Monday, February 28, 2011

Well, It's All Over!

Not even going into my thoughts on the whole thing since at some point I ended up more engaged in a conversation at our Oscar party then the actual ceremony.

"What Helen is saying is her portrayal of a queen was more realistic then Colin Firth's portrayal of a king" - Best quote of the night.

Congratulations Melissa Leo for being the first jackass who says "FUCK" during an Oscar speech.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Memo To The Academy

C'mon now...don't let your noses come out completely wet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Greta Garbo in "Romance"

Greta Garbo received her second Oscar nomination for playing Madame Rita Cavallini in Romance.

Romance is okay for an early talkie, but it's not amazing, but the story is interesting enough to keep you engaged. The story is a story within a story actually - a boy wants to marry an actress, much to the dismay of his family, so he goes to an admirable man of his, and the man tells him the story of his failed romance with an opera star, Rita.

Greta Garbo looks irresistible in Romance. It's as simple as that - the woman was incredibly beautiful and that helps out with her less then satisfying performance as Rita. It's not Garbo is bad or mediocre as Rita, but I always got the feeling she wasn't trying hard enough. Romance relies on how well the chemistry between the two lead actors are, and for the most part, the two have it, but once the story focuses solely on their troubles, it becomes very routine and she sinks beneath that.

Her best moments come in the beginning, when the romance is just budding and is about to blossom into something much more. Garbo tries too add a little humor to the part, but it's mostly her charm that gets her through the film. Well, that and her beauty, it is really something else. Which it is a very watchable, charming portrayal, but I am just not as moved by it as I wanted to be.


Helen Hayes in "The Sin Of Madelon Claudet"

Helen Hayes won the Oscar for playing Madelon Claudet in The Sin Of Madelon Claudet.

The Sin Of Madelon Claudet is a very dated, yet entertaining old film about a woman who leads one tortured life. A woman who falls for a man who leaves her before he knows she became pregnant by him - she must find some way to support herself, so she takes up with a jewel thief, which leads he to being arrested. Eventually, she becomes a prostitute in order to provide college for her son, who doesn't even know her. It sounds like a heartbreaking story, and with Hayes performance it enters different territory.

The fact is the performance could have went purely melodramatic and became cliched, but with Helen Hayes we get a great portrayal that is free of very stagy acting. Every turn of the story is perfectly handled by Hayes, who knows not to overplay the character because the story itself is already over handed. She is a tragic figure, and Helen Hayes almost asks the audience for their sympathy, but it's hard to not pity her.

She has many believable, realistic scenes especially the one when she is released from prison and feels the exhaustion of her life. Hayes is so magnificent while doing so much, yet so little with her character. It's easy to see why someone could accuse it of just being melodramatic, but I take alot more away from her performance then that. She is terrific at underplaying most of the pain of Madelon, and she is able to overcome of all of the cliches that could have been ridden within her performance. A natural, even heartbreaking performance.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jeanne Eagels in "The Letter"

Jeanne Eagels received her only Oscar nomination for playing Leslie Crosbie in The Letter.

This version of The Letter is rightfully forgotten. I myself sometimes find it enjoyable to see films from other times just to give myself some kind of balance, but when you are a given a film that was made in 1929 that is both unwatchable (almost literally, since I found it online and the sound was not the best, to say the least) and unnecessary. If you want to see a great version of the story, look no further then the 1940 version. But anyways, the story of The Letter goes something like this: a woman kills her secret lover, who she claimed tried to rape her, and must prove her innocence.

Jeanne Eagels died of an unfortunate overdose after The Letter was released, making her the first posthumous nominee in the history of the Academy Awards. She plays Leslie Crosbie, a seductive, mousy looking woman who tries to defend her innocence. At every turn of The Letter, Eagels tries to put power in every move and line - as this was the very early talkies, Eagels does incredibly well with the lines. To be perfectly honest, Jeanne Eagles gives one of those performances that goes through the motions until some critical points in the story.

