sabato 30 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959: Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk

Thelma Ritter received her fifth Oscar nomination for her performance as Alma in Pillow Talk.


Pillow Talk is a wonderful comedy about a woman who despises the man with whom she shares a telephone line but unknowingly falls in love with him when he introduces himself with a false identity and disguising his voice. It's a very entertaining movie that I absolutely loved from start to finish and its Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay couldn't be more deserved since the writing is incredibly funny and smart at the same time. The performances are uniformly good with Rock Hudson giving one of his best performances: he is incredibly charming in the role and his comedic timing couldn't be more excellent - plus, his chemistry with the lovely Doris Day is excellent. Tony Randall's performance is also very enjoyable and I think that a nomination for him would have been quite deserved. The cinematography is also beautiful - the movie looks absolutely stunning.

Thelma Ritter is an actress I love in general but at the same time there are only a few of her performances that I would consider truly great - this is not because she is not talented enough, but rather because, as I mentioned in my reviews of her performances in All About Eve and Birdman of Alcatraz, she rarely got parts worthy of her acting chops. That's not to say that she never made a misstep - her role in Birdman of Alcatraz was already limited to begin with but her cold, stiff approach did nothing against those limitations and the result was a shockingly empty performance that stands as Ritter's weakest work throughout her career. On the other hand, she didn't have that much of a role in All About Eve but she did the best anyone could have with the role and managed to add life and wit to a potentially stock role, even if she's nothing too special in the end. Her performance in Pillow Talk is an interesting case, because the role of Alma is just absurdly limited, even more than Birdie Coonan: she appears in the movie for little more than five minutes and the writing of the character is extremely one-note since Alma spends the entirety of her screen-time being drunk or in the middle of a bad hangover. It's a testament to Ritter's talent with those kind of roles that she managed to make Alma somewhat memorable, even if she couldn't overcome completely the limited nature of the character. 

Alma is Jan's (Doris Day) housekeeper and she and her boss couldn't be more different: Jan is a single woman who claims to be happy with her life and despises Brad (Rock Hudson) for being a playboy, while Alma has a very different view on things - she doesn't believe that Jan is happy with her loveless life and she often listens to the phone just to hear Brad romancing his many lovers as she finds him extremely entertaining. Even if their screen-time together is very limited, Day and Ritter share a playful, enjoyable chemistry and the two pays off each other extremely well: there's only so much Ritter can do but she still plays her character with the needed wit and liveliness and is entertaining whenever she appears. and she sets up well the eventual romance between Jan and Brad. 

As I mentioned before, throughout the whole movie Alma is either drunk or in the middle of a hangover: I can't quite say that Ritter prevents Alma from becoming a one-note joke (she doesn't have the time to add anything much to her performance) but at the least it's a rather funny joke. Her interactions with Allen Jenkins as the elevator operator are absolutely hilarious as the two actors share a perfect chemistry and their comedic timing couldn't be more brilliant - and, of course, Ritter nails every line-delivery ("If I ever get up on my feet again, look out"), making Harry's and Alma's exchanges some of the funniest part of the whole movie (their final scene together in the movie is actually rather lovely and that's because the two actors are just wonderful). Ritter's drunk acting is actually very good - it's purposefully over-the-top but it's not the kind of excessively broad approach that was so common back then. She knows exactly when the stop and never overdoes it, adding the right humorous touch whenever she is on screen ("Good morning Alma, isn't it a beautiful day?" "Can't go by me, I haven't seen it yet... Okay, I'll take your word for it"). But the highpoint of her whole performances is the scene in which Brad comes to Alma asking her to help him to win Jan back: the writing fot her role is at its very best ("Get lost!", "You are my inspiration, Alma" "I'm one of your most devoted listeners", "I don't usually drink... I might have one just to be sociable" "Good, I know a nice little bar" "I know a better one") and Ritter is fantastic and hilarious.

This is an incredibly limited role for Thelma Ritter to play but she makes the most out of it. The screen-time and the one-note nature of the character work against her, but she's a hoot nonetheless and it's always wonderful to have her on-screen. What makes this performance better than her turn in All About Eve for me is the fact that she truly made me care about Alma and that she really made me wish she was in the movie for more - whereas for Birdie I just didn't care. It's a nice, colorful performance that adds something to an already wonderful movie.

3.5/5

giovedì 28 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959: Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life

Juanita Moore received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Annie Johnson in Imitation of Life.


Juanita Moore appears right at the beginning of the movie and is an extremely important presence throughout the whole movie: even if she is often in the background, she is the heart and the conscience of the movie and she delivers a performance that both anchors and supports the whole movie. Right from the first scene of the movie, in which Lora and Annie meet for the first time, Juanita Moore completely owns the screen without ever looking like she's trying to do so: she actually is a very generous performer that never tries to upstage the other cast-members - she looks effortless and completely spontaneous, she is subtle and restrained and lets the other actors shine while leaving an unforgettable impression herself. Annie can be seen as an idealized character - she is a truly selfless human being and she's so pure that she might have come off as unbelievable or one-dimensional. But Juanita Moore's performance feels completely real and convincing and at the same time she always manages to make us believe that Annie is truly as good as she seems - this way she never compromises the character's goodness but never comprises her realism either. She manages to accomplish this by never playing for the tears - she realizes the emotional impact that the character of Annie is bound to have with the audience but at the same time she never becomes overly sentimental or melodramatic. She is always completely committed to the role and it's a testament to her talent that she alone manages to create a real friendship between the characters of Annie and Lora: this is because Lana Turner's performance seems to be a bit too self-centered, more interested in shining itself rather than creating a believable and deep chemistry between the other members of the cast. Juanita Moore, though, manages to convince us that there is something deep and meaningful between those two characters and that's only because of her outstanding display of loyalty and affection. One of my favorite moments of her performance is the scene in which Turner's Lora is surprised by the fact that Annie is full of friends outside of her work as her maid - Moore's response "But, Miss Lora, you never asked" is wonderful in its honesty and simplicity.

