martedì 29 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1962: Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth

Shirley Knight received her second and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Heavenly Finley in Sweet Bird of Youth

Sweet Bird of Youth is a remarkable movie about Chance Wayne, a young man who, after having failed to become a movie star, comes back to his hometown in order to reunite with his former sweetheart, whose father, a powerful politician, previously put an end to their relationship. In the meantime, he tries to gain the favors of an older, messed-up movie-star hoping she will help him to get his big breakthrough on screen. It's a very underrated movie: I found it consistently compelling, beautifully written (obviously, as it is based on a Tennessee Williams's play) and very well-acted. Paul Newman doesn't give his best performance ever here but he still is pretty great and is a perfect fit for the role of Chance, which he plays with the needed charm and energy. 

Shirley Knight is actually a very underrated actress: she has a strong screen-presence and she also is enormously talented (watch her performance in Duchtman: it's simply groundbreaking and one of the most unique and unforgettable performances I've ever seen). In some ways, she's the "forgotten" nominee of this category: after all, her fellow nominees either give somewhat iconic performances (Lansbury, Duke, Badham) or are iconic supporting actresses (Ritter). I went into Sweet Bird of Youth with absolutely zero expectations about Knight's work so I was surprised to find out that hers is an intelligent and luminous performance that impressed me much more than I thought it would. The character of Heavenly is, in some ways, a bit limited and it could have easily been just a boring, lifeless object of desire: Knight though manages to avoid that and in her first scene she does a great job in making Heavenly much more interesting than she is on paper. In her first confrontation with her father Knight shows a fierce intelligence and personality: the scene is far from being loud but Knight shows the fire and the resentment towards her father inside Heavenly. She also adds a touching bitterness and regret to her, and in her whole work Knight underlines a deep sadness in Heavenly that makes her a tragic and heartbreaking character (we later find out she got pregnant from Chance, who didn't know it, and was forced to undergo an abortion). For most of the time Heavenly is a rather passive character as her father keeps her under his power and influence but in every scene she's in Knight is so luminous and captivating that her performance is never truly affected by the nature of the role itself. 

Knight and Newman actually don't share many scenes together and we only get a few glimpes of their relationship through some flashbacks: both actors though make the most of their screen-time and they share a beautiful, tender chemistry that make their romance incredibly sweet - in only a handful of scenes they make you root for them and hope that they will get back together. The scene at the lighthouse is just beautiful and the two actors achieve a touching intimacy and honesty of feelings that they're just a wonder to watch. Knight and Newman portrays beautifully the differences between Heavenly and Chance - he wants to become a big star, she just wants to spend her life with him - but their love is never in question. Their brief scene at the seaside when Chance attempts to talk to her but she runs away because she knows her father will hurt him is a small, touching moments and one the most memorable scenes of the movie. Most people probably think that the happy ending (that differs greatly from the play's ending) doesn't work but personally I think it does as I feel that Knight and Newman completely earn that moment - and Knight does some extremely moving and powerful acting in the final scene. 

Heavenly Finley is not a particularly complex role but Shirley Knight gives so much life to her that she becomes one of the most interesting character of the movie. The role of Alexandra Del Lago is easily the best of the movie and Heavenly is not even half as amazingly written as that role is, but Knight delivers a moving, enchanting turn that defies the limitations of the script. 


lunedì 28 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Actress 1962: Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz

Thelma Ritter received her sixth and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Elizabeth Stroud in Birdman of Alcatraz.

Birdman of Alcatraz is a fine enough movie about the true story of Robert Stroud, a murderer convincted to life in prison who became a bird expert. The movie is hardly perfect - it's definitely overlong and is very far from being historically accurate but I have to admit I did find it quite interesting and even moving in parts. Out of its nomination, I think its most deserved was the one for Best Cinematography as it was really quite great. 

Thelma Ritter plays the role of Elizabeth Stroud, Robert's mother. Thelma Ritter was an extremely talented character actress and whenever she had the chance to show her chops, she absolutely delivered (I personally think she should've been nominated for Rear Window): unfortunately, though, she was often cast in stereotypical roles (such as the sassy, sarcastic friend) that didn't quite allow her to show her talent and even if she played those role perfectly there just wasn't much to those roles to begin with. And that's the case with most of her Academy Awards nominations: with the exception of Pickup on South Street, she was always nominated for entertaining but ultimately standard roles. The role of Elizabeth Stroud is a bit different from her usual roles as here she isn't the sassy sidekick of the main character but instead she is his loving, long-suffering mother: but even this role has been seen and played a thousand times and Elizabeth Stroud, screen-time and writing wise, is a particularly limited example of it. The part doesn't ask for much and for most of her ten minutes on screen Ritter has only to add warmth to the proceeding and establish a loving relationship between her character and Burt Lancaster's. But, surprisingly, Ritter doesn't even provide the little she's required to. 

