mercoledì 15 novembre 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny

Marisa Tomei won the Oscar from her first nomination for her performance as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny.

My Cousin Vinny is a rather entertaining comedy about an unexperienced lawyer from New York who has to defend two young men wrongly accused of murder in Alabama. I wouldn't say it's necessarily a great movie nor one of the funniest comedy I've ever seen, but I liked it more than the first time and it's definitely a nice way to spend a couple of hours. It's an enjoyable film to watch with a nicely written screenplay and some good performances. Joe Pesci gives a solid, entertaining lead performance and among the supporting players Fred Gwynne is particularly memorable.  

Marisa Tomei's win for this performance is one of the most infamous in Oscar history, to the extent that people actually speculated for years that Jack Palance read the wrong name that night. Her win must have been quite shocking indeed: she hadn't been nominated to almost any precursor and she was up against more established actresses in far more emotionally charged role. A shocking win doesn't necessarily mean an undeserved one though: perhaps Mona Lisa Vito isn't the most demanding part ever nor My Cousin Vinny the greatest showcase for an actor ever, but there's no denying that Marisa Tomei is an absolute delight in this film and that she steals pretty much every scene she's in. Actually, she does even more than this: she trascends a clichè-ridden role that was probably written into the movie just to have a prominent female character and makes it a real human being.

Mona Lisa is the fiancèe of Vinny (Joe Pesci) and for the most part her role is actually kind of repetitive: she is mostly there to argue with him, questioning his (indeed questionable, at least early on) ability as a lawyer and complaining (rightfully) about his way of handling the case. If the character never actually feels one-note is entirely Tomei's merit who brings such a great deal of fun and energy to the character she's absolutely irresistible. There isn't that much subtlety, there are many large gestures and over-the-top line-deliveries - I usually tend not to love these kind of performances but Tomei pulls it off brilliantly. She isn't afraid of going broad with her mannerisms, even over-accentuating her natural Brooklyn accent, but she skillfully avoids becoming a stereotype and not for a second she comes off as grating. She has a pitch-perfect comedic timing selling every single one of her lines - actually, most of the time she's not so funny for what she says but rather for the way she says it. She turns even the blandest joke into gold because of the lively, energetic fire she brings to every one of her moments. Out of all the cast members she seems the one to be striving the most to make her character memorable - there's real commitment and dedication in her performance and it all pays off. Even the dialogue isn't on her side, she still manages to be extremely impressive due to how strong her screen-presence is and due to how fun she seems having with the role. And when the writing is strong, then she's flat-out brilliant - the deer scene is one of the funniest from an Academy nominated performance and no matter how many times I've seen she always manages to crack me up. Though her shining moments come towards the end of the movie during the courtroom scene in which Mona Lisa is asked to testify as an expert in mechanics: from her outstanding facial expression to her quicksilver delivery, she's absolutely hilarious every step of the way, pretty much owning the screen from the moment she shows up. 

A key element for the success of her performance is her chemistry with Joe Pesci and thankfully it's downright perfect. The two of them make for an extremely endearing pair and even when they're arguing the love between the two is always evident - there's not much space for their relationship to breathe and develop, everything has to be conveyed by the actors through their performance as the movie does not give too much focus to it and luckily the two actors are so good we feel we've known Vinny and Mona Lisa since ever. Speaking of their bickering, it's very amusing and Tomei is a hoot in her portrayal of Mona Lisa's sassy, no-bullshit personality. Her greatest achievement though is perhaps her ability to convey different feelings of the character even if, as I previously stated, the movie doesn't really care too much about the character itself beyond its function within the story. In the few moments in which Mona Lisa cheers up Vinny and shows her faith in him, Tomei manages to be actually quite heartwarming and affecting. Scenes like the one in which Mona Lisa complains about her "ticking biological clock" and the fact that they're still unmarried or the one in which she storms out of a restaurant after a fight with Vinny are mostly used for comic effect, but, without ever compromising the light-hearted tone of those moments, Tomei manages to bring real emotional weight to them and realistically conveying Mona Lisa's anger and frustration over her relationship with Vinny.

In the end, this is a truly wonderful performance from Marisa Tomei who goes far beyond what was required from her. She delivers a delightful, hilarious turn while still grounding her character enough to make her feel like a real person. She's by far the most memorable element of the movie and gives an unforgettable, endearing performance that is just pure, fantastic fun, and I would it's refreshing to see that the Academy can reward performances like this too.


lunedì 6 novembre 2017

My ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks - Part 4

Here's the fourth and final part of my ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Again, I should specify that the ranking only includes the performances of the first two seasons and not the revival.

10. Lenny Von Dohlen as Harold Smith

Lenny Von Dohlen's Harold Smith does not have that much screen-time in the series as he only appears for a handful of episodes. Nevertheless, he manages to stand out as one of the show's most memorable and poignant performances of one of its most tragic characters. Von Dohlen' portrayal of the lonely, shy Harold effectively avoid turning the character into a stereotype - Harold could have easily been just a bundle of nervous tics but Von Dohlen manages to make his mannerisms seemingly effortless. His scenes could have easily not worked considering that his screen-partner is often Lara Flynn Boyle, who in their moments together is bland at best and awful otherwise: thankfully, he manages to be completely unaffected by her performance and he actually does a terrific and moving job at showing how Harold slowly starts to break out of his shell and open up to Donna. When he finds out about Donna's real motives and feel betrayed, Von Dohlen manages to be quite terrifying in his outburst but also incredibly heartbreaking. It's a deeply poignant portrayal of a sad, lonely soul.

