mercoledì 28 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976: Jane Alexander in All the President's Men

Jane Alexander received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Judy Hoback in All the President's Men.

All the President's Men is a brilliant movie about the two Washington Post reporters who uncovered the details of the Watergate scandal. It's a wonderful film that benefits from an absolutely terrific screenplay, a pitch-perfect direction and an excellent editing: these three elements combined make the movie a wonderfully gripping and compelling portrayal of its story. The actors are mostly very good as well: both Dustin Hoffman and (especially) Robert Redford make for very interesting leads to follow, which is quite an achievement considering that the roles could have been incredibly thin. Hal Holbrook's performance is terrific and he easily should have received a Best Supporting Actor nod.

Judy Hoback is a very small role: Alexander has about five minutes of screen-time and two scenes, the second of which is extremely brief. Nonetheless, it's quite an interesting and important role: she is the bookkeeper of the Comittee for the Re-Election of the President and she is aware of some very important informations that could be extremely helpful for Woodward (Redford) and Bernstein (Hoffman). Her first scene, in which Bernstein visits her in an attempt to gain those informations, is actually a pivotal one for the story and there's quite a strong build-up to it: unfortunately, the problem here is really Alexander, whom I find to be a very talented actress but who completely fails to deliver on all fronts here. The scene still works because of how well-written it is and because of how good Hoffman is in it, but unfortunately Alexander doesn't match their high quality and while she is nothing atrociously and spectacularly bad she isn't really anything either. When she first appears, Hoback is supposed to be extremely scared and nervous considering the importance of the informations he wants her to disclose, but I really didn't get any of these feelings from her performance: not because she portrays those emotions badly, but because she barely shows any emotion at all. Her performance is simply dull: she speaks with a plain, monotonous voice that doesn't convey the panic of the character and the fact that she basically keeps the same facial expression throughout the whole scene doesn't really help either. She fares a little better with her body language as she does give a sense of uncomfortableness which is actually very fitting to the character, but it hardly makes up for the inadequacies of the rest of her work. Her performance mostly consists of emotionless stares and deep breaths and while she never becomes distracting she is surprisingly boring and pale while she is supposed to be the center of the scene. To be fair, she does give a few hints of the better performance she could have given - some brief, well-done facial expressions and a couple of strong line-deliveries ("If you guys could get John Mitchell that would be beautiful" or "Well, I can't say that it would positively prove that they planned the break-in but it would come pretty close") but it's a bit too little to save the rest of her performance. She just never came off as scared as she should have been and she just is quite forgettable while the role allowed for far more. Her second scene almost doesn't count as she barely does anything in it - again, nothing bad or nothing that stands out in the wrong fashion but it's still nothing that stands out at all. 

Overall, there is just not that much to say about this performance. I don't think she is bad at all, but I think the role allowed for a one-scene-wonder and she is far from it. I think Jane Alexander is a very good actress and I've liked her elsewhere but here she just fails to live up to the great build-up she is given: she is just bland and forgettable and lets Hoffman control the scene instead of acting as a good match for him. A few good moments here and there can't save this otherwise unremarkable performance. 


lunedì 26 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976: Lee Grant in Voyage of the Damned

Lee Grant received her fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Lili Rosen in Voyage of the Damned.

Voyage of the Damned is a rather poor film about the tragic, true story of 1939 voyage of a ship carrying hundreds of German Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to Cuba. The movie is very similar to 1965's Ship of Fools - and just like that film, it leaves a lot to be desired. The screenplay is terrible and I have no idea how it managed to get a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination - it's hollow and heavy-handed at the same time. I don't understand the nomination for Best Score as well - there might be only one moment in which I felt it was effective, otherwise it's either overbearing or non-existent. The all-star cast is a mixed bag as well: I felt only three or four members of the cast gave truly remarkable performances, while the others were either bland, underused or downright awful. It's just an overlong mess that I have no desire to watch again.

Lee Grant plays Lili Rosen, one of the many passengers on the ship along with her husband (Sam Wanamaker) and her daughter (Lynne Frederick). It's a rather thankless role for many reasons: first off, she appears little more than ten minutes in a movie that has a running time of 157 minutes; secondly, she never shares the screen with the movie's strongest performers and most of the time she has to act opposite the atrocious Wanamaker, the incredibly bland Frederick and a rather unsatisfying Faye Dunaway; thirdly, she plays the clichéd role of the supportive but worried wife and mother. It's hard to make anything that good out of such a thin material in such a limited screen-time, but to be honest she never really does anything to escape the limitations of the role and her acting style is part of the problems I have with this performance. 

In the beginning of the movie, Lili Rosen appears as a very fragile person - she is very submissive towards her husband and she lives in a perpetual state of terror and anxiety. Grant does a fine job at portraying her character's condition and she is actually quite impressive early on, conveying her character's nervousness through her small gestures (such as constantly looking around her to see if there's something wrong or often holding her daughter as if to shield her). At the same time, though, I never thought she actually stood out much in the ensemble and I found her shtick to become progressively more tiresome - her haunted, worried look might be quite effective in the first couple of scenes but after a while it loses its emotional power, therefore revealing how shockingly empty and shallow Grant's performance actually is: while she does a perfectly decent job at portraying her character's vulnerable state, she does it in a rather one-note fashion and I feel that with her performance she only scratches the surface of her character without even trying to give it more depth or complexity. She never gets us to know Lili - it's hard to imagine her life before the events of the movie because in her performance she barely gives her any nuance or personality. Nonetheless, she has a nice moment in the movie when she tries to cheer up her husband, tenderly comforting him and assuring him that the terror of the Nazism is behind them - it's a rather sweet moment and Grant is quite touching in it. At the same time, though, it has to be said that the scene could have been much more powerful if only Wanamaker weren't so awful - he gives such a poor performance that Grant can't even strike up a remotely interesting chemistry with him and his work undercuts the impact of their few scenes together. To a lesser extent, the same goes for her scenes with Lynne Frederick - the latter is not quite as awful as Wanamaker but she kind of sleepwalks throughout the whole movie and fails to create any chemistry with her on-screen mother. 

