martedì 2 gennaio 2018

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1940: Judith Anderson in Rebecca

Judith Anderson received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca.


Rebecca is an amazing movie about a young bride who is haunted by the memories of her husband's former, deceased wife. It has always been one of my favorite Hitchcock movies and my admiration for it only grows with every rewatch. Hitchcock's direction is downright incredible as it has such a clear grasp on the shifting tone of the movie: he manages to make the story's progression to a fairytale-like dream (the courtship between the two characters) to a nightmare (the final act) in a way that is absolutely convincing and compelling all the way through. In doing so he is aided by a leading performance for the ages and pitch-perfect work from everyone involved in the technical department. The cinematography, with its incredible use of lighting, is especially magnificent, capturing the conflictual emotions of the characters in intimate, extreme close-ups as well as the terrifying beauty of the manor of Manderlay. 

When I first watched Rebecca I was probably around fourteen years old: I didn't know too much about the film except for the fact that it was the only Hitchcock film ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture and the fact that it featured what was, by all accounts, a brilliant supporting performance from Judith Anderson. While I was in awe of the film, I was surprised to find that I was not especially impressed by Anderson's turn. Looking back, I can understand why I didn't: back then, great was equal to flashy for me while Anderson's performance is surprisingly restrained. Revisiting the movie years later, I finally get the universal love and praise this performance receives: it's one of those cases in which a performance works so perfectly in tune with the tone and the direction of its movie and in which all those elements mutually enhance and elevate each other. And Anderson deserves a great deal of credit for the subtlety and intelligence of her performance which could have easily been campy and overwrought considering the nature of the character. Instead, she makes Mrs. Danvers, Manderlay's unwelcoming housekeeper, one of the most unforgettable villains ever delivering a performance that is both genuinely terrifying but also expertly controlled and psychologically rich.

Alfred Hitchcock's direction and George Barnes' cinematography are both key to the impact left by the character of Mrs. Danvers: she's often in the shadow, she's rarely seen walking and when she does she usually comes from a dark corner of the room. Because of this, the movie immediately establishes Mrs. Danvers as an enigmatic, discomforting presence and it's incredible how Hitchcock and Barnes manage to suggest that simply on an atmospheric level: Anderson has the tricky task to live up to the presentation of the character and she solves it skillfully. Watching the movie I found myself comparing her to her fellow nominee Barbara O'Neil (in All This, and Heaven Too): in her quieter scenes with Bette Davis, O'Neil actually adopts a similar approach to Anderson but the results are the exact opposite. Whereas O'Neil's stillness ended up being robotic and lifeless, Anderson manages to be rigid yet not dull in the slightest. She turns Mrs. Danvers in the personification of efficiency: in her early scenes she purposefully appears as basically inhuman, whose existence revolves around her profession and nothing else. Still, right from the beginning, Anderson suggests that there is something eerie going on with Mrs. Danvers and the fact that the viewer can't exactly point what it is makes her an intentionally frustrating, uncomfortable and later downright frightening presence whenever she appears.

As the movie deals with the second Mrs. De Winter's efforts to fit in at Manderlay, there are many scenes featuring Anderson and Joan Fontaine: the two actresses engage in a mesmerizing acting duet that makes their scenes together so captivating and compelling to watch - there is very little said explicitly, it's all in the subtext of their performances, which makes their exchanges together both reserved and explosive. They have a terrific anti-chemistry with Fontaine being extremely touching at portraying her character's attempts to gain Mrs. Danvers' respect and Anderson being so effectively and subtly cruel as she constantly undermines Mrs. De Winter's authority and self-confidence, unfavourably comparing her to Rebecca (the former wife) and doing her best to make her feel out-of-the-place and unworthy. Anderson is fantastic at portraying Mrs. Danvers' subtle game of manipulation while being an incredibly mysterious and fascinating presence as her motives still appear to be somewhat unknown. The turning point of her performance is the scene in which Mrs. Danvers finds the second Mrs. De Winter inside Rebecca's room and as Mrs. Danvers shows it to her Anderson uncovers her character's adoration, or rather obsession, towards the deceased woman: it's a challenging scene that could have been played in many different ways and Anderson simply nails it. What I especially love is the fact that she still keeps that physical stillness and idea of efficiency that had characterized the character previously and that she never goes for an over-the-top approach: she conveys everything through the modulation of her voice, soft and reminescent of Rebecca yet sharp and hateful towards the new wife all at once. She never turns Mrs. Danvers into a cheap villain and instead finds the humanity in the deranged woman she is playing: there's genuine pain in Anderson's performance and that touch of vulnerability and grief is what makes her insanity all the more terrifying, because it feels real. And she's unforgettable in a later scene in which Mrs. Danvers tries to convince the second Mrs. De Winter that she'll never replace Rebecca in her husband's heart and urges her to jump from the balcony - it's the moment in which the character reveals itself in all its cruelty and Anderson's performance is brilliant, vicious, unhinged and chilling to the bone.

