Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Oscar Day!

I'm posting my rankings. I'm really so busy that I didn't find time to finish Best Actress, but I had a change of heart anyway. So regard that actress ranking as a draft that can change once I finish the year. It was a decent year (better than 2012) but as you'll see there was one movie that truly blew me away. The rest was OK, but nothing particularly mindblowing. The best category was easily Best Actor for me. Without further ado,

Oscar Ranking 2013:

Best Picture:
  1. Gravity (10/10)
  2. Her (9/10)
  3. American Hustle (9/10) 
  4. The Wolf of Wall Street (8.5/10) 
  5. 12 Years a Slave (8.5/10) 
  6. Philomena (8/10)
  7. Nebraska (8/10) 
  8. Dallas Buyers Club (7.5/10)
  9. Captain Philips (7/10) 
Best Director:
  1. Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
  2. Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street
  3. David O. Russell - American Hustle
  4. Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
  5. Alexander Payne - Nebraska
Best Actress:
  1. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (5/5) 
  2. Sandra Bullock in Gravity (5/5) 
  3. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County (4.5/5) 
  4. Amy Adams in American Hustle (4.5/5)
  5. Judi Dench in Philomena (4/5) 
Best Actor:
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (5/5) 
  2. Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (5/5) 
  3. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (5/5) 
  4. Bruce Dern in Nebraska (4,5/5) 
  5. Christian Bale in American Hustle (4,5/5)
Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle (4,5/5)
  2. Julia Roberts in August: Osage County (4,5/5)
  3. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine (4/5) 
  4. Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave (3,5/5) 
  5. June Squibb in Nebraska (3,5/5) 
Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (5/5) 
  2. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips (5/5) - I was this close to choosing him, he's amazing
  3. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (4,5/5)
  4. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave (4,5/5)
  5. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street (3,5/5) 

Best Original Screenplay:
Should win: Her

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should win: Philomena (sorry, I loved it)

Best Original Score: 
Should win: Her

Best Cinematography:
Should win: Gravity

Best Editing:
Should win: Gravity

Best Production Design: 
Should win: The Great Gatsby

Best Costume Design:
Should win: The Grandmaster

Best Make-Up & Hairstyling
Should win: American Hustle Dallas Buyers Club

Visual effects, sound categories:
Should win: Gravity

Best Song: 
Should win: Happy from Despicable Me 2 

For my predictions in the rest of the categories, take a look at my goldderby account! :) 

Yes, I'm a shameless starfucker, but I don't care. ;) 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett received her sixth Oscar nomination for playing Jasmine French, a socialite having a complete nervous breakdown in Woody Allen's latest, Blue Jasmine. At this moment, Cate Blanchett seems to have this award locked up and I believe she will win by a landslide as the only minimal threat to her is Dame Judi, whose film is simply not big enough, despite the love it received from the Academy and the backlash against American Hustle doesn't work in Amy Adams' favor, either. I'm not mentioning this new controversy because when I started to think how that might affect Cate's chances, I really became ashamed how I can analyse the impact of a family tragedy on the Best Actress race. So that's about that. 

Most people don't consider Blue Jasmine one of the best movies of Woody Allen and while I agree with that, I still view it as a more than respectable effort from a true master. It's so tastefully and carefully directed and written that I couldn't stop marvelling at the nuances in the story, which many people overlook. I love its deeply dark tone and sense of humor, its almost wicked parody of the over-the-top story of Streetcar and ultimately, its devastating ending. The cast is also stellar: while I'm actually disappointed that Oprah wasn't nominated (The Butler was guilty pleasure for me), I'm so glad that Sally Hawkins got in. a) She was brilliant in Happy-Go-Lucky (for which she easily should have won), b) she was excellent as Ginger, carefully and gradually revealing her resentment towards Jasmine.

Still, the respective achievements of Woody Allen and Sally Hawkins are clearly overshadowed by the brilliance of Cate Blanchett, who's so obviously at the peak of her career. Cate took six years of (sort of) break from movies, devoting her energy and talents to the Sydney stage and this kind of creative recharing clearly shows in every second of her breathtaking performance in Blue Jasmine. Katharine Hepburn always used to say that you win the Oscars for the wrong roles and Cate proved that by winning an Oscar for playing, ironically, Katharine Hepburn (although I love that performance immensely, it was clear that it wasn't her best). Also, if she hadn't won in 2007, she wouldn't be such a threat to win this time (that win could have taken her career into a different direction). However, the best thing about Cate Blanchett, that she constantly proves what we so often forget: great work is its own reward.