(The following paragraph features some big spoilers about the plot) Lee Grant's biggest scenes in the movie come later on as tragedy begins to strike: her husband finds out that Cuba is not going to let them enter in the country and, in a mad rage, injures himself with a knife and has to be hospitalized: in this scene, Grant does the most obvious and forced type of dramatic acting and her screaming in despair feels painfully phony. Then she has her flashy scene towards the end after her daughter commits suicide with her boyfriend: overcame by grief, an emotionally unstable Lili starts to cut off her own hair as an "atonement" for not being able to protect her daughter. First off, it's a horribly written scene and its whole concept couldn't be more ridiculous and Oscar-baity: in the beginning of the scene, Grant is actually quite effective at portraying Lili's desperation with her shaking, trembling voice but soon she goes into atrociously over-the-top territory and she's downright atrocious. Some of her line-deliveries are simply awful (especially "There are things I have to do" couldn't be more odd, stilted and awkward) and even unintentionally hilarious. 

Overall, this is an extremely uneven performance as she has a few impressive moments and a few terrible ones: most of the time, though, she is just unimpressive, going through the motion without leaving any sort of impression whatsoever. If they had to nominate a supporting lady from this movie, it certainly should have been Katharine Ross (who actually beat Grant that year at the Golden Globes). It's frankly a bad role in a bad movie, and while I wouldn't necessarily call her performance bad she certainly is not good either. 


sabato 24 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976

And the nominees are...

Jane Alexander - All the President's Men
Jodie Foster - Taxi Driver
Lee Grant - Voyage of the Damned
Piper Laurie - Carrie
Beatrice Straight - Network

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

giovedì 22 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939: Ranking

5. Edna May Oliver in Drums Along the Mohawk
Edna May Oliver tries her best to bring some life to the dull proceeding, but her performance ultimately gets lost within the silly and overblown mess that her movie is.
Best scene: Gil and Lana meet Mrs. McKlennar.

4. Maria Ouspenskaya in Love Affair
Maria Ouspenskaya gets very little screen-time but the movie is at its best whenever she is in it: she's sweet, wise, warm and poignant, turning Grandmother Janou into the tender heart of this movie. 
Best scene: "I don't like boats' whistles"

3. Geraldine Fitzgerald in Wuthering Heights
Fitzgerald makes the most out of her role easily making Isabella the emotional center of the movie. She does a great job at portraying her character's transition from a lovely girl to an embittered, broken-down trophy wife and her final scene is absolutely outstanding.
Best scene: Isabella's final plea to Heathcliff.

2. Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind
Hattie McDaniel turns a potentially stock role into a three-dimensional human being: she is hilarious in her comedic moments but she also brings a lot of warmth, intelligence and humanity to her portrayal and absolutely shines in her most dramatic scenes.
Best scene: Mammy talks to Melanie about the aftermath of Bonnie's death.

1. Olivia De Havilland, Gone with the Wind
In what could have been a flat or cheesy role, Olivia De Havilland is absolutely phenomenal making Melanie one of the most compelling characters of the whole movie. She brings a pure, sincere honesty to the role while also adding depth, strength and complexity to her character's good-hearted nature. It's one of the best performances of all times, and an easy win.
Best scene: Melanie consoles Rhett after Scarlett's miscarriage. 

Honorable Omissions: Gladys George is terrific in the role of Panama Smith in The Roaring Twenties: she brings toughness and realism to her work perfectly conveying her character's history and as the movie progresses she is absolutely heartbreaking as she subtly and wordlessly shows Panama's love for Eddie (James Cagney) - her final line-delivery alone is worth of every kind of awards. Jean Arthur is wonderful in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, perfectly portraying her character's slow transition from utter cynism to optimistic hope while sharing a pitch-perfect chemistry with James Stewart. In Name Only is not a masterpiece but it's an underrated, interesting little movie featuring an absolutely outstanding turn from Kay Francis who turns her potentially one-note villain into a surprisingly powerful character with unexpected complexity. Claire Trevor is very moving as the prostitute Dallas in Stagecoach: she shares a subtle, poignant chemistry with John Wayne and she herself does a very effective job at revealing kind-hearted nature as well as her desperation caused by other people's prejudice. The Women has a truly terrific ensemble, with the MVP being, for me, Rosalind Russell who couldn't be more hilarious: she gives a delightfully bitchy and effortlessly scene-stealing turn and I loved every minute she was on-screen. Joan Crawford brings the right amount of both charm and callousness to her villain, and Paulette Goddard is excellent at portraying an equally seductive yet surprisingly tender and warm variation of Crawford's character. Margaret Hamilton makes for a scene-stealing villain in The Wizard of Oz as she is menacing and entertaining in equal parts without ever hamming it up. Geraldine Fitzgerald delivers a moving, beautifully restrained turn in Dark Victory: she never attempts to steal the scene from Bette Davis yet she manages to leave a strong emotional impact thanks to her unassuming and effortless approach. Edna Best has the thankless and clichéd role of the long-suffering wife in Intermezzo but she portrays incredibly well and brings to it a lot of emotional power: I really like Leslie Howard's and Ingrid Bergman's performances, but the more I think about it the more I realize that Best is the one who truly does the heavy lifting in it. Greer Garson received a Best Actress nomination for her charming, warm turn in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but her performance easily should have been placed in this category. Ona Mulson makes the most out of her little role as Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind, revealing a far warmer and gentler heart than it first seems. 
Predictions: Congratulations to Tahmeed Chowdhury, ruthiehenshallfan99, Michael Patison and omar for predicting my ranking! You can now choose a year (the years that have already been requested are: 1976, 1994, 1969, 1957, 2001, 1968, 1975, 1992).
The next year: 1976 (I know I previously said that 1994 was going to be the next year, but I checked and 1976 was requested before 1994)

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Olivia De Havilland, Gone with the Wind
  2. Gladys George, The Roaring Twenties - 4.5/5
  3. Kay Francis, In Name Only - 4.5/5
  4. Jean Arthur, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - 4.5/5
  5. Claire Trevor, Stagecoach - 4.5/5
  6. Rosalind Russell, The Women - 4.5/5
  7. Paulette Goddard, The Women - 4.5/5
  8. Hattie McDaniel, Gone with the Wind 
  9. Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights 
  10. Margaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz - 4.5/5

martedì 20 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939: Edna May Oliver in Drums Along the Mohawk

Edna May Oliver received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Sarah McKlennar in Drums Along the Mohawk.

