Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Janet Gaynor in "A Star Is Born"

Janet Gaynor received her last Oscar nomination for playing Esther Blodgett aka Vicki Lester in A Star Is Born.

This version of A Star Is Born is very interesting. It's less musical as the 1954 version and it's more dramatic then the 1976 version. There's nothing wrong with this version, in fact, I quite like it - no matter if there's not alot of what the other versions offer, it's still very good. The classic story of Esther Blodgett, who ventures off to Hollywood with big dreams. Slowly, she becomes a sensation and falls for what was her favorite movie star, Norman Maine. The two share a sentimental and deep relationship that is touching and delicate when it comes to movie romances.

The first "best actress" Janet Gaynor plays Esther/Vicki - a naive, yet lovable woman in the beginning, and a lovable, glamorous woman in the end. Esther is quite a different woman, she has alot of dreams and fails to see the world outside of the glitz and fake stardust of Hollywood. Once the story gets way more interesting and she takes up with drunk Norman, Vicki becomes a sensation in Hollywood. Her acting career has taken off, but his is failing, causing their love affair to take many twists and turns.

It's horribly unfair to compare Gaynor's performance to Judy Garland's legendary turn, because even though it's the same character, they both have very different movies and very different motives. Janet Gaynor is terrific in her own right, bringing out both the childlike innocence of the character and the true "star" quality that such a role required. Of course a younger actress should have been cast, and it's hard imagining mousy Gaynor as a "born star" but still, it's like there is an aura around her performance, waiting to be discovered, just like Esther. There are a few flaws, like the age distraction, but overall Janet Gaynor's dramatic talents come shining through in the part, and makes it very impressive.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Luise Rainer in "The Good Earth"

Luise Rainer won her second Oscar for playing O-Lan in The Good Earth.

The Good Earth is sort of an epic tale of a Chinese couple who struggle throughout their marriage. No, no martial problems here, more like hell on Earth, like hunger and poverty. What starts off as a promising marriage - a poor farmer takes a wife who was a former slave, and together they learn that they could survive with each other, whether it be physically or emotionally. The Good Earth, as a film, is very good, maybe not perfect but still well made. The casting of the American actors never bothered me, because it's never apparently obvious.

The grace and human connection of this story is O-Lan. She is withdrawn, hard working, self-sacrificing, and very quiet. What's most fascinating about O-Lan is how she is able to make decisions without seemingly thinking about them. She is a humble character, who supports her husband and encourages him to follow his hopes and dreams, no matter what stands in their way. Luise Rainer perfectly shows O-Lan is woman who doesn't let anything stand in her way, yet she is utterly helpless. From her extremely wild closeups where we see her vulnerability to her long shots where we see her pain, she crafted a master performance that shows how subtle acting can be.

But, this is a complex character, and that is surprising. When we see a key, disturbing moment involving her newborn, Rainer so mysteriously underlines her character with depth and an endless amount of vulnerability. Yes, there is some overacting in the performance, but it's not the kind that distracts you from the performance. It's wonderfully handled. And I can even say I find the performance limited these days, since O-Lan really doesn't have alot of dialogue and only opens her mouth when something is practical, but there is no denying this is a terrific performance that has to be peeled away to find all the depth that lies within it.

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1937

Moving along to another year:

1937
And the Academy selected:
  • Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth
  • Greta Garbo in Camille
  • Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born
  • Luise Rainer in The Good Earth
  • Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1962: My Ranking

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5. Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?"
- Bette Davis often overacts her way through the part, but she is still able to make the most of it, delivering a campy, yet realistic performance.

4. Lee Remick in "Days Of Wine and Roses"
- Lee Remick does an amazing job at working with the material, always showing the strong vulnerability of her character. It's a touching performance that never fails to make an impact.

3. Katharine Hepburn in "Long Day's Journey Into Night"
- Katharine Hepburn takes the essential role of Mary Tyrone and makes the most of it & more. She is nothing short of amazing in her characterization and brings the part from the script alive on the screen.