Cate could have done this role in many different ways: she could have coasted on the neurosis and the mannerisms of the character, creating an easy, delightful rich bitch character that I'm sure just as many people would have celebrated and loved. She could have just given another Blanche DuBois and ignored the rest of Jasmine, depriving her from layers that were still there. Had she only chosen to do one of these, I can assure you, she would still be the front-runner to win this Oscar. However, Cate used an amazingly written character and gave it everything she knows and is capable of as an actor as a performer. She really examines all the parts of this character, thoroughly exploring all the areas, revealing all of them to the audience. Even strictly from a technical point of view, this is a flawless turn that should be studied and observed in the years to come.

And it should be studied, because there is a new aspect of a performance that you discover every time you watch this film. I've seen it three times now and frankly, I wouldn't watch it more than once if it wasn't for her. There is this magical performance that becomes so addictive that you just have to get small doses of it regularly. As a whole, it's a lot to take and honestly quite overwhelming and devastating, but even the smallest nuances seem interesting in it.

As I said, what I love the most about Cate here is her decision to really do this character justice and not to surrender to our expectations. This is a marvelous achievement because it doesn't hit you in your face with the tragedy of the character: it's hard-hitting and devastating because she knows when to hold it back and when to let it all out, while also remaining unpredictable and surprising (I suppose that "I saw you, Erica" line will haunt many of us for a long time). There's always a necessary amount of intensity and anxiety to this character, but Cate is seemingly aware that sudden slaps hit harder than being constantly beaten up. Slaps, what slaps? :) Cate basically punches you in the stomach. That punch is, naturally, devastating and shocking but the journey which leads to that point is just as interesting. You keep marvelling at the nuances and details about the character that become subtle hints about the character's fate.

And if the 100% precision hadn't already been enough, Cate also manages to take it a step further. Not only is she able to do everything right, she also knows how to do this seemingly effortlessly, while letting the audience sink deeper and deeper into Jasmine's story. It's like watching a magician: you kind of know that there most a trick, but you just cannot spot it, no matte how much you try. Or does that lead us to the conclusion that there's real magic going on the screen? In my opinion, probably. This is one of those rare cases when you see that everything is working with this character.

Moreover, she doesn't leave you there with all the drama of this character and instead, she also emphasises the dark comedy in it. She doesn't settle for the cheap solution of letting only the craziness and the tragedy have an effect on the audience. Even when you have an actress doing miracles with a role, I cannot really appreciate the role unless there's some humor to it. It gives an extra layer of reality and color to every role, even the darkest, most tragic of all, otherwise it can easily become plain camp or at worst, self-conscious suffering.

Obviously, the stage experience of Cate helps her a great deal with this part. As I wrote about Viola Davis' performance two years ago, if a stage actress uses all the energy inside her that she brought from the stage, it can lead to the most powerful results. Neither of them is theatrical, but they brought this magical aura that draws you in and that's so missing from most of the film performances. As I said, what we see on the screen it's just plain magic.

Still, none of this can prepare you for the devastating ending of Blue Jasmine. SPOILER We get to see Jasmine's past revealed: you cannot really imagine if Cate's performance can get any better after the scene where we see Jasmine find out about Hal's plans to leave her, having a total meltdown, but as we get back to the present we see how this really has taken toll of Jasmine. Although we can see Woody's screenplay severely judging Jasmine (I wonder how much of it is a subtle hint at a previous leading lady of his), Cate avoids that path and she somehow makes us feel sorry for this lady as we see her get completely lost in her conscience and her own insanity. Eventually, she's just crazy homeless lady with wet hair talking to herself (never mind the designer outfits). And Cate does nothing to cut the edges of the brutality of the ending in order to make you feel better about Jasmine. There's no kind stranger to help her, only the Chanel clothes and stories of her vanished wealth and forgotten dinner parties. Cate doesn't give us any resolution or peace about Jasmine; her juicy diva lines fade and you don't see her as a fallen queen anymore, but as that crazy homeless lady with wet hair talking to herself. The pain of all the million promises of "I'll start again" fading away is devastatingly shown by Cate.

In the end, it comes down to this: not only does Cate Blanchett give the best performance of her career on the big screen, it's also one of the most interesting, complex and richly played characters I've seen in years. You see a brilliant actress at the top of her game, completely understanding the character, handling the technical part like nobody's business, while also holding a real emotional (gut-)punch for the audience. Overwhelming, terrific, terrifying and ultimately amazing work for which Cate will deservedly walk away with the Academy Award.