Drums Along the Mohawk is an abysmal movie about a newlywed couple that has to face Indiands and Tories during the Revolutionary War while they try to establish their own farm in the Mohawk Valley. In all honesty, I have to admit I don't really care for this type of movies but I still can enjoy them if they're done well, which is not the case here. The movie looks nice but that's about it: it's a truly dull experience due to its extremely thin writing (there is not a single character that isn't a one-dimensional stereotype and the plot itself is just not very interesting) and the rather poor performances from the cast: I usually like Henry Fonda and while I think that there's nothing wrong with his performance here, I don't think he ever makes his bland character any more interesting; I also really enjoy Claudette Colbert in general but here she probably gives the worst performance of her career as she is just an incredibly pale and forgettable presence. The rest of the cast ranges from alright to god-awful. 

Edna May Oliver was one of the most popular character actresses of that era, and it's easy to see why: she has a lively, strong screen-presence and a rather unique voice. I'm actually very interested in seeing some of her acclaimed performances (A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Pride & Prejudice) and honestly, when I look closely at her performance in Drums Along the Mohawk alone, I do like it quite a bit: my problem is that her performance, although not bad, gets lost within the mess that the movie is and she is unfortunately heavily hindered by the terrible screenplay and the inconsistent pace and editing. She plays Mrs. McKennar, the though, sharp but good-hearted widow the Martins (Fonda and Colbert) work for: it's a rather stereotypical role - nothing really new or interesting, but always at least enjoyable when done well. Oliver is actually a very good fit for the role and she is the movie's only breath of fresh air - I would say there are a couple of moments in which her body language actually felt a bit awkward but overall she enjoyable portrays her character's lively spirit and certainly gets the movie's best lines, which she delivers quite well. Those first few moments are probably the ones in which she shines best, because after that she really doesn't get that much screen-time and she spends quite a lot of time in the background. I'd say she is consistently alright at portraying the character's brassy, uncouth qualities but she never becomes anything truly substantial becomes the movie really does not give her nothing to work with.

What I particularly hate is the fact that the movie really just wastes all of her emotional moments. The brief moment in which she speaks about her late husband is actually quite touching, but as soon as I started to think that some impressive acting was about to come the scene was already over. Also I think that her goodbye with Fonda's character when he leaves the house to go to war is a rather odd moment that could have been great if only the movie gave Oliver and Fonda a bit more time to develop the warm relationship between the two characters: Oliver is good in the scene but Mrs. McKlennar's emotional goodbye feels honestly quite out of the place since the characters had basically just met. Honestly, it's kind of frustrating to watch such a talented performer being wasted by the awful movie around her. 

Probably the worst moment of her performance is the scene when some Indians come to attack her house and she refuses to get off her bed, even as they set fire to it, because her husband made it: it's a downright laughable moment and in my opinion Oliver doesn't really do anything to alleviate the silliness of that moment - she's truly awkward as she just goes along with the ridiculous nature of the scene to the point of becoming actually a bit annoying. She partly makes up for it for her acting in her final scene in the movie which she portrays with the right amount of dignity and I thought she was actually moving in moments such as her goodbye to Gil and Lana but still her performance ends on a rather unsatisfying note as her very final moments as she says her husband's name right before dying feel a bit over-dramatic and exaggerated (I still blame the writing much more than I blame her, though).

I don't think this is a bad performance - despite a few awkward moments, she is overall fine in her stereotypical role and she has some rather enjoyable moments here and there. The real problem is that the movie squanders any attempt from Oliver to add more depth and emotions to her character, barely giving her any time to develop some chemistry with the two leads, wasting her few subtle, emotional moments and throwing at her a handful of ridiculous moments that are just laughable in the worst possible way. She's probably the best thing of the movie beside the gorgeous cinematography, but still that's not saying much and while I don't necessarily hate her nomination there were so many better choices in 1939 than her performance here. 


domenica 18 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939: Olivia De Havilland in Gone with the Wind

Olivia De Havilland received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind.

Melanie Hamilton is actually a far more difficult character to play than it seems. Melanie is the cousin and wife of the man that Scarlett loves, Ashley Wilkes: she is a kind, generous, selfless person and while at first sight these character traits might seem to be quite easy to portray, they actually are not. First off, it's hard to stand out when you're playing such a good-hearted character because it's hard to make those qualities all that interesting, especially not when you share the screen with Vivien Leigh's charismatic, complex and compelling Scarlett or Clark Gable's magnetic, fascinating Rhett. To be honest, Melanie is so good that she borders on being unrealistic and unbelievable, maybe even annoying. But Olivia De Havilland is a terrific, intelligent and skilled actress and she is perfectly up to the challenge: she doesn't only make Melanie believable - she actually makes her one of the most powerful characters of the movie. She takes a role that could have been very one-note and instead delivers one of the most astonishing supporting performances of all time. 

