domenica 28 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005: Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain

Michelle Williams received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Alma Beers Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is an outstanding movie about the stormy, passionate, twenty-years long love story between two men in American West. It's one of my favorite movies of all time: Ang Lee sets the perfect melanchonic tone for this movie - even in the warmest scenes between the two main characters, there is an underlying sadness in every single frame that makes the movie extremely haunting and moving. Lee makes the love story between Ennis and Jack one for the ages without making it too sentimental, and gives a realistic depiction of the society of that time that is never heavy-heanded or overbearing. With its beautiful, tender and sad score and its excellent cinematography, the movie doesn't even make my cry, it achieves something more: it stays with me for days after I've watched it.

Michelle Williams plays the role of Alma, Ennis' (Heath Ledger) wife. In her first scenes, that depict Ennis's and Alma's life through their first years of marriage, Williams portrays Alma exactly as what she is supposed to be: a completely ordinary woman. She is very realistic as she portrays Alma going through her everyday life and even if the movie doesn't actually devote much time to her character she manages to establish her as a three-dimensional, believable character and gives the viewer the perfect idea of what her life is like. The strongest aspect of her work early on in the movie is her chemistry with Heath Ledger, as both actors give an intentional awkwardness to their moments alone together. Ledger is excellent because he shows that, even if he cares about Alma in a certain way, he does not love her, while Williams on the other hand does a great job at portraying her love towards her husband as well as her inability to fully understand him and to know him intimately. Williams is very moving in those scenes, such as the scene in which she witnesses Ennis beating up two men who insulted him, as she portrays wonderfully Alma's incapability to connect with him and understand his actions, even if she herself is unaware of her husband's secrets. 

But not for long: one day, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to visit Ennis and Alma accidentally sees them kissing passionately. Michelle Williams is amazing as she portrays Alma's silent reaction, beautifully conveying first the shock and then the heartbreak. The brief moments in which we see Alma's trying to cope with her discovery are some of the highest points of her performance - she is absolutely devastating and nails every single emotion: the first few seconds in which she just doesn't seem to able to understand what's happening, as if she was in a bad dream, then her attempts to act normal when Ennis comes back in and then her final breakdown as soon as she leaves are perfectly acted by Williams. In the later scenes, both actors are very good at portraying the decay of Alma's and Ennis' marriage. Williams does a fantastic job in such a short span of time to shift from heartbreak to an eventual bitterness and the scene in which Alma tells Ennis she doesn't want his kids anymore because he isn't able to afford them is chilling in its quiet brutality. 

Michelle Williams' best (and most famous as well) scene is her final scene in which Alma, now remarried, confronts Ennis about his affair with Jack. It's a truly terrific scene thanks to Williams' excellent acting as she builds-up the tense of the scene until she finally unleashes her anger towards Ennis. The scene is great because it feels completely earned by Williams, who did a very strong job at keeping Alma's resentment bottled up during the rest of the movie in order to let it all come out in this key scene. I guess why some people might not like her work in this scene as she might overdo her facial expressions in a couple of moments but I think that those few moments are completely forgivable considering the emotional weight she brings ("Jack Twist... Jack Nasty!" is brilliant because the unexpected venom conveyed by Williams' voice). 

This is not a truly amazing performance as the role of Alma is limited by her rather short amount of screen-time but within it Williams manages to leave a remarkable impression. She delivers a realistic and at times moving portrayal of her character's transition from loving to embittered and her final scene is a true knockout. She is not the best part of Brokeback Mountain, but she is part what makes it such a compelling, unforgettable experience. 


giovedì 25 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005: Amy Adams in Junebug

Amy Adams received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Ashley Johnsten in Junebug.

Junebug is a very good movie about a newlywed art dealer from Chicago who goes to North Carolina both to pursue a local painter and to meet her husband's family. It's an entertaining movie that features a great screenplay that nicely blends comedy and drama and a very strong cast: Embeth Davidtz is effective in her portrayal of a woman who doesn't understand her husband's family's old-fashioned values and Benjamin McKenzie's display of unsatisfaction and unfulfillment is very moving. Alessandro Nivola is the weak link of the cast (I actually think his best performances are his small but vivid supporting turns in The Neon Demon and A Most Violent Year) but he's still completely fine. 

Amy Adams plays the role of Ashley, George's (Nivola) pregnant sister-in-law. Ashely is a role to die for: it gets a lot of screen-time and it's a complex, scene-stealing role that allows an actress to be both hilarious and heartbreaking. At the same time though it's also a very tricky role that can be very easily annoying, unrealistic and cartoonish if done wrong. Adams is thankfully completely up to the ask and she gives what is in my opinion the best performance from her rich and versatile career. Right from her first scene, in which Ashley is impatiently waiting for George and Madeleine (Davidtz) to arrive, Adams is absolutely wonderful establishing Ashley as the most interesting and vivid character of the movie; again, the beginning of her performance could have been all wrong and it would have been easy to simply portray Ashley as a bit dumb but Adams is too smart of an actress to do so. She imbues Ashley with a childlike innocence that is irresistible and endearing but she never turns her into a joke or a caricature either - her impatience to see Madeleine is just beautifully portrayed by Adams with a mix of curiosity and playful jealousy: her delivery of "I bet she's thin, I bet she's prettier than I am too, so I'm gonna hate her. I can't wait!" is just lovely because of how natural it comes off. I particularly love her first scene with Madeleine: Adams is hilariously chatty and nervous in it and every single line that she utters is pure gold ("My favorite animal is the meerkat", "Did you have a lot of boyfriends? I bet you did" and her "You were not" after Madeleine tells her she was born in Japan are just priceless). What I like the most about her acting in her scenes with Madeleine is how Adams portrays Ashley as if she was studying Madeleine and tried to act a bit like her - Adams perfectly shows how Ashley looks up to Madeleine which makes Ashley an even more endearing and touching character. One of my favorite moments in her performance is when Madeleine casually curses and Ashley, after a small surprised silence, does it too - it's such a nice, little moment in which Adams beautifully expresses Ashley's insecurity and admiration towards Madeleine. 