Obviously. :) What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Amy Adams received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Sydney Prosser, the seductive and mysterious girlfriend of a con artist who poses as a British aristocrat in David O. Russell's latest flick, American Hustle. Many people believed that there would be a fight between Meryl Streep and Amy for that fifth spot among the nominees with Meryl being weaker, but as it turned out, the weakest link was Emma Thompson, which leads me to believe that Amy is actually a dark horse for that Oscar win. If there's anyone who has a chance of pulling off an upset on Oscar night, it's her. It's her fifth nomination (with no wins), she's well liked and the actors seem to be crazy about American Hustle. Still, unless Amy wins Bafta, Cate Blanchett has this award locked up.

The overwhelming love from actors for American Hustle was surprising to many, but not really for me. Obviously, David O. Russell's movies always do well with actors. It features a terrific ensemble with some of the biggest stars at the peak of their respective careers. The story itself is well-written, although I wouldn't say it goes into such depth as 12 Years a Slave (which I also find overpraised) or especially Gravity (despite the lack of a traditionally developed story). American Hustle is nothing but very smart and occasionally stunning entertainment that can be grateful for especially Jennifer Lawrence whose performance is a hit or miss, I'm well aware, but count me in among the fans. The constant pain present behind loud, exaggerated scenes and the out-of-place sentences, the unleashed craziness that makes her performance in Silver Linings Playbook look like subtle French acting all help make her scene quite simply stunning. I'd say that out of the 10 nominations, it's the only one that it deserves to win.

And it's not really the best case scenario for a lead actress if a supporting lady steals the movie so much, especially when that leading lady herself is borderline supporting. In my opinion, one of the main reasons why Amy Adams doesn't have an Oscar is that she's always cast in the second most interesting role of the movie that rarely gets the fireworks that lets her really shine. In Doubt, Viola Davis' brief, but heartbreaking performance overshadows basically everyone, but especially Adams whose performance seems rather pale, lifeless and kind of lost compared to it. In The Fighter, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo chew the scenery to such an extent and breath the oxygen out of the movie so much that all the other actors are suffocating and are unable to have an effect. And in The Master, Amy Adams totally fell into the background thanks to the groundbreaking performances of the two male leads. I suppose the reason why she always plays this type of roles is her versatility: she's able to elevate even the most underwritten character and her charisma and star power always shines through. 

In many ways, Amy Adams always has the hardest part in the movie and she rarely screws up (although she's dangerously close to it in Doubt). In American Hustle, for the first 20 minutes or so, it seems that finally she gets the best role in a movie and boy, does she live up to it! She walks around with confidence, wraps Christian Bale's character (and us, the viewers) around her fingers with her fake British accent, her sexiness and of course, that cleavage. She wonderfully shows the tragedy behind her character and her drive for survival no matter what. She obviously becomes the emotional centre of American Hustle with the most serious role - and whenever the screenplay demands seriousness, Amy Adams just nails it. She shows the emptiness of Sydney, but also her desire for redemption and a new life and this occasionally leads to the most heartbreaking moments of the film.

Another very intriguing aspect of Amy's performance is the way she portrays the character's relationship with Bradley Cooper's and Christian Bale's respective characters in this film. In many ways, Sydney's stronger then both of these men and yet she depends on both of them. Many interpret this as the result of a shallowly written, maybe even sexist screenplay, which I personally don't believe. I'd rather say that the character herself is lost and seeks for someone she can finally rely on, but knows no other way to achieve that, but through manipulation and acting. We can actually see the dilemma of this character as she breaks down and reveals (some of) the truth to Bradley Cooper's character. However, you remain uncertain if she did this because she really wanted to tell the truth or if it's just a part of another plan. This adds to some of the most exciting, unpredictable moments of this performance. You just never know what's coming up next with Sydney and if that was Amy's main goal in this movie, she succeeded. 