Mrs. Danvers is not at the center of the attention for most of the movie's third act, which focuses on the investigation on Rebecca's death after a few more details are unveiled, but she makes the most of her screen-time. What's especially remarkable in her last scenes is how strikingly they contrast to the rest of her performance - in the scenes that take place outside of Manderlay, Anderson is terrific at portraying a far meeker, more nervous and uncomfortable Mrs. Danvers: she's not in the position of privilege that it is granted to her at the manor and she is aware of it. And as it turns out that Rebecca had more than one secret, Anderson does a brilliant job at portraying her character's devastation as Mrs. Danvers is forced to realize that everything she believed in was a lie. Her final descent into madness is not only terrifying but also perfectly well-earned as Anderson had previously built up to that moment impeccably.

This is a rightfully iconic performance from Judith Anderson who takes a very challenging role and plays it to perfection. She's an incredibly effective villain, making Mrs. Danvers a genuinely and subtly threatening presence whenever she appears, but the hints of humanity of her performance are what makes her all the more haunting. An unforgettable performance of an unforgettable character. 

5/5

giovedì 14 dicembre 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1940: Marjorie Rambeau in Primrose Path

Marjorie Rambeau received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mamie Adams in Primrose Path.


Primrose Path is a very flawed movie a girl whose relationship with a young man is jeopardized by her poor background and her troubled family. I applaud the movie for trying to deal with themes like prostitution back in 1940, but due to the restrictions of the Hays Code the movie is often forced to gloss over the real hardship of the featured characters and, in order to still arouse an emotional response, it opts for melodrama instead. The result is a rather problematic picture whose impact ends up being very muted despite its noble intentions. Even the central love story does not work and that's entirely due to the screenplay, which is in fact quite awful: it often feels hard to truly root for the two characters to end up together and that's because the writing occasionally makes Ginger Rogers' character's actions quite unbelievable and Joel McCrea's one's quite unsympathetic (if not downright cruel). The development of their relationship is never convincing and that's a shame because they have enough of a natural chemistry and they both give perfectly solid, committed performances. 

Marjorie Rambeau plays Mamie, the mother of the film's leading character, Ellie May. It's not a performance that is frequently talked about (nor is the movie) and she's in many ways the forgotten nominee of the 1940 line-up as both Darwell and Anderson have a legendary reputation and also O'Neil (for reasons unknown to me) and to a lesser extent Hussey have their share of fans. Having heard almost nothing about her performance here, I went into it with little expectations and I was pleasantly surprised. Considering the nature of the role (an aging prostitute who has to support her whole family) I was not expecting to see such a laidback performance: throughout most of her performance, especially in the beginning, Rambeau is an incredibly feisty and cheerful presence and the movie's main source of warmth. Though her approach might seem a little odd at first, it ultimately makes sense as Rambeau portrays Mamie as a woman who has long accepted her profession and who does not have much hope for her future but decides to still enjoy the little things she can. There is a touching veil of melancholy in her performance, a hint of regret for how her life turned out that Rambeau manages to convey in brief looks and micro-espressions at just the right time: nonetheless, there is no bitterness in her performance and Rambeau turns Mamie into an heartwarming and tender presence whenever she pops up - and considering how dull most of the movie is, the amount of spontaneous life and energy she brings to the screen is more than welcome.