9. David Lynch as Gordon Cole

This is actually a performance could have been spectacularly awful and annoying due to the extremely loud nature of the character. It's a role that could have come off as unbearably over-the-top - instead, David Lynch delivers an absolutely wonderful turn making Gordon Cole one of the most endearing characters of the whole series. Lynch is hilarious in every single scene he's in nailing each of his line-deliveries that are never merely shouting. He shares such a wonderful, lively chemistry with MacLachlan and Ferrer and all of them are such a hoot in their scenes together. He's one of the best aspects of the second half of the show's second season, particularly in his few interactions with Madchen Amick: both actors are rather wonderful in their scenes together, making them properly sweet, amusing and light-hearted. It's a brilliant performance that Lynch managed to took even further in the third season.

8. Piper Laurie as Catherine Martell

Piper Laurie isn't exactly the subtlest actress that ever existed, but she belongs to those type of actors that can be deliciously over-the-top without becoming hammy. Laurie is very entertaining in her portrayal of her character's shady, manipulative nature and she's particularly terrific in her scenes with Richard Beymer - the two of them couldn't be more enjoyable schemers. She also works very well opposite Joan Chen: when she has the upper hand, Laurie couldn't be more deliciously cruel; when she doesn't, Laurie compellingly portrays her character's determination not to be defeated. Her best moments though are the ones she shares with her on-screen husband Jack Nance: they are hilarious in their bickering scenes but their best moments are the few serious, poignant conversation in which the two characters achingly reflect on the state of their marriage and the love that used to be between them. In those moments, Laurie manages to give Catherine some nuance and complexity - she effectively conveys Catherine's knowledge of her own cruelty as well as a certain bitterness that has grown over the years. Plus, she deserves bonus points for her scenes in the second season as the other character I won't spoil and I have to say I really did not see that twist coming. A terrific performance and, though the 3rd season is perfect as it is, I would have liked to see her in it. 

7. Jack Nance as Pete Martell

As I just said, Jack Nance's scenes with his on-screen wife Piper Laurie are absolutely golden as the two of them share such a brilliant chemistry that convey so well the complicated history between the two characters. In particular, Nance is extremely moving in his portrayal of Pete's love for his wife in spite of her harsh treatment of him. Aside from that, Nance makes for such a wonderful counterpart to her: whereas she's bitter and occasionally downright cruel, Jack Nance's Pete Martell is pretty much the nicest person you could ever encounter. Nance's performance is in many ways a rather simple one, but it's just beyond wonderful in its simplicity: he gives a convincing and believable portrayal of Pete's sweet, good-hearted personality and he adds such a great deal of welcome warmth to the screen whenever he appears (the scene in which he comforts Audrey after a heartbreak is, in particular, beautiful). His character actually isn't a very active part of the story, yet he makes every single reaction of the character count and he makes us completely invested in his character's feelings. A great, lovely performance.

6. Dana Ashbrook as Bobby Briggs

An over-the-top performance in pretty much the best way possible. Ashbrook is pretty much a hoot from the very beginning as the rebellious, seemingly good-for-nothing teenager - from his swinging walk to his brillant line-deliveries, Ashbrook creates an absolutely unforgettable character. It's a hilarious, scene-stealing turn though what's most impressive is his ability to ground the character and nail all of his contradictions. He's great in his scenes with Madchen Amick, showing that, in spite of all his flaws, he truly and sincerely loves Shelly. And he is also great in the few scenes in which we get a glimp of his true feelings regarding Laura's death, such as his conversation with Jacoby in his office or his angry outburst at the funeral - two moments in which the actors combines so effortlessly comedy and drama. And in particular he's terrific at portraying his character's stormy relationship with his father and he shares a brilliant chemistry with Don Davis: their heart-to-heart conversation at the diner is one of the show's most powerful scenes. It's an absolutely wonderful performance that avoids turning Bobby into a caricature and actually give an indication for the decent, honest man he has become by Season 3. 

5. Richard Beymer as Benjamin Horne

Beymer is an actor I really did not care for before seeing Twin Peaks as I found him to be rather weak in both The Diary of Anne Frank and West Side Story. Here, though, he's absolutely amazing bringing just the right amount of charisma and sleaze to the character: he does an absolutely brilliant job at portraying his character's selfish, manipulative nature and he's especially great with Piper Laurie and especially David Patrick Kelly, with whom he shares a very peculiar chemistry as they work on the exact same wavelength, both being extremely entertaining at portraying their character's scheming quality while showing some genuine brotherly love between them. When luck turns its back on Ben, Beymer is extremely effective in his portrayal of his character's distress and desperation while still keeping that devious quality that made his previous scenes so deliciously entertaining. His storyline in the second half of the second season is honestly terrible, but he definitely rises above it and I actually found him to be quite affecting in his scenes with Sherilyn Fenn later on, effectively portraying Benjamin's transition in a slightly better father and giving a glimpse of the decent man he would become by the third season. A terrific performance.

4. Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer/Maddy Ferguson

Laura Palmer is one of the most iconic characters ever, and Sheryl Lee is a big reason why. She does not really appear much in the series, obviously, yet Lee is absolutely astonishing in every minute of screen-time she has: in the brief footage scenes of the pilot or James' flashback, she is so good at being the charming presence she's supposed to be while effectively alluding to the troubles beneath. She makes those small moments so intriguing and she then gets to develop them in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in which I think she gives one of the greatest performances of all time. Back to the series, I thought she was absolutely brilliant in all of her scenes in the Red Room being such an odd, captivating and unnerving presence up until the Season 2 finale in which she is absolutely terrifying. Her performance as the other character she plays, Laura's cousin Maddy, is extremely underrated I think. It's a lovely, understated piece of work and for me she completely saved the storyline involving James and Donna: she is a very endearing presence and then does a terrific job at conveying her character's change as she grows more and more similar to Laura before realizing she has to find her own path and be her own self. Her goodbye to James is a beautifully underplayed moment and one of the series' most touching. And then there is her final scene which I won't spoil here, but I will just say that she's amazing in it and it's one of the most disturbing moments of the whole show. 

3. Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne

I won't deny it, if she had better material to work with in the second season she would have easily been in the first place. Audrey is honestly an extremely tricky character that could have fell flat in many ways: she could come across as spoiled, careless, annoying brat and the reason why she does not is Sherilyn Fenn who finds just the right approach for the character and makes her one of the most endearing, memorable of the series. Fenn is absolutely fantastic in the role as she makes Audrey such a charming and captivating presence whenever she appears and brings just the right amount of both sass and allure to the role. From her unforgettable dance scene, Fenn makes Audrey one of the most interesting character of Twin Peaks and one that is just wonderful to follow because of how entertaingly unpredictable it is. She brings a great deal of fun to her performance and is a joy to watch in every scene. But past that she also brings a lot of depth to Audrey: in her scenes with Beymer, she's quite heartbreaking at portraying her character's longing for some affection from her father, and in her scenes with MacLachlan she's absolutely wonderful at conveying the innocent, sweet love Audrey feels for Cooper. Despite getting considerably less screen-time as the series goes on and being stuck in some terrible storylines, Fenn manages to be amazing all the way through conveying a certain development in Audrey - her goodbye to Cooper is a brilliant moment in which Fenn conveys a newfound maturity in Audrey. And even if her chemistry with Billy Zane is not particularly strong (not for faults of her own), she manages to be quite affecting in the storyline covering Audrey's romance at the end of season 2. It's a fantastic performance of a wonderful character and if there is something I do criticize about the third season, even if she's great in it, is the lack of resolution regarding her character, because she deserved it.

2. Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

Before seeing Twin Peaks, I had only seen Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet. I actually rather liked his performance in that film, but nothing in his performance there could give me an indication of the brilliantly unique performance he delivers here. MacLachlan gives an absolutely wonderful performance in this series and he makes for one of the most endearing leads one could imagine: he gives such a lovely portrayal of Cooper's quirks without ever letting them define either the character or his performance - he makes them a natural, integral part of the character's nature while still never turning into a caricature. He brings such a wonderful amount of infectuous enthusiasm and energy to the screen, while also brings the right sort of quirky brightness to the investigation scenes. His lively portrayal makes his character's incredibly compelling. Thanks to his performance, you never once doubt the truthfulness of his good-hearted nature: and that's why his last scene in the Season 2 finale is so disturbing. Though his overall performance is intentionally light-hearted, this does not mean he doesn't ground the character: he shares a great chemistry with Michael Ontkean, making the friendship between Cooper and Truman heartfelt and sincere, and Sherilyn Fenn, tenderly conveying his character's affection and sympathy towards Audrey. And even though his chemistry with Heather Grahame is lacking, mostly due to the poor writing and her lifeless performance, he does a great job at portraying Cooper's personal plight deriving from some old wounds. It's a great performance that he took to an even higher level with his all-time best performance in the third season.

1. Ray Wise as Leland Palmer

An absolutely incredible performance from a very underrated actor. During the show's first season, Ray Wise is heartbreaking in his portrayal of his character's grief regarding his daughter's death. He works especially well with Grace Zabriskie as the two of them are so good are portraying their character's intense desperation in a complementary way. As the series progresses, Leland's behavior becomes more and more erratic and Wise manages to be deeply moving whereas he could have been ridiculous considering the very over-the-top nature of the scenes: there is some humor to be found in his performance but most importantly he never turns his character into a joke. Spoiler Of course, the truth is not what it seems and it is revealed during the second season that Leland is possessed by Bob and that he is Laura's murderer. Once the twist is revealed, Wise is absolutely phenomenal in his portrayal making Leland an unpredictable, deranged and profoundly chilling performance: the revelatory scene in which Leland kills Maddy is so terrifying it just gets under your skin. What makes his performance so powerful though are the traces of humanity that Wise still portrays in Leland: those few moments in which Leland seems to triumph over Bob, Wise is devastating at portraying the man's regret and guilt towards his action, making Leland just as much a victim as he is a villain. Spoiler Off It's a phenomenal, unforgettable performance that deserves to be regarded as one of the best performance in television ever.

And my ranking of the Twin Peaks cast is over. It's been quite exhausting but fun as well. In the next few weeks, I will post my review of Marisa Tomei's performance in My Cousin Vinny and then move to Best Supporting Actress 1940. I will try my best to be more active and to post much more often, meanwhile, thank you all very much for your patience!

lunedì 23 ottobre 2017

My ranking of the Twin Peaks cast - Part 3

Here's the third part of my ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Again, I should specify that the ranking only includes the performances of the first two seasons and not the revival.

19. Wendy Robie as Nadine Hurley

I was skeptical about her performance initially as I thought she was a little too much in the role. Never terrible or anything, but perhaps a little bit too shrill. Ultimately though her approach ends up being perfectly fitting to the over-the-top character that Nadine is: it's a tricky role as it is supposed to be annoying and overbearing and Robie excels at portraying those character's traits in an entertaining fashion without ever becoming annoying and overbearing herself. What makes the whole performance work though is the depth Robie brings to the character and as the series progresses she manages to be quite heartbreaking in her portrayal of her character's neediness and loneliness. In those moments Robie effectively tones it down revealing the desperation behind Nadine. Her storyline in the second season is rather ridiculous and the only reason why it isn't awful is due to Robie's commitment and dedication to the role. I really like her work here, though like a great deal of the cast, I think she hits even higher peaks in the third season (her last scene with Ed is beyond wonderful).

18. Al Strobel as MIKE/Philip Gerard

Al Strobel's performance is pretty much terrific from the very first minute he's on-screen. In his moments as Philip Gerard, Strobel is amazing at being so off-putting and unnerving showing clearly that there is something wrong with the guy. He makes for a truly fascinating character that brings a great deal of unpredictability to the series. When the truth about his character is revealed, Strobel is absolutely amazing at bringing the right sort of gravitas to the role of MIKE, making a great counterpoint to Frank Silva's Bob: he's equally forceful in his performance and rather disturbing in a way but without the malice that is present in Silva's performance, making their performances beautifully complementary. Also, his voice work is absolutely astonishing.

