Monday, January 30, 2012

Viola Davis in The Help

Viola Davis made history and became only the second black actress to receive two Oscar nominations. She received the honor for playing Aibileen Clark, a maid who helps out an aspiring young writer with some of her stories about her life as a domestic. At the beginning of the award season, Viola Davis was the absolute front-runner to win the Oscar and if I can be honest, I was really surprised that she didn't win the Golden Globe because this is really a performance that they usually love (I guess they love Meryl more). I guess the SAG love for Viola meant that she's clearly the front-runner once again (I wonder about how the BAFTA will influence the race). 

Although The Help is not an amazing piece of filmmaking, it's a very entertaining and moving film with a cheesy story. Naturally, it's sentimental but it just adds to its charm. However, the film's strength lies in the almost all-female cast. Each and every actress gives a wonderful performance. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are both wonderful and deserving of the Academy Award but I'm going to root for Octavia because I think Jessica will have a better shot at winning in the future (and she will win as a leading actress, just a matter of time). I should also mention Allison Janney and Cicely Tyson who do wonders with their roles and provided some of the most moving moments of the film. I wish they had received more recognition for their work. 

Four years ago, Viola Davis was a Tony-winning stage actress who got supporting parts in movies occasionally. However, along came Doubt, in which she outshone Meryl Streep with a six-minute-long, heartbreaking scene, where she gave a terrific performance and for which she should have won the Oscar. In the following year, her situation and parts did not seem to change: all she got was bit parts in action flicks and romantic comedies. Being aware of her talent, it's kind of shocking that she had to make do with those bit parts. No wonder Meryl Streep pleaded at the SAG awards to get Viola a movie. We all know how much Hollywood listents to Meryl and she got Viola that movie, but also got her main rival for the Oscar. 

Gone with the Wind showed us the idealistic, happy house slave, Mammy who would sacrifice herself to help the family she's working for and her beloved Miss Scarlett. Some criticised Hattie McDaniel for playing these very clichéd images of a black woman but she said 'I'd rather play a maid than be one'. Seventy-two years later, we get to see a new and deeper (?) image of domestics in The Help. In a way, the characters of The Help are also clichés and maybe the products of white guilt, but somehow Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer solved this problem: Octavia with her wonderful comic skills and Viola with her dignified and gracious personality.

It's so interesting that The Help wants to be about social equality and yet it didn't have the courage to make a black character the real lead of the picture. In a way, the character of Aibileen is forced to the back of the bus to give the longer storyline to Skeeter's character. That's the reason why it's almost impossible to decide if Viola is leading or supporting character. She's co-lead at best and a sidekick despite the fact that she's far and away the most interesting and layered character of the film. I started to wonder if Aibileen is the most intriguing and heartbreaking character because of the writing or Viola Davis' enormous talent. Let's get this straight: if Viola Davis was a white woman, she would just flow in great parts and Oscars. I am not necessarily saying that Hollywood people are still as racist as the 1960 Mississippi but they still don't have the courage to make a black woman the real lead. They still think in white. But an actress of Viola's calibre would deserve to play all the great parts you could ever imagine.

I guess the fact that Viola is mainly a stage actress still helps her a great deal in her film acting. Her face is so expressive and her whole personality bursts with energy and emotionality. I think she's used to showing her emotions in a very big way and that's why we often get to see a huge amount of tears coming from her. I'm not suggesting at all by this that she's theatrical, far from it: she converts all the necessary stage "tricks" to the big screen, and the results are just wonderful. The reason why I love her so much is probably due to the fact that she reminds me of the greatest Hungarian actors/actresses. Here, it's stage first and then comes the movie and they clearly know the characters more than the film actresses. It's just that they would be able to play the whole thing at once and be just as great.

What we see about Aibileen is that she has a story. In every movement of hers, Viola is revealing something about her, tells a new story and reveals a new layer and depth. Viola wonderfully tells the background of Aibileen: the scene where she talks about her sons death is as heartbreaking as a scene can get (Oscar clip, watch out). What I was amazed at was Viola's ability to create something so natural and wonderful from such cheesy lines. Everything is pure and clean about her, she's free of fake behaviour and sentimentality. 

But honestly, for me the most amazing thing about Viola was how well she showed the love and faith inside Aibileen. She's an embodiment and representation of everything that faith should be about: telling the truth and loving. Her face in the church scene is just wonderful, we just see how touched she's by the message and how she's trying to live according to it.

Another very touching aspect of Viola's performance is the way she shows Aibileen's relationship with her baby girl, Mae Mobley. She shows a very intimate and beautiful relationship between the to of them and I just refuse to believe there's anyone who can keep dry eyes during the last scene where she's saying 'You is kind. You is smart. You is important.' Again, a very cheesy, sentimental line that Viola makes wonderfully moving and wonderful. 