But Adams' performance is much more than cute and sweet and behind Ashley's warmth and simplicity Adams shows a much greater intelligence than expected, particularly in the scenes she shares with Benjamin McKenzie, who plays Johnny, Ashley's frustrated husband. Both actors are excellent as they convey the history between the two characters, who got married before they got to finish high school and whose relationship is now strained due to Johnny's sense of unfullfilment, especially as he sees how successful his brother has become. Adams is heartbreaking as she shows that despite her sunny and cheerful personality Ashley is very much aware of the problems in her marriage, although her optimistic nature makes her hope that the baby will eventually fix their issues; Adams subtly portrays all of these feelings mostly without uttering a word. A great moment in her performance comes when Johnny tries to record a documentary about meerkats but is unable to tape it: his shouting interrupts the baby shower and when Ashley tries to nicely advise him he lashes out at her. Adams' delivery of the line "God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way" is heartbreaking because of how simple and spontaneous it sounds. 

But of course the strongest moment of her performance is her final scene at the hospital, after *Spoiler* her baby is stillborn *Spoiler*. It's a devastating moment that is all the more impressive thanks to Adams' range. I love how even in such a dark scene Adams does not fail to portray her affection towards Madeleine ("Did she ask about me?) and I find particularly impressive how she manages to shift from quietness to despair so easily - she is heartbreaking as she conveys Ashley's desperation over Johnny's behavior and her fear that her marriage might end. I've rarely felt so moved by a character and this is all thanks to Adams' sincere performance. And her final, lovely moment as she finds again a little bit of her optimism thanks to George is excellently acted by Adams who just couldn't be warmer and sweeter. 

This is a magnificent performance by Amy Adams who is extremely funny at portraying Ashley's cheerful personality while always making her a person instead of a one-note joke. She turns Ashley into the movie's most tragic character and gives a performance that makes you both laugh and cry because of its sincerity and simplicity. She's pure gold in every scene she's in and ultimately gives a very complex and three-dimensional portrayal that never fails to break my heart. 


lunedì 22 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005

And the nominees are...

Amy Adams - Junebug
Catherine Keener - Capote
Frances McDormand - North Country
Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain

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

sabato 20 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983: Ranking

5. Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek
Alfre Woodard gives a very good performance that stands as one of the movie's few redeeming values and manages to make Geechee an affecting and memorable character, but the character is very underwritten and she can't strike up a very memorable chemistry with Mary Steenburgen due to the wooden performance of the latter.
Best scene: Geechee tells Rowings she is going to leave Cross Creek.

4. Amy Irving in Yentl
Amy Irving delivers a surprisingly effective and haunting performance making Hadass the most interesting character of the whole movie: she does a great job in portraying Hadass' transition into a stronger, more indipendent person in a realistic and moving fashion, even if I wish Streisand gave her a little more space and time to develop her character.
Best scene: "He didn't make me tremble tonight"

3. Glenn Close in The Big Chill
Glenn Close doesn't truly standout within the ensemble of The Big Chill but she adds a lot to the overall quality of the picture and portrays her character's emotional state with a welcome subtlety. She does a great job in conveying Sarah's conflicted feelings over Alex's death and she even manages to sell the potentially ridiculous subplot with Mary Kay Place.
Best scene: Sarah's breakdown in the shower. 

2. Cher in Silkwood
Despite being often in the background, Cher manages to give a compelling and touching performance as Dolly in Silkwood. She's heartbreaking in portraying her character's vulnerable emotional state and she shares an incredible chemistry with Meryl Streep, and makes her character's actions in the third act particularly intriguing and puzzling making Dolly the biggest mystery of the movie. 
Best scene: Karen cheers Dolly up on the porch.

1. Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously
Linda Hunt is fully convincing at playing a male character but there's so much more to her performance than just that: she makes Billy Kwan one of the most heartbreaking characters I have ever seen and she is properly devastating in portraying his character's growing disillusionement over the man he idolizes, while creating a particularly interesting dynamic with Gibson and Weaver.
Best scene: The "I created you" monologue. 

