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.


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.


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.


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.