However, Viola's performance is not only moving and loveable, it's also full of humor and gentle irony once she's in the company of Octavia Spencer. Their wonderful scenes cover a wide range of emotions: they are fooling around in the kitchen during the bridge party or comforting each other after Aibileen's character was running from the scene of a terrible murder (Viola portrays Aibileen's fear so heartbreakingly, she made her so vulnerable there). But honestly, it's their scene in the church in the end is the most moving of all: again, it's very sentimental, but somehow so loveable (that perfectly sums up the movie as well). When I first saw the movie and really got under its effect, I felt they were applauded for their future Oscar wins (silly, I know, but it felt like such a moment).

In the end, in a secondary part, Viola Davis is able to give the most layered and heartbreaking performance as Aibileen in The Help. In each and every moment of the film, she's endlessly loveable, showing so many emotions and faces of this character. Her incredible talent shines through this somewhat thin material and is able to be wonderfully moving, natural and funny at the same time. Beautiful, wonderful work for which Viola would deservedly win the Oscar. 

What do you think? 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Next Year


So the nominees are:
  • Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis in The Help
  • Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
  • Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn
So, another year has come and as of now, the race is very exciting. All of them have a more or less legitimate shot at winning (except for maybe Rooney) so we'll just have to wait until SAG announces (tonight) :). 

But more importantly ;), who will get my vote? What do you think? Can Meryl get her third win from me (and become my first consecutive winner)? Or will I go with one of the four other fantastic ladies, including Great Glenn? Who's your pick? What's your prediction for my ranking? (I'm really interested in that) :) 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Final Conclusion - Best Actress 1982


So the much anticipated ranking is:

I'm not saying that Julie Andrews gives a bad performance in Victor Victoria. Although I was very amused by her occasionally, she didn't make her character as a fake drag queen very believable or interesting. It's not even really her fault, the part is just not right for her. She solves the comedy parts quite well, but she was not able to give a really layered performance. 

Sissy Spacek was able to get something out of her one-dimensional character. While her performance is far from dreary, she's not able to reveal as many layers of this character as she can with other roles. Although I appreciate the massive amount of talent and effort that she put into this part, I'm simply not impressed by her work in this movie. Something is really missing. 

Debra Winger is incredibly great in An Officer and a Gentleman, giving a deeply layered, very emotional and haunting performance that didn' cease to amaze me. She gets so much out of this seemingly one-dimensional character with the help of her wonderful, beautiful presence. She's just wonderful all around.

To say that Meryl Streep is great in Sophie's Choice would be a major understatement. She goes beyond the boundaries of acting and completely becomes Sophie Zawistowska. While the technical part of this performance is brutally perfect, it also strikes you emotionally. Nothing can compare to the horror and pain that Meryl displays on the screen. 

Jessica Lange is downright brilliant as Frances Farmer. Everything about her is just sheer perfection: her turbulent presence, her very emotional and passionate acting and her ability to keep control of her character. I'm not willing to say yet that this is her best work (I need to see more), but it's definitely a front-runner for that prize. Chilling, marvelous, terrifying, brutally amazing job from a great, great actress.

So I can proudly announce
that the winner is...
Jessica Lange
A really tough one.

Final thoughts: Overall, a good year, with two brilliant performances. First I thought the choice would be a real Sophie's choice but in the end and it was and eventually, it's Jessica, which was surprising considering how long I had been championing Meryl's performance (I still do). I really loved Debra though she didn't even come close. The other two were pretty much forgettable. 

And now the clues: 
  • Cowardice. Cowardice. 
  • But what if you don't like what I got to say? :)
What do you think? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jessica Lange in Frances

Jessica Lange received her first Best Actress nomination for playing the tragic actress, Frances Farmer in the movie Frances. There are years when there are two such fantastic performances that it feels like a shame not to reward them both. 1982 is the definition of that year. Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange were basically going head to head but when award season began, Meryl started to win all the awards. However, the critics came up with a great idea: why not to reward Jessica in the supporting category for her turn in Tootsie? The Academy followed that and they gave her the supporting award. Teri Garr, her fellow nominee, said that Jessica deserved ly won for Frances (I think she deservedly won for Tootsie as well). For that reason, some might have even felt not voting for Jessica at all in the lead category thogh that idea is kind of silly considering what an acclaimed and hailed performance it was. 

Frances is a pretty terrific and harrowing take on Frances Farmer's life. It's highly fictionalized, of course, but that doesn't take anything away from its great effect. Graeme Clifford's direction is passionate and he really found the right way to tell Frances' story. The acting and writing part of the movie is also very strong: I would particularly like to underline Sam Shephard's performance, which was somehow quite memorable for me. Kim Stanley, though many disagree, was not that great. Sure, she has her moments but she's far from being fantastic. 

Over the last couple of months, Jessica Lange has become one of my absolute favorite actresses and I have become a huge, huge fan of hers, mostly thanks to her recent television appearances on American Horror Story. The main reason I was doing this year was to rediscover the performance that's said to be her absolute best, the one that I loved the most as well. I was also full of doubts if I would like her as much for a second time and if she would impress me just as much. It's a hailed performance for sure. At the time, one of the critics' called it the biggest triumph by an actress since Sophia Loren's Cesira in Two Women. True, the careers of these actresses are similar in many ways: both of them started out as sex symbols without any appreciation for their wonderful acting talents and thanks to huge, showy dramatic turns as tortured women they got the recognition both of them deserved. 

