martedì 15 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Vanessa Redgrave in Howards End

Vanessa Redgrave received her sixth Oscar nomination for her performance as Ruth Wilcox in Howards End.

Howards End is a magnificent movie revolving around three families belonging to three different social classes at the beginning of the 20th century. First off, I think this picture is an absolute masterpiece of writing, with brilliantly clever dialogue and carefully layered characters. It's such a stunning depiction of that specific time of history while feeling so utterly fresh and contemporary as well. The portrayal of the differences between social classes and the hypocrisy of the ruling class never becomes heavy-handed or one-sided, but it's treated in a human, sensitive fashion that creates at least an understanding even to the most morally questionable characters. The score is absolutely enchanting and it enhances the atmosphere of poetic beauty that surrounds the film and the cinematography is wonderful. And there is not a single bad performance in the cast, though I feel Helena Bonham Carter deserves a special mention for her career-best work here. 

Ruth Wilcox is a challenging role for many reasons. On one hand, it's technically quite limited as it appears on screen only for a handful of scenes at the beginning of the movie and it serves mostly as a setup for the rest of the story. On the other hand, the whole plot relies heavily on her character and the ability of the actress to give believability and emotional weight to the character's final decision on her deathbed, which not only sets the action to motion but is also a representation of the movie's themes and ideas. Thankfully the actress in question is far from being a random one, but it's Vanessa Redgrave, who is in my opinion one of the most intelligent, versatile and gifted performers to ever grace the screen. Redgrave is one of those exceptional actresses that can make calculated acting look spontaneous. Every performance of hers feels precisely and accurately studied and it's always quite apparent that behind her performances there has been a careful preparation, but at the same time she never feels too technical, rehearsed or unsincere: she's one of those very unique actresses that can be both cerebral and emotional in their approach, both technical and raw. And this has rarely been more visible than in her performance in Howards End: there are definite mannerisms in both her physical work and her vocalization, yet it's one of the most delicate and hearfelt pieces of acting I have ever seen.

When we meet Ruth, it's already clear that she's seriously ill and that she is not going to live much longer. Redgrave is outstanding in her depiction of her character's physical condition: she has such a remarkable way of conveying the character's weakness through her body and she really gives you the impression that this woman is aching every step of the way. But what's most incredible is her voice work which is easy to take for granted but is actually quite an achievement: first off, her eloquent, refined way of speaking effectively establishes Ruth's background as a very wealthy, educated woman; moreover, her breathless delivery feels just right for a woman who is in such a painful state though she carefully never overdoes it either; at the same time though there is a spark in her voice that betrays the life-loving, radiant soul that lies beneath Ruth's tired, weak-willed appearence. Redgrave's understanding of the character is so deep that she manages to portray in her performance both the lively person that she used to be and the dying woman whose hunger for life has not waned. Redgrave's performance is short but she's so brilliant I felt like I had always known Ruth Wilcox.

Two things are requested from Redgrave to accomplish in this movie: the first one is to convey during her brief screen-time Ruth's infinite love for her house, Howards End, and the second one is to portray Ruth's affection for her burgeoise friend Margaret (Emma Thompson in an Oscar-winning performance), therefore bringing believability to her eventual choice to leave Howards End to her, even though she belongs to a lower class than hers. And Redgrave does both things astonishingly. Just take her very first scene in the movie, in which she is simply walking around Howards End: Redgrave's worldess acting in this scene is absolutely first-rate - she doesn't need any dialogue to convey the character's affection for the aforementioned place. She walks as if she were trying to capture every single moment she spends there forever into her memory. In later scenes, whenever the name Howards End pops up, Redgrave's face just lightens up, her voice filled with nostalgic fondness and her eyes sparkling with emotion. My favorite scene of her whole performance might be the one in which she tells Margaret of the myth of the pig's teeth at Howards End - it's such a beautifully understated moment that Redgrave plays with such a heartfelt delicacy it becomes one of the most poignant moments in he movie. And when she begs Margaret to come to see Howards End her performance turns absolutely heartbreaking - her delivery of "Come with now, now, come with me now" is absolutely devastating as it is so hopeful and enthusiastic in spite of Ruth's rapidly declining health.

Ruth's friendship with Margaret Schlegel is also one of the movie's most touching aspects as it is on one hand so unlikely and on the other hand so beautiful. Ruth and Margaret are two extremely different people: Ruth is an old-fashioned aristocratic (at one point she remarks that she doesn't think women should vote) while Margaret is a liberal thinker from the middle class. But they're both very kind-hearted and ultimately their bond overcomes their social differences. Both actresses are absolutely wonderful at portraying the friendship between the two characters - they share a lovely, poignant and sincere chemistry and create this beautiful, meaningful relationship that is the emotional crux of the movie in spite of Redgrave's very limited time on screen. Each of their interactions are absolutely heartwarmin to watch, especially the scene in which they go Christmas shopping together. You never doubt the emotional honesty of Ruth's and Margaret's affection for each other and when Ruth decides to leave Howards End to Margaret and not to her family it feels just the right and obvious outcome because of the deep connection that developed between the two. Redgrave's final scenes at the hospital are very low-key but Redgrave is absolutely wonderful in them as she brings so much grace and dignity to Ruth right up to her very final moment.

I know not everyone is impressed by this performance but personally I think it's an absolutely astonishing turn from one of the greatest actress ever. Ruth Wilcox could have been a mere plot device but Vanessa Redgrave creates a three-dimensional individual that becomes the movie's emotional crux. An elegant, subtle, delicate and heartbreaking portrayal that keeps haunting the movie even long after she has left.


sabato 12 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Joan Plowright in Enchanted April

Joan Plowright received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Fisher in Enchanted April.

Enchanted April revolves around four women dissatisfied with their lives who decide to take a vacation in a castle in Italy in order to find peace and happiness. I remember finding the movie rather dull and uninteresting the first time I watched it, so I was actually quite surprised when I found myself enjoying it this time around. It's far from being a great movie and there are considerable flaws to be found in it - the cinematography is a little underwhelming as it does not capture the full potential of the beautiful landscape and the screenplay, although Oscar nominated, is not particularly great with the all of the characters being somewhat sketchy and a few awkwardly written lines (Lottie's monologue about love is rather cringe-worthy). But nonetheless it's a charming movie that might never become anything that special but is still nice enough to watch and Mike Newell deserves a lot of credit for that as the movie's charm derives mostly from the delicate and tenderly hopeful tone he manages to set for the story. The cast is not amazing, but it's rather engaging for the most part.

The first time I watched the movie I was completely unimpressed by Joan Plowright's performance and honestly quite baffled by the nomination, which I immediately disregarded as a typical veteran nomination. Having rewatched the movie, I now feel quite differently: I still don't think it's a great performance (though it's mostly the role's fault if it isn't) and I felt there were better performances that could have been nominated instead (even if we stay within the "stern old lady softens up" trope, I thought Maggie Smith did it better in an even more light-hearted way in Sister Act). But I've actually come to appreciate this performance and the delicacy of Plowright's realization of her character's arc. My main problem with the performance doesn't really come from Plowright's acting but from the conventionality of the role itself: Mrs. Fisher is nothing more than an archetype, specifically the one of the elder woman who is grumpy and distant towards everyone only to reveal later on a more tender and sensitive side. It's a role that has been seen and done a thousand times really, to the point it's not all that exciting unless a) it's performed in a particularly outstanding fashion b) the role is written with particular depth and complexity. Sadly, it's not the case here: Plowright does a perfectly respectable job with the character and the ease and confidence of her acting style shouldn't be a surprise considering her distinguished history both on stage and on-screen, but at the same time I wouldn't say she exactly reinvents the wheel with this performance; and the role itself is a rather unoriginal version of the aforementioned archetype. But still, Plowright's natural talent is enough to slightly elevate the role and even if the overall result isn't all that memorable it's a very nice performance.