Most of her performance is, in fact, surprising lifeless; her chemistry with Burt Lancaster is just non-existent and I think that's mostly Ritter's fault: Lancaster is actually good in their scenes together and portrays a more tender side of Robert whenever they share the screen, whereas Ritter is oddly cold and she delivers her line in a strangely stiff manner. In particular, her plea to not sentence her son to death and give him a life sentence instead, feels surprisingly robotic and emotionless. Whenever she's on screen she is simply uninteresting, and whenever she's not, she's instantly forgotten. 

Her performance isn't a complete failure though, and that's mostly thanks to her two final scenes. Up to those moments, Elizabeth Stroud had been a boring, standard character but in those scenes it takes a surprising, unexpected turn as she finds out that Robert wants to get married and, feeling betrayed, turns her back on him and abandons him. In the rest of her performance, I disliked the writing regarding Elizabeth and Ritter's portrayal of it but in those two scenes they're both excellent. Ritter does a very strong job in portraying a less noble side of her character - which had been portrayed almost as a saint previously in the movie - and does very well in showing the irrationality of her behavior but still making the viewer empathize a little bit to her plight, as she shows that her behavior, as questionable as it may be, comes from her shock and sadness of feeling rejected and replaced after all she had done for him before. And her final close-up is a surprisingly poignant moment even if the movie gets over her character very quickly. 

Ultimately, Ritter gives a rather disappointing performance that athough partially saved by her good final moments still ends up being quite forgettable. And as strong as she is aforementioned scenes, I think they would have been twice as powerful if she had established a good chemistry with Burt Lancaster and shown her character's love for her son more effectively - which unfortunately, she failed to do. In the end, Thelma Ritter has her moments but ultimately fails to bring her character to life. 


domenica 27 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1962

And the nominees are:

Mary Badham - To Kill a Mockingbird
Patty Duke - The Miracle Worker
Shirley Knight - Sweet Bird of Youth
Angela Lansbury - The Manchurian Candidate
Thelma Ritter - Birdman of Alcatraz

What are your predictions? Which is your personal ranking of the performances?

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2015: Ranking

5. Rachel McAdams in Spotlight
Rachel McAdams delivers a natural, realistic performance that fits perfectly her own movie. She never tries to steal the scene from everyone else, but brings her character to life with subtlety and honesty instead.
Best scene: Sacha watches her grandmother reading the article.

4. Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl
Even if the movie's thin screenplay ultimately brings her performance down, Alicia Vikander still delivers a powerful performance beautifully realizing her character's transition from rejection to acceptance and nailing every emotion in between. 
Best scene: "I need to talk to my husband, I need to hold my husband"

3. Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs
Even if she doesn't get too much to do, Kate Winslet delivers a memorable performance establishing herself as the emotional center of the movie and developing a terrific chemistry with Michael Fassbender.
Best scene: Joanna threatens to quit. 

2. Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Jennifer Jason Leigh delivers an incredible performance and makes Daisy a character that is magnetic and repulsive at the same time. She creates one of the most chilling and unforgettable villains I've seen in recent years.
Best scene: The last act.

1. Rooney Mara in Carol
Rooney Mara gives an extraordinary performance as Therese and manages to express a thousand words just with her face. She gives a quiet, natural performance and portrays beautifully her character's coming into her own while carrying a tremendous emotional punch.
Best scene: Therese's and Carol's first lunch.

