lunedì 30 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942: May Whitty in Mrs. Miniver

May Whitty received her second and last Oscar nomination for her performance as Lady Beldon in Mrs. Miniver

Lady Beldon is an archetype that has been seen and played millions of times: she is the cantankerous, cranky old lady who speaks her mind freely and is feared by everyone while having a more tender side that she rarely shows to other people. Nowadays, the role would probably be played by Maggie Smith (who in Downton Abbey has a scene that is almost identical to one of Whitty's scenes in this, even if as a whole Smith's role in the series is much more complex than Whitty's role in this). For most of the time, Whitty doesn't really have to do anything particularly challenging in terms of acting but she nonetheless catches the viewer's attention thanks to her screen-presence which is properly commanding as it should be and she makes you easily see why she is both feared and respected among the townspeople. For most of her scenes she has to do mainly one thing: bitch snobbishly. It's not much of an acting stretch and Whitty could do it in her sleep but she nonetheless does it quite wonderfully: each of her line-readings is pretty much perfect and she makes them properly entertaining without ever making her character too unlikeable. She is delightful in every scene she appears and leaves a strong mark without ever overshadowing the other actors. Her routine might not seem anything special as it looks effortless (and it probably is) but she actually adds a lot to the whole movie. Also, despite not sharing a great deal of screen-time with her, she shares a nice chemistry with Teresa Wright (who plays her niece) and Whitty does a good job in showing Lady Beldon's love towards Carol. 

There are two scenes in which May Whitty gets the opportunity to explore the character a little more and she nails both of them, making Lady Beldon a more complex character than it seems at first. The first of these two scenes is the one in which Lady Beldon visits Kay to voice her disapproval over Vin's and Carol's marriage. It's a great moment in which May Whitty does a wonderful job in slowly revealing the motives behind Lady Beldon's hostile behavior: she too married at a young age and her husband died at war and she wants to spare her niece from same pain. Whitty is actually very moving in this scene and conveys beautifully the regret, the nostalgia and the tenderness for her lost love, and is truly great as she gradually softens up when Kay reminds her of what it's like to be in love. She plays the scene with welcome quietness and turns it in one of the most effective of the movie.

The second scene is actually her best, and it takes place at the annual flower contest: Lady Beldon wins every year but this time the townspeople are rooting for the stationmaster, Mr. Ballard (Henry Travers in an Oscar-nominated performance), to win. Lady Beldon has to announce the winner, and she sees that the judges have voted for her: and then, she has a truly amazing moment in which she realizes that they voted for her just because of who she is and through her facial expression Whitty conveys masterfully Lady Beldon's sadness and disappointment as well as her dignity, pride and sense of justice, building up perfectly to the moment in which she finally announces Ballard as the winner of the first prize. And her following speech is both hilarious ("We Beldons are not used to competitors... In the old days, we just lopped off their heads") and touching ("But if I had to lose, there's no man I'd sooner lose to than James Ballard"). She also is very good in the final scene of the movie in which she delivers some silently heartbreaking reactionary moments.

Overall, May Whitty doesn't have a particularly challenging role in Mrs. Miniver but even if she could do her routine in her sleep, it still is a lot of fun and when she has a chance to do more, she thrives. It's a very entertaining turn with some strong dramatic moments that makes the movie a better experience.


domenica 29 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942: Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver

Teresa Wright won her only Oscar from her second/third nomination for her performance as Carol Beldon in Mrs. Miniver.

Mrs. Miniver is a flawed but solid movie about the life of a middle-class family in England is turned upside down by World War II. It's a movie that features some memorable scenes in terms of direction (the shelter scene, the scenes towards the end with Greer Garson and Teresa Wright) and also a few strong performances but it didn't really age very well: the script feels extremely heavy-handed today (the scene with the German is in particular cringe-worthy) and most of the characters are written as one-dimensional and they often feel more of a symbol rather than true people.

Teresa Wright plays Carol, the granddaughter of a rich and respected lady. In her first scene, Carol visits the Minivers and ask them to make a friend of theirs withdraw his rose (named after Mrs. Miniver) from a flower contest, because Carol's grandmother also takes part at the contest and doesn't really like competition. Her request is actually less than honorable and you could make a point that Carol has no rights to ask that to the Minivers but Teresa Wright establishes Carol as such a kind and good-hearted girl that she makes her request seem almost noble: she knows she shouldn't be asking it but she is doing it nonetheless because she deeply cares for her grandmother. Wright is one of the most charming actresses ever and indeed she's extremely luminous and endearing as Carol, and she wins over the audience just as easily as she wins over the Minivers. She also portrays a bright intelligence in Carol and this is particularly clear when, after Vin (Mrs. Miniver's son) accuses her of taking advantage of her social position, she puts him back at his place cleverly but subtly pointing out Vin's immaturity - without ever losing her charm and her grace. 

After the scene, Carol and Vin slowly fall in love but sadly I don't think that Teresa Wright and Richard Ney share a very good chemistry, mostly because Ney delivers an extremely annoying and one-note performance that makes his character almost unbearable. But Wright is always top-notch - she is exceptionally sweet in every scene and her playful flirting with Vin is charmingly performed by her. She is also is very good in the scene in which there is a German attack and Vin takes charge of the situation - she perfectly shows how Carol is starting to see Vin under a different light and she conveys it all through her facial expressions. Unfortunately, the role of Carol is just incredibly limited: it seldom gives Wright anything to do past smiling brightly or quietly worrying about Vin who is at war, and while she does both impeccably well she can't quite escape the limited nature of the script. Carol is a simple and straightforward character and she seems to represent all of the young brides waiting at home worrying for their husbands' lives, instead of being an unique and full-fleshed human being. She still delivers in the role as she wonderfully portrays every emotion of the character and her lovely screen-presence makes her always stand out, but it's still quite disappointing to watch a brilliant actress trapped in a role that often feels thankless.

Her best scene in the movie is easily her speech to Greer Garson, in which Carol tells Kay that she is aware Vin might die at any minute but that she still wants to be happy and enjoy every moment they can spend together because, if he dies, then she'll have a lifetime for tears and grief. It's a heartbreaking moment that Wright portrays amazingly, and she perfectly shows the passionate soul that lie under her gentle appearence - she might not be fighting at war, but in a way Carol is actually the most heroic character in the movie, a woman who carries on with quiet determination and strength and anchors the whole family thanks to this quality of hers. And her final scenes are simply devastating - a lesser actress could have made them over-the-top and tearjerking but Wright handles them with subtlety and quietness which makes them even more powerful and moving. 