What won me over especially was how rich and textured is Rambeau's work in spite of her limited time on screen. Though there are not many scenes devoted to her character, Rambeau gives such a vivid and lived-in portrayal that you just feel like you truly know this woman: she manages to convey her character's history and background without the need for it to be addressed directly, she never falls for the opportunity of over-acting (and there were many, especially as far as the accent is concerned) and trascends the stereotype or even joke that the character could have been. She realistically portrays Mamie's lack of both education and refinement without ever looking down on the character and without ever allowing the viewer to do so. She is great in her scenes with Miles Mander, who plays Homer, Mamie's alcoholic, depressed husband: Mander's performance is not without problems but Rambeau excels at conveying the history between the two characters. Right from the start, she shows that Mamie does not love Homer (in a later scene, she explicitly admits that she always respected him for his education more than loved him) but still cares for him a lot and she is quite affecting at subtly expressing Mamie's concern behind her warm and patient behavior. Her best scenes are probably the ones with Ginger Rogers: the two actresses share a terrific chemistry that makes the relationship between Mamie and Ellie May the highlight of the movie rather easily. Rambeau is especially wonderful in the scene on the porch in which Mamie urges her daughter to go after the man she loves, something Mamie did not do in her youth and forever regretted: she is sincerely heartbreaking at showing how Mamie wants a better life for her daughter - even if this life means being away from her.

Another excellent scene for Rambeau comes later on in the movie when Ellie May introduces her husband Ed to the family: there's an especially brilliant moment in which Ed tells her he had seen her already - for a moment, Mamie's face freezes as she thinks he has found out about her profession and then returns to her welcoming, cheerful self when Ellie comes up with a good excuse. It's a pitch-perfect moment acted to perfection by Rambeau. As Ed starts to find out progressively about what truly goes on in the household, Rambeau is very moving as she portrays Mamie's attempts to keep everything from falling apart and her struggle not to ruin her daughter's chance at happiness. The only scene in her performance that does not quite work completely is her final scene which has not aged very well: with her breathless deliveries and slightly overdone facial expressions, her acting style feels a bit dated here but nonetheless she manages to find some moving moments in it and even if the scene itself might not be great it still manages to be quite touching. And after she's gone, her presence is certainly missed greatly.

This is a very good performance from Marjorie Rambeau who makes Mamie by far the most memorable thing about the movie which is an admirable but ultimately unsuccessful effort. For the most part, she effectively avoids going from melodrama and makes Mamie a realistic, three-dimensional human being that adds a lot to the film whenever she shows up. It's an unjustly forgotten nominee, and a remarkable, moving performance.

4/5

venerdì 8 dicembre 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1940: Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story

Ruth Hussey received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Elizabeth "Liz" Imbrie in The Philadelphia Story.


The Philadelphia Story is a fine comedy about Tracy Lord, a heiress whose planned remarriage is put to test by the unexpected arrival of her former husband and a tabloid-type reporter. Despite its status as a classic, I've never been enamored with this movie and a rewatch only made my appreciation cool down a little bit. It's a movie I did not mind watching in the slightest but I thought it struggled with its tone in the final act and I would say the writing, as good as it is in the comedic side of things, has some rather dated aspects. I have to say I found the confrontation scene between Tracy and her father almost unbearable to watch as it seems to place all of the blame (including the one of her father's infidelity!) on her character. Also I have to say I found the cast as a whole to be a bit of a disappointment: outside of Katharine Hepburn, I thought everyone else ranged from quite good to rather weak.

Liz Imbrie is the photographer who works with Macaulay "Mike" Connor (Oscar-winning James Stewart), who get to cover the wedding with the aid of Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), Tracy's former-husband. On paper, it's a pretty great part: she gets to be the wisecracking, sassy type of character but also gets enough depth and focus to become a three-dimensional character instead of a mere stereotype. Unfortunately, the strength of the part is undercut by two factors: first off, Katharine Hepburn pretty much dominates the whole movie from start to finish and even though I don't think The Philadelphia Story features their best work both Cary Grant and James Stewart have quite a lot of screen-presence that kind of overshadows everyone else in the movie; the second thing is that I never felt Ruth Hussey truly made the most out of the part, resulting in a satisfactory, occasionally impressive but ultimately not great performance.

