martedì 29 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1957: Hope Lange in Peyton Place

Hope Lange received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Selena Cross in Peyton Place.

Selena Cross is Allison McKenzie's kind-hearted best friend born on the wrong side of the tracks whose mother works as a housekeeper at the McKenzies' house and whose step-father is an abusive alcoholic. It's a character that very easily elicits sympathy in the audience and it gives the actress plenty of opportunity for tearful, Oscar-baity, big moments. Hope Lange, though, never seems to be actively trying to gain the audience's pity - she gives a performance that is never manipulative, which could have very easily been the case, and instead she portrays her character with welcome honesty and naturalism. Through her performance she always suggests her character's background and she clearly stands out from the very beginning from actors who play her classmates: Lange's Selena does not posesses either Allison's idealism nor Betty's apparent carelessness - she's been through enough not to delude herself with dreamy ambitions but her hard-work and dedication also gave her a maturity and wiseness beyond her years. She conveys all this even when she is technically not doing all that much and among the ensemble she seems to be one of the few to have a clear, deep understanding of her character. Selena is an immediately likeable character not only because it's easy to feel sorry for her condition but also because she is a very sweet, selfless and humble person: again, Lange never overdoes this aspect of this character but she naturally makes Selena a very endearing character and I loved every minute she was on-screen because of how genuine her whole performance feels. 

One of the most admirable aspects of Lange's performance is that she manages to make something even in her scenes with Diane Varsi and David Nelson even if neither of them are particularly satisfying in those scenes. Varsi doesn't really seem to bother striking up a chemistry with Lange but the latter still manages to convince me that there is a meaningful, poignant friendship between Allison and Selena and she alone makes their goodbye scene at the bus station surprisingly moving. She is also very good in her scenes with David Nelson even if I think he gives a rather bland performance as Ted: the two don't share much of a chemistry (the blame is totally on Nelson) but Lange still gives a nice and touching display of love and tenderness in their scenes together, such as in the scene in which Ted has to leave because of the war. Even if I never cared too much for Ted and Selena as a couple, Lange believably portrays her character's love for him and this is essential to the later scenes in the movie in which I never doubted she would have risked everything for him - and that's a true testament to her talent and commitment to the role. 

*This paragraph contains some big spoilers* The strongest part of her performance comes when Lucas, Selena's step-father, rapes her during a drunken rage. Lange makes the scene terrifyingly real and she is particularly devastating in a later scene when Selena visits Dr. Swain for an abortion - it's a truly heartbreaking moment thanks to Lange who powerfully realizes Selena's trauma and she develops a moving, powerful chemistry with Lloyd Nolan (who gives the second best performance in the movie as the doctor). She is extremely impressive later on in a scene in which she tries to run away from Lucas in the woods, a moment she plays with thrilling and compelling intensity, or the one in which he unexpectedly comes back home and tries to attack her again before being finally killed by Selena in self-defense. It's a terrific moment for Lange who in this few seconds unleashes the grief and anguish Selena kept to herself for all that time. The courtroom scenes in the last half an hour on the movie as Selena is put on trial are rather cheesy but Lange overcomes the weaknesses of the screenplay by giving a honest and heartbreaking depiction of her character's desperation as well as her determination to keep the rape a secret in order not to ruin the reputation of Ted. Her scene on the stand is a difficult one that she executes exceptionally and her reactionary shots in the final scene are equally impressive - even if by then I really stopped caring about the rest of the movie, I did not stop caring for Selena's story and fate and this is only because of Lange's compelling turn. *Spoilers Off*

Hope Lange delivers a moving performance that easily stands as the best part of the movie. She takes a role that could have easily been cheesy, melodramatic and manipulative and instead gives a honest and believable portrayal of Selena's plight. It's a terrific performance that gives the movie a reason to be seen. 


domenica 27 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1957: Diane Varsi in Peyton Place

Diane Varsi received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Allison McKenzie in Peyton Place.

Peyton Place about the lives of the citizens of a New England small town. It's an enjoyable enough movie but in the end it does not amount to anything more than a soap opera - a fine, nicely made one but still a soap opera. The score and the cinematography are quite remarkable but the cast itself is a mixed bag - there is one standout, while the rest of the cast ranges from quite good to very mediocre. Also I have to say the movie is a bit overlong and not all of the storylines are truly interesting. 

Diane Varsi received a supporting nomination for her turn here but if there is a true lead in Peyton Place it's hers: Lana Turner is the big star, but the main focus of the movie is on Allison's coming of age and Varsi is in many ways the center of the movie. I probably would have placed her in the leading category although supporting does make sense if you consider the movie an ensemble piece. Allison is an intelligent girl who is graduating soon and dreams of being a writer. Varsi is quite good at establishing the character early on - she makes Allison a bright, lively young girl and she carries her scenes with an nice, low-key charm. To be honest, some of my favorite moments of her performance are the ones in which she's acting "naturally" when she details Allison's everyday life: she makes for an endearing character to follow and she comfortably portrays her character's youthful innocence - but she does not make her innocence feel like naivety, instead she clearly shows how Allison is aware of everything around her and that she is definitely not a child anymore. Allison is the character that is presented as closer to the audience - often she's not doing much, she observes everything around her and quietly reacts to it. It's a rather passive character but Varsi makes Allison an acute, intelligent observer that never steps into the background. 

