Thursday, October 28, 2010

Susan Sarandon, in The Client
approximately 37 minutes and 21 seconds
32.2% of the film

The film

A young boy who witnessed the suicide of a mafia lawyer hires an attorney to protect him when the district attorney tries to use him to take down a mob family.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

The Client is an action flick, so the focus is not meant to be on character development or stuff that might end up too deep. And that’s fine, because it’s not a bad suspense/thriller, even though it has its downfalls mainly due to the screenplay. Sarandon and especially Brad Renfro deliver good performances.

Susan Sarandon as Reggie Love

We don’t get to see Susan Sarandon on screen, nor do we get to hear anything about her character, until the film had already approximately reached its 28th minute. While I’m not saying we’re dealing with category fraud, the film’s true leading character is the client, the boy she’s representing and protecting. Even so: Susan might show up quite late in the film, but from there on she clearly represents the voice of justice and the most emotionally complex character that the film has to offer.

Susan plays Regina ‘Reggie’ Love, a lawyer who is accidentally chosen to represent a client who happens to know some secrets about a mob murder. The client is a loud mouthed 11 year old boy and Regina becomes his protector and also a kind of a mother figure. Because, you see, Regina has secrets of her own: a history of drugs and alcohol abuse and grown-up children that don’t want to see her. The role sounds more of a challenge than it actually is; what we get to find out is mostly because of Susan rather than because of the screenplay.

The character has two big elements defining it: first there’s the brave lawyer-woman who can face anything and then there’s the fragile Reggie, a person who has been through a lot and she’s a survivor of her own mistakes. The one we notice the most is the fierce lawyer.

Susan Sarandon usually inspires that respect that brings some kind of seriousness and professional-believability to most of her roles. Here, she’s no different: I totally believe her in the role because I sense this woman is intelligent. Susan makes Reggie powerful, but not rigid, she makes her fun, cool, but also gives her that winning touch that pretty much makes her the hero of the film. Reggie represents justice and, despite her own doubts at times, she succeeds in what she sets up to do.

By doing that, Susan really wins the sympathy of the viewer. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but that’s it: I LIKE Reggie and I want her to win; everything. And as you know: what I feel for the character usually influences my perspective on the performance; the emotional side of it counts a lot from where I’m standing. But even considering this great quality, there’s still a feeling of I’m not seeing enough.

Her emotional moment when she confesses about her past and talks about her children is wonderful, that’s a great scene played beautifully by Susan. Unfortunately, except for this scene and a couple of crumbs here and there, the screenplay doesn’t rise to the occasion in giving her the character she deserves. She is great with that she has, she’s tough and brave in the lawyery scenes, she’s vulnerable when it’s needed, but lacks the BIG moment to take the performance to greatness.

Is Sarandon better than her usual self? Probably not, but she’s such a good actress that even her regular good is above others’ performances and definitely above the screenplay. She brings charisma and intelligence to the role and those are bonus points, but when you have just 30-something minutes on screen, in a regular suspense flick, you still get the feeling something’s missing. I don’t know, performances this year become harder and harder to read; but this is a strong for Susan.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jessica Lange, in Blue Sky
approximately 53 minutes and 34 seconds
56.8% of the film

The film
It tells the story of an Army officer whose outspokenness and his wife's mental illness have made him an outcast among his fellow soldiers.

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

It’s not a great film, I didn’t find anything that special about it. But at the same time, its structure is very comforting and familiar in a good way. The ending is hard to believe, but has a positive feeling to it that makes it quite enjoyable.

Jessica Lange as Carly Marshall

Sophisticated, unique women give unusual, fascinating yet complicated performances. I have a strange perspective on Jessica Lange’s acting in general, because I think she’s one of the most uniquely strange actresses of the past decades. There’s always something about her that shouts sexuality, sensuality, diva, fun, flirty – at least that’s how I’ve always perceived her. Then there’s the gorgeous face and the very recognizable delicious voice. However, in the end, I somehow like/love her more as the person I imagine her to be than the actual performances she’s giving. Maybe I prefer my actresses to be more down to earth or real.

Jessica Lange plays Carly Marshall, a mentally fragile army wife of the 60s, mother of two, who lives her life at extremes, alternating between a very sexual, flirtatious persona and the guilt that comes from her (I suspect) bipolar disorder. For most of the film, she kind of personifies a Marilyn Monroe and gets lots in the man-devouring spirit of her idol, which creates lots of trouble, almost costing her husband’s life.

The most in-your-face characteristic of the performance is the sensuality, a word which comes as an understatement. Jessica Lange breathes sex in this film, which is both a plus and a minus for the performance. The good side is that it makes Carly a fascinating character to look at. When she’s dancing by herself succeeding in grabbing everyone’s attention she is gorgeous, magic and, like a character approximately says, everything a woman should be about.