When somebody gets naked on the screen, they have to get rid of every sense of shame and pride and show themselves the way they are: vulnerable, natural, scared or sensual and sexy. Jessica Lange gets more and more naked in each and every frame of Frances, figuratively and literally, too. She gets rid of her vanity, her shame and her glamorous, beautiful looks. 

The thing that impresses me most about this performance is Jessica's transformation and the changes that she shows in the character of Frances. She starts off as a naive, a bit shy young girl with a weak voice and very teenage looks, then becomes the most beautiful person you can imagine and eventually ends up being broken down, disgusting, shocking and terrifying. She's on the verge of crazy, wild overacting but somehow she always manages to get back. By all means, her presence is turbulent. She dives deeper and deeper into the madness of Frances that you actually feel that even her, Jessica Lange, the actress suffers a nervous breakdown. 

The scenes where she's shown at the asylum are the most brutal ones that you can imagine. If you thought Olivia de Havilland was shocking in The Snake Pit, just try watching Jessica in Frances. Watching her provides you with the most perverted joy: you can see a woman suffering a brutal breakdown. In the end, she becomes this unrecognisable, wild animal screaming and raging. The most amazing thing about these scenes is the fact that while they are showing total chaos, Jessica somehow was able to control her character. Jack Lemmon said that it's important not to let the character completely take over the actor and that's why it was difficult for him to play his character in Save the Tiger. However, in Jessica's case, I felt that Jessica conquered Frances Farmer and that lead to the greatest results. 

However, I must admit that it's not the final scenes of the movie that I'm the most enthralled by. I was even more impressed by the period when we see Frances starting out in Hollywood and then when she's in decline. Although the scenes of Frances' complete breakdown are surely terrifying, it's the process that leads up to that point that was the more interesting part for me. She cleary feels like a fish out of water at the studio and Jessica showed the character's embarassment brilliantly. Frances just dares to ask why and say the truth without any pretence. 

Jessica uses all her gifts in this part and her beautiful looks and original sexiness do wonders in the scenes where we can see Frances with the men in her life, who constantly let her down. Jessica's chemistry with Sam Shephard is just brilliant, it's no wonder they fell in love with each other on set (how sad that they split). The sexual tension between them almost sets the screen on fire. But Jessica works equally well with the actor playing Clifford Odets. Her tears and breakdown after their break-up is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the film. 

Once Frances loses her idealism and is let down by everyone around her, Jessica's acting becomes incredibly dynamic. Her scene at the courtroom shows brilliantly how Jessica was able to keep the balance with this character. She doesn't overdo the raging and screaming and yet she shows how desperate and broken down this woman is. 

The highlights of her whole performance are (and I have to narrow it down to two scenes) her dialogues with her psychiatrist. She portrays so many emotions and so perfectly and in such a thirlling way that I was completely speechless. Her fear, her defiance, her desire to live again is so uplifting and heartwrenching at the same time. And yet, the most disturbing aspect of this performance is that Jessica doesn't give away if Frances was indeed mentally ill: did the series of disasters in her life cause these multiple meltdowns or was or were they caused by her mental state. This (sort of) vicious circle leaves me dazzled and confused ultimately, but also in awe of Jessica's talent and skill to create such a complex character that makes you wonder about it way after the end credits roll.

Although Clint Eastwood might have dissed Jessica as too actressy and theatrical in this part with these huge meltdowns and tears, that just proved how much he (and others thinking about this) didn't understand the whole concept of the film. I suppose some may not like to be so confused by such a moody performance. And I'm especially applauding Lange here since being so over-the-top is clearly out of her comfort zone. She's by nature a very subtle actress who likes to internalize the emotions of the characters and she's someone who often tends to avoid the possibility. She very much has to be pushed over the edge, which sometimes pays off (like here) and sometimes leads to mixed results (like the frequently criticised Blue Sky, which I personally loved the last time I saw it). But mostly she has to get comfortable with such characters (just see how brilliantly she developed in the course of the second season of American Horror Story from too much to brilliant over-the-top acting). Whenever Jessica pulls off great over-the-top acting, she's simply astonishing and gives a performance for the ages like she did in Frances.

All in all, Jessica Lange is simply brilliant as Frances Farmer. Everything about her is just sheer perfection: her turbulent presence, her very emotional and passionate acting and her ability to keep control of her character. I'm not willing to say yet that this is her best work (I need to see more), but it's definitely a front-runner for that prize. Chilling, marvelous, terrifying, brutally amazing job from a great, great actress.

What do you think? . 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria

Julie Andrews received her third Oscar nomination for playing Victoria Grant, a struggling soprano who pretends to be a drag queen to get a job. Julie also won a Golden Globe for her performance, which was kind of a comeback for her. That being said, I don't think that she was a serious contender for the Best Actress award next to Meryl and Jessica. Because of the comeback story and the lots of other nominations for the films, she probably got ahead of Debra Winger in the final voting but I'm not even sure about that. 