Unfortunately, her performance does not fare quite as well in some other regards. My main reservation about her performance is that she never seems to strike a particularly good chemistry with any of the other cast members, and that's exactly why I mostly prefer Allison's few moments of solitude and reflection. I don't think she really shares much of a chemistry with Hope Lange who plays Allison's best friend Selena - their friendship never feels as meaningful and powerful as it should, and the emotional power is brought in their scenes by Lange exclusively, who really seems to strive to find any sort of chemistry with Varsi. Allison's relationship with a shy boy, Norman (Russ Tamblyn), also falls flat since the two of them are nothing particularly special together for most of their scenes (here, though, I think most of the blame goes to Tumblyn). I did like one of their scenes together, the one at Allison's secret place: in this scene, the two actors actually bring a nice amount of warmth and tenderness to their interactions and it's actually one of my favorite scenes of the movie. Even here, though, Varsi is much more effective at portraying Allison's ambition for her future rather than her affection for Norman - she perfectly captures Allison's dreams of escaping for Peyton Place and becoming a successful writer somewhere else, and brings the right determination to her character's longing. Instead, some of her weakest scenes are opposite Lana Turner as her mother's Constance; I think their scenes together are more one-note than they should and that's also because of Varsi who seems to focus on just one aspect of her character here. She does a fine enough job at portraying her character's disdain for her mother's narrow-minded nature but in the moments in which she is supposed to show some love for her she falls short. Also I feel she's rather unconvincing in her stormy confrontations with Turner - she can't pull off the louder acting these scenes request, and she manages to be awkwardly stilted and overdramatic at the same time. Their final reconciliation does not pack the needed emotional punch especially because the storyline itself pales next to Selena's one (which is by far the best of the movie).

Over the course of the movie, the script clearly indicates that Allison becomes a much more mature woman as the years passes. I actually never felt Varsi portrayed Allison's arc all that well - she becomes slightly colder and loses the youthful charm of the beginning, but it all feels a bit too rushed and portrayed a bit too shallowly to truly leave an impact. Varsi's performance also lacks a true closure - she is mostly quite unimpressive in the movie's last half an hour as she is completely overshadowed by Hope Lange's storyline and performance, and her reunion with Norman could have been way more powerful, feeling a bit like a missed opportunity for her performance.

Diane Varsi does not give a bad performance at all - she's particularly effective in the movie's first hour at portraying her character's intelligence, ambition and bright spirit. But later on in the movie she becomes progressively less impressive and most of her storylines ends up amounting to very little because she never seems to find a particularly strong connection to her fellow cast-members. It's still a nice enough performance that serves as a fine centerpiece for the movie, even if it's not something that deserves particular recognition. 


giovedì 24 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1957: Elsa Lanchester in Witness for the Prosecution

Elsa Lanchester received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Miss Plimsoll in Witness for the Prosecution.

Witness for the Prosecution is an excellent movie about a barrister (Charles Laughton) who is still recovering from a heart attack and yet decides to defend a man accused of murder. It's a compelling courtroom drama skillfully written and directed by Billy Wilder. The usually dull Tyrone Power gives a fantastic performance here that adds a lot to the movie never giving away the truth of the case and Marlene Dietrich despite having a couple of awkward moments still delivers an effective, remarkable turn. 

In 1957, I think the majority of people were expecting Lanchester to win the Oscar: she was by far the most famous actress out of the five nominees, she was a veteran who had been part of the industry for more than twenty years and she won a Golden Globe for her portrayal. At the same time, it's sort of understandable why she ultimately lost the Oscar: it's the kind of flashy and colorful supporting role that can be very entertaining when done right, but at the same time it lacks any depth or substance whatsoever - Carolyn Jones' character in The Bachelor Party is heartbreaking and complex, Hope Lange in Peyton Place has many challenging emotional moments and her character is one that easily elicits sympathy, Diane Varsi in the same movie has a few "big" moments and a real character arc and Miyoshi Umeki, despite having nothing to do, still packs an emotional punch due to the tragic nature of the role itself in Sayonara, while Lanchester is technically nothing more than a comic relief. There is no denying that her performance in this movie is rather one-dimensional, and Lanchaster herself wastes an early moment in which Miss Plimsoll, who is the barrister's nurse, talks about her engagement with a lawyer who died of peritonitis, but at the same time her work is still very enjoyable within its limitations. 

The key to the success of her performance is the chemistry between her and her real-life husband Charles Laughton: the two actors are highly entertaining to watch together as they share such a perfect chemistry and their timing is always pretty much flawless. Their scenes together throughout the whole movie are actually quite repetitive, as they consist mostly of Miss Plimsoll trying to get Sir Wilfrid to rest and take his pills while he thinks of new ways to hide cigars and brandy from her, but they never feel as such because the two actors pay off each other so well. Miss Plimsoll is a character that is both thankless and challenging - the former because it is rather one-note, the latter because it can be very easily grating. Lanchester brings the right amount of energy to her performance and she manages to make petulance enjoyable and even endearing. She is always very funny at portraying Miss Plimsoll's sunny yet insistent personality that constrasts so wonderfully Laughton's portrayal of Sir Wilfrid's grumpy attitude. I wouldn't necessarily say she is a scene-stealing presence - the mystery is by far, and rightfully so, the most remarkable aspect of the movie but she adds nicely to every scene she's in. And some of her line-deliveries are absolute gold ("Teeny weeny flight of steps, Sir Wilfrid, we musn't forget we've had a teeny weeny heart attack"). She gets progressively less focus and screen-time as the movie goes on and starts focusing more on the trial, but she still makes the most out of her small moments in those scenes as Miss Plimsoll still wants to get sure Sir Wilfrid takes his medicine. And I just love the moment towards the end when she utters "Wilfrid the Fox! That's what they call him, and that's what he is", just priceless. My favorite moment of her performance is probably her last scene, after the trial is over but a new one is ahead: in this moment, in which Miss Plimsoll's unexpectedly urges Sir Wilfrid to take the new case, Lanchester is great at portraying her character's more understanding side and I love how the two actors subvert their character's antagonism into complicity. 

