mercoledì 29 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2006: Adriana Barraza in Babel

Adriana Barraza received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Amelia Hernandez in Babel.

Babel is a great movie about four different stories that are all somewhat involved into the shooting of a woman on a bus in Morocco. I think it's a very compelling movie from beginning to end and each of the storylines is interesting in its own way. The editing is terrific and the storylines intertwine beautifully. The cinematography and the score are also excellent. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu's direction is excellent and his nomination was well deserved.

All of the storylines in Babel are heavily dramatic: I think this works perfectly for the film (also because they never become overly sentimental) but it makes the roles extremely demanding for the actors. First off, because of the extremely difficult and emotional scenes they have to play, but most importantly because the heavy drama leaves little space for the actors to get into the depth of the characters and give them a proper characterization. Thankfully, most of the actors manage to pull it off by being very convincing in their big scenes but also managing to make their character three-dimensional and realistic (and that's why the movie works so well). Adriana Barraza is the best example of this: she gets to play a character that is rather one-dimensional on paper and yet she manages to make it one of the movie's most affecting and vivid characters. Right from her first scenes, Barraza does a fantastic job in portraying the deep affection that Amelia feels for the two children she takes care of: each of their interactions are wonderful to watch because Barraza plays them with a great amount of warmth and tenderness. Barraza underplays those scenes but she nonetheless makes the viewer understand how much Amelia cares for the children - even when she makes some very questionable choices later on the viewer never once doubts about Amelia's good-hearted motives and this is entirely thanks to Barraza's performance.

Amelia decides to bring the children to her son's marriage in Mexico, since she didn't find anyone who could took care of the children and their parents were still in Morocco. In the scenes during the marriage I think that Barraza is actually fantastic: she doesn't have too much to do yet I think she does a wonderful job in clearly showing that the character has a life outside of what happens directly in the movie. Her interactions with her daughter, her brief sexual encounter with a man at the marriage are all outstanding moments out of which Barraza makes the most, adding interesting and unexpected layers  to Amelia. Unfortunately, the return to the United States is not as easy as she expected: Amelia's drunk cousin trespasses the border as he is chased by the police (Amelia doesn't have papers signed by the children's parents that allowed her to bring them to Mexico) and leaves Amelia and the children in the desert without food or water. In those scenes Adriana Barraza is downright amazing in portraying her character's desperation and she creates some truly haunting and devastating images: she makes those scenes extremely hard to watch and brings them the emotional power they need and she is phenomenal in portraying her character's physical exhaustion in such a realistic and convincing way.

And then there is her final scene at the Border Patrol station in which she is told that, while the children are okay, she is going to be deported from the U.S.. It's a brilliantly acted moment by Barraza who perfectly portrays Amelia's despair and her plea to let her stay is simply heartbreaking. Her speech about how much she loves the children (that she calls "her children") is deeply moving because it rings true, due to the fact that she previously did such an amazing job in portraying her affection towards them. It's a truly outstanding moment that might even be the best scene of the whole movie.

Adriana Barraza perfectly and realistically hits all of the emotional notes of the character but she also does a great job in adding some depth to a role that might have been a bit too thin otherwise. It's a truly harrowing performance that simply gets better after every rewatch.


domenica 26 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2006: Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal

Cate Blanchett received her third Oscar nomination for her performance as Sheba Hart in Notes on a Scandal.

Notes on a Scandal is a fairly effective movie about a veteran high school teacher who befriends a younger colleague, who is having an affair with a 15-year-old student. I believe that the movie actually could have gone further into its dark subject but it's nonetheless engaging and interesting. The nomination for Best Original Screenplay is quite deserved as there are some pretty excellent dialogues but I'm glad it didn't win as there are a few problems within it. The score is remarkable and worthy of its nomination.

Cate Blanchett's nomination in this category is a bit puzzling as Sheba is clearly a leading character as the movie follows her just as much as it follows Judi Dench's Barbara. There is a large amount of scenes told from Sheba's perspective and she gets quite a lot of screen-time. It's really just a bad case of category fraud. But let's talk about her turn here: this is actually one of Blanchett's most interesting work as it is completely different from any other performance she's given. Many times throughout her wonderful and versatile career, Blanchett has played people who hid their vulnerabilities behind something else: her Queen Elizabeth hid her doubts behind a strong, commanding façade; both her Jude Quinn and her Katharine Hepburn hid their emotional frailty behind their larger-than-life personalities; her Jasmine's snobbish and arrogant attitude served as a cover up for her emotional and mental instability; and her Carol Aird hid her loneliness and desperation under a sophisticated, refined appearence. In this regard, Sheba Hart is completely different as she doesn't have any façade and can be clearly seen from what she is: a fragile, often weak-willed person. Blanchett does a fantastic job at nullifying her commanding, magnetic screen-presence in order to better portray the character of Sheba, that for the most part is rid of theatrics, mannerisms and tics but is just an ordinary woman. So yes, I believe that this is one of Blanchett's most interesting performances, but is it also one of her best? Well, not quite. 

For the first two third of the movie, her performance is actually excellent. As I mentioned before, Blanchett completely disappears into the role of Sheba dropping her movie star quality and just inhabiting perfectly her character and her reality. I think Blanchett does a fantastic job in developing the friendship between Barbara and Sheba and both actresses realize their relationship extremely well: Dench does a great job in hinting at a possessive, overbearing side of Barbara while Blanchett is fantastic in showing how Sheba sincerely wants to befriend Barbara and just genuinely likes her as a person. Their scenes together are extremely good because both actresses realize impeccably the differences between their character's feelings making their relationship extremely interesting and compelling to watch. Blanchett is also brilliant in portraying Sheba's feelings towards her family: on one hand, she is very good in showing that she does love her husband and sons and clearly cares about them; on the other hand, Sheba just doesn't feel fulfilled and satisfied in her life and Blanchett does a brilliant job in conveying that during a beautifully written monologue about how the life you lead ends up being completely different from the life you imagined. It's a great scene that is wonderfully acted by Blanchett who perfectly portrays the regret, melancholy and longing of Sheba. Blanchett underplays the monologue, delivering it in a quiet, subtle fashion that makes it all the more effective. Thanks to those scenes she perfectly establishes the reasons behind Sheba's behavior, who embarks on an affair with one of her students. In the scenes involving the affair, Blanchett is great as she shows how gradually things just spiral out of Sheba's control.