However... However, (I believe, if you wanna look good, you gotta forgive everybody. It's the best beauty treatment.) no matter how well Amy pulled off this character in theory, in the context of the film, it simply doesn't work. Her performance would work extremely well in a very serious project, but not in David O. Russell's over-the-top film. Amy is unable to understand the irony in this project and reallydoesn't display a sense of humor around the character. Occasionally, it's there (like the scene at the dance club) and in many ways, it's a funny performance, but I couldn't see that bitter, crazy sense of humor. She doesn't want to coast on the silliness of the costumes, the cleavage and the whole situation. Nobody else took the film as seriously as she did and it unfortunately shows. Even if you despise Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper here, you have to admit that they seem to fit the movie better anyhow. Quite simply, if you work on a David O. Russell movie, you have to unleash the crazy beast inside you and be extremely playful with your character. Out of the place moments are just a part of how works as a director (and why I like his films so much) - you can mention the crazy dance from Silver Linings Playbook or Melissa Leo and Christian Bale singing in The Fighter or Jennifer Lawrence's insane rendition of Live and Let Die. These are the essences of these films that are serious and occasionally heartbreaking, but they never ever take themselves seriously. The tone of Amy's performance somehow doesn't fit this. And you can see this easily, because whenever she is able to unleash the beast, she's brilliant (that crazy scream on the toilet or the dance scenes with Bradley Cooper are golden). But whenever she's too serious, the whole performance seems weird (like her climatic scene with Jennifer Lawrence) because it's not weird enough. 

So, despite the moments of true greatness, I cannot conclude that this is the most outstanding performance of Amy Adams. She fails the inject the much needed irony into this character and forgets about the over-the-topness of the material. Her subtle, realistic portrayal of this character just doesn't feel right in this movie. She's not playful and yes, funny enough here but she seems to miss the whole point of the movie. If she had been able to avoid that, this would have been an amazing performance. But alas, I have to say she's only very good and for this she gets a...

What do you think?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Meryl Streep broke her own record once again and received her 18th nomination for playing Violet Weston, a vicious, drug addict matriarch in the movie based on Tracy Letts' play, August: Osage County. While many people doubted Streep's chances of getting nominated (and I was one of them), with hindsight, it seems absurd. Not only does Meryl have a crazy Oscar bait role, but she can also never do any wrong as far as the Academy is concerned. That being said, Meryl's chances of winning haven't been as slim since Helen Mirren swept everything.

August: Osage County as a movie shows us the limits of adapting a play to the big screen. For me, the performance of the play that I saw was among the best I've ever seen and the actress playing Violet gave what I consider the greatest stage performance that I've ever seen. However, I don't think the play is not as brilliant as some make it out to be: it really does offer plenty of opportunities for its actors, but it's a story that we have seen over and over again (that being said, I wasn't that impressed by the footages of the Broadway version, but Broadway hardly does it for me, sorry). It's a story that depends hugely on its cast and how much of it they are able to deliver. The adaptation for the big screen is one of the successful ones (hell, it's better than Doubt). It feels like more of a summary but the cast is indeed outstanding, but I especially want to praise two unsung heroes, Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale. They didn't get all the credit that they deserved (especially Nicholson, who was just heartbreaking). Julia Roberts did a good job here though I have to say that I don't really get all the love for her (and I'm actually a fan of hers in general) - she didn't nail all the edges in this character and the adaptation let her down and contrary to the public opinion she was less of a lead than she was in the play. I didn't have the impression that she was also turning into the monster that her mother is.

And who else plays that monster than Meryl Streep? Yes, as Tina Fey said, there are still good roles... for Meryl Streeps over sixty. I carefully considered all the other alternatives for the role and I figured that Meryl was a great choice for the part. Although in my opinion, Jane Fonda (why, what did you expect :P) could have nailed this role and would have killed as this vampire slash dragon lady and she would have also shown a new side of hers, I feel like Meryl was a respectable safe choice here. She's, above all, reliable: she can, of course, nail the accent, chew the scenery (in a good way, well, for me at least) and bring all the necessary number of viewers to this film. Naturally, all the usual talk started with people from test screenings bringing the news of her certain fourth Oscar.

Somehow over the course of awards season, the Streep fatigue and the backlash started and many people started to doubt her. That being said, I feel that the backlash is created exclusively on goldderby forums and the general public and the Academy surely didn't get the memos. They still love Meryl and everything she does - and you know what, rightfully so. This backlash that I was certainly aware of, had an impact on my expectations (and to this, you have to also add the initial talk that she wasn't the right choice for the role, at all). I was prepared that this lady is unworthy of every accolade she has achieved in her career, cannot give a decent performance and is even worse here.

And guess what, this is Meryl f*cking Streep. And guess what: she's worthy of all the accolades, usually gives amazing performances and she's even better than her average self here. Within the limits of the screenplay (because this is a diet version of Violet Weston), she just kills it and there's no other way to put it. Yep, she uses her "Meryl tricks" and guess what, once again it works. Her character appears on screen, unable to speak or keep balance and Meryl just nails it: right there in that moment, we get to know everything about this woman: she's a monster with a touch of humanity inside her (and that's also where we get to my criticism of Julia Roberts' performance: we don't get to see that Barbara starts from the opposite and almost ends up there). She breaks your heart and amazes you with her unbelievable talent at the same time.