Overall, this is not a great performance as the role itself is a little bit to slight, but Elsa Lanchester still gives a very entertaining and memorable piece of work. She might not be the best thing in the movie but she adds nicely to it and I can't imagine anyone being better than her in the role or sharing a better chemistry with Charles Laughton. It's a nice, colorful supporting performance that I enjoyed all the way through. 


martedì 22 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1957: Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara

Miyoshi Umeki won the Oscar from her first nomination for her performance as Katsumi Kelly in Sayonara.

Sayonara is a rather weak film about a US air force major who opposes marriages about American services and Janapese women has to overcome his own prejudice when he falls in love with a beautiful woman in Japan. I've never really cared for this movie, and on a rewatch I liked it even less: the central romance is incredibly boring due to Marlon Brando and Miiko Tana having absolutely no chemistry, the subplot about the American girlfriend is flat and standard and while the one involving Gruver's (Brando) friend and his wife is not that bad it's not on screen enough to save this dull movie. The cinematography is occasionally quite good, but that's about it.

Miyoshi Umeki plays Katsumi, a sweet Japanese woman who marries Joe Kelly, Gruver's fellow serviceman and best friend. This is an extremely unpopolar win nowadays, with people ranking her among the worst Oscar wins of all time. It's not hard to understand why - it's an extremely small performance with very little dialogue and overall just not much to do. It's certainly quite odd that this is the only Oscar-winning performance from an Asian actress considering that Machiko Kyo did not receive any recognition for her beautiful work in Rashomon and Floating Weeds (and she is only one of the many possible examples). Umeki's is not even the best performance from an Asian actress from 1957 - Isuzu Yamada was simply amazing in Throne of Blood and she is supposedly also very strong in The Lower Depths from the same year. But this does not necessarily mean it's a bad performance: to be perfectly honest, I actually quite like what she does on-screen during her limited appearence. In her first scene, she barely speaks at all - in fact, it's Red Buttons as Joe who has almost all of the lines, often speaking in her behalf - but she still leaves quite a lovely impression and her chemistry with Buttons, while not anything groundbreaking, is very tender to watch. They don't share all that many scenes together but the sincerity of their love is never in question due to the honesty of Buttons' and Umeki's performance. Her second scene is not really demanding either, but she again makes for a sweet, endearing presence; actually I can sort of understand why someone would see her performance as incredibly dull, but I think her approach works for the character who is supposed to not know much English and her slow-paced line-deliveries work quite well in conveying Katsumi's simple and down-to-earth personality. Her few scenes later on in the movie are probably her most memorable and they are the ones in which Umeki is asked to do a little more: the first one of these scenes is the one in which Joe finds out Katsumi had been planning to undergo a surgery in order to make her eyes look Caucasian - Umeki makes the scene rather touching and her delivery of "Then I have good eyes, I fool everybody... I look like Joe... I want him to be proud of me" as she struggles through the tears is extremely affecting. And her last scene when Katsumi and Joe are watching a puppet show in which the characters of the star-crossed lovers kill themselves because they can't face life any longer and Katsumi dreamily utters: "It is so beautiful... They will live in an another world, on a beautiful lake... Floating always together, like water lillies". It's a very simple line, even a not particularly inspired one, but Umeki's delivery is very moving in its quietness and her facial reactions in this scene are rather impressive. 

So, yes, contrary to most people, I don't hate this performance all - but to be honest there is not much to get wrong in the role. As I mentioned before, Buttons is the one who speaks the most in their scenes together and Umeki is mostly required to just stand still smiling warmly at Buttons' and Brando's characters - she's forced to be an extremely passive presence and even if it's very easy for me to enjoy her time on-screen I also forgot quickly about her after each of her scenes was over. She is probably one of the strongest elements of Sayonara - but, still, being one of the best things of a pretty bad movie is not a particularly outstanding achievement and even if she leaves a bigger impact than the film does, I still never found her performance to be particularly lasting. It's not her fault and I think that if she had a little more to do on paper and a larger screen-time she would have been a solid contender for the Oscar, but this performance amounts to little more than nothing. Obviously you feel for her character but, even if Umeki does deserve a little merit for it, the role itself was bound to get an emotional reaction from the audience - the truth is the character is more memorable for its tragic fate rather than for Umeki's execution of the part. 

Overall, this is a perfectly competent performance - Umeki is rather sweet in the role and she does exactly what she is required to do in the role. But despite a couple of emotionally resonant moments Umeki ultimately does not have enough to do to leave a lasting impression - her love story with Red Buttons is much more effective than Brando's and Miiko Tana's, but still there is no denying that Joe and Katsumi get very little focus, screen-time and attention from the movie. It's a nice bit of work from an obviously fine actress and I'm tempted to be generous with her as I did like what she did - but at the same time I can't deny the fact that what she does is almost nothing.


domenica 20 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1957: Carolyn Jones in The Bachelor Party

Carolyn Jones received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as The Existentialist in The Bachelor Party.