Honorable omissions: If Alicia Vikander had rightfully been nominated in the leading category for The Danish Girl, she definitely should have been nominated here for her breathtaking, mysterious and layered performance in Ex Machina. Marion Cotillard would have been very deserving of a nomination for her heartbreaking and original take on the role of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth: most of Lady Macbeth's portrayals consist of a huge build-up to the big, insane, explosive - Cotillard's Macbeth, instead, seems to fade away in front of our eyes and her final scene is devastating in its subtlety. Cynthia Nixon delivers a fantastic portrayal of her character's mental and physical decay in the underseen James White. Jane Fonda delivered an explosive one-scene wonder in Youth, bringing the right amount of star power and fierceness to the role of Brenda but with that brief caress at the end of her scene she conveys a lifetime of friendship with Keitel's character. Rachel Weisz was very effective in that movie, too, with her monologue to Michael Caine being an absolutely phenomenal moment. Mya Taylor was fantastic in the excellent Tangerine with her singing scene being one of the most devastating scenes of 2015 and Jennifer Jason Leigh's beautiful and touching voice work in Anomalisa is definitely worth-mentioning. Toni Collette is terrific in Glassland, shifting artfully from a furious rage in her drunk scenes to self-loathing and desperation in her sober ones: she has a 5-minute-long monologue midway through the movie in which she adds so much nuance and depth to her character it's unbelievable. Tessa Thompson is a tender and remarkable presence in Creed, making a real person out of a potentially stock role, and Cara Delevingne is excellent in Paper Towns, slowly revealing the desperation and loneliness behind Margo's carefree attitude. Cate Blanchett brings both menace and nuance to her role as the step-mother in Cinderella while being extremely entertaining in each of her line-deliveries, and Bebe Cave is a compelling and heartbreaking figure in Tale of Tales
What's next: In the next few months I'll definitely review a few sets of nominees from Best Actor (Leading and Supporting) and Leading Actress, but I think I'll mostly focus on Best Supporting Actress, since it's the category in which I've seen the most nominees. I'm still very much of the idea of covering all four of the acting categories, I'll just give a bit more importance to Best Supporting Actress.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina - 5/5
  2. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight 
  3. Jane Fonda, Youth - 4.5/5
  4. Cynthia Nixon, James White - 4.5/5
  5. Marion Cotillard, Macbeth - 4.5/5
  6. Toni Collette, Glassland - 4.5/5
  7. Mya Taylor, Tangerine - 4.5/5
  8. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa - 4.5/5
  9. Bebe Cave, Tale of Tales - 4/5
  10. Rachel Weisz, Youth - 4/5
So my first year is done. Thank you all very much for the support and for commenting! Hope you'll keep reading and commenting under my reviews of the following sets of nominees, which I'll reveal very soon. Oh, and Happy Easter everyone!

sabato 26 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Jason Leigh received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight.

The Hateful Eight is an excellent movie about eight potentially dangerous strangers who meet in a cabin while seeking shelter from a blizzard. I wouldn't say it's Quentin Tarantino's best movie (I still prefer Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds) but it's an extremely entertaining movie that is such a fun ride during its whole running time. The script is excellent, in fact it would be my personal winner for Best Original Screenplay. The cinematography, costumes and the score are all great and award-caliber, particularly the score which is just terrific. The acting is strong all around: Samuel L. Jackson gives a great, entertaining performance, Kurt Russell is fantastic and badass and Walton Goggins is downright amazing. The other cast members might not fare quite as well but they're all good, particularly Tim Roth's entertaining performance in a role that seems tailored for Christoph Waltz. 

The first time I saw The Hateful Eight I have to admit I was disappointed by Leigh's performance: I was impressed by her performance in the last act but I thought she did next to nothing in the rest of the movie. On a rewatch, though, I saw this performance in a completely new light and started to notice all the small details that makes hers such an amazing piece of work. For quite a big part of the movie, Daisy isn't a very threatening or dangerous character actually: we know she's a murderer but she's chained and under John "The Hangman" Ruth's watch so she seems like she's under control, and instead of serving as a truly menacing character she is given more the purpose of a comic relief: Leigh is terrific as every single, small reaction of the character is at the same time both disgusting and funny in a very dark and twisted way. Daisy is mostly written as a stereotype: she's an ignorant, racist, loud, vulgar woman and Leigh portrays this qualities of the character perfectly without ever making Daisy simply a joke. She achieves the amazing feat of creating a truly despicable and repulsive character while making it utterly watchable and even somehow extremely entertaining. Unlike Hans Landa and Calvin Candie, Daisy is not a suave villain but a very crude one and Leigh embodies incredibly well this character's nature and she is never afraid to make her character ugly - while always being so oddly and utterly charismatic. As I said, Daisy is not a particularly menacing presence for the first half of the movie, and even the other characters of the movie don't seem to fear her that much as they mistake her lack of refinement for dumbness - instead, Leigh does a terrific job in showing a smart, cunning and ruthless soul under her façade and she makes Daisy a woman that always seems to be calculating the next move, which makes her performance absolutely compelling and unpredictable. 