2. Geraldine Page in "Sweet Bird Of Youth"
- Cast against type, Geraldine Page is beautifully gazed on screen. It's a difficult role to accomplish, but she manages to do it with precision and entertainment.

1. Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker"
- Anne Bancroft matches Patty Duke in every way, I could feel the determination for accomplishment throughout her performance, causing this to be one powerful performance.


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Honorable Omissions: None.

Lee Remick in "Days Of Wine and Roses"

Lee Remick received her only Oscar nomination for playing Kirsten Arnesen in Days Of Wine and Roses.

Days Of Wine and Roses may not exactly be a gritty depiction of alcoholism, but it certainly is one that should be admired. What starts a little corny, ends up being a thoughtful and even realistic tale of alcoholism and how it destroys lives, not just the victim himself. A very successful public relations manager who has a very bad drinking problem, meets a sweet, delicate woman who he falls madly in love with. They marry, but she stands in the way of his drinking, so under unfortunate circumstances, he introduces her to drinking.

Lee Remick has a huge character arc to discover. Kirsten starts out as a very insecure secretary, she initially rejects Joe, but she quickly falls fast for his wicked charm. In the beginning, we see a very delicate woman, who has likes to have fun and be made felt special. She has an odd addiction for chocolate, and Joe sees right through this - he introduces her to a special drink that mixes brandy with chocolate. Remick has a fascinating beauty that helps in the beginning - she's not frumpy, but she's not the special person she wants to be.

As Kirsten becomes more of an addict, Lee Remick successfully carries herself wonderfully. When Jack Lemmon and Remick are having funny, drunken conversations with each other, there is this overall sour mood in the film. These people are not having a good time, they are pathetic. Remick shows so many shades of pain throughout her character, including an overall desire for Joe to accept her.

Painful in many ways and subtlety showy without having to reduce to hysterics, Lee Remick is haunting and terrific in a difficult role. She has to successfully carry her arc from delicate secretary to pathetic drunk, even with a twist of romance in between.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Geraldine Page in "Sweet Bird Of Youth"

Geraldine Page received her third Oscar nomination for playing Alexandra Del Lago in Sweet Bird Of Youth.

Sweet Bird Of Youth is a magnificent work of Tennessee Williams. It is delicious in detail and beautiful in storytelling. The story of a self-professed gigolo who makes his way back to his hometown. While courting the most powerful man in town's daughter, he brings with him a faded movie actress who dreams of her past. What follows is an unbelievable tale that only Williams could have concocted.

Geraldine Page seems like an odd choice to play a sexy actress. It's amazing how much sex appeal she does bring to the performance, and wisely downplays it because Alexandra is a filthy person, who spends most of her time in a drunken stopper. The main character, Chance, is just using Alexandra to get further ahead in her newly found acting career. She never realizes this, so what follows is a vain attempt to please Chance. Page magnificently reaches for the stars with Alexandra - a perfect mix between drama and even humor.

She makes this character so sympathetic, yet in many ways, unlikeable. She's running away from everything, until she finally has no idea what her next move will be. Geraldine Page makes her so incredibly interesting and irresistible on screen, that we can never forget about her when the movie goes on focusing on Chance. It is over the top in many ways, but then again, isn't Alexandra? Doesn't she know she has an off the wall personality and she will do anything to feel special again?

Geraldine Page excels in terrific material. She successfully manages to get her character's intentions, fears, and needs across to the audience without making it all over the top.

Katharine Hepburn in "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

Katharine Hepburn received her tenth Oscar nomination for playing Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Although I think the play itself is an incredible piece of work, the film version of Long Day's Journey Into Night is terrible. The film feels like a play, instead of feeling like a movie - and the acting from the cast ranges from horrible to outright laughable, Ralph Richardson in particular. The famous story centers around a dysfunctional family: a forgotten actor, a sick son, an alcoholic son, and a drug addicted mother. Together, they fight and argue about their failed dreams and their hopeless future.

