lunedì 31 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1994: Ranking

5. Helen Mirren in The Madness of King George
Helen Mirren is limited by a rather standard part but she nonetheless does some impressive work, effectively portraying the Queen's anguish over her husband's condition as well as her determination to get him back. 
Best scene: The King accuses Queen Charlotte of having an affair with her own son.

4. Jennifer Tilly in Bullets over Broadway
Jennifer Tilly delivers a wonderfully entertaining performance, perfectly showing the reasons why the character would be so annoying to the other characters without actually making her performance annoying. What is lacking in depth is completely made up for by her terrific comedic timing and delivery.
Best scene: Olive practises her "superior laugh" in the car.

3. Rosemary Harris in Tom & Viv
A quietly haunting piece of work. Harris delivers a masterclass in subtlety, poignantly conveying Rose' concern over her daughter's condition. She's the movie's heart and conscience and her final scenes are a knockout. 
Best scene: Rose's final confrontation with Tom.

2. Dianne Wiest in Bullets over Broadway
Wiest manages to add some nuance and vulnerability to a potentially one-note character, but it's the comedy that makes her so unforgettable: she is the definition of scene-stealer and gives an over-the-top performance without ever becoming hammy. She gives an absolutely hilarious performance from start to finish.
Best scene: "Don't speak!"

1. Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction
Thurman delivers a unique performance that fits perfectly within Tarantino's vision: she is a captivating, magnetic presence and she shares a brilliant chemistry with John Travolta. It's a performance that is extremely funny at times and quietly heartbreaking in others. Amazing work.
Best scene: Mia tells the joke.

Honorable Omissions: Kirsten Dunst gives one of my favorite child performances ever in Interview with the Vampire: she is chilling when she reveals Claudia's ruthless side beneath her sweet looks and she is amazing at portraying the plight of her character later on in the movie, as she is a teenager, and then an adult, trapped inside a child's body. It's a phenomenal portrayal from a wonderful actress. Brooke Smith' performance in Vanya on 42nd Street is incredible as well: she is luminous and warm in the role of Sonya and she's absolutely devastating as she reveals her character's vulnerability and loneliness due to her plain appearence. Her final monologue is utter brilliance. I know many people find it a weak movie, but I personally enjoyed The Hudsucker Proxy very much and I thought Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance was wonderful: she is great at channeling the style of the 40s screwball comedies but past that she shares a poignant and entertaining chemistry with Tim Robbins and she does a beautiful job at conveying Amy's gradual loss of her cynism. Mia Kirshner is terrific in Exotica, bringing both the sensuality and the sensitivity needed for the role and gradually revealing the layers of her character. Arsinée Khanjian is also very effective in the same movie - she doesn't really have a developement but she's a calm, reassuring and warm presence and she's quite moving at portraying her character's sadness. Kristin Scott Thomas' performance as the sophisticated yet lonely friend of the main character in Four Weddings and a Funeral is just wonderful, and the scene in which she reveals her love for him is just heartbreaking. Alfre Woodard is fantastic in Crooklyn, effectively conveying her character's warmth, hidden behind her stern façade, as well as the exhaustion that comes from her hard life. Sally Field is both warm and touching in her limited role in Forrest Gump. Virna Lisi is outstanding as Caterina De Medici in Queen Margot, and I wish she was in the movie more: she is brilliant at portraying her character's manipulative nature making for an excellent villain but I particularly loved the small, isolated moments in which Lisi conveys a certain bitterness or even remorse.
The next year: As requested, 1969.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:

  1. Kirsten Dunst, Interview with the Vampire - 5/5
  2. Brooke Smith, Vanya on 42nd Street - 5/5
  3. Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction
  4. Dianne Wiest, Bullets over Broadway
  5. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hudsucker Proxy - 4.5/5
  6. Virna Lisi, Queen Margot - 4.5/5
  7. Mia Kirshner, Exotica - 4.5/5
  8. Alfre Woodard, Crooklyn - 4.5/5
  9. Rosemary Harris, Tom & Viv 
  10. Kristin Scott Thomas, Four Weddings and a Funeral - 4.5/5

mercoledì 26 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1994: Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction

Uma Thurman received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction.

Pulp Fiction is a brilliant movie about four intertwined stories involving two hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife and two diner bandits. It's an absolutely amazing film that doesn't have a single weak link: Tarantino's style makes the story absolutely unique and captivating from the very beginning yet it never overwhelms it; the screenplay is one of the best ever written; and the cast is terrific, with every single actor doing a solid job even with the tiniest part. It's quite simply a masterpiece.

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction, I have to admit I found Uma Thurman's performance a little bit overrated. I thought she gave a good, charismatic turn and I understood why the performance was so iconic but I never felt she gave the amazing performance many people claimed she did. My main reservation about her performance was not really about her acting, but on the limitations of the role itself, which I felt was a little one-dimensional. Rewatching the movie two years later, I've grown to appreciate this performance much more: the first time I felt the writing of the character was limited, but now I actually think it's terrific - the screenplay leaves a lot of room for interpretation and there is actually a great depth in the character that might not be obvious but that impressed me incredibly this time around. And Thurman nails every single aspect of the character, making every second of her screen-time count. 

