Thursday, July 29, 2010

Olivia de Havilland in "The Heiress"

Olivia de Havilland won her second Oscar for playing Catharine Sloper, in The Heiress.

The Heiress is a well made, well written, and all around well acted film. The story follows an awkward young woman, who is bearing down on becoming a spinster, which is horrible for her father, a rich doctor (Ralph Richardson). He does whatever he can for his quiet, uncharismatic daughter to become more sociable and fancy. Her life immediately changes when a young man (Montgomery Clift) takes an interest in her...

Catharine is a woman who has always been frowned upon. She can't live up to her dead mother's image, or her father's dream and perfect image of her. She's not dumb or naive, she's simply a shy, clumsy woman who's never had the acceptance of anyone. So, it's only obvious that when handsome, charming Morris charges into her life, she falls completely head over heels, but the romance is doomed, since Catharine becomes only prey for Morris.

Olivia de Havilland starts out very normal in the film, just like Catharine. There's not much special about her, but she's always interesting. It isn't until there romance takes a fateful turn, when Catharine slowly starts to change her outlook on life. From that point on, she turns into a hateful, vindictive woman, forever changed by the perceptions people wanted her to be. De Havilland holds this character so well, the transition from shy, awkward girl to hateful, cruel woman is astonishingly real. Whenever she is waiting for Morris to come, and finally breaks down after all the pain and lost love, she does it so well, without overdoing the emotions of the shy girl or the cruelness of the woman.

It certainly proves you can give a great performance without having a flashy role or as in the 40s, a "strong" woman. From what it seems, she held back nothing in the part of Catharine, and it all shows. The slow arc from what Catharine used to be is brilliantly played by de Havilland, with intense, fascinating results.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Deborah Kerr in "Edward, My Son"

Deborah Kerr received her first Oscar nomination for playing Elvyn Boult, in Edward, My Son.

Edward, My Son is bland melodrama that never knows if it wants to be a alcoholic drama or a melodrama between a husband and wife. Maybe it's both, but the story really never lifts off the movie. Spencer Tracy is mediocre as usual, and no one really stands out in the cast either. The story follows Arnold Boult, a man who tries his best for decades to help his son become a success, but ultimately his disease ends up harming the son more then he ever expected.

Most of Deborah Kerr's Oscar nominations were for playing girlfriends/wives, and sometimes I wonder if she had this against her when it eventually came to the award, since it's been a trend for the Academy to give the actual award to strong women type roles, espeically in the leading category. Here she plays Evelyn, who barely has a storyline at first. She loves her son, that's about the only thing she gets to do there. Then, as the years go by, and her son eventually dies, she becomes more withdrawn and bitter.

Simply, she's not very good here. She sleepwalks through the first half, relying on her charm, and in the second half, she's one of the least believable drunks I've seen. She overdoes it with stretching out her words like "Arrrrrrnooooold" and there's even moments that were unintentionally funny. She does however have a great last scene that seems so misplaced compared with the rest of her performance. But, Deborah Kerr's connection with Evelyn is missing. She relies too much on the drunken gimmick and relies too little on how the audience will see her emotions, her bitterness towards her husband.

Deborah Kerr didn't necessarily have a nicely written part to begin with, but she ruins what could have been, with not shining enough in the beginning, and overdoing it in the latter half of Edward, My Son.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Loretta Young in "Come To The Stable"

Loretta Young received her last Oscar nomination for playing Sister Margaret in Come To The Stable.

Come To The Stable was clearly not a movie that I was going to enjoy right from the beginning. Two French nuns show up in a small American town, unexpectedly, and decide to build a children's hospital! Didn't like this movie at all or the corny sentimentality that seemed to seap through every scene.

Loretta Young plays Sister Margaret, the more sassier of the two nuns. I'm not even sure how I should approach this performance, since to be honest, there is barely anything to write about it. Sure, Loretta Young is the star of the movie, but the biggest highpoint of her performance is wearing the habit. She mostly stands around, or talks about God or say she will never give up on building a children's hospital. I mean, there is simply nothing here for me to praise!

