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.


Fritz said...

Great to see your thoughts on that year! And I really can't complain about the ranking (mine is a little bit different). Overall a nice year with 5 great actresses even if those might not be their best performances.

Allen said...

Great job! Interesting that you liked Greer as much as you did, wasn't expecting that!

I hope you draw a year from the sixties next. I just think that's a very interesting decade overall for performances, but we'll see :)

Alex in Movieland said...

I actually do feel this is Greer's best, better than Mrs Miniver, Madame Curie, Valley & Mrs. Parkington. [I haven't seen Mr Chips & Campobello] :)

I wasn't expecting the Greer love either, but there it is. I know most bloggers prefer Stanwyck from this line-up, but I am very confident about my #1 & #2.

I dunno... was thinking last night, what would I prefer the most & least from 50s & 60s. I think the most I'd prefer 62 (bc is/seems so good), 52 (bc seems so bad ;D but fun), 54 (bc I'm curious).
The ones I'd want the least, I guess, would be 59 (bc I've seen all), 67 (bc doesn't excite me; seen all), 69 (bc doesn't excite me).

But we'll see. there'll be no cheating. :)

Allen said...

I agree, '62 would be amazing! That's one of my most anticipated years. Too bad I won't get to it for a long long time :(

Oh, and happy 25th year of coverage Alex! :)

Alex in Movieland said...

You really did the counting. :) that's sweet, thank you! Yeah, I knew 125 performances bc I keep a table of screentimes.

62 is great and I haven't even seen Miracle Worker & Days of Wine and Roses. But Bette is fantastic, Geraldine is magic and Hepburn is absolutely crazy.

You have a lot of great years ahead. U'll soon reach 39. then 1940. 1950 is amazing. and so on. :)

Fritz said...

Oh my God, go and see The Miracle Worker and Days of Wine and Roses - two more outstanding performances that truly make this one of the best years ever!

Alex in Movieland said...

I believe you, I believe you, but I've promised myself I won't be seeing Best Actress performances outside of the years, I am saving them for when the time comes. :)
exceptions allowed.

Fritz said...

:) Well, at least you know that there are many GREAT performances ahead of you! :)
Really looking forward to your next year.