Honorable Omissions: My category placement of Susan Sarandon's performance in The Hunger might be a bit controversial and I certainly agree she's borderline leading, but I consider both her and David Bowie supporting, because she becomes a truly central character only in the second half of the movie, and he is a central character only in the first half while Catherine Deneuve is completely leading from beginning to end. Anyway, I think that Sarandon's performance in this is criminally underrated as she brings a lot of realism and emotional power to the characters' conflict between her morals and her needs and she shares a wonderful chemistry with Deneuve: she is the movie's source of humanity and she even manages to survive the movie's terrible ending. Melinda Dillon is just lovely in the equally wonderful A Christmas Story - she's warm, tender and funny and fits perfectly the movie's unique atmosphere while being a great match for Darren McGavin. Rosemary Harris' appearance in The Ploughman's Lunch has a huge build-up and she does not disappoint: she's fierce, passionate and intelligence and as the movie progresses she's extremely moving at portraying Ann's loneliness. Tess Harper delivers a beautifully tender, quiet and realistic performance in Tender Mercies and her chemistry with Robert Duvall is the heart of the movie.  I wish she had more screen-time in the movie. Eileen Atkins doesn't get a huge amount of screen-time in The Dresser but she makes the most out of it and in her big scene with Albert Finney she is subtly devastating as she beautifully conveys Madge's hidden feelings for Sir. In her limited time on-screen Suzanne Flon gives a great performance as the deaf Cognata in One Deadly Summer, developing a wonderful chemistry with the (amazing) Isabelle Adjani and adding depth, complexity and a history to her character through her beautifully delivered voice-over. I really don't care at all for Scarface but Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as the drug-addicted, messed-up Elvira is in my opinion the best part of it, as she is terrific in portraying her character's slow decay leading beautifully to her explosive final scene which is a knockout. Jaime Lee Curtis is very entertaining as the prostitue Ophelia in Trading Places and her chemistry with Dan Aykroyd is charming and sweet. Diane Lane is very good in Rumble Fish, showing both why she is attracted and repulsed by Rusty James all at once, and in the same movie Diana Scarwid is extremely haunting as the pathetic, heroin-addict Cassandra in her few minutes on-screen. Mary Kay Place, JoBeth Williams and Meg Tilly are all remarkably effective in The Big Chill, particularly the enchanting, entertaining Tilly who shares a poignant chemistry with William Hurt. 
The next year: As requested, 2005. 

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Susan Sarandon, The Hunger - 5/5
  2. Melinda Dillon, A Christmas Story - 5/5
  3. Cher, Silkwood 
  4. Rosemary Harris, The Ploughman's Lunch - 4.5/5
  5. Meg Tilly, The Big Chill - 4.5/5
  6. Tess Harper, Tender Mercies - 4.5/5
  7. Suzanne Flon, One Deadly Summer - 4/5
  8. Michelle Pfeiffer, Scarface - 4/5 
  9. Eileen Atkins, The Dresser - 4/5
  10. Diana Scarwid, Rumble Fish - 4/5
Due to the fact that The Year of Living Dangerously had its first release in theaters on December 1982, I consider Linda Hunt a contender for that year in my personal ballot.

mercoledì 17 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983: Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously

Linda Hunt won the Oscar from her only nomination to date for her performance as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously.

The Year of Living Dangerously is a compelling movie about a young, ambitious reporter who witnesses the political turmoil of Indonesia under the rule of President Tukarno searching for a news that might get him a career boost. There are some elements of the movie that might seem a bit dated nowadays, but otherwise I thought that this was an excellent movie with a strong sense of pace and one that really gave a honest and realistic depiction of its principal matter. Mel Gibson gives a very effective performance in the leading role: he carries the movie wonderfully thanks to his terrific screen-presence and he does a remarkable job in portraying Hamilton's growing sense of justice. Sigourney Weaver is stuck in a rather boring role but she still manages to be quite impressive thanks to her usually great screen-presence.

Linda Hunt plays the role of the male dwarf Billy Kwan, a photographer who befriends Hamilton. Of course, Linda Hunt's performance is particularly famous due to the fact that it features a female actress playing a male role. Peter Weir certainly took a risk by casting Linda Hunt in this role as this performance could have been an embarrassing disaster in a million different ways - but it ultimately turned out to be a brilliant idea. I personally don't want to give Linda Hunt too much credit for playing a character of the opposite sex but at the same time I can't help but being extremely impressed by the fact that she never even once made me doubt that Billy was a man: her voice and line-deliveries, her body language and her mannerisms are utterly convincing and they really looked effortless - I never once felt that this performance was calculated, it was all extremely natural and believable from the first minute she was on-screen. After the first couple of minutes I even forgot that it was a woman playing a man: all I saw on screen was the character of Billy Kwan, and this is a true testament to Linda Hunt's ability in disappearing completely into the character's skin. So, yes, Linda Hunt is always completely believable as a male but as I mentioned I don't want to give her too much credit for being able to play a man as there is much more to a character outside of its gender. Before watching the movie, I was curious to see if Linda Hunt's performance was just an interesting choice of casting or something more. And it's much, much more. 

There is not a single aspect of the character that Linda Hunt didn't explore - she gives Billy such a rich, complex characterization that you just can't take your eyes off her whenever she is on-screen as her performance is always so full of nuances and surprises. Right from the beginning, Linda establishes Billy as the most interesting character of the movie as she adds so much depth to it: in a very small scene with Mel Gibson, Hunt manages to convey Billy's long-suffering emotional state due to his physical condition for which he is occasionally made fun of; in the scene in which Billy talks to Hamilton about how he thinks that there is not just good or bad in someone but there is a combination of both, Hunt does a fantastic job in portraying his view on life and delivers that monologue in such a captivating and magnetic fashion; and, of course, she does a phenomenal job in portraying Billy's sincere respect and admiration towards Tukarno, therefore making the eventual developement of the character absolutely devastating to witness. His chemistry with Mel Gibson couldn't be more perfect - they pay off each other beautifully and they make Billy's and Guy's friendship believable and eventually moving. Billy is the one who introduces Guy to Jill Bryant (Weaver), a woman to whom Billy proposed but who turned him down. Hunt does a fantastic job in showing that Billy is sincere in his attempts to bring Jill and Guy closer together and that he is genuinely happy for their relationship but at the same time he is heartbreaking as he suggests that Billy's feelings for Jill have not waned. 

