprises me, but I must blame the films for being so inspiring.

Gosford Park

what I wrote:

It is by far my favourite Robert Altman! Even that says enough; and what could be more interesting than seeing the flawless product of a director at the height of his career? Nobody else could have directed this: the casting is great and the acting beyond words, probably Helen Mirren’s best performance. Gosford Park gathers comedy and mystery and drama and romance and wraps it all up in that touch of arrogance and glamour that just makes me wanna ask for more.

Click HERE to see Andrew's take on it.

Howards End

what I wrote:
There is something peaceful and quiet about Howards End, starting with Vanessa’s haunting walk and introduction. To me, it feels like the essence of the British countryside, of elegance and that high class feeling that Brits always put in their period films. Howards End is, to me, James Ivory’s greatest achievement, such a delicate film, but with such power of acting and fascinating plot.

Click HERE to see Andrew's take on it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Judy Holliday, in Born Yesterday
approximately 70 minutes and 47 seconds
72.9% of the film

The film

A million dollar tycoon hires a tutor to teach his lover proper etiquette.
You can read my thoughts on the film just by clicking HERE.

I see Born Yesterday as a film driven by one powerful force called Judy Holliday. Her performance is so memorable and fully responsible for the fun that the movie has to offer. It’s not a well balanced film, but the first 30-40 minutes are pure gold and filled with comedy talent.

Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn

If you were to listen to what people have to say about Best Actress 1950, Judy’s is one of the 3 performances that made this race so historical. Her Oscar win was quite infamous for many decades and a surprise at that time: didn’t Gloria Swanson say at one point that she was sure to win?! Even a hand of existing critic groups were going for drama: Gloria had won the Golden Globe and the National Board of Review and Bette Davis had the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle Award…

But Oscar voters ignored the catfight and went for a performance half dramatic half legendary comedy. Judy’s work has continuously influenced comedy acting for decades! Let’s not forget Jean Hagen’s delicious copycat performance in Singin’ in the Rain, how it was clearly inspired by Judy.

Judy Holliday reprises her Broadway role as Billie Dawn, the mistress of a rich half-gangster businessman, who travels to Washington with him and finds herself tutored by an honest, charming journalist. It’s partly a pygmalion story, as the two of them fall in love. Billie is uneducated, doesn’t know how to properly behave, but you can tell she has a kind heart and is a good person. The transformation of the character is charming, but it shifts the film from silly comedy to more dramatic, morally important scenes.

There are two sides to the performance: the entertaining one and the heart-warming side. Billie is beautiful and pleasantly vulgar in her way of talking. The first line of the character is WHAAAAAT??? screamed with that annoying voice that just keeps making me laugh. But Judy’s performance is a winner even outside language tricks: her way of walking, her silly dance, the bit of arrogance in her eyes… The first 30 minutes make for a performance that needs to be seen to be believed.

So many good scenes, but I have to go back to one of my alltime favourites: the gin rummy game! She is hilarious and spots every comedy moment and every opportunity to shine and give even more boost to the character’s funny persona. Those who’ve seen the film will never forget it, especially the dialogue like: - 41!!! - 41??? - 41!!!! :)) Her chemistry with Broderick Crawford is incredibly affective all throughout the film and their sarcastic dialogues are simply brilliant.

Then there’s the more dramatic side of the character. As I said, Judy is beautiful, but just look into those expressive eyes and you’ll feel the kindness and also the unfulfillment of Billie, who truly wants to be smarter and more respected, but for some reason is unable to see it for herself or to take a step in that direction.

You can feel she’s hurt everytime he talks down to her and offends her and Judy is perfectly capable to also deliver this side of the character – it may not be as fun for us, the audience, but it definitely shows even more range in her acting. And I shouldn’t even mention the slapping scene and how (thankfully) she deliberately makes it uncomfortable and challenging for the audience.

I’m sure the Oscar voters were charmed by this performance, found it both incredibly funny and heartbreaking, as did I and truth is: just looking at Judy puts a smile on your face! I have no more to write that the rating itself .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Best Actress 1950

It was decided by destiny that 1950 is gonna be the next year in line. I was hoping for it, but a bit scared at the same time: what an intimidating, famous, historical line-up this is. I guess only 1939 could match the importance of this Best Actress year.

It it well known for Bette Davis's return to brilliant performances after a couple of dry years, for the comeback of a silent movie star in a role that became iconic (hell, even I have it as a header on this blog) and the mystery of Judy Holliday getting past these ladies and stealing the Oscar. Though, for those who've seen Born Yesterday, it's not much of a mystery.