When she is on trial and is clearly lying, she is terrific, showing how trying to convince the jury is just as hard as convincing the audience. And the final confrontation scene is just incredible! It's unbelievable such a well acted scene could be possible in the film. However, Eagels still has this bad aura around her performance, especially considering she moves at every possible moment, seeming fidgety and nervous (addiction showing it's causes, perhaps?). But, Jeanne Eagels' ghostly presence is intense and for a film from 1929, definitely wonderful - there's just too many cricks in it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marie Dressler in "Emma"

Marie Dressler received her last Oscar nomination for playing Emma Thatcher Smith in Emma.

With the help of Marie Dressler, Emma becomes a surprising, terrific little movie. I wouldn't go in it expecting something revolutionary, but if you're looking for a very entertaining, interesting movie, you'll find it with Emma. The story of a kind, dominating woman who helps out a widower with his 3 kids. She helps him out for 32 years, and in the heat of the moment, he asks her to marry him. He suddenly dies, and must fight with his ungrateful kids over his money.

Marie Dressler was simply one of the most interesting actresses to ever be labeled a star, and in Emma all of her natural acting talents show. Emma is a wonderful character, always interesting and engaging, no matter what she is doing. From the very beginning, we see her as a relentlessly caring nanny who will do anything for the children she is in charge for, and we always feel that love between her and her boss, but Dressler fabulously shows it's just a platonic kind of love, until he pops the question. Her performance enters new territory in the second half of the film.

Emma sees the kids she took care of all of their lives turn against her and Dressler perfectly shows the pain and yet understanding of this woman. She is self-sacrificing and won't deny her own needs, or theirs. And to top everything off, Marie Dressler's natural comedic talents are also present in Emma, including some hilarious scenes involving a airplane.

Overall, it's a terrific performance that Marie Dressler completely shines in. I can easily see how her acting style can be not for everyone's taste, but here, she's irresistible, at least for me.

Mary Pickford in "Coquette"

Mary Pickford won the Oscar for playing Norma Besant in Coquette.

Coquette is so bleeping awful, I'm surprised the TV didn't spit up green soup for making me play it. It's not so much the actors are practically wandering around, waiting for a line reading, it's the fact there even actors at all. If you go into Coquette expecting some miracle, look away, because this is 1929 and talkies are just beginning. Actually, the material originally started on the stage, and it's obvious. Especially one boring sequence where everyone stands around a chair (apparently a sound machine) and has a conversation for 8 minutes. The story follows a Southern flirt who can have any man she wants. Her flirting gets her in a whole mess of trouble!

Noticeably, Mary Pickford was too old to be playing a young Southern belle, but she was so used to playing young in her silent films, she actually doesn't show her age. What she does show is her silent roots, which are ridiculously bad. Pickford tries to stretch out her face with alot of strength like she's just in a silent film, but this is a talky, and she makes look Norma look strange, with her wide eyed looks in the camera and her loud mannerisms. There's also her fake sounding voice when she is flirting.

The courtroom scenes, as ridiculous as they may be, are her best moments. She finally lets her guard down, and delivers a natural sounding, mannerisms-free performance that reminded (at least me) of what could have came of Mary Pickford had she been a better talky actress. And she tries her best to invest some life into the character of Norma, but again, it's hardly much.

To put it quite perfectly, I appreciate the fact Mary Pickford took a risk and tried the talkies which I'm sure were risky for someone who had an entire silent film reputation. I don't hate her performance as much as others do, but then again I was not impressed with it, at all.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Claudette Colbert in "Private Worlds"

Claudette Colbert received her second Oscar nomination for playing Dr. Jane Everest in Private Worlds.

Private Worlds is certainly an interesting film for the the early era. The straight forward story of misogyny and mental illness in a psychiatric hospital. The amazing thing about the film is that it doesn't feel dated - it really does feel modern handling it's subject material. A female doctor is subjected to sexism when a new supervisor feels a woman shouldn't have anything to do in the medical profession.

