lunedì 28 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives

Judy Davis received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Sally Simmons in Husbands and Wives.

Husbands and Wives is a good Woody Allen movie about two married couples and how the decision of one couple to split up affects the relationship of the other one. Even though Allen himself thought of this as one of his very best pictures, I've never been overly fond of it: it's a cleverly written and rather well-acted movie but one that I think is a bit hindered by its aesthetic. The idea of shooting it with a handheld camera often comes off as more distracting than anything and I thought the editing was particularly awful with its tendency to cut from one scene to another in the middle of a dialogue or even a sentence - it's just plain frustrating and doesn't add anything to the movie. That said, I don't actually mind the documentary-like style as I think the interviews of the main characters are well-written and poignantly performed. The screenplay is overall very good - it's a character-driven movie and all of the main roles are believable, three-dimensional human beings. The acting is also solid all around, though I think only Davis and Sidney Pollack end up being truly memorable.

Back in the days Judy Davis was apparently considered to be the frontrunner for the win and it's quite easy to see why: it's a flashy performance, she won a great deal of the critics' awards and supporting ladies in Woody Allen's films usually fare well with the Academy (see Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino and Penelope Cruz). I don't think her loss is as surprising as some do - Marisa Tomei might not have been nominated to almost any of the precursors but her performance is probably even flashier than Davis' and I think Richardson also stood a chance for the award due to the fact that she was in three appreciated movies that year. Still, out of the five nominated performances Judy Davis' is probably the most appreciated one nowadays, with people often claiming she was robbed of a win. I have to admit I've never been in love with this performance as most people - I like it a great deal and I think she is overall quite great in a challenging role but I've never found this to be the masterwork it is sometimes regarded as.

The main reason why I don't rate this performance as high as most people is because of how she handles one of her early scenes, namely her first date with another man after her splitting up with her husband (Pollack). It's quite clear from the beginning that Sally as a person is a bit neurotic but in this scene Davis stresses this idea a little bit too much - she's quite good at portraying Sally's underlying awkwardness at the beginning of the scene but as it progresses her performances grows progressively more obvious and definitely louder in not quite the right way. Her body language often comes off as excessive in even in the slightest gestures, such as her holding of the wine glass or the smoking, and even if the concept of the scene is actually quite interesting, with Sally consistently interrupting the date to call her husband and yell at him about his new girlfriend, I found her execution of it to be often unconvincing and overcooked. Her acting comes across as needless showboating here and by the end of the sequence I found her to be actually quite terrible - her delivery of "Don't defend your sex! It's true!" is particularly off as it comes across as both over-the-top and robotic. She has a couple of inspired moments throughout the scene ("Fucking Don Juans, they should have cut his dick off") but for most of it she goes far overboard than it was required.

Now I don't want to sound too negative on this performance because outside of this scene there is plenty to like about this performance - Sally is probably the most interesting character of the movie and save for that misstep Davis does a terrific job at bringing it to life. She is excellent in the movie's first scene when she and her husband announce that they are breaking up - Davis effectively shows that her nonchalance as she delivers the news is pretty much a put on, betraying her character's true emotional state through her somewhat uncomfortable body language. After the aforementioned first date scene, Davis improves greatly as she finds a way to be flashy and scene-stealing without coming across as trying too hard. Her character's words and actions are often in contrast with each other, as sometimes she expresses sorrow for the break-up and the next minute she's talking about how much she loves being single, but Davis effectively conveys in every scene the inner desperation of the character whether she is willing to admit it or not. For instance, I love the scene in which she is talking to Mia Farrow's character pretending to be totally fine with the break-up and to be enjoying her single life: she is terrific at bringing so much energy in what she says almost as if she were trying to convince herself more than her interlocutor, and there's a striking inconsistency between what she says and what her body tells - she has a great control of her physical acting as her small glances and gestures perfectly convey the insecurities her words are trying to hide. And she's brilliant whenever the façade drops - her reaction when she sees her husband with his new girlfriend across the street is just pitch-perfect. My favorite scene of her performance is probably her date with Michael (Liam Neeson in a charming, lovely turn): she's quite hilarious at the beginning of the scene in her portrayal of her character's nervousness and then goes on being rather heartbreaking as she opens up about her marriage and what ultimately led to its end: it's a surprisingly powerful moment that Davis plays with unexpected delicacy and feeling. Her chemistry with Neeson is also very effective - their relationship ends up being not very lasting but there's a sincere, heartfelt connection in their few scenes together.

Davis also thrives in the interview scenes and she ably uses them to add even more depth and complexity to the character: those moments are some of the strongest of her work as she plays them with incredible frankness, honesty and sincerity. The "fox and hedgehog" monologue as she opens up to the interviewer about her sexual problems is a terrific moment that Davis delivers beautifully. The eventual reunion between Sally and her husband is not quite properly built up but Davis and Pollock share such a strong chemistry it's believable - they are fierce and explosive in their character's confrontations over the course of the movie but surprisingly tender in the few moments in which they convey the mutual affection between them. Their final scene together is particularly brilliant - both actors are amazing at showing that their relationship has not changed drastically and that their problems are still there but that they've learned to accept them and live with them. Davis is quite moving in the end as she shows a newfound peace in Sally and a certain maturity in her acknowledgement that perfection in a marriage is unachievable but that doesn't mean it isn't worth it.

So overall I might not quite adore this performance as some do but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it. That misguided scene I mentioned in the beginning detracts a bit from the overall work but it's still a compelling, fascinating and three-dimensional portrayal from a great actress. A memorable, fiercely vivid performance that adds a lot of substance to the movie.


mercoledì 23 agosto 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 1992: Miranda Richardson in Damage

Miranda Richardson received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Ingrid Fleming in Damage.