Neither is her performance entertaining or insightful, or even properly done. They're French, but Loretta Young sounds like she has a light British accent. It's a harmless, nothing performance that within the context of the film, works just fine. Come To The Stable is nothing that was going to remember for years and years, so a couple of forgettable performances wouldn't hurt being shown in it. Unfortunately, Oscar also had to recognize it, which could be chalked up to religious sentimentality.

Loretta Young gives a harmless, worthless, uneven performance that might fit well in her movie, but was no great performance by any means.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1949

And now another year of leading actresses!

And the Academy selected:
  • Jeanne Crain in Pinky
  • Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress
  • Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart
  • Deborah Kerr in Edward, My Son
  • Loretta Young in Come To The Stable
So, will I agree with the Academy or name someone else the best of 1949?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ellen Burstyn in "The Exorcist"

Ellen Burstyn received her second Oscar nomination for playing Chris MacNeil, an actress, in The Exorcist.

I'm not sure entirely what to make of The Exorcist. While it has some undeniably, frightening, out of this world scenes, it's also features some plastic dialogue. I also don't think it's the scariest movie ever made. For me, frightening films come in all sorts of different varieties, but I find it has to be some realistic to actually scare me. I think for the most part, The Exorcist is a drama (which it succeeds at) about a mother trying to figure out what is the matter mentally with her daughter.
It's really up to Ellen Burstyn to set a dramatic foundation for the film, while Linda Blair adds the horror foundation. Actually, Ellen Burstyn does alot in this film, besides fighting the demon inside her daughter. Chris is an actress, it's never very clear if she's a popular actress, but I'm assuming she's not. Chris is also dealing with the fact her ex-husband wants nothing to do with Regan, and she's struggling with excruciating stress, because Regan is starting to become more mentally strange, and no one seems to know what's going on.

I was quite surprised when I originally watched The Exorcist, and saw that Ellen Burstyn really took her work seriously here. She adds little ticks and facets to Chris, making her caring, if a little high strong woman who doesn't like being under pressure. Like when she argues with the doctors in her house or when she first finds out Regan used a curse word, she's extremely realistic and impressive in focusing on Chris's large amount of emotions for her daughter. She fearlessly takes on this role, which a big bonus from me. She's holds nothing back, even in her quietest moment, Burstyn grabs hold of Chris's grief and utter confusion.

A performance that could easily go unappreciated considering this is a film that is supposed to be the scariest of all time, someone might looks for the thrills or stunts, but Ellen Burstyn doesn't let Chris go unnoticed, and on top of that, The Exorcist isn't a typical horror film. She gives a realistic performance in an unrealistic situation.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1973

And moving right along to another year:

And the Academy selected:
  • Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist
  • Glenda Jackson in A Touch Of Class
  • Marsha Mason in Cinderella Liberty
  • Barbara Streisand in The Way We Were
  • Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
So, will I agree with the Academy or name someone else the best of 1973?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Actress In A Leading Role" 2005: My Ranking


5. Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line

- Reese Witherspoon doesn't know how to play June Carter, whether she is trying her best to sing or failing to be sassy or remotely interesting.

4. Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice
- It's clear from the beginning, Keira Knightly is going to give one forceful performance, but what isn't clear is how she knows Elizabeth, the one Jane Austen wrote, not what the one her director wanted.

3. Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents

- Judi Dench doesn't take Mrs. Henderson seriously, but she also fails to add any clairty or reason behind her character's actions, which turn the performance into something uninteresting and boring.

2. Charlize Theron in North Country

- With so much effort, Charlize Theron shows the dignity and courage of a woman who has been harrassed for the last time, in a man's world. Her performance takes many twists and turns but in the end she always holds it together.

1. Felicity Huffman in Transamerica

- Felicity Huffman gives a performance that is perfect in many ways. First of all, there is no gimmicks, whatsoever attached to her performance. Yes, here is a woman playing a man becoming a woman, but she adds many layers, facets, and complexities to her character with sadness and even humor. A brilliant performance.

Honorable Omissions: Lauren Lee Smith in "Lie With Me", Gretchen Mol in "The Notorious Bettie Page" and Zhang Ziyi in "Memoirs Of A Geisha"

Charlize Theron in "North Country"

Charlize Theron received her second Oscar nomination for playing Josey Aimes in North Country.