Plowright's earliest scenes in the movie are actually the ones I like the least. She is more than adequate in her portrayal of her character's cranky behavior and she has a few genuinely funny moments ("I didn't know Shakespeare and Chaucher either", "I hope you're not in the habit of seeing dead people"). At the same time, though, the writing behind the character is at its most conventional in those scenes and I have to admit that there were moments in which I actually felt Plowright herself was a little off. Especially in the first scene, she occasionally comes across as a little more theatrical than she needs to and might go just a tad over-the-top in her deliveries and over-accentuates Mrs. Fisher' pompusness. But those are just very minor quibbles and Plowright deserves a lot of credit for managing to make Mrs. Fisher far less obnoxious than she could've been. Technically she is a very cold, unlikeable character for at least half of the film but Plowright manages to suggest that there is more to Mrs. Fisher than what meets the eye, very subtly conveying the inner loneliness and quiet desperation of the character, who spends most of the time reading and internally mourning her late husband. I'm usually not a fan of the use of voice-over as I find it a very unsubtle and obvious technique but I have to say that it's probably the performance's strongest asset - Plowright has an extremely expressive voice which makes those moments feel particularly intimate, heartfelt and touching.

In my opinion Plowright's performance grows in strength as Mrs. Fisher starts to soften up to the other ladies and finally befriends them. The transition is a little bit rushed but somehow Plowright manages to make it work - Mrs. Fisher's newfound sweetness, gentleness and humour don't feel like altogether new but rather, thanks to Plowright's carefully realized performance, as things that were always hidden inside of her. She just blossoms on-screen and Plowright manages to make this develpment surprisingly affecting. Her character is often tossed aside towards the end of the movie in favour of Miranda Richardson's and Polly Walker's but she is a welcome presence whenever she pops up. My favorite scene of her performance comes close to the very end, in which Lottie (Josie Lawrence) promises Mrs. Fisher that they will keep being friends when they return to London. Again, Plowright's killer-good voice over is key to her portrayal of Mrs. Fisher's loneliness and she deserves credit for managing to create a somewhat meaningful dymanic between her character and Lawrence's one despite the latter's rather overcooked performance. And she certainly ends the performance on a very pleasant and heartwarming note as Mrs. Fisher plants her walking stick in the ground to let it blossom as she leaves the castle - it's a rather lovely moment and a fittingly sweet closure for the movie.

Mrs. Fisher is not a great role or an especially challenging one, but Joan Plowright's performance manages to rise above it. It's not an especially remarkable achievement and probably every good British actress her age could have delivered a solid performance in the role, but nonetheless she does a very nice job at portraying her character's transition from bitterly cold and warmingly open-hearted. It's very much like the movie itself - nothing particularly noteworthy but definitely pleasant to watch.


martedì 8 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992

And the nominees are...

Judy Davis - Husband and Wives
Joan Plowright - Enchanted April
Vanessa Redgrave - Howards End
Miranda Richardson - Damage
Marisa Tomei - My Cousin Vinny

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

domenica 6 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975: Ranking

5. Sylvia Miles in Farewell, My Lovely
Sylvia Miles admirably tries to rise above the clichèd nature of the role but ultimately her lack of screen-time and the movie's lack of interest towards her character prevent her from becoming anything particularly memorable.
Best scene: Marlowe's first visit at Jesse's house.

4. Lee Grant in Shampoo
Lee Grant tries to add depth and complexity to an underwritten, stock part and even if she does succeed to an extent the overall result is a solid though not especially remarkable performance in a very forgettable movie.
Best scene: Felicia realizes she is losing both her husband and her lover to the same woman.

3. Brenda Vaccaro in Once is Not Enough
Once is Not Enough is an unbelievably terrible movie but Vaccaro's performance rises above the quality of the movie. It's hardly a great role but she brings energy and life to an otherwise lifeless experience and even manages to be somewhat moving in her final scene.
Best scene: Linda is fired from her job.

2. Ronee Blakley in Nashville
Ronee Blakley delivers an outstanding performance in perhaps the movie's most challenging role. She brings an enormous amount of charm and grace to the role of Barbara Jean, she is amazing in the musical numbers and she does a heartbreaking job at portraying her character's underlying emotional distress. It's a terrific, endlessly fascinating performance.
Best scene: Breakdown on stage.

1. Lily Tomlin in Nashville
Blakley used to be my pick, but on a rewatch I was surprised by how much I was impressed by Tomlin's small but unforgettable portrayal. She makes the absolute most out of her limited screen-time creating a three-dimensional character with whom the audience can relate and then Altman hands her the most delicate and moving scene of the film and she's absolutely incredible in it. It's a subtly amazing performance.
Best scene: "I'm Easy"

Honorable Omissions: It doesn't really count as an omission since she not only was nominated in the leading category but she actually won, but personally I think Louise Fletcher's performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest belongs her. I won't discuss her performance in depth for the time being as I'll eventually review her when I'll come to Best Actress 1975, but I'll say that it's a far more complex performance than it seems at first and it's easy to take her work for granted. Rachel Roberts does an amazing job in Picnic at Hanging Rock, impressively portraying every facet of her complicated characer: Miss Appleyard starts off as a somewhat typically stern headmistress and Roberts is great at it, but as the movie progresses she's phenomenal at unleashing her character's venomous cruelty as well as conveying her own emotional turmoil and distress. Helen Morse is effective as the movie's emotional and moral center, and Anne-Louise Lambert is unforgettable in her small role as the graceful, mysterious, almost otherworldly Miranda. In Nashville, Geraldine Chaplin delivers a wonderfully hilarious turn as Opal, being so deliciously off-putting in every single scene in her portrayal of the completely inadequate and insensitive reporter. In the same movie, Gwen Welles is also especially moving in her portrayal of the desperate yet stubbornly hopeful Sueleen, with her striptease scene being particularly devastating. Faye Dunaway is terrific in Three Days of the Condor - it's a surprisingly tender and subdued performance from her and she does a wonderful job at elevating a potential plot device into a three-dimensional, relatably touching character. Plus, her chemistry with Robert Redford is top notch. Veronica Cartwright is terrific in Inserts: she is very entertaining in portraying a certain degree of ditziness in her character without ever overdoing it, which could have been something very easy to do especially as far as the voice is concerned; but past that she is very moving in her portrayal of her character's underlying desperation and the helplessness of her addiction. Jessica Harper is also very memorable in the same movie - she brings the needed mystery and allure to the character and her chemistry with Richard Dreyfuss is absolutely astonishing as the two of them play off each other in such a compelling fashion; on her own, Harper is also great in her portrayal of Cathy's underlying ambition to achieve her goals. Barbara Feldon is great in Smile - it's a very tricky role that borders on caricature, but she excels in it by portraying the sheer emptiness behind her nice façade. She does a striking job at showing the two sides of her character, warm and welcoming in front of others and cold and detatched in her home. Some of the actresses portraying the contestants at the beauty pageant are very good too, especially Annette O'Toole, who is quite touching in her portrayal of her character's desperation, and Joan Prather, who delivers a nicely subdued performance as the least pretentious of the girls. 
The next year: Best Supporting Actress 1992, as requested. 