Hunt's best scenes come towards the end when a shocked and heartbroken Billy abandons Guy due to his ambition. His "I created you" monologue to Guy is an astonishing moment because Hunt is absolutely devastating in portraying his heartbreak over the betrayal of his friend, a man on whom he put his trust, affection and devotion. His delivery of lines like "I thought you were a man of light", "Why can't you give yourself, why can't you learn to love" and "I would have given up the world for her. You wouldn't even give up one story" is absolutely heartbreaking and unforgettable. Hunt is also incredible in portraying Billy's disillusionement over Tukarno as he slowly realizes that he does not care about the population: Hunt couldn't be more moving in scenes like the one in which he witnesses the death of a child he knew or the one in which he constantly and desperately repeats Leo Tolstoy's quote "What then we just do?", portraying Billy as a confused, devastated man as everything he believed in turned out to be different than what the thought. Her display of strength, dignity and acceptance in Billy's final moments is just incredible and her very last moment with Gibson brought tears to my eyes and was simply a beautiful closure of Billy's fantastic character arc.

Words cannot really describe how brilliant this performance is. Linda Hunt completely disappears into the role of Billy Kwan and delivers a phenomenal performance that is full of nuances and complexities. It's one of the most touching and heartfelt performances I have ever seen and her psychological characterization of the role is so beautifully realized that her ability to play so well a character of the opposite sex is the least impressive thing of her portrayal. One of the best performances of all time. 


domenica 14 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983: Glenn Close in The Big Chill

Glenn Close received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Sarah Cooper in The Big Chill.

The Big Chill is an excellent movie about a group of former college friends who spend a weekend together after the suicide of one of them. It's a movie I already liked the first time I watched it, but I flat out loved it on a rewatch: it's a brilliant movie bolstered by a first-rate screenplay that is equally hilarious and thoughtful. It's a movie that conveys the nostalgic, sad feeling of its character but that at the same time captures the beauty of life and friendship. The whole cast is very good with William Hurt being the standout. 

Glenn Close plays Sarah Cooper, one of the friends: she is the one who, along with her husband Harold (Kevin Kline), hosts the friends at her house over the weekend. The first time I saw the movie I thought that Glenn Close was easily the weak link of the cast: I found her performance to be surprisingly disappointing and shallow - I never thought that she dug deep into the character's pain and I thought she had a strangely pale screen-presence that made her disappear completely next to the other cast members. After a rewatch, I now feel differently about her performance: I still don't think she gives the best performance of the cast (I think William Hurt, Meg Tilly and Tom Berenger were better) but I've grown to appreciate more the small subtleties and nuances she brings to the role. She never stands out, but she is part of what makes the ensemble of this movie so great and makes Sarah one of the most interesting characters of the movie. She really feels like part of the group and she creates a beautiful dynamic with all of the other cast members. 

In the first scenes of the movie, that takes place at the funeral and shortly after, Sarah seems to be the only character to be in control of her emotions - all of the other characters are visibly upset and incapable of holding their emotions: Sarah, despite silently crying while her husband talks about the deceased Alex, seems to be the anchor of the group, the one who can pull herself together and be kind and smiley towards everyone. Close, though, manages to show that there is definitely something off about Sarah and she manages to make you see the inner turmoil behind Sarah's gentle demeanor: we get a first glimpse of Sarah's desperation when we see her crying alone in the shower - it's a small moment that lasts a bunch of seconds but it's in this small moment of intense desperation that Close finds the core of the character and suggests Sarah's past which is only explained later on. It is later revealed that Sarah and Alex had a brief affair five years prior: even if it hadn't being directly explained, you can read it all through Close's and Kline's performances. Both actors are excellent in conveying the history between these two people and establish perfectly their relationship: there is not passion nor fire in their scenes together but there is a great amount of sincerity, affection and tenderness - on her part, Close is particularly effective in suggesting that Sarah's affair with Alex was more passionate but that she is ultimately more happy with Harold. Some of her best moments are the ones that involve Sarah dealing with her conflicted feelings and memories towards Alex: the moment in which Jeff Goldblum's character mentions the fact that she has found the perfect husband in Harold and Sarah's face, as she briefly thinks of her affair with Alex, freezes is a brilliant moment made unforgettable by Close's fantastic acting. She also excels in the scene in which she tearfully talks about Alex during dinner but I like her even more in the beautifully quiet scene on the porch, in which she reflects about how her affair with Alex affected their friendship later on. It's a sincere, touching moment that Close plays with welcome quietness and with a heartbreaking touch of regret.

Towards the end of the movie, Close becomes the center of a storyline with Mary Kay Place, who plays Meg, one of the friends who wants to have sex with one of the guys at the house in order to get pregnant and have a baby. It's a rather challenging storyline as it easily could have been unbelievable, even ridiculous, but Mary Kay Place and especially Glenn Close manage to make it work. Sarah decides to let Meg have sex with her husband, and while her choice might be questionable Close manages to make it understandable, as if through this act of selflessness she could alleviate her guilt for having betrayed her husband. I love the scene in which Sarah sees Meg and Harold talking and she starts to contemplate the idea of asking Harold to have sex with her - with her growing smile Close manages to make the viewer read all of her thoughts on her face.

In the end, Glenn Close might not give an amazing performance in this movie but it's a completely solid, memorable piece of work that is part of what makes The Big Chill the ultimate ensemble movie. She portrays her character's feelings with delicacy and subtlety and it's a performance that I like the more I think about it.  


venerdì 12 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983: Amy Irving in Yentl

Amy Irving received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Hadass in Yentl.