17. Joan Chen as Josie Packard

This is such an odd performance as there are many moments in Chen's work that in any other television series or film would come across as iffy or even downright awful: but in Twin Peaks, Chen's performance is actually quite brilliant as it is so perfectly in sync with the tone of her storyline. At the beginning Josie might seem a limited character but in my opinion Chen does a rather terrific job at making her a rather endearing and likeable presence whenever she appears. She manages not to spoil the twist regarding her character beforehand while making it totally convincing: rewatching the early episodes you can see her dropping some hints regarding her character's true nature but in an effectively subtle way so that a first-time viewer wouldn't have noticed. She's great as the series progresses in her portrayal of Josie's shady, manipulative, cold-blooded side (I particularly love her confrontation with Benjamin Horne as the two mutually blackmail each other), but what I liked the most is that she manages to create so sympathy towards her by showing effectively her character's underlying desperation and her genuine affection towards Sheriff Truman. Her final scene in particular is quite outstanding as she conveys so well both the ruthless femme-fatale and the desperate, damaged woman in Josie.

16. Catherine E. Coulson as The Log Lady/Margaret Lanterman

An iconic performance of an iconic character. Coulson's performance can easily be taken for granted but it's actually quite astonishing what she manages to achieve with the role: she excels in the comedic moments of her performance by making The Log Lady such an enjoyably off-putting and quirky presence but at the same time she never turns her into an absurd or ridiculous character which could have easily been the case. She brings the right sort of gravitas to the character in the more serious moments and is quite chilling in her portrayal of her character's peculiar wisdom. It's a great performance that lay the foundations for her devastating, unforgettable and incredible performance in the show's third season.

15. Miguel Ferrer as Agent Albert Rosenfield

Such a great performance from him and he makes Albert one of the most remarkable characters of the whole show in spite of his limited screen-time. In his first appearances in the series, Ferrer is downright hilarious in his deadpan delivery and he's so delightfully entertaining in his portrayal of his character's acidic, sarcastic attitude. He manages to make endearing a character that at first glance is anything but. Then there is his confrontation with Sheriff Truman which is a truly unexpected, surprisingly heartwarming moment in which Ferrer does such a wonderful job at revealing a different side of Albert and conveying his outview on life. His following appearences in the series are always welcome and only leaves you wanting for more of him. It's a wonderfully fun, engaging performance and he takes it to the next level in the show's third season in which he's downright brilliant.

14. Don Davis as Major Garland Briggs

In the beginning of the series, I found Davis to be rather good in his limited screen-time at bringing the right sort of gravitas and respectability to the character of Major Briggs and though he's a somewhat stoic father figure he never comes off as stern or unloving as Davis manages to convey so well the genuine concern of the Major for his son. Then he's absolutely incredible in his heart-to-heart conversation with Bobby as he portrays so well the love that Briggs feels for his son as well as a certain hopefulness regarding his son's future. It's one of the series' most moving moments and it's impeccably acted on both ends. In the second half of the second season the character of Briggs becomes one of the main links to the supernatural elements of the series and this is where things could have become somewhat ridiculous yet Davis manages to make it all work by conveying this sort of newfound, otherwordly wisdom in the character while being rather touching in his portrayal of Briggs' trauma due to the things he saw. 

13. Russ Tamblyn as Dr. Lawrence Jacoby

I actually quite like Russ Tamblyn in general as I think he has a genuinely energetic and endearing screen-presence (the only exception is, curiously enough, his Oscar-nominated turn). This quality of his has never been used better than in Twin Peaks: as the extremely odd psychiatrist of Laura Palmer, Tamblyn is an absolute hoot, stealing every single scene he's in with infectious energy and life. He completely embraces the weirdness of the character without ever coming across as hammy. Most importantly, he never turns Jacoby into a mere caricature and never lets him be defined by his quirks: in some key emotional moments, Tamblyn manages to find the bruised heart of the character, making his love/obsession towards Laura both disturbing and moving. It's a terrific performance that, just lithe show itself, is a pretty much a crazy, perfect mix of comedy, drama and dread.

12. Everett McGill as Ed Hurley

Ed Hurley is, among the characters of Twin Peaks, the most profoundly and genuinely good-hearted one. Goodness isn't always the most rewarding character trait as it can occasionally result in a boring, one-dimensional creation but McGill makes Ed one of the most powerful and touching elements of the show. He shares such a terrific chemistry with Wendy Robie and he's great in their scenes together at conveying the guilt and compassion that make Ed stay with her; and he also works wonderfully with Peggy Lipton - the two of them are so endearing together and they make their love so pure and sincere that you just can't help but root for them. Ed is mostly defined by his relatioship with those two ladies but he is also a great character on his own and McGill is often quite hilarious in his portrayal of his character's reaction to the crazy situations around him. And he's also a hoot in the scenes with the Bookhouse Boys. Overall, it's a great, wonderful performance that adds a lot of heart to the show.

11. Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer

Though she doesn't get a whole lot of screen-time, Grace Zabriskie delivers an absolutely incredible performance as Sarah Palmer. She's heartbreaking in the first episodes at portraying her character's reaction to her daughter's death - it's a very intense performance though it never becomes too over-the-top. What makes her turn so disturbing is that she suggests that there is something off with the character, alluding to the fact that she's coping with more than just grief, and she makes for such an electrifying, unnerving, puzzling presence. When more about her character's domestic life is revealed, Zabriskie makes the horror of the story come alive even more through her performance and she's especially heartbreaking in the surprisingly quiet scenes of the aftermath, as she reflects on what she has lost and what she has left. It's a brilliant performance that lay the foundation for her terrifying work in the third season.

