Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Meryl Streep in "Postcards From The Edge"

Meryl Streep received her ninth Oscar nomination for playing Suzanne Vale in Postcards From The Edge.

Postcards From The Edge is the kind of comedy you wish every comedy could be. It's smart, touching, and realistic without having to reduce itself to mind numbing dribble that has no point or substance. It's also great to have two actresses who knew exactly how to handle their characters without dumbing them down. The story of a former drug-addicted actress who is forced to stay with her mother after she is released from rehab. She attempts to make a new movie as well as strengthening her relationships with her mother.

Meryl Streep plays Suzanne Vale, the coping actress. She is witty, tired, yet ready for her life to begin again - all the problems she has had with substance abuse can be traced back to her mother. She is not really stable, but knows how to handle herself, whether it be with drugs or not. To put it quite simply, Meryl Streep is wonderful in the part. She can deliver all the witty one liners with ease and the many, many hilarious wry moments perfectly. Of course since this is Streep, all those dramatic moments are just as good - finding the perfect balance between being funny and being touching.

It's amazing how wonderful and entertaining Meryl Streep in Postcards. She's always been an actress who could show her range with comedy perfectly, but here, something is different. It's almost like she's not even trying to be as touching as she is. She looks effortless, no matter if she is arguing with Shirley MacLaine or throwing sarcastic lines at the audience. She can be romantic, funny, or even hurtful - a magnificent performance.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kathy Bates in "Misery"

Kathy Bates won the Oscar for playing Annie Wilkes in Misery.

Misery overall could be a much better film - the combination of humor and horror is sometimes way too over-handed. But, had it not been for the performance of Kathy Bates, the film surely would have become very messy. The story of a writer who finds himself trapped in the house of his number one fan, a psychotic woman who lives for his writing of a fictional character, Misery. Only Stephan King could think of such a overwhelming female character.

Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes, the crazed fan. What she establishes perfectly at first is how lovable and seemingly caring Annie is, with her truck driver looks and desperate attempt to make a connection to the author are both startling and amazing. Annie is of course always a mysterious figure, we really don't know who she really is until she has huge outbursts of anger. Bates finds the incredibly right balance of being over the top with her screaming and wide eyes.

What's even more extraordinary about the performance is how well she handles the quiet moments of despair Annie has. Like her talk with Paul at night, Bates knows exactly how to play the character without having any hidden agenda to surprise the audience with. She knows how to be malicious without being a faceless evil. She knows how to be sweet, without being totally innocent. What Kathy Bates does is create a fascinating, entertaining performance that doesn't play on the cliches that could have easily engulfed her. It's a terrific piece of work that needs no spirit to help it along.

Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman"

Julia Roberts received her second Oscar nomination for playing Vivien Ward in Pretty Woman.

Pretty Woman may have audiences all around the world under it's spell, but I certainly not a fan of such an oblivious look at prostitution. Sure, it's good to suspend belief and enjoy the romance that suddenly springs out of the two characters. However, the romance is hardly believable, even to the average viewer. It's easy to see why Ken Russell made "Whore" one year later with Theresa Russell to show how real prostitution is. But, I digress - Pretty Woman is the story of a wealthy businessman who hires a prostitute for one night - however the two soon become infatuated with either, and he fulfills her Cinderella story.

Julia Roberts plays Vivien, the sassy call-girl with a heart of gold. She has no past, loves romance and her dignity, and likes being apart of Richard Gere's social society. She is scoffed at for not being "refined" but doesn't care what anyone says. For a fairytale film like Pretty Woman, it's appropriate Julia Roberts played the part with absolutely zero credibility. Vivien is a healthy hooker, no diseases, doesn't have a drug/alcohol/addiction problem, doesn't even have a pimp (how exactly does she get work in LA?) and Roberts isn't a beautiful woman, but certainly looks too good to be a convincing hooker.

It's not just the lack of credibility that hurts Roberts' performance. She injects her usual annoying style within the character that makes her a plastic robot who tries to turn every line into a charming classic. It doesn't work for me - it's not natural or even funny. Even when Vivien is able to show her strong, smart mind to the upper-crust society, Roberts blows it by trying to show some kind of Acting 101 vulnerability she never knows how to handle. Overall, Roberts' nomination here is just as disappointing and terrible as her nomination for Erin Brockovich. Just like in that film, she tries many things and acting choices & never knows how to fulfill them completely. She has no charm for a romantic comedy, just an annoyance that lasts and lasts.

Joanne Woodward in "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge"

Joanne Woodward received her last Oscar nomination for playing India Bridge in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge is a horribly slow film that is dreadful to watch. What starts out as a standard look at families in a classic society turns into a never-ending, talky, unrealistic look at America's changing morals. The story of a family; an inexpressive husband, an unsatisfied mother, and their three kids, all different in many ways. The husband is the kind of person you would love to just slap for being stubborn and the wife is the kind of person you would love to slap for not standing up for herself and living her own life.