Thurman plays Mia, the wife of the gangster Marsellus Wallace: her husband asks hit man Vincent Vega (John Travolta) to take her for an evening out while he is out of town. In her first scene, we see Mia from behind while she snorts cocaine, and then we see a shot of her feet as she utters "Let's go": it's certainly a memorable and original entrance for the character that perfectly establishes the tone for the rest of her performance that is at all times extremely unique and bizzarre in the best way possible. One key element of Thurman's performance is her chemistry with Travolta: if the chemistry had not worked, her entire performance would have collapsed. Thankfully, both actors are an absolute thrill to watch on-screen and their performances work together exceptionally well. Their relationship is so wonderful because it's so uncoventional - it's not what one would call friendship but rather a mutual understanding of each other's feelings and sensation and both actors convey this with amazing skill and subtlety. Whether they are talking about utter banalities or almost philosophical matters, you can't take your eyes off them because they are so compelling and captivating to watch. Thurman herself makes Mia an unforgettable character: the style of her performance works wonderfully within Tarantino's vision but just like the movie itself Thurman never lets the style overwhelm the substance. At first, Thurman makes for a very alluring and mysterious presence but as the dinner goes on she reveals some poignant layers about Mia's personality: there's an otherworldly quality about her performance that makes it utterly charismatic but that also creates a certain distance between her and the other cast members, giving a sense of loneliness and melancholy that makes the character all the more remarkable. I also found Thurman to be quite touching as Mia speaks about the pilot of a TV series that wasn't picked up in which she starred: in that moment she subtly suggests Mia's underlying boredom and unsatisfaction with her life and the hint of bitterness in her voice is extremely haunting. Thurman never asks for the viewer's sympathy, though, and she is not afraid of making Mia look a bit vain and shallow - she never oversimplifies the character one way or another, and therefore makes her surprisingly three-dimensional. And past that, I found her performance to be exceptionally funny at times and her line-delivery of "I said goddamn, goddamn! Goddamn..." as she "powders her nose" as she puts it is absolutely hilarious. And who can forget the dancing scene with Travolta? Absolute magic.

In the second half of her performance, after Mia mistakes heroine for cocaine, snorts it and overdoses, Thurman technically doesn't have to do all that much as she is passed out for most of the time but she still deserves quite a lot of credit for the overdose scene as she portrays it with terrifying realism. And the moment in which she finally wakes up after being given a shot of adrenaline through the heart is pitch-perfect thanks to Thurman's excellent acting. What makes me truly love her performance is actually her final scene with Travolta: Mia's glamour is completely gone and Thurman shows her for the pathetic, broken mess she is. I found Thurman to be absolutely heartbreaking as Mia tells Vincent a joke she said in the pilot - there's such a delicate sadness in the way she delivers it that it's just beautiful and unforgettable. It's a bittersweet ending scene for the character and Thurman and Travolta deserve a lot of credit for the emotional weight the manage to bring to it. 

This is a fantastic performance from Uma Thurman who doesn't even have that much screen-time but delivers a startling turn: she is raw, delicate, funny, heartbreaking and iconic all at once and makes Mia one of the most powerful elements of an already pitch-perfect movie. A stunning performance that I already can't wait to revisit.


domenica 23 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1994: Helen Mirren in The Madness of King George

Helen Mirren received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George.

The Madness of King George is a pretty good film that depicts King George III's descent into insanity and his eventual recovery, as well as the political intrigues that happened during that time. I wouldn't necessary call it a truly great movie and I think it takes its time before becoming truly interesting, but overall it's still a rather effective experience with some memorable highlights. I think Interview with the Vampire should have won the Oscar for Best Production Design, but I wouldn't say this movie was unworthy of its win. The supporting cast is uniformly fine, with the standout being Ian Holm who brings the right amount of energy to his role as Dr. Willis. Rupert Everett definitely gives a rather over-the-top performance but I think it works for the character he plays. 

As I expected, Queen Charlotte is not a particularly complex or original role. She embodies the archetype of the suffering but loyal and supportive wife: it's a sort of role that gives an actress the opportunity to show off her dramatic talent as it often gets a good deal of teary-eyed, emotional scenes but it's just as often a rather standard and limited role that is rarely in depth. The writing behind the character of Queen Charlotte is nothing truly remarkable and it suffers a bit from its predictability: Helen Mirren might not truly overcome the limitations of the role but thanks to her undeniable talent she manages to leave an extremely strong impact.

First off, Mirren is just perfectly cast in the role: her innate grace and elegance makes her an ideal choice for the role of a queen (no wonder she was nominated twelve years later for another performance as a member of the royal family) and even when she is doing or saying very little she still quietly impresses because of the calm dignity she brings to the role. She doesn't even share that much screen-time with Nigel Hawthorne (who plays the King) so the relationship between the two characters could have easily fallen flat considering how little time the actors have to develop it. Thankfully, the two actors share together a brilliant chemistry that makes the affection between the King and Queen never in question: on her part, Mirren is particularly excellent in their more intimate moments as she downplays the character's poise and refinement and instead shows a much warmer side of her - their few moments alone stand out because they are purposefully rid of the artifice that is present in their scenes at court and the two actors perfectly realize it, consequently adopting a more subtle acting style. Mirren also does a great job at conveying her character's growing concern over her husband's increasingly more puzzling behavior and she delivers a very convincing portrayal of a woman struggling to mask her worry behind her proper façade. In my opinion the highlight of her performance is the scene in which her husband accuses her of having an affair with their son: Mirren is heartbreaking as she portrays her character's shock and disbelief at the accusation as well as her plight as she witnesses her husband's insanity. She finds another extremely moving moment in the following scene when she begs her son to let her see her husband and he refuses: Mirren perfectly captures on-screen her character's disillusionement as she finally sees her son's callousness and viciousness and she impressively conveys her character's desperation due to her husband's apparent fate.