Teresa Wright doesn't have an amazing script to work with but she nonetheless delivers a compelling portrayal of her tragic character, showing off her luminous charm and her strong dramatic chops. She delivers a natural and quiet performance that both anchors and supports the movie, and one that starts off winning you over and ends up breaking your heart.


venerdì 27 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942: Susan Peters in Random Harvest

Susan Peters received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Kitty Chilcet in Random Harvest

Random Harvest is a decent but extremely melodramatic movie about an amnesiac soldier who, after being struck by a taxi, regains his memory but forgets the woman he fell in love with and married while he had lost his memory, and it follows her attempts to find him while he gets engaged with another woman. I think the movie works best when Ronald Colman and Greer Garson are on-screen together as I think that they have a lovely and tender chemistry, in fact I think that the first half of the movie is by far the best part of it. The second half, however, is extremely dull and melodramatic which kind of undercuts the impact of the ending. My feelings towards Greer Garson's performance are basically the same I have for the movie: I like her performance in the first half quite a lot as I think she brings the needed warmth and charm to the role, but in the second half, save for the final scene in which she is quite good, I found her to be oddly cold and uninteresting.

Susan Peters plays Kitty, the stepdaughter of one of Charlie's (Colman) siblings, with whom he gets engaged. Mostly two things get in the way of Peters' performance: first off, her screen-time. She only has about three scenes in the movie and only the last one amounts to anything truly substantial, and she doesn't get nearly enough time to realize her character's developement. Secondly, the script itself: Kitty is not meant to be anything more than an obstacle to Charlie's and Paula's reunion and therefore it misses depth, complexity or anything particularly interesting whatsoever. So it's quite remarkable what Peters manages to do with the role: the movie prevents her from leaving a truly lasting impression but she still brings to the role much more than she needed to and she is actually one of the best things of the second half of the movie. 

In her first scene, Kitty is shown as a 14-year-old with a crush on her "uncle" and Peters does a very good job in portraying the immaturity but sincerity of her feelings for Charlie and properly brings a youthful quality to her without ever overdoing the girlish mannerisms - something that was very common at the time and it could have made her performance feel cloying or overcooked but she thankfully avoided it. Between her first and her second scene, quite a few years passes and Kitty's growth feels extremely rushed: nonetheless Peters is very good in portraying a more mature, sophisticated Kitty and she brings a luminous and charming quality to her that makes utterly watchable. At the same time, she is consistent with the characterization of Kitty she had established before and shows that even if she has changed quite a lot she is still the same person, therefore making the time jump feel a little less forced. She doesn't have a particularly good chemistry with Ronald Colman but I don't think they were meant to have, and they both do a particularly effective job in showing that Kitty's love towards Charlie is sadly one-sided.

Then there is her final scene which is by far her strongest and is actually the one that makes the performance work: in this scene, Charlie is vaguely reminded of Paula by a hymn Kitty has been considering for their marriage and she, realizing that he still loves someone else, breaks off the engagement. It's a truly fantastic scene and Peters has a truly brilliant moment in which the camera focuses on her face for about thirty seconds as she realizes that Charlie does not love her: the way her expression turns from joy to confusion and, finally, heartbreak and disappointment is simply terrific and also quite moving. Her goodbye to Charlie is a surprisingly heartbreaking moment that Peters delivers with wounded dignity, and Peters not only does a great job in portraying the emotions of the scene but also shows how much Kitty has changed since her first scene. It's maybe the movie's most poignant moment and it's a testament to Peters' talent as I don't even think that Kitty was intended to evoke such sympathy in the audience. 

Susan Peters' career unfortunately didn't last long as she was left paralyzed after an accident when she and her husband were duck hunting and she died at 31 after having suffered from depression during the final days of her life. Through this performance she shows that if the accident hadn't occured she could have went on to become a great actress, as she takes what is basically a nothing role and takes it to another level. The lack of screen-time devoted to the role and its limited nature prevent the performance from becoming anything particularly memorable but she still delivers a good and occasionally touching performance that goes far beyond what was required.


giovedì 26 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942

And the nominees are:

Gladys Cooper - Now, Voyager
Agnes Moorehead - The Magnificent Ambersons
Susan Peters - Random Harvest
May Whitty - Mrs. Miniver
Teresa Wright - Mrs. Miniver

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

mercoledì 25 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955: Ranking

5. Peggy Lee in Pete Kelly's Blues
Peggy Lee delivers some strong moments throughout her performance, but ultimately her own inexperience and the poor quality of the movie prevent her performance from becoming anything truly substantial.
Best scene: Rose sings "He needs me"

4. Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden
Jo Van Fleet sometimes overdoes it and doesn't quite convey all the nuances of the complex character of Kate, but she still delivers an interesting and memorable performance in the movie's most intriguing role. 
Best scene: Kate meets Aron. 

3. Marisa Pavan in The Rose Tattoo
Marisa Pavan is a bit too old for the character she's playing but she still delivers a graceful and luminous turn that stands as one of the movie's strongest elements, and she carries her own subplot extremely well. 
Best scene: Rosa finally stands up to Serafina.

2. Natalie Wood in Rebel without a Cause
Natalie Wood is great in portraying the rebellious and careless façade of Judy while still showing her insecurities and vulnerabilities. She also develops a wonderful chemistry with James Dean making their scenes together poignant and tender.
Best scene: Her breakdown at the police station.

1. Betsy Blair in Marty
Betsy Blair shares a fantastic chemistry with Ernest Borgnine and she matches his performance step by step: she delivers a quiet, subtle performance that she fills with luminous screen-presence and heartbreaking poignancy. It's a tremendous work that is beautiful in its simplicity.
Best scene: The kiss.