It's also the year that gave us the first two actresses competing for Best Actress for the same film and the year that set the tone for those incredible 50s, filled with remarkable performances and fascinating roles for women. It's also a pleasure to finally write about Bette Davis (and what an entrance, I couldn't have done better), my favorite actress next to Meryl Streep.

Here are the 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1950:

from left to right, I have the pleasure to introduce:

  • Judy Holliday, in Born Yesterday
  • Bette Davis, in All About Eve
  • Eleanor Parker, in Caged
  • Anne Baxter, in All About Eve
  • Gloria Swanson, in Sunset Blvd.

Judy, Oscar's winner, will be first.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The next Best Actress year...

I have posted the draw on Youtube and here it is. There is nothing entertaining about it, it's just to let you know I wasn't cheating. I never cheat, because I believe a lot in letting destiny decide. :) I don't take doubles! It so happens that this Best Actress year is one of the historical ones and one that pleases me.

The 19 eligible / available years were:
(I must remember you that 37, 47, 57 & 65 had already been discussed)
33, 39, 40, 43, 44, 46, 48, 50, 53, 54, 56, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 69

It's the easiest one so far :) If you want to guess and not look at the video! :P I'm gonna give clues on the winning year. No cheating and from-your-own-memory only. Plus, I've mentioned the years, which makes it even more easier.
- a legendary actress / Hollywood movie star!
- a silent-movie darling;
- an iconic comedy performance (but not performer).

If you open it, go to the ending for the answer. There's no sound :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Best Actress Analysis: Special Emmy Edition – Episode 2/2: Drama

In case you’ve missed episode 1 (the comedy performances), click HERE.

I’ve been following the Emmys for a couple of years now and they are quite interesting because of their strange choices, because they are considered THE television awards and because of their voting system.

To vote the winner of the category, you don’t have to see all the episodes from the season. Just one episode that the nominee submits. (that’s why it’s such an important decision that the nominee has to make). So, just like any other voter :P I’ve watched the tapes of the nominees and I am ready to judge.

And now getting to the Drama nominees, here they are:

Connie Britton – Friday Night Lights (“After the Fall”)
Glenn Close – Damages (“Your Secrets Are Safe”)
Mariska Hargitay – Law & Order: SVU (“Perverted”)
January Jones – Mad Men (“The Gypsy & the Hobo”)
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (“Threesome”)
Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer (“Maternal Instincts”)

Their performances in these episodes made me divide them into 3 sets: the fabulous (1&2), the very good (3&4) and the wtf (5&6).

This is how I would rank the performances based on the episodes, my vote quality-wise:

1. Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (“Threesome”)

The episode: It’s the first episode I’ve seen from The Good Wife and it was an interesting sit-through, considering I was familiar with the subject. Time flew by and in the end it proved quite enjoyable. I’m sure Julianna submitted well.

The performance: She is winning the Emmy because the episode has lots of Emmy-friendly elements. She gets to cry a bit, she portrayals the strong career woman but yet fragile in her personal life. She has a lot of screentime and a lot of likeability. I thought both she and Kyra Sedwick had great episodes, but Julianna is so pretty I just couldn’t get my eyes off her. Her sweetness combined with serious acting WILL bring her the Emmy. 4/5.

2. Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer (“Maternal Instincts”)

The episode: It was an ok episode as far as procedurals can go. It was not as boring as SVU and, although forced a bit towards the end, it had a decent story. I’ve only seen other 2 episodes from the whole series and I know Kyra usually rocks. I think she submitted a terrific tape…

The performance: … and the tape is so terrific because she does get a personal storyline, mostly not connected to the case. She has to take care of her niece and also solve a murder case. Her maternal instinct comes from her attachment to a teenager victim and she gets a wonderful, touching crying scene which would justify my idea. If there is a dark horse in this race, I think it’s Kyra! A very solid performance: 4/5.

3. January Jones – Mad Men (“The Gypsy & the Hobo”)

The episode: Mad Men is the only series out of these nominees that I watch constantly (actually, I LOVE IT!), so it was nice to watch the episode again. The episode is almost all about John Hamm’s character, but January does get a couple of really good scenes. And it WAS time for her to get nominated.

The performance: As I said, the episode is not about Betty, her character. But she gets a couple of very intense scenes, in which she confronts her husband with the truth: she had found out about his past! That scene where she goes with him to the desk is dynamite. It’s that look on her face, of anger, frustration, nervousness, anxiousness, shame (!) that just makes me rank her 3rd. She is terrific with the scenes she has. 3/5.

