martedì 31 gennaio 2017

Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2016: Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

Mahershala Ali won the Oscar from his first nomination for his performance as Juan in Moonlight.

Moonlight is a mesmerizing film that follows the transition from childhood to adulthood of a young black man living in a rough neighborhood in Miami as he comes to terms with his sexuality. I absolutely loved the movie from start to finish and I felt each of the segments was masterful in terms of style and movingly profound in terms of content. Thanks to Berry Jenkins' artfully intimate direction and screenplay, Moonlight is at turns devastating and heartwarming, and James Laxton should win the Oscar for Cinematography as his work here is absolutely beautiful, with such an excellent use of lighting. The scene at the beach is among the most realistic and tender scenes of the year. The movie also features a terrific ensemble full of great performances. 

Juan is the first character to appear in the movie - we follow him as he walks around and then, through his brief exchange with a young boy, we get to know he is a drug dealer. Ali is terrific in this early moment as in just a couple of lines he conveys the character's background and lifestyle - he has a deep understanding of Juan and he just inhabits the character with impressive realism and naturalism. He is so effortless he never seems to be acting and his initial moment is especially perfect because with it he manages to set the realistic, gritty tone of the rest of the movie. His brief exchange with the guy is interrupted by a group of kids who are chasing after a small, meek young boy, Chiron (Alex Hibbert, impressively spontaneous). Sympathetic towards his plight, Juan helps him and takes him out to lunch: Ali is just wonderful in these scenes as he exudes such a lovely amount of natural warmth in his portrayal and he is very effective at portraying Juan's genuine concern for Chiron. What I especially love about Ali's performance is just how three-dimensional and realistic his approach is - he never makes Juan a clichè, he never turns him into a saint or a savior and he is never too judgemental nor too indulgent regarding his activity as a drug dealer: he does not shy away from Juan's less honorable quality, he just makes him a good-natures, altruistic person who is not defined by his profession. He never oversimplifies Juan, instead he captures all of his complexities and contradictions. And on top of that he has an incredibly charismatic screen-presence - with his charming and laidback manners and his welcoming smile, he makes Juan an instantly likeable and endearing presence, and one that you simply love having on-screen. 

As the story progresses, Juan's relationship with Chiron deepens and Juan becomes a father-like figure to him. Their moments together, although relatively limited, are all wonderful as the two actors share a sweet, powerful chemistry which reaches a particularly moving heights in the scene in which Juan teaches Chiron how to swim. Again, Ali couldn't be warmer in this scene and his performance along with the cinematography is what makes this sequence truly special and poignant. This scene is followed by a brief moment in which Ali explains his philosophy to Chiron, telling him that at one point of their  life everyone needs to choose their own path for themselves: it's a brief moment but nonetheless a beautiful one that Ali plays with the needed wisdom and experience, conveying through his words Juan's history. 

Some of Ali's strongest scenes come at the end of his performance. One of the most impressive is probably the one in which he finds Chiron's mother (Naomie Harris) smocking crack in a nearby crack, and he lashes out at her for being such a neglectful parent to Chiron: Ali is simply fantastic at showing his character's rage and disapproval, but also his shame and guilt when she tells him that he is just as responsible for her behavior as he is the one who sold the drugs to her. Ali is truly heartbreaking at portraying his realization that he has no excuses as he too is undirectly responsible for the troubles in Chiron's life, but he's even more powerful in his final scene, in which Chiron comes to visit him, which is one of the movie's highlight. Ali is amazing in this last moment as he firmly tells Chiron that, even if he might turn out to be gay, he should never allow people to make him feel bad for it, conveying beautifully the affection and support Juan has come to feel for the kid. Then, when Chiron questions him about his profession, Ali couldn't be more devastating in his quiet and restrained display of shame.

Unfortunately, Ali doesn't appear anymore after the movie's first act but this does not diminish his impact at all. His mesmerizing, layered and charismatic performance makes Juan one of the most moving characters of the movie and he embodies all of the complexities of the role despite not having that much screen time. Ali puts his heart in this role and gives a compelling, warm and moving portrayal that is simply impossible to forget.


domenica 29 gennaio 2017

Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2016: Dev Patel in Lion

Dev Patel received his first Oscar nomination for his performance as Saroo Brierley in Lion.

Lion is a moving film about a 5-year-old Indian boy who gets lost far away from his home and, 25 years after being adopted by an Australian family, sets out to find his lost family. The first half is particularly effective due to the stunning cinematography, the intensely atmospheric direction and the beautifully realistic performance by newcomer Sunny Pawar. The second half is a little less effective especially due to the unnecessary romance but there are still some truly terrific scenes in it and a couple of great performances. 