But while I appreciate Jessica’s ability of giving the men exactly what they wanna see, I still feel like the performance ends up looking a bit fake and overdramatic at times. Yes, Carly is a troubled woman and a diva of her own, but this Marilyn-sex kitten play stops me from connecting with the character sometimes. Is Jessica playing the sex card too hard and too often or is she just completely devoted to what Carly imagines herself to be? I don’t know the answer, but whatever it is it’s pushing me away from loving the character.

Thankfully, we do see the vulnerable side of Carly. We can assume that her emotional frailty is caused by her impression of failure as a human being. She cannot get used to the idea that she’s just a mother and a wife and not some Hollywood glamour-puss and she keeps looking in the past to what might’ve been. It’s clear as daylight that this is an unfulfilled woman who tries to forget her failed & empty life by feeding herself with the attention of men. It’s typical Blanche DuBois syndrome that Jessica acts well and she puts a lot of care in underlining the vulnerable human side of Carly, who’s not just a Marilyn copycat.

The performance is complicated. Jessica might seem perfect for the role, but her dreamy, sensual persona combined with Carly’s diva-like and sexuality creates too much of sex kitten when maybe it needed even more of a human side. I like it for the most part, but that’s also because I get charmed by the physicality of it. While I don’t love it, it’s a performance I appreciate more and more. So, to me it looks like a deserving .

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

While I am not celebrating, I do feel the narcissistic need of sharing this happy event with those few constant readers slash fellow bloggers. Who knew I’ll be turning 24 (shhhhhhhh… don’t tell anyone)?!

I hope I’ll still be around in 20 years (when I roughly calculated I’ll be over with my Best Actress series). I actually hope we’ll ALL be around, but also maybe richer, happier, more fulfilled.

I’m posting some photos taken 2 days ago, just in case you’re wondering how am I doing / slimming :))

PS: If you happen to be someone from work, please keep quiet on the subject matter. I really am NOT into celebrating and while I enjoy being the centre of attention on many occasions, this is not one of them. :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Best Actress 1994

Because I'm out of the country right now, there was no draw for the next Best Actress year, so I had to choose myself something from the 80s and the 90s. Considering that the previous year, 1950, had some fantastic acting going on, this time I'm going for something less famous and definitely of a lower quality performance-wise. I wanted a year for which it's impossible for me to point a favorite. Some of the nominees themselves came out of the blue and 1994 is generally considered one of the weakest/weirdest Best Actress years of the last decades.
I have fully seen just The Client and Blue Sky, but I am very familiar with the other 3 (I've seen the first 20 minutes of Tom & Viv, scenes from Nell on tv, and mostly all of Little Women on HBO when I was a kid, but I seriously remember nothing about Winona).
The race itself was so weird: Jessica Lange coming from a film completed in 1991, Sarandon & Ryder showing up almost out of nowhere, Richardson making the list for a film that nodoby had seen. And the runner-ups, even more strange: Meryl Streep for an action flick, Meg Ryan doing one of her first dramatic roles as a drunk, and Jennifer Jason Leigh for a very indie drama.
What's funny to me is to think that ANY of the 1995 nominated actresses would've easily won the gold had they competed a year earlier. :)
Here are the 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1994:

from left to right, I have the pleasure to introduce:
  • Jodie Foster, in Nell
  • Susan Sarandon, in The Client
  • Winona Ryder, in Little Women
  • Jessica Lange, in Blue Sky
  • Miranda Richardson, in Tom & Viv

Jessica's profile will be up first, probably next week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1950

What a strong Best Actress year, probably one of the best Oscar’s ever had and definitely one of the most talked about and best known (1939 is another one). I was lucky to get 1950 in the draw and I was definitely happy to revisit some old & alltime favorites. At least 3 of them are historical performances that influenced generations of actors either through comedy, power-acting or crazy divaness. The other two are definitely worth to be in line. What I did notice and loved about all 5 is how they take the roles beyond what might’ve been expected. They all give strong performances and are driving-forces for their movies, beautifully or brilliantly acting such challenging roles.

My number one was rather clear to me. From there on, I wasn’t sure, even though I suspected Judy would surely be in top 3. I wasn’t disappointed by any of them and they were all a pleasure to watch. At one point, I wasn’t sure about #3, but then it came to me that it couldn’t be any other way.

Here is how I’ve appreciated them. If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

1. Bette Davis, All About Eve

To say that I love the performance and the character is an understatement. I have dedicated more space that I usually do to my divine Bette and her fantastic performance. I love the energy of it all, her undeniable screen presence, her capacity of doing far more with the character than another would’ve. Her performance IS fire and music, an iconic one & a fascinating display of talent and acting experience.

The highlight: the first part of fire and music.

So rarely does a leading female performance combine so efficiently screwball comedy acting and touching dramatic moments. I like the drama side of the performance and I adore the funny one. Judy’s comedic timing is flawless and I can never get enough of watching her onscreen. She is sweet, silly, adorable and creates such a powerful connection with the audience that I just kept wanting more.

The highlight: the gin rummy game.