4. Glenn Close – Damages (“Your Secrets Are Safe”)

The episode: I’m sure Glenn submitted far better tapes in the past. I’ve only seen the pilot of Damages and another episode (I think) and lost my interest. This one is ok to watch and she appears in most of the episode (I admit I fast-forwarded a bit in the Rose Byrne boring scenes :P). The episode is quite tangled, but not hard to follow.

The performance: Glenn is always a thrill to watch, and she would’ve been 3rd in my ranking, had I not had a soft spot for Mad Men. She gets to express a lot of emotions with her eyes (she IS a fabulous actress, who could argue that?!), but doesn’t have that big Emmy winning scene, that I imagine one should have! Her character is quite emotional and nostalgic in this episode and her usual Patty in an interrogation scene, but no wow factor – just a solid performance: 3/5.

5. Connie Britton – Friday Night Lights (“After the Fall”)

The episode: Now here’s a tv series I’ll NEVER watch. The episode was boring and I know the show has lots of fans; I’ll never be one of them. It looked smart and ok made, but the camera work was distracting to me and Connie doesn’t get much to do either. Kyle Chandler seemed great, though.

The performance: I’ve heard a lot of people complaining over the past years that Connie Britton didn’t get a nomination and I’m sure they were delighted this year. I don’t know if she submitted badly, but boy was I not impressed. She gets 2 or 3 scenes in this: one is an argument with her husband but it’s very underplayed, one is a bigger setting the things right scene meant to be smart but it lacks the spark and then there’s a booing. Some are predicting her as a runner-up: zero chances. 1.5/5.

6. Mariska Hargitay – Law & Order: SVU (“Perverted”)

The episode: If the Friday Night Lights episode was boring, this one was interestingly ridiculous (!) Olivia, the big detective, is a suspect for murder, but the episode is soooo streched and outrageously convenient at one point that I can’t believe this is still on the air and successful. Waste of time.

The performance: I don’t know, Mariska is doing her regular thing (I’ve seen scenes from other episodes in the past), giving the same one-note investigative performance. The exception here is a final scene where she gets a confrontation with a killer from the past (who was framing her) and she gets to shout once or twice and that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong: she is never bad, but I’m sure there were many other actresses outthere worthy of a nomination. 1.5/5.

Objectively judging by their chances of winning: the following #1 is a lock, numbers 2 & 3 might get some votes, the other 3: no chance really.

1. Julianna Margulies (NO doubt about it: because she is popular, submitted a great episode and is on a wave of wins)
very difficult from here on:
2. Kyra Sedgwick (she’s the dark horse with a very good tape, it’s her 5th consecutive nom)
3. Glenn Close (initially #2, but she has already won 2 years in a row)
4. January Jones (good performance, but not enough screentime)
5. Connie Britton (I don’t care how many fans FNL has, the submission is not good enough)
6. Mariska Hargitay (she already has an Emmy and her tape is just boring)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1978

I’ve promised to write a bit about screentime first, because 1978 offered interesting extreme cases. As you might’ve noticed, I do my own counting and it’s fun for me and very interesting. I also keep a table with the screentime for the performances mentioned so far (12 Best Actress years done, which means 60 performances). In case you were wondering, Top 5 looks something like this:

And the bottom of the chart is now:

The 3rd column represents the actual time on screen (when we see the actress or any body part/clothing of hers on camera background included, it also includes voice if it’s not doubled, but doesn’t include photos of the character – trust me, that was an issue with Darling). The last column represents the % of actually being on screen in the film. Obviously, they’re not exact numbers, but I’m pretty responsible with it.

Now, as you can see Jill Clayburgh got in with over 100 minutes (I believe no one can ever take Julia down) and it was a surprise, Burstyn is also there, but the important record for these 12 years is Geraldine Page having the shortest amount of time (also because Interiors is like 85 minutes). She has under 20 minutes and I actually believe it might be an alltime record. Could any other Best Actress performance have less screentime?! But do notice that Simone Signoret, although she has more minutes, has less percentage of the film (because Ship of Fools is around 140-150 minutes).

So the conclusion is: how can you compare Jill Clayburgh’s performance (106 minutes) to Geraldine Page’s performance (19 minutes)?! I guess that’s why, except for the winner, this year’s ranking is so difficult.

I admit I knew Bergman was winning even before starting this year. There was no way anyone could top her brilliant performance, which easily enters the same category with Vivien’s Streetcar and Gone with the Wind, Elizabeth’s Virginia Woolf, Bette’s All About Eve and Baby Jane and a couple more. So #1 was very easy for me. But how can you compare Jane Fonda’s quiet falling in love with Jill’s emancipated woman with Geraldine’s theatrical breakdown? You really can’t!!! I know I couldn’t. I’ve actually changed my mind at least twice before posting this… Their acting is so different in style! So, let’s try!