The third act of the movie, when the affair is revealed, is where the things gets a little more problematic, even if for the most part Blanchett is still very good. She is raw and devastating as she is confronted by the student's mother and her husband kicks her out of the house - Blanchett is heartbreaking in showing how Sheba's life just falls apart. The problems I have with her performance mostly involve the scene in which Sheba finds out that it was Barbara who revealed her secret and she angrily confronts her about it. It's a rather poor scene as, writing-wise, it doesn't fit at all the character of Sheba and Blanchett herself feels very off as her aggressive approach to the scene just doesn't cohere with the gentle, fragile characterization of Sheba. A more hurt and heartbroken reaction would have suited the character better and the moment in which Sheba physically attacks Barbara is particularly cringe-worthy because it really doesn't feel like something that Sheba would have done. Blanchett finds some striking moments within the scene (her line-reading of "Do you think this is a love affair?" is pitch-perfect) but in other moments she overdoes it and the scene outside of the house when she screams at the journalist is just a bit too much. She finds some much more effective moments later, as she tones down her acting quite a bit: the scene in which she tells Barbara that they really could have been friends is surprisingly poignant and Blanchett's last scene in the movie, as Sheba silently begs her husband to let her come back to their house, is excellently acted by both her and Bill Nighy. 

Ultimately, Cate Blanchett delivers a powerful performance. Her breakdown towards the end is unfortunately a huge letdown and undermines the rest of her absolutely first-rate work, in which she does a fantastic job in disappearing into the complex character of Sheba. Not quite flawless, but it's still a great work from an amazing actress.


venerdì 24 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2006: Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls

Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar from her only nomination for her performance as Effie White in Dreamgirls.

Dreamgirls is a very entertaining musical about a trio of black female soul singers called the Dreams, from their rise to stardom to their final show together. It's in my opinion a strong movie that I found engaging from beginning to end: many of the songs are absolutely great, the costumes are very nice and the actors are actually good. Jamie Foxx is not a great actor and his performance here is a bit too one-note but he still serves his purpose quite well. Beyoncé is surprisingly impressive in her role, Anika Noni Rose delivers a moving performance and Danny Glover is very good as well. 

Jennifer Hudson's performance and eventual Oscar win is just an incredibly interesting phenomenon. In 2006, her performance was highly acclaimed by the critics and she won basically every single award for Best Supporting Actress back then. Nowadays, hers is one of the most hated wins ever in the history of the category. I completely agree that her performance doesn't quite live up to the great acclaim it received by critics and it is far from flawless - but, at the same time, it's also far from being bad and while her performance is not amazing by any means it's still a very impressive, powerful and scene-stealing turn. Dreamgirls was Jennifer Hudson's debut as an actress and her inexperience is clear in certain parts of her performance: she actually starts off as extremely shaky and her first scenes are easily the weakest moments of her work - she overdoes Effie's tough and bossy attitude and most of her line-readings sound rather unconvincing. Nonetheless, she improves very quickly - she still has some poor moments here and there but she gradually relaxes into a much more reassured performance. She pulls off Effie's diva-like behavior much better as the movie progresses as she manages to make it feel like part of her personality rather than just an act, and even if the character is technically rather obnoxious Hudson manages to be always entertaining or even endearing. I actually think that she has a rather strong screen-presence and she effortlessly steals the scene whenever she appears. She has a pretty good chemistry with Jamie Foxx as well and both actors realize Curtis' and Effie's relationship extremely well - on her part Hudson does a very good job in showing a slightly more tender side of Effie in her scene with Foxx and she makes Effie's love for him completely sincere and believable. 

Some people have criticized her win saying that the Oscars aren't the Grammys and that it was unfair to award her for singing well. In my opinion, this criticism is a bit silly as in most musicals (and most definitely in Dreamgirls) singing scenes aren't interludes but are an integral part of the story and the plot and in those scenes actors don't just sing but they portray the emotions and feelings of the character. So, yes - Jennifer Hudson's voice is the strongest aspect of her performance and her singing scenes are by far her most effective moments but this doesn't mean that her singing doesn't count as acting. During the songs, Jennifer Hudson is clearly in her comfort zone and therefore her acting is also much better: she perfectly conveys Effie's sincere affection towards Curtis in "I love you, I do"; she does a fantastic job in showing that Effie is insecure about her looks just as much as she's confident in her ability during her rendition of "Family"; and then she is downright brilliant in portraying Effie's desperation and abandonement after she is left by both the Dreams and Curtis. Her rendition of "And I am telling you" is truly heartbreaking and she really sings her heart out during the scene. 

The second half of her performance is also very good: Hudson is effective in portraying how Effie's misery has humbled her over the years - she's now a more mature woman and Hudson is great in showing that. The small interactions between Effie and her daughter Magic are warm and touching, but Hudson is particularly excellent in showing Effie's determination to start afresh and have a career again. The "I'm Changing" scene is very affecting because Hudson really makes you care about Effie and makes you root for her. The second half of her performance might be a bit less showy but it's also surprisingly compelling and moving: her friendship with Danny Glover is sweet and heartwarming, and her reunion with Keith Robinson is an extremely touching moment. When Effie finally gets her happy ending Hudson makes her triumph well-earned and powerful and brings a nice, touching closure to Effie's story (I particularly love her final confrontation with Jamie Foxx - her delivery of "But this time Effie White is gonna win" is priceless and delightfully bitchy). She's actually what make the whole ending work and her final rendition of the title song is truly remarkable and impressive.

