Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Best Actress 1966

When I knew I was coming back to Athens back in September, I correctly anticipated I’ll probably be staying more or less till Christmas. So I prepared the films from 3 Best Actress years to take with me: I had to finish 1950, which I did. I also took 1994, which was previously discussed. And another year just in case I’ll still be here and unable to do a draw: 1966.

Hard to say why I chose it, though it was always an option. Maybe it’s because it has such a foreign touch to it, maybe it’s because it has such a clear winner, maybe because Un homme et une femme is an alltime favorite of mine or because I’m really curious to see The Shop on Main Street. Overall, I’ve seen just 2 of the 5 films, but each of the two at least twice.

This is really not going to be about the winner, but about the experience :)

Here are the 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1966, in alphabetical order:

Anouk Aimée as Anne Gauthier, in A Man and a Woman

Ida Kaminska as Rozalie Lautmann in The Shop on Main Street

Lynn Redgrave as Georgy in Georgy Girl

Vanessa Redgrave as Leonie Delt in Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment

Elizabeth Taylor as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What a severe case of early-life crisis :) I've changed things up a bit and I'm probably keeping it like this, there's no point in overthinking it.

Previous BA years are easier to access in the column on the right.
Starting with my next review, I'll probably be using personally designed stars for the ranking, trying to avoid the unpresant situation of having someone else using the same.

Other than that: the photos don't seem to fully show when I'm using Chrome, but they are fine with Internet Explorer. I don't think there's anything I can do, but if you are using Mozilla or Netscape and they appear cut in half, please let me know.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1994

The line-up was seen as surprisingly underwhelming and deservingly so. After the historical year of 1950, I had the freedom to choose, and I went for this obscure, little talked about Best Actress year. One could say 1994 gave variety, but all in the dramatic genre. Even with some commercial success, the films had little Oscar visibility and most of them managed to break through just in this category, with no success elsewhere.

My #1 was a no brainer for me. It surprised me the most and I felt most emotionally connected to. The next 3 performance could’ve gone either way and I did change my mind more than once. I had found flaws in all of them: either by not having enough screentime and not a winning film genre, not giving the emotional punch that it could, or for not establishing a strong enough connection with the audience.
Here is how I’ve appreciated them. If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

Foolishly I thought this performance was gonna be a major flop. The role is incredibly risky and, as clichéd as it might sound, only a Jodie Foster or a Cate Blanchett could’ve pulled this off. To me, it’s a very good example of a calculated performance done right: it’s believable and the second part makes for a very relevant emotional journey, keeping me fascinated up to the very last shot – which is a subtle, emotional knock out.

the highlight: Both joy and pain in her final scene.

This is not the type of performance usually grabbing Oscar’s attention; because the film is so commercially focused, this was not meant to be a great role. But as always, Sarandon brings intelligence, dignity and credibility to her roles and makes the best she can with what she has, somehow transforming a simply-written co-leading character in the most emotionally relevant and captivating performance of the film.

the highlight: Confessing about her dark past.

Winona cannot fail when charisma is required and it’s a driving force of the role. While the film is mostly dull, with forgetful performances and some awful ones here and there, she does manage to shine and pump some life into the film. Her playful side is delightful and always believable, but the second half of the film is so uninteresting that the charms of Jo slip away a bit. The performance makes one smile and feel joyful, but it’s not a complex role or delivery.

the highlight: Her joyful spirit in the ballroom scene.

It takes one gorgeous, sensual, voluptuous, flirty woman like Jessica Lange is to pull off the Marilyn Monroe impersonation that the character does. The role is deeper than it looks at first sight, but the character is so artificial in many ways, so cuckoo, so distant from the viewer that I didn’t emotionally connect. Lange plays well the vulnerability of this woman and the performance is an achievement even if just for the sensual and the seductive side of it.

the highlight: The first breakdown.

If Lange made it look unbalanced and eccentric, Miranda took it directly to the nuthouse. The writing is mostly to blame, because it makes a caricature out of Viv, but there was a point when she should’ve said no and do it her own way. Miranda respects the screenplay: her playing crazy is not always bad, but the few moments when she shines are actually the quiet, introspective ones.

the highlight: Her last scene with her brother.