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Lily Tomlin, Nashville
  2. Rachel Roberts, Picnic at Hanging Rock - 5/5
  3. Ronee Blakley, Nashville 
  4. Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - 5/5
  5. Veronica Cartwright, Inserts - 4.5/5
  6. Geraldine Chaplin, Nashville - 4.5/5
  7. Gwen Welles, Nashville - 4.5/5
  8. Barbara Feldon, Smile - 4.5/5
  9. Jessica Harper, Inserts - 4.5/5
  10. Faye Dunaway, Three Days of the Condor - 4.5/5

mercoledì 2 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975: Ronee Blakley in Nashville

Ronee Blakley received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Barbara Jean in Nashville.

Ronee Blakley plays the role of Barbara Jean, a beloved country singer who returns to Nashville after recovering from a burn accident. Barbara Jean is a challenging part, in more ways than one: not only it requires a great voice, screen-presence and charisma, but also requires the ability to come off as a genuinely good-hearted, entirely selfless person without coming across as unbelievable and/or bland. Thankfully, Ronee Blakley delivers an absolutely first-rate performance that meets every demand of the role - she simply becomes Barbara Jean, realizing her both as a three-dimensional, fully-fleshed character and the symbol she is supposed to represent. Whereas Lily Tomlin's Linnea Reese served as the movie's most human and relatable character, Barbara Jean is always shot and presented at a certain distance - she's an almost otherwordly presence, a pure product of the musical enviroinment (and a victim of it) that deeply moves us even though Altman never allows us to get too close, a decision that ends up making the character all the more fascinating and haunting. 

Barbara Jean's first appearence into the movie is preceded by a certain build-up, and she certainly does not disappoint: she dominates the screen in a way that never once feels overbearing. She possesses a unique, luminous radiance that makes her status as Nashville's sweetheart not only believable but almost obvious. But most importantly she manages to make Barbara Jean's sweetness feel completely sincere: she brings such a lovely amount of grace and honesty to the character you never once think that her kindness is a put on. Barbara Jean is the personification of pure goodness and Blakley manages to embody perfectly the quality of this character without ever turning her into a one-dimensional presence - she is both a representation of goodness while also being a layered, believable character. Regarding the musical part of her performance, it's always a real treat to watch her perform: not only she has a wonderful singing voice but she also has a truly captivating presence that makes her musical numbers particularly remarkable. It's in the singing scenes that her Barbara Jean truly seems alive - she simply lights up the screen and gives an impression of ease and confidence, two qualities that are utterly lacking (and rightly so) in Blakley's portrayal in the more intimate scenes. By listening to the songs' lyrics, that Blakley wrote herself, you can really understand the actress' understanding of Barbara Jean and her commitment to the role: she adds a lot of complexity to the character with the songs and also creates a history for her. With "My Idaho Home" she gives a whole backstory to her and she sings the song with a moving degree of nostalgia and fondness for her family. She also delivers in her performance of "Dues", which feels painfully real and heartbreaking considering Barbara Jean's own troubled relationship with her husband Barnett (Allen Garfield).

We first get a true glimpse of Barbara Jean's emotional instability after she collapses while going to greet some fans. Her following scenes at the hospital are heartbreakingly well-played as Blakley does not lose the graceful gentleness of the character's "public" moments but she feels much more pale, uneasy and unsure than when she is on stage performing. Blakley strikingly deprives Barbara Jean of her charismatic presence in those scenes, instead she just portrays her as a fragile, lost soul that receives no help from everyone around her. Blakley is extremely moving in her portrayal of Barbara Jean's turmoil and nails each of the emotional beats in her performance as the character grows progressively closer to a nervous breakdown. I particularly like her scene at the hospital with Garfield, with the two actors doing an especially effective job at portraying their characters' strained relationship: on his own, Garfield is very good at portraying both a genuine concern and a certain degree of cruelty in his treatment of his wife, while Blakley is touching in her portrait of Barbara Jean's helplessness as she is manipulated by her husband. But the crowning moment of her performance is most definitely her nervous breakdown on stage, where she starts telling disjointed, random stories before being escorted off stage: it's an extremely tricky scenes that Blakley solves with surprising ease, naturally portraying her character's growing unease as her rambling becomes more and more confused while still using the scene to add yet other layers to the character and further exploring her life before the events of the movie.

Barbara Jean could have been a one-dimensional character, a mere martyr inside the twisted world of Nashville. But Ronee Blakley manages to give an absolutely marvelous performance that metts all the challenge of this difficult role, making Barbara Jean the sort of iconic figure she is supposed to be while also delivering a layered portrait of the emotionally unstable, desperate person that lies beneath. It's an amazing performance that is key to the overall success of the movie.


sabato 29 luglio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975: Lily Tomlin in Nashville

Lily Tomlin received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Linnea Reese in Nashville.

Nashville is a brilliant movie about various people connected to the music business in Nashville over the few days surrounding a political convention. It's an engaging, captivating experience from start to finish that benefits greatly from an absolutely amazing screenplay that gives depth and humanity to each of its characters. Like in every ensemble movie, some of the characters/performances overshadow others - but what's so great about Nashville is that every performance, even if it's not necessarily memorable per se, adds something to the movie. Everything about Nashville comes together beautifully: there is not a single false note in this piece. The satire involving both the musical and the political world is handled very cleverly, as it is clearly evident but it's never heavy-handed. This is just an incredible film.

Lily Tomlin plays the role of gospel singer Linnea Reese, which is just one among the many characters in the movie. It's the kind of role that could have easily disappeared in a movie like this: between charismatic music stars, sly manipulators and hopeful wannabes, a character as ordinary as Linnea could have appeared completely bland and uninteresting. But Lily Tomlin manages to take this quality of the character - its ordinarity - and make it its biggest strength, turning Linnea into the most relatable and human figure in the movie. Tomlin is an actress best known for her comedic work and her usually colorful, loud screen-presence, so it's quite astonishing to see how capable of subtlety she actually is - her performance in Nashville couldn't be more gentle and restrained. She completely denies her usual persona both on and off the screen embodying so effortlessly the simple reality of this woman. Her greatest achievement is her ability to make every single moment of her performance stand out in a way: Tomlin does not have a lot of screen-time in the movie and she has basically just one truly big scene, but she manages to make every little detail of her work here count. She's just quite wonderful in her few scenes that show her singing with her choir - she has a lovely voice and she exudes joy and radiance during those brief numbers. And she's fantastic in the few scenes that take place at Linnea's home, fleshing out Linnea's relationship with her children and her husband (Ned Beatty) completely in just a few minutes. I love each of Linnea's moments with her kids, who are both deaf - she perfectly conveys the patience, warmth and motherly love of the characters and she manages to achieve this while seemingly doing almost nothing. Her minimalistic approach works wonders for the character, and just with the encouraging smile on her face as she listens to her kid she expresses all we need to know. She barely has any screen-time with Beatty but both actors are great at just conveying the present state of their relationship -  there is a certain degree of affection between the two of them, but certainly not love, let alone passion. They realistically portray just a certain indifference in their relationship, almost a resignation that their marriage is not a very passionate one.

