Saturday, June 25, 2011

Best Actress 1945

There was a draw for the next Best Actress year; I knew I wanted to go for the 40s. 1945 won and I’m happy about it – given the options, it was one of my top 2 choices. It’s not a very fancy year, which is great because I’m always interested in getting familiarized with Oscar films that maybe I wouldn’t have normally watched. In the case of 1945, I’ve only seen Mildred Pierce and I’ve always been very curious about The Bells of St. Mary’s (even though I didn’t like Going My Way).

Let’s make a short analysis. The 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen for 1945, in alphabetical order:

Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict, in The Bells of St. Mary’s

Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce, in Mildred Pierce

Greer Garson as Mary Rafferty, in The Valley of Decision

Jennifer Jones as Singleton, in Love Letters

Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent Harland, in Leave Her to Heaven

You can divide this group of actresses in 2 sections: the front-runners and the category-fillers. The clear front-runners were Joan Crawford – a Hollywood icon, with this being surprisingly her first nomination; for this role she had won the award from the National Board of Review. The other frontrunner: Ingrid Bergman – the winner of the past year; for this role she had won the award from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Golden Globe.

I’ll call the other 3 category-fillers, because as it seems they gave performance in low-key films and none seemed a threat to those 2 top contenders. It was Gene Tierney’s first nomination, after her big success in Laura, for which many feels she deserved special recognition (not me, I think Laura is way overrated). This was the 3rd consecutive nomination (though only second in Lead) for Jennifer Jones and from what I’ve heard the role is almost supporting. Greer Garson received her 5th consecutive nomination (6th in total) for a film nobody talks about these days and doesn’t show much potential. But we’ll see, I promise I’ll be open-minded about all.

Also interesting, three of the nominees were the Best Actress winners for 1942 (Garson), 1943 (Jones) and 1944 (Bergman). :) Let’s throw in some names of other actresses that might’ve also gotten nominated, in no particular order. We’ll ignore Ingrid Bergman for Spellbound, because she’s already on the list.

Bette Davis - The Corn Is Green
Merle Oberon - A Song to Remember
Dorothy McGuire - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Peggy Ann Garner - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Jane Wyman - The Lost Weekend
Betty Field - The Southerner

I almost always start with the profile of the actress that won Oscar’s love. So Joan will be first, and I’m thrilled to revisit Mildred Pierce. Oh, and by the way, here’s the video proof that 1945 was correctly drawn, in case you wanna waste 90 seconds :D

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1927/1928

It’s been 3 months and a half since announcing this Oscar line-up for the blog, and it never took me so long to finish a Best Actress year. Since then: I got an important bank loan, spent all my life savings, bought a studio apartment, went to Athens again for 2 weeks, had high-fever tonsillitis twice a month apart, renovated the apartment from grounds up and now I’ve started furnishing it myself, while holding a full-time job. And I also held the 3rd edition of the AIM Awards here. So, busy times that might excuse my delay. Also: who knew silent films are not that easy to watch (twice)? :) well, I suspected.

But in many ways, I’m happy I got to write about Oscar’s first Best Actress year. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Cal (who provided A Ship Comes In), so thank you again! None of the 5 performances was really bad, though no classic either – some might feel differently. In the end, no. 1 was easy to choose; 2nd, 3rd & 4th place are almost connected to eachother, and 5th was an easy call. Almost all performances suffered from either the misogynism of the screenplay or its lack of interest in character depth. It was a good opportunity to discover movies, but I’m so happy to get back to talkies.

Here is what I thought about them. If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

In an era when silent meant over-theatrical, Gloria delivered a surprisingly honest, charming, relatable performance. Sure, there are some minor slips, but it’s hard to match her bravery on screen: both handling the sneaky, a bit vulgar but always human side of the character and also the dramatic desperation when confronted with danger and imprisonment.

the highlight: Begging Davidson to give her another chance.

2. Janet Gaynor, 7th Heaven

She is the heart of the film, giving us more than the material asked for. Her shyness and quiet nature manage to create a connection with the audience, and I did have sympathy for her. While the screenplay stopped me from seeing it as heartbreaking or very moving, I cannot really blame Janet. Her eyes tell a story much more than the dialogue card, but there’s only so much she can do.

the highlight: Finding out the bad news and giving up on her faith.