Honorable Omissions: Jo Van Fleet delivered an unforgettable performance as the domineering stage mother in I'll Cry Tomorrow, and I thought that Peggy Lee would have been worthier of a nomination for her voice-work in Lady and the Tramp rather than for her performance in Pete Kelly's Blues. Lillian Gish gave a performance that is both tenderly warm and passionately fierce in The Night of the Hunter, and in the same movie Shelley Winters does a rather effective job in portraying her character's descent into insanity. I find The Tender Trap a very unremarkable movie but I absolutely love Celeste Holm's performance as Sylvia: she steals every scene she's in thanks to her wonderfully natural screen-presence and I thought she carried a tremendous emotional punch in the final act. Eleanor Parker is both despicable and tragic as the needy and manipulative wife of Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm, and Rosalind Russell steals every scene in Picnic with her poignant yet entertaining turn as the lonely teacher. Julie Harris is sweet and charming in East of Eden, and I think that if someone should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for that movie, it should have been her. Smiles of a Summer Night has a wonderful female supporting cast: Eva Dahlbeck delivers a wonderfully entertaining performance making Desirèe one of the most loveable schemer I've ever seen; Ulla Jacobsson is both funny and moving as the charming yet inexperienced Anne and Harriet Andersson is hilarious as the seductive Petra; Naima Wifstrand and Margit Carlqvist also make the most out of their limited roles.
The next year: 1942.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:

  1. Betsy Blair, Marty
  2. Lillian Gish, The Night of the Hunter - 5/5
  3. Celeste Holm, The Tender Trap - 4.5/5
  4. Eva Dahlbeck, Smiles of a Summer Night - 4.5/5
  5. Natalie Wood, Rebel without a Cause 
  6. Jo Van Fleet, I'll Cry Tomorrow - 4.5/5
  7. Eleanor Parker, The Man with the Golden Arm - 4/5
  8. Rosalind Russell, Picnic - 4/5
  9. Julie Harris, East of Eden - 4/5
  10. Shelley Winters, The Night of the Hunter - 4/5

martedì 24 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955: Marisa Pavan in The Rose Tattoo

Marisa Pavan received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Rosa Delle Rose in The Rose Tattoo. 

The Rose Tattoo is a fine movie about a widow who, after having withdrawn from the world for three years because of her husband's death, finds out he was having an affair with another woman: grief-stricken, she starts to doubt about her whole marriage while a handsome truck driver enters her life. It's a good movie that I appreciated a bit more after a rewatch but still I don't find it particularly special: it's pretty well done and the first half is actually fairly strong, but I think that the second half is a huge letdown, mostly because of Burt Lancaster's almost atrociously over-the-top performance that really hinders the whole movie.

Marisa Pavan plays Rosa, the teenager daughter of the leading character, Serafina. Marisa Pavan was about 22 when the movie was made and she clearly looks more like a young adult than a teenager; it's not atrocious miscasting though and her age never becomes truly distracting, except for when it is directly mentioned. Marisa Pavan doesn't have a whole lot of screen-time in The Rose Tattoo: she is a fairly important presence in the beginning but she is completely missing for a large chunk of the movie and she only appears again towards the end. She doesn't have a particularly active role within the plot and her little storyline could have felt like a time-filler: thankfully, Marisa Pavan manages to avoid that giving a surprisingly powerful portrayal of her character and I would even say that she is what makes the last act of the movie a bit better for me.

Her first scenes, before the three-years jump, are probably the weakest of her performance as it seems like Pavan is struggling a bit to portray convincingly her character's young age: she is never bad but she never becomes fully believable even if she has some haunting, impressive moments such as when Rosa finds out about her father's death. After the time jump, the age gap between Pavan and the character of Rosa becomes smaller and even if she still looks a bit too mature for the role she inhabits the role with grace and charm and she herself feels much comfortable and assured in the role. Pavan could have been easily overshadowed by Anna Magnani's commanding performance but Pavan gives to Rosa every inch of the fierce, strong personality of Serafina: their confrontations are the movie's hihglights because Magnani and Pavan pay off each other exceptionally well. Pavan though properly adds a more tender edge to Rosa because while Rosa is just as determined as Serafina, she isn't nearly as embittered: she beautifully portrays her character's insecurities and vulnerabilities in her scenes with Ben Cooper, who portrays the charming and sweet Jack, with whom Rosa falls in love. They have a sweet and natural chemistry that makes the fact that they basically decide to marry after two days of knowing each other much more believable and convincing. The scene in which Rosa introduces Ben to her mother is a very nice moment and Pavan does a very good job in subtly portraying all the emotions of the scene, from excitement to disappointment as Serafina doesn't quite react the way she wishes.

After Rosa leaves to spend a day with Jack, Marisa Pavan is basically absent for almost an hour (save for a very brief but rather sweet scene with Cooper) and the movie focuses more on Serafina's relationship with Alvaro (Lancaster). Therefore, Pavan doesn't quite get enough time to fully realize her character's arc but she still makes Rosa's coming into her own as a person and breaking away from her mother's influence compelling and powerful. Her final scene in which she finally stands up to Serafina and decides to marry Jack is a truly moving moments thanks to Pavan's and Magnani's heartfelt performances and their realistic mother-daughter chemistry.

Ultimately Marisa Pavan delivers a strong, memorable performance that stands as one of the movie's biggest strengths. She might be a bit miscast but she brings radiance and personality to Rosa and gracefully portrays her character's arc. She handles her character's own subplot extremely well and makes what could have been an useless storyline a compelling and moving one.


domenica 22 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955: Natalie Wood in Rebel without a Cause

Natalie Wood received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Judy in Rebel without a Cause.

Rebel without a Cause is a very effective movie about a troubled teenager in Los Angeles who gets involved in a dangerous game that turns into tragedy. It's a great movie that is completely deserving of its iconic status, and the same goes for James Dean's leading performance. Nicholas Ray's direction is also terrific (the "Chicken Run" scene is masterfully directed) and I would also like to single out the gorgeous cinematography and the memorable score.

Natalie Wood plays the role of Judy, a rebellious sixteen-year-old girl who first appears in the movie at the beginning, in the scene at the police station in which she was brought because she was hanging out alone in the streets very late at night (and was probably mistaken for a streetwalker). Her conversation with the police officer is actually the highlight of her performance for me and I think she hits all of the emotional notes of the scene; I could see why someone would find her acting a bit too much but I think that in that moment the character is supposed to be an emotional mess and therefore her approach is perfectly fitting. She's actually quite heartbreaking in her portrayal of Judy's torment, whose rebellious attitude comes from an attempt to get her father's attention. She perfectly captures the angst and the turmoil that is common among teenagers and simply shows that Judy is just a girl that doesn't understand how everything around her, particularly her relationship with her parents, has changed so fast and why. She is also excellent in a later scene in which her father rejects her attempt to show him her affection - it's a rather touching moment entirely thanks to Wood's pitch-perfect reaction to the moment

In the scenes following the police station's one, Wood portrays perfectly Judy's façade that she puts on whenever she is with her friends. She properly shows that her behavior is very much a put on - in those scenes there is an underlying awkwardness and uncomfortableness in her portrayal that perfectly shows that Judy isn't really at ease with those guys and her fears of not being accepted by them if she acts sincere. The moment in which she suddenly drops the façade after Jim tells her that he's seen her at the police station is pitch-perfect and Wood does a great job in showing Judy's concern of having been seen in such a vulnerable state before quickly regaining the arrogance and self-confidence she needs to show in order to "go with the kids". But she is also very good in showing her growing admiration and interest towards Jim - unlike the others, he isn't afraid of being against the "kids" and doesn't need to be someone else. 