I'm going to be perfectly honest and admit how much I dislike Victor Victoria. I don't want to offend the fans, but I found this movie to be incredibly predictable and even tiring to watch. The movie couldn't decide if it wanted to be a smart comedy on sexuality (failed) or an old-fashioned musical-comedy (failed). Sure, the music part is perfection (thanks to the great Henry Mancini who deservedly won an Oscar for his work here). But seriously the jokes are so lame despite the fact that they were intended to be raunchy. Seriously, I was just waiting for someone falling with a cake and guess what... The cast should be great, instead they are just OK: James Garner is somewhat bored, Robert Preston plays all the stereotypes possible and Lesley Ann Warren... I'm gonna shut my mouth about her. 

Victor Victoria was obviously intended by Blake Edwards to showcase the talents of his wife, Julie Andrews. Andrews was the box office darling of the 60s, she couldn't make a mistake and suddenly came the 70s and the new generation of actresses like Jane Fonda took over and there was no place for Julie's benevolent, darling presence. Only four films of hers were released and the only thing that brought some attention to her was her breasts. She certainly reached the point where she desperately needed a great comeback role. Her prayers must have been heard... at least by her husband. But not even this movie could restore her old status as the biggest star of Hollywood. 

I am actually quite fond of Julie Andrews as actress, after all, I made her my 1964 Best Actress pick (which, as I'd like to think, caused a kind of a stir among my dear readers). Her talent goes way beyond her perfect singing voice (just like Henry Mancini, I have a hard time believing that she ever made a false note), she's able to show innocence and goodness on the screen like nobody else, without becoming overly sentimental (OK, some really argue with that). She evokes some of my mostkindest feelings in me that while I'm watching her I feel like going back in time, which is kind of unusual for me with musicals as usually, I feel like commiting genocide and desroying my TV set after watching them (there are some exceptions, though). I can't help it. 

With Victor Victoria something really went wrong. In the beginning, when Julie plays the real Victoria, she's a real treat to watch: she's obviously having fun with the character, she knows how to portray her struggles with a sense of humor and she instantly won me over. Her deliveries were just excellent, her chemistry with Robert Preston worked wonderfully and I was thinking I would see a very entertaining performance with a touch of irony.

Things really start to get worse when she becomes Victor Victoria. I'll just go out and say that she's as believable as a drag queen as Cher would be as a reverend mother. Although it's great that, unlike Robert Preston, she avoided only relying on mannerisms and stereotypes but that resulted in one awful thing: she remained a woman playing a woman, not a woman playing a man playing a woman or whatever. She performed those songs excellently, but really, it was Julie Andrews singing, not Victor Victoria. The thing is that this is no big problem when you watch this movie for the first time, but on repeated viewings, it's just not enough: I could get DVDs of her concerts and watch them instead of this movie. 

The main problem is that this movie would have needed a more loud and over-the-top performer like Bette Midler in the lead. I'm not that huge fan of hers but I'd say she would have been the best option for this movie. Julie, as hard as she's trying, is not wild, loud and flambuoyant enough for such a character. I see that she was trying really hard, but honestly, the scenes where she tries to be seductive are the worst of all. There's nothing about her that would justify the attraction of James Garner's character. 

Victor Victoria is also desperate to give a kind of message about the place of women in the society but Julie, in with her saint-like presence, is simply not a believable when she's predicting the feminist messages. Although there's sort of a depth (or a point) in her dialogues with James Garner, she still comes off as weak and really boring. 

The silly comedy parts of the movie are the ones where Julie's at her best. Her comic timing works excellently and her presence is (as usual) really charming. Still, it's just not enough for her to have an effect on me. 

I'm not saying that Julie Andrews gives a bad performance in Victor Victoria. Although I was very amused by her occasionally, she didn't make her character as a fake drag queen very believable or interesting. It's not even really her fault, the part is just not right for her. She solves the comedy parts quite well, but she was not able to give a really layered performance. 

What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman

Debra Winger received her first Oscar nomination for playing Paula Pokrifki, a girl falling for a man who's training in her town to become an aviator in the box office hit, An Officer and a Gentleman. When Debra received her nomination, her father went on record and said that they were very happy about her nomination and all of them (including Debra) believed that Meryl should win the Oscar. Since I can't officially agree or disagree with him (since I have two other ladies left), let me just say how cool it was to say that. Anyhow, I keep wondering how the Academy voted, especially in her case. Jessica was probably second (more on that later), but Debra could have been fifth, fourth or even third, considering the huge success of the movie. I suppose it was a tough one between Julie and her, but honestly, 95% of the votes went to Meryl and Jessica and they were battling out the rest.

To fully show what kind of a movie An Officer and a Gentleman is, let me just reveal the very last scene (SPOILER): Richard Gere takes out Debra Winger on his arms, while the factory workers are clapping around them and you can hear the famous, very 80s theme of the movie. (SPOILER OFF!) Are you f-ing kidding with me? Seriously, it's one of the lamest "romantic" endings I have ever seen (wonder where Titanic's ending came from). Overall, it's no wonder that this film was a smash hit in the early 80s. I suppose the same thing would happen nowadays. Louis Gossett Jr. gives a memorable performance, but that's no something I would give him an Academy Award (Supporting Actor was really weak that year; or isn't it every year?).