While it wasn’t a lock, I don’t think it was much of a surprise that Jessica won the Oscar. But who was the runner-up? That’s more complicated. I think Susan came 2nd because it was her fourth nomination and third in 3 years. Winona could’ve also won, because she’s the actress dominating her film the most and some might feel she was snubbed the previous year.

Despite winning the SAG, I think Jodie had a “close” 4th chance and here’s why: I doubt they voted for her when remembering that she already had 2 Oscars and she wasn’t even 35; they loved her, but they admitted it would be too much. And Miranda came 5th obviously, because nobody saw her movie, so I doubt she even got 2% of the votes.

Other Best Actress years discussed so far:


What’s next: I’m still not in Bucharest, so no draw: I have prepared in advance a year from either 30s, 40s or 60s; a Best Actress year from one of these decades will be up for discussion. No hints, because it would be easy to guess; but an unusual line-up anyway.
Also, tomorrow or very soon, I’ll give another look to the blog, as it’s time for some design change.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jodie Foster, in Nell
approximately 48 minutes and 41 seconds
46.7% of the film

The film

It tells the story of an adult woman who has to face other people for the first time after being raised by her mother in an isolated cabin.

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

Nell is a good film but, like many other ok films, it loses a lot when the plot turns commercially. All the scenes with Jodie in them are beautifully done, but I cared less about the other characters and unfortunately we see a lot of them. And I must point out the beautiful original score.

Jodie Foster as Nell

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much prejudice going into a performance like I did with this one. I expected the worst overacting because of the nature of the role and because so many other bloggers hate it or make fun of it. I expected to give my first one-star rating, but I was completely taken over scene by scene. Almost anyone else would’ve failed miserably in this role, because it’s such a challenge to make it believable: but Jodie succeeds because she realizes that less is more.

Jodie plays Nell, a wild child: a mature woman who grew up in a cabin in the woods just with her mother and her twin sister who died when she was a child. She speaks a language of her own that’s hard to understand and knows nothing of the outside world. When her mother dies, Nell is discovered by a kind doctor who tries to protect her and decide what’s in her best interest.

It’s definitely not the typical Best Actress role and we have seen similar characters in regular movies that were disastrously portrayed. Nell is not a character mentally challenged and her behaviour is somewhat close to a person with autism – because she lives in her own world and at first has no desire to connect with elements outside her comfort zone. Though I had doubts she’ll nail it at first, as the role became more emotional I was completely charmed.

First there’s the physical aspect of the role and Jodie is just perfectly cast: her body type, her thinness, the certain stiffness of her movements, that touch of masculinity, the ability of looking humble and unpretentious and, most of all, those eyes… Jodie delivers Nell’s language as well as any other great actress would’ve manage to, but the key of the performance is the expressivity of her blue eyes and how much she can tell you just with one look or facial expression.

I’ve said that the beginning of the performance is a bit shaky because there’s a lot of screaming and there’s still a wall separating the viewer from the character’s feelings. As the story progresses we get used to her way of speaking and we see the emotional vulnerability of the character, but also her childish joy for life and her heart-warming excitement towards new discoveries.

Jodie’s acting in some of the scenes really did it for me: Nell’s first visit in town is played perfectly and the barroom scene is both believable and emotionally charged. She always understands the character and, especially in the second part, I was always convinced by her acting. It feels like a performance that required studying and training, but except for some minor slips it ends up looking as natural and as believable as it could be for such a character.

It’s a performance both simple and incredibly complex. The complexity comes from the emotional layers that Jodie has to show us using such unconventional means; the simplicity is all about how natural it gets to feel and how raw (and maybe familiar) the character’s emotions are. What convinced me of its greatness is not a big screaming scene, but the last 1 or 2 minutes of the film. There is so much love, but also pain and regret in her eyes while looking at the young girl; and that took me by surprise, it provoked me, it made me sad, I felt I GOT IT and I’m still thinking about it. The performance is a to say the least.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Winona Ryder, in Little Women
approximately 70 minutes and 25 seconds
62.2% of the film

The film

The March sisters live and grow in post-Civil War America. Based on the well known novel.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s a film that starts well, and it had an enjoyable youthful feeling to it. But then it suddenly turns into boring, clichéd, bad-acting stuff. Kirsten was a darling, the original score is memorable, but the film is overall disappointing.