The Bachelor Party is a fine film about five friends who meet up for a fun night out to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of one of them. It's a beautifully written movie and Paddy Chayefsky's profound, realistic and delicate screenplay should have received a nomination for sure; the movie, though, leaves quite a lot to be desired in terms of visuals, as there is a stagey feeling that detracts a bit from the experience. Still, it's a good movie with an effective leading turn from Don Murray.

This nomination must have been quite a surprise back then: she was not a particularly well known actress starring in a not particularly successful movie, she had not received any recognition from the critic awards and the Golden Globes and she plays a very tiny role that is on-screen for about six minutes. It's one of the Academy's most unusual choices in this category, but it's also one of the very best as Carolyn Jones manages to give an astonishing characterization to her nameless character. She first appears in the movie about half-an-hour into it, when the friends approach her on street: Jones is absolutely terrific in this very brief moment as she brings a great amount of mystery and allure to her character, keeping her at distance from both the other characters and the viewer as well - her performance is purposefully detatched as she is first seen from the others as an almost unachievable object of desire. Despite this Jones never allows her character to become a passive presence: instead, she completely owns the screen switching effortlessly from passive-aggressiveness to annoyance to playful flirtiness. 

We don't meet again "The Existentialist" until the final act of the movie, when Charlie (Murray) and two of the friends show up at the party she is attending. She and Charlie start talking and what follows is an absolutely outstanding moment that is played to perfection by Jones: it's a long, fast-paced monologue in which "The Existentialist" details the events of her day and it's simply astonishing to watch. Jones reveals so much about her character in just those few minutes - she gives us a full understanding of what her character's life is and shows that past her attractive looks there is an intelligent and educated person. She beautifully deconstructs the mysterious and distant image she gave in the beginning to uncover her character's aloofness and vulnerability. She at first refuses Charlie's offer to join him upstairs to find some privacy, but she eventually gives in: when he tries to kiss her, she pulls him away and tells him "Just say you love me. Say you love me you don't have to mean it". It's a heartbreaking moment made even more powerful by Jones' soft, simple delivery and in this very moment both Charlie and the viewer realize how lonely and miserable "The Existentialist" truly is - she knows Charlie does not love her, but she wants to believe it because she is unwilling to acknowledge the emptiness of her lifestyle. In her final moment when she tells Charlie to meet her later at the bar across the street because she "can't stand being alone at night", Jones again manages to convey her character's history of empty one-night stands that don't do anything to alleviate her desperation and you can see the longing and neediness in her eyes. Eventually Charlie decides not to meet her, and even if she's never seen her again her melancholic creation is what ultimately stays with you when the movie is over. 

Carolyn Jones gives a simply astounding portrayal of a sad, haunting, unforgettable character: she beautifully swifts from the alluring distance of her first moments to the painful loneliness of her final ones and in six minutes she managed to convey her character's whole lifetime. It's a beautiful, stunning achievement that should be far more remembered than it is nowadays.


venerdì 18 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1957

And the nominees are...

Carolyn Jones - The Bachelor Party
Elsa Lanchester - Witness for the Prosecution
Hope Lange - Peyton Place
Miyoshi Umeki - Sayonara
Diane Varsi - Peyton Place

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

mercoledì 16 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969: Ranking

5. Sylvia Miles in Midnight Cowboy
Sylvia Miles is quite funny in her single scene but her extremely brief screen-time as well as the broad nature of the scene itself prevent her from finding any sort of depth or poignance in her grotesque character.
Best scene: Cass finds out about Joe's motivations.

4. Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower
Goldie Hawn has some awkward moments throughout the movie and her character's motivations especially in the beginning and at the end are poorly explained, but she still delivers a rather charming and entertaining turn with some occasionally touching moments.
Best scene: Toni sees Stephanie walking away with the kids.

3. Dyan Cannon in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Dyan Cannon is by far the standout of the movie becoming the movie's heart: she nails both the comedic and dramatic scenes delivering an intelligent, surprisingly layered performance that grounds the whole movie.
Best scene: Alice visits the psychiatrist.

2. Susannah York in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Susannah York gives a truly mesmerizing portrayal of her character's mental and physical decay, beautifully deconstructing her glamorous image at the beginning of the movie and leading up wonderfully to her final, outstanding moment.
Best scene: Alice's breakdown in the shower.

1. Catherine Burns in Last Summer
I love York and Burns almost equally but Burns gives such a devastating performance I just couldn't resist giving her the top spot. Burns is raw, realistic and heartbreaking in her role: her big monologue midway through the movie is obviously the highlight but she's equally incredible in the remaining scenes, creating an incredibly haunting and sad character that stays with you even if the film does not.
Best scene: Rhoda opens up about her mother's death.

