Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1936: My Ranking

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5. Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey
- Yes, I used to very much appreciate Lombard's nutty performance, but seasons change, and now I just find it irritating and boring. Her comic talents don't really work with me anymore either.

4. Norma Shearer in Romeo and Juliet

- If her extreme age difference wasn't enough, Norma Shearer adds little annoying, strange habits in her performance that simply are ridiculous. However, her performance redeems itself in more ways then one, and in especially her final scenes.
 
3. Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld

- A performance that grows with repeat viewings, with Rainer being good during most of her performance. There are lots of obvious acting here at hand, but her last scene really makes up for it.


2. Gladys George in Valiant Is The Word For Carrie

- More obvious acting, but Gladys George still gives a good performance that relies on how much she can pull at the audience's sentiment. A nice performance in a muddled film.


1. Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild

- Irene Dunne was quite the comedian, and her talents shine bright here. Her tight lipped, but secret wild girl is handled very well by her, not to mention highly entertaining.


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Honorable Omissions: Katharine Hepburn in "Mary Of Scotland"

Carole Lombard in "My Man Godfrey"

Carole Lombard received her only Oscar nomination for playing Irene Bullock, a ditsy socialite, in My Man Godfrey.

My Man Godfrey is an ensemble comedy about a butler, Godfrey Smith, and how he is brought to work at the kooky mansion of some rich family. Frankly, I don't quite get My Man Godfrey. It tries so hard to be a riot comedy, even make a political statement, but it fails. The screwball comedy is all wrong here, mostly because the writing simply sounds terribly when spoken.

My admiration for Carole Lombard's performance has almost disappeared. Originally, I thought she gave a very funny, crazy performance. Fast forward to today, and now I think it's very in sync with the movie, not very good. She plays Irene, a kooky, almost idiot socialite, so uncharacteristically. The role is supposed to be played with nativity, not idiocy.

And while Luise Rainer and Gladys George suffer from "early" obvious acting moments, Carole Lombard probably has the worst showcase of this. Her comedy timing doesn't work, her chemistry with William Powell is strange, and when she given dramatic moments, she ruins them with her unusual idiot approach to her character.

Still, she has her moments, I guess. When she gets to be sarcastic or just being quiet, Lombard is quite enjoyable, but it's not enough for me to say this is a great performance anymore. Working with the material (which just doesn't work for me) Carole Lombard completely misses the real spirit of the character, instead we get a strange, uneven performance that makes Irene seem like a complete idiot. She also has some unbearably obvious acting moments. I can see the love for it, but I'm not on board anymore.

Norma Shearer in "Romeo and Juliet"

Norma Shearer received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Shakespeare's Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet.

This version of Romeo and Juliet is very lavish. For a 75 year old movie, it's impressive for it's well made sets. But, its just your standard adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. I personally, love the 1968 version.

Oh, boy...where to start with Norma Shearer. Let's start with a horrible mistake on the part of everyone...age. Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard are incredibly too old to be playing teenagers Romeo and Juliet. Now, I've seen performances before where the performer was miscast because of their age, but if works because of how they approached the character. Here, Norma's age is so in your face, it's hard to even concentrate on her acting.

Which brings me to another point. So, with any Shakespeare adaptation, the actors have to engage in ancient dialogue, and Norma Shearer, bless her, doesn't do it well. It literally sounds like she is mumbling her lines espeically in the "where for art thou" scene, you can barely understand what she is saying. And if she didn't have enough problems, her performance certainly tries to be subtle. But, Juliet is supposed to be played with naivety, and with Shearer, you don't get that. You get a whiny woman who wants what her parents won't give her.

She has one good scene, the ending. But, honestly, couldn't anyone do this death scene and be better or worse? Seriously, I've seen high school Juliets and all of them were better then Oscar winning Norma Shearer. So, I really don't know how to approach rating Norma Shearer's bad interpretation of Juliet. She fails in almost every area, including being interesting, yet in a way, her last scene sort of redeems her performance from being awful.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gladys George in "Valiant Is The Word For Carrie"

Gladys George received her only Oscar nomination for playing Carrie Snyder in Valiant Is The Word For Carrie.