Of course, the core of Juanita Moore's performance is Annie's relationship with her light-skinned daughter who wants to pass for white. Moore is outstanding in portraying Annie's sadness as she witnesses her daughter's emotional turmoil and I particularly love the scene in which Annie realizes for the first time that the color of her skin is a problem for Sarah Jane - her line-delivery of "How do you tell a child she was born to be hurt?" is downright heartbreaking because of the quiet melancholy in her voice and the deep sorrow in her eyes. When Sarah Jane grows older, she starts to reject her mother as she wants to start afresh as a white woman and Moore does a fantastic job in portraying the devastation of a mother who wants the best for her daughter and yet is the main obstacle between Sarah Jane and what she wants in life. Moore portrays Annie's emotional state with remarkable subtlety and dignity: it could have been very easy to overact but Moore made the very wise choice to underplay it, a choice that is extremely fitting to the personality of Annie, a woman so generous and good-hearted that she is willing to put her pain behind the needs of other people. As the movie progresses, Moore is amazing in realistically portraying Annie's growing decay, both physical and emotional - she progressively looks slightly more tired and slightly more heartbroken scene by scene and portrays this developement of Annie in such a believable way it's simply astonishing. Her scene in which she follows Sarah Jane to the club she works at and begs her to come home again is a devastating scene made even better by the excellent acting by both actresses who, as I mentioned in my review of Kohner's performance, share an absolutely tremendous chemistry. Their final scene together is something truly unforgettable and Moore couldn't be better in it: she is heartbreaking in portraying Annie's final sacrifice and her resignation to the fact that Sarah Jane doesn't want her by her side. It's a tearjerking scene but Moore, again, is never sentimental in the role and her display of emotions couldn't be more honest (I simply can't forget her line-delivery of "My beautiful baby" and her final line "You take good care"). Her death scene could have easily been ridiculous considering how absurdly long it is, but Moore makes it tenderly sad: she portrays this scene with an heartwrenching quietness that always makes me tear up.

Juanita Moore is the beating heart of Imitation of Life: in what could have been a simple, stereotypical or even racist role, she delivers a phenomenal performance that is heartbreakingly human and vividly real. She delivers a performance that is captivating and compelling from start to finish in spite of, or maybe because of, its quietness and creates a truly unforgettable and moving character. 

5/5

martedì 26 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959: Susan Kohner in Imitation of Life

Susan Kohner received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life.


Imitation of Life is a rather remarkable melodrama about a young widow who wants to become an actress: the movie depicts her rise to stardom and her relationship with her boyfriend, her daughter who develops a crush on him, her black housekeeper and the latter's fair-skinned daughter who wants to pass for white. As it is often the case with Douglas Sirk's movies, it's visually stunning with a bright, gorgeous cinematography that deserved an Oscar nomination. The half of the movie that deals with Lana Turner's character is easily the least interesting, although it's not at all bad, just not particularly noteworthy. Lana Turner delivers a quite good and charismatic performance although as usual there is a certain artificiality in her performance that prevents it from being quite great; John Gavin is bland and stiff as always and Sandra Dee's performance, despite having a few decent moments, is often quite jarring. The best part of the movie is easily the subplot involving Annie, the black housekeeper, and her daughter Sarah Jane: it really ends up being the most memorable part of the movie and it is simply fantastic.

The role of Sarah Jane is actually very tricky to pull off since it can easily come off as unlikeable and obnoxious due to her questionable actions. Karin Dicker, who portrays Sarah Jane as a 8-year-old, fails completely in the role since she delivers a cringe-worthy performance that is full of the child actors' worst tendencies and she just isn't able to create an understanding for her character. This made Susan Kohner's job twice as difficult considering that she had to portray a character that was already establishes in the beginning as quite unsuffearable: thankfully, Kohner manages to give an intriguing and three-dimensional portrayal of her complex character and perfectly meets the challenges of the role. Kohner is charming and full of life in the part, making Sarah Jane surprisingly appealing and interesting, even somewhat likeable despite the fact that her actions are anything but. She's excellent in portraying her character's rebellious, even cheeky attitude, such as in the scene in which she talks to Lana Turner in an affected Afro-American accent, implying that she and her mother could be compared to slaves in Lora's house, but at the same time she perfectly conveys Sarah Jane's bitterness due to the fact that she feels different from the others - the following scene in which she apologizes to Lora is heartfelt and sincere, and you never doubt that Sarah Jane truly feels bad about the way she behaves. The scene in which Sarah Jane is badly beaten by her boyfriend after he finds out that her mother is black might be a little over-the-top but nonetheless I think that Kohner manages to make the scene properly harrowing and upsetting. 

Kohner is extremely effective in portraying Sarah Jane's desperate and distressed emotional state, her desire of being someone different than who she is and escaping her condition that will be forever determined by the color of her skin. Therefore, despite Sarah Jane's harsh behavior towards her mother, you can't help but be moved by her performance as Kohner perfectly shows her anguish and despair. Also I think that her interactions with Juanita Moore (who portrays her mother) are absolutely excellent: Kohner is striking in portraying Sarah Jane's cold, detatched or even hateful behavior towards her mother but at the same time she shows that there is still some love left - she doesn't want to treat her mother that way and she does love her, but at the same time her mother is exactly what she would never want to be in her life. Her line-delivery of "I wouldn't be caught dead in a colored teachers' college!" is particularly outstanding as she perfectly portrays Sarah Jane's determination of being someone else. Her lip-synching in the club scene that takes place immediately before is actually quite terrible but that's really nitpicking. 

Her best scene in the whole movie is easily her final scene with Juanita Moore, when a tired, exhausted Annie visits Sarah Jane one last time. Kohner's chemistry with Moore is nothing short of spectacular here and the two actresses are just amazing in portraying both the deep affection between those two characters and the differences that keeps them apart. Kohner is excellent in showing the pain beneath her cold attitude and that even if she has accomplished what she wanted her distance from her mother still prevents her from being truly happy (I love how her line-delivery of "I'm someone else" is completely rid of joy and betrays her character's heartbroken state). Annie's and Sarah Jane's final embrace couldn't be more heartbreaking and that's because the two actresses perfectly earned that moment - it's a scene that easily could have been emotionally manipulative but instead it's genuinely moving. Kohner's silent "mama" at the end of the scene is devastating and it gets me every time I see the movie. Her breakdown and plea for forgiveness in the final scene might be a little too much but it's nonetheless a rather effective moments and it's very heartwarming to see Sarah Jane's final acceptance of her identity. 

In the end, this is a fantastic performance of an incredibly complex character that Susan Kohner brings beautifully to life. She nails every single emotion and manages to make the viewer relate with the character that could have easily come off as a monster. It's a beautiful performance that adds depth, complexity and emotions to the whole movie and one that holds up even after several rewatches. 

4.5/5

domenica 24 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959: Hermione Baddeley in Room at the Top

Hermione Baddeley received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Elspeth in Room at the Top.


Room at the Top is an excellent movie about an ambitious, working class man who seduces a young, rich woman in order to obtain a high reputation and position in life, but falls in love with an older, married woman in the proceeding. It's a very smart and intelligent movie that benefits from a brilliant writing (very deserving of its Oscar), a rather strong cast and a stunning cinematography, that along with Jack Clayton's direction creates an alluring and captivating atmosphere. 