Her character unfortunately is a bit tossed aside throughout the rest of the movie but Mirren still finds some extremely powerful moments whenever the movie focuses on her. She is very touching at portraying her character's pain and I particularly love the brief moment in which she whispers "Mr. King" as she sees her husband being carried away - simply heartbreaking. But what I appreciate the most about her performance is the quiet strength she brings to Queen Charlotte, who is determined to have her husband back: there is a fire in her performance that makes it compelling and captivating to watch. Her reunion with her husband is another excellent moment in her performance made especially powerful by the excellent chemistry between the two actors - with a few exchanged looks they manage to convey more than many other actors do in over an hour. Towards the end of the movie Mirren is, again, tossed aside but she is still wholly solid in the role and her final scene with Hawthorne is a rather sweet, heartwarming one. 

To sum up, this is not an amazing performance because of the role's heavy limitations, but within those Mirren manages to thrive: she brings a royal elegance to the court scenes and a warm delicacy to the more intimate ones and she brings to life a potentially stock character. It's a nice, moving and remarkable performance from an outstanding actress. 


venerdì 21 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1994: Rosemary Harris in Tom & Viv

Rosemary Harris received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Rose Haigh-Wood in Tom & Viv.

Tom & Viv is a rather poor movie about the stormy relationship between poet T. S. Eliot and his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood. The film might have a few decent moments and some aspects are actually good enough such as the costume design and the score, but otherwise it's extremely flawed. The direction is completely unremarkable and lets the movie be dictated by the screenplay - which is not very good either. My biggest issue with it is the writing of Vivienne's character: it's an absolute mess as the movie doesn't really seem to decide if it wants to portray her insanity as tragic (see the final scene) or almost comedic (such as the scene in which she throws her husband's clothers out of the window or that weird knife scene). I think this could have been a great movie as the story is a good one but this is a truly unsatisfying result. 

Rosemary Harris plays Rose Haigh-Wood, Vivienne's mother. It's not a role that is particularly rich or rewarding and it doesn't get that much screen-time either: considered the quality of the movie around her, you would imagine this performance was bound to be a disaster. But Rosemary Harris is an absolutely brilliant actress who can convey a whole lot of feelings while seemingly doing little and in Tom & Viv she manages to overcome completely the limitations of the script delivering by far the most powerful performance of the whole movie. We first see Rose when she finds out of Tom's and Vivienne's secret marriage: in this brief scene, Harris perfectly portrays Rose as the kind of character she's supposed to play - the proper, aristocratic lady. But in the few following scenes Harris unexpectedly reveals Rose as a much more open-hearted and warmer variation of this type of character (which has been seen so often on-screen). In her first scene with Willem Dafoe's Tom she is absolutely terrific as she portrays Rose as a much more tolerant person that expected - Harris brings such a great, welcome amount of warmth and gentleness to her part that she makes for an incredibly endearing presence and she establishes perfectly Rose's defining character trait: her love for her daughter. Sadly, Harris and Miranda Richardson don't share many scenes together but in their few moments Harris does a fantastic job at conveying both Rose' affection towards Viv but also a great concern for her mental health - it is in fact revealed that her worries about Viv's marriage with Tom was not due to the fact that she didn't approve of him, but rather due to Viv's extremely erratic behavior and mood swings. I particularly like the scene in which Rose carries Viv out of the dining room as Viv starts behaving strangely, even telling her husband that a friend of theirs wants to have sex with her: Harris is heartbreaking as she so flawlessly shows Rose' plight and helplessness as she witnesses her daughter's condition becoming progressively worse.

As I mentioned before, Harris doesn't really have that great amount of scenes throughout the movie but she can make a big impact only with her facial expressions and silent reactions. As the movie progresses, she movingly portrays Rose' developement throughout the years - she gradually becomes more lonely as she goes through the loss of her husband and she also becomes increasingly more worried and exhausted by her daughter's unpredictable nature. She is absolutely great in the scene in which the family has to decide how to split Rose's husband's goods and Viv seems to be only concerned with having a house and a car without even bothering to mourn her father: Harris is very touching at expressing her shock and disappointment towards her daughter's behavior - she barely speaks in the scene yet in the end she is the one to remember from it. 

But her very best scenes come in the movie's last half an hour. I think she is excellent in the scene where Rose speaks with Tom and the doctors who want to visit Viv to determine if she should be put in an asylum or not. Harris does some beautiful subtle acting here - she never even raises her voice but you can see her heart breaking as she speaks with them. There's no big moment, no big tears or shouting, but Harris manages to touch the viewer on a much quieter, more intimate level because she portrays so perfectly a woman who, in that precise moment, loses what she loves the most. And I love that small moment in which the doctor calls her Mrs. Wood and she replies in a firm voice "It's Haigh-Wood" - it adds a nice touch of dignity and strength to the character, a woman who manages to pull herself together even as she is devasted. And her final scene in the movie as she remprimands Tom for his selfishness while she packs is by far the highlight of the whole movie - no wonder it was used as Harris' Oscar clip: she delivers her monologue with outstanding subtlety and dignity, ranging from melancholy upon her daughter's fate to guilt for letting it happen to quiet but chilling coldness towards Tom. Her eyes alone manage to be more reproachful than many actresses do in an entire movie. Her line-delivery of "You swore to us, Tom, that you would always look after Vivi. And now you're famous on a bookshelf. What do we have left to give you?" is simply heartbreaking and painful in its quietness.

Overall, this is a fantastic performance by Rosemary Harris, who turns a potentially stock role into the movie's strongest assset. I know she is considered by many a filler nominee but I think she does an absolutely terrific job at becoming the movie's quiet, calm and finally devastating centerpiece. I really loved her work, and if I'll ever rewatch Tom & Viv it would only be to revisit this wonderful masterclass of subtlety. 


mercoledì 19 ottobre 2016

Best Supporting Actress 1994: Jennifer Tilly in Bullets over Broadway

Jennifer Tilly received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Olive Neal in Bullets over Broadway.