3. Janet Gaynor, Street Angel
The big moment of the film is the dinner scene, that story-hour in which she awaits to be taken to prison. That’s the only favor the screenplay does for her: putting the camera on Janet and letting her incredibly expressive face tell us the battle inside this woman’s soul. The screenplay is just as dry and misogynistic as 7th Heaven, but count on Janet to make it watchable and emotional.

the highlight: Not knowing if she should say goodbye to her lover, in the dinner scene.

The character is more of a device, helping define the character arc of the male character. The good elements of Janet’s performance can be found in the quiet scenes of heartbreak or in her na├»ve hope at the beginning of the film that he might actually want to save their marriage. It’s a performance based mostly on reactions and Janet succeeds: she’s natural and believable.

the highlight: The church scene, remembering what love was all about.

With such a bad, sloppy film to carry, who could achieve greatness?! She is in a handful of scenes and only 2 offer some possibility to show more than simple physical presence. Her helplessness in the courtroom works, and she delivers a couple of good-acted moments in the scenes with her son, but that’s about it. It would’ve been a good performance, if the film itself had treated the character the way it deserved.

the highlight: Her resignation about sending her son to war.

It was Oscar’s first edition, so who knows how they did actually vote. But Janet Gaynor, with the 3 films on her side, had a clear advantage – and I’m sure it was an easy win given the situation. If there was anyone to bring a surprise, it would’ve been Gloria of course, who probably got a couple of votes. Louise Dresser, I suspect, based on the film & performance, had no chance.

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

What’s next: A year from the 1940s. It’s gonna be a filmed draw (from 7 possibilities; 1947 has already been discussed, and I don’t have complete 42 and 49).
Also, starting with this week you can find me on Twitter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Janet Gaynor, in 7th Heaven
approximately 61 minutes and 6 seconds
52.4% of the film

The film

A street cleaner saves a young woman's life, and the pair slowly fall in love until war intervenes.

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

I don’t go with the majority on this film and it’s really not something to give me a great pleasure. I wished I liked it, I thought it actually had lots of potential in the first part, but I just didn’t find any interest in the love story. To me it seemed like a dry, underwritten film, storywise.

Janet Gaynor as Diane

I think we could all agree on the fact that this is the film (out of the 3) most responsible for Janet Gaynor’s Oscar win. 7th Heaven had the popularity of the front-runner, it was a box-office hit and offered its leading actress most screentime to work with. Janet’s performance here is not far from the ones in Street Angel and Sunrise: a humble, honest wife or girlfriend confronted with injustice. In a way, that helps the triple nomination make more sense.

Janet is playing Diane, a young Paris girl living in poverty, abused by her violent drunken sister. When a cocky street cleaner saves her life, she’s taken under his wing and they start falling for eachother. Unfortunately, their happiness is disrupted by the start of World War I. The role sounds very meaty when presented, but truth is: the screenplay has too few to offer to its leading actress. Janet is well above the writing, but the limits are too unbreakable to give as a result a great performance.

I am even putting aside the ridiculous misogynistic tone of the film which drives me nuts (just like in Street Angel), but that’s not the screenplay’s biggest fault regarding Diane. The problem is the lack of complexity in the character and the rugged character arc with visible changes in the character that have no depth. When given this little, in a way I admit Janet does miracles.

Her power of expressing so much using a single look and those tearful eyes, all of this is quite impressing. She’s very delicate, so playing the shyness of the character is not the biggest challenge – and she does it with easiness, also winning some likeability. I felt sorry for Diane, but didn’t find myself attached to the character. Janet does her best to suggest a richness of emotions and feelings, but there’s only so much she can do.

Her best scenes are indeed the ones towards the ending. Her desperation feels very honest, and it shapes a performance that’s technically good, some might say flawless, but to me it lacks spark and versatility. She has no problem in playing a victim or natural innocence, she’s great in the tense moments of the film, but what more is there to it.

Janet is easily the best thing about 7th Heaven, but as in previous projects her storyline and character development on page never rise up to the occasion, to fully bring light on her great talent and give her the possibility to show real range. It’s a good performance, in my opinion tragically sabotaged by the screenplay’s lack of generosity towards its actors. A very strong from me, anyway. I’m sorry I can’t love it.

Final conclusions on the year will follow in a day or two.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hey, guys! I'm on twitter now, because I'm tired of reading so much stuff and not being able to reply! :)

So tell me: who else is outthere. Let me know! :D

If interested, you'll find the Twitter button on the right or just go at my link here:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gloria Swanson, in Sadie Thompson

approximately 51 minutes and 23 seconds***
57% of the film

The film

Sadie Thompson arrives in Pago-Pago on her way to a new life, but extremist missionary Davidson lashes out against her lifestyle.