Hermione Baddeley's nominated performance has the honor of being the shortest performance ever nominated for an Oscar: as Simone Signoret's best friend Elspeth, she is on-screen for about 2 minutes and 32 seconds. I personally don't think that the greatness of a performance is determined by its screen-time, but I also think that little more than two minutes is hardly enough time to create anything that remarkable to begin with. Elspeth isn't even one of those characters that are constantly mentioned throughout the movie and then appears in the end after a huge build-up - under those circumstances, I can see that a great performance might have been possible. But the problem is that Hermione Baddeley's performance consists of four extremely small scenes that all last around 30 seconds, and really I don't think that anyone could have really made anything of note out of that part. I have no problems with Baddeley's acting which is completely fine, but in all honesty I don't think I would have even paid that much attention to her performance if she hadn't been nominated. 

Baddeley's first scene comes midway through the movie and it takes place at Elspeth's apartment that she lends to Alice and Joe for their meetings. Baddeley is fine in this scene - she has a fine screen-presence that exudes warmth and tenderness and she does a good job at portraying Elspeth's loyalty and sincere affection towards Alice. The moment in which she makes Joe promise he is not going to hurt her feelings is actually a rather poignant one that foreshadows the movie's tragic outcome - but it's extremely brief as well, and, when you have Laurence Harvey carefully portraying an extremely complex character and Simone Signoret delivering a masterclass of subtlety, Baddeley's first scene isn't exactly something that lingers in your mind afterwards. A later moment in which Elspeth tries to cheer up Alice isn't very noteworthy either, and even if Baddeley tries her best she never really gets the occasion to explore her character in depth and her friendship with Alice, while completely believable and occasionally moving, is not quite as great as it should have been since the two actresses don't have enough time to truly build it.. 

Elspeth doesn't appear again until much later, after Joe finds out about Spoiler! Alice's death Spoiler Off!. Hermione Baddeley's outburst at Laurence Harvey is actually a pretty great and haunting moment: in her voice you can really feel Elspeth's grief and she does some rather outstanding facial acting - but, again, it's a very small moment that is over in a matter of seconds. Also, it kind of bothers me how both the movie and the actress seems to want to portray Elspeth as the moral center of the movie - how can she be the film's conscience when she is barely a character to begin with? Why should I care about her desperation when I never got to know much about her? Her disappointed face in the final scene is actually very well done but, again, I find the focus and importance given to the character in this scene rather puzzling. 

I don't think that the movie ever suffers from her performance - but the point is that except for her small outburst nothing could have gone wrong, given the simplicity and one-dimensionality of the role and, as I said before, I doubt I would have even noticed her if she hadn't been nominated. Her performance is actually completely fine and it's not even remotely bad but her screen-time really works against her and portrayal within those two minutes never feels like something that should be rewarded with an Oscar nomination. 

2.5/5

venerdì 22 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959


And the nominees are...

Hermione Baddeley - Room at the Top
Susan Kohner - Imitation of Life
Juanita Moore - Imitation of Life
Thelma Ritter - Pillow Talk
Shelley Winters - The Diary of Anne Frank

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

martedì 19 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950: Ranking

5. Thelma Ritter in All About Eve
Thelma Ritter is consistently entertaining in the role of Birdie and does a more than fine job as the conscience of the movie, but the role is extremely limited and her character is never given a proper closure since she simply disappears midway through the movie.
Best scene: Birdie confesses to Margo her doubts about Eve's innocence.

4. Nancy Olson in Sunset Boulevard
Nancy Olson delivers a quiet, charming performance that serves as the perfect bright stop in Sunset Boulevard's dark, grotesque world. She shares a fine chemistry with William Holden and her final scene is surprisingly poignant. 
Best scene: Betty finds out about Joe's double-life.


3. Hope Emerson in Caged
Hope Emerson is the standout of Caged's great supporting cast: the role itself is bordering on camp and Emerson goes along with it without ever becoming a caricature. She is a genuinely menacing presence and makes for a remarkable villain, even if the two-dimensionality of the role prevents her from becoming truly amazing.
Best scene: Harper teases the inmates by telling the details of her relationship with her boyfriend.

2. Josephine Hull in Harvey
Josephine Hull delivers a hilarious performance that is purposefully over-the-top but never shrill, perfectly working with James Stewart's subtler work. She is a comedic gem for most of the movie and she even manages to give some real emotional weight to the final scenes of the movie. 
Best scene: "Knock him down, judge! Kick him, kick him!"

1. Celeste Holm in All About Eve
I was tempted to give my win to Hull, but ultimately I decided to give it to Celeste Holm's subtle and layered performance as Karen. Holm delivers a wonderfully natural and spontaneous performance making Karen the character to whom the audience can relate: she movingly portrays Karen's conflicted emotions and feelings and grounds the whole movie with her quiet, reactionary portrayal.
Best scene: Eve blackmails Karen. 


Honorable Omissions: Before I started this year, I was almost completely sure that I would have given my overall win to Machiko Kyo's outstanding performance in Rashomon, and she indeed would be very deserving: she does a phenomenal job in portraying the slight variations of the character in each of the stories, creating an endlessly fascinating character. However, I found myself completely won over by Maria Casares' incredible performance as Death in Orpheus: Casares brings the right amount of allure and coldness to the mysterious role and as the movie progresses she's heartbreaking as she reveals the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the character - I never thought that Death could be the most touching character of a movie, but Casares proved me wrong and her final moments in the movie might be some of the most devastating acting I've ever seen. Linda Darnell is extremely good as the embittered widow who discovers again her long-buried conscience in No Way Out, and both Agnes Moorehead, as the kind superindentend who witnesses Marie's loss of her innocence, and Betty Garde, as the though inmate Kitty, are rather memorable in Caged. None of the actors of Max Ophuls' masterpiece La Ronde get too much screen-time, but some of them managed to make vivid impressions with their limited appearence: Simone Signoret brings allure and screen-presence to the role of the prostitute Leocadie, Simone Simon is playfully seductive as the housemaid and Danielle Derrieux is a hoot as the unfaithful married woman. The Breaking Point is not a masterpiece, but it's a good movie with two strong female supporting performances: Phyllis Thaxter is deeply moving as John Garfield's worried wife and Patricia Neal leaves a lasting impression as the lonely, washed up prostitute. Both Eleanor Audley as Lady Tremaine and Verna Felton as the Fairy Godmother do remarkable voice-work in Cinderella. Giulietta Masina delivers a fantastic performance in Federico Fellini's first film Variety Lights: it's a fun, lively, scene-stealing turn from her but most importantly she feels relatable and emotionally true, making the most out of her quiet, reactionary moments in which she touchingly conveys the tragedy of her character. Carla Del Poggio is also very remarkable in the same movie as she portrays so well her character's charm and appeal as well as her selfishness: what I most appreciate, though, is that despite being a questionable, at times despicable character neither Del Poggio nor Fellini envision her as a villain making her a flawed, vain but real person.
The next year: As requested, 1959.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Maria Casares, Orpheus - 5/5
  2. Machiko Kyo, Rashomon - 5/5
  3. Celeste Holm, All About Eve
  4. Carla Del Poggio, Variety Lights - 4.5/5
  5. Josephine Hull, Harvey 
  6. Linda Darnell, No Way Out - 4.5/5
  7. Giulietta Masina, Variety Lights - 4.5/5
  8. Hope Emerson, Caged
  9. Agnes Moorehead, Caged - 4/5
  10. Patricia Neal, The Breaking Point - 4/5

lunedì 18 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950: Josephine Hull in Harvey

Josephine Hull won the Oscar from her only nomination for her performance as Veta Louise Simmons in Harvey.