Here is how I’ve appreciated them (just my opinion, no universal truth). If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

What can you write about one of the top 5 performances this category’s ever seen? It’s Ingrid’s best written role and her best performance, in my opinion. She takes a complex character, difficult dialogue, intrusive camera work, and delivers a brilliant performance, peeling off every possible layer of the character and still, somehow, keeping so much mystery that you end up being fascinated by this Charlotte woman.

The highlight: Her vulnerability, her breakdown when emotionally cornered by her daughter.

Though I still believe she was not the perfect choice for the role, Jane brings her magic and delivers a heartwarming performance that stayed with me weeks after seeing it. The film doesn’t love her character, so she has to work harder than the other nominees. It feels like a one-note, too simple performance, but everytime you look into Jane’s eyes you can feel the struggle of the character and what the real Sally is all about.

The highlight: having to say goodbye on the beach to the man she really loves.

The film is basically a one-woman show and it does feel modern and 70s in a very fashionable way. I realize now that Jill does have the charisma required for the role and I did believe her performance. It’s definitely not an easy role, yet I still had some problems fully relating to the character. I didn’t care what happened to Erica, but I did respect the effort and the charm that Jill put into the role.

The highlight: pretending to be a great ballerina.

There is something so majestic, so royal, so dignified, so diva-like about Geraldine Page’s performance. She is like a great queen on the verge of complete breakdown and we are lucky enough to take a look and see what happens. The film has both style and substance and to me the performance was more stylish, because I adored her on screen more that I agreed with her feelings – which I understood, but I was too mesmerized by the interiors and how well she fitted in the picture.

The highlight: her emotional ups and downs in the birthday party scene.

I’ve said it before: you can always count of Ellen Burstyn to take a more or less mediocre-character and make it charming and mostly believable. Ellen’s Doris is the heart of the film and probably best in show, but even so: there are ups and downs in the performance. I disliked the hippie image, but I adored the blonde Doris and most of all the older Doris. It’s that last chapter that makes you forget all the previous shakiness in the performance and really embrace the character.

The highlight: having to refuse the marriage proposal of the man she loves.

Was the winner a real surprise? No one can argue on Ingrid’s masterclass performance, but you could’ve guessed it had non-performance-related stuff against her: it was a foreign language film and she already had 3 Oscars, one of which just a few years before. So Jane won (to me she was fantastic in Julia the year before and I’m sure that helped). From here on, it’s a wild guess: Ingrid must have been 2nd because of brilliance, I guess Jill was 3rd because of coolness, Geraldine Page 4th (I know it was her 6th nomination, but I do believe the screentime wasn’t enough for a win here) and Ellen last.

Other Best Actress years discussed so far:

What’s next: before the next draw (which will be from 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s), I will post my Emmy analysis of Best Actress in a Drama Series (you might remember I wrote about Comedy Actress 2 weeks ago).

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Geraldine Page, in Interiors
approximately 19 minutes and 20 seconds*
22.7% of the film

The film

Three sisters find their lives spinning out of control in the wake of their parents' sudden, unexpected divorce.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

I have a weakness for Interiors, because it’s that great combination of the depth of a good Woody Allen drama and a style that has yet to be matched by an American film. Woody takes some great Ingmar Bergman elements and creates a cool, arrogant, sophisticated drama.

Geraldine Page as Eve

What does screentime mean for a performance? I used to write more about it, because I do feel that it’s an important element influencing the performance as a whole. Even if you have the ability to tell everything about a character with a 5 seconds look, you still need minutes and minutes to really create a solid material eligible for a Best Actress title. Some get a lot of screentime and do nothing (good) with it. Others, like Geraldine Page here, get little time on screen but manage to definitely make an impression in just 19 minutes (for MORE on 1978’s screentime, check the Final Conclusions next week, I’ll have some space reserved for an analysis on this subject).

Much-respected actress Geraldine Page plays Eve, a cold, emotionally distant, rich woman with a huge passion and a talent for interior decorating. When her husband leaves her, Eve goes through a series of nervous breakdowns, becomes emotionally unstable and unsuccessfully tries to find a new meaning in life. The character is mostly a mystery, but still relatable. She is presented through the eyes of her daughters and, even though she is not present onscreen, she is the character people revolve around.

To have a character that is justifiably on everyone’s mind throughout the film, you must be able to create a really fascinating person. Eve IS that character and she is constructed to be as stylish as the wonderful interiors she creates. Looking at her, I thought of a lady, of high-class, coldness and arrogance, which perfectly fit those rooms she lives in and the beautiful things she likes. Even if she wasn’t the first choice to play Eve, Geraldine seems very fit for the character. She has that royal quality, she inspires respect, but you can also see her as a cold person, distant, maybe even a bit crazy. I like her matriarchal persona.