Next: the top 10.

venerdì 15 settembre 2017

My ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks (1990) - Part 2

Here's the second part of my ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Again, I should specify that the ranking only includes the performances of the first two seasons and not the revival.

29. Michael Parks as Jean Renault

Though it doesn't rank among the characters of the show I find most interesting, I would Parks is a rather effective villain as the manipulative, sleezy Jean Renault. He brings the right sort of elegance and eloquence to the character while always being such a subtly menacing presence. It's not a particularly nuanced role which is the reason why this performance is not higher, but there's no denying that Parks does very well within those limitations and makes for a fairly strong villain that is both entertaining and genuinely scary.

28. Michael Horse as Deputy Sheriff Tommy "Hawk" Hill

Michael Horse' performance is a very quiet and unshowy one yet he manages to leave a strong impression as the stoic Deputy Hawk. Though he's almost never at the center of any given scene, Horse makes for a enjoyable, subtly warm and even comforting presence on-screen and gives a winning portrayal of his character's loyalty. He brings the needed power to his key moments and also nails the lighter moments in which he's actually very entertaining showing off some pretty terrific comedic timing. It's a very nice performance, though his best work is in the third season in which he's given more to do and he absolutely thrives.

27. David Patrick Kelly as Jerry Horne

It's a one-note role but also a rather scene-stealing one and Kelly delivers a flashy, funny performance. He plays the character with just the right amount of flamboyance and never falls into the trap of overacting which could have easily been the case with such a part. He technically is nothing more than a comic relief but he leaves a lasting impression thanks to the energy and life he brings to his performance, his strong comedic chops and his pitch-perfect chemistry with his on-screen brother Richard Beymer. 

26. Warren Frost as Doc Hayward

Warren Frost doesn't really have that much to do throughout the two seasons but he still gives a nicely remarkable and moving performance. He's a consistently welcome presence throughout the show and brings the needed warmth to his character: his character is not a particularly active member of the story for most of the time but he certainly makes Doc an endearing character. When he's asked to do a bit more, especially towards the end of Season 2, Frost proves himself to be perfectly up to the task and brings some emotional honesty and gravitas to the potentially ridiculous storyline involving *Spoiler* Donna's true father (who may or may not be Benjamin Horne) *Spoiler Off*. even though I wish he had someone better to act with than Lara Flynn Boyle.

25. Carel Struycken as The Fireman

The Fireman is one of the most mysterious characters of the whole show and Struycken's performance is one of the reasons why. Though part of the character's uniqueness is due to David Lynch's brilliant direction, Struycken is terrific at being this extremely peculiar, puzzling and off-putting presence, conveying a sense of overwhelming and universal wisdom whenever he appears. His performance is great because he manages to be incredibly disturbing and haunting yet not evil unlike other supernatural characters in the series (such as BOB). I'd say he brought the character to an even higher level in the third season (and if I were to consider that season too, he'd be much higher), but it's a pretty great, unique performance.

24. Michael J. Anderson as The Man from Another Place

For being such an iconic character in the show, his screen-time his surprisingly brief. Still, this is quite a terrific performance and Anderson makes The Man from Another Place one of the most fascinating characters of the whole series. From his unforgettable dancing to his puzzling, undecipherable behavior, Anderson is absolutely fantastic in his portrayal making his character such a strange and sinister presence that fits so well with the unique atmosphere of the scenes in the Black Lodge. He makes The Man from Another Place a properly devious presence in a very subtle way and then being particularly brilliant in the second season finale by switching so effortlessly from bizzarre to downright terrifying.

23. Kenneth Welsh as Windom Earle

I could actually see some people hating this performance, and understandably so, but I thought it worked rather well. In a certain way I'd say Welsh oversimplified the character going for a manic, unhinged approach that is indeed effective but kind of deprives Windom Earle of potential nuances that could have been found. Still, it's a rather impressive and scary performance and Welsh is certainly an unpredictably creepy and menacing presence whenever he appears. I particularly like his scenes with Eric Da Re as the two of them create such an interesting and odd dynamic in their scenes together, with Welsh being especially effective in his depiction of his character's sleazy manipulation.

22. Harry Goaz as Deputy Andy Brennan

I know that Andy is a rather beloved character and that his position in my ranking might be a little too low for some, but I have to admit I found Goaz's performance occasionally a bit too much for me to completely love it. He's never bad but there a re a few scenes that are just a little over-the-top and seems like a little phony in their obvious attempt to be funny. I still don't want to sound too critical regarding this performance because there's obviously plenty to like and for most of the time Goaz delivers a wonderfully entertaining portrayal. His character could have easily been a caricature but Goaz manages to stop just before turning him into that: he makes Andy a very endearing and likeable character and is very entertaining in his portrayal of his character's clumsiness, but at the same time he gives a rather touching and compelling portrait of his character's loyalty and good-nature and shares a properly sweet chemistry with Kimmy Robertson.

21. Kimmy Robertson as Lucy Moran

I wasn't quite sure of her performance at the very beginning but she quickly managed to win me over. Robertson is a hoot as the squeaky-voiced, ditzy secretary and makes the most out of every single moment thanks to her pitch-perfect comedic timing and brilliant delivery (her voice could have easily been dreadfully annoying but she manages to make it both funny and endearing). She's always a welcome presence on-screen and she is wonderful in the subplot regarding her baby, working so wonderfully with both Goaz and Ian Buchanan (hilariously and deliciously obnoxious). She also hits every emotional beat throughout the series and as I mentioned above her chemistry with Goaz is nothing short of wonderful.