Everybody’s heard of Norma Desmond and Gloria definitely has something to do with that. To really play the character, you need to go deep into Norma’s delusion; sometimes, she goes too far but it’s for the sake of the film. But when she shows us the vulnerable, human side of this truly sick and heartbroken woman, I’m fully buying it and ready to accept the crazy on the side. It’s a terribly difficult role and Gloria sure does justice to it.

The highlight: her first scene, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos!

The character arc is a difficult one, and unlike her fellow nominees she doesn’t benefit from the same fantastic writing. But this doesn’t stop Eleanor from giving a fantastic performance: she’s believable as a vulnerable innocent teen, as a desperate woman losing her son, as a traumatized prisoner and as a toughened soon-to-be con artist. She has a firm hard on the character and rises above the material.

The highlight: her final talk with the head of the prison.

It’s hard to get noticed in such a strong ensemble. I wasn’t convinced at first, and that’s because she got some dialogue and camera focus but not the interesting storyline… however (!), those last 20 minutes really were all about Eve and the small hints of wickedness and drama blossomed into a couple of scenes in which Anne blew me away. It took a 3rd or 4th viewing to fully appreciate the hotel room scene, but from now I’ll never forget it.

The highlight: the moment of truth in the hotel room.

If I would’ve been there, I would’ve bet that Gloria would win the Oscar, as Sunset is such a Hollywood-strong film. But I guess those New York votes went for Judy, whose charming feel-good performance is hardly an undeserving Oscar winner (if we were to talk outside the competition). So I think Gloria was a sure runner-up, Bette an easy 3rd, Eleanor 4th and Anne last, because of her previous win and inside competition. Even so, I suspect the win came with less than 40% of the votes, considering the 3-way race.

Other Best Actress years discussed so far:


What’s next: there won’t be a draw, because I’m out of the country and I brought limited options with me. I’ll announce in a couple of days my very weird unexpected choice from the 80s and 90s. After all this 1950’s greatness, there’s a need for some criticizing.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Gloria Swanson, in Sunset Blvd.
approximately 41 minutes and 40 seconds
39.6% of the film

The film

A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent-film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

What an impressive film, really. It’s done so well and with such a great directorial technique that it feels fresh and fascinating even today. Some might find it too cuckoo, but I think of it to be a delicious look inside Hollywood and a fascinating portrait of an aging crazy diva.

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond

There are some iconic characters that would represent the world for any movie fan and Oscar fan in particular. There’s Scarlett, there’s Blanche and there’s definitely Norma Desmond. Unlike the previous two characters showing up in Oscar’s archive, Miss Desmond has the distinction of being an original character. It’s very possible that this legendary name wouldn’t have entered American culture with the same undying force had it not been for Gloria Swanson. She made it possible, also with the help of some terrific material.

Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a rich ex-silent-movie star, living an isolated life in a fantasy world. Her delusion borders insanity, as she strongly imagines her return to the screen in the leading role of Salome. She finds love interest in a screenplay writer with an agenda of his own and becomes his sponsor as she slowly continues to sink into madness. It’s a juicy role, yet difficult to play.

Do notice the limited screentime, which kind of surprised me. Truth is the film is more about the struggling writer, but she makes such a strong impression that you would hardly associate Sunset Blvd. with anyone other than Gloria Swanson/Norma Desmond. I will just limit myself in presenting what I liked where I think there were some issues or difficulties for me to fully digest the performance.

I think Gloria’s best acted scenes are, hands down, the ones in which she acts most normal; eccentric, but not crazy. Her first scene, with the chimp burial and the Gilberts! the Valentinos!, is the best. She is fascinating to look at, but normal enough for me to understand the character and the human side of it.

Same with her scene visiting Paramount studios or her falling in love with this younger man. Even in her scenes of jealousy I could sense the sickness of this woman, how she was trying to fight it, but ultimately had to surrender. In all the scenes showing vulnerability, she stops being a caricature and becomes a relatable human being. I loved that about her and those scenes filled with weakness, arrogance were the most fun scenes for me.

But the screenplay demanded more from her and here’s where the crazy came in. At first, I didn’t react that entirely great to it: it seemed the-mother-of-all-theatrical and overacting. It looked like overcooked schizophrenia that makes a good film, but not a great performance. However, revisiting scenes over and over, I understand how truly unselfish Gloria is when playing Norma. She is sacrificing some credibility to get that extra-bump of memorable and history-making that the film demands.

Gloria is being pushed into overplaying it for the sake of the show and I have to get used to the idea that Gloria delivered exactly what the film required. Did I fully love her sacrifice? No. But she was carefully, memorably, precisely acting the script.

It’s a performance people will still be talking about 100 years from now. It shows modern audiences the 1950s perception of a 1920s movie star. Gloria Swanson is very good, but due to reasons mentioned here, I couldn’t fully love the performance. Strangely, it’s most recognized for the weird crazy scenes, but I loved the human, vulnerable moments. It was hard for me to choose between 4 and 5, but I’m going with , as I’m trying not to get influenced by the fact that people always expect you to worship this performance.