That being said, Meryl is completely aware of the insanely dark comedic tone of the material and uses to her advantage: her line deliveries are insanely sharp and punch you right in your stomach while you're laughing your head off at the same time. We get a sort of perverted joy from all the vitriol that she spits out: we enjoy it and it's easy to see that Meryl enjoys it, too. Perhaps what's most appealing about this performance is how much she loves to do this part: she doesn't take all the opportunities for granted and doesn't miss any of them. And  what's best is how she's able to make her technical virtuosity flow out of her so effortlessly (I guess this point of mine that's highly argumentative to some). There's a buzz around Meryl that I feel whenever she's amazing and not even she's able to fake that. It's funny that you can test an actress who relies so heavily on the technical part solely with your guts. But if we come to think of it, its really the tester of how natural she is: if you are captivated by her, she did her job well, if not, then it's really just faking.

Also, Meryl fearlessly points out the desperation of this woman: the way we see her crazy dance to country music when she receives a shocking piece of news, high on pills, unable to express herself. It could seem like overreacting, but most of us tend to forget about the character's whole situation: we're talking about a drug addict, who's by the way dying of mouth cancer and is in constant pain, while also being abandoned and despised by her own family. And that's what makes her breathtaking scene at the dinner table resonate with me even more: those pills are indeed Violet's best friends. The obvious bitterness and sadness present in that scene make it a hard-hitting and heartbreaking cry for help. Violet has certain aspects of a drama queen inside her.

And as Violet sinks deeper and deeper, this performance gets more and more heartbreaking and the comedy of the play simply turns into something weirdly disturbing. But that's also how we get to why I would have wished for a little bit more. In the end, as all the characters get their big moments, the screenplay forgets about Violet in a way and blocks her journey, especially with this disappointing ending. In the play, the way it showed Violet's loneliness and devastation really made up for her lack of presence, but here, these efforts were cut short by a useless scene with Julia Roberts crying. Meryl was deprived of her big scene that would have been essential to make her performance more complete and more effective.

That being said, Meryl Streep gives an amazing performance as Violet Weston and although she was cheated out of some of the great opportunities of the play, she was still able to rock on the big screen once again. Haters are gonna hate, but guess what, I'm not one of them and I can do nothing but love this outstanding piece of work by this brilliant actress.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Best Actress 2013


So the nominees are:

  • Amy Adams in American Hustle 
  • Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
  • Sandra Bullock in Gravity
  • Judi Dench in Philomena
  • Meryl Streep in August: Osage County
Since everybody's concentrating on this years' race, instead of posting my review of Angela Bassett, I decided to focus on this year's set of nominees. Will I be charmed by Cate or Meryl's pill-popping ladies or Amy and Sandra's survival stories or perhaps the softie side of mine will go for Judi Dench? 

What do you think beside the fact that I cannot commit to any year? I will finish all of them. :P Who do you think will win? What do you think my ranking will look like? :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Next Year


So the nominees were:

  • Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do with It
  • Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation
  • Holly Hunter in The Piano
  • Emma Thompson in Remains of the Day
  • Debra Winger in Shadowlands
One of the most interesting years of the 1990s, for sure. Will I fall under the pre-voodoo queen spell of Angela Bassett? Will my love for Emma Thompson carry her to the big win? Am I going to join the Holly Hunter fans? Or will I pick one of the other two exceptional ladies?

What do you think? (I'll get back to 1999, but I don't feel like it right now). :) 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Hello everybody! :) Did you miss me? I hope so because I'm returning (like for REAL) after a long hiatus, full of soul-searching, creative recharging of my mind, broadening my perspectives and I'm ready to make my comeback. I'm feeling better than ever, bursting with the desire to get back to all of you. :) 

Naturally, my soul-searching also meant that I re-examined some of my old decisions and rankings. I have revised most of them and eventually, I'll also correct the old reviews and doing some re-writes. That's gonna be work, but I'm ready. :) I still need to re-think 1948, 1973, 1998 and 2009 so I'm excluding them from my list below. :) And of course, I'll be still changing my rankings whenever I feel like it. :)  

However, let's look at my picks so far (you can see the changes):

