Thursday, April 03, 2014

Add to Technorati FavoritesAn introduction to BEST ACTRESS 1961

There’s a video at the end of the post proving that the draw was correct. J 1961 it is... Not the year I wanted the most, nor the least. There’s also a strange coincidence happening, because just on Saturday I took out a framed photo I received a while ago (and kept it wrapped) and decided to hang it. Photo below:

LOL, right? J Destiny! This is a historical year because it marks the first time an actress (or any actor for that matter, I think) won an Oscar for acting in a foreign-language film. The race was wide open and Sophia managed a surprise win.

I have previously seen only 2 of the 5 films (Breakfast at Tiffany’s – of course! and Splendor in the Grass), but I am very interested in the other 3, for different reasons. I will watch all 5 films (again), count the screentime and choose my winner. I must confess I have no idea how this will go, I really don’t have any favourites; since I tend to prefer DRAMA, Loren might have a slight advantage, but I also favour Geraldine Page and I expect to enjoy The Hustler quite a lot, so we’ll see.

The 5 ladies that Oscar had chosen as nominees for 1961, in alphabetical order:

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard, in The Hustler

Sophia Loren as Cesira, in Two Women/La Ciociara

Geraldine Page as Alma Winemiller, in Summer and Smoke

Natalie Wood as Wilma Dean Loomis, in Splendor in the Grass

Interesting to note none of them is playing a real life person, which is rare. The Hustler is the only film of the 5 to also be nominated for Best Picture. Let’s try to guess how they got nominated:

I imagine it was an easy nomination for Geraldine Page, because, for this role, she had won the Golden Globe for Actress in a Drama, the critics’ award from the National Board of Review and came 2nd with the New York Film Critics Circle. That’s strong support to get before reaching the nomination stage. This was the 2nd Oscar nomination for Geraldine and the first in Leading, having been previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Hondo (1953).

I’m not sure how much of a hit Breakfast at Tiffany’s was back in the day (in the meantime: a cultural phenomenon), but I’m quite sure Audrey Hepburn didn’t have a hard time getting this nomination. She entered the race with a nomination from the Golden Globes for Actress in Comedy; the film itself received a handful of Oscar nominations and I’m sure it was a success with the East Coast voters, considering its location and having Truman Capote behind it. This was Audrey’s 4th Oscar nomination (all in the Leading category, gathered in less than a decade), having previously won the Oscar for her first nomination, Roman Holiday (1953).

From here on it’s a tough call. I’d risk and say Natalie Wood had the next chance of getting nominated, having already received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. West Side Story being the Best Picture of 1961 worked both in favour and against this nomination, I think: it helped boost her popularity, but I’m sure there was also a bit of vote splitting happening, with WSS clearly more seen than Splendor. This was the 2nd Oscar nomination for Natalie and her first in Leading, having been previously nominated as Supporting for Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

I would dare and say Sophia Loren was only 4th (even though she ended up winning) because of one simple reason: the Academy doesn’t usually go for foreign language films. She had already made American films, and that worked in her favour, I’m sure. But Ciociara didn’t register with voters in any other categories, so they could’ve easily ignored the film altogether. What helped her, I’m sure, was a Best Actress win from the New York Film Critics Circle, and I also hear the performance is quite flashy. This was Sophia’s first Oscar nomination.

This leaves us with Piper Laurie. I hear she’s good in the film, but she was ignored by the Golden Globes, she had only done B-series films in the past and The Hustler, it seems, is all about Paul Newman. The overall success of the film was definitely crucial in her getting this nomination, which was her first.

...And she was lucky because there was serious competition. I’d like to point out who I think was the runner-up: Shirley MacLaine gives her best performance in an excellent drama called The Children’s Hour – for which she did get a Golden Globe nomination. She is SO good in it that this must’ve been a rather shocking omission. I think she was definitely 6th (also considering the film did get some Oscar love, including for Fay Bainter).

Other strong possibilities:
Leslie Caron, Fanny
Audrey Hepburn, The Children's Hour [in case she didn’t make it for Breakfast]

Dark horses
Claudia McNeil - A Raisin in the Sun
Maria Schell - The Mark
Vivien Leigh - The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

Probably got a couple of votes:
Bette Davis - Pocketful of Miracles
Rosalind Russell - A Majority of One
Miyoshi Umeki - Flower Drum Song
Susan Hayward - Back Street
Natalie Wood - West Side Story
Carroll Baker - Bridge to the Sun
Sophia Loren - El Cid
Doris Day - Lover Come Back
Debbie Reynolds - The Pleasure of His Company
Debbie Reynolds - The Second Time Around
Lana Turner - Bachelor in Paradise
Hayley Mills - The Parent Trap

Let’s see how this goes!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Add to Technorati FavoritesMy vote - Best Actress 1941

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this Best Actress year. I started it having seen only 2 of the 5 films and I ended up pleasantly surprised by this final ranking. I’ve went through all of them again (some of them twice), counted the screentime and loved each performance just a bit more the second time around. To see the post on how the 5 actresses got nominated, click here.

I also started the year presentation by almost calling it for the winner: my #1 is a favourite performance of mine in one of my favourite films ever. That didn’t change, even though some will say I am being VERY subjective about it. J Of course I am, but that’s that. #2 was a surprising but easy choice. #3 and #4 could easily switch places even though they are very different performances. #5 unfortunately makes for one of the least deserving Best Actress winners I have ever seen (and many others seem to agree), but it’s mostly the film’s fault.
So here is how I ranked them:

1. Bette Davis, The Little Foxes

The screentime: approximately 53 minutes and 4 seconds (46.7% of the film)

The film: I loved it; it’s well written & very well acted. Some thoughts on it: LINK.