From her very first scene in the movie, De Havilland manages to make Melanie a truly endearing and likeable presence and she never makes the viewer doubt her kindness: behind each of her gentle and sweet words of admiration towards Scarlett, De Havilland brings such a honesty of feelings that it's impossible to believe that she might not be sincere. Her sweetness is never cloying nor one-note - De Havilland turns Melanie into a truly realistic and convincing character: she never seems to try hard to get the audience's sympathy, she effortlessly gains it by being such a naturally pleasant presence on-screen. Melanie is a rather quiet role that could have easily disappeared next to the "bigger" performances by her co-stars, but De Havilland's subtle and restrained approach ultimately work wonders for the character she is playing as her portrayal haunts you for a long time after the movie is over. Her chemistry with the rest of the cast is also absolutely top notch: De Havilland's chemistry with Leslie Howard is absolutely wonderful and perfectly fitting to their character's relationship - it's much more delicate and subtler than the one between Howard and Leigh, but it's also deeper and more poignant. Ashley thinks he is in love with Scarlett but deep down he actually loves Melanie: the three actors realize these perfectly well and therefore create such a wonderful dynamic between their characters that it's a treat to have them on-screen together. Her chemistry with Vivien Leigh is even better: De Havilland is wonderful at portraying Melanie's deep affection towards Scarlett, while Leigh is amazing as she portrays Scarlett's growing respect and admiration towards Melanie, whom she despises at the beginning. Their relationship is one of the strongest elements of Gone with the Wind and this is all thanks to the incredible talent of the two actresses.

As I said, De Havilland does a fantastic job a portraying Melanie's warm and altruistic nature. But over the course of the movie she excellently shows that Melanie is much more than a "goody-goody", as Scarlett puts it: she is a gentle and quiet woman but one who would do just about anything to protect the people she loves. I particularly love the scene in which Scarlett kills a man who was trying to steal stuff from her property and Melanie, after hearing the shot and thinking that Scarlett is in danger, arrives carrying a sword despite being physically very weak after giving birth to her son: in this moment, De Havilland perfectly shows a new side of Melanie and the fire and strength that lie under her delicate appearence. She is also terrific in the scene after Ashley, Rhett and Dr. Meade come home after making a night raid in a shanty town to avenge Scarlett, who had been the victim of an aggression there: again, De Havilland is perfect as Melanie skillfully lies to the captain in order to save the men's lives, showing so well Melanie's strength when it comes to protecting the people she holds dear. 

The best moments of her performance though come after Ashley's sister India sees her brother and Scarlett embracing and she spreads a gossip about the two having an affair. I love the scene when Scarlett arrives at Ashley's party and all of the invited people awkwardly stares at her, while Melanie goes to greet her warmly: it's a terrific scene as you can read all of the emotions across De Havilland's face - she shows that Melanie is aware of the gossip but does not believe it, because she loves Ashley and Scarlett too much to even suspect it might be true. It could have been easy to just deem Melanie as a bit dumb but she shows that Melanie's naivety comes from her goodness and not from stupidity. I also love the scene in which she comforts Rhett after Scarlett suffers a miscarriage: I particularly like it because De Havilland here shows that Melanie, after all, might be the wisest character of the movie as she is the only character who realizes that Scarlett deep down truly loves Rhett. In this scene she is also fantastic at portraying one of Melanie's defining traits: her desire to have children. De Havilland is so convincing at conveying it that she never makes you doubt that she would risk life in order to have another baby. Her final scene in the movie is also truly heartbreaking because of De Havilland's restrained, subtle and delicate approach and it's a fantastic closure for her performance - in this scene, Scarlett realizes how important Melanie was to her, and so do we. 

This is in my opinion a truly magnificent performance that should be as iconic and legendary as Leigh's and Gable's. She turns a potentially stock role into one of the most endearing and beautiful characters in movie history. This is, quite simply, one of my favorite performances ever and one that I just love even more on repeated viewings. Breathtaking work from a wonderful actress.


venerdì 16 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939: Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind

Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar from her only nomination for her performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.

Gone with the Wind is an amazing movie about the life and affairs of a charming but manipulative Southern belle during the American Civil War and its aftermath. It's a truly magnificent picture - I have to admit that the racist undertones can be a bit bothersome but to be honest, if you look at other movies from that era, its depiction of black characters is actually quite ahead of its time. The cast is great for the most part, the screenplay is wonderfully written and I actually don't mind at all the few changes from the novel, the cinematography is gorgeous and the score is an all-time best. It's a true masterpiece and one that I could watch a hundred of times and still not be bored by it.

As I mentioned before, there are elements regarding black characters in Gone with the Wind that can be a bit off-putting nowadays: as I mentioned above, they are still portrayed in a rather modern way considering it was 1939 but, still, a large chunk of the black characters in the movie are either violent or simple-minded and submissive (Pork, Prissy). The reason why I consider Gone with the Wind to be rather ahead of its time is the character of Mammy: she still is a slave and she seems actually quite content of being such but Hattie McDaniel brings so much life, honesty and depth to it that it becomes one of the movie's most memorable and admirable characters. 

One of Hattie McDaniel's tasks in the movie is to be a comic relief, and McDaniel is a truly terrific one. I loved each of her scenes with Vivien Leigh as the two actresses are just a delight to watch together and their comedic timing, as well as subtle facial expressions, couldn't be more perfect. Who can forget the scene in which Mammy tries to force Scarlett to eat before going to a party? It's a priceless moment made even more remarkable by the wonderful dynamic established by the two actresses. Past their funny exchanges, the chemistry between McDaniel and Leigh is absolutely amazing as they perfectly establish the relationship between Scarlett and Mammy: as much as they quarrel, Mammy is someone on whom Scarlett can always rely, knowing that she will always be there for her. Hattie McDaniel is excellent at portraying Mammy's nature which is both strong-willed and big-hearted, making her a truly comforting, wise and tender presence on screen. Mammy is also the only character, along with Rhett, who truly understands Scarlett and sees her for what she is: she respects her strength and determination but she also knows how manipulative and selfish she can be, and she is not afraid of calling her out on it. In doing this, McDaniel becomes both the conscience and emotional center of the movie as she is the witness of Scarlett's reckless actions and their consequences. I also really like her chemistry with Clark Gable and they both are playfully entertaining in their moments together: on her part, McDaniel is very good at showing Mammy's feelings towards Rhett go from disdain to respect and even friendship - and the moment in which Mammy finally acknowledges that she was wrong about him is a truly sweet one. 