Harvey is a wonderful comedy about an eccentric but good-hearted man who claims that his best friend is a six-feet-tall white rabbit named Harvey and is therefore believed to be crazy by his family. It's a charming, entertaining movie that benefits from a screenplay that is beautifully lighthearted without being stupid or shallow and a very nice cast, in which all members are perfect for the roles they play and add something to the movie. The cinematography is also quite remarkable. 

Josephine Hull's Oscar win is extremely divisive: some people think that her performance is a masterpiece of comedy and that hers is one of the best winners of this category; others think that her performance is jarring, annoying and extremely over-the-top. I don't quite fall into either of those sides - I don't think that her performance is quite up there with the very best winners of the category and there are a few moments in which I believe she could have afforded to tone it down a little: sometimes she overdoes the facial expressions, stretching her face a little bit too much, and there are just a few individual lines that feel a little exaggerated (her "Harvey!" moment might be the most iconic scene of her performance but in my opinion it's one of the few parts of her performance that don't convince entirely). But if I have to pick a side, I'm definitely with the more positive one: her performance might not be perfect, but it's nonetheless a lot of fun and except for those few little moments in which she falls into the hammy side of things her work is absolutely gold. 

It's true that her performance is far from subtlety but for the most part she manages to be over-the-top in the best way possible and her loud approach pays off wonderfully James Stewart's more restrained one. What I particularly appreciate about her performance is that, even if her role is mostly comedic, she also give proper depth to the character: she perfectly shows the reason why she is exhausted by Elwood's eccentric behavior but at the same time she conveys perfectly the sincere affection and tenderness she feels for her brother. And, of course, she couldn't be funnier in portraying her emotional state: her first scene in which she organizes a party while thinking of a way of keeping Elwood far away from it is comedic gold - "Oh Myrtle, it's a wonderful feeling to have your relatives out of the house before the company comes" or "You said that name! You promised you wouldn't say that name and you said it!" are excellently delivered by Hull, and her high-pitched voice alone makes her lines sound even more funny (also because she never becomes a truly shrill presence). Her later breakdown at the psychiatrist's office is hilarious (even if a couple of times she slightly overdoes it) and again her line-deliveries couldn't be more winning - and while the moment in which she herself is committed to the sanatorium to which she wanted to commit Elwood is priceless, her previous conversation with the male nurse is even better. I have seen many comedic performances that are extremely funny in the beginning and then not so much during the rest of the movie: this is clearly not the case for Hull who made me laugh throughout the whole running time. The scene at her house where she sees that the painting of her mother has been replaced by painting of Elwood and Harvey ("That is NOT my mother!"), or when she climbs the stairs screaming "Knock him down, judge, kick him, kick him!" after she sees the nurse again, her line-delivery of "Myrtle, you have a lot to learn and I hope you'll never learn it"... these are all wonderful moments that are impeccably acted by Josephine Hull. 

As I previously said, Hull never makes Veta a caricature and she does a great job in making you see the reason of her actions even when she might seem a little despicable. I particularly love the scene in the end in which she realizes she loves Elwood just as he is and that she'd rather live with his eccentricities instead of changing him. Hull gives a surprising amount of emotional weight to the moment and I thought she actually managed to make the ending of the movie surprisingly touching and powerful.

In the end, this is a fantastic performance by Josephine Hull who might have a few shaky moments but ultimately delivers impeccably. She is hilarious troughout the whole movie without ever becoming a one-note joke while still bringing the needed weight to the more serious moments. It's a great performance, and a great winner. 

4.5/5

sabato 16 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950: Hope Emerson in Caged

Hope Emerson received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Evelyn Harper in Caged.


Caged is a very effective movie about a frightened young woman named Marie who is sent to prison for being an accessory to a robbery: the movie focuses on her time in jail and the horrible experiences she endures and how those experiences affect her. It's a very interesting movie that deals with a very important subject in a rather unique way: the movie is, for the most part, darkly realistic although some elements, some scenes and some characters in particular, veer into camp. Somehow, the realistic and campy elements blend together wonderfully creating a truly original and fascinating atmosphere that makes the movie one of a kind. The cast is uniformly very strong: Agnes Moorehead gives a very memorable performance as the sympathetic prison superintendent who is disheartened in seeing Marie slowly losing her innocence; Betty Garde is quite effective as a though prisoner who becomes the victim of a horrible, savage treatement and the rest of the supporting cast is very fine as well. 

Hope Emerson plays the role of Evelyn Harper, the sadistic, vicious, corrupt matron of the prison. In terms of physicality, Emerson is just perfect for the role: she carries herself in a menacing, imposing manner that already hints at the character's nature - you never once doubt the fear that the prisoners feel towards her and that's because Emerson never makes Evelyn's dangerousness in question. It's easy to take this part of her work for granted but the role could have actually been ridiculous in many ways: her character is exactly what I meant when I said that certain elements of the movie are campy, and Emerson does a great job in being indeed quite broad without ever becoming hammy or overly cartoonish. She perfectly sells some of the character's most extreme lines (such as her often repeated "Line up, you tramps!") without turning Evelyn into an overblown joke - she camps it up because that's exactly what the role requires but at the same time she never stops being a frightening and threatening villain. When she's on screen, she's a force to be reckoned with and naturally stands out within the ensemble. 

Evelyn Harper is a truly horrible person, a vile woman who uses the little power she has to turn other people's life into hell: Emerson is terrific in bringing the right amount of viciousness to the character and she really makes Evelyn the kind a villain you just hate. I really like her first scene with Eleanor Parker as she pretends to be nice - Emerson is actually rather entertaining in this scene as she clearly makes you see that Evelyn is lying and I love how under every seemingly nice word she seems to suggest an unspoken threat. Then of course there are the moment of physical abuse that are shocking and terrifying: Emerson is very good in portraying the brutality of Evelyn and she's even better in showing how much she enjoys seeing other people suffer. But my favorite moments of her performance are the subtler ones, the moments of psychological abuse: I absolutely love the scene in which Evelyn teases the prisoners by telling them the details of her relationship with her boyfriend. I just love the glimpse of malice inside of her eyes and the cruelty that lies beneath her calm words. 