As the movie progresses, Leigh does a phenomenal job in slowly bringing to light Daisy's extremely dangerous and downright deranged personality, perfectly building up to the last act. I particularly love the scene in which Daisy plays the guitar while singing: there's something so tense about this scene as Leigh is amazing in almost showing the wheels turning into Daisy's head. And when she finally ends the song by saying "And you'll be dead behind me, John, when I get to Mexico" she delivered it in such an evil, quietly threatening way that I felt chills down my spine. And later on as she witnesses (spoiler) John's death after poisoning him, she again is just deeply disturbing and subtly terrifying, and her line-delivery of "When you get to hell, John, tell them Daisy sent you" couldn't be more perfect (spoiler off). But as I said before, Leigh is at her absolute best in the final act as she finally unleashes Daisy's merciless and manipulative nature (also credit to the make-up artists who underline the slow revelation of Daisy's true self by making her look more and more disgusting as the movie progresses). Leigh's acting in the final act of the movie is the best over-the-top acting possible, as she doesn't hold back anything in her performance yet she never becomes hammy: she's pure dynamite and in those ten minutes or so she literally steals the movie from everybody else and controls the screen like no other. 

Ultimately, Jennifer Jason Leigh delivers a flawless, amazing and unforgettable performance that probably deserves more than one viewing in order to be truly appreciated in its entirety: she makes every second count in her performance and through every small, reactionary moments she realizes one of the most unique and interesting characters in recent years - and whenever she has the chance to shine, she does. It's brilliant work from a truly great and underrated actress.


venerdì 25 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2015: Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs

Kate Winslet received her seventh Oscar nomination for her performance as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs. 

Steve Jobs is a rather interesting although a bit flawed portrayal of its titular character that takes place at the backstage of three different product launches. I appreciate the movie's original structure which makes it different from any other biopics, but still there are a few problems in it: the first two acts are actually quite great but the third one, although still watchable, is a true letdown as it is at the same time rushed and a bit cheesy. Same goes for Aaron Sorkin's screenplay: great, actually quite brilliant in the first two acts, rather problematic in the last one. Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels are both good in their roles although both feels rather underused and their subplots are left somewhat unresolved.

Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, Steve's assistant and best friend. A few people have pointed out that Winslet's Polish accent in this movie is uneven and unconvincing, but I personally don't find it that much of a problem. I personally am not one who pays too much attention to accents, of course a very well done accent can make a great performance even greater, or a badly done accent can make a bad performance even worse, but I don't think that the accent alone can make a performance great or bad. Even if an accent is not perfect, I'm not bothered by it unless it is particularly uneven or distracting but I didn't feel this was the case with Winslet at all. She may have a few line-deliveries that sound a bit off but for the most part I thought her accent worked. 

My problems with the performance don't quite come from Winslet but from the role itself: Joanna Hoffman is one of those roles that is truly supporting and supportive - its main purpose is really to provide a support for the leading performance while the role itself is not particularly complex or challenging. But even if she doesn't get too much to do, Winslet thrives with what she has. Her chemistry with Michael Fassbender is nothing short of amazing: even if Steve and Joanna rarely talk about it, they create a deep, moving friendship and affection between the two characters that is always visible even when the two are arguing. Speaking of their arguments, in those scenes the actors are just dynamite and they pay off each other just incredibly well. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is kind of a double edged sword: it gives an actor the opportunity to be truly brilliant, but it's not easy to get it right. Although Winslet may not be as great at it as Fassbender and Daniels, she still pulls off the tricky dialogue very well. 

Joanna Hoffman serves as the moral center of the movie: she quietly witnesses Steve's cold and distant behavior towards his daughter and she tries to make him do the right thing - even if, most of the time, it is to no use. Winslet serves this purpose extremely well and it would be correct to say that she truly is the emotional crux of the movie. She is great at being the subtle conscience of the movie for the first two thirds of the movie and she builds up incredibly well to her big emotional scene in the last act. In this scene Winslet is actually amazing: again, it's quite a tricky monologue dialogue-wise but she delivers it flawlessly and she is just heartbreaking in portraying the suffering of this woman who, through her whole life, has witnessed Steve's questionable behavior and can't keep it all inside anymore. The scene is particularly moving because of how well Fassbender and Winslet realized Steve's and Joanna's relationship before, and what I love about Winslet is that even as Joanna threatens to quit her job and leave Steve forever her genuine affection towards him is never in question.  

