Sunday, April 29, 2012

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 2011

To me this felt like a good Best Actress year, as most of the past years have been pretty solid. I don’t usually find it hard to choose a winner, but this one proved very difficult. Meryl brought the technical perfection of a performance and carried her film more that the material requested, while Viola gave us a couple of key scenes that are acted with brutal honesty and created such a likeable character to care for. It’s one of the most difficult choices since starting this Best Actress project, because the performances are so different. In the end, I went with the one I think film history will do justice in the next decades: a performance underrated by many critics that I am sure will stand the test of time & more.

My #3 and #4 were also extremely different, but each performance had its own qualities. None was a real threat for my win. #5 is also a good performance, but for me it’s the one I connected the least with, as it took a potentially likeable character and made it the least likeable of the group.

I had a similar dilemma with my recently created category, named Best Acted Scene, so I am making it a tie.

For me, the 2 different but equally best acted scenes from the 5 performances are: Margaret Thatcher’s phone conversation with her son and Aibileen’s confession about her dead son. Both have sons involved, I figure it now, which is interesting.

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

It’s a performance that is technically flawless from an actress at the top of her game. The screenplay doesn’t bring depth, but it leaves an open door for Meryl to take charge and do what she does best: she brings vulnerability when needed, creates an emotional connection with the audience, she’s in control knowing how to play to the camera so that you don’t take your eyes off her. Some of the best aging acting I’ve ever seen.

the highlight: the sadness you can read on her face when her son calls.

There is not one false note in this performance, which is probably a supporting one, but so essential to the film that it takes the spotlight. With a couple of key scenes nicely arranged for her, Viola is in her comfort zone: she doesn’t need to take risks as long as she’s being true to the character, she only has to bring the tears and make it look natural. And that’s what we get: a touching, heartbreaking performance, very worthy of recognition.

the highlight: speaking out about her son’s death.

Given how popular her predecessor was playing Lisbeth Salander, this was quite a challenge for Rooney Mara. She has no problem fitting in with the physical aspects of the role and brings certain edginess to Lisbeth that can only serve the character. Her best acting choice is to play is subtly, not to overdo it, because the character is flashy enough.

the highlight: torturing the man that had raped her.

People who say she wasn’t believable as a man should put it in context: she/he was a servant, a mostly invisible person to others, and who would’ve even cared anything about the sad little person Albert Nobbs. Glenn does a very good job in playing a pathetic character; because she stays true to the character and underplays all emotions, some might find dull and unimaginative. To me, it was exactly what the film needed.

the highlight: confessing the traumatic episode from her childhood.

Even if I would try to get past the fact that a well-known actress shouldn’t play a Hollywood ICON, the performance is still flawed. Yes, Michelle does do a lot of ACTING and some scenes are quite delicious (for me, the ones on the film set), but the character is a constant victim and when you make Marilyn Monroe seem a rather dislikeable character, there must be something wrong with the performance. Oddly enough, you can’t tell the range.

the highlight: getting all intimidated when Vivien Leigh visits the set.

It’s not that difficult to guess how the voting went for this Best Actress ceremony. Meryl came 1st, but it wasn’t an obvious win; even so, I doubt it came down to only a couple of votes: she is Meryl Streep, she owns her film, she had British support and, considering most members are 60+ white males, it makes sense. Viola was the obvious 2nd, while Michelle was 3rd. Michelle had a lot of buzz in early January, but it slowly faded away. I think Glenn Close was 4th, just because of the main demographic (same generation as her) and I think voters who wanted to go for young went with Michelle and not so much with Rooney Mara, who I guess was 5th.

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

What’s next: Very soon I’ll post my first predictions for next year’s Oscar ceremony. The AIM Awards for 2011 will follow in June (I think) where I’ll name my best from the past year. The next draw for a Best Actress year will take place next week, and it will be a year from the 1970s (1977 & 1978 already discussed, with Marsha Mason for The Goodbye Girl as a controversial choice of mine for 1977 and Ingrid Bergman for Autumn Sonata as my obvious pick for 1978). Stick around! 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meryl Streep, in The Iron Lady
approximately 69 minutes and 11 seconds
69.8% of the film

The film

An elderly Margaret Thatcher talks to the imagined presence of her recently deceased husband as she struggles to come to terms with his death while scenes from her past life, from girlhood to British prime minister, intervene.