Winona Ryder as Josephine March
I think Winona was about 22 years old when they actually shot this film. That is a young age for a serious leading actress, but Winona definitely was used to making movies. The acting experience seemed to be there, the star power was there, but still something seemed off to me. What stops the performance from being great? Maybe it’s lacking the effort and the life experience that Winona should’ve put in the real dramatic scenes.

Winona plays Jo March, a young girl growing up during the Civil War, in a poor but honest family. She is very creative, free spirited, full of life and ambitious, and very attached to her darling 3 sisters. It’s a role that Katherine Hepburn did quite successfully (from what I understand) 60 years before and it’s based on a well-known novel. There are mainly two sides to the character, showing up as the film’s action progresses: the childish playful Jo and the girl about to become a woman and her writing ambition.

The first impression as the film started was that the casting seemed just right. Winona is very charismatic and this probably is her most important achievement in the role. I cannot imagine anyone hating her and this performance, because she is always smiling, she’s so full of life yet so innocent and she does light the screen. Winona and Kirsten are the only ones who make the experience fun, playful, enjoyable to watch.

Because of all of this, her performance works well in the first hour. It’s not a demanding role: mostly she just has to use that charisma, but she made is believable for me. Those shows she puts on with her sisters: the performance requires a lack of vanity to make the scenes believable otherwise it will all look embarrassing. But luckily, Winona’s acting is so natural, grounded, she makes it look easy, yet always keeping that girly enthusiastic quality to it.

My problem with the performance comes from a different aspect of the role. Oddly enough, Winona’s acting ends up a bit amateurish in the few really dramatic moments. Truth is: I didn’t quite approve of her onscreen crying, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. And I don’t mean those scenes when Jo is just pretending to be suffering, I mean the ones where tears and some real dramatic empathy would’ve helped, like in the scene after the death of a certain character.

But talking of such scenes, as I said: the role is not demanding to start with. Just like Sandra in The Blind Side, her own personal charisma and adorable look do 80% of task required. Winona delivers a good lively performance, but the screenplay doesn’t offer enough of a stretch and when it does present a dramatic scene, Winona is just not up for it or not acting emotionally enough. However, it’s easy to see how those light, fun, innocent, girly aspects of the character are really nailed. It’s a from me, and I’ve enjoyed it more than it seems. The performance, not the film.

PS: the main photo of my post, that’s when the crying does work. :) and it’s wonderful. To bad, it’s always like that in those specific tense moments.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Miranda Richardson, in Tom & Viv
approximately 54 minutes and 34 seconds
48.7% of the film

The film

It tells the story of the troubled relationship between the American poet, T.S. Eliot, and his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

The film is boring, lacking a clear sense of directing and doing no justice to the character by presenting it in a more cartoonish way. The best in show is by far Rosemary Harris giving a touching performance as Viv’s mother and the original score and costume design also feel just right. Other than that, I don’t recommend it.

Miranda Richardson as Vivienne Haigh-Wood

There’s always something fascinating about exploring unknown territory when it comes to the Best Actress game. While Miranda Richardson was and is a rather well known actress for those in or interested in the business, Tom & Viv was seen by so few at the time of the release and it definitely didn’t hold the test of time. It was the first time I fully got through the performance and while I was fascinated by the novelty, I was discouraged and a bit frustrated by the performance I was watching.

Miranda plays Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a real-life figure, the eccentric, maybe emotionally-troubled first wife of poet T.S. Eliot. Her story starts when she’s in her 20s, a passionate rich woman, with lots of health problems, living in England during WWI. She marries Eliot and they have a long, bumpy marriage, which ends with him declaring her mentally unstable and locking her away.

