Saturday, October 29, 2011

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1985

I have loved The Color Purple for years, so starting Best Actress 1985, I thought Whoopi was gonna be my easy winner. Of course, I was wrong, and that’s why I love my Best Actress series, because the surprises keep on coming. When I started it, I also didn’t suspect 1985 will deliver the worst performance I’ve talked about on the blog so far and the first 1 star I’ve ever given. So it was a year full of surprises, both for me AND for the Academy – Whoopi had a real chance to become to first African American to win this category and it didn’t happen.

Judging by the number of stars I’ve given, no. 1 looks like an easy choice; and it was, in a way. I’ve noticed that those who see the performance are almost entirely charmed by it. no. 2 was also quite easy, given my love for the film and the difficulty of the role. no. 3 is also a performance I respect a lot, in a film whose revisit was completely charming to me. The number of stars is very relevant for the other two performances.

There’s a special award that I’ve included for Best Actress 1945, and continuing it now: Best Acted Scene award, which this time goes to:

Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful – the fantastic scene on the bus, when Carrie Watts confesses about never loving her husband and telling the young woman the story of the man she really loved. It’s an expected, emotional, heartbreaking moment and Geraldine is just devastating in it.

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

To say that she is the heart of the film is a huge understatement. She takes the Geraldine-Page-style-of-acting to levels she’s never gone before by bringing incredible kindness, believability and life into such an emotionally-rich character. There’s no false note here, just a legendary actress doing her best work: a performance both entertaining and surprisingly heartbreaking.

the highlight: Her confession about not loving her husband.

It’s a performance that feels complete only after seeing it a couple of times. What I loved the most about it is the deep understanding of what Celie feels, always giving us the impression of a beautiful person hidden somewhere beneath fear and humility. Whoopi carefully follows the evolution of the character, building a believable emotional transformation.

the highlight: The dinner scene, when she finally speaks up.

Meryl is so pretty in this I would’ve forgiven her anything. But as expected, to me there are no mistakes in this performance: I liked the accent and I loved that she made it look natural and simple… and even easy. It might not seem like a very challenging role, but that’s because Meryl is acting like a pro, making wise decisions when to act more and when to just sit pretty.

the highlight: for me, it has to be the voice-over that starts the film.

I have confessed in the profile that I think Jessica Lange was way to sensual and sexy and gorgeous to take on such a role. I didn’t buy her as Patsy Cline and that Southern accent didn’t help either. But with all that against her, plus a terrible screenplay, her performance has two highlights: the emotions she tries to bring in the lip-synching scenes and the few scenes of more emotional depth.

the highlight: taking off the bandages after the car accident.

Officially, the worst performance of the ones I’ve reviewed so far in the past 2 years. The role is incredibly juicy, but Bancroft has no idea what to do with it. Not only does she not do it justice, she sinks it, making it the most annoying character in a poorly made film. It’s a completely unbalanced performance, surprising only by the complete lack of inspiration in Anne’s acting choices.

the highlight: none.

Time to play the guessing game of who got more votes. I still believe Whoopi was a favorite before the final verdict, because of the Golden Globe support, and also because they had all seen Color Purple. However, how would they deny a win for Geraldine Page, considering it was her 8th(!!!) nomination and she had never won. I agree with the Academy’s choice, which was partly honorary, partly based on the actual performance – but it sure wasn’t an easy victory to get. I’m quite sure Whoopi was a close 2nd, but this only because Meryl already had 2 Oscars. I think Meryl was 3rd; she was a threat considering her film ended up becoming the Best Picture winner. Jessica was probably 4th, though not a big threat, and Anne Bancroft 5th, as I like to believe extremely few voters would’ve given her the win.

To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, go to the column on the right.

What’s next: I have already held the draw on Twitter, before I left for Athens, for the next Best Actress year, from the 1930s. The year that won was 1931 (the one with Marie Dressler). I will make the official announcement soon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Whoopi Goldberg, in The Color Purple
approximately 58 minutes and 38 seconds
39.5% of the film

The film

The life and trials of a young African American woman.

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

I’ve really liked the film ever since I first saw it, about 10 years ago. While my love for it isn’t as obsessive as it was back then, I still think it’s a wonderful drama, with a very emotional well-told story. The performances are terrific, most of them coming from actors without experience who offer career-best acting.

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson

Every article on impressive first-performances must include Whoopi Goldberg’s in The Color Purple. I think she was a comedienne by then, but this was her film debut, and it justifiably took Hollywood & the rest of the world by surprise. And this even more considering the difficult character she had to play, in a purely serious drama. Had she won Best Actress back then, she would’ve made history as the first African-American to do so. But what she did gain from it was a fantastic start of a very popular career.

Whoopi plays grown-up Celie, a young woman abused by her stepfather and sold for marriage to an even more abusive man, who forbids Celie from seeing her sister, the only person who’s ever loved her. The constant abuse turns Celie into a very humble person, who never dares to speak up. The unexpected presence of Shug Avery, the free-spirited mistress of her husband, brings a bit of hope into her life.