Honorable Omissions: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is mostly remembered for Maggie Smith's leading performance but Pamela Franklin's turn as Sandy should be just as acclaimed; Franklin conveys excellently her character's development over the years, showing how Miss Brodie's teachings are exactly what allows Sandy to gradually become a mature, indipendent person and to eventually stand up against her mentor: when this moment finally occur, though, Franklin does not make this a full triumph as she adds a heartbreaking touch of bitterness that comes from Sandy's realization of the loss of her innocence. It's a brilliant, three-dimensional performance and the final confrontation between Smith and Franklin is probably one of the most powerfully acted scenes ever. Despite having a technically one-note role, Celia Johnson is also extremely effective as the headmistress who disapproves of Miss Brodie and she is a perfect match to Smith in their scenes together - I particularly love her quick smile in her final scene as she finally achieves her goal. Simone Signoret is wonderful in Army of Shadows - she is warm, tender presence whenever she appears but she also brings the grit and strength needed for her role as a member of the French Resistance: she makes Mathilde an especially endearing character and her final reaction is heartbreaking. In the same movie, Marie-Christine Barrault is very good in her small role in My Night at Maud's, showing that there is more to her character than it first seems and completely earning her "revelation" scene (Françoise Fabian is terrific in the same movie and she's very borderline although for the time being I think I'd consider her leading). Diana Rigg is probably the best Bond girl ever in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, making Tracy an endearing, likeable and compelling presence: even if George Lazenby's performance is quite lacking, their chemistry is excellent. What I particularly admire about Rigg's performance is that she manages to make Tracy a character that is much more than just Bond's love interest and she makes her eventual demise truly devastating. Brenda Vaccaro makes the most out of her limited role in Midnight Cowboy thanks to her fantastic screen-presence and her beautiful chemistry with Jon Voight. Liv Ullmann gives a terrific depiction of her character's shattered emotional and mental state in The Passion of Anna and her scenes opposite Max von Sydow are beautifully acted on both ends; Bibi Andersson is also very memorable in the same movie giving a moving portrayal of her character's loneliness and regret. I didn't care very much for Marlowe but I thought Rita Moreno was the easy standout bringing the right amount of charm and mystery to Dolores and making her by far the most interesting character in the movie. She is even better in The Night of the Following Day: the movie is far from being good, but she delivers an uncompromising and raw portrayal of her character's addiction and brings a nice touch of unpredictability whenever she appears. Verna Bloom provides for Medium Cool's source of humanity: she gives a subtle, sweet, moving performance that reaches devastating heights in the movie's last half an hour and she makes the movie's disturbing ending all the more powerful.
The next year: 1957.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Pamela Franklin, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - 5/5
  2. Catherine Burns, Last Summer
  3. Susannah York, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 
  4. Simone Signoret, Army of Shadows - 4.5/5
  5. Diana Rigg, On Her Majesty's Secret Service- 4.5/5
  6. Verna Bloom, Medium Cool - 4.5/5
  7. Liv Ullmann, The Passion of Anna - 4.5/5
  8. Celia Johnson, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - 4.5/5
  9. Rita Moreno, The Night of the Following Day - 4.5/5
  10. Bibi Andersson, The Passion of Anna - 4/5

domenica 13 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969: Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower

Goldie Hawn won the Oscar from her first nomination for her performance as Toni Simmons in Cactus Flower.

Cactus Flower is an enjoyable comedy about a dentist who pretends to be married to avoid commitment but falls in love with his girlfriend and proposes to her: she, not wanting to be a homewrecker, tells him she wants to meet his wife first, so he asks his lonely nurse to pose as such. It's not necessarily an amazing movie and I actually have a few problems with it, but it's entertaining to watch from start to finish and that's more than enough. Walter Matthau delivers a funny performance as the lead although the standout of the movie was, in my opinion, Ingrid Bergman with her hilarious and poignant turn.

Goldie Hawn plays Toni, the young girlfriend of Julian (Matthau). In the opening minutes of the movie, we see Toni attempting suicide in her apartment because she can't handle her affair with Julian any longer and then being saved by her neighbor Igor (Rick Lenz). I would say those first scenes of her performance are extremely problematic due to the screenplay: it treats Toni's attempted suicide as if it were no big deal and both the writing and Hawn's performance portray it in a light-hearted fashion that just doesn't feel right. Hawn's performance is extremely shaky in these first few scenes for several reasons - she never digs deep into her character's pain and seems to be more interested in making her as quirky and offbeat as possible. She doesn't quite succeed fully at that either - she does have some natural charm that makes her mildly enjoyable but at the same time she over-accentuates many of her line-deliveries and comes off as forced more often than not. 

Thankfully after this rather unconvincing start her performance improves considerably: she still have a couple of odd line-deliveries and her inexperience does shine through occasionally, but most of the time she gives a much more assured and remarkable performance than in the beginning. She gradually becomes more and more comfortable in her role and she soon manages to accomplish what she failed to do in the beginning: she manages to be cute without ever being cloying and she makes her character's quirks an integral part of the character instead of a bunch of over-cooked mannerisms. She possesses a truly unique screen-presence that causes her to naturally stand-out, and that charm is probably the biggest strength of her performance: for most of the time Toni is not much more than a plot device that serves as the reason behind the many misunderstandings between the characters and it would have been easy for Hawn to feel quite repetitive in the role itself - she mostly has to react to each of Julian's lies which makes her character rather thankless in all honesty. Nonetheless, Hawn manages to leave a strong impression within the character's confines being a consistently entertaining presence and it's quite impressive that she manages to hold her own against Matthau and Bergman in their scenes together. What I appreciate the most about her turn here is the fact that she never makes Toni dumb - she is certainly naive but her naivety does not come from stupidity but rather from goodness and willingness to trust people. 