Olive Neal is the girlfriend of gangster Nicki Valenti, who agrees to produce David's play at one condition - that Olive will play a part in it. The problem is that Olive as an actress is cringe-worthy and past that she is annoying and demanding. It's actually a much harder role than it seems at first glance: how can an actor portray a bad actor without seeming excessively hammy? How can someone portray a character who is grating and annoying without actually giving a grating performance? Thankfully, Jennifer Tilly seems to be born for this role and perfectly pulls it off. 

With her odd, unique voice that is both raspy and high-pitched, Tilly makes Olive an unforgettable creation that stands as one of the strongest performances in the movie. She perfectly portrays Olive's bratty qualities that make her insufferable at the eyes of the other characters - her Olive is childish, temperamental and selfish, but at the same time she manages to portray these qualities in an extremely entertaining fashion: you never once doubt that the other characters wouldn't be able to stand her but nonetheless there is not a single moment in her performance that isn't an absolute joy for the viewer. How can you just not love her in that scene at her house when she greets David and Julius attempting to look refined and classy while being so obviously not ("Charmed, charmed, charmed")? And she's an absolute hoot in the rehearsal scenes because she makes every single line count ("I'm usually very professional") and I particularly love the moment in which she expresses her questions about her character and her lines ("What is she, retarded?"): it's clear that Olive does not belong in the theatre and Jennifer Tilly's performance and character is so purposefully out of tune with the rest of the scenes that it's just hilarious to watch. And she is excellent at portraying Olive's bad acting: as I mentioned before, it's one of the trickiest parts of her performance but she delivers it extremely well - she makes Olive a properly awkward performer without ever becoming too much. I've read that Jennifer Tilly was the only actor on set to be allowed to improvise - this works perfectly for her performance as it makes Olive an even more unpredictable and explosive character: some of Tilly's best moments are in the small instances in which she talks over the other actors or say something quickly under her breath. I love her chemistry with Chazz Palminteri (who plays her bodyguard, Cheech) - they don't even share that many scenes together but they make their bickering so much fun to witness, particularly when Cheech is helping Olive to memorize her lines (the scene in which they argue because she adds a completely random and out of the place "Ah!" to the script is just priceless and one the movie's highlights, as well as the scene later on in which she practices her "superior laugh"). 

What I admire the most about Tilly's performance is that she manages to be top notch even in parts of the movie I don't even like all that much. For example, I really don't care for the few scenes devoted to Olive's affair with another actor, Warner Purcell (Jim Broadbent), as I don't think they were really necessary but Tilly still shines in those moments, especially in the scene in which she tries to prevent Nick from finding Warner who is hinding in the role - she again is absolutely hilarious and she - and Broadbent to a lesser extent - prevents those scenes from being a waste of time. Also I have several problems with her character's closure: first off, it feels a bit too rushed and secondly it's just way too brutal and the fact that it seems to be supposed to be funny makes it all the more awkward, throwing the movie's tone off balance. Tilly's performance though remains unharmed by this and her performance keeps being terrific until the very end. 

Tilly's performance must have been a surprise back then - she hadn't been nominated to any other award, not even small critics' ones, and I guess many people were expecting Robin Wright or Sally Field from Forrest Gump to be nominated instead of her, or even Jamie Lee Curtis from True Lies or Kirsten Dunst from Interview with the Vampire (who was indeed amazing). Nonetheless I'm extremely happy that the Academy chose to nominate her work was it is a truly hilarious performance from start to finish. She just nails her character and gives a consistently entertaining portrayal - the more I think about her, the more I love her and I would say that there is a possibility I might upgrade her rating in the future. 


lunedì 17 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1994: Dianne Wiest in Bullets over Broadway

Dianne Wiest received her second Oscar from her third nomination for her performance as Helen Sinclair in Bullets over Broadway.

Bullets over Broadway is an extremely entertaining comedy about a struggling playwright in 1928's New York who is forced to hire a mobster's talentless, annoying girlfriend in order to get his drama produced. I thought it was just okay the first time I saw it but on a rewatch I actually found it much funnier than I remembered: it's not an amazing movie, but it's very enjoyable from start to finish thanks to a wonderfully playful cast and a pitch-perfect screenplay. It's not necessarily perfect (some of the most violent scenes seem a bit out of the place within the movie's light-hearted atmosphere) but I found it very good this time. Out of Woody Allen's movies of the 90s I've seen, this is quite easily the best. 

Dianne Wiest plays the role of Helen Sinclair, the play's alcoholic leading lady who used to be a renowned actress. I have to admit I didn't care much for her performance the first time I saw the movie and I found myself a bit disappointed - in that year's award season, she basically won every single possible award for her performance in Bullets over Broadway (expect for the National Board of Review which curiously went to Rosemary Harris in Tom & Viv) and her performance is consistently praised my many people, and at first I really didn't get it. I thought she was fun enough but not the great comedic gem many people said she was. I rewatched Bullets over Broadway without really expecting my opinion to change but, as it is often the case when I (re)watch a movie without having high expectations, I ended up being positively surprised.

Dianne Wiest's performance in this movie is far from being a subtle one - there probably isn't a single moment in her performance that can be really described as quiet, but that is entirely fitting to the role of Helen Sinclair, a woman who acts in her life just as much she acts on stage. Wiest gives a purposefully broad performance but she never becomes excessively over-the-top or overbearing: each of her line-delivery is pretty much on point as she gives them the right touch of theatricality to them and just the right amount of emphasis that suggests that she is a bit of a phony but never overplays this aspect of her character either. Also I have to give credit to Dianne Wiest for not turning Helen Sinclair in the cartoon she so easily could have been - the role barely gives her any depth or complexity but Wiest manages to show a certain vulnerability, making her a little more human. There is a clinginess and neediness in her behavior that suggests Helen's loneliness - she used to be a great star, but she is now more famous for "being an alduteress and an alcoholic", as her agent puts it. Wiest lets us see the fragility behind the theatrics and she makes us realize that Helen believes this might be her last chance to revive her career. The screenplay never seems to be very interested in exploring Helen in depth but Wiest manages to ground her character, preventing it from becoming a one-note joke. 

