Sunday, July 31, 2011

Susan Hayward in "I Want To Live!"

Susan Hayward won the Oscar for playing Barbara Graham in I Want To Live!

I Want To Live! is a magnificent film that I just love - the shady black and white exterior of the jazzy nights of the 1950s are so brilliantly mastered in the film. It actually takes you back to the 50s better then most movies do then most films of the same time tried to do. The true story of real life murderess Barbara Graham who helped assist the murder of a old woman - in reality, Graham was guilty, but in the film, she is largely portrayed as being innocent. The journey of her life as wild woman to desperate prisoner is fantastic.

Susan Hayward plays Graham - she is at first a regular gangster's moll in a world full of jazz music and bongo dancing. Hayward is so incredible in the beginning, yes, she may look way older then her friends but Susan Hayward is the kind of actress who can make this kind of exaggerated acting a thing of mastery. Barbara is in many ways, just a prostitute who falls in with the wrong crowd...if that makes sense. Going from what the movie wants us to believe, she is totally innocent, just associated with the killers, so going on that, Hayward is completely captivating conveying Barbara's innocence.

But, her high point is really when Barbara finally realizes her reality while in jail - she becomes a desperate woman, unleashing all of her anger and frustration onto everyone at any cost. The final moments of Barbara waiting for a call for her execution is the best moments of Hayward's entire career. She took a shrill, extremely unlikeable character (in many different ways) and made her completely engaging with the audience. She can be fun, sad, challenging, terribly loud - but at the end, we fill for her. It's a magnificently brilliant performance that Susan Hayward carries with all the qualities that were exactly required.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Deborah Kerr in "Separate Tables"

Deborah Kerr received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Sibyl Railton-Bell in Separate Tables.

Separate Tables could easily be all over the place, dry, uninvolved, but instead it is a terrific, even wonderfully entertaining movie about discovery, romance, and betrayal at a sea-side English hotel. The film is luminous because it feels like the breeze that continually flows through the hotel, it's never stuffy and always feels fresh. It's an ensemble piece where all the actors have the chance to show something of their character.

Deborah Kerr plays Sibyl Railton-Bell, the repressed, virginal and incredibly depressed daughter of a fancy domineering woman. Deborah Kerr has never been an actress who has been able to impress me, even in her fanatical turn in Black Narcissus, she is way too controlled for her own good. Here she plays the always interesting and even showy role of an extremely lonely spinster who is tries to reach out to an odd major played by David Niven. Her mother Gladys Cooper warns him to stay away and tries to smear his reputation.

As with every Deborah Kerr, I have found to expect either shrill overacting or bad underacting - here she perhaps go her further then ever at overplaying constantly. We know Sibyl is a repressed character and doesn't know exactly how to handle herself in public, but Kerr almost constantly makes her edgy, like she's about to jump up and down and start crying. This type of character (repressed and lonely spinster) is appealing to me, but it's Deborah Kerr who makes her too much to handle. While all the other actors have quite impressive scenes that show off their abilities, Kerr spoils hers by never ringing true. I really don't know overall what to make of it, as Kerr never impresses me, but here it's sort of just pathetic that something didn't work out.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rosalind Russell in "Auntie Mame"

Rosalind Russell received her last Oscar nomination for playing Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame.

I would go as far as saying you really have to have a taste for this kind of witty screwball comedy (if their is such a thing) to fully appreciate Auntie Mame. Having been established on the stage, it's painfully obvious here on the screen - every actor lives for a one-liner, at every turn, everyone is wisecracking and sorry to all the fans out there, I don't like it. The story follows a woman and her nephew from the 20s up through the depression, as she tries to show him the more zany side of life.

Rosalind Russell plays the eccentric Auntie Mame Dennis - she is truly the definition of eccentric. She does things suddenly and without hesitation, she is popular and charming, she likes to be the center of attention but never an annoyance. She is always happy, maybe sometimes shows disappointment, but is always looking for the bright side of any cloud. The character is just too perfect, and that's exactly the point - Mame is looked at as a inspiration for everyone around her. The problem for me is it's too much - Russell makes the fatal mistake of not transitioning her stage acting to film acting.

She is constantly overplaying the eccentricity of the character, and again, for the film it somehow fits perfectly, but that doesn't mean it's impressive. Also, the hilarity of the character is just strange - Russell follows this really perfectly, giving a strange, stagy performance that relies on the viewer to make up their mind on how they will react to her shenanigans and shallow performance. A bright moment here and there can barely save her.

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1958

The last year of the 50s:

1958
And the Academy selected:
  • Susan Hayward in I Want To Live!
  • Deborah Kerr in Separate Tables
  • Shirley MacLaine in Some Came Running
  • Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame
  • Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Actress In A Leading Role" 1986: My Ranking

---
5. Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens"
- It's a popular performance and widely praised, and it's one of the few widely praised performances that I see nothing in. She takes the part and adds a touch of clarity of it, but that alone isn't something I see worthy of an Oscar.

