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.


martedì 15 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Vanessa Redgrave in Howards End

Vanessa Redgrave received her sixth Oscar nomination for her performance as Ruth Wilcox in Howards End.

Howards End is a magnificent movie revolving around three families belonging to three different social classes at the beginning of the 20th century. First off, I think this picture is an absolute masterpiece of writing, with brilliantly clever dialogue and carefully layered characters. It's such a stunning depiction of that specific time of history while feeling so utterly fresh and contemporary as well. The portrayal of the differences between social classes and the hypocrisy of the ruling class never becomes heavy-handed or one-sided, but it's treated in a human, sensitive fashion that creates at least an understanding even to the most morally questionable characters. The score is absolutely enchanting and it enhances the atmosphere of poetic beauty that surrounds the film and the cinematography is wonderful. And there is not a single bad performance in the cast, though I feel Helena Bonham Carter deserves a special mention for her career-best work here. 

Ruth Wilcox is a challenging role for many reasons. On one hand, it's technically quite limited as it appears on screen only for a handful of scenes at the beginning of the movie and it serves mostly as a setup for the rest of the story. On the other hand, the whole plot relies heavily on her character and the ability of the actress to give believability and emotional weight to the character's final decision on her deathbed, which not only sets the action to motion but is also a representation of the movie's themes and ideas. Thankfully the actress in question is far from being a random one, but it's Vanessa Redgrave, who is in my opinion one of the most intelligent, versatile and gifted performers to ever grace the screen. Redgrave is one of those exceptional actresses that can make calculated acting look spontaneous. Every performance of hers feels precisely and accurately studied and it's always quite apparent that behind her performances there has been a careful preparation, but at the same time she never feels too technical, rehearsed or unsincere: she's one of those very unique actresses that can be both cerebral and emotional in their approach, both technical and raw. And this has rarely been more visible than in her performance in Howards End: there are definite mannerisms in both her physical work and her vocalization, yet it's one of the most delicate and hearfelt pieces of acting I have ever seen.

When we meet Ruth, it's already clear that she's seriously ill and that she is not going to live much longer. Redgrave is outstanding in her depiction of her character's physical condition: she has such a remarkable way of conveying the character's weakness through her body and she really gives you the impression that this woman is aching every step of the way. But what's most incredible is her voice work which is easy to take for granted but is actually quite an achievement: first off, her eloquent, refined way of speaking effectively establishes Ruth's background as a very wealthy, educated woman; moreover, her breathless delivery feels just right for a woman who is in such a painful state though she carefully never overdoes it either; at the same time though there is a spark in her voice that betrays the life-loving, radiant soul that lies beneath Ruth's tired, weak-willed appearence. Redgrave's understanding of the character is so deep that she manages to portray in her performance both the lively person that she used to be and the dying woman whose hunger for life has not waned. Redgrave's performance is short but she's so brilliant I felt like I had always known Ruth Wilcox.

Two things are requested from Redgrave to accomplish in this movie: the first one is to convey during her brief screen-time Ruth's infinite love for her house, Howards End, and the second one is to portray Ruth's affection for her burgeoise friend Margaret (Emma Thompson in an Oscar-winning performance), therefore bringing believability to her eventual choice to leave Howards End to her, even though she belongs to a lower class than hers. And Redgrave does both things astonishingly. Just take her very first scene in the movie, in which she is simply walking around Howards End: Redgrave's worldess acting in this scene is absolutely first-rate - she doesn't need any dialogue to convey the character's affection for the aforementioned place. She walks as if she were trying to capture every single moment she spends there forever into her memory. In later scenes, whenever the name Howards End pops up, Redgrave's face just lightens up, her voice filled with nostalgic fondness and her eyes sparkling with emotion. My favorite scene of her whole performance might be the one in which she tells Margaret of the myth of the pig's teeth at Howards End - it's such a beautifully understated moment that Redgrave plays with such a heartfelt delicacy it becomes one of the most poignant moments in he movie. And when she begs Margaret to come to see Howards End her performance turns absolutely heartbreaking - her delivery of "Come with now, now, come with me now" is absolutely devastating as it is so hopeful and enthusiastic in spite of Ruth's rapidly declining health.

Ruth's friendship with Margaret Schlegel is also one of the movie's most touching aspects as it is on one hand so unlikely and on the other hand so beautiful. Ruth and Margaret are two extremely different people: Ruth is an old-fashioned aristocratic (at one point she remarks that she doesn't think women should vote) while Margaret is a liberal thinker from the middle class. But they're both very kind-hearted and ultimately their bond overcomes their social differences. Both actresses are absolutely wonderful at portraying the friendship between the two characters - they share a lovely, poignant and sincere chemistry and create this beautiful, meaningful relationship that is the emotional crux of the movie in spite of Redgrave's very limited time on screen. Each of their interactions are absolutely heartwarmin to watch, especially the scene in which they go Christmas shopping together. You never doubt the emotional honesty of Ruth's and Margaret's affection for each other and when Ruth decides to leave Howards End to Margaret and not to her family it feels just the right and obvious outcome because of the deep connection that developed between the two. Redgrave's final scenes at the hospital are very low-key but Redgrave is absolutely wonderful in them as she brings so much grace and dignity to Ruth right up to her very final moment.