20. Peggy Lipton as Norma Jennings

Norma could have been such a thankless role being such a quiet, "ordinary" character among all of the peculiar ones in the show, but Peggy Lipton delivers a wonderfully down-to-earth that never ends up being overshadowed. She is a warm, welcome presence throughout the series and never makes you doubt of Norma's good-hearted nature. She shares an especially poignant chemistry with Madchen Amick and the two actresses makes their friendship feel emotionally resonant and true. And of course she shines best in the scenes opposite Chris Mulkey and Everett McGill: in her scenes with the former, she empathetically portrays the reasons why Norma doesn't leave Hank and then delivers absolutely in their final scene together; in her scenes with the latter, she's heartbreaking in her depiction of her character's love for Ed and the two actors realize so well the pure, everlasting feeling between the two.

Next: ranking from 19 to 11.

lunedì 4 settembre 2017

My ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks (1990) - Part 1

I have to apologize again for being so slow with my reviews. I'm trying to post as often as I can but sadly I haven't had that much spare time lately. I'll soon post my review of Marisa Tomei's Oscar-winning performance but meanwhile I've decided to post my ranking of the cast of Twin Peaks (1990), which is definitely one of my favorite television series.

37. Heather Graham as Annie Blackburn
She comes in last for me not because it's a terrible performance but because Annie is a completely useless character that was clearly introduced just to replace Audrey Horne as Agent Cooper's potential love interest. In her few episodes in the series, Annie stands out in the wrong fashion - she seems ill-fitting to the unique atmosphere of Twin Peaks and even though this could be intentational as Annie is supposed to be somewhat of an outsider I never felt it really worked. Heather Graham is not awful in the role and she has a few charming moments but overall her performance felt somewhat weak and not incisive enough to make the character feel any less forced. She never made me care too much about Annie's personal tragedy and doesn't really share that much chemistry with Kyle MacLachlan, not to mention that she occasionally makes a few really odd acting choices.

36. James Marshall as James Hurley
Out of the main characters, I've always felt James Hurley to be by far the least interesting one and that's partly due to James Marshall's performance. The role of James is quite tricky to pull off as he's supposed to be somewhat mysterious, good-hearted and tormented all at once. I never felt James Marshall ever really managed to find the right path with the role as I've always found his performance to be rather dull as he mostly keeps the same dour, one-note expression throughout the series. I never felt really invested in his character's plight, I never really understood the motivations behind his actions and I never cared much about his romance with Lara Flynn Boyle's Donna as I thought their chemistry was lacking. Not to mention that his own subplot in Season 2 is perhaps one of the weakest elements of the series. I wouldn't necessarily call his performance a truly bad one and he has a couple of successful moments but overall I was unimpressed. Despite having much less screen-time I thought he was better in the show's third season.

35. Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Hayward
I really liked Lara Flynn Boyle's performance in the first couple of episodes: I thought her reaction to Laura's death in the classroom was devastating and I thought she did a nice job at portraying both her grief over her friend's demise and her realization of her feelings for James. But after that I felt she completely lost the grip on the character: Donna is supposed to be the somewhat insecure, sensitive friend of Laura Palmer but after the beginning Boyle plays her with a misplaced confidence that does not fit with the concept of the character. I thought she was very bland for most of the remaining episodes, delivering her lines with the same, monotonous, breathless tone and relying on always the same mannerisms (smile through tears, slightly raising one eyebrow). She has a couple of good moments throughout (her outburst in the graveyard) but mostly I felt her performance to be a weird mix between stilted and melodramatic.

34. Eric Da Re as Leo Johnson
Unlike in Graham's, Marshall's and Boyle's cases, I really don't have a problem with this performance and I think Da Re is perfectly good in the role. In the series' first season, I found him to be a properly menacing presence especially in the scenes of domestic violence. It's a rather limited part as he's mostly just a mean abuser with not many layers and I fail to see in his performance the reasons why Shelly was attracted to him in the first place, but still he gives a fairly effective portrayal of his character's viciousness. In the second season I thought he was good as well in his portrayal of his character's damaged state though he again is quite limited by the fact that he's mostly just Windom Earle's henchman. To his credit he does well with what he has and even manages to create some sympathy for the character in the last few episodes.

33. Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Henry Truman
Another case of a rather good potrayal of a limited character. Truman serves as the straight man to Kyle MacLachlan's quirky Dale Cooper and Ontkean serves the purpose of the role perfectly well: he's always a bit overshadowed by MacLachlan but he gives a perfectly solid performance that is often engaging and endearing. He shares a very nice chemistry with MacLachlan and the two of them make their characters' friendship realistic and moving. He also does quite well in his scenes on his own and he's particularly effective at portraying his sincere love for Josie Packard (Joan Chen). The main reason why he isn't lower is that there are a few terrible moments in his performance that are unintionally laughable, such as his "PUT IT DOWN!" in his final scene with Chen and his drunken outburst. Those moments aren't many but they detract a little from the performance, which is still good overall.

32. Frank Silva as Bob
This performance is very hard to rank as on one hand it's undeniably effective but on the other hand Bob is not really a character but rather more of a presence. Silva definitely makes Bob the threatening, menacing and terrifying presence he is supposed to be and every scene of his is downright chilling. It's a purposefully inhuman performance and Silva is great at being a ferocious, animalistic figure whenever he appears. David Lynch's direction definitely enhance the performance which is indeed memorable even if it's technically rather one-note. 

31. Madchen Amick as Shelly Johnson
A perfectly solid performance and gets placed this low only because the show has a pretty amazing ensemble. Amick's performance is not among the most memorable of the cast but she's still pretty remarkable in the role, portraying very well her character's immaturity (and her poor taste in men) while still making us sympathize with her plight. She's very touching in her scenes with Da Re enhancing both the terrifying nature and the emotional power of the scenes depicting his abuse, while in the second season she effectively portrays her character's frustration as she has to deal with her husband's condition and her stormy relationship with Bobby (Dana Ashbrook). She's also good in the less emotionally charged scenes and she's a generally quite charming presence on-screen, sharing a particularly endearing chemistry with Peggy Lipton. It's a very good performance though I felt her best work in the series is in the third season.