I haven't really liked Jennifer Hudson in anything else I've seen (she's very bland in Empire) but here I think she delivers a strong performance. Sure, she's not amazing and her inexperience does shine through in certain moments, but she still is a force to be reckoned with and dominates the movie whenever she appears. She not only sings well, but she acts impeccably throughout her musical numbers and ultimately delivers an imperfect yet still compelling turn. 


mercoledì 22 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2006

And the nominees are...

Adriana Barraza - Babel 
Cate Blanchett - Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi - Babel

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

martedì 21 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007: Ranking

5. Ruby Dee in American Gangster
Ruby Dee is heavily limited by her screen-time but she still delivers a memorable performance that is in many ways the conscience and the heart of the movie. 
Best scene: Mama Lucas finally confronts Frank. 

4. Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Amy Ryan takes an extremely tricky role and pulls it off exceptionally: the part calls for loud acting and Ryan delivers without overdoing it. She conveys all of the complexities of the character, evoking some sympathy for her plight without glossing over Helen's repulsive personality. 
Best scene: Helene begs Patrick to find her daughter. 

3. Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
Saoirse Ronan's characterization of Briony is nothing short of astonishing: she is never afraid to make her character unlikeable and portrays perfectly her immaturity, but at the same time she manages to be rather moving as she shows that Briony deep down is nothing more than a girl with a crush.
Best scene: "Yes, I saw him. I saw him with my own eyes"

2. Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton
Tilda Swinton doesn't even get that much screen-time but she makes Karen Crowder an extremely compelling and original villain and easily stands out as the best aspect of the movie. She does a great job in portraying Karen's extremely fragile emotional state and is fantastic in showing her growing paranoia and panic as things get out of her control. 
Best scene: Karen attempts to negotiate with Michael.

1. Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There
Cate Blanchett not only is completely convincing as a male, but she fully disappears into her character: she does an amazing job in portraying Jude's larger-than-life, eccentric personality but she's also fantastic in showing the vulnerability behind the façade,
Best scene: Jude's final scene in the back of the car.

Honorable Omissions: Kelly McDonald's Carla Jean is the bright spot in the dark world of No Country for Old Men and her final scene with Javier Bardem features some of the best acting of the whole year. Marcia Gay Harden's performance as the religious fanatic in The Mist is both darkly entertaining and downright terrifying, and Imelda Staunton is a great villain in Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, bringing the right amount of cruelty and menace under Dolores Umbridge's façade. In Margot at the Wedding, Jennifer Jason Leigh shares a brilliant chemistry with Nicole Kidman and does a great job in portraying Pauline's plight and resentment. Vanessa Redgrave brilliantly delivers the final twist of Atonement and leaves a lasting impression in what are basically four minutes, and Olympia Dukakis does an effective job in slowly revealing the pain under Marian's rough personality in Away from Her. Michelle Pfeiffer is a scene-stealing and entertaining villain in Stardust and Leslie Mann delivers an enjoyable yet layered turn in Knocked Up. The role of the long-suffering wife is hardly particularly interesting or original, but Samantha Morton's performance in Control is a moving and impressive exposition of it. The Edge of Heaven features some effective female performances: Nursel Kose is heartbreaking as an aging prostitute; in the role of her daughter Nurgul Yesilçay is fierce and impressive, and she shares a tender chemistry with the very good Patrycia Ziolkowska, as her girlfriend; but the best is Hanna Schygulla who delivers a masterclass in subtlety that is simply devastating. Emily Mortimer is funny and touching in Lars and the Real Girl, a movie that features also some strong supporting turns by the always reliable Patricia Clarkson and the lovely Kelli Garner.
The next year: 2006. 
Predictions: Congratulations to Alex Marqués, Calvin Law, omar!, ruthiehenshallfan99, Tahmeed Chowdhury and Michael PatisonYou can now choose a year you want me to review (the years you'll request now will be reviewed after the previously requested 2006, 1950, 1959 and 1983).

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There 
  2. Hanna Schygulla, The Edge of Heaven - 4.5/5
  3. Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
  4. Marcia Gay Harden, The Mist - 4.5/5
  5. Kelly McDonald, No Country for Old Men - 4.5/5
  6. Saoirse Ronan, Atonement 
  7. Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone 
  8. Imelda Staunton, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix - 4.5/5
  9. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding - 4.5/5
  10. Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl - 4/5

domenica 19 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007: Ruby Dee in American Gangster

Ruby Dee received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Mama Lucas in American Gangster

American Gangster is a rather effective movie about a detective's attempt to bring down the drug empire of heroin kingpin Frank Lucas in 1970s. I don't think the movie is perfect as I believe there are a few flaws in it: I think that, even though the movie is rather long, Lucas' rise as one of the most powerful criminals of the city feels a bit too rushed and I also think the writers sort of gloss over Lucas' crimes by making him look like an anti-hero at times. Nonetheless, I find the movie an entertaining experience thanks to Ridley Scott's very good direction (and I like him less than most people in general) and some effective performances: I don't care too much for Denzel Washington but here I think he does a strong job in portraying both the charisma and the brutality of Lucas and Russell Crowe is very effective as the detective. Josh Brolin is also quite impressive in his limited role.