After the "Chicken Run" scene, Natalie Wood gets more scenes devoted to her relationship with Jim and the two actors do a fantastic job in showing their mutual attraction and then sincere love, which could have felt extremely rushed but thanks to their incredible chemistry it works. In their scenes together, they achieve a poignant intimacy that isn't quite sexual but more emotional - their scenes together are so beautiful before they show perfectly how Judy and Jim understand each other's problems and find a connection because of them. Judy's monologue about love in the abandoned mansion is one of the best moments in the movie and Natalie Wood delivers it with such tenderness and sincerity it's heartbreaking. 

In the last act of the movie, unfortunately, Natalie Wood doesn't get a whole lot to do but still her work here is extremely impressive and one of the best she has ever done. She delivers a moving portrayal of her character which she brings to life with vivid and compelling realism and shares a brilliant, tender chemistry with James Dean. She might not be what makes the movie iconic, but she is part of what makes the movie great. 


venerdì 20 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955: Betsy Blair in Marty

Betsy Blair received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Clara Snyder in Marty.

Marty is a wonderful movie about an unmarried, unattractive but good-hearted butcher who falls in love with a shy and lonely teacher. It's one of my favorite Best Picture winners, because it's a movie that never fails to move me: it's not glamorous nor overly sugar-coated - it's just simple, tender and just plain beautiful. The Oscar-winning screenplay is terrific because it never makes the simple nature of the story feel like a limitation or lack of depth. It's truly a great movie that feels incredibly realistic while having an enchanting fairytale-like atmosphere to it. 

Betsy Blair is Clara, the plain-looking teacher with whom Marty falls in love. We first meet Clara at a ballroom when she is dumped by her blind date because of her not very attractive looks: Blair instantly makes you sympathize with Clara and the moment in which Marty tries to comfort her is a deeply heartbreaking one; the thing I almost immediately noticed and appreciated about Blair's performance is the fact that she goes for a subtle acting style that makes her big moments quietly devastating. Just like Clara herself seems to shy away from attention, Blair doesn't want to draw to her the audience's eyes: she naturally does through the beautiful quietness and painful honesty of her performance. Her crying in the aforementioned scene couldn't be more effective because of how natural and heartfelt it feels - it's feels so life-like it's heartwrenching. Betsy Blair meets the physical requirements of the character perfectly: she is not typically beautiful but she also has a genuine, bright spark in her eyes and a quiet, low-key charm to her that make her such a luminous presence throughout the movie. On paper, Clara isn't a very complex character and she could have easily been just an object of affection: but Blair adds to it depth and sensitivity, touchingly revealing Clara's insecutirites and vulnerabilities. There's an aching loneliness to her portrayal that makes her consistently moving, and I also admire Blair for giving a performance of utter realism without any single trace of vanity or artifice. 

Her chemistry with Ernest Borgnine is, of course, top-notch: they are just perfect for each other and their interactions are incredibly sweet and endearing. They develop an unique connection between two lonely souls and together they create one of the most beautifully real yet almost magical romance I've ever seen: the relationship between Marty and Clara is the core of the movie, and Borgnine and Blair realize this perfectly. In their scenes together, Clara is the more passive characters of the two - Marty is the one who talks more and Clara often listens silently - but Betsy Blair never makes her performance passive itself: she makes her character kind, gentle and understanding, and the scene in which she advises him to buy the shop he works at is an extremely effective moments that Blair handles with poignancy and tenderness. In the same scene, she also does a very good job in showing yet another side of Clara, which would be her love for children and her job as a teacher (it's just wonderful that when she talks about them her face just seems to light up).

The scene in which Marty takes Clara to his apartment is probably the best in the whole movie and both actors do a wonderful job with it, creating a tender, beautiful atmosphere: their kiss is a fantastic moment because it feels like the two actors earned it completely. On her part, Betsy Blair is incredibly moving in showing the awkwardness of Clara, who doesn't quite seem to know what she should do - she makes her nervousness almost palpable. Blair is truly wonderful here and she turns even the simplest line such as "Nothing" into something heartbreaking. A later scene in which she waits for Marty's call is truly devastating and she conveys the disappointment and heartbreak of Clara perfectly without even uttering a single word, and it's even more powerful if you watch a previous scene that was deleted in the final cut in which Clara, after the night out with Marty, tells her parents about it - it's a beautiful, little scene and this is thanks to Blair's radiant display of happiness, joy and excitement.

This is a wonderful performance by Betsy Blair that stands as a perfect example of an actress taking a potentially thankless role and making it unforgettable. It's a performance that is just amazing in its simplicity, and one that doesn't need loudness or Oscar baiting moments: the quietness and the sensitivity are what makes it unforgettable. 


mercoledì 18 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955: Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden

Jo Van Fleet won the Oscar from her only nomination for her performance as Kate in East of Eden. 

East of Eden is a fantastic movie about Cal, a young, unhappy man who sees himself as the black sheep of his family and who longs for the affection of his father, who seems to prefer Cal's brother Abel. As World War I approaches, Cal decides to enter the bean-growing business in an attempt to win his father's love, while he finds out that his mother, whom he thought was dead, is actually alive. It's truly a beautiful movie that is wonderfully directed by Elia Kazan, with a terrific screenplay and some very good performances. Raymond Massey should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod for his pitch-perfect portrayal of Cal's and Abel's father, and Julie Harris also delivers a poignant, lovely performance as Abra. 

Kate is by far the juiciest and most interesting character in East of Eden: she doesn't get a lot of screen-time but this is one of those cases in which the lack of it works extremely well with the character - her limited time on screen only makes her character's motives even more mysterious and enigmatic. It's a character that benefits from an amazing writing and it's a fantastic showcase for an actress' talent: Jo Van Fleet's performance, sadly, doesn't quite live up to the demands of the role but it's still an extremely satisfying and interesting performance under many aspects. She has an extremely strong and intriguing screen-presence that makes her an very dominating figure even when she's seen from a distance. She brings the proper amount of mysteriousness to the role and makes Kate a truly intriguing character. Near the beginning she has a particularly great scene in which Cal, who is her son, goes to the brothel she owns in an attempt to get in touch with her but she angrily kicks him out: it's a brief but unforgettable moment and Jo Van Fleet does some truly effective facial acting as she witnesses Cal being beaten and sent away, suggesting for a second with a shocked, haunting expression that she might have recognized him. But she also shines in the quiet scene that takes place a few days later in which she finally speaks with Cal, who wants to ask her to borrow him the money he needs to get into business: James Dean and Jo Van Fleet share a perfect, phenomenal chemistry and they pay off each other exceptionally well. Their acting styles manage to match perfectly and it's a treat to watch them act together. They beautifully portray the unease of the situtation as the two are basically stranger but they also establish a believable and natural connection between their characters that make you see the similarities of their personality and their mutual understanding. 