The crux of Tomlin's role and performance revolves around the character of Tom (Keith Carradine), a handsome but shallow singer who takes an interest in her, calling at her house multiple times trying to arrange a meeting between the two of them. Tomlin is absolutely terrific in each of those scenes as she conveys an incredible variety of feelings with very little dialogue: during the phone calls, she often just listens and quietly reacts and Tomlin never misses any single emotional beat, portraying her character's emotional turmoil with subtlety and restraint. She does not need to verbally express her worry, her vulnerability and her curiosity, because you can read the feelings of the character right across her face and her small gestures. Her big scene occurs when Linnea agrees to come to a club and watch Tom perform: it's an absolutely phenomenal scene and Tomlin does an incredible job at conveying even the tiniest emotion of the character. I love the way she at first tries to sit next to Tom but, upon seeing he's with another woman, sits alone in the back of the club - it's all done in such a natural and spontaneous way. And of course her greatest moment is the famous long-shot of Linnea as she listens Tom singing "I'm Easy" (which is probably one of the best Oscar-winning songs ever): it's perhaps the most beautiful scene in the entire movie and Tomlin does an absolutely amazing job at portraying her slow, gradual realization that he's singing to her. What I love the most is that Tomlin does not betray the quiet nature of the character in this scene: while other actresses might have been tempted to go for a showier approach, she remains extremely subdued in it, expressing her character's emotional state with her face and her eyes while sitting still, overcome by the emotion. It's the character's key scene and it comes at such a perfect moment it amplifies the power of her whole performance. She's also great in her final scene with Carradine, in which Linnea prepares to leave Tom's room after they had sex and he already calls another woman: Tomlin is excellent as, without saying a word basically, she brings so much maturity and cleverness to the character of Linnea - she is not going to be one of Tom's girls who consistently pine for him: they had sex, and now she's perfectly aware of her own responsabilities and that they must part ways. Out of all the characters in Nashville, she's probably the one with most dignity of all. 

Linnea Reese is not a large role, but Lily Tomlin makes the most out of it and delivers a magnificent, unforgettable performance that is an absolute masterclass in subtlety. It's such a quiet, intelligent, realistic and moving performance - after the movie was over, I felt like I really knew and understood the character completely. I already admired the performance when I first saw it, but watching it a second time made me truly understand its greatness. It's a brilliant, unforgettable achievement in an excellent movie. 


mercoledì 26 luglio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975: Brenda Vaccaro in Once is Not Enough

Brenda Vaccaro received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Linda Riggs in Once is Not Enough.

Once is Not Enough is an excruciatingly bad movie about a young girl who, while recovering from an accident, falls in love with a man who reminds her of her father, a fading movie star who has just married a lesbian, wealthy woman. It's an absolutely terrible experience that is both absurd yet frustratingly dull, with the director Guy Green struggling to find a tone for this mess. The screenplay is particularly awful - every single character is basically a cliché and the dialogue is at times so ridiculous it becomes unbearable. Despite starring a few renowned actors such as Kirk Douglas, Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri, the cast is mostly disappointing, with the lead actress Deborah Raffin being especially stilted. 

Even though Brenda Vaccaro won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, I seriously doubt she had an actual chance to win the Oscar that year. Today, her nomination is considered somewhat puzzling and it's easy to see why, considering that Once is Not Enough is probably one of the trashiest movies ever nominated for an Academy Award. But in spite of the quality of the movie, I don't think Brenda Vaccaro's performance is bad - in fact, I think she's the movie's saving grace. I don't necessarily think it's an Oscar-worthy effort, but it's a rather lively and captivating turn that makes the movie a little more tolerable whenever she pops up. 

Vaccaro plays Linda, a former classmate of January (the lead). We learn from her first scene that she used to be ugly but is now beautiful after a series of plastic surgeries, and she is also the editor of a magazine, even though she is the first one to admit but it's not so much due to her professional talent but rather due to her sexual performances. To put it simply, it's a pretty terrible role that is rather one-note for the most part, as it mostly requires Vaccaro to deliver a handful of crude jokes about sex and to embody the role of the somewhat supportive friend. She has to deal with very poorly written leads, and for every funny joke that are five that are not. Still, despite all of this, Vaccaro manages to make Linda by far the most interesting character in the movie, or at the very least the most enjoyable: even with such an awkward script, Vaccaro manages to be a consistently entertaining presence on-screen due to her energy and comedic verve - she is only occasionally truly funny, but she undeniably brings a welcome breath of fresh air to a movie that desperately needs it. The role itself is rather over-the-top and so is Vaccaro's performance, but not quite in an unnatural way. She's showy and larger-than-life but enjoyably so, and she effortlessly steals every scene from everyone else in the cast. As I mentioned, she has a pretty terrible material to work with but she manages to somewhat sell even the lousiest lines. It's a rather admirable turn to be honest - her movie is terrible, the role is as well, yet she manages to deliver a good performance due to her effortless charisma and her spontaneous energy, surviving the awkwardness of the script with her sheer confidence as a performer. In particular I find Vaccaro to have a terrific voice that has a rather husky quality to it which makes her delivery quite unique and captivating. 

The other main function of Linda, besides being a comic relief, is acting as January's friend - even though most of her advices are questionable to say the least (in one scene she tells January to ask her own father to have sex with her, seriously what is wrong with this movie?). Vaccaro can't strike up much of a chemistry with Deborah Raffin, who couldn't be more boring if she tried, but she still does well as the supportive friend type - Linda is hardly the best friend one could imagine and Vaccaro does well at portraying a certain extent of shallowness and selfishness in her, but there is genuine warmth and affection in their scenes together. Past that, there is not a whole lot to the character of Linda but Vaccaro really does her best to add something substantial to it: she does well in specific moments at portraying her character's insecurities behind her façade - due to the problematic writing the slightly more serious moments don't mend especially well with the rest of the performance, but still Vaccaro tries her best and to an extent she does succeed. The strongest moment of the performance is her final scene, in which Linda has a breakdown after she is fired from her job, as the boss was just using her for sex all along. I found Vaccaro to be actually rather great in that scene and I found her to be surprisingly moving in her portrayal of her character's desperation. She handles the outburst very well, being properly intense without overdoing it, but she is even better at the very end after she calms down and is consoled by January. I found Vaccaro's performance to be actually quite heartwarming, managing to make the friendship between Linda and January quite touching despite Raffin being so bland in the role. 