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

The film sure doesn’t lack tension, and there’s a very satisfying stage-like intensity in the second half, but it misses the opportunity with an ending that, regardless of the fact that’s it’s recreated through stills, doesn’t live up to the hype it previously promises. Lionel Barrymore would’ve made for a great nominee.

Gloria Swanson as Sadie Thompson

It’s my first encounter with a Gloria Swanson performance outside her iconic role in Sunset Blvd., 22 years later. And we have a very different character and performance: it’s both underwhelming because being a silent performance it takes away a bit from the fun, and also impressive because here she really gets the spotlight, as the driving force of the film [quick note: Sunset was really about Holden’s character, even though Gloria is the scene stealer]. I liked what I saw, but even the performance is not without its flaws.

Gloria plays Sadie Thompson, an easy-going, outspoken, party girl who stops on the island of Pago Pago, on her way to a new job. She has a conflict with an overzealous Christian missionary, who is also an influential man, which will bring out a dark secret from Sadie’s past and cause her a nervous breakdown when faced with imminent imprisonment. It sounds a bit complicated, though the role is not as tragic as it seems: it has its lighter side in the first half.

The role is quite consistent and offers plenty of possibilities for the actress to show range. Gloria looks gorgeous all throughout the film and the camera clearly loves her. She uses it at its best, especially when showing the seductive, fun side of Sadie, in her first scenes. She knows about men, she knows how to amuse them, how to entertain, yet keeping the fine line between what’s acceptable and what’s vulgar. I didn’t always find myself on her side in the first scenes, but I could recognize this girl and how her down-to-Earth attitude was not badly intended.

Gloria has no problem in proving the street-smarts of the character, while carefully underlining the vulnerable, human side, especially in her first conflict with Davidson. She feels cornered, doesn’t realize what she did wrong, and her reactions are natural, well-played and bring likeability to the character as the story progresses. Her reactions of worry and anger are very believable and have a great contribution to the tense atmosphere, so important for the 2nd part of the film.

But as I said, it’s not all perfect. Her breakdown scene was overplayed, I thought, and might be the only weak moment in her acting. One could blame it on the directing maybe, I just thought she was a bit overtheatrical in that scene, trying to take it far enough to justify the change in her character. It’s not terribly wrong, but maybe she could’ve found some other way.

As you might know, the last 8 minutes of the film are missing, and Sadie Thompson has been recreated using stills and the original screenplay for dialogue. That’s a pitty, because at one point there’s a scene with Sadie, and the card says: Behold me in all my glorified glory – I’m radiant – I’m beautiful! And it’s sad we cannot see how she acts this line, which seems so deliciously difficult to deliver or act around.

It’s an enjoyable performance, actually more than that: a good one. She hardly loses focus, gives a believable, confident performance, she’s gorgeous to look at and makes the character more accessible than someone else might’ve managed. Even if it’s a success, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going with more than… Oh, wait: very last minute update: I was going for a 3, but let’s make that an almost . She does sell the film. :)

***I usually don’t count photos of the actors on screen as screentime. But considering the missing footage here, I did take in account the stills from the last minutes, meaning: I also included as screentime when she appeared in a production still in the restored scenes. And that gave me the total of approximately 51 minutes, 23 seconds. Without the restored ending, the screentime is 48 minutes, 57 seconds.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

At one point (I think like 2 years ago!!!) I said I was gonna see all Best Picture winners chronologically and rank them on the other blog. I knew it would move slow, but not THIS slow. Anyway, I've seen All the King's Men (1949) again, so I've updated my ranking on My Latest Oscar Film.

You can click HERE and see how Casablanca did. Is there anyone who doesn't respect this film?!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film

It's the 2nd year I'm seeing all of Oscar's nominees for this category: again, some surprises and a dreadful film. I've written about them on my other blog, My Latest Oscar Film.

Last year I went with Ajami (Israel) as my favorite. Here's my ranking for this year. You can click on the name of the film to get to my short review.

1. Biutiful - from Mexico

2. In a Better World - from Denmark

3. Dogtooth - from Greece

4. Incendies - from Canada

5. Outside the Law - from Algeria

It might not seem a big difference by the way I rated them, but Biutiful was an easy winner for me.