Now there is her big scene in Kate's office and this is where the problems in her performance start to arise: she's never truly bad and she has a lot of terrific moments but there are others that could have been handled differently and it doesn't quite feel like she truly dig deep into the character. The fact is that Jo Van Fleet seems to care more about the technique rather than Kate's psychology which results in a performance that is a times overly mannered and at others a bit too shallow. Her showy, over-the-top acting style is at times extremely effective as it naturally works within her performance but other times it feels distracting and out of the place. In other moments, instead, she fails to give the depth and the complexity that the character deserves and the moment in which she tells Cal the reason why she shot his father, while far from bad, kind of feels like a missed opportunity because she doesn't convey the history between Kate and Adam as well as she should and, again, her sometimes overdone line-delivery doesn't work. Now this doesn't mean that the scene is bad: her aforementioned chemistry with James Dean is brilliant and she finds some great, powerful moments in the scene, such as when she tells him "You're a likeable kid", or when she tells him "Oh, get out of here" rejecting his attempt to have an operhearted conversation - and her sorrowful face after he leaves is alone more effective than the rest of the scene. 

I also think her final scene, in which an enraged and heartbroken Cal brings his brother to meet Kate, whom he thinks is dead, is fantastic and she nails every single emotion: the genuine happiness and surprise when she sees Cal, and then her shock, sadness and disappointment when she sees why he came - and her line-delivery of "Oh, Cal" is deeply heartbreaking. It's a small moment but an unforgettable and poignant one. In the end, this is a bit of a disappointing performance as I think that the role allowed for more but Jo Van Fleet still delivers an interesting portrayal that certainly adds to the film. She could have explored her character more, but she still gives a very good performance thanks to the excellent script, her terrific screen-presence and her brilliant chemistry with James Dean. 


On a side note, I've decided to stop doing the "Ranking of the nominees so far" under the results post of every year, and put instead my personal top 10 of the year (basically, my personal nominees). I'll still post my ranking of the nominees every now and then on an individual post, probably every five or ten years I will do, I just won't post it with the same frequency. 

domenica 15 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955: Peggy Lee in Pete Kelly's Blues

Peggy Lee received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Rose Hopkins in Pete Kelly's Blues. 

Pete Kelly's Blues is a terrible movie about a jazz cornetist, Pete Kelly, who seeks revenge for the murder of his band's drummer at the hands of a local crime boss. The plot of the movie is hardly anything original but the real problem is that its execution is awful: the dialogues are melodramatic and borderline atrocious, Jack Webb's direction is completely uninspired and atonal and his leading performance is wooden and dull. The other performances aren't that better either: Janet Leigh is extremely annoying in her paper-thin portrayal of the feisty love interest of Kelly and Edmond O'Brien is more a caricature rather than a threatening, menacing presence. Lee Marvin though is quite good in his subtle, nice performance. The cinematography is also good and the movie looks wonderful, but that's about it. 

Peggy Lee plays the role of Rose Hopkins, an alcoholic jazz singer as well as Frank McCarg's (O'Brien) moll. It's a difficult role that features some extremely tricky scenes to play while not having that much screen-time either and before seeing the movie I was actually expecting a very poor performance. Watching the movie, I was extremely surprised: Peggy Lee shows to be a surprisingly talented performer and while her inexperience can be felt throughout some scenes I truly believe that in the hands of a better director and in a better movie her performance could have been absolutely great. Sadly, Lee doesn't get any help from Jack Webb's direction and it's extremely frustrating to see a potentially great performance being hindered by the poor quality of the movie and the utter lack of skill of the director. In the hands of, say, Orson Welles, this performance could have been so much more: unfortunately, we only get glimpses of the performance this could have been but it's still a fine performance that easily stands out as the movie's strongest asset. Her first scenes are actually her best and as soon as she appeared I found myself tolerating the movie a little bit more: Lee does a very good job in making Rose the movie's most sympathetic character and in her voice you can feel the pain, the regret of what her life could have been and the sad memories of her broken dreams. I was extremely surprised by her ability to convey so much with so little and seems to be, along with Lee Marvin, the only cast member who isn't awkwardly dull or painfully hammy: instead, she portrays the role with subtlety and delicacy and her line reading of the line "Don't worry Frank, I can't reach that high anymore" after McCarg smashes her glass on the wall is filled with bitterness and poignant sadness. Her singing scenes are very good as well: of course her voice is beautiful but she also uses those scenes to add a bit of depth to the character - particularly in her execution of the song He needs me she projects wonderfully her character's self-destructive love for a man who treats her like an object.

Her performance unfortunately kind of gets lost in the middle and she has a few extremely difficult scenes that she isn't quite able to handle. The scene in which Rose gets drunk and cannot bring herself to sing is played rather poorly by Peggy Lee who adopts the most stereotypical type of drunk acting. Her line-readings are unconvincing and come off as false, her facial expressions are occasionally odd and her body movements feel overcooked or strangely robotic, as if she wasn't quite sure of what to do. The brief moment in which Rose falls on the stairs after being savagely beaten by McCarg is almost embarrassing because of how forced it feels. And then there is her final scene, in which Kelly goes to visit Rose who has been admitted to an asylum due to having "the brain of a five years old" after her beating: the concept of the scene is actually quite ridiculous but Lee astonishingly manages to make it work. She's actually very moving in her portrayal of Rose's mental state and she does a pretty great job in switching from moments of hopeless confusion to brief, small moments of lucidity. She has some truly heartbreaking line deliveries ("He was mean to my baby" or her last line "I have so many good friends") and her rendition of the childish tune she keeps singing is extremely haunting. Unfortunately, she isn't helped at all by Jack Webb who is dreadfully dull and undercuts slightly the impact of the scene. 