Claudette Colbert plays Dr. Jane Everest, a determined, workaholic who is very shocked at the concern her new supervisor has for her. The role is terribly simple, but Colbert was able to add the much needed details and life to the character of Jane. We eventually realize why Jane throws herself into her work so much - she was in love with a man who has died. She's a modern woman in a man's world, and no one understands that. Most even criticize her for not being a housewife and mother.

Colbert is able to overcome the melodrama of her material as well - even though everyone gets to experiment with mental subplots, Claudette Colbert manages to come across as the most believable with her "tough" woman role. It only bogs down at the end when that horrible plot twist comes into play, and it's become obvious why the film is largely forgotten. What was promising soon becomes awful, and Colbert can't really save that. It's the early stuff that she is really terrific in. Successfully overcoming is a hard challenge, especially during this era, but Claudette Colbert was able to do just that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lynn Fontanne in "The Guardsman"

Lynn Fontanne received her only Oscar nomination for playing simply The Actress in The Guardsman.

The Guardsman, while having an interesting story, is slow, very slow, and never comes to live on screen. The two actors - Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne have chemistry with each other, but neither one are hardly fascinating. The story follows the two married actors, as they insult each other into oblivion. He finally gets the feeling she is cheating on him, so he disguises himself as a Russian to see if she will fall for his advances. The story is all over the place and the acting is pure theatrics.

Lynn Fontanne plays The Actress in a hysterical way - not only does she have the diva like quality of an actress, but she also has the theatrical stereotype of an actress. She's always moving her arms, always dragging out the words so everyone can her, always making a big deal out of everything to prove to the world she knows her game. The Guardsman would like us to believe it's a charming comedy, but it's not that either, since where is it? Lynn certainly didn't have anything to work with, other then those annoying stereotypes.

Lynn has a natural quality to her, but her silent roots are visible in the part. Like this interesting smile she gives near the end of the film, it's both strange, but entertaining, as we soon begin to learn she may have been in on the secret the entire time.

An interesting performance in an interesting story, that both fail to shine as they should.

Marlene Dietrich in "Morocco"

Marlene Dietrich received her only Oscar nomination for playing Amy Jolly in Morocco.

Morocco is a boring, endlessly uncharismatic film about the Foreign Legion who takes up in Morocco. A young, naive man in the Legion sees an act by a seductive singer from Paris. The two share a careless relationship with each other until they figure out they can't live without one another. The film is visually appealing, but overall the story is so boring and the cast is all over the place, which makes the film a challenge to get through.

Marlene Dietrich is an interesting actress - she is most admired and praised today for her beauty. When I watch her in films, I see the beauty, but hardly any acting ability. Morocco was her American debut and it really shows. Her Amy has just come to the town in Morocco to escape some kind of scandalous past in Paris, she knows she can captivate an audience, and decides she should be an entertainer there. In fact, Morocco is mostly remembered for a 2 second kiss between Dietrich and a woman during her first act. This character is so thinly written, that it seems like the only reason she is there is so Dietrich could be in a movie.

With her accent and her silent roots which show like a sore thumb, there is nothing to admire in Marlene Dietrich's interpretation of Amy. We know she has been jaded by men and really doesn't enjoy being solicited by them, yet we never get that feeling with Marlene. She's sexy, but merely a prop for the sexiness that the film wants to portray. Even when Amy gets to deliver a charming zinger, Marlene ruins it with a fake sounding voice and not knowing the line between being funny and being annoying. There's no depth, more like a picture - nice to look at, but there's nothing to watch or admire. It's part of having a badly written character and part Dietrich really did not know how to handle the character and bring her off of the page.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Norma Shearer in "Their Own Desire"

Norma Shearer received her second Oscar nomination for Lally Marlett in Their Own Desire.

Their Own Desire is a typical early talky melodrama that is a bit entertaining. A little too theatrical, but it's early melodrama, so if you go into this expecting some modern day take on storytelling, look elsewhere. The story follows a daughter whose father is divorcing (gasp) his wife and leaving her for another woman. She begins to hate men, until she takes a vacation where she falls in love with a man who ends up being the son of the woman her father left her family for.