Where are you Debra Winger? OK, In Treatment and occasionally fighting with Anne Hathaway, but I am really curious what she would be able to get out of her parts nowadays, at this point of her life. Rachel Getting Married wonderfully showed all the potential she had inside, revealing tons of emotions in very limited screentime. However, thirty years ago she wasn't a real household name yet, despite receiving great acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination for Urban Cowboy. I suppose her Best Actress nomination came just like Rooney Mara's this year. Both of them had a praised supporting performance and along came a role in a box office hit that brought them an Oscar nod.

After providing E.T. with her voice, Debra played Paula, which I consider her finest performance that I've seen. Although An Officer and a Gentleman has basically no clue about how people and life work, Debra was able to turn in a beautiful, wonderful and deeply layered performance in one of the most one-dimensional role an actress can get. Obviously, it was Richard Gere who got the big, flashy scene (screwed up most of them royally) and Debra got the little screentime and the (sort of) unshowy part, which is considered a supporting role by many. Then how the hell is Debra so fantastic here?

I suppose Debra's greatness in this movie has a lot to do with the fact that she didn't have a very polished style of acting at the time. In Terms of Endearment, I sensed that she was playing for the tears and the effect,  but in An Officer and a Gentleman, I felt purity, naturality and beauty coming from her presence. She had lots of confidence here and she almost bursts with the energy inside her. Her deep, throaty voice just adds up to the fantastic outcome of this performance. She's wonderfully sexy and completely irresistable.

When we first see her, she's not an otherworldy, beautiful creature one would expect in a romantic movie, she seems actually quite ordinary. She's a working girl (it kills me just to think about Melanie Griffith), waiting for the end of her shift. However, after a fast change in a car, she becomes a wonderful, beautiful, attractive woman, who's a radiant, irresistable presence. She doesn't overdue the tough worker act, she doesn't make Paula a loud, over-the-top woman (something that an actress of Melissa Leo's calibre would have done with Paula). She just makes Paula the most natural person in the work and as a result, it's just impossible not to fall in love with her.

What I most admire about Debra here, is her ability to communicate Paula's emotions with her wonderfully expressive. She gets dialogues and says her lines, but everything that's important is written on her face. She has an effect on you with some very delicate and subtle impressions. For instance, in the ball scene where she's doing nothing, really, except for flirting with Richard Gere. She makes her character so myseterious and wonderfully deep, it's as if she wanted to seduce the audience as well (she succeeded, brilliantly).

Debra's chemistry with Richard Gere is pretty miraculous and that leads to the most fantastic scenes of Debra, like the ones in the motel room. Debra basically shines in these scenes: there's something about them that still keeps resonating with me. I don't know if I felt sympathy or even pity for Paula but I sure had some intense feelings about her.

The highlight of her whole performance is her monologue about her real father and her (kind of) break-up with Richard Gere's character. She's just haunting in this scene, revealing the soul of this girl. Again, what's important is really on her face and not in what she says.

Many people ask the question: is she leading or supporting? Frankly, my answer is obviously leading. Despite the screenplay's intentions, she's the emotional centrepoint of this movie and she provides us with the most memorable moments of her so-so movie. I guess the only thing I could have against her is the fact that despite the wonderful, even haunting effect she had on me, she didn't hit me really hard. But frankly, with this role, she did way more than it could be expected in this movie.

All things considered, Debra Winger is incredibly great in An Officer and a Gentleman, giving a deeply layered, very emotional and haunting performance that didn' cease to amaze me. She gets so much out of this seemingly one-dimensional character with the help of her wonderful, beautiful presence. She's just wonderful all around.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sissy Spacek in Missing

Fresh off her Oscar win two years earlier, Sissy Spacek got another nomination in the Best Actress category for her performance as Beth Horman, the wife of a missing young man in the controversial Costa-Gavras film, Missing. I suppose in the gigantic fight between Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep for the Oscar gold made all of their fellow nominees spectators in their own race. On Inside the Actor's Studio, Sissy admitted voting for Meryl so I suppose she didn't have high expectations. I suppose she was fourth, based on the fact that her  movie nominated for Best Picture (only one in the bunch) and she might have had some leftover love (though that could have been the reason for why she was last).

While I recognise how ambitious piece of work Missing is, I'm just not willing to consider it a great movie. It has some really harrowing and heart-breaking moments but the overall effect of it wasn't that strong on me at all. It just didn't attract my attention, especially in the scenes without Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon. Jack Lemmon gives a devastating, extremely heart-breaking performance, which tells us so much about the inner self of that desperate man. His famous speech in the stadium is actually much shorter than I remember but it's just spot-on: it really hits you hard with its emotional honesty and rawness. I also can't go by the fantastic score of Vangelis who had a great deal to do with making this movie as intense as it is sometimes.

I always considered Sissy Spacek to be an actress blessed with huge talent and great beauty. She's not beautiful in a very traditional sense (but, boy am I furious when people say she's ugly!), she has a very radiant presence and her face wonderfully expresses her emotions. I can only compare her to Michelle Williams from nowadays' actresses: both of them are like some magical pixies and have a wonderful, shining personality (it's just interesting how similar their careers are). 