Mary Tyrone is certainly a character an actress has to handle delicately. She is on the edge of sanity, yet is still mentally competent - it could easily be over the top or ridiculous. What better actress could bring that vulnerability of surrealism to Mary then Katharine Hepburn? Actually, in my opinion, Mary isn't that showy of a part - a brilliantly written one, but not one that makes you go immediately to her. Yet, Hepburn makes her irresistibly pathetic. We can't pity her, and even at points in the film, Kate injects terror into Mary, making her a very frightening woman.

Katharine Hepburn is a force on screen. She knows how to play the character since so many had before, yet she brought a real "spark" to the role that makes her unforgettable and relentless. In a way, it feels like a dream - she makes her character's own problem a problem with the audience. It's unfortunate how much the film brings her down in parts, not to mention her fellow actors, but it still doesn't matter. Hepburn is amazing in a very difficult part, that required her to shed every sense of stardom she may have ever had. When we see her play the piano and fantasize, you can feel her pain, her misery, her needs, and her dreams.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker"

Anne Bancroft won the Oscar for playing Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker.

The Miracle Worker is a fantastic film that doesn't feel stagy or slow - it's almost a miracle because most stage plays fail on the big screen. I think what makes the film work so much is how much of a "movie" it is, the scenes pop and the performances are largely physical. The story of how Helen Keller was able to learn how to function as a person, all thanks to a determined and strong willed teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Anne Bancroft almost seems like a perfect choice for the role, yet it's still uncanny how much she took away from her later performances. Annie is a woman who herself has survived eye sight problems and wants badly to teach people how much they can learn while being blind. There is so much determination to be felt in the character of Annie. We feel her need to help Helen, yet Bancroft also layers Annie with her own pain and problems. We see how much she herself needs to be accepted and how much pain she has experienced.

Anne Bancroft never once lets Patty Duke overshadow her, they both work wonders together, and their chemistry on screen made for some intense and realistic fight scenes. While the performance of Patty Duke is much more interesting, it's Anne Bancroft's performance where we see true emotional vulnerability. She is haunted by her past and when she describes incidents in her past, Bancroft invests so much into these scenes, it's unbelievable how hard she is acting, when she had already played this character many times on the screen.

She is amazing at how much she does and when the camera really takes notice of her, she sells the character of Annie for everything she is worth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Life Is Complete.

"To Sage - May I continue to inspire. Glenda Jackson"

So, London was fantastic - besides having the time of my life, I also completed my mission: I met GLENDA JACKSON. The public was not allowed to take pictures with her, but she did autograph the picture above for me, as well as talking to me for about 2 minutes. I thought I handled it well, all things considered; I told her she was my favorite actress and went on and on about how fantastic of an actress she was and an ever better politician (frankly, I have no idea what she stands for, but I wanted to let her know I love her all around). She told me she loved that her film roles are she still being remembered and discussed. I asked her was her opinion on the Oscars still the same and she replied yes, she never thought highly of them and felt bad that she actually received two. I quickly hugged her and she whisked away into her office. So, take this off of my list to things to do in my life.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bette Davis in "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?"

Bette Davis received her last Oscar nomination for playing Baby Jane Hudson in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

Even though Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is entertaining and slightly campy, I wasn't impressed with the film as a whole. Besides being very boring in some parts, the whole atmosphere of camp is running so rapid in the whole production. From the very time Davis starts torturing Crawford, the seriousness of the work is never relevant, and yet I always wanted it to be. But this story of a faded star who takes care of her much more famous sister when she becomes crippled is still very much alot of fun.

Of course, it's Bette Davis who got the much more interesting part. Jane is actually a much more complex character then one might think. She is haunted by the memories of her childhood, when she was really "somebody". Unfortunately, the film doesn't want to dig deep into the complexities of Jane, instead we are given a woman full of hatred for her sister and is slowly loosing it. Bette Davis does her damn best to try and capture something in Jane, and in part, she does.