1937: Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth

1939: Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind

1940: Joan Fontaine in Rebecca 

1941: Bette Davis in The Little Foxes

1943: Ingrid Bergman in For Whom The Bell Tolls 

1944: Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

1951: Vivien Leigh in a Streetcar Named Desire

1954: Judy Garland in A Star is Born

1955: Susan Hayward in I'll Cry Tomorrow

1957: Anna Magnani in Wild is the Wind

1958: Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

1959: Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story

1961: Sophia Loren in Two Women

1962: Katharine Hepburn in A Long Day's Journey Into Night

1963: Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room

1964: Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater

1966: Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1969: Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 

1971: Jane Fonda in Klue

1972: Liza Minnelli in Cabaret

1974: Faye Dunaway in Chinatown

1975: Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

1976: Sissy Spacek in Carrie

1977: Diane Keaton in Annie Hall

1978: Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata

1979: Sally Field in Norma Rae

1980: Ellen Burstyn in Resurrection

1982: Jessica Lange in Frances

1983: Meryl Streep in Silkwood

1984: Judy Davis in A Passage to India

1986: Sigourney Weaver in Aliens

1987: Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction

1988: Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons

1989: Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys

1990: Kathy Bates in Misery

1992: Mary McDonnell in Passion Fish

1995: Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas

1996: Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves

1997: Helena Bonham Carter in The Wings of the Dove

2001: Halle Berry in Monsters Ball

2002: Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven

2003: Charlize Theron in Monster

2004: Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

2006: Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal

2007: Marion Cotillard in La vie en rose

2010: Natalie Portman in Black Swan

2011: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady 

2012: Emmanuelle Riva in Amour 

Multiple wins: 
  • 3 wins: Meryl Streep (2011, 1990, 1983) 
  • 2 wins: Ingrid Bergman (1943, 1978)Glenn Close (1987, 1988), Jane Fonda (1969, 1971), Vivien Leigh (1939, 1951), Elizabeth Taylor (1958, 1966)

Best performances reviewed:
  1. Jane Fonda in Klute
  2. Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata
  3. Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire
  4. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves
  5. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons
Weakest performance reviewed: 
  1. Ann-Margret in Tommy
  2. Gena Rowlands in Gloria
  3. Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues
  4. Ellen Page in Juno
  5. Samantha Morton in In America
I'll see you soon with posts (at least on the 9th). :) I'm keeping it all surprise.

I wish all of you a successful, happy new year! :)

What do you think? Which changes surprised you the most? 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Faye Dunaway in Chinatown

Faye Dunaway received her second Oscar nomination for playing her signature role of Evelyn Cross Mulwray, a mysterious femme fatale in Roman Polanski's masterpiece, Chinatown. In 1974, Faye was still at the height of her fame, which could have helped in securing that Oscar win for her, but I believe she could only be the dark horse of the race, considering the overdue Ellen Burstyn and art house favorite Gena Rowlands playing more showy roles and grabbing all the attention, despite the fact that Faye's performance as Mrs. Mulwray turned out to be the most remembered of the insanely exciting Best Actress race of 1974. 

Chinatown, for me, is one of the greatest masterpieces of cinema, with absolutely no flawed elements about it. Roman Polanski's overwhelming, sinister and eventually devastating vision is probably his strongest (along with his work on The Pianist), which, in my opinion, would have deserved the Best Director Oscar. Equally brilliant is Jack Nicholson's charismatic turn as Jake Gittes though I would be more hesitant to give my vote to him in that very tight Best Actor race (he'd narrowly edge out Art Carney for me).

One of the numerous things that I find fascinating about Chinatown is that everybody is equally important in turning this movie into an absolute masterpiece and yet remaining outstanding on their own. The vision of Polanski probably would have worked with lesser actors or a less perfect score by Jerry Goldsmith and the music would have been just as awesome in a standard film noir. You can say the same about Faye Dunaway's performance: even when I didn't consider it marvelous achievement, I still found Chinatown a masterpiece (but enjoyed her worked a lot). However, as I embraced her more, her rich, stunning character only added to the overwhelming experience of Chinatown. 

If we look at the character of Evelyn Mulwray, we can immediately spot the mystery about her and the screenplay provided so much freedom to the actress playing her. People like to wonder about how Jane Fonda would have played this woman had she not turned down the part (note: she never turned it down, actually, she was never offered the part, but it makes a good line in I'll Eat You Last), because it takes so much imagination to picture the hard-edged, tough Jane Fonda of the seventies as Evelyn, playing the fragile Mrs. Mulwray. However, if we take a closer look, it can be easily seen that Faye Dunaway made this role her own so much that it's almost impossible to think about anyone else attempting to play Evelyn. We cannot imagine her any other way, then this fragile, deeply tragic character with a spot on her iris. It's like Faye has become this spot on Evelyn's iris, leaving her mark on this woman forever.