In Missing, Sissy gets to play the co-lead part of Beth Horman, a real-life person. She has a missing husband  in Chile during Pinochet's coup and has to deal with her arch conservative father-in-law. This could have been a very meaty and showy role but Sissy's not given a truly interesting character so it's up to her knowledge and talent bring something memorable out of this sort of one-dimensional character. Also, Jack Lemmon gets a really deep multi-layered character and he uses every opportunity to shine in his part, leaving Sissy far behind. Honestly, the movie could be titled Missing: A Good Character for Sissy Spacek. 

However, Sissy's talent and wonderful never lets her down as their's something about her performance that keeps resonating with me. She's fantastic at showing the idealism of this woman and her willingness to find out what happened to her husband. As I said she doesn't get any showy breakdowns or monologues unlike Jack Lemmon and it was a very brave decision from her to avoid the clichés of the suffering wife, yet it fell a little bit flat for me, for several reasons. 

First of all, I never saw that Beth had a very complete development from the almost naive young woman to a more experienced but still idealistic person. Although the movie is constantly standing in her way, she could have shown more. It might be fact that I just can't stand performances with obvious highlights (that's true in a way), but I don't think, either that Sissy was creating something special here. There are impressive moments, like the one where we can see her fear after hiding at night or her small breakdown when she recognises the corpse of a good friend. These are memorable scenes, though I wouldn't exactly say that they are unforgettable.

Sissy and Jack Lemmon make up a very odd couple, to say the least but interesting enough, it all works. The only way in which this performance is almost spot-on, is the relationship of these two people: Sissy's Beth starts as the loyal opposition and eventually they turn out to be the most faithfully allies you can ever see. I felt the connection of two opposite generations with very different views of the world they live in (more precisely, they live in different worlds). Beth is the more progressive, idealistic and naive of the two, while Jack's Ed is the more down-to-earth, conventional man who likes facts but there's a special bond between them: their goal of finding a missing person. I was especially appreciative of the fact that the filmmakers were serious enough not write some one-liners in their fight scenes. 

I refuse to believe that Sissy didn't give 100% to the role. It's not like watching a stage diva performing to students on a Thursday night. I actually saw her caring about her character, it's really just the nature and the obvious limitations of the part that prevent her from completely impressing me. However, as much as I'm trying to be impressed by her, I just can't be, which is especially weird, considering the fact that I was watching Sissy Spacek, one of my absolute favorite actresses. 

Still, Sissy Spacek was able to get something out of her one-dimensional character. While her performance is far from dreary, she's not able to reveal as many layers of this character as she can with other roles. Although I appreciate the massive amount of talent and effort that she put into this part, I'm simply not impressed by her work in this movie. Something is really missing. 

What do you think?

Who should be next: Debra or Julie? 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts on the Golden Globes (and the award season)

So the Golden Globe Awards were held yesterday (here in Hungary, it's today LOL) and I'm here with very mixed feelings. Really, what was going on? This was one of the worst shows EVER, but more on that later. Frankly, I was more excited and satisfied about the TV awards this year than the film categories. There was NOTHING really surprising and unfortunately everything went according to plan. Frankly, I was hoping that this award season will remain as exciting as it was till the Critics' Choice.

First let's see what I hated about the show: 

1. Ricky Gervais: Let's face it, he was a disgrace last year but at least he was funny. He did NOTHING funny at all, whenever he came to the stage, he just said something lame and vulgar. Plus he barely had any time.

2. Madonna talking back to Gervais: Seriously, I appreciate her "bravery", but seriously, it was a clumsy try. 

3. Utter boredom: absolutely no suspense, no star power, bored and boring presenters. They showed Dustin Hoffman several times almost falling asleep. Honestly, I don't blame him. Moreover, the speeches were absolutely boring and uninteresting. 

4. Showing Viola's and Great Glenn's losing reactions way too many times: They were pretty disappointed about losing, they tried to keep a straight face, rather unsuccesfully (especially Viola). I really felt sorry that they couldn't keep their disappointment to themselves. I felt very sorry for them but it seems that the director of the show had some sadistic pleasure at showing their disappointment. 

5. No surprises: Seriously, why did they have to pick these very obvious winners? As I said, I had much more fun in the TV categories than the movies. 

But there were lots of things that I liked (there were quite a few, actually), but they weren't enough for me to be impressed: 

1. Meryl winning: seriously, that woman is a treasure. It's HIGH time for her to win that third, it really is. But why is she raving about Viola in her own speech? OK, she's very gracious. 

2. Jessica Lange and Claire Danes winning: Seriously, Claire Danes gave the performance of last year, TV, movie, theatre, whatever. I can't believe that she's not getting an Oscar movie. She has more talent than most of the Best Actress contenders of the previous years combined (Anne Hathaway, Ellen Page, Reese Witherspoon, Keira Knightley or even Natalie Portman {who was astonishing in Black Swan but frankly way weaker than Claire}  cannot even hold a candle to her). Seriously what she did in Homeland was the best performance by an actress in TV since Edie Falco's Carmela Soprano (also Homeland is the best series since The Sopranos, IMO). And boy is she beautiful! Moreover, Jessica Lange's deliciously campy, creepy Constance won her a fifth Globe. I'm in love with her. That's all. 