This nomination is another case of category fraud: it's true that Patel doesn't appear until halfway through the movie as the first half focuses on the 5-year-old Saroo, but he still plays the central character of the movie and he carries the whole movie from the second he appears. Patel's early scenes as the grown-up Saroo are not particularly demanding as the character is depicted as a fairly normal guy, but Patel is excellent at portraying his character as just an ordinary human being. He is extremely comfortable and relaxed with the role, effectively depicting Saroo as an intelligent and friendly guy and making him immediately endearing due to how laidback and nice he is in those scenes. I'm not usually one who is particularly interested about accents but I really have to give credit to Patel for absolutely nailing the Australian accent - he sounds completely natural and there is not a single moment in which he does not pull it off. Anyway the turning point in his performance comes when Saroo sees a typical Indian food at a friends' party and memories of his mother and brother come back to his mind: Patel is terrific at portraying his character's reaction as he remember things he had buried in his mind for long and as the movie progresses he's incredibly effective at showing his increasing determination to find his family. The search scenes could have been very uninteresting if it wasn't for Patel's committed performance and he does a great job at portraying the notes of frustration when his search doesn't seem to go anywhere and the notes of joy when he makes progresses. He makes every moment of his performance count, building up beautifully to the eventual reunion. 

As I mentioned before, the romance between Saroo and Lucy (Rooney Mara) is the weakest element of the movie and I think the time that was devoted to it could have been used to explore more deeply the character of Mantosh, Saroo's adopted brother. This is not to say that Patel is bad in those scenes and he actually manages to make the most out of them: his chemistry with Mara is nothing that extraordinary really, but they make for a nice couple and they share some very cute moments as they depict the early stages of their relationship. Unfortunately though, as Saroo starts to focus on his search, he starts to isolate himself from Lucy which leads to their breakup which is an exceptionally acted scene by Patel. He is extremely affecting as he conveys so well the anguish and desperation that come from his exhausting search as well as the guilt for forgetting about his mother and brother for so many years. Saroo's and Lucy's reunion is probably not as touching as it should have been but I think the writing is more to blame for that, and Patel still has some very effective moments in which he portrays his character's undying hope with remarkable delicacy and feeling.

My favorite moments of Patel's performance though are the scenes involving his relationship with his Australian family. Patel shares a truly beautiful chemistry with David Wenham and Nicole Kidman as Saroo's adoptive parents John and Sue - there is such genuine love in their interactions and from the first moment Patel shows that he truly considers them his parents despite them not being biological. His chemistry with Kidman is particularly great as the two of them brings so much warmth and tenderness to their scenes together and Patel does a fantastic job at portraying Saroo's conflicted emotions as he fears that the news of his search would break the heart of Sue, who is already shattered by Mantosh' unstable and unpredictable behavior. This leads to the phenomenal scene in which Saroo tells Sue he's sorry she could not have her own kids: Patel is truly heartbreaking as he portrays his genuine guilt and sorrow, as well as his shock when she reveals that she could have had children but chose to adopt instead. It's Kidman's scene, but Patel adds a lot of emotional weight to the scene just with his tearful reactions to his mother's revelation. The relationship between Saroo and Mantosh is sadly a little underdeveloped, but Patel is still very good at showing the underlying affection despite his often hostile behavior towards his brother due to the pain the latter causes to their parents.

In the end Saroo finds his hometown and, after a truly heartwarming scene in which both Sue and John full heartedly support his decision to find his biological mother, travels back to India. The outcome is something we knew from the beginning, but this doesn't make Saroo's reunion with his mother any less moving: Patel brings such an incredible amount of emotional power to the scene that it's really impossible not to be moved by it. He is just amazing at portraying his joy as he finds his mother and his sister again and he and Priyanka Bose immediately find an unique, heartbreaking connection in their scene together, and then Patel is very moving at portraying his sorrow as he finds out that his brother Guddu is dead: he just blends so well both the joy and sadness of the moment and makes the ending truly unforgettable, and one that really should be seen to understand the emotional impact of it.

This is a truly terrific turn performance by Dev Patel who truly makes the most out of his character, nailing every single layer of what could have been potentially a fairly one-dimensional portrayal of determination. He carries the second half of the movie impeccably and definitely brings the emotional weight the role requires. It's a truly great performance and one of the main reasons why Lion, despite its occasional flaws, stays with you.


venerdì 27 gennaio 2017

Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2016: Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water

Jeff Bridges received his seventh Oscar nomination for his performance as Ranger Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water.