My favorite moment of her performance is by far her first meeting with Ingrid Bermang's character pretending to be Julian's wife: it's an excellent scene for both actresses and Hawn is quite moving at portraying her character's genuine concern for Julian's "wife" and the moment when she tearfully watches Stephanie walking away with her two nephews (which Toni mistakes as Stephanie's and Julian's sons) is surprisingly heartbreaking. I found the ending to be a bit of a letdown though - there is a great build-up to Toni's eventual discovery of Julian's lies but when the moment finally occurs it is a bit disappointing, particularly due to the writing. During the whole running time the movie constantly reminds us that Toni is so in love with Julian and then as soon as she finds out about the truth she forgets about him and embarks on a relationship with her neighbor? It does not feel convincing (especially because in their previous scenes together I never that much of a chemistry between Lenz and Hawn, even if they're sweet enough) and even if Hawn is very good at portraying Toni's initial shock and disbelief, she can't make the contrived ending of her character any more believable. 

Overall I think that this is a pretty good performance from Goldie Hawn, even if her performances is not without its flaws: to her defense, she is to blame for only a few of them and most of the time it's the screenplay that hinders her work. Still, it's a charming, enjoyable debut from a very capable actress and even if I don't think her Oscar win is particularly deserved, I don't really mind it either. 


venerdì 11 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969: Susannah York in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Susannah York received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Alice Leblanc in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is an amazing movie about a group of desperate people who take part in an inhuman, physically and mentally crushing marathon. It's a compelling, devastating movie made all the more powerful by Sydney Pollack's claustrophobic direction that is particularly remarkable in the "Derby" scenes. The screenplay is fantastic and there is not a single weak link in the cast: I know some people don't care for Michael Sarrazin's lead performance but I think his approach works perfectly for the role he is playing. I also can understand the complaints about the ending being heavy-handed but I personally find it terrific. 

Susannah York plays Alice, one of the contestants. In the first few scenes, York naturally stands out because of the nature of the character itself: while all the other characters are tired and defeated, she appears as a glamorous, refined woman who introduces herself as an actress, even performing a monologue from Saint Joan. York's acting feels a bit forced in those first scenes but this is entirely intentional and it works incredibly well for the character - first off, she never becomes annoying or unbearable as she could have easily been and within her over-the-top delivery she shows perfectly how slight Alice's façade is. She never makes her character's naive ambitions something to laugh at and she manages to make the viewer feel sorry for her as right from the beginning it's clear just how clueless Alice is about the whole situation. Her performance works particularly well as a counterpart to Jane Fonda's turn as the lead Gloria Beatty: Gloria is a disillusioned, embittered woman who gave up her wishes long ago and now just moves through life with the sole purpose of surviving; Alice, instead, is a woman has not yet gave up dreaming which probably makes her the most fragile character of the whole bunch of contestants. 

As the movie progresses, Alice goes through a lot of distressing situations and York does a brilliant job at deconstructing her classy façade. The first moment in which York reveals the cracks in Alice's appearence is during a brief break from the marathon when she finds out her make-up and the dress her mother made for her has been stolen: York is excellent at portraying Alice's outburst and she shows wonderfully the nervous, hysterical wreck she is behind the artifice of her usual appearence. The shot of her standing alone, quietly begging "Please wait" as no one helps her is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the whole movie. Another great moment in her performance comes when Alice, during another break, attempts to seduce Robert (Michael Sarrazin): it's a very powerful scene thanks to York's excellent acting as she shows how desperate Alice deep down is. With her whispering, trembling voice and the way she constantly clings to Sarrazin's body, York conveys brilliantly Alice's neediness and longing for any sort of connection whatsoever and it's deeply upsetting to see her portrayal because of how raw and realistic it is. Past her big scenes, York is technically relegated to the background but she never wastes any single moment in her portrayal: she uses every moment to create a compelling, vivid and realistic depiction of her character's physical and mental decay making Alice's extreme character arc feel completely believable and utterly terrifying to witness. 

The most famous moment of her performance is her final scene, after Alice witnesses the death of her partner during a "Derby": this proves to be the last straw for Alice's mental state and the other contestants find her showering fully dressed during the break. The first I saw the scene I was surprised by how quiet it was and maybe I was even a little disappointed, but this time I found it nothing short of groundbreaking: she made the wisest choice of underplaying her character's insanity and her haunting eyes alone convey much more than a bunch of hysterics. It's a truly devastating moment because York is uncompromising in her portrayal of her character at her lowest state and with her ghostly appearence, lifeless stare and feeble line-delivery she perfectly portrays Alice as an empty shell of what she used to be before. It's a killer scene and it's not hard to see why it's so iconic.

This is a brilliant supporting performance from York who is part of what makes They Shoot Horses, Don't They? such an unforgettable experience. She does a magnificent job at portraying her character's slowly descent into insanity and her final scene is one for the ages. It's an outstanding performance because she leaves a truly haunting and lasting impression despite not being given that much focus and it's one that completely earns its reputation.


mercoledì 9 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969: Catherine Burns in Last Summer

Catherine Burns received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Rhoda in Last Summer.

Last Summer is a flawed movie about two boys and a girl who become friends during a summer vacation on Fire Esland before their relationship is somewhat altered by a shy, uncool girl who tries to fit in. I did find the movie to be quite interesting but it's also a bit problematic: first off it's visually unimpressive with some scenes being rather poorly shot and edited (like the ending, for example). There are some good things to be found in the screenplay, but the ending is a huge letdown as it feels extremely rushed. The cast is a mixed bag: Bruce Davison is extremely forgettable, Barbara Hershey has some screen-presence but she doesn't really seem to have a deep understanding of her tricky character while Richard Thomas is actually quite good.