Norma Shearer was such a fascinating actress - I could easily see how some could criticize her, but for me, she is a force of nature of screen, especially in these kinds of projects where she shines. Shearer captures Lally's youthful innocence and wisdom wonderfully - she brings smiles and humor the role that are wonderful in it's simplicity. When the drama approaches, Shearer never goes over the top with her performance, which is amazing because the role called for her to go spastic, yet Norma underplays most of the character's emotions. One could call it underwhelming, but for me, it worked.

She works so incredibly with the character - making her fascinating with her emotions.

At the top of her game, or just beginning? Norma Shearer proves herself very early, to have a great presence on the screen. She slides through the role with a cool and an ease that is amazing for a 1930 film - it's supposed to be controversial for it's time, but comes off as melodramatic. The only thing that holds it together is Norma's tough, yet vulnerable performance.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Katharine Hepburn in "Morning Glory"

Katharine Hepburn won the Oscar for playing Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory.

Morning Glory is just an average film, that works well if Katharine Hepburn works well. The story is interesting, it's well made, but the supporting cast seem a little out of place and searching for something to do. It's all about Katharine Hepburn, and rightfully so.

I have been very critical of this performance in the past, but, I've recently become very impressed with it. If you take it for what it is, which is a very intentional theatrical performance. She plays Eva Lovelace, a smart young, but impressionable aspiring actress. She is full of vibrancy and excitement to the people around her, but it's the nervous ambition that drives her to put up a fascinating facade. She is fascinated by acting...she wants to live the dream of being fussed over constantly and having her life lived out on the stage.

It is true - Hepburn overacts here. But, that doesn't mean it's bad or unfitting, because Eva is always trying to bring attention to herself. It's very theatrical, and purposely so. Kate adds so much dominating charm to the character of Eva, she lights up the screen. Eva's personality is so perfectly realized by Hepburn, that when we see the weakness show throw her fascinated facade, we feel a deep sympathy for her.

It's definitely a divisive performance, and I've been in that front of that criticizing line, but now I appreciate the work on display by Katharine Hepburn.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1929-1935

And now for something a little different.

Since this is the era where the nominees lay that I have yet to see (or are completely forced too in some circumstances) then I thought it would be fun (and alot more easier) to do the years all together.


1929-1935

And the nominees to be reviewed are:

Jeanne Eagels in The Letter
Bessie Love in The Broadway Melody
Mary Pickford in Coquette
Greta Garbo in Anna Christie
Greta Garbo in Romance
Norma Shearer in The Divorcee
Norma Shearer in Their Own Desire
Marlene Dietrich in Morocco
Marie Dressler in Min and Bill
Irene Dunne in Cimarron 
Norma Shearer in A Free Soul
Marie Dressler in Emma
Lynn Fontanne in The Guardsman
Helen Hayes in The Sin Of Madelon Claudet
Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory
May Robson in Lady For A Day
Diane Wynyard in Cavalcade
Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night
Grace Moore in One Night Of Love
Norma Shearer in The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Claudette Colbert in Private Worlds
Bette Davis in Dangerous
Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams
Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp

So, that makes nine nominees I still have to see - and I won't be reviewing the first year, at least not right now. They will be reviewed completely randomly and I'll update my ranking after each 5 nominees.

So, no more technical talk :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

200!

Well, I can barely believe it myself, mostly because it feels like I just started and have just scratched the surface of this incredible film experience.

200 performances...

Look at all the women and the variations on a singular character they are playing. Whether it be a housewife, a queen, an artist, a prostitute, a waitress, these women all portrayed characters that are both interesting and enlightening. Even if the performances aren't quite good, don't you find it thrilling to watch films & characters that throw you to another time and another place?

These women are the highlights of cinema - like I said before, even if their performances aren't good, these are still fascinating people who lingered on screen. To see how the actresses changed, yet the fascination was still there was incredible. Honestly, how can you compare people like Norma Shearer and Jane Fonda together? How can you choose between Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn? Who would you rather watch, Meryl Streep or Anne Bancroft? The questions cannot be answered since every actress, in their own way, are wonderful and terrific.