Hell or High Water is a fantastic film about two desperate brothers who rob banks in order not to lose their family's ranch and the two rangers who follow their case. I absolutely loved the movie from start to finish and I found it pretty much perfect in every regard: David Mackenzie's terrific direction was robbed of an Oscar nomination as he manages to balance so well the realistic, raw tone of the majority of the movie with the more Coen-esque scenes that never seem out of the place but instead work incredibly well within his overall vision - his work in the robberies scene is particularly terrific as each of them feels so compelling and tense it gets under your skin; Taylor Sheridan's screenplay is overall terrific and, despite a few heavy-handed exchanges in which he conveys the message of the movie a little too obviously, he gives such a complex and empathetic portrait of both the robbers and the rangers; the cinematography is downright stunning as it captures so well the beauty of the landscape while conveying a poignant feeling of despair and isolation and the editing is masterful too as the story flows just beautifully and there is not a single frame that feels unnecessary or wasted. And the cast is all around great.

Jeff Bridges received a nomination in the supporting category but I would say it's a rather strong case of category fraud: he carries half of the movie and he's just as lead as Chris Pine (who, by the way, is simply terrific in the role). I've read quite a lot of people comparing this performance to his work in True Grit but, aside from the type of role, I would say that the two performances are entirely different - his turn in Hell or High Water is much more subdued in terms of both accent and mannerisms than his turn in True Grit and I think that acting on this lower register he achieves something much more poignant and powerful. In his first scenes, Bridges immediately inhabits the role of Hamilton pretty much flawlessly: his natural screen-presence is at its best in this role and he effortlessly controls the screen without even trying. Hamilton's age hasn't lowered either his grit or his sense of humor, and Bridges makes him an extremely entertaining character right from the start and the more comedic side of his performance works so well not only because of the writing or his excellent line-deliveries, but also because of how relaxed and comfortable he feels in the role. One of the stronger elements of his performance is his chemistry with Alberto Parker (the affecting Gil Birmingham), his fellow ranger: Hamilton often likes to tease him about his Mexican and Indian heritage, and both actors are extremely funny in their numerous exchanges over the course of the movie, but behind his remarks Bridges lets you see the respect and the affection Hamilton feels for his co-worker. There are some particularly poignant moments between the two throughout the movies, such as Alberto's monologue in which he asks himself if the end justifies the means or their conversation at the motel, in which the two actors are absolutely fantastic at portraying the underlying tenderness of their friendship with such a remarkable subtlety and sincerity. 

In the scenes involving more directly Hamilton's investigation, Bridges equally thrives at showing Hamilton's intelligent and wit and he effectively portrays how experienced he is regarding his work: in those scenes Bridges plays Hamilton as rather assured and in control of the situation and I particularly love the few scenes in which we see Hamilton questioning witnesses - he is so fascinating in his portrayal of the ranger's method as he asks his questions in a kind, even sympathetic manner while still showing the strong determination to resolve the case behind it all. It's revealed early on in the movie that Hamilton is close to retirement and that this is going to be his last case: Bridges is extremely affecting in his portrayal of his character's uncertainty regarding his future. It is implied that his wife died and that he has no one else in his life, and Bridges gives a moving depiction of a lonely man who has loved his work all his life and now that it's all over has an empty life ahead of him. Bridges does not need a big scene or a tearful monologue to express this side of Hamilton - he conveys everything through his facial acting especially in some small, key, wordless reactions. 

This review will contain spoilers from now on, so if you haven't seen the movie I suggest you to stop reading and directly jump to the last paragraph. One of the strongest moments of Bridges' performance is when the rangers are finally close to catching Tanner (Ben Foster, great), the hot-tempered, unpredictable brother, who fires at Alberto killing him instantly. Hamilton's reaction to his friends' death is pretty brief but Bridges' depiction of it is absolutely heartbreaking and as the scene goes on he gives a devastating portrayal of his desire of revenge motivated by his grief. Bridges though tops this excellent moment with the final scene of the movie in which he is downright amazing. Bridges is excellent at showing his character's unsatisfaction over the closure of the case due to the lack of punishment for Toby (the other brother), whom he visits at his ranch. Their subsequent confrontation is incredible - there are no fireworks, no big outbursts, but it's unforgettable due to Pine's and Bridges' subtle, brilliant acting. On his part, Bridges does a terrific job as he calmly tells Toby that he is just as responsible for Alberto's death as his brother and then questions him about the reasons behind his actions. His delivery of "The things we do for our kids, huh?" couldn't be better and I love his last few exchanges with Pine: in those, Bridges is great as he makes the ending almost a triumph for Hamilton - Toby might not be in jail, but the ranger walks away with the possibility of avenging his friend in the future or, if that was not to be the case, the knowledge that Toby will be forever haunted by his own actions and that he will never find peace. 

This is a brilliant performance by Jeff Bridges who makes Marcus Hamilton an absolutely unforgettable character. He carries his own portion of the movie exceptionally well delivering a performance that is compelling, entertaining and poignant all at once and he is one of the main reasons why Hell or High Water is such a remarkable viewing experience. A fantastic performance from a truly gifted actor.


mercoledì 25 gennaio 2017

Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2016

And the nominees are...

Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges - Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel - Lion
Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals

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

martedì 24 gennaio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1968: Ranking

5. Kay Medford in Funny Girl
Kay Medford delivers an entirely decent performance but her role is too limited for her to leave a big impact. She does what the role requires, but past a nice final scene there is nothing memorable in her performance.
Best scene: Rose expresses her concern to Fanny.

4. Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby
I don't love this performance as many people do as I feel the role is rather limited but within those confines Gordon thrives. She does a great job at progressively revealing Minnie's darker edge behind her warm, friendly façade and adds a touch of both humor and dread to this terrifying masterpiece.
Best scene: The ending.

3. Estelle Parsons in Rachel, Rachel
I wish Estelle Parsons was in this movie more as I really loved every moment she was on-screen. Parsons delivers a heartwarming performance as she makes Calla a loyal, patient friend but she's also very moving in her portrayal of her inner longing and plight. 
Best scene: Calla attempts to reconciliate with Rachel.

2. Sondra Locke in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Sondra Locke delivers a beautiful performance conveying all the complexities of her character: she does a terrific job at portraying Mick's coming of age while sharing a tender chemistry with Alan Arkin and giving a huge emotional power to her scenes involving her home problems. It's a fantastic performance that carries the movie and gives it depth.
Best scene: Mick finds out about the consequences of her father's accident.

1. Lynn Carlin in Faces
Lynn Carlin delivers a phenomenal performance and she excels in both the louder and subtler moments: in the early scenes she is just incredible at portraying Maria's rocky, unpredictable relationship with her husband and in the rest of the film she shows her character coping with her imminent divorce with brilliant subtlety, leading up wonderfully to her final scenes that are nothing short of devastating.
Best scene: Her final confrontation with her husband.

Honorable Omissions: Shelley Winters delivers a wonderfully entertaining performance in The Scalphunters, portraying to perfection her character's brassy qualities: it's an entirely comedic performance, and a great one, but this does not stop her from grounding her character and giving us a full understanding of her past actions and her dreams for her future. It's a truly terrific turn from a brilliant actress. Delphine Seyrig is terrific in her role as the seductive Fabienne in Stolen Kisses: it's a performance of great presence and allure but what makes it work is her final monologue that is funny, tender and sad all at once. Shirley Knight does not have many scenes in Petulia but she makes the most out of all of them: her first in particular is amazing and Knight does a brilliant job at portraying a woman still shattered by the end of her marriage, and then as the movie progresses she effectively shows how her character copes with it and eventually moves on. Virginia Maskell is terrific in the otherwise mediocre Interlude, bringing a beautiful amount of elegance, grace and dignity to her role and then subtly killing it in each of her emotional scenes towards the end. Kate Harrington is very good in Rachel, Rachel as the overbearing but deep down needy and desperate mother, particularly nailing her final scene; Gena Rowlands brings both allure and poignant sadness to her role in Faces, and in the same movie Dorothy Gulliver is heartbreaking in her portrayal of intense desperation and unsatisfaction. Cicely Tyson also delivers a very fine, moving performance in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and her scenes with Percy Rodriguez carry a lot of emotional weight. Shani Wallis delivers a deeply touching performance as Nancy in Oliver!: she does a terrific job at portraying her character's struggle between her toxic love for Sikes and her long-buried conscience and she delivers in all of her musical numbers, particularly the heartbreaking "As Long as He Needs Me". Billie Whitelaw excels in the partly dated yet effective thriller Twisted Nerve, convincingly portraying her character's kind, warm manner as well as her growing loneliness and eventual desperation as the movie progresses. 
The next year: For the next month I'll review the four acting categories of this year's Oscar, probably starting with Best Supporting Actor. Stay tuned :)

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Lynn Carlin, Faces
  2. Shelley Winters, The Scalphunters - 5/5
  3. Shirley Knight, Petulia - 4.5/5
  4. Delphine Seyrig, Stolen Kisses - 4.5/5
  5. Virginia Maskell, Interlude - 4.5/5
  6. Shani Wallis, Oliver! - 4.5/5
  7. Billie Whitelaw, Twisted Nerve - 4/5
  8. Estelle Parsons, Rachel, Rachel
  9. Ruth Gordon, Rosemary's Baby
  10. Kate Harrington, Rachel, Rachel - 4/5

lunedì 16 gennaio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1968: Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby

Ruth Gordon received her second acting Oscar nomination (fifth in general) for her performance as Minnie Castevet in Rosemary's Baby.

