Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My vote - Best Actress 2013

I can’t believe it, I got to put together a Best Actress year before the actual ceremony – that hasn’t happened since forever. And what an Oscar year it is, with these top 3 performances some of the best this
category’s ever seen. And so different… SO different that it was almost impossible choosing a winner. I must compare it, in my mind, to Meryl vs. Viola: the technical precision VS the heart. Back then I chose the technical perfection, and guess what, it’s only fair I go for the same now.

#1, #2, #3 are, as I said, amazing achievements and career best for Cate & Sandra. #4 was easy to choose – a performance that I respect more than I love, from an actress I normally fall for. #5 is not bad, but probably shouldn’t be on this list (give me Julia, Julie, Adele or Emma instead).

I am officially cancelling the “best acted scene” category, and one more comment: boy, was counting Sandra’s screentime in Gravity a pain in the ass. :) Must focus on “approximately”, since the heavy breathing was very hard to keep track of.
Here is how I decided to rank them:

1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

The screentime: approximately 65 minutes and 7 seconds (69.5% of the film)

The film: I would call it one of Woody’s mediocre-to-good films. It’s definitely saved by the acting, not just Cate, but Sally and Bobby also. The directing is ok, but the dialogue didn’t always work: I might’ve liked it more had it been more honest in being a Streetcar rip-off.

The role: Cate plays Jasmine, an emotionally unbalanced, troubled socialite, who moves with her sister, trying to recover from her husband’s death and losing all of her fortune.

The performance: Meet Cate Blanchett. The best actress of her generation. Most of you reading know I had doubt preparing for this film: will she overact, how will I feel? Well, it’s an acting class like no other, a real tour-the-force that feels even better the second time around. Nothing is held back: she doesn’t shy away from craziness, but always packs it with a human emotion. In every scene you can feel how hungry Cate is to deliver excellence – and it all works: Jasmine is never a caricature, not in Cate’s hands. The most touching thing is recognizing yourself in some of the emotions, and there are so many layers to the performance. Jasmine crying after Dwight finally calls? Haven’t we all been there, in that tense moment?!

The highlight: Any one of at least 15 impeccably acted scenes. I’d probably go for the ending or the selling shoes on Madison Avenue monologue.

2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity

The screentime: approximately 61 minutes and 54 seconds (74% of the film)

The film: Probably the best film of the year. A film about space that is not science fiction? What a concept! Yet, it doesn’t waste a minute. Not one boring moment, because Alfonso Cuaron is in charge – a story of survival that feels technically flawless. A cinema experience to remembered.

The role: Sandra plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer who tries to survive and get back to Earth, after an incident leaves her adrift in space.

The performance: By no accident, this almost ended up being my #1 choice, because I was thinking with my heart. There’s one scene in this film (yes, the crying scene) that makes the performance what it is. Of course, Sandra is excellent throughout by giving a performance that feels so natural, so honest, despite its very physical demands; the difficulty level of this role is higher than people tend to realize. I found her incredibly charismatic in a very unfussy kind of way – the scene where she finally loses hope is so surprisingly emotional and intimate, one of the most touching I’ve ever seen.

The highlight: Like I’d need to say: I’m dying, Aningaaq, and there she goes breaking our hearts.

3. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

The screentime: approximately 51 minutes and 19 seconds (45% of the film)

The film: I’ve heard a lot of complaining about it, but it’s a fine film that depends a lot on its actors. The screenplay mostly works, what the film needed was a director with a bit more vision and a bit more personality (though not too much).

The role: Meryl plays Violet Weston, a woman with cancer, addicted to pills, whose family goes through (another) crisis when her husband kills himself.

The performance: It’s not a subtle performance, that’s pretty clear. But then: it’s not a subtle role either, so I wouldn’t blame Meryl. It takes someone who really knows acting to carry a role so emotionally intense, and Meryl succeeds, with the laughs, with the heartbreaking moments, with the ones that are over-the-top. There’s a lack of vanity that gained my respect, and there’s a sense that she knows this woman, that she understands where she’s coming from and is not afraid to lose herself in the character. The dinner table scene is dynamite and Meryl deserves most of the credit for it.

The highlight: Anything at the dinner table (Tell her what an attack looks like – heartbreaking) or the boots monologue.

4. Judi Dench, Philomena

The screentime: approximately 48 minutes and 25 seconds (52.7% of the film)

The film: It’s an amazing true story that, in my humble opinion, should have been adapted in a very different way: it needed less laughs, witty lines and commercial bullshit and a deeper journey into the mind of Judi’s character. I do appreciate it showing both views on religion.

The role: Judi plays Philomena Lee, a woman in search of her long-lost son, who was taken from her 50 years prior, when sold into adoption.