I don't explain or defend my choices, I just name the nominee that impresses me most. But, I am very proud of my current Top 10 - these really are what I think the creme da-la creme so far are. They are both thrilling, provocative, artistic, entertaining, enlightening, wonderful, scary - every other impossible adjective you can throw at them.


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I've decided on this go around to focus on the women who get praise from me, but never the Academy.

Honorable Omissions

Of course, it would be ridiculous to try and name all of the performances that have impressed me in these given years - but I've decided to review 10 of what I think are the best of the years I've already covered.


10. Jodie Foster in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane

"1976 was a banner year for Jodie Foster - she hadn't even achieved iconic fame yet and 1976 surely shows her abilities as an actress. She received an Oscar nod for one of the best films of the 70s, showed her comedic abilities in a Disney classic, and eventually showed more of her range in the drama/horror film "The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane". Foster plays Rynn, a teenager who seems to be hiding her life from everyone - when her secrets begin to be revealed she begins to kill, unbelievably she's the sympathetic protagonist of this story."







9. Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest

"Largely ridiculed, killed Dunaway's career, and even won a Razzie - but unforgettably magnificent in my eyes. Honestly, can anyone even separate Joan Crawford from Mommie Dearest and Faye Dunaway after they see this movie? Dunaway makes such a huge impression constantly playing up the campiness of Joan Crawford herself. Could it be bad acting? Perhaps, but that's not going to stop me from praising it."











8. Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

"When someone remembers Fast Times At Ridgemont High, they usually either think of Sean Penn being a stoner or Phoebe Cates possibly having the sexiest moment ever captured on film. But when I think about it, I remember the touching work of Jennifer Jason Leigh. She has long been an underrated actress, and this is possibly the best work I've seen from her. Her character wants sex, but unfortunately she learns her lessons the hard way. It's both heartbreaking and even naturally funny in the beginning."







7. Glenda Jackson in The Music Lovers

"It's no secret around here, I love Glenda Jackson. She may not have Meryl Streep's career or the longevity of Katharine Hepburn, but her screen presence fascinates me. The Music Lovers was made after Women In Love and it's amazing to know that because her character in The Music Lovers seems so much younger then her Gundrun. Playing the nymphomaniac, crazy wife of Tchaikovsky is no easy task, yet Glenda pulls it off with natural ease - making all the weirdness seem even more incredible."







6. Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes

"When someone thinks of Kathy Bates, do they immediately go to Annie Wilkes, or remember Bates famously crashing into someone's car screaming TOWANDA. A fabulous character if there has ever been one - she goes from fragile, uptight cracker to a strong, powerful force no one can mess with thanks to her new friend's stories. I love the movie, and Bates has long been my favorite part of it. If you loved her nude scene in About Schmidt, her saran wrapped nude scene will not disappoint you here."








5. Judith O'Dea in Night Of The Living Dead

"Oh boy, what a movie, what a performance. With probably only 2 pages of dialogue, Judith O'Dea never escapes my mind when I remember Night Of The Living Dead. Once her famous attack is over, she becomes a catatonic mess - utterly shocked and exhausted with the events taking place around her. One wants to either slap her or try to hug her, aggressive and fourthly maddening. Actually, isn't Barbara the scariest thing about the zombies?"







4. Heather Matarazzo in Welcome To The Dollhouse

"Oh boy, what a movie, what a performance (x2) - Heather Matarazzo perhaps shows the most painful creation of teenage angst ever shown on screen. Is she a victim or does she truly deserve all the harsh things that come her way? In most scenes her resentment becomes intensified and she becomes nearly unlikeable, but considering everything Dawn puts up with during Welcome To The Dollhouse, who can blame her. The unforgettable lines, the pathetic sad face, and the incredibly ugly clothes all make for one masterpiece."