Joanne Woodward plays India, the wife - she is cheerful, loves to please her family, and likes being apart of the conservative social circle. However, she is becoming completely engrossed with middle aged angst that has developed from not being able to do anything with her life. He treats her very badly - he's not abusing, but he is a cold, uninvolved man and she wants much more from him. She is simply going through the motions and begins to contemplate what her life could be if she took more chances.

Joanne Woodward is simply the only watchable thing about Mr. and Mrs. Bridge - since Paul Newman plays a terrible character and in a very boring banner, it's up to her to make this thing completely believable. She adds alot of characterization and life into the character - but she can't save herself, unfortunately. She is just as dull as her movie and the only times she really gets a chance to shine is when she does something completely unexpected. When the character becomes a bit eccentric, it's surprising and watchable. But, it takes alot to sit and watch it regardless, she has the chemistry with Paul Newman, but they feel strange together here. It's an interesting performance, no doubt - the repressed housewife can be a good role for any great actress, but she needed a better movie and alot more enthusiasm for her part.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1990

Moving right along to another year:

1990
And the Academy selected:
  • Kathy Bates in Misery
  • Anjelica Huston in The Grifters
  • Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
  • Meryl Streep in Postcards From The Edge
  • Joanne Woodward in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1940: My Ranking

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5. Martha Scott in "Our Town"
- Our Town wasn't meant to come to the screen, and Scott's boring, unimpressive portrayal makes her nomination a head scratcher for the ages. One final scene only validates it, but even I don't get the sentimental.

4. Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story"
- Honestly, there's nothing wrong with Hepburn's performance, it's just not a great performance in my opinion. She is charming enough to carry it, but not enough to make me enchanted by her.

3. Bette Davis in "The Letter"
- Stunning, she is really at her most iconic here and it shows. It's almost as if she knows she is becoming a legend and how she shined on screen. She carries The Letter into a whole other world...

2. Ginger Rogers in "Kitty Foyle"
- It's a pretty frowned upon win, but I think Ginger Rogers is wonderful in Kitty Foyle. She has sentimentality on her side, but it's not Martha Scott bad. She knows the right mix of making her character seem just like a real person.

1. Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca"
- And Fontaine wins with only a little competition from Rogers. She is extremely perfect in probably the hardest role to get right - she is luminious on-screen, showing the intense desperation and fear her character has at the same time as her love for her awful husband keeps growing. Incredible work.


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Honorable Omissions:

Bette Davis in "The Letter"

Bette Davis received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Leslie Crosbie in The Letter.

The Letter has always been a very simple story, yet is always electrified by it's leading ladies. This version is stunning - the black and white cinematography combined with the overall sinister atmosphere that lingers over the film is magnificent. The story of a wife of a rubber plantation owner in Singapore who shoots a popular British man one night and claims she did it in self-defense. The film can definitely drag down as the film progresses, but at the end, it is a totally satisfying experience.

Bette Davis plays the woman, Leslie Crosbie - a determined, sensual, and fierce wife. Leslie can manipulate anyone around her with her beautiful intense looks. Bette Davis and her eyes do wonders immediately in The Letter - as soon as that opening scene comes on, the audience is fascinated already. There is alot of mystery surrounding the character and Davis really holds that mystery for the majority of the story. Only when her character has to confess and finally let all of her secrets out, do we finally get a real idea of who this Leslie really is.

There is alot of over the top moments that Davis has, but in many ways it suits the story and film perfectly. A genius at this kind of acting, Bette Davis could easily nail this - it's a little off putting, but the character herself is so vamped and off the wall that all of that shaking and loud monologues, it all becomes incredibly fitting and even subtle. Overall it's another fantastic performance from Bette Davis, full of passion and vitality.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca"

Joan Fontaine received her first Oscar nomination for playing The Second Mrs. De Winter in Rebecca.

Rebecca is truly a terrific film - I'll admit there is some flaws, and the story can get really tiresome after awhile, but it is still terrific all the same. The cinematography and design of the film are breathtaking, it really shows off the incredible quality of black and white. The story of a naive, very insecure woman who falls in love with the rich and charming Maxim De Winter and are quickly married. She finds herself entranced by his world including a mansion called "Manderlay", however the entire household seems still be mourning strangely over the death of Maxim's first wife, Rebecca. Slowly, she begins to go mad, failing to live up to Rebecca's legacy.

Joan Fontaine plays a character without a name, all we know her as is the second Mrs. De Winter. This makes the character much more pathetic, or a better word would empathetic. She is very shaky, very unknowing, very shy and insecure about herself & not at all charming. However, she is desperate to be accepted by everyone, no matter what. She is pretty, but not the stunner and all around incredible person Rebecca was, and she knows all of this, including the fact her husband is still very much attracted to his dead wife.