For all the silliness of the performance, she gets that down fine. But, is that it? A few scattered brilliant moments are realized by Davis, like the ending, the payoff of her performance is terrific. But, still there there is that overall mix of drama, horror, and borderline comedy that just doesn't work for me. I'll admit the shining moments of Bette Davis's performance are extremely terrific, she really nails her biggest moments. And I can surely see how this performance can attract it's fans, but alas, I'm not one of them. But, there is at least something left to admire in it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1962

Due to a blogger error, here we go again:

1962
And the Academy selected:
  • Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker
  • Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • Katharine Hepburn in Long Day's Journey Into Night
  • Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird Of Youth
  • Lee Remick in Days Of Wine and Roses
So, will I agree with the Academy or name someone else the best of 1962?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1985: My Ranking

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5. Anne Bancroft in "Agnes Of God"
- Anne Bancroft does a whole lot more with her character then what's at first glance. She is terrific at giving a warm, yet frigid performance.

4. Meryl Streep in "Out Of Africa"
- Meryl Streep is a bit uninteresting, but the best thing about Out Of Africa. She is not annoying with her accent and successfully manages to make her character stand out against the exterior of Africa.

3. Whoopi Goldberg in "The Color Purple"
- Whoopi Goldberg is delightful and heartwarming all at once. She is powerful on-screen, never making a misstep any step of the way.

2. Jessica Lange in "Sweet Dreams"
- Jessica Lange is perfect here - investing so much charisma and life into Patsy Cline. It really doesn't matter she lipsynced because she makes up for it for her powerful characterization.

1. Geraldine Page in "The Trip To Bountiful"
- Geraldine Page is simply devastating in a simple, yet feelingly powerful performance that she projects on screen wonderfully. Her performance is a masterpiece; sometimes humorous, always entertaining, and always haunting.

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Honorable Omissions: Cher in "Mask"

Meryl Streep in "Out Of Africa"

Meryl Streep received her sixth Oscar nomination for playing Karen Blixen in Out Of Africa.

Out Of Africa is a long, tedious film, that I personally have never cared for. It has some amazing cinematography the beautifully captures Africa, but besides that, there's nothing for me to ecstatically write about. The story is fine, if a little uninteresting, and the cast is average, especially Robert Redford, who I think was miscast.

Meryl Streep plays Karen Blixen, a Danish writer. She is a wealthy woman, controlling a coffee plantation with her husband in Africa. Her husband is constantly being away from her, so she takes it upon herself to do her own thing while in Africa, which is when she meets an English hunter (Redford), and soon a secret romance develops.

Meryl Streep steps foot in this movie, and starts acting up a storm. Karen is not a self conscious or depressed woman, rather just anxious to find something more in her life, which is why the affair starts up. So, Streep plays Karen in a different way, high strong. She seems like a woman you don't want to be around at all, and even wonder why Robert Redford would want to be with her. But, I will grant Streep doesn't go all ballistic with Karen's abrasive personality.

Most people quote Steep's accent as being horrible and incorrect. Well, personally, I don't know what a supposed German-Danish accent sounds like, so it didn't bother me. People should be attacking Robert Redford for not even making an attempt at an English accent. What bothers me most about Meryl Streep's performance is how uninteresting it is. Still, it's a nice effort and probably the only reason to see this film.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jessica Lange in "Sweet Dreams"

Jessica Lange received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing legendary country singer Patsy Cline, in Sweet Dreams.

Sweet Dreams is better then most make it out to be, but I've heard it's very fictitious in it's depiction of Patsy Cline, her career and marriage. Instead of really focusing on her short, but fantastic music career, the film chose to follow her rocky marriage. The movie, really is somewhat standard, but the writing is surprisingly good, and of course, Ed Harris and especially Jessica Lange, bring it to life.

Patsy Cline was a country singer who really hit it big in a short period of time. She burst onto the country music scene with her big, distinctive voice that set her apart from every singer in her time. She was outspoken, but good hearted, and continued to bring her country values to her music and life. Her life became painful once she married Charlie, and the film, more or less, focuses too much on their relationship, but still this is her life story, and he played a huge part in it.