In the end, this is a good performance from Peggy Lee who has some truly great moments in the beginning and towards the end but who is unfortunately hindered by the movie's terrible direction, awful screenplay and also her inability due to her inexperience to handle her drunk scenes. Still, I admire the fact that she manages to rise above the movie's quality and even if under other circumstances her performance could have been better it's still a fine, moving turn. 


sabato 14 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1955

And the nominees are:

Betsy Blair - Marty
Peggy Lee - Pete Kelly's Blues
Marisa Pavan - The Rose Tattoo
Jo Van Fleet - East of Eden
Natalie Wood - Rebel without a Cause

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

venerdì 13 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2013: Ranking

5. Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong'o gives a powerful depiction of her character's plight but ultimately her characterization of Patsey remains a bit too thin to allow her performance to be truly great.
Best scene: The whipping scene. 

4. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
Sally Hawkins is a bit overshadowed by Cate Blanchett's leading turn but she nonetheless gives an effective performance in the quieter role of the two. She plays the role with moving subtlety and beautiful simplicity and handles very well her own little subplot.
Best scene: Ginger finally stands up to Jasmine. 

3. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Jennifer Lawrence is a bit too young to play the role and the script kind of fails to give her performance a proper closure but she still delivers a memorable turn, making her character's ditzy behavior properly entertaining while also revealing beautifully Rosalyn's vulnerabilities.
Best scene: Sydney confronts Rosalyn. 

2. June Squibb in Nebraska
June Squibb overdoes it sometimes but for the most part she's terrific. She gives a hilarious performance that steals every scene she's in while still grounding her character quite a bit and conveying very well the history between Woody and Kate. 
Best scene: Kate defends Woody.

1. Julia Roberts in August: Osage County
Julia Roberts gives her best performance by far in this movie, portraying extremely well her character's bitter, tough attitude and then showing the pain that motives her unpleasant behavior. She nails her character's arc and doesn't miss any of the shades and nuances of Barbara.
Best scene: Bill leaves Barbara.

Honorable Omissions: In her extremely brief screen-time, Carey Mulligan delivers an explosively funny yet carefully layered performance in Inside Llewyn Davis, but on a rewatch I was even more floored by her performance in The Great Gatsby: Daisy is one of the most challenging role ever written but Mulligan is amazing at portraying all of the contradictions of the character. She brings the right amount of charm and allure to the role while also conveying Daisy's pathetic loneliness and painful awareness of her miserable state but also her hollowness and superficiality. It's an endlessly fascinating performance from a great actress. Lèa Seydoux is brilliant in Blue is the Warmest Color portraying wonderfully the mysterious Emma at every step of her relationship with the leading character. Sarah Paulson portrays her character in 12 Years a Slave with frightening but wounded ferocity and I think she would have been much worthier of a nomination than Nyong'o. Tilda Swinton is amazing in Snowpiercer, as she gives a performance that is consistently hilarious yet never compromises the dark tone of the movie, as she manages to light up the movie in a rather twisted way. On a rewatch, I also found Go Ah-Sung's performance in the same movie rather effective. Julianne Nicholson gives the best performance in August: Osage County with her heartbreaking portrayal of Ivy and in the same movie Margo Martindale gives a great performance as the acid-tongued Mattie Fae as well. Shailene Woodley gives a beautifully touching performance in The Spectacular Now and Kristin Scott Thomas's performance as the vengeful Crystal is the best thing of the disappointing Only God Forgives along with its stunning cinematography. Scarlett Johansson's voice-work in Her is extremely effective and Amy Adams' relaxed, subtle, natural and heartwarming performance in the same movie is worth-mentioning as well. Reem Abdullah is also extremely poignant and subtle in  Wadjda. I really did not care at all for The Bling Ring, but Emma Watson delivers an excellent, smart performance in it as she really seems to be the only one who gets the satire - she's deliciously over-the-top while still not going too far, and makes Nikki the most memorable character of the movie. Margot Robbie's performance in The Wolf of Wall Street is also a highly entertaining piece of work that adds life and color to the movie, with her final scene being particularly a standout. Nicole Kidman is somewhat underused in Stoker but she still gives a rather memorable performance as the emotionally unstable Evelyn and her monologue towards the end is downright chilling. 
The next year: 1955.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Carey Mulligan, The Great Gatsby - 5/5
  2. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer - 5/5
  3. Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color - 4.5/5
  4. Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis - 4.5/5
  5. Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County - 4.5/5 
  6. Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now - 4.5/5
  7. Sarah Paulson, 12 Years a Slave - 4.5/5
  8. Kristin Scott Thomas, Only God Forgives - 4.5/5
  9. Emma Watson, The Bling Ring - 4.5/5
  10. June Squibb, Nebraska

giovedì 12 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2013: Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave

Lupita Nyong'o won the Oscar from her only nomination to date for her performance as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave.

12 Years a Slave is a compelling movie about the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery. The movie isn't flawless: it doesn't really handle well the passing of time as it feels like much less than twelve years and some of the characters are a bit underdeveloped. Nonetheless, the merits of the movie easily overshadow the flaws: Steve McQueen's direction is downright amazing (especially in the hanging scene and the whipping one) and even if Alfonso Cuaròn's work in Gravity is brilliant I probably would have voted for McQueen. It's also a movie that carries a tremendous emotional impact and the ending in particular is very moving. 

Patsey is, unfortunately, one of the aforementioned underdeveloped characters in the movie. She is a young slave who is periodically raped by Edwin Epps, the plantation owner, and because of this physically abused by his jealous wife. It's a tragic character and one that naturally evokes a lot of sympathy in the viewer but the truth is that it is also extremely limited at the same time. The performance never quite becomes three-dimensional and it mostly feels rather two-sided: Patsey is either shown as having some sort of childlike innocence or as having an emotional breakdown. Nyong'o mostly portrays does two sides very well but unfortunately Patsey never feels like a fully fleshed-out character. It's a role that is rewarding and thankless at the same time: it's bound to move the audience but at the same time it doesn't offer Nyong'o the opportunity to truly explore the character in depth. 

To be honest, I also don't think that Nyong'o performance is flawless from a technical point of view as I do think that her inexperience sometimes shines through: for example, I don't think that the scene in which Patsey begs Solomon to end her life is entirely convincing. For every good, heartfelt line reading there is one that feels a little too forced, and she switches from good to unconvincing many times during the very same scene. There are also other scenes in which she is actually not bad at all but in which she's a bit overshadowed by the stronger turns from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson (who is fantastic in the role and would have deserved the nomination more). 