Joan Fontaine is absolutely incredible in the role. She never plays on the sympathy of the audience who see her hopes and dreams become a harsh reality when she fails to communicate with the rich society and Rebecca's memory. She has so many opportunities to overact and meets those expectations with subtlety and surprising depth. She becomes a movie heroine when she finally decides to start for her husband's affection, everything becomes much more tense and wonderfully played out as Fontaine starts to grow more and more. It's a challenging, bright & dark, lovely performance that rewards the viewer at the end. Joan Fontaine creates a character just as mysterious as Rebecca, but lets us know exactly what is going on inside her head. A brilliant performance.

Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story"

Katharine Hepburn received her third Oscar nomination for playing Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story.

The Philadelphia Story is a classic, however I'm not that fond of it. This kind of comedy can work if the charm is not forced into the viewer's faces and for me, it was like being slapped continuously very slowly. I can see how people love it, but I'm simply not one of them. The story of a spoiled heiress who finds herself torn between three men - her past love, her present love, and a considerate love.

Katharine Hepburn plays the spoiled and witty Tracy Lord. She is a bit arrogant of her riches and seems to make a show of herself. She has a direct point and will do anything to get her point across - a woman not to be messed with basically. All the men fawn over her, even if they resent her, like her ex-husband. Hepburn is able to play the most obvious aspects of Tracy with ease, however to me, she sticks to one note. She finds the balance of dedicated and arrogant woman & sticks with it. There's no in between the character.

This is probably Kate's most iconic role, yet in many ways, in one of my least favorites. To see the screwball, battle of the sexes comedy go from point A to point B and Hepburn's performance never feels realistic. Sure, she nails those sarcastic one liners easily, having already established herself on the stage with this character, it's easy to see how much she knew how to handle Tracy. But, still The Philadelphia Story never lets the characters develop, only worrying about their next punchline. Hepburn obviously knew this and decided to throw herself more emotionally into the character offering a few terrific moments. But again, I don't really understand what always keeps me from completely praising the performance.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Martha Scott in "Our Town"

Martha Scott received her only Oscar nomination for playing Emily Webb in Our Town.

Our Town was not meant to be a film - it's as simple as that. Having seen the play played out on the stage, it's not exactly a magnificent piece either. It's a very, very, very boring story that is obviously from another time and has the values of a Amish community. Focusing on various aspects of a town and with a narrator who makes sleeping look good, Our Town is nothing to be proud of.

Martha Scott enters the story as Emily Webb, a part of two neighboring families. Considering the fact Scott is barely in the first hour of the film, it's surprising how she managed to cope an Oscar nomination for her performance. Even more bizarre is the performance itself. The story is jumping all over and Emily becomes involved with a dashing neighbor George - the two obviously fall in love very fast, so their is no development of their feelings or chemistry.

As soon as one might begin to question Martha Scott's Oscar nomination, her big juicy scene comes and all is explained. Alas, I didn't find the scene to even be satisfying, let alone giving the woman a nomination for her overall work. However, she does show how this performance could have been great had she (and the filmmakers) been more up to the challenge of the material. Still, barely playing romance and one strong, effecting scene at the end needn't be rewarded. She also benefits the romance is the most interesting thing about the film, but still, there is nothing of substance to extremely happy about.

Ginger Rogers in "Kitty Foyle"

Ginger Rogers won the Oscar for playing Kitty Foyle.

Kitty Foyle is an awful melodrama. It's the kind of film where the sentimental music is piped up to the extreme and the dialogue mostly feels like a Hallmark card. However, it is an interesting concept - a woman reflects on her past and how it will influence her future in a mirror image. She is basically caught in the situation of the girl from the wrong side of the tracks falling for the rich boy. Then at some point she becomes torn between a doctor who has long been after her.

Ginger Rogers playfully approaches the role of Kitty Foyle. Kitty is a character that beautifully proud of herself because her father had long taught her that she was just as good as everyone else. Her self-reliance and proud spirit often gets her into trouble, as well as her big mouth. Yet, Rogers is never annoying with this spirit. Thanks to her, the movie enters a whole level. She single handedly makes this mess work with her performance. The way she shows the character's arc from young dreamer who longs for that romance but puts up that front of not needing a man is terrific.

But, her best moments come when her character is really at her wit's end and has to defend herself and her actions. That annoying comedy personality that Rogers possessed in other films works wonders here - making the character of Kitty seem much more alive and human. It may be terribly melodramatic but that doesn't diminish the quality of her performance. It's a really wonderful performance that has the substance to be in a better film.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1940

Moving right along to another year:

1940
And the Academy selected:
  • Bette Davis in The Letter
  • Joan Fontaine in Rebecca
  • Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story
  • Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle
  • Martha Scott in Our Town