To put it quite simply, Jessica Lange is terrific as Patsy Cline. It's extremely hard to get a biographical performance just right, sometimes it the appearance, sometimes it the sound, and amazingly, Lange has neither of those. First of all, Jessica Lange bares a resemblance of Patsy Cline, but doesn't really look like her that much. And second, Lange lips syncs to all of Cline's music. But, amazingly, it doesn't matter, it all seems very natural and real. It's all emotions here with Jessica Lange. Patsy is so feisty and lovable, you never get the feeling you are watching someone imitate Patsy Cline. And her constant arguing with Ed Harris is never over the top with either actors.

Even though there are things working against Jessica Lange here, she is still able to turn in a fantastic performance that really shows the multifaceted personality of Patsy Cline. She gives a performance that even border on tour-de-force as the bold, argumentative Cline. But, she never looses the fact that through it all, it was her music that she loved and escaped too. A really great performance!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Anne Bancroft in "Agnes Of God"

Anne Bancroft received her last Oscar nomination for playing Mother Miriam Ruth in Agnes Of God.

Agnes Of God is a confusing, yet interesting film about a dead baby being found in a convent. A young nun is the mother, but the hateful Mother Superior Ruth doesn't want anyone to question her, especially when a nosy Jane Fonda shows up to find out how the baby died.

Anne Bancroft plays the Mother Superior of the convent. She is domineering and overbearing, but Bancroft throughout the movie is able to show more and more emotions from her. Like a warmness and humor that shines, it's all on perfect display here by Bancroft. Especially when we learn the secrets of Mother Superior and why she has become a nun.

It's somewhat easy to see how Anne Bancroft was nominated instead of Jane Fonda for this film. Bancroft injects so much personality and bitterness in Mother Superior, that it's more then likely her, that will be on your mind after it's over. And her chemistry with Jane Fonda is fantastic. The two argue or disagree throughout the movie, yet in a way, they rely on each other for some answers. There's always something beneath the performance that Bancroft tries consistently to hide, until finally, she get's to reveal it, and it's a great moment.

This role begs for someone to overact, yet Bancroft holds her down, and let's the Mother grow on the screen, letting her own emotions evoke the change in her. A good performance done right, but I kept asking myself how come there wasn't alot more of it? Still, Anne Bancroft is able to do alot with Mother Superior, and I commend her for not making it a total cliche.


Whoopi Goldberg in "The Color Purple"

Whoopi Goldberg received her first Oscar nomination for playing Celie Johnson in The Color Purple.

The Color Purple is surely a great film. Hugely watchable, and well put together by Steven Spielberg. I'm surprised at critics who call it overly sentimental, since it follows the book very closely, and the book doesn't go for the cheesy sentimentality that the critics accuse the movie of. It follows Celie, a woman who has always had it rough, and only seems to find peace when she's around her sister. Once she is married off to a much older and abusive man, known only as Mister. The cast of the movie is good, I think, but it really belongs to one person, Whoopi Goldberg.

Celie is a quiet woman, therefore Whoopi has to always be either quiet or an onlooker to the tough situations that seems to grow around her life. She wants love, and finds it in strange ways with many different people, including her husband's mistress. But, what strikes me most about Whoopi's performance, is how lovable she made Celie. A woman you deeply feel sorry for, but will know one day she will finally snap and leave (which she does). It's great to see an abused, but smart woman finally try to take some control over her life, after all this time, not knowing what to do.

Whoopi also gets the joyful side of Celie perfectly down. Through all the hardships Celie went through, she always found some escape from Mister, and Whoopi feels this insecure spirit that keeps driving Celie throughout the movie. It's hard to believe, but this was Whoopi's first time acting, and well, it never shows that she was inexperienced. The role was really meant for her, as I couldn't see anyone else bringing both Celie's dark and bright side to the screen the way she did. A wonderfully effective performance that drives the film with it's beauty of life message.