Valiant is a standard, 30s melodrama that had to have been risky for it's time due to it's racy subject matter. The film is about Carrie, a prostitute who strikes a odd relationship with a young boy. She is ran out of town because the boy simply will not leave her alone and the grumpy little town is getting the wrong idea. The little boy ends up running away and finds her, and the two start a successful laundry business, and soon become rich, and also adopts the young boy and another young girl.

As you can see, this movie is far from being perfect, but one thing is great, Gladys George. Her early scenes as a prostitute are far the best scenes of the movie. She is fearless for an actress in 1936, where she plays Carrie with no shame or morals. It's the little boy who really starts to change her opinion of herself.

It's these middle scenes that really hurt her overall performance. The film becomes more of a focus on a trail, instead of Carrie, but when she does get to shine, Gladys George doesn't disappoint. She's a woman with morals now, and she doesn't want her unfriendly past to come back. So, it's George who is carrying this movie. She has a showy role that doesn't disappoint.

But, I don't want to overrate it, because sometimes bland "early" acting rears it head. Some sort of obvious fake grabbing at ones self (the same thing Luise Rainer did) or overdoing one's line readings, Gladys George falls victim to it. Still, her performance is reliant in how she approaches her early scenes, and those alone may overshadow the letdown of the rest of it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Irene Dunne in "Theodora Goes Wild"

Irene Dunne received her second Oscar nomination for playing Theodora Lynn in Theodora Goes Wild.

Theodora Goes Wild is a very funny film about a Sunday school teacher, Theodora, who is writes a sexy novel under an assumed name. When the novel becomes huge, she travels to New York City to try and get signed to a contract, where she goes "wild". Unintentionally, she gets drunk at a party and ends up being blackmailed by the illustrator of the book, and comedy ensues.

Irene Dunne seemed to be really at home in comedies. She had a comedic timing that few could touch. She walks a fine line between comedy and drama, and nails it.

The script isn't really terrific, but Irene Dunne gets the most of the material. She has to be very prime and proper while hiding her very "wild" secret life. And the chemistry between her and Melvyn Douglas is great! The two of them make a great comedic pair. She's got sarcastic remarks and she hits the mark with them, unlike Luise Rainer who seemed very lost with her humorous lines.

In terms of difficulty, Irene Dunne's performance doesn't look hard. In fact, she pretty much sails through this movie with her charm, but it's a wonderfully funny, charming performance and she does deserve some credit for not totally falling on her face when it came to handling drama and comedy. So, again, I find it hard to say it's an amazing performance, but she definitely gets alot of the material and an incredibly charming performance.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Luise Rainer in "The Great Ziegfeld"

Luise Rainer won her first Oscar for playing French singer, Anna Held, in The Great Ziegfeld.

The Great Ziegfeld is a blown up, exhausted epic about Flo Ziegfeld, the legendary Broadway showman. His life, his success, and espeically his romances. One of those romances was Anna Held, a well known French singer, who he transported to America to become a huge star.

When it comes to film history, Luise Rainer is a star, but when it comes to lasting appeal, she comes up short. Rainer was new to film, and even newer to Hollywood when she took on the demanding role of Anna Held, and at times, you get embarrassing "obvious" acting moments. Like when she grabs her shirt and yells or when she misses the punchlines of her jokes.

But, still it's hard to deny Rainer is the sunlight in her film. She enters this stuffy movie and opens a window with her hummingbird looks and humorous persona. Anna Held is a self aware woman who wants alot, and gets little, especially from Flo. Rainer, again, portrays Anna with so much character and persona. It's those embarrassing, obvious moments that get in the way of her performance being great.

Which brings me to her last scene...the infamous telephone scene. This scene alone makes up for almost her entire rating. In this one scene, she conveys so many emotions, as she fake congratulates her ex-husband on his success. It's one of the best scenes you'll see by an Oscar winner.

But, I guess it doesn't help either that Luise Rainer barely has enough screen-time to do alot in, but her presence and humorous acting in the beginning, and sorrowful acting near the end are proof that it is a fine performance. However, I can not get past those obvious acting moments that are scattered around her performance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Actress in a Leading Role" 1936

So, moving right back to the leading actresses:

1936
And the Academy selected:
  • Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild
  • Gladys George in Valiant Is The Word For Carrie
  • Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey
  • Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld
  • Norma Shearer in Romeo and Juliet
So, will I agree with the Academy, or name another one of these actresses the best of 1936?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Actress in a Supporting Role" 1976: Results!