30. Chris Mulkey as Hank Jennings
This is one of those performance that I find faultless and perfectly fitting to the character but just don't love particularly. Mulkey's performance is very good as he portrays so well Hank's viciousness making him a properly despicable character and I particularly appreciate the way he handles his scenes with Peggy Lipton: there's a genuine love on his character's part but at the same time he's very effective at portraying his character's unwillingness to accept the fact that he does not deserve her. He effectively shows how Hank subtly manipulates her into staying with him and overall creates a rather compelling and fascinating character. The reason why he's relatively low on this list is not because his performance is not good but simply because I like other performances in the show better. 

Next: ranking from 29 to 20.

This ranking only counts the performances in the first two seasons of the show. I loved the third season, I thought it was a groundbreaking experience and I'd love to talk about its performance (especially Naomi Watts' and Laura Dern's, both amazing) but it would be really hard for me to rank such a huge ensemble.

lunedì 28 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives

Judy Davis received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Sally Simmons in Husbands and Wives.

Husbands and Wives is a good Woody Allen movie about two married couples and how the decision of one couple to split up affects the relationship of the other one. Even though Allen himself thought of this as one of his very best pictures, I've never been overly fond of it: it's a cleverly written and rather well-acted movie but one that I think is a bit hindered by its aesthetic. The idea of shooting it with a handheld camera often comes off as more distracting than anything and I thought the editing was particularly awful with its tendency to cut from one scene to another in the middle of a dialogue or even a sentence - it's just plain frustrating and doesn't add anything to the movie. That said, I don't actually mind the documentary-like style as I think the interviews of the main characters are well-written and poignantly performed. The screenplay is overall very good - it's a character-driven movie and all of the main roles are believable, three-dimensional human beings. The acting is also solid all around, though I think only Davis and Sidney Pollack end up being truly memorable.

Back in the days Judy Davis was apparently considered to be the frontrunner for the win and it's quite easy to see why: it's a flashy performance, she won a great deal of the critics' awards and supporting ladies in Woody Allen's films usually fare well with the Academy (see Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino and Penelope Cruz). I don't think her loss is as surprising as some do - Marisa Tomei might not have been nominated to almost any of the precursors but her performance is probably even flashier than Davis' and I think Richardson also stood a chance for the award due to the fact that she was in three appreciated movies that year. Still, out of the five nominated performances Judy Davis' is probably the most appreciated one nowadays, with people often claiming she was robbed of a win. I have to admit I've never been in love with this performance as most people - I like it a great deal and I think she is overall quite great in a challenging role but I've never found this to be the masterwork it is sometimes regarded as.

The main reason why I don't rate this performance as high as most people is because of how she handles one of her early scenes, namely her first date with another man after her splitting up with her husband (Pollack). It's quite clear from the beginning that Sally as a person is a bit neurotic but in this scene Davis stresses this idea a little bit too much - she's quite good at portraying Sally's underlying awkwardness at the beginning of the scene but as it progresses her performances grows progressively more obvious and definitely louder in not quite the right way. Her body language often comes off as excessive in even in the slightest gestures, such as her holding of the wine glass or the smoking, and even if the concept of the scene is actually quite interesting, with Sally consistently interrupting the date to call her husband and yell at him about his new girlfriend, I found her execution of it to be often unconvincing and overcooked. Her acting comes across as needless showboating here and by the end of the sequence I found her to be actually quite terrible - her delivery of "Don't defend your sex! It's true!" is particularly off as it comes across as both over-the-top and robotic. She has a couple of inspired moments throughout the scene ("Fucking Don Juans, they should have cut his dick off") but for most of it she goes far overboard than it was required.

Now I don't want to sound too negative on this performance because outside of this scene there is plenty to like about this performance - Sally is probably the most interesting character of the movie and save for that misstep Davis does a terrific job at bringing it to life. She is excellent in the movie's first scene when she and her husband announce that they are breaking up - Davis effectively shows that her nonchalance as she delivers the news is pretty much a put on, betraying her character's true emotional state through her somewhat uncomfortable body language. After the aforementioned first date scene, Davis improves greatly as she finds a way to be flashy and scene-stealing without coming across as trying too hard. Her character's words and actions are often in contrast with each other, as sometimes she expresses sorrow for the break-up and the next minute she's talking about how much she loves being single, but Davis effectively conveys in every scene the inner desperation of the character whether she is willing to admit it or not. For instance, I love the scene in which she is talking to Mia Farrow's character pretending to be totally fine with the break-up and to be enjoying her single life: she is terrific at bringing so much energy in what she says almost as if she were trying to convince herself more than her interlocutor, and there's a striking inconsistency between what she says and what her body tells - she has a great control of her physical acting as her small glances and gestures perfectly convey the insecurities her words are trying to hide. And she's brilliant whenever the façade drops - her reaction when she sees her husband with his new girlfriend across the street is just pitch-perfect. My favorite scene of her performance is probably her date with Michael (Liam Neeson in a charming, lovely turn): she's quite hilarious at the beginning of the scene in her portrayal of her character's nervousness and then goes on being rather heartbreaking as she opens up about her marriage and what ultimately led to its end: it's a surprisingly powerful moment that Davis plays with unexpected delicacy and feeling. Her chemistry with Neeson is also very effective - their relationship ends up being not very lasting but there's a sincere, heartfelt connection in their few scenes together.