It's a performance I probably don't quite love as some people do because, as I mentioned before, I think her role is a little bit too limited to let her truly shine, but it's still a performance I definitely appreciate a lot. Winslet makes the most of her role and thanks to her fantastic chemistry with Michael Fassbender, her ability in pulling off the tricky dialogue and her emotional honesty that makes her the heart of the movie she leaves a very lasting impression on the viewer's mind. 


giovedì 24 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2015: Rooney Mara in Carol

Rooney Mara received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Therese Belivet in Carol. 

Carol is quite simply a masterpiece about the romance between a young aspiring photographer and an older, lonely, married socialite in the early 1950s. I have no problem in saying that this movie is pretty much perfect from every point of view: Todd Haynes's beautiful, delicate direction not only should have been nominated for an Oscar, but it probably should have won; the acting is perfect all around, not only from the two leading ladies but also from Kyle Chandler, who succeeds in making a potentially one-note villain touchingly human, and the always reliable Sarah Paulson; the cinematography is stunningly gorgeous, the score is wonderful and everything else - from the costumes and the sets - is just perfect. And of course it's not only beautiful to look at but it's also an incredibly moving and compelling experience and the last half an hour alone touched me more than any other movie from the year. 

I've mentioned in my review of Alicia Vikander's work in The Danish Girl that I felt that she belonged to the leading category and not the supporting one: well, her case of category fraud is nothing if compared to Rooney Mara's - Therese is without a doubt a lead character in Carol, just as much as the title role. In fact, the movie is not only about their romance but also about Therese's coming of age: actually, the book was told entirely from Therese's perspective and even if in the movie Carol and Therese are given equal importance she's still very much a leading character. But, again, what about the actual performance? Between the two leading characters of Carol, Therese is easily the less showy, quieter character. It's actually quite a passive character as Therese is a young woman who doesn't really know herself yet and rarely makes a choice but rather just go along with the situation (as she later admits herself in an heartbreaking scene): a lesser actress probably would have disappeared next to Cate Blanchett's magnetic Carol and failed to make Therese an interesting character but Mara, being the terrific actress she is, gives an absolutely captivating performance that makes Therese never less intriguing than Carol. Mara does an incredible job in portraying Therese's shyness and lack of self-confidence without ever overplaying - she just naturally makes it a part of Therese's personality. Her first scenes (particularly the scene of their first lunch) with Cate Blanchett are wonderfully played by Mara because she captures so well both Therese's awkwardness when she is with Carol as well as her infatuation for her. You can see how much Therese is drawn to Carol and Mara makes her nervousness, fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, almost palpable. Mara makes Therese just an extremely endearing character because she makes her a character to which you can relate so much. 

But past from her timidness Mara brings to Therese such a luminous quality that it is never in question why Carol would be attracted to her: she's quietly enchanting and she shows that inside Therese lies a strong personality that hasn't just quite come outside yet. And as her relationship with Carol progresses, Mara does a great job in portraying Therese's process of self-discovery as she slowly realizes who she truly is and who she wants to be. Mara portrays Therese's transition from a shy, insecure girl to a more mature and strong young woman so naturally it's almost unnoticeable but by the end of the movie you realize how much Therese has changed. In the novel (which, by the way, is great) the reader entered into Therese's mind and therefore knew all of her thoughts and all of her feelings and Patricia Highsmith did a terrific job in describing Therese's maturation and coming into her own as a person. And what Highsmith expressed with words, Mara expresses beautifully with her eyes: what Patricia Highsmith wrote so delicately, you can read it all right across Mara's face. Her quiet breakdown on the train is one of those moments in which she communicates tons of feelings without having to say a word. 