Yentl is overall a pretty strong movie about a Jewish girl, Yentl, who decides to disguise herself as a man with the false name of Anshel in order to enter religious training, but is stuck into a complicated situation when she is set to marry Hadass, a beautiful girl that was previously engaged to Avigdor, a man that Yentl, as Anshel, befriends but secretly loves. I wouldn't say that Barbra Streisand deserved her Golden Globe win for Best Director but her direction in this movie is not without merit either: the middle section of the movie is excellent because Streisand prevents the story from becoming ridiculous, which could have easily been the case, by choosing a certain tone that is neither too dark nor too light and adds a very strong sense of place to the movie thanks to her admirable attention to the details (the set decoration is very remarkable I think). Most of all, it's clear that she clearly cares a lot about the movie and its story, even if her direction is not without faults: the beginning in particular is extremely heavy-handed in its depiction of women's condition in the Jewish society back then, and the end is also very disappointing since it feels rather rushed and the final scene is somehow poorly done, with a weird-looking final shot and a pretty terrible song. As for the songs - except for "Papa can you hear me?", they are pretty much forgettable at best. As for the acting: Streisand is clearly too old for playing the character and she does not really look or sound like a man so it's hard to believe that Yentl would fool everyone so easily, but she is very effective in portraying Yentl's determination to have an education. As Avigdor, Mandy Patinkin delivers a charming and captivating performance while still portraying well his limited views towards women.

Amy Irving's performance in this movie tends to have a pretty negative reputation for being one of the only two performances that have been nominated both at the Oscars and the Razzies. Honestly, I don't think that either award is necessarily an indicator of quality, the Razzies even less so as sometimes they award performances just because of the quality of the movie they are in even if the performance itself is far from being bad (like Dakota Johnson in 50 Shades of Grey). So what about Amy Irving's performance in this? Did she deserve the Oscar nomination, the Razzie nomination or neither of them? To be completely honest, I went into the movie expecting to dislike it and ready to dismiss Irving's performance - so I was completely surprised to find out not only that the movie is a fairly remarkable experience but that Amy Irving's performance is a surprisingly interesting and poignant piece of work that stands as the movie's biggest asset. To be completely fair I can sort of understand the Razzie nomination actually, as it's easy to deem her first scenes as stiff and bland, but in my opinion her approach works perfectly with the character she's playing: in the beginning, Hadass is supposed to be the complete opposite of Yentl - a timid, obedient girl that lives to please the men in her family and nothing else. Irving is excellent in my opinion in portraying a lack of personality and character in Hadass while still making her a surprisingly intriguing and mysterious presence suggesting a brain and intelligence in her that could shine if only she was allowed to by the environment around her: this way, we understand both Avigdor's dismissive opinion of her personality (he asks Anshel "What could she be thinking?" as if the only obvious answer was "Nothing interesting") and Yentl/Anshel's growing respect towards her as she gradually realizes that Hadass has a lot of potential. 

Amy Irving's best moments come in the second half of the movie, when she marries Anshel while still being in love with Avigdor. Irving is extremely touching in portraying Hadass' attempts to please her husband as she firmly believes it is her only duty to do so, when Anshel tells her that she can take all the time she wants Irving is amazing in portraying Hadass' surprised, shocked but happy reaction: for the first time, she gets to have her say and her actions are not imposed by anyone else. In the following scenes that depicts Anshel's and Hadass' marriage, Irving does a wonderful job in showing how Hadass blossoms under Anshel's teaching: in the beginning she was nothing more than a pretty face, now she is radiant and charming; in the beginning she existed to obey, now she is truly full of life. She portrays her transition with brilliant subtlety and in every scene they share she effortlessly overshadows Streisand. Over the course of the movie, Hadass falls in love with Anshel and Irving is absolutely terrific in showing how Hadass gradually changes her opinion on her husband and starts to appreciate more and more his gentleness and sensitivity: I really love the scene in which Anshel invites Avigdor over at their house and Hadass doesn't even look at him as she has only eyes for Anshel. My favorite scene of the whole movie is the scene in which Hadass decides that she wants to finally have sex with Anshel, unknowing that her husband is a woman: it's in this very moment that we come to realize how much Hadass has changed since the beginning of the movie - she plays the scene not only with the right amount of sensuality and desire but also with a lot of maturity and determination that she gained during her marriage. Her reaction over Anshel's rejection of her is a poignant and heartbreaking moment, and their final scene together is also a nice, moving moment in which you can really see the affections on both ends. 

Unfortunately, the performance isn't quite perfect but the reason for this isn't Amy Irving - but Barbra Streisand. She is so focused on making her own character shine that she sacrifices the other characters instead - I really think there should have been a scene in which Anshel revealed the truth about herself to Hadass but Streisand seems to care for Hadass only if she is an instrument to her own character. I think both Hadass and Irving's performance deserved to have a proper closure, especially considering that Yentl/Anshel's and Hadass' relationship is by far the most interesting aspect of the movie. Also, Streisand is literally in every scene of the movie and she never shows Hadass and Avigdor together alone: it's a true testament to their talents with Patinkin and Irving manages to make you believe in their character's love for each other but I think that both actors deserved more time to develop their relationship together. 

Nonetheless, this is a great performance by Amy Irving that is completely undeserving of its reputation. She delivers a wonderfully subtle performance that is full of nuances and surprises and that ends up stealing the movie away from the lead actress. It's a moving, rich turn that grounds the whole movie and I'm glad that the Academy decided to reward this remarkable piece of work. 


mercoledì 10 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983: Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek

Alfre Woodard received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Geechee in Cross Creek.