But I don't want to sound negative about her performance because despite the flaws it is still a very powerful piece of work with some unforgettable moments. As I mentioned before, there is an innocence and a genuine sweetness to her performance that makes the character even more heartbreaking: Nyong'o also brings a somewhat luminous quality to her character that makes her stand out from the other characters in the movie and makes Epps' attraction towards her believable and convincing. She also has some silent moments in which the camera focuses on her face that manage to be extremely memorable despite being very brief: for example, the scene in which Solomon comes back to the plantation and we see Patsey's sad, devastated face is quietly heartbreaking and Nyong'o shows an impressive ability to show a lot of emotions just with one look. And of course her best scene occurs when Patsey tearfully confesses Epps that she had left the plantation earlier to get some soap and he forces Solomon to whip her before taking the whip himself and striking her violently. It's a truly harrowing scene to watch and Lupita Nyong'o does a fantastic job in portraying her character's desperation and, then, physical pain. A later scene in which the other slaves try to treat her wounds is also devastating and Nyong'o's close-up during the scene is simply unforgettable. The moment in which I truly realized how powerful her performance actually is is her final scene in which Solomon leaves the plantation for good and they embrace for the last time: in that moment I truly realized how much I had grown to care about Patsey and how much I was going to miss her. Nyong'o makes the scene all the more touching as she shows that while Patsey is happy for Solomon she is devastated about being left at the plantation without her only friend, and the fact that Patsey's fate is left open makes her work even more haunting. 

In the end, this is a good performance from Lupita Nyong'o but unfortunately the limitations of the role prevent her from becoming truly great. But despite the lack of complexity of her work, she nonetheless gives a powerful depiction of her character's plight and leave a lasting, memorable impression.


martedì 10 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2013: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Jennifer Lawrence received her third Oscar nomination for her performance as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle.

American Hustle is an enjoyable movie about a con man and his lover/partner in crime who are forced to work for an FBI agent, therefore entering in the dangerous world of powerbrokers and mafia. It's a very good movie that I find immensely entertaining to watch but I like the film less and less on every rewatch. I used to love the screenplay and while I still like it quite a bit I have a few reservations about it (the story's wrap-up is particularly unstatisfying), and the same goes for David O. Russell's direction. I loved all of the performances the first time, now I have problems with some of them too (Jeremy Renner's performance, instead, gets better every time I watch it). I still like the film very much, but it's not amazing.

I adored Jennifer Lawrence's performance the first time I saw the movie and I was actually rooting for her to win back then. Unfortunately, her performance is one of those aspects of the movie that I've come to like less and less with time; this doesn't mean I don't like her performance, because I actually appreciate a lot what Lawrence brings to the role but there are a few flaws that prevents me from completely loving it. First off, Lawrence is a bit miscast: I don't find it as much of a problem as other people do, but still I can't deny that the role probably required an older actress. She actually manages to overcome this to an extent and she acquits herself nicely to the role but especially in the beginning it can be a bit distracting. Secondly, her accent is sort of all over the place, especially in her first scene, it never becomes truly distracting but it is noticeable. But past those two flaws, her performance is very good: even in her first scene, in which her flaws are particularly evident, she still manages to be extremely captivating thanks to her scene-stealing screen presence and inhabits perfectly the character of Rosalyn. She is very entertaining in her portrayal of her character's wild, unpredictable personality - she's a true force of nature of screen and it's impossible to take your eyes off her. She makes Rosalyn's ditziness incredibly funny but past that she is able to show that Rosalyn is a smart, sly manipulator who isn't afraid to blackmail her husband in order to keep him with her. She does a very good job in her performance in balancing the funnier sides of her character as well as her darker ones, sometimes even in the same scene. Her performance is often criticized for being over-the-top but, honestly, the character itself is and I think that for most of the time Lawrence is able to be over-the-top without being hammy - she's loud and sometimes annoying but that's part of the point actually. Also I have to give her credit for making Rosalyn somewhat endearing despite doing some very obnoxious things, and it's truly a testament to her talent. 

Jennifer Lawrence also does very well in her more serious scenes and I think that she does a great job in portraying the desperation and neediness that motive her action, and her confrontation with Amy Adams is one of the highlights of the movie. She is simply fantastic in showing her hatred towards Sydney whom she blames for her problems with her husband, and her line-reading of "I've got a ring on my finger! We have a child together!" couldn't be more excellent. She is threatening and despicable as she vows she'll make Sydney pay for everything she is done but she is also surprisingly moving when Rosalyn breakdowns as Sydney accuses her of alienating Irving because of her blackmails and manipulations. It's a brilliant scene in which Lawrence nails all of Rosalyn's complexities,

Unfortunately, in the third act things get a little bit more problematic. It's not that Jennifer Lawrence starts to act poorly - except for the "Live and Let Die" scene (which is simply terrible in every single way), she is still very good. But the movie's tone is strangely uneven in the final act and it doesnt't mix comedy and drama as well as it did in the rest of the movie. Lawrence still delivers and the scene in which she admits she's afraid to change and take risks because in her comfort zone she feels safer is actually a heartbreaking and poignant moment. Her final confrontation with Christian Bale is good as well but again she suffers from the movie's tone - she does her best to show Rosalyn's painful emotional state while still handling the comedic notes that are randomly thrown at her, but it just doesn't work as well as it should even if it isn't her fault. Her final scene bothers me particularly becaused it fails to give Rosalyn's arc a proper closure and it makes you wonder if the movie's writers ever intended Rosalyn as anything more than a joke. 

So Jennifer Lawrence's performance is far from being perfect but despite its flaws her performance still manages to leave an extremely strong and lasting impression. She delivers an entertaining, scene-stealing turn while also giving us glimpses of her character's plight. My admiration for her work here might have cooled down a bit but I still greatly appreciate what Lawrence brings to the role and despiteher miscasting and the limitations of the script she delivers a performance that is hard to forget. 


domenica 8 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2013: June Squibb in Nebraska

June Squibb received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Kate Grant in Nebraska

Nebraska is an excellent movie about Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old man who decides to take a trip from Montana to Nebraska with his son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. It's a bittersweet, poignant movie that benefits greatly from a terrific ensemble, the fantastic direction from Alexander Payne, Bob Nelson's funny yet deep screenplay and a wonderful, stunning cinematography. Will Forte gives an underrated, quietly powerful performance that compliments Bruce Dern's one extremely well. 