Ruby Dee plays the role of Lucas' mother and back then she was actually considered a very strong contender for the prize: nowadays, her performance is often regarded as the weak link among her fellow nominees and most people seem to consider her nomination as a recognition for her long, successful career rather than her actual work in this movie. It's easy to see why: in this two hours and half long movie, Ruby Dee is on screen for roughly five minutes and it's completely understandable why someone would find her performance underwhelming. The limitations of the role are indeed heavy and there's only so much Ruby Dee can do with it, but even if those factors make her performance less powerful than the ones given by the other contenders, it still is unfair to dismiss her performance here because it is anything but weak. It might not be the greatest performance ever and it might not be worthy of the hype it got in 2007 but it's still a moving, little performance that ultimately is the emotional crux of the whole movie.

Mama Lucas is a key character to the overall characterization of Lucas as through her we manage to understand more the struggle and hardship that he had to face during his youth. In Dee's first scene, in which Lucas shows her the big, beautiful house he bought for her, both actors do a great job in showing the deep affection between Lucas and his mother and they convey beautifully their history despite it never being shown or directly talked about. Ruby Dee does a wonderfully touching job in showing Mama Lucas' joy and pride as she sees what her son managed to accomplish (she is unaware of his criminal life or maybe she unwilling to acknowledge it) and in a few seconds she already makes us understand how much she cares for her family. The small scene in which she sees that the furniture of the house includes a bedroom set identical to the one that was stolen from her when Frank was a child, Dee does some beautifully subtle, quiet acting and her shocked, moved delivery of "But you were only five when they took it away" is simply heartbreaking.

For most of the rest of her performance, Ruby Dee doesn't have to do much more than looking proud at her son and warmly interacting with Washington and Lymari Nadal but she does it exceptionally well and never remains unnoticed. And then there is the big scene towards the end when Mama Lucas finally confronts his son over his decision to kill a cop: again, Mama Lucas is the emotional center of this scene as her disappointment and shame over the true nature of Lucas really shows how much he has gone off track. Dee is simply amazing in this scene in portraying every single emotion of the character as she first attempts to deal calmly with him, and the moment in which she slaps Lucas is extremely powerful emotionally. And when she finally vows to leave him for good if he decides to carry on with his plan Dee is raw and devastating in portraying the disillusionement of a mother who has always thought of her son as a honest man and now has to face the ugly truth. It's not a very long scene but it's in my opinion the highlight of the whole movie.

Even if her work is overall limited by her extremely brief screen-time, Ruby Dee still gives a powerful and memorable performance and it's amazing how she manages to realize her character's arc in what are basically five minutes. She is the beating heart of the movie and delivers a performance that lasts in your mind even long after the movie is over. She may be the least impressive out of the five nominees, but she is not a weak link. 


venerdì 17 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton

Tilda Swinton won the Oscar from her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton. 

Michael Clayton talks about a law firm's fixer who has to take care of a difficult situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty. I don't think the movie ever becomes quite as compelling as it wants to be and there are certain parts in the middle section that feel dull and rushed at the same time, but overall it's a fairly engaging experience and it's rather well-written. Its first and last third are actually pretty great. 

Karen Crowder is a role that is neither particularly great nor underwritten either. It's the kind of role that relies heavily on the actress who's portraying it: it can be portrayed a standard villain or something more. And Tilda Swinton, being the brilliant actress she is, chooses the second option. The entrance of the character is actually a rather brilliant one: we see her in a toilet, sweating and completely panicked. We don't know yet what's going on but it's an extremely fascinating introduction that makes us understand right from the start that Karen's life has taken a dangerous path. In her next scene, that takes place four days earlier, Swinton is excellent in establishing exactly what Karen is even if the movie itself devotes very little time to her (much less than I expected actually): she makes Karen a woman who is completely devoted to her work and that there is not much else in her life. She's a pitiful figure, a lonely, empty person who wants to thrive in her work but is actually falling apart. The montage that intertwine scenes in which Karen is nervously rehearsing her answers for an interview and the interview itself is brilliantly acted by Swinton who clearly shows Karen's extremely unsteady emotional scene.

Her first meeting with Michael Clayton is another excellent scene that Swinton uses masterfully to go further with her characterization of Karen: again, her aggressive attitude perfectly shows the insecurity of a person close to the breaking point and Swinton does an effective job in portraying Karen as a woman desperately trying to be in control of the situation. After the meeting, Karen makes a desperate and dangerous decision that inevitably leads to her downfall: the scenes in which she orchestrates her plan are perfectly acted by Swinton who does a great job in showing how unsure she is what she is doing - her nervousness and uncertainty in those moments is almost palpable. What makes them so effective though is the way Swinton (with minimal screen-time) managed to gave them a great, believable, slow-burning build-up.

But the plan doesn't quite go as expected and Swinton is brilliant in portraying her terrified reaction and once we see again the breakdown in the toilet it's even more effective than it was before. But her final scenes are by far the best: again she is excellent in portraying Karen's nervousness as she gets ready for a board meeting, and then she is downright amazing in her final confrontation with George Clooney. I think the whole scene is supposed to be Clooney's big scene but in my opinion Swinton absolutely owns the scene from beginning to end: she perfectly shows each of Swinton's emotion from satisfaction to nervousness as she tries to negotiate with Clayton, to shock when she finds out he had been playing with her, to finally panic and desperation as she realizes her defeat. Swinton is simply incredible and she does some truly outstanding facial acting: her line-delivery is immaculate ("You... You don't want the money?") and the final moment in which she collapses on her knees is a brilliant touch to the scene. 

Karen Crowder is an interesting role but Tilda Swinton, in less than 20 minutes of screen-time, is what makes it great: she delivers a fantastic performance making her a villain that is amazing and original because of its humanity and vulnerability. She perfectly characterize the role making her despicable and pathetic at the same time and ends up being the best part of the movie by far. 


martedì 14 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007: Saoirse Ronan in Atonement

Saoirse Ronan received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Briony Tallis in Atonement.