But, of course, the comedy is why this performance is so remarkable. Her first scene alone is a a masterclass - she's a real tour-de-force and commands the screen like no one else ("I do Electra. I do Lady Macbeth!"). She flawlessly portrays Helen's diva-like behavior and her body language, line-deliveries and facial expressions couldn't be more perfect. Throughout the whole movie she has so many incredibly funny moments - sometimes she is actually funny not because of what she says but because of how she says it. For example, her monologue about the role she played when she comes to the theatre for rehearsals is incredibly enjoyable because it is completely out of the place but what makes it absolutely hilarious is Wiest's theatrical, overcooked approach that is just deliciously entertaining. And in later scenes she has so many brilliantly delivered lines that she makes all the more hilarious ("Please forgive me, my pedicurist had a stroke", "The world will open to you like an oyster.. No, not an oyster. A magnificent vagina!", "She makes you want to sneak up behind her with a pillow and suffocate her" and probably my favorite "Listen, how long as it been since you had a real hemorrage?"). 

Her best scenes are probably the ones she shares with the playwright David (John Cusack). She is absolutely hilarious in their first scenes as Helen flirts with him in an attempt to make him rewrite her role in order to make it more interesting - the overdone intensity of her acting in those scenes is what makes them absolutely priceless. When David and Helen embarks on an unlikely affair, the two actors couldn't be more funny together: the scene at Helen's favorite spot of Central Park is one of her performance's highlight (the over-the-topness of her "Don't. We must be strong" when David confesses his love for her is so wonderfully amusing) and her monologue in the scene is perfectly portrayed by her. But my favorite scene is easily the one in which she gives David a cigarette case for his birthday and she consistently silents him as he tries to say something: her famous "Don't speak" is hilarious and it keeps being such even as she repeats it often throughout the whole movie - it might have been a tiresome shtick but Wiest's delivery is what makes it amazing. Cusacks' and Wiest' later scenes might not be quite as hilarious as their first ones but they still manage to find some memorable and funny moments, such as the scene on the train ("Oh the train is moving so fast! Oh, David, it's so fast! Hold me, hold me! No, no, don't speak! No, Don't speak!).

This could have been a very one-dimensional performance or even a very bad one but Dianne Wiest takes the role and brings it to another level. It's not necessarily a truly complex performance but it doesn't need to be: I thought her performance was amazing, hilarious and scene-stealing. She gives a perfect performance because she is properly broad without being hammy and she manages to be consistently compelling and funny despite her role being written as rather one-note (it doesn't even get a decent closure). This is a wonderful performance by a terrific, talented actress. 


venerdì 14 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1994

And the nominees are...

Rosemary Harris - Tom & Viv
Helen Mirren - The Madness of King George
Uma Thurman - Pulp Fiction
Jennifer Tilly - Bullets over Broadway
Dianne Wiest - Bullets over Broadway

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

mercoledì 12 ottobre 2016

Ranking of the performances reviewed so far

  1. Olivia De Havilland, Gone with the Wind (1939)
  2. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  3. Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously (1983)
  4. Rooney Mara, Carol (2015)
  5. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker (1962)
  6. Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There (2007)
  7. Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
  8. Betsy Blair, Marty (1955)
  9. Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver (1976)
  10. Piper Laurie, Carrie (1976)
  11. Juanita Moore, Imitation of Life (1959)
  12. Amy Adams, Junebug (2005)
  13. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (2015)
  14. Rinko Kikuchi, Babel (2005)
  15. Celeste Holm, All About Eve (1950)
  16. Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  17. Susan Kohner, Imitation of Life (1959)
  18. Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (2007)
  19. Natalie Wood, Rebel without a Cause (1955)
  20. Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener (2005)
  21. Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich (1999)
  22. Josephine Hull, Harvey (1950)
  23. Cher, Silkwood (1983)
  24. Saoirse Ronan, Atonement (2007)
  25. Katharine Ross, The Graduate (1967)
  26. Adriana Barraza, Babel (2006)
  27. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
  28. Beatrice Straight, Network (1976)
  29. Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  30. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County (2013)
  31. Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted (1999)
  32. Hattie McDaniel, Gone with the Wind (1939)
  33. Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights (1939)
  34. Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (2007)
  35. Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
  36. June Squibb, Nebraska (2013)
  37. Gladys Cooper, Now, Voyager (1942)
  38. Shirley Knight, Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
  39. Hope Emerson, Caged (1950)
  40. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (2015)
  41. Glenn Close, The Big Chill (1983)
  42. Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  43. Amy Irving, Yentl (1983)
  44. Maria Ouspenskaya, Love Affair (1939)
  45. Mildred Natwick, Barefoot in the Park (1967)
  46. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (2015)
  47. Marisa Pavan, The Rose Tattoo (1955)
  48. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle (2013)
  49. Nancy Olson, Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  50. May Whitty, Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  51. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine (2013)
  52. Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal (2006)
  53. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006)
  54. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (2015)
  55. Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  56. Ruby Dee, American Gangster (2007)
  57. Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense (1999)
  58. Jo Van Fleet, East of Eden (1955)
  59. Catherine Keener, Capote (2005)
  60. Alfre Woodard, Cross Creek (1983)
  61. Thelma Ritter, Pillow Talk (1959)
  62. Samantha Morton, Sweet & Lowdown (1999)
  63. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  64. Mary Badham, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  65. Peggy Lee, Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955)
  66. Susan Peters, Random Harvest (1942)
  67. Frances McDormand, North Country (2005)
  68. Thelma Ritter, All About Eve (1950)
  69. Hermione Baddeley, Room at the Top (1959)
  70. Thelma Ritter, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
  71. Lee Grant, Voyage of the Damned (1976)
  72. Edna May Oliver, Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
  73. Jane Alexander, All the President’s Men (1976)
  74. Beah Richards, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)
  75. Carol Channing, Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)