Rosemary's Baby is a masterpiece about a pregnant woman who, after moving with her husband in an apartment with a history of gruesome events, becomes increasingly paranoid about her child's safety. It's a movie I had already liked the first time, but it absolutely floored me on a rewatch: it's a brilliantly made horror and Roman Polanski was absurdly snubbed of a Best Director nomination for his spectacular work here. The story is absolutey compelling from start to finish and Polanski does a great job at building the tension up to that amazing ending that stands as one of the most horrifying and haunting I've ever seen. The rape/dream sequence is also masterfully done in terms of direction, cinematography and score. Mia Farrow delivers a fantastic performance in the leading role - I could see why someone would not be crazy about some of her acting choices especially in the last act of the movie but personally I thought she was superb and she carried the movie flawlessly. 

Ruth Gordon's performance as Minnie Castevet, Rosemary's nosy neighbour, is nowadays extremely iconic and probably one of the most popular winners in this category. On one hand, I love the fact that Ruth Gordon has an Oscar (she was awfully snubbed three years later for her performance in Harold and Maude) and I actually like the fact that the Academy chose to reward a role like this in a movie like Rosemary's Baby, which is certainly not an Oscar-friendly movie; on the other hand, though, I never really found myself loving this performance the way most people do and I think the part is actually very limited: Minnie Castevet, as a character, does not have a huge amount of screen-time and almost all of her scenes are actually pretty brief, but even past that I think it'is entirely lacking in developement and depth and the nature of the role forces Gordon's performance to be a little one-note. Sidney Blackmer, as Minnie's husband Roman, gets a much more rewarding role as gets much more screen-time and dialogue and he gets more chances to reveal his character's hidden nature, while Gordon rarely gets the chance to do it outwardly. Does this mean Gordon's performance is bad, nothing special or anyway unworthy of its Oscar? Definitely not. 

The character of Minnie is a rather unique one writing wise, so with such an interesting role it would have been hard for Gordon not to be noticed, but still it's her merit if she stands out so much right from the beginning. Gordon is extremely amusing and scene-stealing in her early moments as she simply portrays Minnie as an eccentric, elderly leading - she makes the most out of every single line of her character and there isn't a single moment that feels wasted: she clearly sinks her teeth into the role and her efforts pay off as she certainly becomes a highly entertaining and memorably larger-than-life presence (the costumes of her character were also instrumental in achieving that sort of peculiar style that characterizes her first few scenes). In her following scenes throughout the movie, Ruth Gordon keeps being a consistently enjoyable presence as she does such a great job at portraying her character's too talkative, intrusive nature with a natural, colorful sense of humor but as the movie goes on Gordon starts to make Minnie a much more twisted and ambigous presence turning her into one of the movie's most mysterious character. As I mentioned there is not a real developement in her performance nor there is a particularly important scene in which her character is explained more deeply, but Gordon certainly creates a certain progression in her performance - there is a rather awkward, slightly disturbing feeling in some of her early moments and she only amplifies this sensation in her scenes in which her character tries to interfere with Rosemary's pregnancy, becoming more and more off-putting, I particularly love the few moments in which the pure evilness of her character truly comes out and she briefly drops her façade, such as when she talks about Rosemary's pregnancy over the phone to the doctor, or even more the scene in which Rosemary refuses to get Minnie's (supposedly beneficial) drink in the air: the disappointment is strikingly visible in her eyes but she's even more effective at portraying Minnie as a woman who is consistently planning her next move, which makes her a particularly captivating character to watch.  

*Spoilers* My favorite scene of her performance though is the finale sequence that is both terrifying and mesmerizing: Gordon is phenomenal in this scene as she finally unleashes her character's more evil, ruthless intentions and she's downright chilling as Minnie does not even have to keep up a warm façade at the outside anymore. Gordon is absolutely terrifying in the moment in which she tells Rosemary she should be pleased of having been chosen by Satan but her silent reactions are what are most impressive: everything in that scene happens behind her inquisitory, sinister stare and she's a big part of what makes this sequence so unforgettably harrowing. *Spoilers Off*

Ultimately, I've seen the movie twice and I still haven't quite gotten the fuss about her performance: it's a little bit too one-note throughout its brief screen-time and I think part of why Gordon's performance is so acclaimed is the unique, terrific nature of the character. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this is an extremely good performance from an immensely talented actress who makes Minnie Castevet a truly disturbing and haunting character that certainly adds a sense of both dread and twisted humor to the whole movie. It's a truly remarkable performance, although not quite a performance I love. 


mercoledì 11 gennaio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1968: Sondra Locke in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Sondra Locke received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Margaret "Mick" Kelly in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a powerful movie about a kind, deaf mute man who befriends his landlady's teenage daughter. It's a heartfelt picture that is often underrated - the Oscar-nominated performances are the only reason why this movie is occasionally remembered but I thought it was actually a great movie itself. Robert Ellis Miller's direction might feel a little too stagey and there's not much to admire about the movie in its visuals, but he deserves credit for the bittersweet, tenderly melancholic atmosphere he manages to give to the story. The screenplay is excellent - there are a lot of subplots involving minor characters that could have felt like useless time-fillers yet they all come together beautifully and the film as a whole is very well structured and edited. The cast is uniformly excellent with every actor doing a more than solid job. 