Faye turns virtually everything about this character to her favor: she uses the lack of screentime to strengthen the mysteriousness of this woman, making a lasting, dazzling impression and she also establishes everything about Evelyn that the (perfect) screenplay simply didn't have the opportunity to do. As a result, Evelyn never becomes a character whose mystery and iciness is actually covering up emptiness and one-dimensional personalities. Faye created one of the most human and relatable portrayals of a femme fatale. Although nowadays many would refer to Kim Basinger's performance in L.A. Confidential as the example of creating such a character with a background and more dimensions, Faye's performance goes beyond that: as I stated earlier, Dunaway left her mark on her character, not simply giving a great performance that any talented actress can give. Evelyn Cross Mulwray belongs to Faye Dunaway.

For me, Faye Dunaway has always been the most effective, where she can display her distinct acting style in more quietly tragic characters, like Bonnie Parker and Evelyn. She's also impressive in her more "out there" performances like Network and Mommie Dearest (I actually think that her work in Network goes over the top much more), where she can sell scenes that other actresses simply would have overacted, but Faye's unique persona shines through everything. Joan Crawford famously said that only Faye had "the talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star" and all that is best displayed in Chinatown. That was essential to make Evelyn the iconic character that she is.

Faye's chemistry with Jack Nicholson is one-of-a-kind and it's not hard to believe that the smart, no-nonsense character of Jake Gittes can be fooled by this fragile woman with pencil-thin eyebrows who's actually way stronger and more determined than one would initially believe. The only way to beat this woman is physical violence, because all your senses are confused by her beauty and personality (just see how Jake forces the truth out of her). It's not only Jake (and everyone else in Chinatown) who's confused by all her actions and what she's hiding, but also the audience: although Faye plays with our emotions like little puppets, we are constantly sympathising with her character. Faye fabulously uses the symbol the spot on Evelyn's iris to reveal the darkness and the burden of a terrible secrets on Evelyn.

Many would say that the daughter/sister scene is the highlight of Faye Dunaway's performance, where all the layers of mystery are forcefully removed from her and yet she's not beaten until (SPOILER) she's killed . The obsessed shouting of "She's my sister. She's my daughter." is devastating, equal to the effect of Barbara Stanwyck crying "I'm rotten" in Double Indemnity (SPOILER OFF). That being said, my personal favorite of Faye here is the scene in bed with Jack Nicholson and especially the way she delivers the line "Cherchez la femme.", which is so evocative and bitterly ironic from Evelyn's mouth. It's a tiring cliché to say that Faye tells more about her character in that sentence than other actresses could with long monologues, but sometimes you have to turn to clichés to express your awe.

In the end, Faye Dunaway's performance is one of the key elements in making Chinatown the chilling, harrowing masterpiece that it really is. With one look or a sentence, she evokes the tragedy and sadness behind the mysteriousness and the iciness of Evelyn Cross Mulwray, gradually removing all these layers and revealing what a terribly human and flawed person that she really is behind the surface of the femme fatale. She brilliantly plays this old-fashioned character with her fresh modern approach that reminds us of the greatness of the real golden age of American cinema. Faye's talent has never been used better than here and even if it was working with Polanski difficult proccess for both of them it was worth it.

What do you think?

As you see, I'm back. Later, I will do a post on the changes that will take place on this blog. I really took my time to figure out what to do next but it's done. :) 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Janet McTeer in Tumbleweeds

Janet McTeer had her Oscar breakthrough with Tumbleweeds, a movie in which she played Mary Jo Walker, a woman who runs from town to town with her teenage daughter to find the next overbearing and/or abusive guy. Although Janet received her fair share of critics' awards (plus a Globe in the Comedy/Musical category), I believe she was more of a dark horse after front-runners Annette Bening and Hilary Swank. That being said, it's a great triumph for Janet as the Academy likes to overlook comedy even when the leading character is somewhat trashy (but they only like that character a lot when there's deglam attached to it). But here we are, with a relatively unknown British Actress in an independent comedy receiving a nomination... that's what the Academy should be about. 

And this independent comedy is a really heartwarming and genuinely pleasing piece (as for me). It's one of the few films where even a fart joke is adorable, thanks to the cosy, enjoyable direction of Gavin O'Connor (the guy who also plays Jack, one of Mary Jo's boyfriends). I was especially pleased by the fact that the story deliberately tried to avoid cliche, like there was (SPOILER) no huge dramatic asthma attack and running to the hospital (SPOILER OFF), which, in an unusual way, was further proof of the originality of this story. 