3. Divine in Pink Flamingos

"Oh boy, what a movie, what a performance (x3) - forget category confusion, what about gender confusion! Yes, I do consider this to be a female performance, no matter what anyone says. Pink Flamingos is certainly not a place to look for art and most people would turn it off after the first 10 minutes, but Divine as filth queen Babs Johnson has long been one of my favorite creations. Bold, in-your-face, never seen like this, what can you say about a performance that includes such monologues about being the filthiest person alive?"








2. Gini Eastwood in Pickup

"Never heard of it, don't feel bad - Pickup was mismarketed as a grind-house film when it was released back in 1975, however it is hardly an exploitation/horror film. The story of two young women who are picked up by a passing driver in an RV - what follows is one of the strangest and exhilarating experiences I've ever had in a movie. Gini Eastwood is possibly the most stunning woman I've ever seen, and luckily her performance is unforgettably perfect. Playing a tarot reader who long forecasts doom on the horizon of the trip - how can you even begin to describe a performance that includes a Satanic clown, a sex scene with the god Apollo, and Eastwood burning herself for about a minute. It's beautiful, amazing, intense work."








1. Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude

"It's probably the performance I've seen most in my all-time favorite film. It's hard to even begin to describe how perfect Ruth Gordon is. Witty and charming doesn't even begin - wonderful, amazing, funny, heartwarming, I don't even think there is a word for it. Every moment is so naturally handled, how can you not fall for her? It's not just because she's a cute old lady, it's her spirit. Again, she leaves me absolutely speechless...."



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So, here's to the next and final 200 performances of this incredible race and category!

"Actress In A Leading Role" 2010: My Ranking

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5. Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"
- I dare say Nicole Kidman is only a versatile actress when she is playing unhappy women. But, when she does know how to act well, she really sells it and becomes stellar. Here she has only a few moments where "Nicole Kidman" takes over, but for the majority we see an unflinching look at grief.

4. Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine"
- Raw, indescribably natural, Michelle Williams packs a huge punch in Blue Valentine. She starts out on a high note and keeps that same approach to every scene she puts herself through, including the flashbacks. By lingering around the screen, always showing her character's apparent insecurity, Williams crafts a magnificent performance.

3. Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"
- Alot of Natalie Portman's performance requires her physically and while there's nothing wrong with that, it's not exactly what I would consider amazing acting. However, there is no denying this performance is simply dazzlingly, giving the limited Portman the role tailor-made for her. Her stilted acting style works perfect with the stilted ballerina, creating a haunting and beautiful experience.

2. Annette Bening in "The Kids Are Alright"
- Annette Bening is another actress who doesn't necessarily always work with me, but she arguably hits a high note here. Her wonderful performance stays with you as much as her comic delivery - her best moments are her dramatic moments, when her character reflects and deals with her problems openly. She can be both humorous and heart-wrenching.

1. Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"
- It's been awhile since a performance has been so realistic. Where is the line between Lawrence and Ree Dolly? Her beautiful face and sensible attitude matches perfectly with her characters naivety and angst. With every scene, she plays Ree as if she's been this girl forever - finding new angles and anxieties to fit her character arc. A brilliant performance based on how much realism she can evoke, and she surely evokes alot.




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Honorable Omissions: Julianne Moore in "The Kids Are Alright".

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"

Natalie Portman received her second Oscar nomination for playing Nina Sayers in Black Swan.

Black Swan is certainly an interesting accomplishment. The film has almost gained a sort of iconic status that is surely surprising, as this is not the typical film you would see pleasing audiences and critics alike. I find it to be a hugely terrific film that makes you think about how the art of movies actually takes. The story of a ballerina who puts herself through an exhausting existence in order to be "perfect". She finally achieves the main role of the Swan Queen, but finds her world is starting to go haywire...or is it just her?

Natalie Portman plays Nina - the frigid perfectionist who pushes herself farther and father into her dancing. She has the drive for dancing, but she is much too self-conscious to be a terrific ballerina. She is plastic, spoiled, and horribly insecure. Natalie Portman uses her shrill acting style to perfection here - her pulled back hair and little girl, annoying voice match perfect with Nina. Of course, Portman does some fantastic dancing, and it matches her challenge that she had to learn all of that for the part. However, that doesn't mean her performance is something groundbreaking or amazing.

