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).