And then of course there is her chemistry with Blanchett,  which is just amazing: together they make for a beautiful couple as they both realize so well their mutual attraction and, eventually, love. The sex scene is such a deeply moving moment because the chemistry between the two actresses is something so delicate and special, and they both did a terrific job in slowly building up to that moment - and when it finally comes it leaves you speechless. But outside of that scene throughout the whole movie you can find so many small, beautiful and lovely interactions between the two: when they decide to take the road trip, when they laugh and drink wine at the hotel, when they give each other Christmas presents... all of these are little wonderful moments that make their love story unforgettable. The scene of their last dinner together is oustandingly acted by Mara as she shows so wonderfully that as much as she is still hurt by Carol's previous rejection she still clearly loves her as deeply as ever. And the final, wordless scene in which Therese finally makes an active choice in her life made me cheer, and Mara's subtle acting makes the moment even more powerful. In the end, this is a phenomenal performance that relies upon subtlety and quietness yet could not be more emotionally powerful. From the first scene to the last, Mara gives an absolutely compelling performance in which she never misses any emotional beat. 


Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2015: Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

Alicia Vikander received her first Oscar nomination and won the trophy for her performance as Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. 

The Danish Girl is a rather poor movie about Lili Elbe, one of the first persons to undergo a sex reassignment surgery. Personally I don't care too much about Tom Hooper: the only movie directed by him that I ever liked is Les Misèrables but that's probably due to the great performances from the cast and the strength of the source material. Here his directing is mediocre at best - otherwise, it's just distractingly bad. But the biggest problem of The Danish Girl is its terrible screenplay as it seemingly doesn't have the slightest understanding of its subject and ends up being extremely shallow. The technical aspects aren't that great either: some of costumes are good, some aren't; a few sets are nice, others look incredibly cheap; and the score feels mostly out of the place or just plain wrong. 

Alicia Vikander's nomination in this category is a bit puzzling as she's far from being a supporting character in this movie: the story focuses on Gerda just as much as it focuses on Redmayne's Einar. Also I believe that if she had been campaigned right she'd have been double nominated - in the leading category for this, and in the supporting one for her breathtaking, far superior work in the excellent Ex Machina. But let's discuss her actual performance in The Danish Girl: as much as I don't care for the movie, I can't deny that this is a memorable performance and easily the shining light of this mess. The script doesn't make Gerda a complex or even particularly interesting character in the beginning, but Vikander does her best to give her as much personality as possible: she's charming and lively and whenever she's on screen she effortlessly steals the scene from everyone else thanks to her winning screen-presence. Her chemistry with Eddie Redmayne is not amazing but it's actually fairly sweet and they make for a believable couple. Most of the credit for this goes to Vikander as she seems to be the one who makes the biggest effort to establish a loving relationship between the two characters. Vikander also does a very good job in portraying Gerda's unstatisfaction as an artist as her work isn't quite as recognized as Einar's: she doesn't have too many scenes that allow her to explore in depth this side of her personality but she nonetheless portrays Gerda's frustration quite effectively. 

When Einar starts dressing up as a woman at Gerda's request, Vikander does a great job in initially showing how Gerda playfully takes the situation and the scenes in which Gerda "teaches" Einar how to act like a woman are rather enjoyable to watch. After she sees Einar kissing a man and after he admits to her that he feels to be actually Lili and not Einar - a scene in which she remarkably portrays her character's shock, confusion and hearbtreak -, Vikander is unfortunately forced to embody the role of the long-suffering wife that the Academy loves so much but that actually isn't very original or interesting most of the time: unfortunately, as it is written, Gerda is one of the most standard examples of this kind of role and Vikander's performance is often limited by the movie to some angry outbursts or teary-eyed reactions. It's a true testament to her talents that Vikander never becomes boring in the but instead brings life and energy to the dull proceeding. Her scenes too often feel like the same scene repeated over and over but Vikander to an extent overcomes this obstacle and manages to be rather touching: particularly, her big scene in which she begs Lili to "let her speak to Einar" is an heartbreaking moment and she nails every single emotion. In the quieter moments, Vikander thrives in portraying a woman who still clearly loves her husband and can't quite understand the situation around her. The screenplay does a very poor job at building up Gerda's eventual acceptance of Lili but Vikander is terrific nonetheless at showing Gerda's slow realization that if she really loves her husband she has to let her go and let her be what she truly is. Her committed performance and her beautiful portrayal of unconditional love is the only reason why the ending of the movie managed to be quite moving.