Kate Grant is Woody's tart-tongued, forthright wife and it's actually a pretty great role: it truly allows an actress to steal every scene she's in and June Squibb is perfectly up to the task. She has a pitch-perfect comedic timing and even better line-delivery that makes her a true comedic force on screen - and she's indeed hilarious ("Look at your father, he's useless! His mother spoiled him!"). Her character actually could have easily come off as annoying considering that she spends most of the time bitching about other people, bragging about how desireable she was when she was younger and criticizing her husband for deciding to take the trip but Squibb manages to make Kate a surprisingly endearing and likeable character. And she has some truly golden scenes: her almost iconic scene at the cemetery, in which she candidly talks about Woody's relatives sex lives, is priceless and Squibb makes the most out of it thanks to her aforementioned timing and delivery - "I ain't fiddling with no cows titties I'm a city girls" and "This is Woody's little sister Rose. She was only nineteen when she was killed in a car wreck near Wausa. What a whore" are among the best of her brilliant lines, and she nails them. But it's not the only scene that she steals: a later scene at a restaurant in which she again talks about Woody's friend desire to "get in her bloomers", another one in which she distracts a couple while her sons puts back in their house the air compressor they previously stole... these are all terrific moments in which Squibb simply thrives.

Her work, though, isn't quite flawless. She doesn't have a single bad scene but the role itself is written as a bit too broad. I would say that overall both the screenplay and Squibb are great but there a few moments in which both falter: the screenplay sometimes makes Kate such an exaggerated character that she lacks a bit of credibility; and while Squibb is mostly fantastic in the role she herself is a bit too broad and maybe she could have afforded to tone down a bit sometimes. It's not a big complaint about her performance as ultimately it is still extremely funny but sometimes it's just a bit too much.

Actually, my favorite moments of her performance are her more serious ones. She has a fantastic chemistry with Bruce Dern and even if she spends most of the movie complaining about him Squibb does a great job in showing an underlying tenderness and affection in Kate's relationship with Woody and when their history is finally revealed towards the end of the movie their marriage gains a new, heartbreaking dimension. The highlight of Squibb's performance is easily her confrontation with the family in which she defends Woody and tell them not to dare to ask him for money: it's a powerful, fantastic moment and Squibb is amazing in showing the loyalty of Kate for her husband no matter what. And the scene at the hospital in which she softly kisses Woody and tenderly tells him "You big idiot" is a small but heartbreaking moments that sums up Woody's and Kate's whole relationship beautifully. 

Overall this is a pretty great performance from June Squibb who delivers a performance that is hilarious and touching in equal parts. It's not quite a perfect performance and she might have handled a few moments differently but it's still a rather wonderful effort that is essential to the movie's success. I'm probably being a bit too scrict now as she's close to a higher rating, but for the time being I'm confident with this rating. 


giovedì 5 maggio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2013: Julia Roberts in August: Osage County

Julia Roberts received her fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Barbara Weston in August: Osage County

August: Osage County is an engaging drama about a dysfunctional family that reunite in the familiar house in Oklahoma after their patriarch disappears. I'd say the movie is slightly disappointing considering that the source material is phenomenal and the movie unfortunately isn't quite: this adaptation probably cut out too much from the original play and therefore its impact feels a bit muted. Nonetheless, the script still works very well and the movie itself is pretty strong. There are a few weak links in the ensemble (Abigail Breslin's role is underwritten, Sam Shepard is underused and the great Ewan McGregor feels strangely out of the place) but there are some great turns that make up for it. Margo Martindale delivers a great turn as the sarcastic and occasionally venomous aunt who hides dark secrets, and Julianne Nicholson steals the movie with her quietly heartbreaking performance. 

Julia Roberts is not an actress I'm particularly fond of. There a few performances from her that I like well enough actually but I find a great deal of her comedic performances to be rather cloying and most of her dramatic work to be somewhat phony. I had low expectations about her performance in this movie so it was a big surprise for me to find out that her performance in this movie is not only legitimately good, but actually pretty great. Roberts' performance actually receives some criticisms sometimes for lacking the softer side of the character: in my opinion, this is far from being a problem as I think that Barbara is a woman who rarely reveals that part of her personality and often appears as a cold and embittered person. Roberts portrays this side of her character to perfection: she never turns her performance into a one-note portrayal of anger (which easily could have been) but just naturally makes her harsh attitude part of Barbara and within it she manages to find some lighter, even somewhat comedic moments. One of the reasons why I don't usually love Julia Roberts is that I find her to be often playing for the camera and trying too hard to be likeable: I admire so much her performance here because she never tries to make Barbara any more endearing and isn't afraid to make her unpleasant - at the same time though she subtly shows Barbara's unhappiness behind every acid-tongued remark, and therefore she gains the audience's sympathy much more than in the movies in which she seems to be begging for it. Roberts also fits perfectly with the rest of the cast and shares great chemistry with all of its members: her scenes with Meryl Streep are the definition of explosive and they develop extremely well the relationship between Barbara and Violent, which is deep but sad and destructive at the same time; she also is very good in her scenes with Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis and you really believe the three of them are sisters as the actresses portray very well both the rivalry and the affection typical of siblings. Roberts also knows when it's her time to shine and when she is supposed to hold back and let the other shine as well: and speaking of her time to shine, she does some amazing work in the dinner scene and her line-reading of "You don't get it, do you? You don't get it. I am running things now!" is chilling to the bone. 

Anyway it's not true to say that Julia Roberts doesn't have softer, quieter moments in the movie because Barbara's more vulnerable side actually comes out in some truly poignant scenes and Roberts's display of her weaknesses is something heartbreaking to see. She's great in the scene in the car after she has found out her father has died and she tearfully remembers the guy she used to date when she was young: it's an brilliant scene and Julia Roberts fills it with an unforgettable amount of regret, tenderness and melancholia, and the moment in which she begs her daughter to die after her is a small, deeply moving one. I also think she's great in a later scene in which her husband, who has an affair with a younger woman, admits he's probably never going to come back with her: it's a brief moment but it's quietly devastating thanks to Roberts who portrays wonderfully Barbara's broken feelings and her inability to understand what happened to their relationship.

Over the course of the movie Barbara becomes more and more similar to her more, and Julia Roberts handles this developement with brilliant subtlety: you don't actually notice it until the very end in which you realize how far she has actually gone since she arrived in Oklahoma. Now, I have to admit I think that the third act of the movie is its weakest part and a couple of times even Roberts herself isn't able to avoid her worst tendencies as an actress - particularly the "Eat your fish" scene feels phony and unconvicing but Roberts thankfully manages to make up for it with her final few moments in the movie as she finally realizes how dangerously alike her mother she has become. Her last scene that features her crying in the field might be unnecessary but Roberts is terrific in it and with her final, tearful smile she conveys a lot of feelings that don't need to be expressed.

In the end, this is a very powerful performance from an actress I didn't expect could reach such heights. This is clearly a case of category fraud since she's a co-lead but the performance itself is fantastic: Roberts portrays wonderfully her character's though appearence while showing the complicated emotions that lie under the façade and gives what is, without a doubt, best performance of her career.