Cross Creek is a very dull movie about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and the events that inspired her to write her novels, such as Jacob's Ladder and The Yearling. The movie is not completely awful as there are a few elements that are quite remarkable, such as the score and a couple of performances. Martin Ritt is obviously a good director and here is work is not at all bad as he actually manages to create a certain atmosphere around Cross Creek, but unfortunately the film is hindered by two - elements mostly: first off, the weak screenplay that leaves most of the characters extremely underwritten; secondly, and most importantly, Mary Steenburgen's leading performance: Steenburgen is in my opinion a very good actress who has given some strong supporting performances throughout her career but here performance in this is just lifeless and wooden and she is completely unable to carry the movie on her shoulders - she is the main reason why the movie ends up being such an unremarkable experience. I've heard some people saying that Dana Hill deserved a nomination for her performance: in my opinion, it's an okay performance but hardly anything that special. 

Alfre Woodard plays the role of Geechee, a woman who offers to work as a maid for Rawlings. Like almost every single character except for Rawlings and Marsh Turner (the Oscar nominated Rip Torn), Geechee is an extremely underwritten character and one that is presented as a stereotype for almost the whole movie: she spends much of her screen-time working at Rawlings's grove and making noises while she is trying to write her novel, which I guess was supposed to be a funny sketch but unfortunately it's not. Writing-wise, much of the character of Geechee sort of reminded me of Prissy from Gone with the Wind, which is not exactly a good thing. But what is that differentiates Alfre Woodard's performance in Cross Creek from Butterfly McQueen's performance in Gone with the Wind? Well, to a small extent I have to give a little credit to the script because it actually does give some depth to Woodard later on, but the main reason why Geechee manages to be a surprisingly affecting and memorable character is Woodard herself, who sinks her teeth into this thankless role and manages to really make something good out of it. Her aforementioned routine might not be funny, but the only reason why it's not cringeworthy is because of Alfre Woodard's dedication to the role and she deserves a lot of credit for that. There is a genuine and spontaneous quality to her performance that makes her naturally stand out within the movie and she easily brings to it a needed breath of fresh air. Her character is often hanging around in the background and she can't really do all that much but she nonetheless brings a great deal of life and energy to the proceeding, and her performance was one of the few things that made me want to finish the movie. Geechee is a rather simple-minded person but Woodard never makes her dumb and instead she shows exactly where the character comes from - unlike Rawlings, Geechee never had the opportunity to have an education but that doesn't make her stupid. 

Woodard's best scenes are in the middle of the movie when she becomes the center of a rather interesting subplot that involves Geechee's husband, who is in prison. Woodard is very moving in the scene in which she asks for Rawlings' help in gaining her husband's release, and I particularly love her natural and spontaneous reaction when Rowlings agrees to help her. Geechee's husband later comes to live with Geechee at Rawlings' grove but he is later asked to leave because he does nothing but drinking and gambling, and Geechee decides to leave with him. The storyline is extremely rushed as all of this happens in the span of five minutes at best, but the scene in which Geechee is about to leave is nonetheless the highlight of Alfre Woodard's performance in this movie: she manages to be truly heartbreaking as she asks Rawlings how could she let her go so easily and even if the two actresses don't really have any sort of chemistry because of Steenburgen's stiff performance Woodard alone managed to make the two character's supposed friendship completely believable. It's a beautifully acted scene and the moment in which Geechee decides to stay after all is surprisingly heartwarming. Unfortunately, the movie then just sort of forgets about Geechee, even if there was much more to tell about her: in her autobiography, Rawlings mentioned that after her husband left Geechee started to drink heavily and despite her best efforts to help her she was forced to dismiss her in the end. It's a tragic story in which the movie isn't really interested and it's a true shame. 

In the end this is a good performance by Alfre Woodard, who manages to make Geechee one of the movie's most memorable characters. I think that if the movie had given her more to do she would have been absolutely amazing but she is unfortunately trapped in a thankless part with a wooden co-star to act with. Nonetheless, it's a touching, natural performance that goes far beyond what the role required. 


domenica 7 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983: Cher in Silkwood

Cher received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood.

Silkwood is a strong movie about Karen Silkwood, a worker at a plutionium processing plant in which she finds out about some severe worker safety violations and is determined to expose them. Basically, Silkwood is Erin Brokovich done right - its story is captivating from beginning to end and gives its central character real depth and complexity inside of just painting a heroic portrait. The scenes in which the characters (first the one played by Sudie Bond, then Karen herself, played by Meryl Streep) are cleaned with a brush after they have been affected by radiations are absolutely shocking and devastating. 

Cher plays the role of Dolly Pelliker, Karen's lesbian roommate. Dolly is one of those role whose only task is to support the main character: she never has a scene truly devoted to her character, she is almost always acting in the background and she is never given much focus or screen-time. It's a performance that is entirely lacking in big moments and one that could very easily pass unnoticed: yet, Cher manages to make Dolly a memorable, mysterious, three-dimensional character that might not be flashy but it still lingers in your mind after you've watched the movie, and her subtly heartbreaking portrayal ends up being just as haunting as Meryl Streep's. First off, Cher succeeded completely in disappearing into the role: she completely drops her glamorous persona and inhabits the part of Dolly so well that I simply forgot I was watching Cher act. Dolly is often presented as an unkempt, plain-looking woman and I love how in this movie Cher carries herself in a worn out, spent manner that is perfectly fitting to the role. But most of all, she really digs deep into Dolly's depression - she never has a big moment in which she gets to portray her vulnerable emotional state out loud, but behind each of her line-deliveries you can feel the character's plight. I particularly love her deliveries of her comedic lines: she manages to make those lines funny but at the same time she says them with an underlying bitterness that makes them sound oddly touching as well. 