3. Modern Family's speech: Sofía Vergara was spot on. I feel kind of sorry for her but this was Jessica's year. Sofia was ROBBED last year, though.

4. Matt Le Blanc winning: I'm the biggest Friends fan and getting to see him winning a Globe was so cool (I always thought about the episode of Friends called "The One with Joey's Award"). Plus, he was terrific in Episodes.

5. Octavia Spencer: Seriously, that woman cannot be lovelier if she tried. End of the story. Love her. 

But seriously, above all, I loved one moment (don't act as if you're surprised):

JANE FONDA PRESENTING: The absolute highlight of this awful night. a) She was the sexiest person in the room (along with Helen Mirren and Sofia Vergara) b) She was presenting Best Picture (which she will hopefully also do at the Oscars) c) She's f-ing Jane Fonda, the best ever, so shut up. :) She was really the shining light that I was longing for. Thank God! :) 

OK, Jane made me VERY happy but I'm still disappointed. Frankly, I'm not feeling that award season madness and crazy, buzzy atmosphere that I so love. I was actually quite calm during the ceremonies, only Best Actress - Drama gave me some heartbeats. 

On the prediction front: On Goldderby, I did brilliantly with TV predictions and I was 11th in the ranking, I'm so proud. I did shitty on the movie front but just because I dared to think we would get some surprises. And honestly, if I listened to my guts instead of others, I would have bet on Laura Dern and would have had a perfect 100% score in TV.

Frankly, I was looking forward to SAG but now I cannot be more neutral. Of course, we'll see Octavia, Plummer, Clooney winning with only minimal suspense in Best Actress. I guess it might be Viola after all but something tells me, Meryl will get the Oscar. But I won't believe it until I see it because I learned from past disappointments (shut up about 2009).

What do YOU think?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bad news

So after a very unlucky incident, I'm back. Yesterday, my blog was deleted and I suffered multiple heart attacks. :) I'm going to be much more careful in the future so I created a backup blog for myself here, which is  identical. I will eventually upload my reviews there as well, you know, to keep them alive. I'm just asking my dear followers to click on the follow button there as well to show the support that I very much need if such a thing happens once again! Plus for some reason, my comments become spams so watch out, I didn't leave your blogs! 

Thanks a lot! 

P.S. : The next review comes on Thursday but please someone ask for a specific person (apart from Jessica) because I have absolutely no idea who to write about. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice

It's an honor and a privilege to write my first review of the year about...

Meryl Streep who received her fourth Oscar nomination and second Academy Award for playing Sophie Zawistowska, a very mysterious and beautiful Polish woman haunted by a horrible secret. Meryl's win, in my opinion, was very obvious. The Academy came up with the perfect solution to reward the two actresses whose performances were hailed by almost everyone: Jessica Lange won in the supporting category (though everybody feels it's also an award for Frances) and Meryl won in leading. One of those unfortunate cases were happening where two actresses gave their greatest performances. I don't think there was a way Meryl was losing that Oscar. 

Sophie's Choice, in my opinion, is much better than most people think. It's certainly a bit symplified and some of the characters are not properly worked out, but for me it all worked. Although I don't think I want to see it again (for many reasons), it was a very emotional and unforgettable experience for me. Alan J. Pakula was a director who helped his actor deliver some of the very best performances of their careers (above all, Jane Fonda in Klute) and he works fabulously with his actors here as well. Kevin Kline gives a performance that was worthy of an Oscar nomination, but Peter McNicol has his moments, too. 

You know there's a term I really like to use with performances that completely steal their movies and that's why I'm saying that Sophie's Choice is The Meryl Streep Show. Like Klute is The Jane Fonda Show or Tootsie is The Dustin Hoffman Show, Sophie's Choice belongs entirely to Meryl Streep, this fantastic performer. In one of her interviews, Jane Fonda told Rosie O'Donell that she believes Meryl is a gift from Heaven. Although sometimes I try to dislike Meryl, it proves impossible whenever I see her in an actual movie. Then I really believe what Jane says about Meryl. She's a gift. When I reviewed Meryl's wonderful turn in Ironweed, I mentioned that story of Jack Nicholson when while shooting her character's death, he touched Meryl and felt that she had no pulse. Meryl is a natural born chameleon. 

She proves that in Sophie's Choice more than ever during her long, distinguished career. Meryl's hard work and long preparations are legendary, but she really outdid herself here. Because first, she speaks German and Polish so well that you actually refuse to believe that she's American (on a side note, I wonder how she would deal with the Hungarian language :-) ). Second, her accent (as always) is immaculate. Third, she has that very special type of radiant beauty that Polish women possess (this sounds a bit awkward but it's actually true). She perfected each and every movement of this character, timed her tears fabulously. As usual, Meryl solved the technical part of the performance perfectly. Some critics dismissed her performance at the time as way too technical and calculated (which is actually true but in my opinion, it only made her character even more authentic and believable) and Kate Hepburn also expressed how much she despised Meryl in general because of this. But for me, her very considered and careful acting is just a testament to how much she cherished her character. I always try to imagine Goldie Hawn or Natalie Wood in this part (as both of them wanted to play Sophie) or Ursula Andress, whom William Styron, the author of the book, had in mind while writing the story (though from what I've heard, the book's Sophie fits Ursula more than Meryl). 