Moving away from the image of Eve, I look for the interiors of the character. I’m not sure how Eve was like before her breakdown, but I guess not that different. Geraldine has an interesting, risky take on the character: Eve talks like in a whisper, yet often changes her mood during a dialogue. There’s a delicacy to her way of being which seems exaggerated at times, but I can understand it: it just underlines and feeds the frailty, the vulnerability of Eve.

I think her best acting moments are when she’s constantly arguing with her daughter Joey and, most of all, her 1 minute nervous breakdown next to the window. She suddenly starts crying and I was quite empathetic because I’ve been to that dark place and the way Geraldine constructs the moment seems so fit for the character and yet a bit embarrassing (which is good), uncomfortable for that certain moment when everyone’s around.

I’ve mentioned risky earlier, because Eve ends up being very theatrical as a person. There are moments when I’m wondering if she’s more of a drama queen than a really sick person. Is she a victim, a sick person or is she just incredibly spoiled and arrogant? I don’t know the answer.

However, even if Eve is not a likeable person, I can understand her emotions. Which leaves me quite confused about the performance: it’s cold enough to fit the tone of the film and with one smile Geraldine can show a different side of the character. But I had moments when I was like: who is this woman making strange faces, maybe a bit crazy? Was Geraldine overacting or was she just incredibly INTO the character and properly playing the emotionally-disturbed card? I’m quite confused and find it impossible to judge. I’m going with , as I don’t find it brilliant and more than a 3 would make uncomfortable. I love Interiors, but I’m trying not to get carried away with everything.

P.S.: How haunting is her presence in her last scene? Ghostly, very inspired.

*** I didn’t count some of those seconds in the water scene, where I’m sure they used a stunt double.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Jill Clayburgh, in An Unmarried Woman
approximately 106 minutes and 9 seconds
82.2% of the film

The film

A mature woman from Manhattan's Upper East Side struggles to deal with her new identity and her sexuality after her husband leaves her for a younger woman.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

I admire the film more than I like it. While I consider it to be a road-opener, it’s not really a pleasant sit-through for me. The second part didn’t catch my interest, but I will always admit it’s a stylish film.

Jill Clayburgh as Erica

I’ve realized a couple of days ago that Jill Clayburgh’s performance is this film has got to be the most iconic of the 5 nominees and one of the most recognizable (at least for American audiences) of the 1970s. I don’t know if it’s the whole independent woman thing or just her silly dance at the beginning of the film, but many consider this to be a great acting achievement and a step in changing the image of the modern woman. I agree, more or less.

Jill plays Erica, a woman in her late 30s, living a great life: she has wonderful friends, a smart teenage daughter, a fancy job at the gallery, a loving husband, a great sexlife and lots of money. But then the husband dumps her for a younger woman and Erica has to try to find a new balance in her life. It’s definitely a good role and the film is all about her character (notice the screentime). Mazursky enjoyed doing fresh, cool movies (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) and the role fits the description.

There is almost nothing wrong with Jill’s performance and she’s actually quite charming in the beginning, with the dance scene settling that aspect from the start. I’ve found just one big flaw: the look on her face after throwing up in the separation scene, I just didn’t buy it and found it unnecessarily theatrical. But other than that, she’s believable in the role and seems like a right match for the film.

BUT, what makes it a great performance? Because many look at it that way. I will say it upfront that I don’t find it great or wonderful, but I do think it’s good and effective with a couple of highlight. The best short moments are when she’s playing silly and joking around a bit, because Jill is good with the relaxing, fun part and she does have a great smile.

Getting to the big scenes, the psychiatrist ones might be the best. Mazursky loves this type of scenes and Erica gets to talk a lot about herself, smile and cry and Jill really does a nice job playing it cool and making it look easy and natural. Her anger moments are always believable and she does fit the classy requirements of the character. But what is it that stops it from being great for me? Probably the fact that I really didn’t care about the character, about what happens to her, especially in the second half. I didn’t have any emotional connection with her, even though I understood the character. I think that is the problem, and as usual it’s just my subjective take.

Jill gets a full character and it’s the breakthrough performance anyone would dream of. Her acting seems right for the film, she has some good scenes with great acting instinct, but I didn’t love the performance. Just like I feel about the film, I respect the performance more that really liking it. No question it’s a good one and I understand why many find it great. I didn’t fully connect. It’s an honest .