Portman is fantastic when the director and her meet on the same level. Like in Nina's most bizarre scenes, the craziness of it all become incredible moments for Natalie Portman. It's far from perfect, but what she does achieve is an original creation, that when she knows how to handle herself with the material, everything comes out perfect. I give Natalie Portman alot of credit for not playing Nina with sympathy and the dancing is terrific even though it's not what I would consider worthy of an Oscar.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"

Jennifer Lawrence received her first Oscar nomination for playing Ree Dolly in Winter's Bone.

Winter's Bone is a fascinating, intensely original creation that continues to impress me. It's surprising how well the mystery of the story is kept and how tense the director handles everything. I love the atmosphere, being stuck out in the woods, where the main character can feel safe yet can be in so much danger. The story of a 17 year old girl in the Ozarks who must provide for her brother & sister, not to mention her catatonic mother when their father is arrested for drugs. She sets out a journey to find him, and runs into many troubles.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree - the victim of poverty and life's circumstances. What's immediately apparent in Lawrence's performance is Ree not a victim. She is strong willed, incredibly intelligent, and proud of her roots, even though it's left her living an extreme lifestyle. She's had to quit school in order to care for her family and she's always forced into her situation - she wants to be something else, but she doesn't make herself vulnerable or unpromising. Jennifer Lawrence, incredibly shows many different shades of her character. One minute she goes to a brittle, teenage angst fueled temper tantrum and the next shows her character must be the driving force for herself, and cannot rely on anyone else.

Honestly, there have many performances like this before (young one wise beyond her years) but I don't think I've ever seen one that has so much realism as Jennifer Lawrence possesses. When she talks to her mom in the woods, she is immaculate - you can't ask for a better performance. And of course, she always stays on this note during the film - confused, a bit naive, and finally understanding....or is she? Ultimately this is a brilliant performance, that continues to amaze me for it's disturbing raw reality.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine"

Michelle Williams received her second Oscar nomination for playing Cindy in Blue Valentine.

Blue Valentine is one of the most fascinating films made in recent years. Not many films can so fluidly discuss relationships and love in a straight forward & disturbing way. What Blue Valentine achieves is a brilliant combination of romance and heartbreaking doom that comes with years of torturous mistakes and bitter resentment of life. The story of a couple who in flashbacks fall in love and in present time, slowly fall out as they face their resentment for each other.

Michelle Williams plays Cindy - a nurse, who has overcome emotional turmoil that was supported and healed by her husband Dean. In the beginning, she is obviously a woman who is not happy with her life, things have become boring and her husband has a child-like personality that almost constantly annoys her. Through the fantastic flashbacks, Williams shows Cindy is a naive girl who wants more then she has. Her boyfriend keeps pushing her for more and more, and when she finally gives in, she makes some brutal mistakes.

Some of Blue Valentine's brilliance comes from spontaneous outbreaks from the cast that are incredibly realistic. Williams knows exactly how to show the many bitter sides to Cindy - at glance, she becomes a resentful, bitchy character, but once we see more and more of her, and the circumstances she has had to face, we become more sympathetic with her. She doesn't beg the audience for their sympathy and neither does Ryan Gosling, but we cannot help but feel their pain. Michelle Williams truly shines, especially when the director calls for her to be emotionally naked - she delivers every powerful punch beautifully.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"

Nicole Kidman received her third Oscar nomination for playing Becca Corbett in Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit Hole successfully transitions from stage to screen, with ease and a self-aware feeling that makes it an intelligent and thought provoking film. Of course, most of the monologues go on too long and sometimes have that feeling of protruding and overwhelming doom, but for the most part, the cast can sell it. The story of a couple of have recently lost their child - they try to deal with it in various ways, pretending life is normal, going to therapy, but they are horribly (and understandably) broken, and becoming more and more tense with each other.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca - she had a very successful career and exciting life when her son was alive, she practically gave up her career to raise her son. Since his death, she has faded into a boring existence, sitting at home, trying to find things to occupy her time...thinking more and more about her son. The first thing Kidman establishes is that Becca is a cold, bitter woman - her pain has transpired over time and now she's extremely hard to get along with. It's predictable, but I hardly felt for Becca in most situations. She refuses help and when she tries to deal with her grief, it always seems rather unbelievable, like stalking the teenager who killed her son.