The role sounds like a lot of fun and it IS a juicy role, but I could also clearly see the misogyny and one-crazy-note all over the screenplay. Truth is, Viv wasn’t as wacky as they’ve written her and, even if I’d ignore facts from the real life, you can clearly see how uncomfortably over-the-top they are with the character at times. Both Eliot AND the screenplay treat Viv badly for the most of the film, and it’s for Miranda to pick up the pieces and try to bring some humanity.

But I don’t want to make it sound like it’s ALL to the screenplay’s fault. I think Miranda had some choices to make and she could’ve shifted the performance more towards the safer side. However, she made the choice of doing the extremes, and for most of it, it didn’t help. I am not talking about bad acting, but except for a handful of scenes, the character created by Miranda is quite dislikeable – and she’s not even the villain.

So let’s talk a bit about the eccentricities. There’s a lot of shouting, some fake crying and a ton of mood swings. Sometimes, when’s she’s acting crazy, she manages to be quite funny: the chocolate scene for example – I smiled, but I also knew these cartoonish acts dehumanize the character and don’t help with the overall performance.

And I go back to the same old dilemma: I know this is what she’s supposed to play, because this is what’s on paper, this IS the character they’ve prepared for her. Miranda is never bad, but I cannot pretend that I’m enjoying the performance, even though it IS meant to be unpredictable and over-the-top. A lot (!) of actresses get shitty roles, but somehow they manage to spin it around. Miranda brings good stuff to the character, but she could’ve done more. And here’s where she does succeed:

There were 2 sides/moments with Viv that I’ve enjoyed. First, it’s her honest friendship with Louise, an ordinary girl. In a couple of minutes, Miranda shows us why she enjoys this stranger’s presence: Louise is probably the only person who really respects Viv and doesn’t see her as this crazy woman, which in fact she really isn’t. There’s a vulnerability in Miranda’s eyes when in her presence, that struck something in me and for seconds I felt like I understood who Viv really was.

The other highlight of the performance is the final 2-3 scenes, with the aging Viv in the asylum. Her dignity, her simplicity are both heartbreaking especially in the scene between Viv and her brother. There’s no crying from her, no shouting, but it’s definitely the most powerful, human, haunting moment of the performance and of the film. If only there would’ve been more scenes like this.

And I could go on, but the truth is: to me it’s a flawed performance, because of the way the character’s constructed and because Miranda should’ve pulled it more to the sanity side. I honestly think that any other good or great actress could’ve done the same ok job, and that’s the simplest way to put it. A strong which could’ve gone to a 3.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Oscar predictions - Episode 2: Guessing the winners 4 months in advance...

November 6th

On July 24th, I posted my predictions for the winners, but also the nominees in the main categories. Of course, some things have changed, release dates have been canceled, movies have flopped, etc. Here are my new predictions (ps: I update them very often, just don't get to post them here):

Best Picture: The Way Back (the other 9 nominees: 127 Hours, Another Year, The Fighter, For Colored Girls, Inception, The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit, Toy Story 3)

Best Director: Peter Weir, The Way Back (the other 4 nominees: Danny Boyle, Tom Hooper, David Fincher, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)

Best Actor: Colin Firth - The King's Speech (the other 4 nominees: Javier Bardem, Jeff Bridges, James Franco, Mark Wahlberg)

Best Actress: Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right (Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Hilary Swank)

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale – The Fighter (Andrew Garfield, Ed Harris, Sam Rockwell, Geoffrey Rush)

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo – The Fighter (Helena Bonham Carter, Kimberly Elise, Lesley Manville, Dianne Wiest)

Best Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Cinematography: The Way Back
Best Original Score: Inception
Best Original Song: Waiting for Superman
Best Art Direction: The King's Speech
Best Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland
Best Editing: 127 Hours
Best Sound Mixing: 127 Hours
Best Sound Editing: TRON Legacy
Best Visual Effects: Inception
Best Makeup: Alice in Wonderland
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Documentary: Waiting for Superman
Best Foreign Language Film: Life Above All (South Africa)