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5. Jane Alexander in All The President's Men

- Instead of being terrified, Jane Alexander makes Judy Hoback seem like she's about to pass out from boredom. Unsurprisingly, she does the same thing to the audience.


4. Lee Grant in Voyage Of The Damned

- Without doing much, Lee Grant is able to leave a big impression after her film is over. She tackles her character's emotions effortlessly.


3. Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver

- Even if I criticize it, Jodie Foster is still extremely good as Iris. Her approach to the character may be wrong for me, but every scene is evacuated perfectly and not to mention entertaining.


2. Piper Laurie in Carrie

- Piper Laurie is frightening as Carrie's bible thumping mom, and creates a huge impact on the viewer. A surprising frank look at a religious fanatic, that Laurie tackles wonderfully.


1. Beatrice Straight in Network

- In just six minutes, Beatrice Straight is able to do more then some people could do with an hour. Her disgruntled, wrong wife is a brilliant aspect of the film, with many emotions and many layers. A masterpiece of acting.


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Honorable Omissions: Alexis Smith in "The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane" and Shelley Winters in "Next Stop, Greenwich Village"

Piper Laurie in "Carrie"

Piper Laurie received her second Oscar nomination for playing Margaret White in Carrie.

As I said in my review of Sissy Spacek, Carrie is a film that is not for all tastes, but I like it and find it to be very entertaining, thanks to Spacek, and some great weird work from Piper Laurie.

She plays Margaret White, a woman whose life seems to be more or less circulated around Jesus. From the moment she first walks on, she's scary (well, at least I thought). The woman, dressed in black, is trying to force herself into the home of a neighbor so she can speak about the "evil" of youth and how Jesus saves. It's also established Margaret is a judgmental woman, which makes it even more tense. And who can forget that completely over the top scene where Carrie confesses her "sin" to her mother, both of these actresses are on par with each other, working off of each others greatness. Plus, her last scenes are, not only vulnerable, but also heartbreaking in a strange way.

Without completing going into villain territory, Piper Laurie always keeps Margret's sacrificial "love" in the forefront of her performance. In her quietest moments, she is always frightening, which is honestly strange since the frightening scenes belong to Spacek. And it's pretty impressive Laurie is always able to seem overly scary with just moving her head or walking around in her nun-esque outfit.

I wouldn't say she's better then Sissy Spacek. I think both of them do incredibly passionate work as mother and daughter, and are on par with each other. I do think that in a brilliant way, Laurie is more terrifying then Spacek's Carrie. I don't know, there is always something more eerie going on with Mrs. White. A great performance.

Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver"

Jodie Foster received her first Oscar nomination for playing Iris Steensma, a teenage prostitute, in Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver is an terrific, incredible film about violence. It's just astonishing in it's brilliance. The acting is really first rate, including Jodie Foster.

She plays Iris, a 12 year old runaway who has come to New York City and has taken up with a pimp. She appears on screen when she tries to run away from the pimp, and Travis Bickle, the taxi driver, has taken a strange interest in her. This continues as Travis soon makes it his goal to get Iris back to her family and off of the streets. Jodie Foster portrays Iris with a smart attitude and worldly sense. Which first of all seems all wrong for the character. I mean, she is 12, but Foster plays her like she's maybe 17 and has been around for a very long time.

But, regardless of that, I still think Jodie Foster is giving a very good performance for someone very young. Her scene with DeNiro where she thinks he just wants to "make it" is fantastic because it shows Iris may be a smart hooker, but she's also just a little girl, who likes to be showed kindness. And then, their "date" is also a great moment for Foster to shine as she finally shows Iris's playful sensibility about herself.

Be as it may, I still think she played most of it all the wrong way. And the ending scenes don't feel nearly as effective as they should have. But, it's still an undeniably big part of the movie, and Foster adds so much playfulness and youth to the role of Iris, that it is very hard to ignore. Maybe not the best way of playing it, but a truly great performance nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jane Alexander in "All The President's Men"

Jane Alexander received her second Oscar nomination for playing Judy Hoback, a bookkeeper, in All The President's Men.