Atonement is an excellent movie about the love story between a gardener and a wealthy young lady who are torn apart by the Second World War and a terrible lie told by her younger sister. I get why some people don't like it that much but I personally think it's a very compelling moving with a beautifully written screenplay and an unforgettable score. The love story between Robbie and Cecilia never quite becomes as legendary as it wants to be because Knightey is a bit lacking in certain parts of her performance, but she still shares a strong and sweet chemistry with James McAvoy, who actually gives a very haunting performance. Romola Garai delivers a fine enough turn as 18-year-old Briony, even if I don't think her work truly feels like a natural progression from Ronan's 13-year-old Briony. Vanessa Redgrave fares much better in that regard and is rather memorable in her single scene.

The character of Briony is the core of the entire movie and Saoirse Ronan is extremely important as on her performance lay the basis of the whole movie. She's given a tricky task and if her performance had failed the whole movie would have as well: thankfully Ronan is an extremely gifted actress and makes Briony a scene-stealing, intriguing character that often steals the spotlight from the doomed lovers. Saoirse Ronan does a great job in portraying Briony's manner and behavior: Briony is a often an acid child who wants everything to be done the way she wants and says and Ronan nails the phisicality of the role - she moves in a rigid, stiff manner and often adopts a glacial stare that perfectly suggest Briony's personality. Briony is the kind of young girl who wants to appear much older and wiser than she actually is and Ronan perfectly portrays her as a child trying to play like an adult: she manages to show Briony's immaturity by portraying so well her attempts to look mature. 

It's a character that could have been obnoxious in many ways but Ronan manages to prevent that by showing that Briony's feelings and even if her actions are unlikeable and in one instance lead to tragic consequences Ronan does a brilliant job in portraying her vulnerabily and loneliness and making the viewer sympathize with her a little bit. Scenes like the ones in which she tries to stage the play she has written with her cousins, who couldn't be more uninterested, are amazing because by one hand Ronan portrays excellently Briony's impatient and annoying personality but she's also quite moving in showing the desperation under her behavior and her search for attention. Mostly, Ronan does a terrific job in realizing Briony's relationship with both her sister and Robbie. In her scenes with Knightley, Ronan shows a more tender and warm side of Briony and she shows very well her love for her sister - while still portraying an underlying jealousy of her beauty and grace. Her scenes with James McAvoy are some of her best: when she is on screen with him, Ronan shows how Briony drops her falsely mature behavior and just is naturally the girl she is. Ronan is quite luminous in their scenes together as she portrays so wonderfully her happiness for being around him and beautifully shows how Briony convinces herself that Robbie likes her too. Briony would like to appears as something else but down there she's just a little girl with a crush, and Ronan realizes that brilliantly.

When Briony reads Robbie's letter to Cecilia, Ronan is just excellent in showing her jealousy and heartbreak and I love how realistically childish she is in the scene in which she reveals that to her cousin. And then there is the scene in which she sees Robbie and Cecilia having sex in the library which is brilliantly portrayed by Ronan - I just love how trembling her voice sounds when she simply says "Cecilia?" and in that small moment she manages to be genuinely heartbreaking. But her best moment might be the scene in which Briony is questioned by the police after Lola has been raped and she accuses Robbie despite having absolutely no proof of that. It's a fantastic scene because Ronan makes you see the wheels turning into Briony's head and across her face and her stare you can read the jealousy, pain, confusion and, above all, anger before she finally says "Yes. I saw him. I saw him with my own eyes".

In the end, this is a brilliant performance from Saoirse Ronan: her work is key to the success of the movie as everything that happens after she leaves still relies incredibly on her portrayal. Ronan completely fulfills her difficult task by making Briony a compelling and complex character that she isn't afraid to make unlikeable while still portraying the fragility at its work. It's simply a great turn from an excellent actress.


domenica 12 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007: Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There

Cate Blanchett received her fourth/fifth Oscar nomination for her performance as Jude Quinn in I'm Not There.

I'm Not There is a very interesting movie about six different characters, each representing a facet of Bob Dylan's life and work. It's an excellent movie that is masterfully directed by the always brilliant Todd Haynes and one I particularly appreciate because of its unconventionality as a biopic. I actually don't love all of the segments but the way they intertwine with each other is what makes the movie truly great. Richard Gere's segment is simply pointless but all of the others are interesting to watch at the very least. I also would like to single out Edward Lachman's wonderful cinematography.

Cate Blanchett plays the role of Jude Quinn, a character who embodies the 1965-1966 phase of Bob Dylan's life. Casting a female actor in a male role is always a bold choice that can very easily lead to terrible results: the actress could easily be unconvincing in the role, and considering how iconic the role of Bob Dylan is the performance could have felt mannered and overcooked. But Cate Blanchett, one of the most talented and versatile performers ever, completely delivers in the role and gives an incredible performance that stands as one of the most interesting and admirable piece of work I've ever seen. Blanchett completely nails the tics and mannerisms the character requires without ever making them feel forced or unconvincing - they simply are part of what Jude is. Her vocal work is oustanding as well: Blanchett has always been a master at modulating her voice but here it's particularly excellent because she truly sounds like a man - she completely makes you forget she is Cate Blanchett, the actress, but instead she simply becomes the role of Jude Quinn; her work here never feels like an imitation, but more like a complete and deep embodiment of the character. 