Davis also thrives in the interview scenes and she ably uses them to add even more depth and complexity to the character: those moments are some of the strongest of her work as she plays them with incredible frankness, honesty and sincerity. The "fox and hedgehog" monologue as she opens up to the interviewer about her sexual problems is a terrific moment that Davis delivers beautifully. The eventual reunion between Sally and her husband is not quite properly built up but Davis and Pollock share such a strong chemistry it's believable - they are fierce and explosive in their character's confrontations over the course of the movie but surprisingly tender in the few moments in which they convey the mutual affection between them. Their final scene together is particularly brilliant - both actors are amazing at showing that their relationship has not changed drastically and that their problems are still there but that they've learned to accept them and live with them. Davis is quite moving in the end as she shows a newfound peace in Sally and a certain maturity in her acknowledgement that perfection in a marriage is unachievable but that doesn't mean it isn't worth it.

So overall I might not quite adore this performance as some do but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it. That misguided scene I mentioned in the beginning detracts a bit from the overall work but it's still a compelling, fascinating and three-dimensional portrayal from a great actress. A memorable, fiercely vivid performance that adds a lot of substance to the movie.


mercoledì 23 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Miranda Richardson in Damage

Miranda Richardson received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Ingrid Fleming in Damage.

Damage is an effective movie about the toxic affair between a married member of the Parliament and his son's mysterious fiancèe. When I first watched the movie, I hated it: I found it to be a soulless and dull experience with awkwardly realized sex scenes and poorly conceived performances. It considerably grew on me the second time around and while I didn't find it to be quite perfect I still thought there was plenty to appreciate. The screenplay is probably the weakest part of the film as I found the early scenes almost unbearable to witness due to how unnatural and unbelievable the dialogue feels, but thankfully it gets better after a while. Louis Malle's direction is pretty terrific and on a rewatch I found his approach to the sex scenes to be particularly intelligent: while on my first view I disliked them for their coldness, I now see that that feeling was intentional as the affair between the two characters is based more on obsession than love. I really didn't like Jeremy Irons' performance the first time but it's actually a subtle, excellent piece of work. Juliette Binoche also grew on me this time around.

Curiously enough, Miranda Richardson's performance is the only aspect of the movie of which my opinion hasn't changed on a rewatch. This is not a negative thing really as I already liked her performance on my first viewing, the only difference between now and then is that now I think the movie around it is actually very good. Regarding the performance itself my feelings have stayed the same: it's a very solid turn from a terrific actress though not quite as great and extraordinary as some people find it. My issues with the performances are not really with the acting per se and Richardson actually makes the most out of every single scene - the thing is that for most of the movie she's actually given very little to do and she can only do so much with the material she has to work with.

To be perfectly honest it's actually quite impressive what she manages to accomplish with the role as her early scenes could have been a disaster. First off, she easily could have come across as miscast in the role as she is far younger than the character she's supposed to play (she was actually only a few years older than Rupert Graves who plays her son): she never lets this affect her performance though because, even if she does look a bit too young, she manages to create a believable and convincing dynamic with Irons, her on-screen husband. In their short scenes together the two actors manage to convey the history of their characters and the present state of their marriage, which is not passionate but it's still a quietly loving one. The other element that hinders her performance in the beginning is the screenplay which, as I mentioned, is rather shaky there: Richardson can't always get away with it unfortunately (her conversation with Juliette Binoche at dinner early on in the film is awkwardly written in particular as it feels almost painfully artificial) but she still rises above the quality of the material and she recovers quickly once the writing starts to find its way.

The movie sadly does not focus very much on the character of Ingrid, which is in fact mostly defined by her relationship with her husband and her son. To Richardson's credit, she actually does her very best to give Ingrid a personality and to an extent she does succed - she might not overcome the limitations of the role but within those limitations she manages to imbue the character with grace, intelligence and a certain humor. Considering that for a large chunk of the movie Ingrid is completely unsuspecting of the affair between her husband and Anna (Juliette Binoche), she does not get to do anything truly interesting to do but Richardson manages to stand out to a certain extent by realizing so well the character's feelings in her interactions with her son and his fiancèe. In her moments with Graves, Richardson does a terrific job at portraying her character's motherly love and she exudes such a lovely amount of warmth when the two of them share the screen. And she's great in her few scenes with Binoche at portraying Ingrid's distrust of this woman while keeping a very polite, well-mannered behavior. I particularly like her reaction to Martyn's and Anna's engagement as she conveys so well her actual disapproval while trying to fake enthusiasm in order not to disappoint her son.

Her performance is mostly remembered nowadays for her final two scenes once the affair is exposed with major consequences and Richardson is indeed amazing in them. For such a conventionally conceived character, I found those last two scenes to be absolutely brilliant, original and unexpected: in the first one, Richardson does an absolutely phenomenal job at portraying her character's grief but what really took me aback was the fierce, aggressive, venomous anger Ingrid unleashes towards her husband. Her "You should have killed yourself" speech is nothing short of astonishing: Richardson is absolutely devastating in her painfully violent outburst and her depiction of her character's hartred towards her husband is particularly hard-hitting because it contrasts so strikingly with the previously gentle characterization of Ingrid. And her breakdown as she screams for her son is unforgettable and raw - I literally felt chills down my spine. And she is equally brilliant in the scenes of the morning after: it's a much quieter scene than the previous one but Richardson is equally powerful in her bitter reflection on the whole situation and her marriage itself. Her last moment as she stands naked in front of her husband and confronts him about why she couldn't be enough for him is a terrific exit for the character - it's almost too painful and brutal to witness in its quietness but Richardson's excellent, captivating performance makes it impossible to look away.

This is a very difficult performance to rate. There is no denying that her final two scenes are stunningly acted, but at the same time it's hard for me to ignore the fact that she is severely underused for an hour and a half. If the rest of her work had been on par with her acting in the last act, it would have been one of the best performances ever: but she's unfortunately side-lined for the majority of the movie and as it stands it's "merely" a respectable performance from a terrific actress who makes the most out of an underwritten part. Her final scenes are undeniable and just for them she is a worthy nominee, even though I felt she was actually better in The Crying Game from the same year.