This is not a great performance - the writing and the movie itself are so awful they don't allow Vaccaro to go far with it. But, still, it's a strong performance: I enjoyed every second of her work, waiting for her to appear again and bring some life to the terribly dull proceeding. Her energy and charisma makes her by far the standout of the picture and she also does an admirable job at trying to add some depth to the character, with her final scene being particularly remarkable. I could see why someone would find her performance to be terrible, but I thought she made the most out of the terrible material she had to work with. 


giovedì 20 luglio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975: Lee Grant in Shampoo

Lee Grant won the Oscar from her third nomination for her performance as Felicia Karpf in Shampoo.

Shampoo is a rather lifeless comedy about the life of a womanizing, ambitious hairdresser on the Eve of the 1968 Presidential Election. It's movie I really did not care for on first viewing and I did not like any better this time around: considering the talent of the people involved, it's an incredibly dull experience and I found the picture profoundly unfunny, which is a problem considering it's supposed to be a comedy. Sometimes the movie is lauded as being a great example of sharp satire - well, I would say I really don't share this sentiment as I found the movie's satire to be fairly uninspired. Warren Beatty's leading performance is one of the main problems I have with the movie, as I felt he failed to bring charm or likeability to his leading character making him pretty insufferable to say the least. The rest of the cast is okay I would say, with Goldie Hawn being probably the standout. The Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction is pretty ridiculous.

Lee Grant plays Felicia Karpf, a bored, wealthy woman who carries on an affair with the younger George (Beatty). Grant is not among my favorite actresses ever (she might be a little too calculated for my personal taste) but there's no denying that she has talent and no one could ever accuse her of being lazy in her performances: it's quite exciting to watch her performance in Shampoo because she is so committed to the role and because it's clear that she's trying to give Felicia as much as personality and life as she can. The problem is that in a movie so hollow, in a role so negligible and underwritten and with such a limited screen-time, her efforts feel a bit wasted overall. It's a performance that is occasionally accused of being overly mannered and I definitely can see why - I definitely understand why someone could see her gestures and voice to be a little too much at times, but past a couple of line-deliveries I thought her approach worked for the role. Felicia is a lonely person and I see the artifice in her performance to be intentional actually - it conveys a sense of desperation and longing for attention that is fitting to the character in my opinion. I never found her performance to be a comedic gem or even anything truly funny, but she's quite enjoyable whenever she appears on-screen and at least brings some welcome life to the proceeding. Also, unlike Beatty, she manages to make her character's unlikeable traits somewhat entertaining - Felicia is technically a rather whiny and overbearing character, and she manages to portray these qualities quite well without actually becoming a grating presence. 

My issues with the performance don't really come from Grant's acting but rather from the writing of the role: sure, Grant delivers a completely respectable performance but at the same time there is no denying that she has to do next to nothing. Grant does a fine job at suggesting the underlying desperation of the character without compromising the light-hearted nature of her performance , but at the same time this aspect of the character is only slightly hinted at and never really explored in depth. Same goes for Felicia's relationship with her husband Lester, played by Jack Warden in an Oscar-nominated performance: it's never really something that is touched upon, we just assume their marriage is passionless but we never get any sense of a history between the two. Midway through the movie the viewer also finds out that Felicia's daughter Lorna (Carrie Fisher, who is always a welcome presence) hates her, but we never really find out why as the two actresses barely share any screen-time together. Grant' dedication is always quite admirable, but the character is so underwritten it sometimes makes you wonder if she was ever intended as anything more than a plot device (and the answer is likely no). 

Her final scenes in the movie are probably the ones I find most remarkable even if I don't think they are anything that great. One problem is the incredibly repetitive writing - by this point in the movie the horny/desperate routine has grown a little bit repetitive and progressively less entertaining. The other problem is that I found her performance to be occasionally a bit overshadowed by Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn, who are given a little more space to develop their character than Grant and also possess a stronger screen-presence than her. But, past that, Grant manages to find some very good moments during the election party scene - she does an effective job at portraying her character's gradual realization of the fact that she's losing both her husband and her lover for the same woman, Jackie (Christie). Her scene opposite Christie in particular is rather memorable, with Grant making the most out of her small reactionary moments. I like that her performance doesn't turn melodramatic towards the end but rather grows colder and quieter - I really like her display of passive-aggressiveness in her final moments with Warden with one line-delivery being particularly golden ("I hope you like Miss Shawn. Because she's going to be very, very expensive"). Her final moment in which she shows the middle finger to Lester is quite amusing even if it's a very brief and uncerimonious ending for the character, reinforcing the idea that the role was never intended to amount to much. 

This is a good performance from a talented actress but at the same time I really don't see anything about her work that truly warrants an Oscar nomination - let alone a win. She's more than fine and she is enjoyable whenever she appears, but the limited, underwritten nature of the role prevents her from going far with it. I don't have problems with her execution of the role, but the issue is that the role requires her to do little more than nothing. A respectable achievement, but not something I truly care about. 


domenica 16 luglio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975: Sylvia Miles in Farewell, My Lovely

Sylvia Miles received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Jessie Helstead Florian in Farewell, My Lovely.

Farewell, My Lovely is an extremely weak adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel with the same name about a private detective who, while investigating the murder of a former client, is hired by an ex-convinct to find his girlfriend. There are a couple of remarkable elements in the film - namely, Robert Mitchum's leading performance and the score - but otherwise it's a hugely unstatisfying picture. There are some inspired choices in the lighting, but for the most part the cinematography not only fails to capture the 1940s atmosphere but it's just plain poor, even cheap. Most of the cast, including Charlotte Rampling, fails to register (though admittedly most of the characters are presented as clichés). And most importantly it's just a dull affair that never sparks the interest and excitement of the viewer.

Sylvia Miles' performance in this movie is longer than her first nominated work in Midnight Cowboy, but only slightly: in fact, she appears in two scenes that amount to eight minutes of screen-time overall. I would say it's pretty interesting to compare Miles' two nominated performances and their respective movies: Mrs. Florian is not the most original role ever (the washed-up, alcoholic lady has been done a million times before and a million times after), but it's still a role that allows more nuance and complexity than Midnight Cowboy's Cass. Yet, ultimately I find her five-minute work in Midnight Cowboy to be a more effective and memorable piece of work. Why? Because in spite of the heavy limitations of the role, both screen-time and writing wise, John Schlesinger knew exactly how to make Miles' flashy and grotesque turn leave a certain impression within the movie. Instead, director Dick Richards and writer David Zelag Goodman squander Sylvia Miles' talents by reducing the character to a mere stereotype, being concerned only about her character's function within the main investigation without bothering to give it a proper life of its own. I think her two nominated performances are interesting as they show that an actor can only do so much with a role and how the quality of the movie, its direction and its writing can either increase or diminish the impact of a performance. In Midnight Cowboy, Miles gave a one-note performance that was made quite memorable not only by her fierce energy on-screen but also by the absurd, grotesque tone established by the direction that surrounds her performance: even if I don't necessarily think she deserved a nomination for her work there, her scene works very well and it does because direction, writing and acting are perfectly in-sync. In Farewell, My Lovely Miles delivers a technically impressive and potentially moving performance that is squandered by the direction and the writing: it's actually quite frustrating to watch this obviously talented actress fighting against all these setbacks trying to trascend the stereotype she's given, unfortunately not quite succeeding.