Whenever she's on screen, it's impossible to take your eyes off her: she's a charismatic and unpredictable presence and you never once doubt Jude Quinn's star-power and appeal. Blanchett is amazing in portraying Jude's unique and puzzling personality: moments like when he is asked to say a word to his fans and he answers "Astronaut", or when, during a brilliantly acted sequence that takes place at a press conference, he is asked to talk about other musicians who use their music as a protest and he answers "I think there are about 136", are all brilliant, unforgettable moments that contribute to the overall characterization of the indecipherable figure of Jude. She properly makes Jude a larger-than-life, even off-putting figure without ever becoming too unrealistic or caricatural, finding the perfect balance in her portrayal that is both dream-like and utterly real. There is an otherworldly quality in her performance that perfectly sets the atmosphere of Jude's segment and lets you into Jude's hypnotic and hallucinogenic own dimension (he spends most of the time on amphetamines). But Blanchett never goes too far with this aspect and keeps Jude in a place between realistic and otherworldly, between human and transcendent.

But Blanchett goes far beyond portraying Jude's eccentric personality and finds the humanity in Jude without ever trying to simplify his character, which always remains an interesting mistery that cannot be resolved. Scenes involving his former lover Coco Rivington (Michelle Williams) or Jude's meeting with the poet Allen Ginsberg (a pitch-perfect David Cross) allow Blanchett to add some depth to the character and fully realize the character's confused and washed up emotional state. Under his seemingly detatched and careless attitude, Blanchett shows that there is a man on the verge of a collapse: in fact, Jude's fans have turned their back on him after he switched from folk to rock music and Blanchett does a great job in subtly showing how Jude is actually hurt by it. The scene in which Jude is interviewed by journalist Keenan Jones (Bruce Greenwood), who accuses him of not really caring about anything while being very self-conscious at the same time, is a terrific scene that is brilliantly acted by Blanchett: she does a phenomenal job in showing for the first time the character's insecurities and vulnerabilities and her line-delivery of "I have no such feelings" is amazing, cold yet bitterly sad at the same time. Another moment I absolutely love of her portrayal is the scene in which Keenan reveals on television Jude's true identity, a middle-class educated man instead of a rough vagabond as Jude himself previously claimed: in that brief moment, Blanchett briefly drops the façade and lets us see the fragile man inside Jude, the controversial artist. But her best scene is actually her final scene in the back of the car: Jude's monologue about the immortality of music is amazingly delivered by Blanchett who finally unleashes the feelings of loneliness and pain she only suggested previously - and with her final delivery of "Everybody knows I'm not a folk singer" and that last, brilliant, enigmatic smile she ends her performance on a glorious note.

This is a truly masterful performance from Cate Blanchett who makes Jude's segment by far the strongest of the whole movie. She's completely convincing as a man but that's even the least impressive thing out of what she accomplishes in this performance: she completely becomes the character portraying exceptionally its explosive and charismatic personality while subtly showing its deeper feelings and emotions. It's a compelling work that is endlessly fascinating from beginning to end.


venerdì 10 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007: Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone

Amy Ryan received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Helene McCready in Gone Baby Gone.

Gone Baby Gone is a very effective thriller about two detectives who investigate a little girl's kidnapping in Boston. It's a pretty great effort from Ben Affleck whose direction feel assured and rid of any trace of inexperience; the screenplay is extremely well-written and even if I thought that Morgan Freeman kind of gave away the twist too early I still find the ending of the movie extremely powerful because of how effectively it shows the moral dilemma at its center. The cast is mostly good: Casey Affleck is an impressive lead and he carries the movie flawlessly; Ed Harris and Titus Welliver are very memorable in their supporting roles and even if she is not given nearly enough focus as she deserves Michelle Monaghan delivers a fine enough turn as well. 

Amy Ryan portrays Helene, the abducted girl's mother. It's an extremely difficult role for many different reasons and one that is very easy to do wrong - in fact, Helene has the trait to become a walking stereotype as she's basically white trash woman that has been seen multiple times on screen: she's loud, crass, uneducated, immature and completely incapable of taking responsability. Considering that Amy Ryan doesn't even get that much screen-time to develop the character, Helen McCready could have really been an unbearably over-the-top caricature. Thankfully, though, Amy Ryan handles the role with utter realism and makes Helene the most puzzling and interesting character of the whole movie. Amy Madigan's character in the movie describes Helene as an "abomination" and Amy Ryan perfectly makes you see why: she makes Helene a true force of nature that is both compelling and repulsive to watch. Ryan is properly loud in her performance but she never becomes excessively over-the-top, and her heavy accent, which could have easily been distracting, is completely convincing, also because Ryan never makes it the focus of her performance but just makes naturally it a part of the character. She properly portrays Helene as the mess she is supposed to be and I just love how she portrays her inability to acknowledge her own faults: when she is questioned about her drug-addiction and her activity as a drug mule, Helene defends herself by saying that her life as a single mother is difficult and insulting Beatrice (Madigan) for her inability to have children. It's a brilliant moment perfectly handled by Ryan who in that moment manages to tell a lot about the character's personality: it's particularly impressive how well Ryan manages to characterize Helene as technically the character stays on the same note but she nonetheless succeeds in finding some interesting nuances within that limitation. Her following scene in the car with Monaghan and Affleck is another memorable moment out of which Ryan makes the most and she makes you understand completely both Angie's disgust and Patrick's empathy towards her. 

It's pretty clear from the beginning that Helene is far from being a good mother but Amy Ryan never lets it oversimplify her performance - she easily could have taken the easier route straightforwardly portraying Helene as a monster but she thankfully didn't. On one hand, she does a great job in portraying the reasons why Helene is quite an unfit mother and how her own immaturity and emotional problems prevents her from being a caring figure for her daughter. On the other hand, though, Ryan clearly shows that despite her multiple flaws Helene does love her daughter and is genuinely worried about her: through her performance, Helene's ability to take care of daughter is clearly questionable but her affection towards her is not. She does a fantastic job in portraying Helen's growing worry as she starts to realize how serious the situation might be for her daughter and the scene in which she breaks down and asks Patrick to promise her that he'll her daughter is actually her best moment in the movie and she does again an amazing job in portraying her character's dualism: when she says she'll stop taking drugs in order to be a good mother, you know she won't keep this promise but Ryan makes you see how in that moment Helene truly means it.