So yes, I really like Hope Emerson's performance in Caged and I actually love certain elements of her portrayal but I have to admit that I'm not quite as big on her work as a whole as most people are. I think that the role of Evelyn and Emerson's performance fit perfectly the movie itself but if you look closely at the character/performance, there isn't actually that much to it. It's a performance that is mostly one-note, a fantastic note but still just one. Evelyn is the embodiment of cruelty and she makes for a fantastic villain in the world of Caged but at the same time there is too little nuance, too little depth in Emerson's performance to be something truly amazing. I don't blame Emerson for the shallowness of the performance - she makes the most out of the role and within its limitations she's actually great, and to be fair I don't think that anyone could have done much to add depth to the character. 

In the end, this is a great performance by Hope Emerson who manages to be a wonderfully unique villain, broad and campy yet still seriously menacing. The performance is sadly lacking in depth but everything else Emerson does with the role makes up for it. I truly believe that this is a great performance and I really like it a lot - just not quite as much as others. 

4/5

giovedì 14 luglio 2016

Some thoughts on the Emmy nominations

With some odd snubs and equally odd surprises, the Emmy nominations are out. Here are my brief opinions about them.

PROS:

Game of Thrones receives 23 nominations!
Game of Thrones is probably my favorite show so I was obviously thrilled to see how many nominations it received. I loved the sixth season - of course it wasn't perfect but it was consistently compelling and the last two episodes were simply phenomenal. I'm thrilled about Kit Harington's nomination as I found his work this year absolutely excellent with his performance in The Battle of the Basterds being particularly amazing. I preferred Lena Headey's work in the previous season (for which I think she easily should have won) but she's been excellent this season as well and I am glad she was nominated (she's probably going to submit the season finale and rightfully so as she's brilliant in it), Maisie Williams' nomination is indeed a surprise but a welcome one: I think she gave her best performances in the first two season but she's been pretty great this season nonetheless. The directing nominations for The Battle of the Basterds and The Door are very deserved (I wish The Winds of Winter was nominated in this category as well) and while I don't quite agree with all of the nominations I'm still glad that this great show has been nominated in so many categories.

Sarah Paulson's two nominations
I love Sarah Paulson: she's a brilliant, versatile actress whom I think should have won two Emmys by now - one for her powerhouse performance in American Horror Story: Asylum and one for her excellent work in American Horror Story: Freak Show. Her two nominations this year are extremely deserved as well: she is amazing in The People v. O.J. Simpson, bringing both the determination and vulnerability needed for the role of Marcia Clark (her performance in the episode Marcia, Marcia, Marcia is downright groundbreaking); and, despite being a bit underused, she is excellent in American Horror Story: Hotel making Sally the pathetic and grotesque figure she is supposed to be. 

Fargo's ensemble
I loved the second season of Fargo and I hope it wins Best Miniseries or TV Movie. But I'm even happier for the fact that almost all of the members of the main cast were nominated: Kirsten Dunst delivered one of the best performances I have ever seen as one of the best written characters ever and, even if I loved Sarah Paulson's work in The People v. O.J. Simpson, I hope she wins the Emmy; Jesse Plemons is heartbreaking in the role of her good-hearted husband and Bokeem Woodbine is an incredible villain as the fascinating Mike Milligan; Jean Smart is brilliant as the though crime boss who sees her family collapsing around her and she would be very deserving of the award. I'm sad there wasn't room for Patrick Wilson's excellent leading turn although is snub is not quite as surprising as Oscar Isaac's (I haven't seen Show Me a Hero but I took his nomination for granted).

MINOR DISAPPOINTMENTS:

Taraji P. Henson's second nomination for Empire
I really liked Empire's first season and I thought Taraji P. Henson did an amazing job with the role of Cookie (I was actually rooting for her to win): she was hilarious, fierce, heartbreaking and scene-stealing. The second season of Empire, though, is a huge, melodramatic mess that I found almost unbearable to watch sometimes (I actually stopped watching midway through the season). Henson is not bad in it but I found her work in this season surprisingly disappointing: despite a few decent dramatic moments, the comedic moments feel a bit phony and overdone - her sassy one-liners in the first season were gold, here they are just forced as if Henson was trying way too hard. I'm not putting this in my "cons" list as I haven't seen the whole season and I don't hate her work at all, but I found the acclaim for her performance this year a bit puzzling. 

Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage are nominated again
I love Peter Dinklage, I really do. I think he's an amazing actor and I thought that he should have won for his brilliant performances in Season 2 and 4 of Game of Thrones. But I can't understand his nomination this year: he did absolutely nothing to warrant a nomination as he was wasted in the show's weakest storyline - Liam Cunningham, Jonathan Pryce and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau would have been much more deserving of his slot. I don't hate Emilia Clarke and I thought her performance this season was her best since the first one (her final scene with Iain Glen features her best acting in the whole series): but, still, she didn't deserve to be nominated instead of Carice van Houten, Natalie Dormer, Diana Rigg and especially Sophie Turner who was phenomenal this season. I'm not mad about these two nominations, but they really could've picked someone else.

CONS:

John Travolta's and Cuba Gooding Jr.'s nominations
I loved The People v. O.J. Simpson and I was glad about most of its nomination: as I said, Sarah Paulson is incredibly deserving, and the same goes for Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance. I'm also fine with David Schwimmer's nomination for his rather moving performance as Robert Kardashian - I didn't quite love it as I found the aforementioned actors more memorable but he's the conscience of the movie and he does a good job. But I can't get past the other two acting nominees: Cuba Gooding Jr. was extremely disappointing as O.J. as he was either over-the-top or an absolute non-entity; and John Travolta was terrible as Robert Shapiro, he hammed it up a lot in the first half of the season and even if in the second half he was a bit more tolerable, his nomination is still pretty much a joke. 

American Horror Story: Hotel gets horribly snubbed.
I get this season wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but I personally thought it was quite great and I can't get behind a few snubs. Denis O'Hare was amazing as Liz Taylor, the transgender bartender of the hotel - he was both funny and heartbreaking and I really don't understand why he was nominated for his work in Freak Show (in which he was still very good, by the way) and not for his work in Hotel. I never thought I would say it, but I honestly think Lady Gaga should have been nominated: she delivered a masterclass of subtlety in this season making The Countess a compelling and unforgettable character. She is chilling in the moments in which The Countess reveals her dangerous, menacing side but she's also quite moving in portraying her loneliness and desperation: the look on her face in the ending of Battle Royale is simply devastating. I also thought that Mare Winningham's wonderful performance as Hazel was much more deserving of a nomination than Kathy Bates, who was good as Iris but a bit limited.