The performance: I’ve had a big dilemma with this performance, since I can tell it’s good, it really is, but I simply don’t love it. It might be because it doesn’t deliver the emotional punch it could have, but, given the screenplay, this might just be as good as it gets. This is Judi Dench, and even ok Judi Dench is quite amazing to begin with, but I felt the humour of the screenplay damaged the performance by breaking the rhythm, if that makes any sense. Sure, Judi can handle even the funny lines, but the end result left me rather cold, as if I didn’t really care. The great acting does come from the more silent moments when we get a glimpse of her soul, through Judi’s very expressive eyes.

The highlight: Looking at the montage with Anthony’s life, I did not abandon my son.

5. Amy Adams, American Hustle

The screentime: approximately 48 minutes and 4 seconds (36.8% of the film)

The film: It tries too much to be Goodfellas at times, when it should just be a David O. Russell film. The screenplay is the problem, and it’s never too deep as to feel important in any way. Leaves little impression afterwards.

The role: Amy plays Sydney Prosser, a con artist forced to work with the FBI after she and her con man lover get caught.

The performance: For some reason, I’ve had some issues seeing Amy in this part. I’ve liked her a lot in the past (Junebug, Doubt) but I just couldn’t buy her as a seductive woman from the fashion world who ends up a great con artist. My feeling was that for some of this performance Amy simply looks embarrassed to be there, as she’s just about to run from the set. Yes, yes, I know the character is vulnerable, with self-trust issues, but something just didn’t seem convincing enough (not talking about the accent). That said, I guess she’s ok: she gets two rather dramatic scenes with the guys and does a good job with them, she looks hot in the clothes, but I just didn’t care a lot for her character. We’re looking at almost 3 stars; I try to stay as objective, otherwise I might’ve went for less.

The highlight: ‘This is what we do to survive’.

How will the Academy vote? Well… Cate should be the clear, obvious winner and I so HOPE it will happen. Her only competition comes from Amy, who has the advantage of never winning before (her 5th nomination) and a good campaign late in the game. I guess Sandra is 3rd, with little chance of pulling a surprise win (also because people still rightfully feel she didn’t deserve her first). Judi will get some votes from older Academy members, and I think Meryl is 5th just because the film wasn’t much of a success and she won her 3rd Oscar just 2 years ago; so no pressure.

And that’s about it.

What’s next: A DRAW (!!!) which I haven’t done in a looong while. :) If you’re new to it, I’ll just put some pieces of paper in a bag (with eligible Best Actress years) and pick one without cheating. And film it all, of course. I feel like going really vintage, so 30s-40s it is. The years entering the draw will be 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946 and 1948. A reminder that 1928, 1931, 1937, 1945 & 1947 have already been discussed (you can click on them). 30, 32, 36 & 49 are not available to me, so they’re not entering. :) Fun. I have my favourites, though I never cheat.

To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, go to the column on the right (which needs a bit of updating).


joe burns said...

I'm currently doing this year, so I can't reveal my ranking, but check out my thoughts!

Do you think Blanchett will win the Oscar or do you think Adams or even Bullock will surprise?

Allen said...

Looks like you cancelled your stars too :P

I definitely liked Amy more than you did, and I liked Sandra a lot less than you did, though I'm due for some rewatches.

I'd be glad to see you review any of the '33-'35, just so I can compare our thoughts. But I think 1940 would be a gem of a year for you to cover as well :)

Alex Constantin said...

I forgot to put in the stars late last night :D

anything from 30s-40s would be goood. there are years where I haven't seen any nominees (hides in shame)

Derek Bowman said...

Switch #2 and #5 and we have the same ranking, and I basically agree with most of your comments about those three agreed performances. I'd bump Meryl down to a 4, though. Glad you came around on Cate :D

As for Adams, I really didn't see embarrassed in her perf at all. Maybe a little hesitance w/ all the improv & changing lines, but not embarrassment. Hmm.

I'm curious how you think Blue Jasmine was dishonest (or could be more honest) about being a Streetcar rip-off. I thought it felt pretty clearly an homage/rip-off from the start? Just curious what you mean :)

Alex Constantin said...

I felt Amy was uncomfortable at times, in the "don't make me do this" kind of way. or the "why the hell am I here?" or "Let me pretend to be sexy to scare the doubt away". :)

The Blue Jasmine thing - it was something subjective as in: I would've been less hostile towards the film if it would've credited Streetcar anywhere (which to my knowledge DOESN'T).
I might've appreciated a "loosely based on Streetcar..." or anything, the way O Brother, Where Art Thou? is an adaptation of the Odyssey. :)

Fritz said...

Yay for Cate! Still need to see Judi and Meryl...

Alex Constantin said...


August is all kinds of juicy.