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

The screenplay spends too much time at the surface of things and never digs deep enough to make the film really meaningful. It is constructed as a one woman show and they got lucky they had Meryl as their leading actress.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

To those who say Meryl is overrated from an Oscar perspective, I give them the facts: before this win she had won only once every 8 nominations, never in the past 29 years and her 2 previous wins are most uncontested: no one argues with her supporting Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer and only a couple of die-hard Jessica Lange fans could claim differently when it comes to her probably career-best performance in Sophie’s Choice. I wanted Meryl to win for The Iron Lady because I felt she deserved it and because I knew/hoped it was time for a 3rd.

Meryl plays Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister in Britain’s history, a strong, determined woman and overall a controversial political figure. As she is portrayed in this film, we discover Thatcher at very old age, struggling with dementia and remembering events of the past, the crucial points of her career; all these, I would say, from a subjective perspective. Some have said the entire purpose of the film was to win Meryl an Oscar, and I respond: what’s wrong with that? It’s clearly written as a one-woman-show, with tears, aging makeup, strong speeches, and what is wrong in seeing an Oscar-type performance done right. We can all agree the film kinda sucks, but at one point you stop caring about the film and focus on the performance, which is quite close to as good as it gets.

It didn’t take much for Meryl to convince me I am about to see a fantastic performance: it’s all there, from the first scene with 80-something Thatcher going out to buy milk. The scenes from the film with Thatcher in present times make for the best aging acting I’ve seen since Marion Cotillard in La vie en rose. The makeup is great and it helps a lot, but the old-lady gestures and movements, the entire body language and emotion on the face feel so authentic, I can’t believe anyone would argue with that.

It’s all to Meryl’s credit of course, as she puts so much work into it to make it look natural and effortless. Every one of her scenes from present times, every minute of her performance looks Oscar-worthy to me; I found it impossible to figure out her best moment: it’s either her dialogues with her daughter, the phone call from her son, the goodbye to her husband, the scene in the doctor’s office – all are played with such an intimidating determination, but also keeping an undisputed emotional connection – something that is valid throughout the performance: I was always aware that under the surface of this tough politician there’s woman, a human I can relate to, either from being laughed at, second guessing certain actions, regretting words she said, feeling frustrated with those around her treating her like a child.

The entire human aspect of the performance is all Meryl, because she has the great talent of building such an emotional connection with the audience. Is there any point in underlining how flawless the performance is from a technical point of view? Every gesture, every look at the camera, the voice, the old age body movement – they all seemed perfect, because Meryl knows how to act in front of the camera and the camera loves her. In any scene, I just couldn’t take my eyes off her.

To me, the performance was at its strongest in the present day scenes, but she was great in every other scene too. However, as the age of the character progressed, the performance became more and more interesting to me. I would rank it as a 4 for the scenes before & during Prime Minister years and an obvious 5 for the old-age performance. Unlike many of you, I strongly feel she should’ve won 3 years ago for Doubt, but to me this also ranks among her best work, so I am happy with the win. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rooney Mara, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
approximately 55 minutes and 28 seconds
36.9% of the film

The film

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

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

There are elements I like, for example the original score and the leading performance, and there’s stuff I really dislike: the screenplay, the excessive editing, the lack of focus. It’s one of my least favorite Fincher movies.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

In Oscar’s entire history of 84 ceremonies, only 4 times has it happened that the Best Actress category included no first-time nominees (1941, 1944, 1948 and 1994). Except for those years, there has always been a fresh face among the leading actresses; so, based on that rule, it shouldn’t have been surprising to see Rooney Mara nominated. While Tilda was the predicted 5th nominee, Rooney Mara had the Dragon Tattoo love on her side, enough to get her a nomination, but not enough to get the film in for Best Picture.