Even in her dramatic moments, Hattie McDaniel is absolutely terrific: the scene when Scarlett comes back home to find out that her father has gone insane and her mother has died is made all the more heartbreaking thanks to McDaniel's devastated reactionary shots that are some of the movie's most haunting images. But her shining moment in the movie is her final scene which takes place after Bonnie's death and Mammy begs Melanie (co-nominee Olivia De Havilland) to convince Rhett to bury her: McDaniel is excellent as she describes to Melanie Scarlett's and Rhett's vicious accusations to one another - what she says is truly sad but it's how McDaniel says it that makes it truly devastating. Her tearful, desperate, exhausted, trembling delivery is simply incredible in its raw and honesty.

In the end, this is a fantastic performance by Hattie McDaniel who turns Mammy from a potentially paper-thin role into a three-dimensional, complex human being. She is such a warm, welcome presence throughout the whole movie and whenever she is asked to do more she delivers on all fronts. It's a richly deserving performance and one of the many great aspects of this amazing film. 


mercoledì 14 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939: Maria Ouspenskaya in Love Affair

Maria Ouspenskaya received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Grandmother Janou in Love Affair.

Love Affair is a fine melodrama about a French painter and an American singer who meet and fall in love on board of an ocean liner: they promise to see each other on the top of the Empire State Building six months later, but things don't go as planned. It's a movie I liked well enough although I don't think it ever becomes anything really all that special: the central romance is both charming and moving enough although I think that the chemistry between the two leading actors actually left something to be desired, mostly due to the fact that Charles Boyer' performance is a bit of a mixed bag: he is well cast as a handsome charmer and his final scene is terrific but I think that his acting style is a bit too cold to project the needed tenderness in his scenes with Irene Dunne.

Acting teacher Maria Ouspenskaya plays the role of Michel's (Boyer) grandmother, whom he visits with Terry (Dunne) during their trip. Grandmother Janou is fairly little role and the first time I saw the movie I have to admit I was left rather disappointed by Ouspenskaya's performance; so it came to me as a huge surprise that I found her to be the most remarkable part of the movie on a rewatch - in her ten minutes on-screen, Ouspenskaya delivers a pretty wonderful turn that manages to steal the whole movie. From the little I've seen from her, I can say that even in the smallest, most thankless roles Ouspenskaya still manages to be somewhat impressive due to her unique voice and her terrific physical acting: she makes the most out of the smallest gesture while never making her performance feel mannered or overcooked. This is true for this performance as well, and the small, subtle details of her performance are quite astonishing (such as the way she looks at her hands before playing the piano, just great).

Before grandmother Janou's appearence, Michel says that she is waiting to die in order to be reunited with her late husband. Without ever mentioning it herself, Ouspenskaya excellently conveys this through her performance - there is a delicate sadness to her performance that suggests her character's loneliness, but at the same time Ouspenskaya expertly makes her performance rid of any sort of bitterness: she embraces her upcoming death but she still lives her day with a warm, tender spirit. In their very short time together, Boyer and Ouspenskaya are both very impressive at portraying the tenderness and affection between their two characters and the actress also strikes up a convincing and unexpectedly powerful chemistry with Irene Dunne - actually, it's through Ouspenskaya's loving performance that I started to really care about the romance between Michel and Terry. In her brief exchanges with Dunne, Ouspenskaya is very good as Janou tells Terry how she wishes Michel would settle down with a good woman and then I think she is quite amazing in the last minutes of her performance: the way she watches Michel and Terry while she plays the piano, smiling as she finally thinks Michel has found the right woman for him, and then the way her face slowly freezes as she realizes that they soon have to leave is just perfect. Her line-delivery of "I don't like boat's whistles" is absolutely heartbreaking, and her goodbye to Michel and Terry is a touching closure to her performance.

Ouspenskaya never appears again, but her presence can be felt throughout the whole picture. There's really not that much to say about her performance: she takes a role that is very limited both by the screenplay and the screen-time and manages to make the most out of it: in her ten minutes she's charming, warm and heartbreaking. It's a little, beautiful performance from a wonderful actress, and one that is quite unforgettable within its limitations.


lunedì 12 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939: Geraldine Fitzgerald in Wuthering Heights

Geraldine Fitzgerald received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Isabella Linton in Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is a terrific film about the tormented and destructive love story between Heathcliff, a stable boy, and Cathy, who belongs to a higher class. First off, I have not read the book on which the movie is based so I'm probably less bothered by the several differences between the novel and the film. I personally find the movie to be great thanks to William Wyler's atmospheric direction, Gregg Toland's stunning cinematography and Alfred Newman's wonderful score. I think the acting is also very good - I didn't care for Merle Oberon's performance when I first saw the movie but she has really grown on me on a rewatch, and I think she would have been very deserving of an Oscar nomination for her effort here. 

Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Isabella Linton, the sister of Edgar who is the wealthy man Cathy marries. Fitzgerald does have a few scenes in the first half of the movie but these are pretty thankless moments in which she is mostly kept in the background. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald uses these few, sparse moments to build the foundations for the character of Isabella: she has the grace fitting to the wealthy and educated girl Isabella is but her performance is also rid of any pompousness and arrogance that can be found in people of her social position. Fitzgerald makes the most out of these scenes making Isabella a rather endearing presence, and while those moments are too little to have an impact per se they prove themselves to be necessary as they eventually make Isabella's eventual character arc resonate even more. 