North Country is anything but a perfect movie. When handling such serious subject matter like sexual harassment, one has to really make the film stand out, and not just another one of those corny Lifetime movies. North Country decides to do both. It hits you over the head with it's subject matter, but never let's go of the sentimentality that these types of movies always have. But, Charlize Theron completely saves it.

Josey Aimes had had some bad luck. Her husband has beat her up for the last time, and she decides to take her kids and move back in with her parents. Josey has always been a woman who has been put down upon. Even her own parents seem to have little patience or respect for her. She gets a job in the mines, and it's clear from the beginning, this is a man's world, and the women who work there are constantly harassed by the men.

Charlize Theron is one of the best actresses working today, and no, it's not just her famous turn that will be discussed in the future. I feel I always have to defend her, because some think she's simply a one hit wonder. Well, if there's any proof she has artistic talent, it's here. She not only controls her movie to the inth degree, but she establishes her character as a "mad as hell" woman who will not suffer the abuse that so many has before her. Of course, this isn't a mind-blowing or iconic performance by any means, but she is able to turn in great work without overdoing it or staying where her material wants her too.

Theron creates a worn out woman, tired of the world being oppressive to her. She never over plays the fact her character is constantly abused and tormented by what seems like everyone. A very fine performance from a great actress.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents"

Judi Dench received her fifth nomination for playing Laura Henderson in Mrs. Henderson Presents.

First off, you have to have a very distinct taste to enjoy a movie like Mrs. Henderson Presents. It wants to be a musical comedy whilst being a serious drama about World War II, and it falls flat on it's face. The acting isn't that much better, but there is one thing that sort of keeps it afloat.

Judi Dench plays Mrs. Laura Henderson, who has just become a widow. Instead of being alone and growing old, she decides to lighten up her life by buying a theatre. The theatre becomes a huge success, but quickly becomes a fad, so Mrs. Henderson decides to add all nude girls to the shows. Eventually it becomes the talk of the town, and even survives WWII.

In terms of "bad" acting, you won't find it here with Judi Dench. If you are looking for something mind-blowing or insightful, you might as well keep looking. Dench knows she's not doing hard work, and unfortunately, she plays it exactly like that. There's not depth, no emotional connection, just lively Mrs. Henderson and her naked gals.

More appropriately she is set on automatic, and never fully let's us understand why Mrs. Henderson has a desire to do the thing she does. And really, she's not even the main attraction of the film, the colorful musical numbers are. All we get is an odd relationship with a married man, that is the most pointless storyline in the film.

Again, is she terrible? No. Is she good? Not really. Judi Dench is always watchable, and always adds some little nice things to her character, but here, it's like she just forgot. I also blame the script for doing that dried up cliche of "old lady who curses", but how could this great actress, just be so...bland?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reese Witherspoon in "Walk The Line"

Reese Witherspoon won the Oscar for playing famous country singer June Carter Cash in Walk The Line.

Walk The Line is one of those standard biopics, except Walk The Line relies on the acting to take it into great territory. And unfortunately, the acting in this movie ranges from mediocre to just plain bad. Joaquin Phoenix is barely establishing Cash as a character, instead he works more on his voice, which isn't that good either.

Johnny Cash first encounters June Carter when he is touring. It's quite an entrance, or quite a good written entrance, when June is trying to run out on stage and gets stuck on Cash, and uses her funny attitude and charm to not let herself get embarrassed. Again, good writing, but a bad performance. Reese Witherspoon, simply, should not have played June Carter Cash. In this scene, she comes off as annoying and doesn't know how exactly to play her character. If her acting didn't help, her singing was on the same level. Carter's singing style was very distinct, like a sweet, rugged voice. Reese Witherspoon sounds like a drunk ditz friend at a karaoke bar.

From that moment on, Witherspoon is usually in the background, doing practically nothing, maybe throwing a beer bottle bombastically or failing to deliver sassy line readings like "BABY BABY BABY!" These are supposed to make June quite a lovable, free minded woman who Johnny and us could fall back on. In the hands of Witherspoon, she's just an annoying woman who can't make up her mind. I just feel annoyed and angry when I watch Walk The Line, and see such a performance that fails in every way possible in impressing me.