The role of Mick was Sondra Locke's acting debut and, to this day, it's her most appreciated performance: she didn't go on to have a particularly great career and nowadays she is unfortunately more remembered for her stormy marriage with Clint Eastwood rather than her ability as an actress. I have not seen any other movie from Sondra Locke's career (not even Sudden Impact and The Outlaw Josey Wales), but judging from her startling debut in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter she definitely deserved a much better career than the one she ended up having. The role of Mick is actually much more difficult than it might seem at first glance (and despite the category placement at the Oscars, it's actually a leading part with a lot of screen-time and focus) but Locke gives a seemingly effortless, genuine portrayal that carries the whole movie beautifully. 

In the early scenes, Mick could have easily come off as an extremely obnoxious character considering that for the most of the time she is complaining about the fact that she had to give up her room to Singer (Oscar nominated Alan Arkin), who rented it. It could have been very easy to deem Mick as extremely selfish and insensitive for her behavior (her parents had to rent out her room because her father's hip injury prevented him from working), but Locke avoids that by giving such a convincing portrayal of her character's immaturity and impulsiveness that comes with her age. Even if her actions are not always necessarily likeable, Locke still manages to make Mick a rather endearing character right from the beginning because she so wonderfully conveys her character's brightness and intelligence - in spite of everything, she makes you root for her and wish that her dreams of being a musician could come true; she is outstanding at portraying Mick's ambitions and dreams and she conveys her love for classical musical in such an earnest and poignant way. I also really like the chemistry she shares with both her on-screen mother Laurinda Barrett and her on-screen father Biff McGuire: in her scenes with the former, Locke is very effective at portraying how Mick becomes progressively more distant from her often cold and stern mother, while still conveying an underlying affection despite their disagreements; in her scenes with the latter, Locke is terrific at showing Mick's conflict as she is torn between her love for her father and her distress over the fact that his injury will probably cause the end of her dreams - buying a piano and learning how to play it. 

The best aspect of her performance though is the chemistry she develops with Alan Arkin: Locke is great at portraying her character's transition as she goes from despising Singer to slowly accepting him and finally bonding with him becoming his closest friend. Their few scenes alone together throughout the whole movie are its beating heart as both actors realize so well the unique relationship between those two characters, who only in those moments find some solace and forget their own personal plights: I particularly love the scene in which Mick tries to translate music through gestures and words to Singer - it's a beautiful moment that is played by Locke with lovely spontaneity and warmth. 

The movie also focuses on Mick's coming of age as she gradually becomes a woman aware of her desires and sexuality and she portrays this development excellently. Early on in the movie, Mick is portrayed as a not very popular girl who is often uninvited at parties and is rarely noticed by boys her age but later on she engages in a relationship with Harry, the brother of one of her classmates: Locke makes both her unpopularity and Harry's attraction believable as she is very charming in her own way but not in the "cool girl" sense. Another thing I particularly admire about Locke's work is how she initially portrays her desire of becoming a popular girl but then conveys a gradual disillusionement about her more traditionally cool but quite vapid friends - she is great in the later scene when she abruptly ends a party she threw as she realizes the shallowness of those people.

In the movie's third act, Locke gets some heavy, difficult scenes that she solves beautifully, particularly the one in which she finds out her father is permanently paralyzed and that she will have to drop out of school in order to support her family financially - she is absolutely devastating as she shows how, in that precise moment, all of Mick's dreams and hopes for her future just collapse and she delivers both in her confrontation with her mother and her following breakdown in Singer's room, poignantly depicting her character's shattered and devastated emotional state. She also brings the right impact to the scene when she loses her virginity with Harry and her eventual confusion as she realizes that she didn't do it out of love but rather just to "have her things her own way". And then she wraps up her performance excellently with her final scene: she is amazing at portraying her character's grief but she also portrays a newfound maturity and wisdom in her character that ends the film with a slight sense of hope - we don't get to know what eventually happened to Mick, but there is a quiet strength in her last scene that is almost comforting and reassuring: her friendship with Singer helped her finally coming into her own as a person and realizing her dreams, and her performance at the end suggests that for Mick it might not be too late to accomplish them. 

In the end, this is a brilliant performance from Sondra Locke, who works in perfect tandem with the rest of the cast, particularly Alan Arkin, and beautifully brings to life the complex, nuanced character of Mick. It's a wonderfully layered performance that anchors the movie and that should be remembered today much more often. 


venerdì 6 gennaio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1968: Estelle Parsons in Rachel, Rachel

Estelle Parsons received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Calla Mackie in Rachel, Rachel.