There's also the small subplot involving Gerda's potential romance with Hans, Einar's childhood friend. Their relationship is shallowly written and it feels more like a time-filler than anything else, but Vikander and the always good Matthias Schoenaerts manage to strike up a fine chemistry and make their scenes work. In the end, this is a powerful performance that might have been amazing if it had a stronger movie around it but still stands as a pretty great work just as it is. Despite the heavy limitations of the screenplay, Vikander delivers a moving performance that easily stands as the best thing of the movie and even if it's not her best work from 2015 it's still rather deserving of the accodales it received. 


martedì 22 marzo 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2015: Rachel McAdams in Spotlight

Rachel McAdams received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight.

Spotlight is a rather effective movie about the team of journalists from the Boston Globe who uncovered the massive sex scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. It's a compelling movie whose biggest strengths are its terrific screenplay and its pitch-perfect editing; Thomas McCarthy's directing is technically rather standard but it completely makes sense as, in a movie whose goal is to be as realistic as possible, a more peculiar or stylish direction would have felt out of the place. Although there is an exception, almost every single member of the cast gives a good performance (with Michael Keaton being probably the standout), but what makes the ensemble so great is that they all work together exceptionally well. 

Sacha Pfeiffer, like most of the other characters of Spotlight, isn't a particularly complex character on paper: we only get a few glimpses of her life outside of the investigation and those moments are mostly rather brief. It's written as a very simple and straight-forward role and it doesn't even benefit from a “big” scene like Mark Ruffalo does or an interesting character arc like Michael Keaton does. It's the kind of role in which few actresses could have given a bad performance as it doesn't require great acting skills, but it's also the kind of role that, while easy to get right, is hard to make truly memorable. McAdams is an actress who I often find good but not particularly remarkable, so before seeing the movie I had some doubts about her performance, especially considering how thankless the role might sound on paper. Yet, surprisingly, McAdams gives a very strong performance that may not defy the limitations of the script but manages to leave a lasting impression within them. What I particularly appreciate about her performance is that she acknowledges the limitations of the role and never tries to compensate for them by overacting or trying to upstage the other cast members: instead, she gives a performance that is very fitting to the movie itself – subtle, natural and realistic. She works wonderfully with the rest of the cast and she truly feels like part of the team. 

In every scene that focuses on Sacha's interactions with the victims of abuse McAdams does a terrific job in just bringing such a great deal of warmth and empathy as well as an underlying determination to bring the truth to light: she makes the most out of every moment and each of her small reactions manages to be surprisingly poignant. The scene where she speaks with a priest who nonchalantly admits to have abused of some boys as if it was no big deal is particularly excellent: her shocked and confused reaction is just perfect and completely believable (it actually mirrored my exact same reaction to the scene). Also her "I am here because I care" mini-speech is a beautifully acted moment because she delivers it in a completely honest and genuine way that fits perfectly the rest of her performances. She could have gone for much louder acting yet she decided to play it in a much more restrained, quieter fashion and I admire her a lot for that. 

I previously said that Sacha only has a few scenes involving her personal life which is true, but McAdams nails each of them perfectly. One of my favorite moments of her whole performance is the brief scene in which she watches her devout grandmother reading the article: she is terrific in showing the growing unease and worry of Sacha as she realizes that what she has written is going to cause her dear grandmother a lot of pain. And she also finds some nice, poignant moments in a later, quiet scene with Ruffalo as their characters both reflect about the whole situation. 

It's not one of the best performances ever nominated but it is a performance I greatly admire and appreciate. McAdams takes a limited role and manages to give a performance that lasts in the viewer's mind: she never tries to steal the scene from any of the other actors but she works wonderfully with each of them without ever failing to leave her own mark. Her subtle performance is one of the ingredients that make Spotlight such a compelling movie, and I'm glad that the Academy, for once, decided to single out a performance that relies on subtlety and not showboating. 


Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2015

And the nominees are:

Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara - Carol 
Rachel McAdams - Spotlight
Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs

What are your predictions? Which is your personal ranking of the performances?

Hello everyone!

I've decided to open this blog because I really love movies and I like discussing my opinions about them. On this blog I'll review the Oscar nominated performances in every category (male and female, leading and supporting): I'll choose a year and a category, I'll review each of the nominees and give them a rating out of 5 stars and then I'll rank the five nominees and pick my personal winner. I hope my reviews will be enjoyable to read and I'll try my best despite English not being my first language. Feel free to comment under every review :)