I am not fond of Nicole Kidman either - her stilted acting style always seems to annoy me. However, something right aligned in Rabbit Hole. Her big moments annoy me (not to mention Aaron Eckhart is much more impressive) but in her most quiet moments, where she lingers around, reflecting on a situation, Kidman is terrific. She knows exactly how to play the emotions, whether they be explosive or heartbreaking, Nicole Kidman does have the instincts for a great actress. When she knows how to shine, she does so, illuminating the screen with terrifying grief and power.

Annette Bening in "The Kids Are Alright"

Annette Bening received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Nic in The Kids Are Alright.

The Kids Are Alright is quite a mixed bag. On one hand, you have a terrific film with some excellent acting all around. But, on the other hand you have a very mediocre story that has it's ups and has it's downs. But, still it's an entertaining film that's perks outshines it's flaws. The story of a lesbian couple whose kids seek out their sperm donor father. He interrupts the already tense couple and cause them many problems that perhaps could have never happen.

Annette Bening plays the more practical woman, Nic. She hates the fact that her partner Jules has potential but chooses to float her way through life. She quietly drowns her sorrows and insecurities in drinking, and slowly she feels her world crumbling around her. Annette Bening wonderfully humanizes the character of Nic - she is wonderful in so many scenes, doing so much with her thin material. It's easy to see why she is being recognized for the performance because of that reason.

Nic isn't necessarily a shrill woman, but just more practical and logical thinking. It's not to say her partner Jules is out of her mind, but she is much more "free" living then Nic. Bening shows how her character cannot change - everytime she sets out to make a change, it never works for one reason or another. She brilliantly shows humor as well as emotional intensity, no matter what the scene calls for. Especially the entire dinner/confrontation sequence, this is arguably the best work Annette Bening has put her name on. A magnificently great performance that continues to impress me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 2010

And now for the most recent leading ladies:

2010
And the Academy selected:
  • Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright
  • Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone
  • Natalie Portman in Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine
So, which one will end up winning the Oscar? Or more importantly, get my support? ;)

"Actress In A Supporting Role" 2010: My Ranking

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5. Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"
- Hailee Steinfeld's obvious acting experience and obvious coaching by the filmmakers is present in nearly every scene. With an hour of screentime, you would think something would work out, but for me, nothing does.

4. Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech"
- In a wretched role in a horrendously awful film, Helena Bonham Carter simply has nothing to do. Could she? Absolutely, but she played the Queen Mother exactly how it was written: loving and charming. Nothing more. Mediocre and boring without any redeeming values.

3. Melissa Leo in "The Fighter"
- Melissa Leo walks a fine line in The Fighter, always between morose and hysterics. She carefully always walks that line on screen, and memorably screams and shouts. Other then that? She's hollow, only able to fill the screen when she is chewing it and she doesn't even go fully over the top, always drifting below it, making it more and more unbelievable.

2. Amy Adams in "The Fighter"
- The Fighter doesn't do justice to anyone, but Amy Adams managed to walk away showing she had the most acting ability in the production. With the littlest line (no matter how ridiculous they might sound) she successfully shows her character's facade and vulnerability. Very uneven, but what she does is commendable especially for the role.

1. Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom"
- It takes awhile to even begin to understand what Jacki Weaver was trying to do with her part, but she successfully creates her arc and follows it very clearly. She's like a fly throughout the film, only making an impact when you allow her too - but when she does shine, she's great at it.

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Honorable Omissions: I would have loved to have voted for Jackie, and no I don't mean Miss Weaver. Ah, well at least you have my respect Swan understudy/Meg Griffin.