Rooney plays Lisbeth Salander, a young smart woman with a traumatic past, an outcast who is now quite a computer expert and a great researcher. She gets in trouble when a psycho rapes her, takes revenge on him and in parallel starts working with a journalist to solve the mystery of a woman missing for more than 40 years. It’s a well known character because of the books and the Swedish films, and quite a complex one, because it’s so mysterious and intriguing.

I haven’t read the books, but I’ve seen the original and I thought Noomi Rapace gave a fine performance, so Rooney had some big shoes to fill. I thought she nailed the physicality of the character and the fact that she’s not as pretty as Noomi is (who had a gorgeous face even under all that piercing) was in fact better for the performance – it made her seem edgier, crazier, less humanized.

Her biggest achievement in the role is, to me, leaving the impression that she really understands the character. I felt like she always stayed in, was faithful to the character and never overacted. She didn’t go for flashy, because the role itself was flashy enough. I thought she did well with the accent – I don’t know if it sounded Swedish, but it had a Nordic feel to it, and it was a characteristic that made Lisbeth even more exotic to a foreign viewer like me.

It is not a challenging role by range, but it has enough scenes filled with tension to make the role demanding, even difficult. All the scenes involving the abuse are difficult to watch, which is exactly what was intended and Rooney played the fear and the disgust perfectly. At the same time, the revenge scene is probably her best acting moment. And there there’s the uncalled-for nudity that Fincher obviously wanted: while I disliked the idea, I thought she did a nice job making it look natural and not uncomfortable.

It’s a performance that I respect, because I know not many actresses could’ve played this role. While I think the film fails as a remake, she brings more edginess to Lisbeth and makes it her own: she’s always convincing regardless of the scene, doesn’t compromise to win over audiences, but succeeds in that by simply staying faithful to the character and the mood. It’s.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Michelle Williams, in My Week with Marilyn

approximately 43 minutes and 41 seconds

47.7% of the film

The film

Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier's, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

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

The film is like a TV movie with a good cast, but not much of a screenplay. I think it depends too much on Michelle’s charm and not enough on creating a character that would be interesting or intriguing outside of its name interest.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe

This is a difficult performance to judge because I don’t think any well-known actress should even attempt to play an icon like Marilyn Monroe. In my opinion, they should’ve gone with a lesser known actress and give the audience a chance to believe more the story and in the performance. I didn’t see Marilyn Monroe, I saw Michelle Williams giving a good performance as a spoiled whinny actress. This automatically killed some of the pleasure I had watching the film.

Michelle plays Marilyn Monroe circa 1956, when she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl in England, with Sir Laurance Olivier as her co-star and director. The film follows her acting struggles, her addiction to prescription pills, her emotional breakdowns, but also shows her as a star, a naturally seductive woman, as seen through the eyes of a young man. There’s plenty of flirting, also some tears and many scenes to prove the emotional mess Marilyn was becoming.

As I said, in some ways this performance was dead from the start for me. So while I didn’t enjoy watching it, I can still judge elements of it beyond that. I could not blame Michelle for not trying, she does almost the best she can; some would say she captures the spirit of Marilyn, her flirty seductive way, and I partly agree. I think she’s at her best in the scenes where she’s having fun and also in the scenes of actually shooting TPATS.

Where I didn’t feel she put enough effort in it was in the scenes where Marilyn is under the effect of all the pills she’s taking. Either she was trying a bit too hard which doesn’t make it look so believable or it just ended up looking like lazy acting in such a particular scene. To Michelle’s defence, I didn’t think the screenplay helped too much.

Marilyn was to me one of the most dislikeable characters in the film: she’s made to look either too whinny, too dependent or a manipulative person. I don’t remember a particular moment when I was on the side of her character and I wonder if Michelle could’ve done more here: somehow move away from the misogynistic tendencies of the writing and give it a bit more personality, less victim, more range.

Even if I’d get past the image aspect of the role which doesn’t work in Michelle’s favour, I didn’t enjoy the way they portrayed Marilyn: I can blame the writer, I can blame the director for giving poor advice, but I’d also blame Michelle for not taking Marilyn’s side by never giving us hints that this is a woman who is at least aware that her life is spinning out of control. It’s an ok performance, but poorly guided and not memorable enough: a from me.