Helene then disappears for a large chunk of the movie and reappears on screen in the final scene of the movie. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it but I'll just say that it is an extremely powerful scene mostly thanks to Casey Affleck's terrific acting. Amy Ryan does a terrific job too properly making Patrick's choice questionable and making the whole ending of the movie disconcerting and haunting just as it it supposed to be.

Amy Ryan never judges the character of Helene, and therefore gives a truly three-dimensional performance making Helene the negative character she's supposed to be while still not making her completely unsympathetic. She realistically portrays her character without ever sugar-coating or going too far either, and adds depth and complexity to the whole movie thanks to her brilliantly layered characterization.


mercoledì 8 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2007

And the nominees are:

Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There
Ruby Dee - American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan - Atonement
Amy Ryan - Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

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

martedì 7 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942: Ranking

5. Susan Peters in Random Harvest
Susan Peters is outstanding in her final scene, but she barely has to do anything in the rest of her performance and, even if she does exactly what the role requires, she can't overcome the limitations of the role itself.
Best scene: Kitty realizes that Charles doesn't love her.

4. May Whitty in Mrs. Miniver
Lady Beldon is an archetype that has been played many times, but May Whitty still delivers an entertaining performance and whenever she is allowed to add depth and complexity to the role she delivers perfectly. 
Best scene: Lady Beldon declares Mr. Ballard as the winner of the flower competition.

3. Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver
While the role itself isn't particularly demanding, Teresa Wright gives an enchanting and moving performance that stands as the true heart of Mrs. Miniver.
Best scene: Carol's speech to Kay about her marriage.

2. Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager
Gladys Cooper is slightly limited by the screen-time and the script, but she effectively portrays her character's cruelty and prevents her character from becoming a one-dimensional villain. 
Best scene: Charlotte confronts Mrs. Vale. 

1. Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons
Agnes Moorehead steals the movie with her compelling portrayal of Aunt Fanny. She can be entertaining in one moment and heartbreaking in the next, and she does an amazing job in portraying the loneliness and desperation of the character. It's showboating at its best.
Best scene: Fanny's breakdown in the boiler room.

Honorable Omissions: Mary Astor is hilarious in The Palm Beach Story and makes the most out of her rather brief screen-time. Anne Baxter delivers a quietly poignant performance in The Magnificent Ambersons, while May Robson shows the grit behind the gentle façade of Mademoiselle Rosay in Joan of Paris in what are little more than three minutes. Ann Sheridan is very good in Kings Row elevating a potentially stock role and Celia Johnson does some moving work within her extremely limited part in In Which We Serve. Also, I can't quite count it as an omission since she was nominated in the leading category and she was ineligible due to being already nominated for Mrs. Miniver in this category, but I think that Teresa Wright's touching performance in The Pride of the Yankees belonged here.
The next year: Congratulations to Fritz, Alex Marqués, ruthiehenshallfan99, omar! and Michael Patison for guessing the ranking. You can now choose a year you want me to review (in case I won't be able to do a certain year I will tell you and let you choose another one). 

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons
  2. Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager
  3. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees - 4/5
  4. Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver
  5. Mary Astor in The Palm Beach Story - 4/5
  6. Anne Baxter in The Magnificent Ambersons - 4/5
  7. May Whitty in Mrs. Miniver
  8. Ann Sheridan in Kings Row - 3.5/5
  9. Celia Johnson in In Which We Serve - 3.5/5
  10. May Robson in Joan of Paris - 3.5/5

domenica 5 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942: Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager

Gladys Cooper received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Vale in Now, Voyager.

Now, Voyager is an effective movie about a lonely, unattractive spinster who blossoms under therapy and falls in love with a kind, charming but married man. It's a very compelling character study, and even if the third act falls a bit into predictable melodrama it still remains a strong movie with a deservingly iconic final scene. The supporting cast is mostly quite good, with Claude Rains being particularly excellent in his portrayal of the warm, understanding psychiatrist. Paul Henried is also quite charming in his role and he shares a terrific chemistry with Bette Davis. Max Steiner's score is unforgettable and completely deserving of its Oscar win. 

Gladys Cooper portrays Charlotte's (Davis) domineering, controlling mother. From her first scene, Cooper perfectly portrays Mrs. Vale's glacial and heartless behavior: each of her lines is cold and calculated without any single trace of warmth or empathy and her body movements are purposefully stiff - I particularly love the careful attention she puts on her hands which often remind of claws, like as if Mrs. Vale were an ferocious animal ready to attack. Cooper establishes her as an extremely selfish woman, who isn't afraid to psychologically harass her daughter in order to keep her under her influence - she turns Mrs. Vale into a frightenigly realistic monster, making Charlotte's physical and emotional state perfectly believable for the viewer. She doesn't even have a lot of screen-time in the beginning but she leaves an incredibly lasting impression and her presence can be felt all over the movie - throughout the scenes during the cruise and the scene in which Charlotte greets her family members after her return, Mrs. Vale's shadow seems to be always hanging over Charlotte and that's thanks to Cooper's memorable display of cruelty in her first scenes.