lunedì 10 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976: Ranking

5. Jane Alexander in All the President's Men
Jane Alexander squanders a potentially strong role by giving an incredibly stiff and uninspired performance that is probably the weakest element of this otherwise flawless movie. 
Best scene: None.

4. Lee Grant in Voyage of the Damned
Lee Grant has a couple of fine moments but overall her performance is nothing more than a bunch of clichés and theatrics that never really comes together as a cohesive piece of work, and her big scene towards the end is unintentionally laughable. 
Best scene: Lili tries to comfort her husband.

3. Beatrice Straight in Network
Beatrice Straight is a hurricane in her few minutes on-screen in this terrific film: she is the movie's conscience and heart and in a movie filled with either deranged or soulless characters her devastating and raw performance easily stands out.
Best scene: Max confesses his infidelity to Louise.

2. Piper Laurie in Carrie
Piper Laurie gives a brilliant performance in this movie as she manages to be downright terrifying yet funny in a very dark and twisted way. She creates one of the most unique and memorable characters in movie history and gives a deliciously over-the-top performance that never becomes hammy or unbearable. 
Best scene: Mrs. White tells Carrie about the night she was conceived.

1. Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver
Before rewatching Taxi Driver I was sure Piper Laurie would have been my winner but Jodie Foster completely won me over this time: she gives an outstanding performance in her few scenes, gradually revealing the broken soul behind Iris' façade. She is haunting, heartbreaking and unforgettable and the more I think about her work the more I love it.
Best scene: Iris and Travis have breakfast together. 

Honorable Omissions: I might be a little less enthusiastic about her than other people but still there is no denying that Billie Whitelaw's performance in The Omen is nothing short of fantastic: she subtly suggests her character's devious qualities behind her proper façade and when her true nature is revealed she couldn't be more chilling, the hospital scene being one of the scariest scenes ever. Geraldine Chaplin is terrific in her dual roles in Cria Cuervos - she is quietly touching in her scenes as the older Ana but she is even more powerful in her few haunting scenes as the lonely, dying Marìa. I found The Man Who Fell to Earth an interesting but problematic movie, but I thought Candy Clark's performance was excellent as she shares such a great chemistry with David Bowie and she nails her character's transition from sweet, naive girl to alcoholic, pathetic woman. Shelley Winters is excellent in Next Stop, Greenwich Village: as the overbearing mother of the leading character, Winters is absolutely hilarious but she also gives the role a touching amount of warmth and heart, avoiding the potential clichés of the role. Lauren Bacall shows the tenderness behind Bond's stern façade in The Shootist and her chemistry with John Wayne is nothing short of amazing. Katharine Ross is deeply moving in the extremely brief role in Voyage of the Damned with her second and last scene being the easy highlight of the movie thanks to her heartbreaking display of shame and regret. I didn't care much for The Ritz, I thought it became a little tiresome in its third act and not all of the actors are able to pull off the broad approach the movie requires - thankfully Rita Moreno does, and she's a hoot as the hilariously untalented Googie Gomez. I thought Eileen Brennan was the standout of Murder by Death along with Peter Falk and I thought the two of them stole every scene they were in with their incredibly entertaining performances, while Theresa Russell is charming and poignant as the sweet Cecelia in The Last Tycoon
Predictions: Congratulations to Calvin Law for predicting my ranking! You can choose a year.
The next year: 1994.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver
  2. Piper Laurie, Carrie
  3. Billie Whitelaw, The Omen - 5/5
  4. Candy Clark, The Man Who Fell to Earth - 4.5/5
  5. Geraldine Chaplin, Cria Cuervos - 4.5/5
  6. Shelley Winters, Next Stop, Greenwich Village - 4.5/5
  7. Lauren Bacall, The Shootist - 4.5/5
  8. Beatrice Straight, Network
  9. Rita Moreno, The Ritz - 4/5
  10. Katharine Ross, Voyage of the Damned - 4/5

venerdì 7 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976: Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

Jodie Foster received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Iris Steensma in Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver is an amazing film about a mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran who works as a taxi driver in New York and decides to act against what he perceives as decadence and filth. This is a just a phenomenal movie that I already loved the first time but that I loved even more on a rewatch and it's unquestionably my favorite movie of 1976. Martin Scorsese's snub for Best Director is probably one of the worst in Academy history and as much as I love The Omen's score I think Bernard Herrmann should have won for his incredible work in this. The cinematography is also fantastic.

Jodie Foster plays Iris, a twelve-year-old prostitute that Travis (Robert De Niro) encounters for the first time when she jumps in his cab and asks him to take her away before her pimp "Sport" (Harvey Keitel) arrives and carries her off. Her first appearence is extremely brief, yet Jodie Foster manages to leave an enormous impact making Iris a vivid presence that hangs all over the movie even when she is off-screen. Despite her performance being somewhat iconic, Foster barely appears for much of the time and her longest scenes are in the movie's last half an hour; however, thanks to her actress' talent and Scorsese' skillful direction, Iris becomes a haunting and tragic figure that is never forgotten by the viewer despite having uttered just a couple of lines. She has another brief appearence in the middle of the movie that isn't really anything that substantial but that helps to build up to her bigger moments later on in the movie, and when those moments finally come Foster is absolutely up to the challenge of living up to that build up.