For me, however, it's the emotionality of this part that gets me each and every time. Last time, with Ironweed I described how much I was taken by Meryl's singing "He's Me Pal" where I felt completely taken by her genious (no wonder that the great Diane Keaton described Meryl as her generation's genious). I felt that very rare feeling throughout Sophie's Choice. I don't think it's coincidence that she reminded me of Jane Fonda in Klute (after all, they had the same director): both of them took me on a ride on a rollercoaster, which may not be pleasant at all, but fulfills you in every possible way. For me, it was unbeliavable to see Meryl showing so many facets of this woman from so many angles. She captivated my mind and soul throughout the movie. It's very hard to keep the attention of a person alive, but it was no problem for Meryl: even if I only look at her, I see she's a genious and that's enough to keep me interested. However, she goes way beyond that in this film.

At the beginning of the story, we get to know Sophie as a wonderful beauty that you instantly fall in love with. However, even there we can sense something distant, sinister and unpleasant about her character. Mystery is all around her. We can see that in small, sudden movements on her body and small gestures by Meryl. She's like a deep sea that you dive deeper and deeper into as the movie goes on. Meryl takes you along and leads you to the most beautiful places. I believe she's never been more beautiful than she was as Sophie. Her shining blonde her, her big and very attractive teeth (I know, it's weird), her soft skin on her thigs that we almost feel ourselves. Not only does she have great chemistry with Kevin Kline and Peter McNicol, but also with the camera and us, the audience. It's as if we were a part of a passionate romance. It's not voyeuristic love, it's the type of love that medieval knights felt for their ideal ladies. But it's also a very sensual and sexualised characterisation by Meryl.

As we get to see more of Sophie, we get to realise her horrible past. The scenes where she tells her story could have easily been ruined by overacting or being too subtle. However, with her tics and small gestures, Meryl is able to make you speechless. Her small movements, her looks, her tears are much more heartbreaking than what she says. It's not about what, it's about how. In the scenes of her past, we don't see her acting in English anymore. She used the Polish and German language so well that she was even able to play with the emotions. We often command actors for being able to speak two or three sentences in another language but the real achievement is when you can use all the benefits of another language. In the scenes at the concentration camp and the Rudolf Hess' house, you can see her most Oscary moments. It's interesting that you would expect some very loud and over-the-top acting and in the end, she ends up being way more subtle than you would expect. She's wonderful while taking a shower: the quiet desperation, humiliation and fear she displays there is just terrifying. What's even more interesting that she keeps her radiant beauty even when she's skinny, pale and undernourished: her beauty shines through the horrible situation of her character, which makes it even more thrilling. 

It's her loud scenes are, however, that most of us remember: her desperation to save her son is played brilliantly by her when Sophie's on her knees, begging to Hess. She perfectly found the balance in that scene, which made incredibly heartwrenching and moving. 

And the choice... The choice scene is hands down one of the three best acted moments I've ever seen. You cannot communicate your feelings in words. She did it in one take and I bet that if she had done another one, it wouldn't have been quite as effective. You know, that's one of those VERY rare moments when I feel divine powers working in a performance. We cannot possibly imagine the horror of that event and the small part of it that we feel is just unbearable. When I first saw it at the age of 13, I was just terrified and shocked by that scene. It's one of the most horribly painful moments in movie history. Nothing can compare to the tension that Meryl created. It's incredibly draining and unbearable to watch, to say the least.

In the end, Sophie becomes more of a ghost that occasionally comes and haunts you. Her last scene is incredible: we can see that she's become tired of living and yet it's more of cathartic than devastating. People might call this performance too calculated and affected, which has some merit considering the fact that it's pretty obvious what Meryl tried to achieve, you cannot forget that she reached her goal to make the audience cringe. I must admit, though, that maybe she shouldn't have wanted it so hard, because she succeeded anyway.

To say that Meryl Streep is great in Sophie's Choice would be a major understatement. She goes beyond the boundaries of acting and completely becomes Sophie Zawistowska. While the technical part of this performance is brutally perfect, it's the emotional nature of Meryl's work that keeps you captivated. Nothing can compare to the horror and pain that Meryl displays on the screen. Unforgettable work. 
Who should be next? 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Next Year


So the nominees were:
  • Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria
  • Jessica Lange in Frances
  • Sissy Spacek in Missing
  • Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice
  • Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman

So after all, I did this year, which was really trending this time last year. There are many reasons why I'm doing it but it needs a long explanation. 

What do you think? Who's your pick? What's your prediction for my ranking? :) 

And with these five ladies, I wish you a very happy, succesful new year! Thanks a lot for your attention so far, writing for you is a real delight!