Her first scene occurs about twenty minutes into the movie, when Marlowe goes to her house in order to get some information about Velma, the girl he's looking for. I would say that Miles is actually very strong in this scene: it's a very calculated style of acting, as in a certain way you can see the technique, but it never looks forced or unbelievable. She's quite mannered yet, considering how loud her performance in Midnight Cowboy was, surprisingly subdued. I would say her physical acting in particularly is impressive: the way she moves around the room without ever taking her eyes off Marlowe, the way she throws herself at the bottle as soon as Marlowe unwraps it, the way her arms shakes while she pours the drink in the glasses, the way she casually opens up  her robe a little more while she flirts it the man... it's all done very convincingly and it's clear that Miles is squeezing every bit of potential from the role. There are two main traits to the character of Mrs. Florian: her alcoholism and her loneliness. Miles portrays both well, with her chemistry with Mitchum being actually quite solid - she conveys a certain urgency behind her softness and warmth in her interactions with him that betrays the character's desperation and longing for some company. The moment in which she briefly re-enacts her act from her years as a showgirl might be a little too much at times but Miles is effective at conveying her character's nostalgia towards those days with her little breakdown being quite an unexpected, effective moment. It's a very well acted scene that is very impressive while you are watching it - but it's over pretty soon, and when it is the story moves on rather quickly therefore undercutting its impact. It doesn't help that her second appearence in the movie feels much less inspired than the first one - it's a much smaller scene that mostly asks Miles to repeat what she did in the first scene. Miles is still completely okay in it, and you can almost see her longing for more to do, but there's no denying that the second scene feels like a repetitive, lesser version of the first one as it doesn't really add anything new to the character.

This is not a bad performance and perhaps in a better movie it could have been an excellent performance. The problem is that Miles is stuck in a rather clichéd role in an average movie that doesn't give her the space to fully flesh it out. She clearly has an understanding for her character and does everything she can to leave an impression, but she has the misfortune of being in a movie that doesn't really know what do with her. It's a wasted opportunity, because under different circumstances I'm sure she would have thrived, but as it is this is just a respectable but rather forgettable turn.


giovedì 13 luglio 2017

My thoughts on the Emmy nominations

Sorry if I stopped posting again, but I was in Lisbon with my friends and therefore I didn't get the chance to see any movie. I'll soon post my review of Sylvia Miles' performance, until then I'll briefly write here my thoughts on this year's Emmy nominations (granted I've yet to see quite a lot of series, such as Westworld).

My two favorite performances of this year in television. So different, yet equally powerful.

  • I already reviewed Big Little Lies, and those who've read my review will know what I thought of it and its cast. To sum up, I'm just thrilled by its various nominations: Reese Witherspoon gave her best performance since Election, Nicole Kidman delivered an unforgettable  and heartbreaking masterclass in subtlety, Laura Dern brought a sharp comedic edge and a surprising complexity to her role, Shailene Woodley excelled in perhaps her most challenging part to date and Alexander Skarsgard managed to find a frightening realism and humanity in his potentially stock role. 
  • I already expressed my feelings towards Feud as well (in the comments below Big Little Lies' review) and again I couldn't be happier for all of its nominations. Susan Sarandon' portrayal of Bette Davis was captivating, funny and tragic all at once, and Jessica Lange was groundbreaking as Joan Crawford, with her performance in the final episode being so utterly devastating. The supporting nominations are deserved as well: Alfred Molina was terrific, Stanley Tucci was extremely fun, Judy Davis was delightfully bitchy and Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita was the beating heart of the show. I was extremely happy for Hoffman's nomination as I thought she was the MVP of the supporting cast, and thank god they did not nominate Catherine Zeta-Jones for her often awkward portrayal of Olivia De Havilland. 
  • Glad to see Ellie Kemper and Titus Burgess being nominated again for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kemper keeps being so endearing and genuinely funny in the lead role (which is a far more challenging one than it might seem) and Burgess is absolutely hilarious in every single episode, with each of his line-deliveries and facial reactions being gold, but he also brings a surprising emotional power to the role. His final scene in the series' 2nd episode was surprisingly heartbreaking.
  • The 3rd season of Fargo was perhaps a little less perfect of the 2nd, but it was still a great, compelling experience from start to finish. Its three nominations for the acting are completely deserved: Ewan McGregor is astounding in his two roles, Carrie Coon is fantastic as the moral and emotional crux of the series and David Thewlis is an unforgettable villain, hilarious in a second and bone-chilling in the next.
  • Uzo Aduba was completely deserving of her nomination for the fourth season of Orange is the New Black: as usual, she was absolutely terrific in the tricky role of Crazy Eyes, nailing both the comedy and the drama of the role. She has a few brilliant moments especially towards the end of the season. And Laverne Cox was richly deserving of her nomination in the Guest Actress category as well: in her limited screen-time, she gave a powerful portrayal of her character's physical and mental decay as she struggles to get out of the solitary confinement. 
  • I am obviously immensely thrilled for Millie Bobby Brown's nomination for her amazing and iconic performance as Eleven in Stranger Things. I was not expecting David Harbour's nomination but he completely deserved it as his performance was marvelous.
  • How could they not nominate Mary Elizabeth Winstead for her amazing performance in Fargo? She was absolutely first-rate in her role and I think she actually would have been a worthy winner for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/TV Movie. Frankly, I thought she was the standout of an already amazing cast. Also, Michael Stuhlbarg would have been an extremely worthy nominee. 
  • As much as Aduba deserved the nomination, there were other cast members in the fourth season of Orange is the New Black which were just as good as her, maybe even better. Danielle Brooks was as usual a hoot, but what made her performance in the fourth season so unforgettable is the emotional power she brings to the last few episodes: her last scene in the episode 12 is devastating. Lori Petty was brilliant as Lolly, portraying so endearingly her character's quirks while breaking our hearts with her depiction of her character's mental instability: her last scene left me completely shaken and heartbroken. Laura Prepon gave perhaps her best performance in the entire series as an unusually fragile and guilt-stricken Alex and both Kate Mulgrew and Natasha Lyonne shone in their respective characters (as they do every season). Samira Wiley was terrific too and she would have been worthy of getting in, but she was nominated for The Handmaiden's Tale instead.
  • Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane, just like last year, were unjustly snubbed for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. They were both hilarious while also bringing just the right touch of depth at the exact right times. A shame.
  • Winona Ryder's snub was really surprising to me. I know some people don't care about her performance, but I thought she was heartbreaking in Stranger Things. The kids were also amazing, particularly Gaten Matarazzo, but Ryder's snub was especially surprising.
I haven't seen many other series I can comment on. I've seen 13 Reasons Why and I'm overall quite indifferent towards it as a whole (it has both its strengths and its weaknesses) so I'm not upset nor glad about its lack of nomination (if you want me to talk more about my thoughts on the series, feel free to ask). 

martedì 27 giugno 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1975

And the nominees are...