All The President's Men is another masterful, brilliantly etched film, about the Watergate scandal of the 70s. It follows reporters Woodward and Bernstein, and how they are trying to get the truth out of the secretive government. Like Network, the littlest details help make this movie absolutely exciting and brilliantly made. However, Jane Alexander is no Beatrice Straight...

She plays Judy Hoback, a bookkeeper for the Committee to Re-elect the President. We meet her when Carl Bernstein goes to her house to get secret information from her about Watergate. She doesn't even want to let Bernstein in the house, she's so afraid of this "secret" info she has.

I usually love these small performances, but the sad fact is, this performance is simply...nothing. With less screen-time then Straight and 2 scenes that are more of an acting exercise then a real performance. Judy is really the first big break in the story of Watergate, but there is no emotion showed by Alexander. Her first scene could have been a major dot in the movie, full of tension and emotion, instead we get this robot Jane Alexander telling how she's SO SCARED.

And her second scene is about as intense as seeing Straight's second scene (i.e. her head). It does astonish me that Alexander received a nomination for this...I mean, at the end of the movie, does Jane Alexander small, boring, two scenes still resonate with me?

In some small way, I'm glad she didn't go over the top in her big scene, but she could have at least been interesting.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lee Grant in "Voyage Of The Damned"

Lee Grant received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Lili Rosen in Voyage Of The Damned.

Voyage Of The Damned is a messy film about a ship that takes about 900 German Jews to Cuba for safe protection. The movie is full of performers and storyline, and unsurprisingly, it doesn't work. It's just too messy, and to be frank, a little boring. But, I really liked Faye Dunaway, and the person who really stood out...

Lee Grant plays Lili Rosen, a stubborn woman who joins the ship with her daughter (Lynne Frederick) and husband (Sam Wanamaker, terrible). He often talks down to her, which causes more friction in the relationship that wasn't already there, but once he becomes mentally unstable, this is where Grant really gets to shine. She is so afraid for her husband, yet she is trying so hard to not let her naive daughter gets her hopes let down about their new life, free from the Nazis. Very hard to get, but Lee Grant does.

But, her big scenes come after her husband jumps off the ship. In an effort to make everything right with him, she humiliates and degrades herself by cutting off her hair. Then, after Faye Dunaway tries to make her stop, she steps in and literally helps her out.

I hate it when people call this "Oscar bait", because isn't any scene where a character degrades or humiliates themselves called "Oscar bait". She's playing a guilty wife who is taking her grief and sadness to a mentally unstable level, just like her husband did.

My compliments are the film never really lets us know Lili Rossen's intentions beside some obvious grief. But, that doesn't mean for one minute I wasn't taken with her performance and the depressed humanity she brought to it. I just wish there was more too it...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Beatrice Straight in "Network"

Beatrice Straight won the Oscar for playing Louise Schumacher in Network.

As I said in my review of Faye Dunaway, Network is a masterful piece of work. From the littlest detail to the biggest, it's perfect in many, many ways. And one of those little details, is Beatrice Straight.

She plays Louise Schumacher, wife of Max, television executive, who life has become indulged in a mad world where people are angry and even, crazy. It's hard to not talk about Straight, without mentioning, out of the 73 winning supporting actresses, she ranks as the shortest, with only about six minutes. But, I urge everyone to remember, it's about quality, not quantity. And talk about quality...
 
In her first scene, she walks around her apartment, and looks relatively happy and loving. Her next scene is the back of her head, but who could have imagined what came next? Max confesses his bizarre affair to Louise, and Straight extracts more emotions in her brilliant monologue about how she won't give him up. In this scene, we learn she doesn't hate Max or want to end their marriage, she is just venting her anger and frustration about how he won't show her any respect. It is simply, one of the best acted scenes ever. So, it's incredibly easy to see why the voters went with her. You feel so much pain and anguish watching her talk about how much he has hurt her.

So, the eternal question is, can ONE good scene, no incredible scene, get you an Oscar? And yes, would be the answer. If it's on the same level as this, the performer should be recognized for the emotional intensity or truth they brought to a small, but important role. Which is another brilliant think about Paddy Chayefsky...in any other Hollywood movie, we would never see the suffering wife or her feelings, all we see the hyper affair, and not the people who are truly affected by it.