The shortcomings of Hussey's performance are most evident if you watch Celeste Holm's portrayal of the same character in the 1956 remake High Society: that film is pretty terrible, but Holm delivers an absolutely delightful performance that pretty much steals the whole movie and also functions as its emotional anchor. Liz is rarely the center of the scene, but she still gets plenty of opportunity to stand out as a great comic relief and I never felt Hussey really became that. This does not mean she is bad: she is a good fit for the role and nicely portrays her character's sarcastic nature while making still Liz quite endearing (unlike James Stewart who, especially in the beginning, comes across as rather obnoxious in that regard). She acquits herself nicely into the role and she's always a mildly enjoyable presence: nonetheless, her work is still a bit of a disappointment considering the potential of the role and I never felt she made the character as entertaining as she could have been ("We've come for the body of Macauley Connor" was the only moment of her performance I thought was truly funny). Especially opposite Katharine Hepburn's fireball of a performance, Hussey results a little underwhelming because she's not nearly as forceful and incisive as she is - watching her performance, I kept wondering what a natural scene-stealer like Rosalind Russell or Eve Arden could have accomplished with the role. I felt her comedic timing was not always quite on point and too often I felt she lacked the necessary verve to make her character stand out.

That said, I don't want to sound too negative about her performance as I do think there are parts in which Hussey succeeds. First off, I like how the unpretentiousness of her performance underlines her character's different and humbler background and even though Liz's previous marriage is only briefly alluded to I thought Hussey did a very good job at conveying her history of pain and heartbreak. But the aspect of Liz that Hussey gets best is her unrequited love for Mike: throughout the whole movie, the camera occasionally focuses on her face and in those moments she does a great job at portraying Liz's inner plight and longing. There's an air of melancholy that hangs all over the performance, with Hussey conveying a whole lot in the spaces between words and adding a lifetime of disappointment to simple lines ("I'm used to it"). The highlight of her whole performance is her scene on the staircase with Cary Grant, in which Liz admits her feelings for Mike to Dexter and tells him that she knows he is growing attracted to Tracy but also shows her hope that one day he'll finally become a more mature person and that he'll realize she is the one. Though very brief, it's perhaps my favorite scene of the movie and Hussey is excellent in it, perfectly portraying her character's unhappiness but also hopefulness as well as a great deal of dignity and grip over her own feelings. Just like Dexter, after that scene the viewer only has a greater admiration and respect towards Liz. The character does not get a particularly great closure as the ending of the movie is a little bit too rushed but Hussey does a fine job at portraying her concern when Mike proposes to Tracy, her relief when she turns him down and a note of hopefulness at the very end, leaving open the possibility that things might work out between Mike and Liz.

Overall, this is a perfectly respectable performance from Ruth Hussey, who conveys beautifully the inner vulnerability of her character and has some sincerely moving moments while remaining consistent with the light-hearted tone the film should have. It's the purely comedic side that leaves something to be desired as she does not quite shows the needed screen-presence to stand out in a cast full of such charismatic stars and does not quite bring enough energy to make Liz a truly memorable comedic relief. A fine performance with some excellent moments but a bit of a missed opportunity as well.

3/5

venerdì 1 dicembre 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1940: Barbara O'Neil in All This, And Heaven Too

Barbara O'Neil received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as the Duchesse de Praslin in All This, and Heaven Too.


All This, and Heaven Too is a rather unremarkable melodrama about a woman who becomes the governess of the children of a Duke and the turmoil caused by the Duchess' irrational jealousy due to her arrival. Though it is watchable enough, I found the movie to be an extremely standard and forgettable melodrama that often sugarcoates a potentially interesting, fascinating and nuanced story. The chemistry between the two leads, Bette Davis and Charles Boyer, is rather lacking and their performances don't rank among their best. The cinematography is actually rather impressive and brings a rather gloomy and melancholic air to the movie that the direction fails to the establish, but that's really the only thing about the movie I found remarkable in any way.