Ronee Blakley - Nashville
Lee Grant - Shampoo
Sylvia Miles - Farewell, My Lovely
Lily Tomlin - Nashville
Brenda Vaccaro - Once is Not Enough

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

giovedì 22 giugno 2017

Best Actor 2016: Ranking

5. Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge
Garfield is perhaps a bit cloying in the movie's early scenes and he's a bit limited by the fairly one-dimensional nature of the role, but there's no denying that he still gives a compelling and harrowing portrayal of his character's faith, nailing every single reactionary moment in the battlefield scenes.
Best scene: "Help me get one more"

4. Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Despite being in an extremely problematic movie, Affleck delivers a magnificent portrayal of his character's grief. It's a subtle, intelligent portrayal of an extremely difficult role that could have come off as dull in the hands of someone else. Plus, he shares a terrific chemistry with Lucas Hedges.
Best scene: Lee accidentally bumps into Randi.

3. Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Ryan Gosling delivers an underrated and wonderful performance that is every bit as effective as Emma Stone's. It's a charming, entertaining turn, he sings and dance with energy and passion and he shares a terrific chemistry with his on-screen partner, but he also brings significant depth and nuance to the role. It's a quietly powerful portrayal from a great actor.
Best scene: Argument at dinner.

2. Denzel Washington in Fences
Washington is not usually a favorite of mine, but this performance of his is nothing short of astonishing. It's dynamite work that is absolutely captivating from beginning to end: as usual, Washington is not afraid to go big but, unlike other times, he also brings aching complexity to the character. It's a brilliant, layered performance.
Best scene: Troy's outburst after his lover's death.

1. Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic
Viggo Mortensen delivers an absolutely unforgettable performance in Captain Fantastic, adding realism and believability to a potentially absurd story. He brings the needed passion, determination and convinction to the character and then he's heartbreaking as he is forced to second-guess his ideals. A truly wonderful performance.
Best scene: Ben interrupts Leslie's funeral.

Honorable Omissions: Andrew Garfield delivers an absolutely astonishing performance in Silence, realizing perfectly his character's complex arc as well as effectively bringing to life his moral dilemma. It's a truly fantastic achievement - I don't even think the movie is flawless, but his portrayal certainly is. The two leads of The Nice Guys are absolutely terrific: Russell Crowe gives a great deadpan performance while bringing a certain depth to the material as well; but I was even more impressed by Ryan Gosling, who delivers one of the funniest performances I've seen in recent years with such a terrific timing both verbally and physically, while he too gives pathos and real emotions to the part; of course, neither performance would work as well if it weren't for the other: they share a fantastic chemistry which truly makes the movie work. Shahab Hosseini gives a marvelous performance in The Salesman, conveying excellently his character's painful state and leading up wonderfully to the movie's unforgettable closure. Adrian Titieni is brilliant in Graduation: it's an extremely difficult role that he pulls off wonderfully, never trying to making us sympathize with him but giving nonetheless an understanding to his questionable actions and bringing real honesty to his love for his daughter. Joel Edgerton gives a beautifully subdued performance in Loving, sharing a tender chemistry with Ruth Negga and conveying every single emotion in such a powerfully restrained manner. Adam Driver gives a realistic and genuine performance in the lovely Paterson, while Chris Pine delivers a terrific and underrated turn in Hell or High Water, being almost as impressive as Bridges and Foster in the same movie. Gaspard Ulliel is the quiet centerpiece of It's Only the End of the World - with very little dialogue, he's heartbreaking in his portrayal of his character's aching, lonely soul. Michael Fassbender is very good in The Light Between Oceans - he delivers a subtly effective portrayal of his character's emotional turmoil and he shares a wonderful chemistry with Vikander. Sunny Pawar gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance in Lion and Eddie Redmayne delivers his most effortlessly charming and entertaining performance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Dev Patel (Lion) and Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) were nominated in the supporting category, but really they belong to this category. 
The next year: Best Supporting Actress 1976.

My Best Actor Ballot:
  1. Andrew Garfield, Silence - 5/5
  2. Ryan Gosling, The Nice Guys - 5/5
  3. Shahab Hosseini, The Salesman - 5/5
  4. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water 
  5. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  6. Denzel Washington, Fences 
  7. Adrian Titieni, Graduation - 5/5
  8. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  9. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  10. Joel Edgerton, Loving - 5/5

lunedì 19 giugno 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield received his first Oscar nomination for his performance as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge.

Hacksaw Ridge depicts the true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII American Army Medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa without using any kind of weapons due to his pacifist beliefs. Personally, I think the movie is more than decent with uniformly solid performances from the whole cast but I still think it is severely flawed: I found the early scenes to be a little bit too corny for my taste and I felt the war scenes, despite having a certain effectiveness, were needlessly graphic and occasionally overdone. I was not a fan of the screenplay either, as I thought most of the character were one-dimensional or clichéd and I felt the way it conveyed its message was a bit too heavy-handed. There's very little subtlety to be found in the movie, but that said I still felt it was okay and I won't deny that some scenes leave a strong impact. 

The character of Desmond Doss is an incredibly challenging one actually as it could have easily been unbelievable and unrealistic. Right from the beginning, he is shown as an almost impossibly kind, optimistic and good-natured person, without any single flaw to his personality: Desmond Doss was obviously a great person, but the thin screenplay of the movie depicts him as so pure that it might have taken away any credibility from the character. Andrew Garfield's acting in the early scenes is not quite perfect: as I mentioned above, the screenplay especially in the beginning is both clichéd and cheesy, and Garfield can't quite escape them. There are a few moments in which I perceived his performance as slightly forced, as if I could see his efforts in trying to channel James Stewart's performance from the 1940s, and he crosses the line that divides charming and cloying a little bit too often. But even if I'm not fully supportive of his performance in the first scenes, there are definitely certain aspects he does get right: he adopts a thick Virginian accent that, despite a couple of iffy line deliveries, is fairly consistent and resembles quite well Doss' actual accent; he shares a lovely chemistry with Teresa Palmer that manages to make their romantic scenes work in spite of the extremely old-fashioned dialogue; and he does capture the good-hearted nature of the character as well as his deep faith that he portrays with honesty and sincerity. Also, I should give credit to him for trying to find some nuance in his character in spite of the paper-thin screenplay, such as in his scenes with Hugo Weaving, who portrays Doss' alcoholic father: Garfield does a good job at showing both his sorrow regarding his father's condition but also his affection towards him. Sadly, the movie doesn't give much space to his relationship with his father (who disappears midway through the movie), but Garfield and Weaving certainly make the most out of their limited screen-time together. 

I found myself more invested in Garfield's performance once Doss enlists in the Army and his pacifist beliefs get him the disdain of his fellow soldiers. I found Garfield's performance to be rather moving in those scenes as he portrays extremely well both the physical and emotional pain in Doss due to the harassment of the other soldiers while conveying the right sort of resilience and inner strength the character requires. There's an underlying energy, a quiet fire in his portrayal that makes it engaging and compelling and Garfield brings such a great deal of passion and honesty to the role that you never doubt the sincerity of his faith. Garfield certainly has a great understanding of the character's mindset - even in the few moments in which I think he's not totally convincing, it's impossible to deny his commitment and dedication to the role. I found him to be particularly impressive in the trial scene, in which he brings the needed power and sincerity to his speech. 