Rachel, Rachel is an effective film about a 35-year-old scoolteacher dealing with her loneliness and her inner desires. It's a restrained, realistic character study that I personally found very affecting: in my opinion Paul Newman was snubbed of a Best Director nomination for his delicate, intimate and sensitive work here. It's a very subtle movie that mostly lacks big scenes, but I found it emotionally gripping from beginning to end also thanks to the strength of the central performance and the screenplay. The supporting cast is uniformly fine, with Kate Harrington being noteworthy for her performance as Rachel's overbearing mother. 

The role of Calla Mackie, Rachel's fellow scoolteacher and best friend, is not a very big one screen-time wise and it does not have a lot of relevance within the plot: Estelle Parsons' performance in the role is not one that is frequently talked about and it's definitely less remembered than her Oscar winning turn from the previous year, but from what I've read it's equally divisive. In fact, it shares many similarities with her work as Blanche Barrow: it certainly isn't a quiet performance and, even if there might be a little more subtlety in her portrayal of Cella, if one did not care for her work in Bonnie and Clyde I doubt he'll like her in Rachel, Rachel that much more. I personally liked her performance in Bonnie and Clyde very much as I thought her loud approach worked well with the role, and the same goes for her performance in Rachel, Rachel. The flashy nature of her performance contrasts nicely with the delicate restraint of Joanne Woodward's one, and the two create a very believable friendship right from the beginning, with Rachel being the shy, quite type and Calla being the funny, sarcastic one. Parsons succeeds in making Calla an entertaining, likeable presence whenever she is on-screen and her line-deliveries are all pretty much perfect ("It's the second time you've been bitchy today!"). She brings some nice warmth and support in her early scenes with Woodward as Calla urges Rachel to live her life to its full potential and to escape from "her cage"; what I like the most though in those scenes is that Parsons subtly suggests in her performance Calla's secret longing - probably Calla herself isn't even aware of this in the beginning but Parsons conveys a certain attachment and affection that go beyond friendship, while avoiding making those feelings too obviously noticeable (therefore, it is entirely believable that Rachel is completely clueless about it).

Later on in the movie Rachel and Calla go to a religious revival that leaves Rachel deeply upset and distressed. Parsons might overdo it a bit in the revival scene - some of her facial expressions are a little too wide-eyed and often unconvincing - but she completely makes up for those few inadequate moments thanks to the following scene in which Calla comforts her friend and then starts kissing her passionately. It's a brilliantly acted moments by Parsons who is great at showing that Calla is just as shocked by this gesture as Rachel is and she's extremely moving at portraying her embarrassment and regret when Rachel leaves abruptly. 

Probably my favorite scene of her performance is when Calla attempts a reconciliation outside of Rachel's house: Parsons is heartbreaking as she shows how much Calla misses her friendship with Rachel while still conveying so poignantly her deeper desire for her. Parsons portrays her character's conflicted feelings with delicacy and sensitivity and she proves to have a remarkable understanding for a character that in the 1960s could have been portrayed in a very stereotypical, even offensive way - she always finds the humanity in Calla which makes this failed attempt at mending their relationship particularly devastating. The eventual reconciliation between Calla and Rachel happens quite late in the movie and it feels a little bit too rushed but nonetheless Parsons brings the right emotional power to it, and as they become friends again she nicely plays her character with welcome warmth and wisdom, just like in the beginning. Their final scene together is short but beautifully played by the two actresses, who achieve a truly heartbreaking poignancy in the moment when Rachel tells Calla she wished to be different just so that she could make her happy. Parsons' reaction is very moving and heartwarming, as is her very final shot in which she tries to hold back the tears as she watches Rachel going away. 

Estelle Parsons is a bit limited by the screen-time but she still delivers a highly memorable and moving performance. She is funny, warm and wise but she's also incredibly touching in the few key moments in which she reveals the complexity and plight of this woman. It's a sensitive, intelligent performance from an actress who proves once again she can be loud without becoming shrill or hammy. Nice, affecting work.


lunedì 2 gennaio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1968: Lynn Carlin in Faces

Lynn Carlin received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Maria Frost in Faces.

Faces is a very interesting movie about an old married man who tells his wife he wants a divorce: the film depicts the following events of the night as the husband spends the time with a young escort while the wife goes out with her three married friends and meets a charming, younger hippie. It's an emotionally powerful and realistically raw movie aided by John Cassavetes' claustrophobic and intimate direction and a sharp, intelligent screenplay. I would say that the storyline involving Richard (the husband, played by John Marley) and the escort Jeannie (played by Gena Rowlands) is a little less interesting than the one involving Maria (the wife, played by Carlin) and Chet (Oscar-nominated Seymour Cassel) - but, considering that the latter is particularly amazing, the comparison is a bit unfair and the former is still a very strong one with remarkable performances from both Marley and Rowlands. I could see why someone would be completely turned off by the movie's style, particularly the editing, but I personally was not bothered as I thought the style chosen by Cassavetes suited the story perfectly and only added to its atmosphere. 