I know not everyone is impressed by this performance but personally I think it's an absolutely astonishing turn from one of the greatest actress ever. Ruth Wilcox could have been a mere plot device but Vanessa Redgrave creates a three-dimensional individual that becomes the movie's emotional crux. An elegant, subtle, delicate and heartbreaking portrayal that keeps haunting the movie even long after she has left.


sabato 12 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Joan Plowright in Enchanted April

Joan Plowright received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Fisher in Enchanted April.

Enchanted April revolves around four women dissatisfied with their lives who decide to take a vacation in a castle in Italy in order to find peace and happiness. I remember finding the movie rather dull and uninteresting the first time I watched it, so I was actually quite surprised when I found myself enjoying it this time around. It's far from being a great movie and there are considerable flaws to be found in it - the cinematography is a little underwhelming as it does not capture the full potential of the beautiful landscape and the screenplay, although Oscar nominated, is not particularly great with the all of the characters being somewhat sketchy and a few awkwardly written lines (Lottie's monologue about love is rather cringe-worthy). But nonetheless it's a charming movie that might never become anything that special but is still nice enough to watch and Mike Newell deserves a lot of credit for that as the movie's charm derives mostly from the delicate and tenderly hopeful tone he manages to set for the story. The cast is not amazing, but it's rather engaging for the most part.

The first time I watched the movie I was completely unimpressed by Joan Plowright's performance and honestly quite baffled by the nomination, which I immediately disregarded as a typical veteran nomination. Having rewatched the movie, I now feel quite differently: I still don't think it's a great performance (though it's mostly the role's fault if it isn't) and I felt there were better performances that could have been nominated instead (even if we stay within the "stern old lady softens up" trope, I thought Maggie Smith did it better in an even more light-hearted way in Sister Act). But I've actually come to appreciate this performance and the delicacy of Plowright's realization of her character's arc. My main problem with the performance doesn't really come from Plowright's acting but from the conventionality of the role itself: Mrs. Fisher is nothing more than an archetype, specifically the one of the elder woman who is grumpy and distant towards everyone only to reveal later on a more tender and sensitive side. It's a role that has been seen and done a thousand times really, to the point it's not all that exciting unless a) it's performed in a particularly outstanding fashion b) the role is written with particular depth and complexity. Sadly, it's not the case here: Plowright does a perfectly respectable job with the character and the ease and confidence of her acting style shouldn't be a surprise considering her distinguished history both on stage and on-screen, but at the same time I wouldn't say she exactly reinvents the wheel with this performance; and the role itself is a rather unoriginal version of the aforementioned archetype. But still, Plowright's natural talent is enough to slightly elevate the role and even if the overall result isn't all that memorable it's a very nice performance.

Plowright's earliest scenes in the movie are actually the ones I like the least. She is more than adequate in her portrayal of her character's cranky behavior and she has a few genuinely funny moments ("I didn't know Shakespeare and Chaucher either", "I hope you're not in the habit of seeing dead people"). At the same time, though, the writing behind the character is at its most conventional in those scenes and I have to admit that there were moments in which I actually felt Plowright herself was a little off. Especially in the first scene, she occasionally comes across as a little more theatrical than she needs to and might go just a tad over-the-top in her deliveries and over-accentuates Mrs. Fisher' pompusness. But those are just very minor quibbles and Plowright deserves a lot of credit for managing to make Mrs. Fisher far less obnoxious than she could've been. Technically she is a very cold, unlikeable character for at least half of the film but Plowright manages to suggest that there is more to Mrs. Fisher than what meets the eye, very subtly conveying the inner loneliness and quiet desperation of the character, who spends most of the time reading and internally mourning her late husband. I'm usually not a fan of the use of voice-over as I find it a very unsubtle and obvious technique but I have to say that it's probably the performance's strongest asset - Plowright has an extremely expressive voice which makes those moments feel particularly intimate, heartfelt and touching.

In my opinion Plowright's performance grows in strength as Mrs. Fisher starts to soften up to the other ladies and finally befriends them. The transition is a little bit rushed but somehow Plowright manages to make it work - Mrs. Fisher's newfound sweetness, gentleness and humour don't feel like altogether new but rather, thanks to Plowright's carefully realized performance, as things that were always hidden inside of her. She just blossoms on-screen and Plowright manages to make this develpment surprisingly affecting. Her character is often tossed aside towards the end of the movie in favour of Miranda Richardson's and Polly Walker's but she is a welcome presence whenever she pops up. My favorite scene of her performance comes close to the very end, in which Lottie (Josie Lawrence) promises Mrs. Fisher that they will keep being friends when they return to London. Again, Plowright's killer-good voice over is key to her portrayal of Mrs. Fisher's loneliness and she deserves credit for managing to create a somewhat meaningful dymanic between her character and Lawrence's one despite the latter's rather overcooked performance. And she certainly ends the performance on a very pleasant and heartwarming note as Mrs. Fisher plants her walking stick in the ground to let it blossom as she leaves the castle - it's a rather lovely moment and a fittingly sweet closure for the movie.

Mrs. Fisher is not a great role or an especially challenging one, but Joan Plowright's performance manages to rise above it. It's not an especially remarkable achievement and probably every good British actress her age could have delivered a solid performance in the role, but nonetheless she does a very nice job at portraying her character's transition from bitterly cold and warmingly open-hearted. It's very much like the movie itself - nothing particularly noteworthy but definitely pleasant to watch.


martedì 8 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992

And the nominees are...

Judy Davis - Husband and Wives
Joan Plowright - Enchanted April
Vanessa Redgrave - Howards End
Miranda Richardson - Damage
Marisa Tomei - My Cousin Vinny

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