In her first scene with Travis, whom she believes is just a client, Jodie Foster is absolutely terrific as her acting feels forced in the best way possible: it's not forced because of inexperience or awkwardness as an actress and it's not excessively phony, just a little too calculated perfectly showing that almost everything that Iris says is a put on. She truly gave me the impression of a child trying to act like an adult which is exactly how I felt Iris was supposed to appear. Her flirtatious attitude towards Travis and her nonchalant attitude while she utters lines like "I must have been stoned" feels properly disingenuous and the all the while Foster injects the character with the right amount of loneliness and vulnerability, two qualities of Iris that she gradually reveals throughout this scene and the following ones. Her best scene in the movie is probably the scene that follows, when Iris and Travis have breakfast together: Foster is amazing as she reveals Iris for her true self - the careless, bold attitude is gone and in front of our eyes we see a normal twelve year old girl. Foster is just excellent as she portrays Iris as warm, bright, likeable and even funny: there's a heartbreaking touch of naivety in her performance as Iris fantasizes about what she could do if she ever got away (Iris says she can leave whenever she likes, but Foster painfully shows that even she knows it's not true) and chats with Travis about the Zodiac signs. Her chemistry with De Niro is also absolutely top notch: both actors are excellent in this scene as they easily make it the bright spot of the movie as the two characters find a moment of solace in their miserable lives and mutually understand and share their loneliness. Foster's line-delivery of "I don't who's weirder, you or me" is both funny and heartbreaking because of how genuine and spontaneous it feels. Her next scene with Harvey Keitel is also brilliantly acted by Foster who does a terrific job at showing how Iris is so easily manipulated by Sport: it's probably the movie's most disturbing scene and she is devastating at wordlessly conveying Iris' desperation. Foster perfectly delivers at portraying Iris' neediness and loneliness - she wants to believe Sport's words, because she really hasn't got anyone else. Her acting in the final scenes is also realistic and terrifying and she adds a lot of pathos and emotional weight to them. 

Iris Steensma could have been a passive and forgettable character, a mere plot device that causes Travis to finally snap. There are also a lot of questions in the movie that are left unanswered - for example, why did Iris ran away from home in the first place? Yet Foster delivers an absolutely amazing performance gradually revealing the vulnerability behind her façade. It's a fantastic, startling performance that is easy to take for granted but is actually an outstanding achievement. 


martedì 4 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976: Beatrice Straight in Network

Beatrice Straight won the Oscar from her only nomination for her performance as Louise Schumacher in Network.

Network is a brilliant film about a television network that decides to exploit a former anchor's ravings and outbursts for its own profit, turning him into an icon. It's an absolutely amazing movie that finds its biggest strengths in the acting and its terrific, intelligent screenplay that manages to stop short of turning the satire into parody. I don't even think it's flawless - there are a couple of moments that are a bit poorly shot in my opinion and the subplot about the Ecumenical Liberation Army is a bit heavy-handed - but still the good aspects of the movie are so great that they easily overshadow the few minor flaws. It's a movie that completely lives up to its reputation.

Beatrice Straight's performance is particularly famous for being the shortest performance to ever win an Oscar. And indeed, with little more than 5 minutes of screen-time and overall three scenes, two of which are extremely brief, it is a very small role. Her first scene is not a big one or even a truly important one for the character: we see Louise getting out of bed and finding out that her husband's (William Holden) friend, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), has left the house at night. It's just a very small scene and technically Straight doesn't do much in it, but nonetheless she manages to give us some clues about Louise: we certainly can see she loves her husband and she appears as an intelligent and caring woman. She doesn't seem to be doing anything special but this first scene of hers actually amplifies the impact of her big scene later on. Her second scene barely counts as we just see her from the back as she watches TV. 

Her big scene comes in the second half of the movie, when her husband Max confesses his infidelity to Louise and leaves her. What Beatrice Straight manages to accomplish in this single scene is something absolutely astonishing - Louise is not a very original character, and even the scene itself is technically something we've already seen: but rarely such a scene has been portrayed with the same amount of rawness and viscerality as this was. Straight is excellent in this scene as in just a few minutes she has to display a rather extreme range of emotions, from anger to desperation to finally acceptance, and she does it exceptionally: at the beginning, Straight is terrific as you can see Louise's heart breaking but at the same time she tries to mantain a rather calm and dignified façade; as the scene progresses, I love how she becomes gradually becomes more aggressive until Max finally admits he is in love with Diana (Faye Dunaway): then she delivers a brilliant, devastating monologue that Straight delivers with an incredible amount of both fury and grief. I actually don't think that the scene itself is perfect as I kind of hate how the camera often focuses on Holden and not on Straight, even as she delivers her monologue, but Straight's acting is nothing short of astonishing - she conveys 25 years of marriage in just a few moments and even if Holden and Straight barely shared the screen together previously it feels as if we had already seen a movie just about the two of them, as if we truly knew the characters and their history. In a movie like Network, where basically every character is soulless or insane or both, Beatrice Straight's Louise becomes the emotional center of the whole story and the fact that the movie around her is so rid of humanity only makes her single big scene stand out even more - her scene in the movie is simply unforgettable and absolutely necessary because it reminds us that among people like Diana and Frank (Robert Duvall) there are also people that care and that have feelings. Her final moments in the scene are much subtler and equally outstanding: I love that slight, empathetic smile on her face as she listents to Max talking about the affair and her very last moment when she softly puts her hand on his face and tells him that Diana is going to make him suffer is a touching closure for the character. 