The Duchess is perhaps the movie's most interesting character: she's an overbearing, temperamental, selfish woman willing to do everything not to lose her husband - the kind of character the viewer can despise but also pity just because of how miserable her emotional state is. The problem though is that both the movie and Barbara O'Neil have a very clear (and narrow) opinion regarding the character: she's an irremediably evil, completely deranged person that isn't supposed to be understood nor someone to feel sorry for. The result is a very shallow and unexciting performance that oversimplifies what could have been a great, complex character. 

As portrayed by O'Neil, the Duchess is utterly two-dimensional: she's either glacially cold or completely hysterical and unhinged. I would say the scene in which she is the former are the ones that work best but even there she leaves a lot to be desired: mostly her performance feels like posturing - she acts cold but O'Neal never suggests anything that goes beyond the Duchess' surface. There is no subtlety or subtext in her performance and therefore she comes across as wooden more than anything else. Her physical stillness does work for the part but her vocalization is monotonous and colorless. On top of it, she does some pretty awkward facial acting, often twisting her face into overdone expressions that are supposed to appear malicious but only appear forced and out of the place. There are a few moments in which the camera indulges on O'Neil's face in which she just fails to convey much of anything. Nor the movie nor the actress seem to be interested in making the audience empathize with the character: there are many moments in which she could have addressed her character's plight due to her unhappy marriage but she often just stands there - in the few moments in which she is supposed to look happier, she looks vaguely bored and when she gets to express her character's desperation she is stone-faced and emotionless. 

If in my opinion her quiet moments are unconvincing, the loud ones are even less so. In those scenes, O'Neil is showboating to the maximum - constantly screaming, nervously walking around the scene with showy and overcooked gestures. It's scenery-chewing at its worst as she does indeed dominate the screen but in the worst way possible, often coming across as an unbearably grating presence. But what's worse is that with all of her overacting she brings absolutely nothing to the character: she yells and she cries but it all feels so utterly empty and superficial. Even in the moments in which the Duchess is emotionally bare O'Neil's performance feels so distant and artificial - her desperation is completely unmoving because O'Neil always seems more focused on portraying the Duchess' hateful nature rather than giving her a little bit more depth and complexity. Her chemistry with Charles Boyer in particular is rather weak as the two of them never really manage to convey the history between the two characters or to suggest the reason why they got married in the first place. It's just a very one-dimensional portrayal of a character that never resembles a true person: even if she gets a decent amount of screen-time, I never felt like I knew the Duchess and that's because O'Neil's portrayal is a one-note of venomous hatred. I could have been a little more lenient on the performance if she had been at least somewhat entertaining, but she's not even that. Her performance starts to wear thin very quickly and in spite of being so larger-than-life it never becomes even remotely interesting. Even as a standard villain O'Neil doesn't quite succeed as the Duchess never becomes that threatening as a character as it borders so often on being a parody.

This performance was a huge disappointment for me as I was actually looking forward to see it but I found almost nothing to like about Barbara O'Neil's work here. Her quieter moments are wooden, her louder scenes are overwhelmingly hammy, her silent reactionary shots fall flat: it's just a very one-dimensional performance that squanders a potential scene-stealer of a role and turns it into an unremarkable, bland villain. A very misguided performance and one of my least favorite out of those I've reviewed.

2/5

martedì 28 novembre 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1940


And the nominees are...

Judith Anderson - Rebecca
Jane Darwell - The Grapes of Wrath
Ruth Hussey - The Philadelphia Story
Barbara O'Neil - All This, and Heaven Too
Marjorie Rambeau - Primrose Path

What are your predictions for my ranking? How would you personally rank the nominees?

sabato 25 novembre 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Ranking


5. Joan Plowright in Enchanted April
The role isn't too much of a stretch for Plowright and admittedly I found her early scenes to be standard at best. But she gets points for her killer voice-over and her delicate, heartfelt poignancy in the latter stages of the movie.
Best scene: Lottie promises Mrs. Fisher she will always be her friend.