Isabella starts to play an important part in the story once Heathcliff comes back as a rich man carrying desires of vengeance against Cathy and Edgar: he therefore buys Wuthering Heights from Cathy's brother and seduces Isabella in order to spite the two. Fitzgerald is terrific as she shows Isabella's growing attraction towards Heathcliff and their scenes together are beautifully acted on both ends: Olivier excellently shows Heathcliff's true intentions while Fitzgerald is very touching as she shows how Isabella genuinely wants to know Heathcliff and spend some time with him. The scene in which she visits Heathcliff with an excuse and tells him she would like to be his friend is a truly lovely moment thanks to Fitzgerald's heartfelt portrayal of Isabella's genuine feelings for the man. She's also excellent in the party scene as her sincerity and honesty make her naturally stand out among Olivier's and Oberon's characters, whose actions are at times very questionable. It would be quite easy to just deem Isabella as stupid and overly naive but Fitzgerald never oversimplifies her character and instead portrays Isabella as the worst victim of the story, a woman who simply happened to fall in love with the wrong person. She is fantastic in her confrontation with Merle Oberon that she portrays with an excellent display of passive aggressiveness, showing unexpected new layers of Isabella's personality. 

Her strongest moment in the movie though is her final scene that takes place a few months after Isabella's and Heathcliff's marriage. Isabella's transition from a graceful, warm girl to an embittered, somber woman is a bit rushed but Fitzgerald manages to make it work perfectly and she's excellent at portraying Isabella's physical and emotional state. She does a great job at carrying herself with a haggard, exhausted demeanor that bears no resemblance to the lively person she used to be and she is absolutely heartbreaking as she portrays Isabella's longing for Heathcliff to love her. Her line-delivery of "If Cathy died, I might begin to live" is a shocking, heart-stopping moment due to the amount of bitterness and coldness she brings to it. And she couldn't be more moving in her final plea to Heathcliff as she begs him to love her and not to go to Cathy's deathbed. It's a truly devastating moment acted to perfection by Fitzgerald - it's rare to find such raw acting from that era. 

The role of Isabella Linton could have been played wrong in a million ways: it has a very difficult and extreme character arc that has to happen in a short span of time and it features some very emotional scenes that are not easy to handle. Fitzgerald though nails the role giving such a heartbreaking portrayal of Isabella's decay and beautifully brings to life this tragic and compelling character. 


sabato 10 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1939

And the nominees are...

Olivia De Havilland - Gone with the Wind
Geraldine Fitzgerald - Wuthering Heights
Hattie McDaniel - Gone with the Wind
Edna May Oliver - Drums Along the Mohawk
Maria Ouspenskaya - Love Affair

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

giovedì 8 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005: Ranking

5. Frances McDormand in North Country
Frances McDormand gives a perfectly fine performance that is both funny and touching, but the extremely clichéd nature of the role prevents her from becoming anything more than quite good. 
Best scene: Glory finds out she is not a member of the board anymore.

4. Catherine Keener in Capote 
Catherine Keener makes the most out of her limited role thanks to her excellent chemistry with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and even if she isn't given the time and focus she deserves her subtle portrayal certainly adds to the film. 
Best scene: Her conversation with Truman at the premiere of To Kill a Mockingbird.

3. Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain
Williams doesn't get a lot of screen-time but she leaves a remarkable impression believably portraying Alma's transition from loving and unknowing to bitter and resented. She might not be the best thing about Brokeback Mountain but she's part of what makes it great.
Best scene: Alma confronts Ennis about his affair with Jack.

2. Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener
Rachel Weisz is absolutely terrific making Tessa much more than a plot device: she is fierce, passionate and charming and shares a beautiful chemistry with Fiennes. It's a fantastic, compelling performance that haunts the whole movie.
Best scene: Tessa convinces Sandy to give her the letter.

1. Amy Adams in Junebug
Amy Adams gives a phenomenal performance in Junebug, wonderfully blending comedy and drama. She is hilarious at portraying Ashley's child-like naivety and spontaneity, but she is also heartbreaking as she portrays her inner fears and vulnerabilities. It's an enchanting portrayal from a terrific actress.
Best scene: Her breakdown at the hospital.

Honorable Omissions: Emily Watson is amazing in The Proposition, showing the quiet storm of emotions behind Martha's controlled, reserved façade: her monologue in the bathtub is among the best acted scenes of 2005. Michelle Monaghan delivers a wonderful performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: with her unique, wonderful voice and terrific timing, she's scene-stealing, charming and funny while turning the potentially thin role of Harmony in a three-dimensional person. Maria Bello is devastating in History of Violence and she's quite striking as she portrays Edie's progressive loss of faith in her husband. Scarlett Johansson is fantastic in Match Point: she is alluring and charismatic in the beginning, and then does a great job at portraying Nora's growing neediness, jealousy and hysteria. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a bright spot in the otherwise flawed Happy Endings, bringing the right amount of charm and slyness to the role of the seductive, manipulative gold-digger. Tilda Swinton makes for a brilliant villain in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, showing the Witch's cold-hearted nature behind her apparently gentle and warm demeanor. I sort of hated Broken Flowers, which I thought wasted completely a potentially good story, but Jessica Lange's brief performance is excellent: she conveys a lifetime in about ten minutes, making Carmen probably the only character in the movie who truly feels like a real person. Laura Linney is very good in The Squid and the Whale, giving a truly realistic depiction of her imperfect but because of this human and relatable mother. 
Predictions: Congratulations to Calvin Law and GM! You can now choose a year. 
The next year: As requested, 1939.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Amy Adams, Junebug
  2. Emily Watson, The Proposition - 5/5
  3. Michelle Monaghan, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - 4.5/5
  4. Maria Bello, A History of Violence - 4.5/5
  5. Scarlett Johansson, Match Point - 4.5/5
  6. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Happy Endings - 4.5/5
  7. Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener 
  8. Tilda Swinton, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - 4.5/5
  9. Jessica Lange, Broken Flowers - 4/5
  10. Laura Linney, The Squid and the Whale - 4/5

martedì 6 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005: Catherine Keener in Capote

Catherine Keener received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Nelle Harper Lee in Capote.