After Charlotte returns home, Gladys Cooper's performance becomes even more interesting as Mrs. Vale attempts to control her daughter again but she has to face the fact that Charlotte has become a stronger woman. Cooper excels in portraying again Mrs. Vale's controlling, cold behavior but this time suggesting a certain amount of insecurity behind it. Now, I think that Cooper's performance here can be taken for granted but she actually does a lot within the role and this can be clearly seen if you compare this performance to her work in 1958's Separate Tables: in the latter she portrayed a very similar role but her performance was much less effective as she never managed to make her character more than a clichè and it ultimately was just a standard version of the mother-monster type of role. In Now, Voyager, instead, she manages to humanize her character making it realistic and therefore much more terrifying: she never tries to redeem the character or partly justify her actions, but she shows a more vulnerable side of Mrs. Vale - she fears that her daughter might get away from her and leave her alone, and Cooper properly portrays the selfish desperation behind her character's attempt to hold her under her fist. The look on her face before Mrs. Vale deliberately falls on the stairs is pure brilliance.

And, of course, Gladys Cooper shares a tremendous chemistry with Bette Davis and their scenes together couldn't be more excellent: the two actresses pay off each other extremely well and realize the relationship between Charlotte and her mother perfectly. Their final scene together is exceptionally acted on both ends and Mrs. Vale's vicious speech to her daughter is an unforgettable moment that is handled wonderfully by Cooper (even if it is unfortunately a bit too short). 

Ultimately, I admire greatly Cooper's performance here even if I have a few reservations about it: first off, the role itself is a bit too limited and even if Cooper, as I mentioned before, manages to make it more complex Mrs. Vale is mostly an obstacle for the leading character rather than a truly three-dimensional character. But nonetheless there is no denying that Cooper perfectly inhabits the role and supports the movie wonderfully. Maybe my rating is a bit too scrict but my reservations about the role itself prevent me from truly loving her performance. Still, it's a powerful and effective portrayal that strengthens the movie and its leading performance.


mercoledì 1 giugno 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1942: Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons

Agnes Moorehead received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Fanny Minafer in The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons is a fantastic movie about the decay of a rich Midwestern family at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately it's not quite perfect as the ending (which was far from what Orson Welles intended) feels completely out of the place and the editing really cuts out too much - it's clear that the movie was severely changed during post-production. But nonetheless the movie is great just as it is and Orson Welles' direction is nothing short of amazing. The cinematography is also truly great, while I'm a bit more mixed on the cast: Tim Holt is an extremely unlikeable lead and while that's the point of the character the problem is that he plays him in a boring and straightforward fashion without any sort of complexity. Dolores Costello, as his mother, is a pale and forgettable presence. On the other hand, Joseph Cotten delivers a solid, charming turn and Anne Baxter is excellent in one of her first roles. 

Throughout the whole movie, Agnes Moorehead delivers a performance that borders on hamming and chewing the scenery: while she might overdo it a bit sometimes, for the most part she delivers an exceptional performance that is larger-than-life without being unbearable. Fanny is by far the most interesting character of the movie and Moorehead makes her a compelling force of nature that carries and supports the movie at the same time. Her extremely high-pitched voice and her theatrical way of behaving could have made Fanny shrill and unsuffearable but they work extremely well within her characterization: this qualities make Fanny a colorful and entertaining character without turning her either into a joke or an obnoxious creation. As I stated before, I don't care much for Tim Holt's performance as George, the young heir of the family and Fanny's nephew, but Moorehead's scenes with him are actually very good. They pay off each other extremely well as George and Fanny question and interrogate one another, and in those scenes Moorehead brings a sly, even manipulative quality to Fanny, particularly when she casually mentions George that his mother Isabel and the widower Eugene Morgan used to be engaged. But Moorehead shows the motives behind Fanny's acid insinuations and makes her an extremely complex and layered character that is always a thrill to have on screen. She spends most of her screen-time in the background but she adds incredibly to every single scene she is in - I love how the camera occasionally focuses on her reactions and glances, and in those spaces between words Moorehead adds a lot of nuance and complexity to the character. 

Fanny is a lonely, embittered spinster who is secretly in love with Eugene, who is deeply in love with Isabel, her sister-in-law. Moorehead is simply heartbreaking in portraying the loneliness of Fanny and she does such a phenomenal job in conveying so many emotions with her facial expressions - on the surface it's an extremely loud performance but the core of the character is in the quieter moments in which Moorehead finds the desperation and longing of Fanny. She is extremely moving in the scene in which Eugene thanks the two ladies for their friendship without ever taking his eyes off Isabel: Moorehead does a wonderful job in the scene as she struggles to gain Eugen's attention even for a moment, without success. And she is amazing in the scene after her brother dies - with her brief, tearful close-up she shows that Fanny is not only mourning her brother, but she's also devastated because now Eugene can pursue his love story with Eugene, meaning that she'll never have him. And another key moment in her performance is when George teases her about marrying Eugene and she starts crying - Moorehead makes Fanny's pain vivid and deeply touching. 

Then there is her famous big scene in which Fanny, after the family is left without financial support, suffers from a nervous breakdown: it's an extremely over-the-top scene but I honestly couldn't care less. She built up perfectly to that moment over the course of the movie and when it finally comes she's astonishingly raw and devastating. She really makes Fanny the broken mess she is supposed to be and gives the outburst the power it needs. She unleashes the emotions she only suggested previously, and has some tremendous line-readings that are chilling to the bone ("I wouldn't mind if it burned me George!"). The ending of the movie is, unfortunately, a huge let down and the original ending would have brought a more proper closure to her character's arc but she still does some moving facial work in the last scene. 

This is an extremely compelling performance by Agnes Moorehead who dominates the whole movie thanks to this powerhouse turn of hers. She delivers the best performance of the movie by far and even if she sometimes overdoes it she still delivers a devastating portrayal of her character's frail emotional state. Her breakdown is truly one for the ages.