4. Miranda Richardson in Damage
It's quite frustrating to see such a talented actress being wasted for such a great chunk of the movie, but when she finally gets the spotlight she shines and her last two scenes are groundbreaking. Still, she was better in The Crying Game.
Best scene: "You should have killed yourself"

3. Judy Davis in Husband and Wives
She goes far overboard in that date scene near the beginning, but otherwise she's pretty much terrific, effectively portraying all the facets of the character without ever turning her into a one-note, neurotic cipher. It's a performance that is both touching and fun, though I don't quite love it as some do.
Best scene: Sally opens up to Michael.

2. Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny
Mona Lisa might not be the most complex character ever, but Marisa Tomei's performance in My Cousin Vinny is the definition of delightful: she steals every scene she's thanks to her brilliant comedic timing and delivery and brings a great deal of energy whenever she turns up. Hilarious work.
Best scene: Mona Lisa on the witness stand.

1. Vanessa Redgrave in Howards End
Redgrave only appears in the first act of the movie but her performance haunts the whole movie. It's such an excitingly vivid characterization for a screen-time this limited, and her chemistry with Emma Thompson is incredible. It's a graceful, delicate portrayal of a dying woman.
Best scene: The chestnut tree.


Honorable Omissions: Michelle Pfeiffer gives an absolutely marvelous performance as Catwoman in Batman Returns: she gives a properly over-the-top performance yet she never goes far too much, never turning into a joke or an overly grotesque presence - she is a perfect fit for Tim Burton's bizzare vision and she's a charismatic, menacing and unpredictable villain. But also finds the broken soul within her character both in her scenes as the meek Selina she is in the first scenes (her breakdown is a particularly mesmerizing sequence) and the stylish but melancholic Selina she becomes later on: her ball scene with Michael Keaton is a surprisingly intimate, heartfelt and toching moment. Helena Bonham Carter excels in Howards End beautifully and convincingly portraying Helen's development over the years bringing such passionate life to the character's actions. Miranda Richardson is a scene-stealing treat in The Crying Game, making for an incredibly entertaining yet threatening, unnerving and chilling figure as the cold-blooded killer. Rosie Perez delivers a rather wonderful turn in White Men Can't Jump: she delivers an exceptionally funny performance transcending the potential stereotype her character could have been while also creating such a realistic and engaging dynamic with Woody Harrelson bringing the right emotional weight to their character's relationship. Susan Sarandon is pretty great in Light Sleeper, bringing the right sort of wit and sass to the character of Ann while sharing such a powerful, warm chemistry with Willem Defoe: it's an intentionally light-hearted performance for the most part, but Sarandon effectively conveys the character's grit and loyalty and bringing the right sort of impact to her scenes towards the movie's end. Peter's Friends has a pretty excellent ensemble full of remarkable performances: Emma Thompson is, as usual, a hoot as the meek, lovelorn friend, effectively grounding the character without compromising the comedic nature of her performance; Rita Rudner starts off as entertainingly annoying and then touchingly reveals the character's desperation that motives her behavior; Imelda Staunton delivers a very harrowing portrayal of her character's struggle to cope with her grief, sharing an especially effective chemistry with Hugh Laurie; Alphonsia Emmanuel delivers a very convincing portrayal of her character's incapability of committing herself to someone and Phyllida Law delivers a very moving performance as the hard-tongued but wise, caring housekeeper. Sherilyn Fenn doesn't have too much screen-time in Of Mice and Men but she makes the most out of it effectively portraying Curley's wife as both a careless seductress and a sympathetic victim: her final scene with John Malkovich is especially memorable. Maggie Smith also delivers a very solid supporting performance in Sister Act, paying off impressively Whoopi Goldberg's leading performance and nicely portraying the Mother Reverend's development over the course of the movie, gradually revealing a softer side of hers.
The next year: 1940.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns - 5/5
  2. Vanessa Redgrave, Howards End
  3. Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny
  4. Helena Bonham Carter, Howards End - 5/5
  5. Miranda Richardson, The Crying Game - 4.5/5
  6. Rosie Perez, White Men Can't Jump - 4.5/5
  7. Susan Sarandon, Light Sleeper - 4/5
  8. Sherilyn Fenn, Of Mice and Men - 4/5
  9. Emma Thompson, Peter's Friends - 4/5
  10. Judy Davis, Husband and Wives

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.

5/5