A passionate and incredible piece of work.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meryl Streep in "The French Lieutenant's Woman"

Meryl Streep received her third Oscar nomination for playing two different characters, Sarah and Anna, in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

The French Lieutenant's Woman is an interesting movie, trying hardly to make you believe it's crazy storyline, and for me, I found it to be fine. The story studies an English biologist (Jeremy Irons) who falls for a outsider Sarah (Meryl Streep), and then we find ourselves in a completely different story following the actors Anna and Mike, who are playing the two in a movie.

Meryl plays Anna with fierce outspoken and independence. She is a woman who is has been completely shunned by her town for a torrid affair. She is full of guilt and depression but her romance with Charles really gives her a new lease on life. As with any Meryl Streep performance, it's technical. But, this is early Meryl, and she commands Anna with the such outspokenness that she deserves.

I actually sort of like the performance of Anna a bit more. Here Meryl Streep is simply playing a warm actress who is trying to get inside the mind of Sarah, and the heart of her co-star. Again, it's so simple, but she makes it look so challenging to play both. Anna is warm, loving, and more then anything, interested in her work as an actress.

My only hint of criticism is not making Anna/Sarah more interesting. The movie isn't that entertaining in the first place, but it's up to Meryl and Jeremy Irons to save it, and personally, I find it a great effort, but not entertaining.

This performance won't be for everyone, especially ones who don't like obvious acting. I myself hate when I can spot when someone is obviously acting, but oddly, here it works. She draws a line between her two characters and the end result is really something special. A great performance from early Meryl Streep.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marsha Mason in "Only When I Laugh"

Marsha Mason received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Georgia Heinz, in Only When I Laugh.

Only When I Laugh is an entertaining film, about Georgia Hines, a failing Broadway actress who has a major drinking problem. She has tumultuous relationships with her daughter and friends.

Neil Simon's writing is pure and palpable, and cast is his heartthrob Marsha Mason. She hit a high note with The Goodbye Girl, and amazingly, she was able to give another incredible performance in Only When I Laugh. In the very first scene, we learn Georgia is a mess with her emotions. She loves booze, but hates being an alcoholic. Once she is let go of her rehab, she tries her best to struggle with her very needy daughter who wants alot of her mother, as well as her needy friends, whilst trying to stay off of booze.

Marsha Mason, like in The Goodbye Girl, walks a fine line between drama and comedy, and again, she's perfect. Her Georgia is not a perfect woman, by any means, yet she struggles to be so much. Once she has a relapse, these scenes are humorous as well as sad, because we're watching someone give up on everything for a little booze.

For what it's worth, she gets the most of her witty dialogue, perhaps a little too much. Neil Simon is great, but it's not hard to realize why the original play was a flop, the writing becomes a little too much after awhile. But, Marsha is never over the top or too much. She creates such a tragic and wonderful portrait of a woman struggling with many problems. Marsha Mason was her (ex) husband's favorite, and she is the perfect Georgia. A wonderful performance.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Diane Keaton in "Reds"

Diane Keaton received her second Oscar nomination for playing socialite, Louise Bryant, in Reds.

Reds is an overblown, but well intentioned film, about the 1917 Russian Revolution. But, like any epic, we also get a love story. This time it's between journalist John Reed and married socialite Louise Bryant.

We first meet Louise when John does, she sees him a political lecture, and she is immediately interested. After she meets him, she feels her life is rather uninteresting, leaves her husband and joins Reed and his friends in their politics. Her only escape has been her writing, and her life is finally lightened when she becomes more interested in radical politics.

Louise Bryant is a chance for an actress to really show her abilities. And unfortunately for me, Diane Keaton is a missed opportunity.

I suppose it's the way she plays the role, it's almost on one note. Take the train scene for example, here she merely looks nervous, and when she is finally reunited with Reed, she simply sighs. It's borderline robotic acting. Not to mention her character really changes, but watching Keaton play her, it's impossible. Her acting never goes from point A to B.

But, I must say her presence in Reds is immense. Warren Beatty's camera is in love with her, with many closeups, that really work. However, it is that robotic acting that really brings it down. Even the affair with Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson), Keaton never shows the emotions her character is feeling. Not to mention the way she sprouts out her lines, it all just doesn't mash up. She has to act with her eyes sometimes, and these scenes works, it's until she has to deal with some sort of emotion that it fails.