Catherine Burns plays Rhoda, the unwelcome addition to the group of friends. She first appears in the movie when the other three characters are trying to make a seagull they found at the beginning of the movie fly, and she points out that they are hurting him. Burns makes quite a strong impact in her first scene and when she appears you can clearly feel a change in the movie's tone: it's not a particularly demanding scene yet Burns immediately makes Rhoda stand out as she is extremely different from the other characters - they are selfish, shallow and careless while she is sensitive and sincere. Through her performance Burns makes the viewer see why Peter, Dan and Sandy would find her annoying, pushy and a downer but at the same time she makes you feel sorry for her - the lack of pretentiousness in both her character and performance makes Rhoda instantly likeable and an easy character to feel empathy for. 

The first scene in which the other characters seem to warm up a bit to her is in her big scene midway through the movie when the guys are playing a game called "Absolute Truth" and Rhoda tells the story of her mother's accidental death by drowning. It's a long, harrowing monologue that Burns plays to absolute perfection: she makes the wise choice of underplaying it and it just couldn't be more devastating. There's a quiet, haunting sadness in Burns' subtle delivery and in those few minutes in which the camera is focused almost exclusively on her face she naturally holds her screen thanks to her heartbreakingly calm approach; in this slow-burning scene she builds up excellentely to the final moment in which she admits she spat on her mother's gave - it's a terrific moment because Burns shows perfectly both the bitterness and grief her mother's death caused her as well as her longing for approval, respect and admiration from the other boys. 

Burns' plain looks certainly makes her an ideal choice for the role of Rhoda but she also possesses a quiet, genuine charm that makes both Peter's growing interest in her and Sandy's increasing jealousy. In her scenes with Richard Thomas, Burns is just wonderful at portraying Rhoda's sweet and caring personality and the two actors' chemistry is actually quite strong - their moments together are the most poignant of the movie because they feel beautifully real and spontaneous, turning the potential romance between Rhoda and Peter the bright spot of the movie. Rhoda is the only character in the movie who truly understands Peter, who appreciates for what he truly is and not for what the person he pretends to be and who scolds him when he acts carelessly because she knows he is a decent guy deep down - Burns conveys all of these feelings wordlessly through the tender warmth of her performance. I particularly love Burns' anxious face when Rhoda buys a new bikini and asks Peter if he likes it - her bright smile when he answers yes is just heartwarming and moving. She is also great when she goes to a date with a guy that Sandy introduces to her: she is heartbreaking as she shows Rhoda's embarassment and awkwardness because she feels so relatable and lifelike, as she feels in her few exchanged looks with Peter in the same scene, in which she conveys so much just with her facial expressions. Then she is extremely moving as she witnesses Sandy, Dan and eventually Peter getting her date drunk and then causing him to be beaten by some local bullies - it's an outstanding scene for Burns as she shows so perfectly her shock and realization of Sandy's true nature. As I mentioned the final scene of the movie does not work very well because it feels way too rushed but I thought Burns managed to bring the needed emotional weight to it, and that's a testament to her ability to make the viewer care about her. 

Last Summer is far from being a great movie but Catherine Burns' performance is nothing short of astonishing. In spite of the film's flaws, Burns delivers a brilliant, realistic, layered and devastating performance that it's so outstanding because of how relatable it feels. It's a wonderful portrayal that alone makes the movie worth-watching. 


lunedì 7 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969: Dyan Cannon in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Dyan Cannon received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Alice Henderson in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is an interesting movie about a married couple's decision to embrace complete openness and how this affects the relationship between their two best friends, married to each other. I would say that the movie is a bit dated today but I still found it a very enjoyable experience: the screenplay is actually excellent and even if the ending is indeed rather puzzling I still think it works well within the movie (unlike most people I never felt it was a cop out). I have to say though that the scenes focusing on Ted and Alice are by far the strongest of the movie, as I think they are far more interesting than Bob and Carol who are a bit one-note: Robert Culp still delivers a fine enough performance showing some variations within his character's limitations but I felt Natalie Wood went way too far with her performance, killing any sort of credibility or humanity to her character whatsoever. 

In 1969 Dyan Cannon received quite a few nominations to critics' awards (she actually won the New York Film Critic Circle Award) in the supporting category, and she ended up being nominated at the Oscars in the same category. The Golden Globes, though, nominated her in the lead category and in my opinion that's where she belongs: not only she gets a lot of screen-time, but she is also an absolutely essential character without whom the movie would have failed. In fact, Alice Henderson is the character with whom the viewer can relate most and she immediately becomes the movie's emotional and moral crux. It's a much more demanding role than it first seems, and Cannon is perfectly up to the task. First off, she works incredibly well with the rest of the ensemble and proves herself to be a very generous performer - she knows when it's her time to shine and in the remaining moments she manages to quietly leave a big impression without ever trying to upstage any of the other cast members. The ensemble is terrific as the four leads truly seem like longtime friends and there's a natural, spontaneous feeling in their moments together - Alice is the character who speaks the least when they are in company but she makes her silence heard and makes the most out of her small, reactionary moments: there is not a single look or gesture that ever seems wasted. Her first big moment is when Carol tells Alice and Ted that Bob cheated on her and that she is completely fine with it: Cannon is excellent at showing how Alice is deeply upset by it and she's actually quite moving at portraying her inability to understand neither Bob's act nor Carol's acceptance of it. Her long following discussion with her husband Ted is beautifully acted on both ends I found myself completely captivated by it throughout the entirety of it: Cannon and Elliot Gould share a wonderful chemistry and they nail both the comic and dramatic sides of the scene - their bickering is extremely entertaining but they also show remarkably how Alice and Ted are shocked by the news in their own ways. 