Considering how little time Cher has devoted to create her character, her chemistry with Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell (who plays Drew, Karen's boyfriend) is key to the success of her work: and, indeed, she creates with them a very interesting and unique dynamic that stands as one of the most interesting aspect of the movie. I really like her chemistry with Kurt Russell as both actors properly portray a certain affection and tenderness between the two but at the same time they show a certain coldness in particular moments that suggests an unspoken rivalry between the two for Karen's affections. And her chemistry with Streep is absolutely top notch: both actresses are wonderful in creating a believable, sincere friendship between the two but Cher on her part is particularly effective in showing that Dolly wants more from that relationship than Karen does. Dolly's attraction towards Karen is confirmed rather early in the movie when Dolly confesses Karen that she's in love with her: it's a very brief scene that basically consists of four lines but both actresses are excellent in it and Cher's portrayal of her character's heartbreak over her unrequited love is deeply moving, Her eventual relationship with her girlfriend is really more of a plot device than anything else, but Cher makes the most out of it: I particularly like how, while she shows sincere affections in her scenes with Diana Scarwid, she shows that her happiness with her is only superficial as she still shows a certain sadness within her behavior. My favorite moment of her whole performance is probably the scene with Streep on the porch after she and her girlfriend broke up: Cher is really heartbreaking in her portrayal of Dolly's loneliness and longing for Karen's love and her chemistry with Streep is stronger than ever - it's a truly poignant, unforgettable moment that is in my opinion the highlight of the whole movie. 

What makes me truly love of her performance is its final act, in which it's suggested that Dolly might have told something to the bosses of the plant about Karen's search for evidence of the violations. The scene in which Karen confronts Dolly about it is particularly great and, even if Dolly denies it and the movie never really gives an answer, Cher plants the seed of doubt in her portrayal, particularly in the way she seems to avoid eye contact with Russell and Streep and shows a certain guilt in her final moments with both actors. Her reaction upon hearing of *Spoiler* Karen's death *Spoiler* is particularly excellent as she not only shows perfectly Dolly's grief and sadness but also maybe a touch of remorse. 

Overall, this is an excellent performance from Cher who truly becomes the role and makes a lot out of nothing. She gives a captivating turn that made me care about Dolly - I was looking for her in every scene, even when she was in the background. It's a complex, intriguing performance that adds emotional power and depth to the whole movie. 


venerdì 5 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1983

And the nominees are...

Cher - Silkwood
Glenn Close - The Big Chill
Linda Hunt - The Year of Living Dangerously
Amy Irving - Yentl
Alfre Woodard - Cross Creek

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

mercoledì 3 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959: Ranking

5. Hermione Baddeley in Room at the Top
Hermione Baddeley gives a completely serviceable performance that fulfills the needs of her very limited role, but she's not on screen long enough to make me care about Elspeth and her plight. 
Best scene: Elspeth's outburst at Joe. 

4. Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk
Thelma Ritter can't escape the heavy limitations of her role, but she still delivers a highly entertaining performance that, while one-dimensional, never becomes excessively broad and adds life and energy to the whole movie.
Best scene: Brad asks Alma for help.

3. Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank
Shelley Winters completely disappears into the role of Petronella Van Daan and she works wonderfully with the rest of the cast: she shines in the few moments in which the character is given more focus but she also manages to leave a lasting impression while staying in the background thanks to her haunting and unforgettable reactionary moments.
Best scene: Petronella begs Edith to let the Van Daans stay in the attic.

2. Susan Kohner in Imitation of Life
Susan Kohner realistically portrays Sarah Jane's harsh behavior towards her mother but she is amazing in showing the reasons behind it: she is heartbreaking as she shows Sarah Jane's desire to be someone else, as well as the guilt and anguish that comes from her rejection of her mother. It's a very complex character in which Kohner nails every nuance.
Best scene: Sarah Jane and Annie meet for the last time.

1. Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life
Juanita Moore delivers a devastating, raw portrayal of a mother's unconditional love: she portrays Annie's plight with subtlety and poignancy and she is excellent in portraying her physical decay over the course of the movie. It's a heartbreaking, quiet performance in which every emotion rings true.
Best scene: Sarah Jane and Annie meet for the last time.

Honorable Omissions: I know she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role and that many people agree with her placement in that category, but I personally think that Simone Signoret's alluring, subtle and devastating portrayal of the lonely Alice  in Room at the Top should have been nominated in this category instead. Lee Remick is phenomenal in Anatomy of a Murder - she is an extremely seductive and fascinating presence but she also hints at Laura's desperation that lies beneath, suggesting that there is something more to the case than what is being told but without giving away the truth either. Zhanna Prokhorenko delivers a wonderfully luminous turn as the sweet Shura in the fantastic Ballad of a Soldier - she creates one of the loveliest character I have ever seen and she develops an unforgettable chemistry with Vladimir Ivashov. Her final scene is something truly heartbreaking in its quietness. Carolyn Jones has the least flashy role of Career yet she is absolutely fantastic - she is equally funny and touching as the supportive, lonely Shirley and her chemistry with Anthony Franciosa is truly terrific. The 400 Blows belongs to Truffaut's amazing direction but Claire Maurier is very memorable as the main character's selfish, cold mother, making her character both despicable and pathetic as the same, while Eva Marie Saint brings the right amount of charm, mystery and intelligence to her femme fatale in North by Northwest. Edith Evans delivers a very strong performance in The Nun's Story bringing the right amount of gravitas to the role of the Reverend Mother and her final scene with Audrey Hepburn is truly a knockout, while Gusti Huber leaves her own distinctive mark within the cast of The Diary of Anne Frank. Machiko Kyo is outstanding in the amazing Floating Weeds - she's cunning, sly and manipulative but she's also very moving as she portrays the desperation behind her character's actions. I also like Haruko Sugimura's subtle performance in the same movie, as she shares a beautiful, tender chemistry with Ganjiro Nakamura and in their scenes together they nicely convey the history between the two. 
The next year: 1983, as requested.
Predictions: Congratulations to Calvin Law! You can now requested a year.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Simone Signoret, Room at the Top - 5/5
  2. Lee Remick, Anatomy of a Murder - 5/5
  3. Juanita Moore, Imitation of Life
  4. Machiko Kyo, Floating Weeds - 5/5
  5. Zhanna Prokhorenko, Ballad of a Soldier - 5/5
  6. Carolyn Jones, Career - 4.5/5
  7. Susan Kohner, Imitation of Life
  8. Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank
  9. Claire Maurier, The 400 Blows - 4/5
  10. Edith Evans, The Nun's Story - 4/5