As I mentioned early on, I'm not particularly fond of the battle scenes and actually I think I would have completely hated them if it wasn't for Garfield, who carries them beautifully and bringing them a certain pathos that would not have been there otherwise. First off, his physical acting is nothing short of outstanding as he delivers such a realistic and impressive depiction of his character's growing exhaustion: but he's especially good at portraying his restlessness and determination to help others - even in the moments in which he's at his weakest physically, Garfield still brings a certain life and energy to Doss, conveying perfectly his drive to complete his mission. In the hands of a lesser actor those scenes might have felt a little repetitive but Garfield avoids that by giving such a compelling performance, and he also deserves a lot of credit for managing not to be overshadowed by the overblown special effects and editing, keeping the character as the emotional crux of the events. He makes every single reaction count and he's excellent at portraying both the severe impact that the violence he witnesses leave on him as well as his happiness whenever he manages to save one of his fellow soldiers. He brings the needed power to the one moment in which Doss seems to lose hope for a second, powerfully portraying his desperation and confusion in that moment and then his regained faith after he pulls himself back together. And I was also impressed by his chemistry with Luke Bracey, as a soldier who initially despises Doss but grows to admire him: the scene in which the latter apologizes to Doss is a very welcome moment of quietness and the two actors bring an aching tenderness to it. 

In the end, I think this is a very good performance from Andrew Garfield. It's not a perfect performance, there are a few moments that don't really work and the paper-thin nature of the screenplay does limit his performance quite a bit: but the performance keeps getting better and better and there's no denying that he carries the movie entirely on his shoulders from start to finish. It's not his best performance from 2016, but it's nonetheless an extremely strong achievement that certainly succeeds in being the inspiring performance the movie requires.


lunedì 22 maggio 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic.

Captain Fantastic is an effective movie about a man who, after the suicide of his wife, is forced to take his six children outside of their sheltered and isolated life in a forest and into the real world, challenging his views on parenthood and education. It's an extremely intelligent and thought-provoking movie thanks to a terrific screenplay that never becomes either judgemental nor indulgent but gives a honest depiction of both sides of the central argument instead. I remember being very surprised by ther SAG nomination for Best Ensemble back then, but I'd say it was actually very deserved: even if outside Mortensen - and, to a lesser extent, George MacKay - there are no real standouts but every actor do a very good job at avoiding the potential clichés of their roles and finding real people behind their character's quirks. 

The role of Ben Cash in an extremely tricky one that could have gone wrong in a million different ways: it requires the kind of actor that is able to make you sympathize with the character in spite of his flaws and one that can portray those flaws realistically without justifying nor condemning them. And most of all it requires an actor that have the skills to bring humanity and believability to what could have been an overdone caricature. Thankfully Viggo Mortensen is one of the most talented actors working today and he completely succeeds in the role delivering one of the most powerful, unique and memorable performances of last year. In the early scenes Mortensen mostly has two tasks: believably portray his character's deep convinction in his own beliefs and show Ben's love for his children. Mortensen is terrific in both aspects of his performance: in each of the "training" scenes, Mortensen brings the right sort of passion they require, showing how deeply Ben believes in the things he teaches them and how sincerely he thinks he is raising his kids in the best way possible. And there is never a single moment in the movie in which Mortensen makes you doubt of his character's love for his kids: he shares a terrific chemistry with all the six actors playing them and he exudes a lovely sense of warmth and tenderness in the few scenes depicting their lifestyle. Even in the moments in which it's easy to blame Ben for putting his kids in dangerous situations, Mortensen gives the viewer a clear understanding of his character's mindset.

In the early stages of the movie, whenever he gets the chance Mortensen does a terrific job at hinting at the man that Ben was before choosing that kind of lifestyle for himself and his family. There is never a moment in which Ben's past is directly addressed, shown or explained but there's really no need: Mortensen has such a great understanding of his character that he manages to get Ben's history across just through some facial reactions or small lines. In Mortensen's face you can read Ben's whole life and you don't need to know any further because right from the first few scenes you feel like you already know the character completely, and that's thanks to Mortensen' incredible ability to convey so much with so little. He's also incredibly moving in the few scenes in which Ben talks a bit about his wife Leslie, who stays in a hospital due to her mental illness: Mortensen is heartbreaking as he conveys so well both the love and the pain of his relationship with her. He handles his reaction at her suicide with such painful restraint it's absolutely devastating and he's also extremely moving in the following scene in which he breaks the news to his kids: his sad expression as he witnesses their pain and anger, unable to do anything, is just brilliant.

When the family decides to leave the forest in order to prevent Leslie's body from being buried (she was a Buddhist and wished to be cremated), Mortensen' performance is excellent as he combines so well both the comedy and the drama in his portrayal: on one hand, he's an effortlessly engaging presence on-screen and he's rather funny in the more light-hearted scenes ("Mission: free the food") but he's also quietly affecting in his portrayal of his inner pain. I particularly love the few scenes between him and Kathryn Hahn as his sister Harper, who raised her children in a more traditional manner: their exchanges about education are excellently acted on both ends, with both actors honestly portraying each character's point of view - I love how Mortensen is not afraid to portray his character as quite arrogant regarding his ideas, which is completely fitting considering that right from the beginning he did a fantastic job at portraying his utter dedication to his methods. The scene in which he interrupts Leslie's funeral is also hilarious thanks to how brilliantly measured Mortensen is - he delivers his speech in a way that is flamboyant enough but never even slightly over-the-top - and then he is heartbreaking in the following scene, in which he decides to let Leslie's purents bury her because, if they'll have him arrested as Leslie's father (Frank Langella) previously said, his kids would be left without parents. His reactions to his son's plea "We can't lose you too" is devastating.

My favorite aspect of his performance is his portrayal of Ben's gradual realization that his parenting methods might not be perfect as he thought: in his many confrontations with his resentful son Rellian, Mortensen is extremely moving at portraying his shock and pain due to his accusations, the ones regarding his education and the ones regarding his inability to save their mother. He's also incredible in the scene with George MacKay in which his son Bo tells him that "they're freaks" because of him: it's such a hard-hitting, powerful moment and in Mortensen's eyes you can see Ben's heart breaking. And he absolutely delivers in his main confrontation with Frank Langella: I love how Mortensen starts off as rather confident in the scene before becoming increasingly upset as he learns of his father-in-law's decision of taking the children away from him. Ben eventually reaches his breaking point after a mission he set out for his kids ends up with one of them being severely injured: Mortensen is absolutely devastating at portraying his character's guilt over his actions and he makes his eventual decision of letting the kids go extremely affecting. Mortensen keeps the tone of his performance extremely quiet and subdued, which makes his desperation even more heartbreaking: he conveys his inner turmoil and grief with such expressiveness in his eyes it's just astonishing - the sequence of him driving away alone is absolutely oustanding. His performance is what makes the final scenes of the movie so heartwarming, moving and powerful: that "Me too" in his reconciliation with Rellian and his final goodbye to Leslie are two unforgettable moments of stunning delicacy and poignancy. 

Overall, this is an incredible performance from Viggo Mortensen, who takes what could have been a horribly overdone character and delivers a subtle, complex, heartfelt performance. He carries the film thanks to his charming, engaging screen-presence, nailing the comedic moments and thriving in the dramatic ones. He gives a compelling characterization, showing both Bob's good qualities and his flaws and making him a character we truly care about. Absolutely amazing work that I'm extremely glad the Academy decided to recognize.