In the rest of the movie Dyan Cannon does a fantastic job at showing how Alice tries to deal with the new situation but never quite seems to truly accept or understand their friends' lifestyle. She is very moving as she shows that Alice really tries to adapt to this new reality but simply can't which leads to the brilliant scene when Alice visits a psychiatrist. It's an absolutely marvelous moment thanks to Cannon's acting who reveals so much about Alice and her personality - the nuances she conveys in this scene are just incredible: everything feels so natural, honest and poignant and she adds so much complexity to the character through some small details that are never overcooked yet are immediately visible - the way she moves her eyes and body indicating her nervousness, her awkward laugh when she says Bob's name instead of her husband's, both the happiness and the uncomfortableness as she talks about her life at home... it's just a phenomenal scene that does not consist of loud or showy acting but it's unforgettable because of how poignantly and sincerely Cannon plays it as she just exposes every single aspect of the character giving the viewer a full understanding of her thoughts and feelings. 

Cannon's truly big moment comes at the end of the movie when the four friends travel together to Las Vegas and Alice drinks a little too much: Cannon portrays her character's state convincingly and she never overdoes it but it's particularly impressive about the scene is that even if she is seemingly okay now with Carol's and Bob's situation she still suggests an underlying unease. And when her husband finally confesses he too had an affair, Cannon is just terrific at portraying Alice's reaction: it's a painful moment because Cannon is just heartbreaking at portraying her character's devastation over her husband's cheating. Her drunken breakdown when she suggests the four of them should have an orgy is played to perfection by Cannon as she completely earns it and she delivers it with the right exasperation and painful playfulness. She also adds a lot to the final scenes of the movie as each of her silent reactions tell something about her feelings and emotions even as she doesn't speak. 

Overall, this is a wonderful performance that in my opinion carried the movie on its shoulders and gave it complexity and depth. Cannon is both funny and moving in a tricky, challenging role and her achievement stands out as by far the strongest performance in the movie. It's an intelligent portrayal from an actress I'm now much more interested about.


venerdì 4 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969: Sylvia Miles in Midnight Cowboy

Sylvia Miles received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Cass in Midnight Cowboy.

Midnight Cowboy is an excellent film about a naive hustler from Texas who goes to New York looking for fortune and befriends a street con man with a limp. The movie deserved all of its three Oscars, as the directing by John Schlesinger is excellent and even if I probably preferred They Shoot Horses, Don't They?'s screenplay I can't complain at all about Midnight Cowboy's win in that category either. I also think the movie should have received a Best Cinematography nomination due to how beautifully shot the party scene is. Overall it's a compelling and poignant movie, that is obviously made all the more memorable by the two leading performances.

Sylvia Miles plays Cass, a middle-aged woman with whom Joe (Jon Voight) has sex. It's an extremely brief role that only appears for about five minutes at the beginning of the movie and is never mentioned again; I would say Miles' nomination must have been extremely surprising back then not only due to size of the role but also due to the fact that Brenda Vaccaro (with a slightly larger role) got a nomination at the Golden Globes for the same movie. There is no denying that Miles really gives her all in her few minutes on screen and the energy of this performance cannot be denied: right from her very first moment, Miles is quite enjoyable as she is rather over-the-top in a way that fits perfectly her trashy character, a shallow woman who fills her life with empty sex. Each of her lines is very well delivered and I found myself enjoying her performance just as she was clearly enjoying delivering it - I particularly like the moment in which she is talking on the phone with a married man and kissing Joe at the same time. The most memorable part of her performance comes at the end of her scene, when she has to leave to meet another man and when Joe tentatively asks her for money, she yells at him as she hadn't realized the reason why he slept with her and starts crying until he ends up giving her money. It's a very entertaining moment and Miles is actually rather funny at portraying Cass' hysterical outburst ("Who the hell do you think you're dealing with, some old slut on 42nd Street? In case you didn't happen to notice it, ya big Texas longhorn bull, I'm one helluva gorgeous chick!" is just priceless).

So, yes, I really do appreciate Miles' turn in this scene, but at the same time I ask myself - as enjoyable as she is, is her effort really worthy of an Oscar nomination? Her scene is indeed entertaining, but when the movie is over is her performance really one of the things that truly stand out? Not really. I also feel that the grotesque nature of her character works both for and against her: it is partly what makes her performance enjoyable but at the same time it prevents Miles from making Cass a little less one-note - with a little more screen-time, I think Miles might have been able to dig a little deeper into the role but ultimately her screen-time is too brief for her to overcome the limitations of the role. She actually does convey the sad, pathetic side of her character unwilling to acknowledge the passing of the years but by the time I felt the really great part of her performance was starting it was already over.

Overall I think this is an extremely hard performance to rate and there really is not much to say about it. I enjoyed immensely her turn when she was on-screen but at the same time I never thought she did anything so remarkable to truly deserve a nomination for the highest award in terms of movie acting (and to be honest I thought Vaccaro was actually the best supporting performer in the movie). She leaves an impact to be sure but at the same time I hardly felt she was a one-scene-wonder. I originally intended to give her a lesser rating but I feel she does anything she could have in the role, so I'll give her a rating that I think suits her performance best - solid and respectable but not truly noteworthy.  


mercoledì 2 novembre 2016

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1969

And the nominees are...

Catherine Burns - Last Summer
Dyan Cannon - Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Goldie Hawn - Cactus Flower
Sylvia Miles - Midnight Cowboy
Susannah York - They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

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