lunedì 1 agosto 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1959: Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank

Shelley Winters won her first Oscar from her second nomination for her performance as Petronella Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a harrowing movie about the last few years of the life of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who was forced into hiding in an attic with her family and some friends in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. I wasn't really expecting that much from this movie but I ended up loving it: despite being three hours long, it flows surprisingly well and is never once boring and George Stevens did an amazing job in never making the movie feel stagey despite the fact that it basically takes place in one room and he is also excellent in giving the movie a true sense of place. An Oscar win for his effort would have been quite deserved in my opinion. The cinematography is also phenomenal and it was completely worthy of its Oscar (and the same goes for the Art Decoration). The cast is also surprisingly good - even the weak link, Richard Beymer. isn't that bad. Millie Perkins is awfully miscast but I think that her performance is still quite good as she portrays Anne's maturation rather well while carrying the movie with enough charm. Joseph Schildkraut is amazing as Otto, Anne's father, bringing the right amount of warmth and tenderness to the role and sharing a powerful chemistry with Perkins: his final scenes are heartbreaking and I really think he should have been nominated (too bad he campaigned as lead); Gusti Huber is quite impressive as Anne's strong-willed mother and her outburst at Mr. Van Daan is one of the movie's highlight - speaking of Mr. Van Daan, Lou Jacobi is also rather effective in portraying his selfishness in a human, believable way. Diane Baker gets very little to do, but delivers a charming turn.

Shelley Winters plays Petronella Van Daan, a character based on Auguste Van Pels, one of the people who lived in the attic with Anne Frank. The character of Petronella can be seen as rather thankless: she spends most of the time in the background and only gets to shine in a few moments and is given much less focus than most of the other cast members. Shelley Winters though manages to make the most out of the role, giving the second best performance in the whole movie and making a vivid and three-dimensional character out of a potential caricature. First off, I have to say I really admire Shelley Winters for being one of the few stars of the time to be completely willing to disappear completely into a role: in her performance here there is an utter lack of vanity that is hard to find in performances from those years, and she isn't afraid to make her character's appearence and personality look ugly. She inhabits her character completely and is always convincing and believable. As I mentioned above, Shelley Winters is confined in the background for most of the time but still manages to be surprisingly impressive: she never tries to steal the scenes from the other members and she blends very nicely with the rest of the cast, but at the same time she makes her brief reactionary shots of fear or downright terror truly unforgettable and there isn't a scene in which she passes unnoticed. She is also very good in portraying Petronella's progressive physical decay: scene by scene, she looks slightly more tired, disheartened and worn out.

While Otto and Edith Frank are portrayed as polite, kind and generous people, Petronella and Hans are presented as much more flawed characters: they constantly argue, they are whiny and even a bit selfish. Both Winters' and Jacobi's portrayals of their character's flaws ground the movie, adding depth and realism to it, and they both manage to create an understanding for both characters, no matter how unlikeable they might seem sometimes. Winters is particularly excellent in portraying Petronella's pathetic and delusional emotional state: she is a woman who used to be quite wealthy and during the hard times of the war she holds on to her memories of the past. In doing so, she makes us feel conflicted emotions towards Petronella: when she talks about her youth and about how much she used to be popular with boys, Winters makes her look a bit frivolous but at the same time she makes us pity her; when she cries because Anne accidentally spills some milk on her expensive fur coat, she makes us resent her for her shallowness during such a hard time, but nonetheless we are moved by her plight as we realize that the coat was the only thing left for her, the symbol of her once beautiful and happy life - and in the scene towards the end of the movie in which Hans sells the coat to buy some cigarettes, Winters is surprisingly harrowing and devastating. 

Her chemistry with the other cast members is excellent, particularly with Richard Beymer and Lou Jacobi. In her brief interactions with the former, Winters is very good in showing Petronella's love towards her son. But she's even more excellent in her scenes with the latter: they play each of their fights in a very realistic and believable manner and on her part Winters is particularly heartbreaking as she portrays Petronella's unconditional love towards her selfish husband. She is excellent in the scene in which she tries to defend herself from the accusation that she always gives a little more food to her husband than the others but one of her best moments in the movie comes towards the end when Mrs. Frank sees Mr. Van Daan stealing some food and decides to kick the Van Daans out of her house: Petronella's plea to let them stay is one of the most touching moments of the movie and Winters does a magnificent job with it. 

Overall, this is an excellent performance from Shelley Winters who truly makes a lot out of nothing: she makes Petronella one of the most complex and interesting characters of the movie and while she is obviously great in her big moments what truly impresses is her ability to leave her own mark in her brief, reactionary moments in the background. It's a fantastic performance and a very worthy winner.