Jane Krakowski's missed nomination!
The second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt despite a few flaws was consistently entertaining and I'm very happy about Ellie Kemper's and the hilarious Tituss Burgess's nominations. I can't understand why Jane Krakowski was snubbed though: she was (rightfully) nominated for her work in the first season and she was even better in the second one. She was funny, charming, moving and quite simply wonderful whenever she appeared on screen. A rather ugly snub.

And that's it. What do you all think of this year's Emmy nominations?

martedì 12 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950: Celeste Holm in All About Eve

Celeste Holm received her third and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Karen Richards in All About Eve


Celeste Holm is, in my opinion, a fabulous actress whom I always enjoy watching on-screen. Unlike many other actors of her era, her acting never once feels dated or melodramatic: her performances are always fresh, spontaneous and exciting and she could hold her own against much bigger "stars" than her. For example, she has the least showy role in High Society and yet she completely outshines Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. She really was a terrific actress who could make the most out of almost every role: and her performance as Karen Richards in All About Eve is the perfect example of an actress taking a potentially uninteresting role and turning it into gold.

In the hands of a lesser actress, Karen could have easily been a throwaway role: it's a quiet role in a movie full of flashy ones and it isn't particularly complex or complicated. It's a role that gets quite a lot of screen-time but this isn't necessarily a good thing, as a large exposure sometimes makes the limitations of a role even more noticeable. But, as usual, Celeste Holm truly sinks her teeth into the role and makes it one of the most interesting and memorable characters of the whole movie. Celeste Holm is an actress with a wonderful screen-presence that makes her stand out even when she isn't doing much: she is naturally warm and quite charming which makes Karen a winning and likeable character right from the beginning - her genuine acting style fits perfectly Karen's down-to-earth, kind personality and she is always enjoyable and endearing whenever she appears. Right from the beginning, Holm makes Karen a rather lovely person and her interactions with Anne Baxter in the first half of the movie are actually rather sweet: Holm makes Karen's interest towards Eve completely believable and convincing as she perfectly establishes Karen as a caring and gentle woman. In the scenes where Karen introduces Eve to Margo and her friends and Eve starts telling her story, Holm is excellent as she perfectly conveys the friendship between Karen, Margo and the other members of their circle and she is always very entertaining - she always leaves her own mark, never stealing the scene but never being overshadowed as well).

Holm is also very effective in portraying Karen's conflicted feelings towards Margo: on one hand, she does a fantastic job in showing her affection towards her friend, but on the other hand she realistically portrays her growing distaste towards Margo's unbearable mood swings and harsh manners. When Karen deliberately prevents Margo from getting in time into the theatre, therefore causing Eve to play the leading role instead of her, Celeste Holm does a magnificent job in giving the proper emotional weight to Karen's betrayal of her friend: she perfectly builds up to Karen's choice and she is amazing in the scene in which Margo, stuck in the middle of nowhere with Karen, apologizes for her behavior and opens up about her insecurities - it's a brilliantly acted moment by Holm who does a great job in showing through her facial expressions the guilt and regret of Karen for what she did to Margo.

What I love the most about Celeste Holm's performance is the way she portrays, in the second half of the movie, Karen's growing disillusionement over Eve as she realizes how manipulative she actually is. I love Karen's confrontation with her husband about Eve - it's a brilliantly written scene and Holm is fantastic as she at first acts in a passive-aggressive way before finally bursting out (her line-delivery of "The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!" couldn't be more brilliant). But in my opinion the best scene of her entire performance is the one in which Eve blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to give her the leading role in his new play. It's one of the best moments of the whole movie and Celeste Holm is heartbreaking in portraying Karen's shock and disappointment. She is very moving in portraying Karen's inability to understand how someone could achieve such cruelty only because of a part in a play and her facial reactions are simply amazing in their subtlety. It's really a performance that is made great by the reactionary moments, such as the ones during Eve's speech as she is awarded of a prestigious trophy, portraying perfectly Karen's feelings towards Eve - not even hate, just contempt and maybe even pity. Her voice-over is also outstanding as they give us glimpses of Karen's thoughts and vulnerabilities - the one about her relationship with her husband is in particular very poignant because of the melancholy in her voice.

This is a fantastic performance from Celeste Holm who makes the most out of a potentially stock role, turning Karen into one of the movie's strongest character: she is the heart of the movie, the  kind of character the viewer can relate to. It's a performance that feels modern and real and one that is enjoyable in a minute and deeply touching in the next. A great performance from a great actress.

4.5/5

sabato 9 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950: Thelma Ritter in All About Eve

Thelma Ritter received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Birdie Coonan in All About Eve.


All About Eve is a fantastic movie about a seemingly naive young woman who becomes the assistant of an acclaimed stage actress while slyly working her way to the top. It's an absolutely amazing movie that benefits from a brilliant screenplay and a terrific ensemble. Even if Joseph L. Mankiewicz's direction isn't particularly noteworthy it's still more than adequate and the other elements in the movie completely make up for it anyway. It's absorbing and captivating from the very beginning until the brilliantly conceived ending. 

Thelma Ritter plays Birdie Coonan, the maid of the aging actress Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis). Birdie is the kind of role that Thelma Ritter played many times throughout her carrer, the sassy, wisecracking friend: it's a role that allows Ritter to be funny and scene-stealing (and she really owns this type of part) but that rarely gives her the occasion to be truly great. Of course, there are exceptions: for example, in Rear Window Ritter managed to leave a stronger impact as she not only is the comic relief of the movie but she also does a great job in building up the tense once the mystery starts. Unfortunately, Birdie is not an exception: it's not a particularly original example of this type of character and while Ritter delivers a fine, enjoyable performance her work in this movie ultimately feels a bit like an afterthought; when you think of All About Eve, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders and Celeste Holm come to your mind - not Thelma Ritter. 

Still, I don't want to sound negative about her performance as it is not bad at all. She could sell one-liners like no others -  "Well, she's on her way, with half the man in the joint", "I haven't got a union, I'm slave labour" and "She's got two things to do: carry clothes and press 'em wrong" are only a few of her excellent line-deliveries. Ritter has a brilliant comedic timing and she is indeed very funny whenever she appears. She also has a very strong and captivating screen-presence and she actually manages to leave some sort of an impact as she never actually passes unnoticed,  but at the same time I couldn't help but feel the she was a bit overshadowed - not because her acting was weaker but because the role of Birdie is incredibly limited when compared to Margo, Eve, Addison or Karen. We don't know much about Birdie and while the movie leaves some interesting clues about her past (Birdie used to be a vaudevillian) Ritter never actually gets the chance to explore and they ultimately remain like a missed opportunity. To Ritter's credit, she actually brings a lot of energy and dedication to her performance despite the fact that Birdie is a role she could have pulled off in her sleep. 