Damage is an effective movie about the toxic affair between a married member of the Parliament and his son's mysterious fiancèe. When I first watched the movie, I hated it: I found it to be a soulless and dull experience with awkwardly realized sex scenes and poorly conceived performances. It considerably grew on me the second time around and while I didn't find it to be quite perfect I still thought there was plenty to appreciate. The screenplay is probably the weakest part of the film as I found the early scenes almost unbearable to witness due to how unnatural and unbelievable the dialogue feels, but thankfully it gets better after a while. Louis Malle's direction is pretty terrific and on a rewatch I found his approach to the sex scenes to be particularly intelligent: while on my first view I disliked them for their coldness, I now see that that feeling was intentional as the affair between the two characters is based more on obsession than love. I really didn't like Jeremy Irons' performance the first time but it's actually a subtle, excellent piece of work. Juliette Binoche also grew on me this time around.

Curiously enough, Miranda Richardson's performance is the only aspect of the movie of which my opinion hasn't changed on a rewatch. This is not a negative thing really as I already liked her performance on my first viewing, the only difference between now and then is that now I think the movie around it is actually very good. Regarding the performance itself my feelings have stayed the same: it's a very solid turn from a terrific actress though not quite as great and extraordinary as some people find it. My issues with the performances are not really with the acting per se and Richardson actually makes the most out of every single scene - the thing is that for most of the movie she's actually given very little to do and she can only do so much with the material she has to work with.

To be perfectly honest it's actually quite impressive what she manages to accomplish with the role as her early scenes could have been a disaster. First off, she easily could have come across as miscast in the role as she is far younger than the character she's supposed to play (she was actually only a few years older than Rupert Graves who plays her son): she never lets this affect her performance though because, even if she does look a bit too young, she manages to create a believable and convincing dynamic with Irons, her on-screen husband. In their short scenes together the two actors manage to convey the history of their characters and the present state of their marriage, which is not passionate but it's still a quietly loving one. The other element that hinders her performance in the beginning is the screenplay which, as I mentioned, is rather shaky there: Richardson can't always get away with it unfortunately (her conversation with Juliette Binoche at dinner early on in the film is awkwardly written in particular as it feels almost painfully artificial) but she still rises above the quality of the material and she recovers quickly once the writing starts to find its way.

The movie sadly does not focus very much on the character of Ingrid, which is in fact mostly defined by her relationship with her husband and her son. To Richardson's credit, she actually does her very best to give Ingrid a personality and to an extent she does succed - she might not overcome the limitations of the role but within those limitations she manages to imbue the character with grace, intelligence and a certain humor. Considering that for a large chunk of the movie Ingrid is completely unsuspecting of the affair between her husband and Anna (Juliette Binoche), she does not get to do anything truly interesting to do but Richardson manages to stand out to a certain extent by realizing so well the character's feelings in her interactions with her son and his fiancèe. In her moments with Graves, Richardson does a terrific job at portraying her character's motherly love and she exudes such a lovely amount of warmth when the two of them share the screen. And she's great in her few scenes with Binoche at portraying Ingrid's distrust of this woman while keeping a very polite, well-mannered behavior. I particularly like her reaction to Martyn's and Anna's engagement as she conveys so well her actual disapproval while trying to fake enthusiasm in order not to disappoint her son.

Her performance is mostly remembered nowadays for her final two scenes once the affair is exposed with major consequences and Richardson is indeed amazing in them. For such a conventionally conceived character, I found those last two scenes to be absolutely brilliant, original and unexpected: in the first one, Richardson does an absolutely phenomenal job at portraying her character's grief but what really took me aback was the fierce, aggressive, venomous anger Ingrid unleashes towards her husband. Her "You should have killed yourself" speech is nothing short of astonishing: Richardson is absolutely devastating in her painfully violent outburst and her depiction of her character's hartred towards her husband is particularly hard-hitting because it contrasts so strikingly with the previously gentle characterization of Ingrid. And her breakdown as she screams for her son is unforgettable and raw - I literally felt chills down my spine. And she is equally brilliant in the scenes of the morning after: it's a much quieter scene than the previous one but Richardson is equally powerful in her bitter reflection on the whole situation and her marriage itself. Her last moment as she stands naked in front of her husband and confronts him about why she couldn't be enough for him is a terrific exit for the character - it's almost too painful and brutal to witness in its quietness but Richardson's excellent, captivating performance makes it impossible to look away.

This is a very difficult performance to rate. There is no denying that her final two scenes are stunningly acted, but at the same time it's hard for me to ignore the fact that she is severely underused for an hour and a half. If the rest of her work had been on par with her acting in the last act, it would have been one of the best performances ever: but she's unfortunately side-lined for the majority of the movie and as it stands it's "merely" a respectable performance from a terrific actress who makes the most out of an underwritten part. Her final scenes are undeniable and just for them she is a worthy nominee, even though I felt she was actually better in The Crying Game from the same year.


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, creating a fascinating, puzzling and often undecipherable character. 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 pretty 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. Clara Calamai is excellent in her small but pivotal role in Deep Red and, though I can't say much more about her performance without spoiling it, she is quite simply unforgettable. Macha Mèril is very good in the same movie - in little more than a scene, she's disturbing, unnerving and chilling, setting the tone perfectly for the rest of the movie.
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. Clara Calamai, Deep Red - 4.5/5
  9. Barbara Feldon, Smile - 4.5/5
  10. Jessica Harper, Inserts - 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.