However, I felt that none of this would have been possible without the participation of the always fantastic Janet McTeer who could turn the weakest material into gold (no, I'm not talking about Albert Nobbs, for which she should have won the Oscar) with her subtle development of characters. Even when she's stuck with a thin character (like her role on Damages), her intelligence and the previously mentioned subtle development makes you notice her. She's always aware of how much spotlight she can have, but she uses that to the maximum effect. Her interactions with other actors (huh, Great Glenn especially) are so interesting because she could find chemistry even with a cup of coffee.

All the external things about Mary Jo Walker's character seem to be loud, showy, almost over-the top, with the blond hair and her accent, which is pretty impressive coming from a British woman. It's sort of tiring to say that Janet McTeer completely disappears into the part and you barely recognise her, it just doesn't matter at all, once you get to see how Mary Jo's character is growing during the course of this film.

Tumbleweeds appears to be the next Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but it's somewhat more realistic, funny and eventually, it's more of a feminist film. You already know by now how much I take pleasure in comparing characters and performances and this act has proven to be especially rewarding and fun this time. Both Alice Hyatt and Mary Jo Walker are defined by men they end up with, but while Alice remains to be defined by a man, Mary Jo has more of an awakening in the end and she turns out to be (in my opinion) more aware of her own worth. Thanks to her outspoken and smart daughter, Mary Jo realizes that maybe she can manage on her own and doesn't have to run away instantly. 

Another accomplishment of McTeer is that while she makes Mary Jo's journey entertaining and funny, she never chooses the easy way to surrender to playing standard white trash, which is obviously more showy and crowd-pleasing (Gee, I'm still astonished that she won a Golden Globe), but instead portrays Mary Jo as a vulnerable, three-dimensional character, with killer optimism and zero vanity. Mary Jo is a indeed a shocking character, but you cannot spot McTeer being self-aware for a moment and manages to effortlessly combine the carefully worked out technical part with spontaneity, which makes this characterization even more interesting. You never really care about her accent because it seems to come out of Janet naturally as if she was able to find ways to the technical aspects of this character through her soul and personality (and not the other way around, which I find extremely off-putting).

And the same applies to the comedy part of this character. There wasn't one moment when I was entertained by the trashiness that could have been attached to Mary Jo, I was mostly entertained by her wonderful timing, the character's radiant, wonderful personality, the halo of optimism so effortlessly added to her by Janet. Through the comedy, McTeer reveals the sadness inside this woman and the previously mentioned optimism gets further away from her. This adds a bittersweet atmosphere to the movie, which was crucial to making it as effective and lovable as it really is. 

And her delivery is killer in every scene, but I especially enjoyed the one where she quits from her job. She turns a cliche situation into a truly delightful. Her refreshing cheekiness and originality makes it an almost cathartic liberation. It seems as if she wanted to also say to the viewer "Do you want me to settle down and have an ordinary life?". This subtle fuck you to the audience is both admirable and deliciously bitchy. For me it really is what independent cinema should about: fighting conventions and original characters that are original without feeling forced (ahem, Juno, ahem). In the end, Mary Jo's great triumph is realizing her own self-worth without a man. SPOILER We don't get to know if she eventually ended up with Dan or someone else SPOILER OFF, but thanks to Janet's interpretation, it all doesn't matter, because Mary Jo is not defined by men anymore.

Overall, I found Janet McTeer as amazing as she always is in this movie. Although you could argue that this character doesn't reach a height when she blows your socks off, Janet brings out the maximum of this seemingly lightweight screenplay, thanks to her skill of portraying the development of characters. Watching her playing Mary Jo is more than a treat: it's a gripping, breathtakingly interesting experience, a truly outstanding, beautifully detailed characterization by one of the most  fascinating actresses of our time.

What do you think? (I'm back and I'll try to finish 1999 ASAP.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hello there!

Sorry for my repeated breaks, I really can't help it, I have had way too many things on my shoulders and I didn't have time to write, however, I started revising all the years. :) Unfortunately, I have no time to write new reviews (I'll try in the summer, but I'm not promising anything) and sometimes it's unnecessary. Right now, all the years are done. There are some changes, an actress has gained THREE wins even though she had zero before. :)

Also, I started a new rating system, which will hopefully help me be less generous with the grades. So let me introduce it: 

You just have to work harder to get Janes from me. ;)

And of course, I'll go on with 1999 (I'll finish it, even if they have to tie me down to do it). 

I hope you all had a great Easter. :)