This is a brief performance but Beatrice Straight completely manages to defy the limitations of the script by delivering an emotional powerhouse: her Louise is the movie's conscience and emotional crux because of the humanity and honesty of her portrayal that constrast so beautifully against the other characters in the movie. It's a wonderful, poignant performance that goes far beyond what was required and left me wanting more of her while still making her work feel whole. An unusual choice for an Oscar, but a great one as well. 


domenica 2 ottobre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1976: Piper Laurie in Carrie

Piper Laurie received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Margaret White in Carrie.

Carrie is a terrific horror about a shy, bullied girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers. I've always liked this movie a lot and it's easily one of my favorite movies of this genre as it blends so wonderfully the horror elements with the more human ones: the movie's climax is indeed scary but it also carries a great amount of emotional weight. I have to admit I didn't care for Brian De Palma's other two films I've seen (Scarface and The Black Dahlia) I really think he should have gotten a Best Director nod for his work here. Also, I absolutely loved the score and I thought it really should have received an Oscar nod (although the Oscars really got it right that year by awarding The Omen's chilling score). 

Piper Laurie plays Margaret White, the mother of the leading character Carrie White. It's probably one of the most difficult characters I can think of: Margaret is a fantically religious person whose devotion towards her faith often verges on insanity; it's a role that requires a loud approach which can very easily result into an unbearably over-the-top, hammy performance and it also requires an actress who can pull off lines like "I can see your dirty pillows" convincingly. I can perfectly understand why some people would dislike this performance, but in my opinion Piper Laurie delivers an outstanding performance that is absolutely riveting in every single moment: she gives a performance that is completely unexpected, original and unique in a role that is technically a cliché making Margaret White one of the most unforgettable characters to ever appear on screen. 

It's a well-known fact that Piper Laurie thought that her role was so absurd and ridiculous that she supposed Carrie was going to be a dark comedy instead of a horror. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why her performance is so brilliant: in every scene she manages to be incredibly funny in a very dark, weird and twisted way while still being a genuinely terrifying presence. It's an interesting, unique approach that makes Margaret a compelling and captivating character: in the 2013 remake, I think Julianne Moore actually gives a fine performance as Margaret and she is scary enough in the role but her performance lacks the utter brilliance and originality of Laurie's work. It's that odd touch of comedy that makes Laurie's performance so magnificent, and it's even more amazing how she manages to be funny without being ridiculous or compromising the horror of the story. In her first scene in the movie, in which she visits a neighbour's house, Laurie is quite entertaining at portraying her character's fanatical view on life and religion and her insistent behavior, but in the moment in which she realizes she is not a welcome presence in the house she turns cold and chilling, suggesting that the character can be quite dangerous when she wants to. The following scene, in which Mrs. White comes home and locks Carrie in "her closet" for having her first period (which she considers a proof of sin), could have been so easily ridiculous and unbelievable yet thanks to Laurie and Spacek it's not: Laurie again manages to be strangely entertaining in this scene as she is purposefully and delightfully over-the-top but at the same time I thought she was absolutely terrifying because she gives such a powerful depiction of Mrs. White's both psychological and physical cruelty - the same scene in the 2013 version isn't even half as scary.

Another thing I love about her performance is the fantastic chemistry she shares with Sissy Spacek and both actresses make their relationship surprisingly complex: on her part, Laurie is fantastic at showing Mrs. White's overbearing and domineering attitude towards her daughter but she is particularly interesting at portraying the reasons behind her behavior. Does Mrs. White, in her own, deranged way, love Carrie? Laurie doesn't answer this question for most of the movie which makes Mrs. White's behavior all the more interesting. The chemistry between the two actresses is at its best in the confrontational scenes between the two later on in the movie as their performances work so beautifully together: Laurie is excellent at portraying the same fanatical passion in her speeches but also adding a certain fear as Mrs. White starts to realize that she is gradually losing her grip over her daughter. I also love the small nuances she puts in her performance, such as when she says that Satan "took her husband and carried him off" and Carrie says that he just left with another woman: Laurie's reaction is perfect as it suggests that in a way Mrs. White's fanatical devotion might be a result of her incapability to accept reality. She also shines in a scene a little later in which Mrs. White tries to dissuade Carrie from going to the prom - she is just so excellent at portraying Mrs. White's growing distress and paranoia over the whole situation and makes even the most tricky line work. And also, I don't think anyone could have been more disturbing as she is when she utters "Witch!" or "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".

But, of course, Piper Laurie's performance reaches its highest point with her big final scene that takes place after the plom, when Carrie comes back home looking for safety and warmth and instead finds her mother completely unhinged in her madness. Her monologue about the night Carrie was conceived is absolutely outstanding and Laurie is just phenomenal at portraying Margaret as fully overcome by her insanity while she reveals that Carrie's father raped her. Her delivery of "And I liked it... I liked it!" is absolutely shocking and disturbing because she fills it with both guilt and pleasure. And could she be more terrifying while she corners Carrie with a knife in her hand and a creepily warm and inviting smile on her face? And her death is one of the most remarkable death scenes I've ever seen thanks to her brilliant acting in it, which is over-the-topness at its pure best. That orgasm as she dies is quite a brilliant, unexpected touch to it.

Overall I think that this is a truly magnificent performance by Piper Laurie. She is twistedly funny and downright terrifying in a very complex role and she shares a pitch-perfect chemistry with her on-screen daughter. She is just captivating and unforgettable in every second she is on-screen and makes Margaret White one of the most powerful and memorable characters I've ever seen. Quite simply a brilliant performance.