We don’t see Whoopi for the first 35 minutes of the film, but when she shows up it really changes everything, and finally we get to see something interesting and intriguing in Celie. Even so, I admit to have had some difficulty adjusting to the introductory shyness of the performance – but once I’ve finished the film, it felt complete and I realized the journey that the performance itself is.

And I see it now it couldn’t have been done differently, given the character and its emotional frailty. Though not the most exciting thing to watch, the quiet, shy, child-like Celie is what makes sense in the context of the film and Whoopi gets it right – her gestures and voice-acting, though not always perfect, leave the impression of a traumatized person, but also of a beautiful spirit hidden behind the robotic-behaviour of an abused person tragically finding normalcy in such a lifestyle.

It’s not a performance easy to judge, because it’s not flashy, but not subtle either. It’s a performance very dependent on the trajectory of the character, living little space for the actress to diversify. The character changes a lot during the film, both physically and emotionally, and Whoopi has to keep up by making the change visible, believable, in the spirit of the character.

Of course, I preferred the scenes from the second part, and the table scene is Whoopi’s great triumph, portraying Celie in a moment of her life when she’s had enough. She’s wants to get away regardless of the price and I felt for her more than in any other scene: the difficulty of having to speak up and confronting her abusive husband. You can feel how nervous she is with the perspective of finally letting all that hate out. Whoopi is fantastic in the scene, superbly demonstrating the emotional struggles of Celie.

It’s not a traditional character for this category, and I somehow feel it’s a performance hard to agree on, especially among bloggers. What makes even the performance a little unusual is that most of the emotions of the character are shut inside for at least half of the screentime; while staying faithful to the character, for a big part of it it seems like Whoopi is not doing enough, reacting too little. To me, that’s just being devoted to your character; sure, I prefer louder, more open performances, but I completely respect this one. I’ll go with a very strong .

Final verdict coming probably tomorrow.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Jessica Lange, in Sweet Dreams
approximately 79 minutes and 30 seconds
71% of the film

The film

Lange portrays Patsy Cline, the velvet-voiced country singer who died in a tragic plane crash.

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

No, I’m no fan of this film; even if I’d agree with the focus put on the relationship between Patsy & her husband, I still don’t like the way it’s done. The writing is bad, at one point even trying to justify his abusive behaviour. It should’ve been more about her love for music & her songs, and less about domestic violence.

Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline

It needs to be said that any Jessica Lange fan would probably rate this 3 stars or higher! It’s not that I dislike her, I’m actually quite inlove with her as a person & movie star & gorgeous woman, but I believe that her sensuality, her sexiness is so powerful that it often limits the area of roles that would fit her. Sometimes she’s perfectly cast, other times not so much… I think Jessica’s charm is so distinctive, especially in her younger years, that it makes it hard for her to sell some of the roles, let alone a biopic performance of legendary country singer Patsy Cline.

Jessica plays Patsy Cline, country music superstar, from her early days of anonymity to her successful years, up to her tragic death. The film is mostly focused on her relationship with her abusive husband and their bumpy love story. The role makes room for enough loud scenes & shouting, but such moments of domestic trouble weren’t so interesting to me. As for the scenes with singing, her lip-sync is… just ok; not the worst, but you could easily notice the difference.

As you can tell, my biggest trouble with this performance is that I didn’t see Patsy in it. Jessica surely tries and she is most effective in the quieter scenes, like the ones after the car accident or any other time when she gets to reflect on what’s happening around her. Sometimes, she fails: her loud southern style is unconvincing and often feels unnatural, as if she was trying just a bit too hard. Also, her scenes as younger Patsy are the weakest.

A good screenplay might’ve made the difference and would’ve allowed Jessica, if not to convince me this is biopic, at least to put in some depth into the character. However, as it is, the writing is very lazy, sometimes giving way too much explained emotion into the dialogue, when we should’ve actually seen that through Jessica’s acting. I didn’t feel a connection to the character, because most of it is laid just on the surface… Could Jessica have done better with an ok screenplay? Hard to say. What I do know is that I had almost no idea who Patsy was, other that some loud, abused wife.

And you know I cannot not mention that Meryl was up for this role and didn’t get it… While it doesn’t affect my judgment of Jessica’s performance, I suspect Meryl would’ve been more convincing even just by letting sensuality behind and losing herself in the character… Because Jessica’s performance has a bit too much sassiness in my opinion and not enough real emotion spread throughout the film.

Jessica is good, she’s ok, she’s gorgeous in the second half, but not convincing to me. And while I’ve clearly underlined the failure of the screenplay and the direction also is messy as hell, this shouldn’t influence my perception of the final result. Truth is, to me it’s an unsatisfying, incomplete performance; while I considered at one point to give it more, I must go with a strong . But seriously: love you, Jessica! It just wasn’t the role for you, also not the screenplay.