2005 was surely a low-point in the Academy's history, but really. Maybe it was the fact Reese Witherspoon was showing some range by taking an unlikely role, or maybe it was because it was the film most saw out of the nominees. Or maybe they just liked it, who knows. But, for me, she fails in every department. Besides the scene at the end where Johnny proposes to her, her acting is on the level of amateur, and her singing is nowhere near what the real woman sounded like. As I said before, a real low-point.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Keira Knightly in "Pride and Prejudice"

Keira Knightly received her first Oscar nomination for playing Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

Having read the book many years ago, this version of the story simply doesn't live up to the novel. It moves to fast and the director is too "modern" with his approach to the material. The acting is less then satisfactory, expect Judi Dench who completely steals the movie. Pride and Prejudice is the tale of 5 sisters, and how their goal in life is one thing, finding a husband. The movie mainly focuses on Elizabeth, the more free thinking daughter.

So, you can assume I was not impressed with Keira Knightly. In the book, Elizabeth is clear in her views...a woman who is almost free spirited, but totally fun loving. Instead with Knightly, we get a naive, empty headed girl and once she starts to feel love, a self righteous, empty headed girl. Completely matter how much the director wanted it to be more modern. Knightly stares off into space and fake laughs alot, but this is not the point of Elizabeth at all.

Which brings me to another point: her obviousness. In every moment of every frame, Keira Knightly suffers from "obvious acting", meaning you're always aware you are watching someone act. Her fake laughing, smiling, and her awful delivery of lines surely hurt her performance more then it can recover. And if this poor girl didn't have enough problems with me, she also is incredibly Boring. Why should I care about a girl who seems like she can't make one move without being told to do so? We are never able to get into the mind of Elizabeth, which is horrible, because in the book, she is such a likable and interesting spirit.

I appreciate the effort that goes into period piece acting, because it's extremely hard to convince the audience, due to the fact the material is over 100 years old. But, it's astonishing that Keira Knightly gets nearly everything wrong Elizabeth. Her constant airheadness and occasional failure of a one liner, makes it almost embarrassing. Elizabeth is an unconventional character, but here, she's ordinary and more "teen" like. A real miss.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica"

Felicity Huffman received her first Oscar nomination for playing Bree Osbourne, a pre-op transsexual in Transamerica.

I really liked Transamerica. Even though the story gets a little unbelievable at points, I thought it was very entertaining, funny, and even sad, which kept me engaged. Plus, the acting, all around, is great.

Which brings me to Felicity Huffman. She plays Bree, a man who is in the act of finalizing his sex change. He is one week away from his operation, when he gets a call from a boy claiming to be his son. Due to his therapist's wishes, he goes to New York to see the boy, and decides to bring him back with him on a road trip. Along the way, we discover Bree's struggle, dislikes, and especially his vulnerability.

An acting exercise to be sure, but ironically, it's one of the least showy parts the Academy has ever nominated. It's simply because Felicity Huffman plays Bree the exact right way. He's always prime and proper, and always insecure about how the world will view him as a transsexual. Huffman keeps Bree afloat and alive with quick wit and a no-nonsense approach to the judgmental world around him.

I really don't know what the strong hold this performance has on me. I mean, this could have incredibly terrible had they hired someone who didn't know how to handle such a complex and difficult character. But, Felicity Huffman has an presence surrounding her performance, full of rich characteristics. And again, it's even humorous! Bree handles his sad state with his prime and proper attitude he has adopted for himself. Once Bree becomes a woman, it is not your typical, bland way. He is simply now a she, and ready to live her life the way she always wanted too.

As I said before, I don't know what draws me to this witty and unsuspecting performance. There's effort here for Felicity Huffman to act like a man acting like a woman, but oddly, it never gets in the way. And it's the talent and wit she adds to her performance instead of concentrating on the physicality of her performance. A brilliant performance that still leaves me wanting more.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Actress In A Leading Role" 2005

Moving right along to the next year:

The Academy selected:
  • Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents
  • Felicity Huffman in Transamerica
  • Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice
  • Charlize Theron in North Country
  • Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line
Rather controversial year, but we will see who I name the best of 2005!