The character of Maria is introduced about 20 minutes into the movie, when her husband Richard comes home after work and a brief encounter with Jeannie and another friend. Her first scene consists of a very long sequence in which Maria and Richard engage in a conversation about various matters, especially sex: it's an absolutely outstanding scene, that due to the combination of the brilliant writing, the unstable camera movements and the pitch-perfect acting is totally mesmerizing from start to finish. Carlin is a force to be reckoned with and she controls the screen with her astonishing and peculiar screen-presence - she really does not hold anything back and I could see why someone would find those early scenes of her to be a little overcooked but not for a second I could keep my eyes off her. Whether she is laughing hysterically at her husband's jokes, or playfully fooling with him in bed, or coldly rejecting his advances, Carlin is electrifying, playing Maria with a mix of both fierceness and aching vulnerability that makes her a compelling, captivating character to watch. She works particularly well opposite Marley's performance and even if their characters do not address their marriage directly they manage to convey perfectly the nature of their relationship: even in the moments in which they seem to be the most laidback, both actors bring an uncomfortable feeling to the screen that suggests how strained their marriage actually is - they make their relationship feel like a ticking bomb ready to explode, which makes the whole scene extremely gripping and intense. Carlin and Marley bring to their work a devastating authenticity, and Carlin' performance in particular is utterly naked on an emotional level - she plays her character so truthfully and vividly she gets under your skin. I particularly love the moment in which Richard finally declares he wants a divorce: Maria first laughs it off, but when he repeats his statement she freezes, staring back at him in silence. It's a chilling moment made due to Carlin' quietly devastating reaction, and even if she does not re-appear in the movie for quite a while I could not get that image off my mind.

Later that night, Maria goes to a disco with her married female friends and there they meet a charming, lively, hippie playboy to whom all of the ladies are almost immediately attracted. Carlin's Maria is actually out of focus for most of the middle section of the movie - Seymour Cassel' Chet temporarily becomes the central character of the storyline and the actresses playing Maria's friends take the spotlight in turn while Carlin spends the time mostly hanging in the background and quietly reacting to the situation around her. This does not mean she's overshadowed though: even while she is seemingly doing nothing, Carlin subtly leaves a strong impression conveying each of her characters' conflicted emotions across her face. The vibrant, explosive energy of her early scenes is gone but Carlin manages to be just as effective when she plays it on a lower register - she is a silent, haunting, sad presence, a quiet observer but not a passive one: she watches silently as her friends compete to win Chet's attention, but her silence is only apparent. In her eyes you can see Maria's desperation as she still tries to process the news of the evening but also her interest in this attractive, charismatic guy she has just met: her chemistry with Cassel is something brilliant as the two barely speak for most of the movie yet their few exchanges are filled with sexual tension and mutual longing and they perfectly build-up to the eventual, obvious outcome. 

Chet eventually wakes up to find Maria passed out from an overdose of pills and after a few tense minutes he manages to save her life and then he helps her recover, her husband being still out with Jeannie. Carlin does a fantastic job at portraying her character's weak-willed physical state with realism and authenticity and she is absolutely heartbreaking at depicting her emotional exhaustion and desperation. She does not even have a huge amount of dialogue in the scene, but her silent expressions and subtle gestures as she listens to Chet' monologue about "machine men" make up for any word: again, the authenticity of her performance is what makes it so utterly devastating and while watching this scene I almost forgot I was watching an actress performing - all I was seeing was a woman shattered and heartbroken by the end of her marriage. Carlin and Cassel work in such a beautiful armony in this scene as both characters find a temporary moment of solace from their own unhappiness and they bring real poignance to their last scene together. Her final scene with John Marley is outstandingly acted on both ends, but even if Marley is the one who has most of the dialogue it's still Carlin who leaves the strongest impression - her delivery of "I hate my life" is tremendously moving in its brutal and honest simplicity, but I particularly love the moment immediately after when she announces that she does not love her husband anymore. It's an incredible moment thanks to Carlin who makes it feel like it is some sort of a release for Maria - after the events of the night, she finally has realized this harsh truth about her marriage and Carlin wordlessly suggest that maybe Maria will get better eventually, finding strength in this new acknowledgement. 

This is an amazing performance from Lynn Carlin who gives an unforgettable and realistic characterization of her complex role. She delivers a harrowing performance that is always emotionally resonant both in the louder moments and in the subtler ones and she makes every second of her character's development count. It's a brilliant achievement that keeps growing on me.