The role: Bette plays Regina Giddens, a very ambitious woman, whose desire to get even richer tears her family apart.

The performance: As soon as the dinner scene started, Bette, dressed in a now-iconic black gown, stole my heart. She is everything in this film, from her look that’s both bizarre and stunning to the way she talks (non-sexual sensuality, if that makes any sense) to the confident, yet oh-so-human character she portrays. She owns the screen and you simply can’t take your eyes off her: there’s cruelty, and no tears are being shed, and yet I feel like I know this woman and by no means is she a villain.

The highlight: The final argument with her daughter, having to go up the stairs. Haunting scene.

2. Greer Garson, Blossoms in the Dust

The screentime: approximately 67 minutes and 57 seconds (69.7% of the film)

The film: What I would call your average 1940s film, nothing extraordinary, very idealized. Some thoughts on it: LINK.

The role: Greer plays Edna Gladney, a woman who dedicates her life to finding good homes for abandoned children and fighting for their rights.

The performance: It’s mostly the kind woman role that Greer got to play her entire career. What makes this one special? The surprising nuances, often of spontaneous and isolated selfishness of the character, that made me say Oh…. It’s a very dynamic performance that will not allow you to ignore it and it got better the second time: there’s so much energy to it, both in the louder scenes and strong activism, but also when the camera is on Greer and, through her very expressive eyes, you can feel the struggle inside the character.

The highlight: Either the ending or the surprising Get that child out of here party scene.

3. Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire

The screentime: approximately 45 minutes and 40 seconds (41.6% of the film)

The film: A silly, relaxing comedy, with good dialogue. Some thoughts on it: LINK.

The role: Barbara plays Sugarpuss O’Shea, a singer who goes under hiding from police by befriending a group of lexicographers.

The performance: The success of the performance depends almost exclusively on Barbara’s charm. While the screenplay is good, the performance could’ve been dull, yet it’s not. It has a lot of soul and, more importantly, is has charisma and a lot of confidence. She succeeds when humour is involved because Barbara has a strong comedic timing and delivers the dialogue the right way. The character arc is visible on her expressive face. While I don’t think the performance is extraordinary, it’s very well thought through. A strong 3.

The highlight: Seducing the professors on her first visit to the house.

4. Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn

The screentime: approximately 45 minutes and 51 seconds (40.2% of the film)

The film: Another well-written film, a drama with interesting characters. Some thoughts on it: LINK.

The role: Olivia plays Emmy Brown, a naive schoolteacher who is seduced by a gigolo into marrying him, as a way for him to get his visa.

The performance: It’s not a performance for everyone to appreciate, because the role is not spectacular, but I strongly believe nobody could’ve played it better. There’s something about Olivia’s beautiful, innocent face that makes her perfect for such a role (and Melanie in GWTW for that matter) – the performance is all in the eyes and she has to sell the audience that this woman is naive, overly enthusiastic, willing to be loved, but never stupid. It’s a job well done, and a strong 3 (I can’t believe it only ranks 4th!)

The highlight: Being interrogated, and then putting on the glasses.

5. Joan Fontaine, Suspicion

The screentime: approximately 75 minutes and 1 second (76.8% of the film)

The film: The worst Hitchcock film I’ve ever seen and an overall unsatisfying experience. Some thoughts on it: LINK.

The role: Joan plays Lina, a young woman who rushes into marriage without realizing the loser her husband is and maybe even a murderer.

The performance: Poor Joan. Her theatricals that worked mighty fine in Rebecca feel quite out of place here and bring to light the lack of experience of this young actress. Sure, her performance is way better than the film itself and there is something appealing to it. You can tell she’s really trying to carry the film, to keep it together, and the tears are on display in all the right moments, but she does tend to overdo it. With a screenplay that’s failing almost every scene, she is fatally tempted to act more and more.

The highlight: Listening on her husband who’s back from France talking to the Police.

How did the Academy vote for the winner: I almost have no idea. Let’s start the other way around: although she is amazing & incredible, Bette was probably 5th because she already had 2 leading Oscars by the age of 33. I would foolishly say Olivia was 4th because the film is mostly about Boyer’s character and she doesn’t get flashy scenes. I guess Greer could’ve been 3rd, because the performance is good – what was working against her: she wasn’t that much of a big name at that time. Which means Barbara was 2nd – not so much because of the performance, which is fine, but comedic, but because she had an amazing year with (allegedly) great performances also in The Lady Eve and Meet John Doe. I have no idea why Joan Fontaine won, maybe because of all the faces she makes, because she had lost for Rebecca, maybe because of the disappointing New York Film Critics Circle win. But given that each of them probably had her fans, I woudn’t be surprised is even Olivia was the runner-up.

And that’s about it.

What’s next: Another DRAW (!!!). :D Since I’m still in old movies mood, the draw will be from the 1950s and the 1960s. The 16 years entering the draw will be 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968 and 1969. [1950, 1957, 1965 & 1966 already discussed].

After announcing the new Best Actress year, I will post my very early predictions for Oscars 2015.

To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, they’re on the column on the right.