Capote is a terrific film about writer Truman Capote's research for his novel In Cold Blood, based on the brutal murder of a Kansas family. I really liked the movie as I thought it was compelling and engaging from beginning to end with a surprisingly complex and nuanced script that makes the movie more of a character study than a biopic. Bennett Miller completely deserved his nomination for directing and I thought the cinematography was also great.

Catherine Keener plays the role of fellow writer Nelle Harper Lee, Capote's supportive, understanding friend who helps him throughout his research. Keener's nomination is not a particularly appreciated one as many people seem to think that her performance, while entirely adequate, never becomes anything substantial and she's often cited as an example for actors being nominated to an Oscar just because of their stature and/or their involvement in a high-quality movie. It's an understandable opinion: it's a very unshowy role that doesn't get much screen-time or even much depth either. It's indeed a very limited role as Keener's main task is to act as Capote's quiet listener, supporter and friend and she rarely gets the chance to step out of Philip Seymour Hoffman's shadow. This doesn't mean that this performance is unimpressive as within the heavy confines of the role, Keener manages to be an empathetic and intelligent presence that often serves as the movie's conscience, giving us glimpses of Harper Lee's life and personality outside of her relationship with Capote even if she's far from being the movie's focus. 

This is a performance that mostly relies on the actress' ability to share a believable and strong chemistry with the leading actor and thankfully Hoffman and Keener couldn't work better together: they have a great understanding of their character's friendship - both actors clearly show a tenderness and deep affection in their moments together and Keener's quiet, reserved approach works as a perfect counterpart to Hoffman's more flamboyant one. As I mentioned before, Keener never steps out of Hoffman's shadow but she still manages to leave an impression with the many silent, reactionary shots devoted to her: Keener conveys perfectly the history of this woman who has known Truman for a long time and who might be the only person who truly understands him. Lee is a very passive character but Keener makes a lasting impression as she silently conveys her character's feelings through her expressive face. I particularly like the scene in which she questions Truman about his feelings towards Perry Smith, one of the two murderers: when she asks "Do you hold him in esteem?" and he answers "Well, he's a gold mine", with her reaction Keener shows that Lee knows that Truman's statement has traces of truth but hides deeper, more genuine feelings. She is aware that Truman does care about Smith but never confronts him about it because she knows him, and knows that he would not discuss the matter. Over the course of the movie, I thought Keener was actually very moving as she portrayed Lee's growing sadness as she witnesses the callousness of some of Truman's actions: her performance is actually essential to the movie as she makes the viewer see more nuances and complexity of the titular character even if her own performance remains a bit limited by the screenplay. I loved her voice-over in the final scene when Truman calls Lee after the execution of the two men: her delivery of the final scene in which she admits that Truman probably couldn't have done anything to save the two men but that, in all honesty, he didn't want to as he wanted an ending for his book most of all; Keener delivers this line to perfection as she does not sound at all judgemental, she brings to it clarity and honesty completely fitting to her characterization of Lee. 

Keener makes the most out of each of the small moments she gets to add something to her character. I really like the scene in which she is having a conversation with a man about her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird: while Truman would have kept the conversation going correcting the man's many mistakes as he clearly knows very little about the movie, Lee just keeps nodding to end the conversation soon. In moments like this, Keener does a very good job at portraying Lee's personality which is entirely different from Capote's - about her work, she is just as quiet and reserved as she is in her life. My favorite moment of her whole performance is probably the scene at the premiere of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird: Keener is great as she shows her happiness over its success, and then she is excellent during Lee's conversation with Truman, who is too distraught from his own dilemma to even congratulate with his friend. Keener is very poignant as she shows Lee's sensitivity as she comforts Truman but also her heartbreak at seeing her friend's selfishness even in such an important moment for her. Her reaction when she asks him if he liked the movie and he doesn't answer perfectly sums up their friendship in just a second.

The movie doesn't really give enough time, focus and depth to allow Keener to give a great performance, but she adds a lot to the movie nonetheless. She is a warm, welcome presence whenever she appears and she shares a terrific chemistry with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and to her credit she even manages to amplify the impact of her co-star's performance as through her work here we see other layers of Capote's persona. It's a strong, subtle performance and while I don't think it's an outstanding achievement it's still one I admire. 


sabato 3 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005: Frances McDormand in North Country

Frances McDormand received her fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Glory Dodge in North Country

North Country is a flawed film about a female miner who files a lawsuit against the company she works for because of the many cases of abuse and sexual harassment that the women at the mine have to endure. I wouldn't say that the movie is a failure as there is a certain effectiveness in it that mostly comes from the leading performance but it's not a very good picture. The screenplay is very heavy-handed and the courtroom scenes in particular sometimes verge on being a bit ridiculous due to how unrealistic they are. It features a truly great cast that unfortunately is not very well utilized as almost every role feels a bit underwritten.

Frances McDormand is an actress I always enjoy watching on screen: she was a wonderful screen-presence and she can pull off comedy and drama equally well. It's mostly thanks to those quality of hers that she manages to breath life into the character of Glory which is, overall, little more than a cliché: for most of the time, she's the older, wiser, wisecracking friend that has been played million of times. Glory is not a particularly original exposition of it, but thanks to her natural talent and her dedication to the role McDormand always manages to be quite enjoyable whenever she appears on screen. She sells her character's funny remarks without ever overdoing the sass and brings a nice bit of humor to the movie. The two actresses don't share that much screen-time together and their relationship is not particularly complex, but McDormand and Charlize Theron manage to convey the deep and meaningful friendship between Glory and Josey and their small interactions are tender and heartfelt. I also like very much McDormand's chemistry with Sean Bean who plays her husband and I really wish they had more screen-time together as they are incredibly sweet in their short moments together. 