Birdie sort of serves as the conscience of the movie since she is the only one who realizes right from the beginning that Eve is not quite as naive and innocent as she claims to be. Thelma Ritter is very good in bringing the right sort of disdain in her interactions with Anne Baxter and she is quite effective in foreshadowing the eventual revelation of Eve's true nature, but even in doing this she is quite limited since her character disappears midway through the movie and never appears again. I suppose Ritter is praiseworthy for the fact that I wanted more of her, but the fact is that I wanted more of her not quite because I was enjoying her work but rather because I had the feeling that something was missing. 

I admire Thelma Ritter for trying to add dimensions and substance to a stock role but ultimately her performance is never anything more than good to me. No one could have been better than her in the role and she is indeed quite enjoyable whenever she is on screen but unfortunately the role is too limited, too underdeveloped for her to be truly remarkable. In the end it's a quite good performance in a brilliant movie. 

3/5

giovedì 7 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950: Nancy Olson in Sunset Boulevard

Nancy Olson received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard. 


Sunset Boulevard is a brilliant movie about an aspiring screenwriter who writes a screenplay for a faded silent-film star, developing a strange and self-destructive relationship with her. It is often regarded as a masterpiece and this is really one of those movies that live up to its hype - it's a fantastic picture that is pretty much perfect. Billy Wilder easily should have won the Oscar for Best Director (in my opinion All About Eve was the right choice for Best Picture but its Best Director win is not all that deserved), the screenplay is excellent and the amazing cinematography is perfectly fitting for the dark and grotesque tone of the movie. 

The first time I saw the movie I was rather unimpressed by Nancy Olson's performance. I didn't think she was bad at all but, while fairly charming, I never felt that her performance ever became anything more than serviceable. I was actually tempted not to rewatch the movie as I didn't think that my thoughts on her performance were subject to change, but thankfully I did: I still don't think her performance is a masterpiece of acting, but I've come to truly appreciate the breath of fresh air she brings to the movie and now I actually think that her charming, genuine performance is essential to the success of it. The entrance of the character is actually rather unlikeable, as we see Betty harshly criticizing the script wrote by the leading character Joe (William Holden): Olson though prevents Betty from becoming an obnoxious character since she doesn't put a trace of arrogance in her portrayal - she's actually quite luminous in her first scene and her winning presence not only radiates charm but also a lot of intelligence. After this scene she doesn't appear for a while but her first few minutes she still manages to leave quite an impact.

Olson appears again in halfway through the movie, when Betty and Joe meet again at a party at her boyfriend's house. When I first saw the movie I actually didn't find the chemistry between Olson and Holden to be anything that special but this time around I thought it was actually rather sweet: it's very effective as both actors manage to make their romance work in a sincere and genuine way creating a striking contrast between Betty and Joe's tender relationship and Norma and Joe's oppressive one. Olson's Betty is a perfect counterpart to Swanson's Norma: whereas Norma is self-centered and emotional needy, Betty is nice and pleasant and Nancy Olson is fantastic in being the bright, luminous spot in the dark world of the movie. I actually think that without her the movie could have been overly grotesque but her lovely portrayal of an "ordinary" woman perfectly balances the movie preventing it from going too far. Also I really appreciate the aforementioned intelligence of her portrayal which makes Betty a rather interesting character instead of a bland, passive love interest. 

Her more emotional scenes are towards the end of the movie and Olson handles them very well. As I mentioned before, Holden and Olson make their romance work wonderfully even if there isn't that much screen-time devoted to it: the scene in which Betty reveals that she has deeply fallen in love with Joe and wants to break off her engagement could have felt unrealistic or too sudden but Nancy Olson makes it a touching, sweet moment that feels well-earned. Her best scene though is the one in which she finds out about Joe's double-life: I particularly love that scene because, while it could have overdramatic, Nancy Olson decides to underplay it and she is incredibly moving as Betty tries not to face the truth, blinded by her affection towards Joe. Her line-delivery of "I can't look at you anymore, Joe" is surprisingly heartbreaking and her last moments in which she tries to hold back the tears and then leaves crying are extremely poignant in their subtlety. 

Betty Schaefer isn't a particularly great role: it's not particularly complex and it doesn't have much screen-time, but Nancy Olson delivers a charming, lively and, finally, moving performance that perfectly acts as the ray of light in Sunset Boulevard's grotesque world. It's a very good performance that really benefits a lot from a rewatch and she is part of what makes Sunset Boulevard such a great movie. 

4/5

martedì 5 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1950


And the nominees are...

Hope Emerson - Caged
Celeste Holm - All About Eve
Josephine Hull - Harvey
Nancy Olson - Sunset Boulevard
Thelma Ritter - All About Eve 

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

lunedì 4 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2006: Ranking

5. Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
Jennifer Hudson has some shaky moments here and there, particularly in the beginning of the movie, but overall she delivers a rather impressive performance, stealing the scene whenever she's on screen and going through her musical numbers with groundbreaking energy. 
Best scene: "And I am telling you"

4. Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal
Cate Blanchett is moving and believable in portraying Sheba's extremely fragile emotional state and works wonderfully with Judi Dench. Her breakdown towards the end is unfortunately a huge letdown but the rest of her performance is absolutely first-rate.
Best scene: Sheba's monologue about life. 

3. Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine
Abigail Breslin delivers a natural and spontaneous performance that is rid of any of the worst tendencies of child actors: she's charming and sweet because she feels so real and easily places herself as the heart of the movie. 
Best scene: Olive admits her insecurities to her grandad.

2. Adriana Barraza in Babel
Adriana Barraza brings the needed warmth to her role in her first scenes, and once the tragedy strikes she delivers a compelling and raw portrayal of her character's exhaustion and desperation. Her final scene is probably the finest piece of acting out of the five nominated performances.
Best scene: Her final plea to not be deported.

1. Rinko Kikuchi in Babel
Barraza might have the best scene but ultimately I prefer Kikuchi's exceptional portrayal of Chieko: Kikuchi is fantastic in portraying the loneliness and longing for a connection and her final outburst feels completely earned because Kikuchi gave it an amazing build-up. It's a powerful performance that alone makes the Japanese storyline the best of the movie.
Best scene: Chieko attempts to seduce the detective.


Honorable Omissions: I don't care for the movie but Mia Kirshner's performance in The Black Dahlia is one of my favorite performances ever as she creates a tragic and compelling character in little more than five minutes: she perfectly portrays the bad acting of Elizabeth, who clearly isn't fit to be an actress, but never turns her into a joke and she is simply devastating in showing her desperation. Martina Gedeck is fantastic in the amazing The Lives of Others as she nails all of the nuances and complexities of her character, managing to make you understand Christa-Maria's questionable choices. Emily Blunt gives a delightfully bitchy turn in The Devil Wears Prada  and she makes her character's arc surprisingly poignant. Meryl Streep was nominated in the leading category for the same movie but I think she is actually supporting as the whole movie is from Anne Hathaway's point of view: anyway, I think she's excellent, delivering a funny comedic performance while still portraying the humanity inside of the monster. I also really liked Streep's performance in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, in which she delivers a charming, entertaining and, at times, moving turn; the supporting female cast of the movie (which includes Lindsay Lohan and Lily Tomlin) is uniformly very good but the standout beside Streep is Virginia Madsen who brings an otherworldly quality to the mysterious character of Asphodel. Rebecca Hall doesn't have a lot of screen-time in The Prestige but she's very moving in portraying her character's downfall. Eva Green is outstanding in Casino Royale and she makes Vesper Lynd one of the most intriguing, complex and fascinating Bond girls ever. Winona Ryder gets less screen-time than I expected in A Scanner Darkly, but she still delivers a very impressive performance, subtly foreshadowing the twist involving her character without ever giving it away. Toni Collette is very good in Little Miss Sunshine and Anika Noni Rose makes the most out of her role in Dreamgirls. Maribel Verdù  was very good in Pan's Labyrinth and she was actually quite chilling in the torture scene.
The next year: As requested, 1950.
Predictions: Congratulations to omar!. You can now request a year.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Mia Kirshner, The Black Dahlia - 5/5
  2. Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
  3. Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada - 4.5/5
  4. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada - 4.5/5
  5. Martina Gedeck, The Lives of Others - 4.5/5
  6. Adriana Barraza, Babel 
  7. Eva Green, Casino Royale - 4.5/5
  8. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  9. Meryl Streep, A Prairie Home Companion - 4.5/5
  10. Winona Ryder, A Scanner Darkly - 4.5/5

domenica 3 luglio 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2006: Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine

Abigail Breslin received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Olive Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine. 


Little Miss Sunshine is a wonderful comedy about a family who take a cross-country trip on their VW bus in order to get their daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant. It's a truly great movie bolstered by an exceptional, intelligent screenplay and a terrific ensemble: Greg Kinnear is very good in portraying the frustration and insecurity behind Richard's often annoying personality; Toni Collette is warm and spontaneous as Sheryl, the mother, and Dano is very effective as the apparently sullen but actually kind Dwayne; but my personal favorite of the whole cast is Steve Carell who delivers a brilliant performance that is hilarious in a second and heartbreaking in the next. The scene in which Frank accidentally meets his ex-boyfriend moves me every time. 

Quite a few child-performances have been nominated to an Oscar, but almost always in the roles of precocious kids (Quinn Cummings in The Goodbye Girl, Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon) or children facing particularly dark situations (Anna Paquin in The Piano, Linda Blair in The Exorcist). Along with Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer, Abigail Breslin might be the only nominee for a performance of an "ordinary" child. This doesn't make her role any less demanding than the ones of the previously mentioned actors though as realism is not an easy thing to accomplish, especially for a child. Abigail Breslin thankfully manages to avoid the worst tendencies of child acting and delivers a wonderful and genuine performance that doesn't have a single misstep: none of her line-deliveries sound rehearsed or fake - she is always so natural and convincing that her work seems almost effortless. She's cute and endearing but she is never cheesy or cloying - she doesn't seem to try hard to make the viewer like her, she simply makes the viewer like her by portraying Olive just for what she is: a kid. She works brilliantly with the rest of the ensemble and she is never overshadowed by the more experienced actors around her - her conversation with Steve Carell's Frank about why he tried to commit suicide is priceless and they play off each other extremely well. Her reaction when she finds out that she has qualified for the beauty pageant is hilarious because it really feels like something that a child would do. In the scenes during the trip, Breslin doesn't always have that much to do and spends quite a bit of time in the background but she never stops being a lovely presence and never becomes forgettable: she simply blends nicely with the rest of the cast and even when she herself isn't doing much she still adds a lot to the scene. 

What is particularly impressive is Breslin's deep understanding of the character, of Olive's fears and vulnerabilities. Right from the beginning, it's rather clear for the viewer that Olive is not going to win the beauty pageant: her other competitors are skinny, hypersexualized little girls dressed up like women - while she is a bit chubby, plain-looking and wears big glasses. Breslin does a fantastic job in portraying the insecurities of Olive in some truly poignant moments that stand as some of the movie's best: the scene when she is unsure whether to eat ice cream or not, after her father told her it would make her fat and that girls at the beauty pageant are not fat, is a moving little scene and Breslin is very touching in simply showing how Olive wants to please her dad and make him proud of her. She shows this exceptionally well also in a later scene with Alan Arkin (who plays her grandfather), which is probably her best scene in the whole movie: Breslin is absolutely heartbreaking in portraying Olive's doubts and fears of not being pretty enough and losing the competition. Her crying never once feels fake and what I particularly love about the scene is that Breslin, despite showing how much Olive is clearly interested in the competition and would be happy if she won it, suggests that she actually wants to win the most because she wants to make her father appreciate her more (her line-delivery of "Because daddy hates losers" is truly heartwrenching). Her chemistry with Alan Arkin is also exceptional as they perfectly portray Olive's and Edwin's close, tender relationship, and her smile through the tears as he tells her she's beautiful is deeply poignant. 

But, of course, one of Breslin's most memorable moments is her final dance at the competition: it's a brilliant scene (perfectly written and acted all around) and Breslin is absolutely hilarious - she goes through her number with the right amount of energy and naivety that simply makes her incredibly funny. The scene doesn't actually require particularly heavy acting but it perfectly shows how great Abigail Breslin is in the role: many other children would have overacted awfully during the scene or they would have tried too hard to be funny. Breslin instead never once winks at the audience and plays the scene without any trace of self-awareness - she properly makes Olive completely oblivious of the inadequacy of her performance on stage, and this is precisely what makes her so funny. 

In the end, this is a really lovely performance from Abigail Breslin who is both funny and moving in a role that is more challenging than it seems. She delivers a genuine performance that rings true from beginning to end and she easily places herself as the emotional crux of the whole movie. Wonderful work in a wonderful movie. 

4.5/5