Glory works with Josey at the mine and McDormand does a fine job at portraying Glory's attitude towards the men at the mine. Unlike the other women in the mine, Glory actually stands up to them with her biting remarks to the point that they actually respect her a little bit but at the same time, unlike Josey, she accepts the harassments as part of the job and her pride keeps her from complaining. McDormand portrays Glory's view on the subject a striking counterpoint to both Josey and the other women: unfortunately, this is the only truly interesting aspect of the character as Glory is otherwise extremely underwritten. McDormand does not get the screen-time and the focus to deepen her relationships with either Theron or Bean, or even to do all that much in general. There is a scene in which Josey, during a huge outburst, angrily tells Glory that she can't tell her how to handle her son as she never had children of her own, and Glory is visibly hurt by this but unfortunately this aspect of the character is never explored.

In the second half of the movie, Josey discovers that Glory has Lou Gehrig's Disease: McDormand portrays the decay of Glory's health in a very realistic fashion and she's particularly moving in the moment in which the board members of the mine tell her she's not a part of them anymore - the moment in which she walks away with her crutches trying not to cry is probably the most effective moment of her performance. She is also quite good in a later scene at the hospital and the moment in which she tells the lawyer to "fuck off" through the machine that allows her to speak is both funny for what she says and touching for her physical condition as she says that. Her final scene in the courtroom in which she is paralyzed in a weelchair and unable to sepak and makes her husband read a letter in which she says she stands with Josey is a very touching moment in which McDormand does some strong physical acting, but it's also a very short one that ends soon. 

In the end, Frances McDormand completely commits herself to a role it isn't worth her efforts. She delivers a fine performance that is enjoyable in parts and touching in others, but the role is too underwritten and clichéd to allow her to shine. She improves North Country whenever she is on screen and while she can't escape the shallowness of the script, she admirably tries to.


giovedì 1 settembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2005: Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener

Rachel Weisz won the Oscar from her only nomination for her performance as Tessa Quayle in The Constant Gardener.

The Constant Gardener is a very strong film about a man trying to get at the bottom of the murder of his wife, a political activist who was investigating on a powerful pharmaceutical company shortly before her death. I liked the movie just fine the first time I saw it but on a rewatch I found it surprisingly haunting, also thanks to Ralph Fiennes' compelling leading performance. It's a nicely shot movie with a well-written screenplay that sends the message home without ever feeling heavy-handed.

The role of Tessa Quayle is a very difficult one under many points of view and one that is very easy to get all wrong. She is an empathetic, altruistic woman who deeply cares about the lives of poor people in Africa but at the same time her actions are sometimes a bit careless if not downright puzzling - in more than one instance, she loudly insults influential, powerful people, endaring her own life rather than helping the people she cares about. But Rachel Weisz somehow manages to sell completely the character - she brings a lot of intelligence to the character but also a great deal of passion which explain her sometimes irrational behavior. Her first encounter with the diplomat Justin (Ralph Fiennes) in which she passionately condemns the needless violence carried out on African countries is a particularly excellent scene in which Weisz perfectly builds the foundation for the character of Tessa - she is passionate and she is not afraid of speaking her own mind but at the same time she is completely rid of any arrogance or pretentiousness. From her first minute on screen, Weisz is a radiant and captivating presence, making Tessa an endearing character we care about. 

Her chemistry with Fiennes is particularly excellent as the two actors are just incredibly sweet in their tender, intimate moments together. Weisz again has the difficult task of conveying both her genuine love towards Justin as well as the reasons she approached him in the first place - convince him to take her to Africa. Incredibly, Weisz pulls it off: she is excellent in the scene in which she asks him to take her there with him as she so perfectly shows the underlying determination behind her calm, controlled plea; on the other hand, she is completely convincing at portraying Tessa's sincere, deep love for her husband. One of Weisz' most effective moments is in the scene in which she breastfeeds an orphan newborn after the death of her own baby - it could have been an unbelievable, even forced moment and it might have even made look Tessa as indifferent towards the death of her own baby. But, again, Weisz understands so much her character that she manages to make this scene completely believable: she is absolutely heartbreaking in the scene as she poignantly portrays her grief over the loss of her child but also her selflessness and willingness to help people even when she is facing a tragedy herself. Her plea to Sandy (Danny Huston) to help her is another excellent moment that shows perfectly Tessa' determination to get what she wants. 

One of the most interesting questions the movie makes is how far would Tessa actually go in order to accomplish her goals? It's a very interesting question that puzzles the viewer for a large chunk of the movie, particularly due to a scene in which Tessa accepts to eventually have sex with Sandy if he gives her an important letter she wants to read. It's a brilliantly acted scene by Weisz who doesn't quite make clear what Tessa's intentions are - is she really willing to have sex with Sandy or is she just lying in order to get the letter? Weisz' portrayal leaves the question with an open answer which makes her character extremely fascinating even after she leaves the picture. When later on Justin reads a letter she finds in Tessa' room, it is revealed that she had no intention of keeping her word and Weisz' voice-over is absolutely heartbreaking as a guilt-stricken Tessa asks herself if she has gone too far and if, ultimately, the end justifies the means.

Tessa Quayle is a tricky character but Rachel Weisz manages to pull it off wonderfully: while the character itself can be seen as a set-up for Justin' eventual search of the truth, Weisz makes her a three-dimensional, complex human being and even when she is off-screen you can still feel her haunting, vivid presence hanging all over the movie. When we finally see her again at the end of the movie, we truly realize the greatness of Weisz' achievement and how much she made out of Tessa' character. It's a great work deserving of its Oscar by a wonderful (and, in my opinion, underrated) actress.