4. Jane Fonda in "The Morning After"
- Jane Fonda takes the awful material and turns it into her own great vehicle. She turns in a great performance that shows her ability to turn anything into gold.

3. Sissy Spacek in "Crimes Of The Heart"
- Sissy Spacek is a genius at her craft, I've said it once and I'll say it again. She is the standout of the cast (at least for me) and finds the witty balance between comedy and drama.

2. Kathleen Turner in "Peggy Sue Got Married"
- It's a hard performance to judge because on one hand she has alot going against her, the material in general, but Turner is to wonderful to not praise. Her performance is like a sweet candy that never gets old.

1. Marlee Matlin in "Children Of A Lesser God"
- She stands out this year for her loud, yet quiet performance that lasts long after the film is over. Her chemistry with William Hurt, her way of communicating herself on screen, and her overall effect makes her the true standout of this group.


---
Honorable Omissions: Farrah Fawcett in "Extremities".

Jane Fonda in "The Morning After"

Jane Fonda received her last Oscar nomination for playing Alex Sternburgen in The Morning After.

Everything you have heard about The Morning After...is true. The film is full of plotholes and dialogue that can easily become exhausting - you really have to keep up with it or it will completely loose you with the murder mystery story. A messy, sloppy, alcoholic actress wakes up in an unknown man's apartment and realizes the man has been stabbed to death. Not knowing what happened, she flees but it's only a matter of time before things start to change and she could be the next to die.

Jane Fonda plays the boozy actress Alex Sternburgen - she is beautiful, despite her visceral alcohol problem. We don't get much of a backstory besides that, but once the film is set into motion, it doesn't matter that much because Fonda plays the best of her character; her nervousness, her worries, her charming personality that still exists even though she has many troubles - she does a perfect job of establishes a real person. Alex is so unsure of everything, except she knows she couldn't have killed the man - it's not in her nature, as she says.

Fonda knows how exactly to play the character without going over the top which could have been very easy with a stereotypical character like this. Instead she plays the shabbiness in a much more subtle way, never taking it over the line of it being unbelievable. She plays the charm of Alex in a much more over the top way, yet it all works - obviously she knows what to do with her character, but Jane Fonda turns Alex into a three dimensional character; a character you can relate too easily, not some prime and proper diva who has a drinking problem, she takes it way beyond that. Her performance is terrific in how well she manages to overcome the limitations of The Morning After and actually give a magnificent performance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens"

Sigourney Weaver received her first Oscar nomination for playing Ellen Ripley in Aliens.

Aliens is certainly a surprising film to see an Oscar-nominated performance coming from. It's certainly interesting and certainly entertaining, but Aliens is not the type of movie I am impressed by. It has all the great qualities of a good sci-fi film, but it's hardly something to consider for many awards. A simple story of the survivor of the original Alien, who goes back on the planet where her ship was attacked by unknown lifeforms. Soon, the same ole routine is set into motion and Ripley is stuck on board with a young girl who may or may not be real.

Sigourney Weaver plays her original character Ellen Ripley - she is a strong, intelligent, fierce woman who knows everything she needs to know and then some. Weaver immediately mixes Ripley with a combination of space feminist and sarcasm. It's an odd mix because in a science fiction thriller/horror film you don't expect to see such a character who can turn a one-liner into gold while someone is being murdered by an alien. Weaver holds a steady line throughout - having played the character already, she has her own previous experience to go on. However, it is hardly impressive.

It's more of a popular performance to like - I'm not one of them. I like tough ladies as much as the next person, but when you constantly play up tough without any hesitation and never a doubt of anything other then how she can handle the screen with a fierce superiority. Ripley is already a character who knows everything, so why does everyone doubt her? Still some kind of female prejudice in the distant future, especially considering she's someone who has already been through something like this before. Overall, Sigourney Weaver is okay at playing the tough side of Ripley, and she can be entertaining with her 'bitch' one liners, but other then the performance does not impress me.

Kathleen Turner in "Peggy Sue Got Married"

Kathleen Turner received her first Oscar nomination for playing Peggy Sue in Peggy Sue Got Married.

Peggy Sue Got Married tries it's best to coast on it's fascinating concept - a woman is transported to her high school days just as she is about to face a long needed divorce. It really doesn't have too because the film is fine on it's own right, becoming a great creation of fantasy and warmhearted drama & comedy that makes the film entertaining. With the exception of Nicholas Cage, the film is almost perfect - making a lasting impression.

Kathleen Turner plays the title character, Peggy Sue. Even though she was very young and still very sexy at the time of the filmmaking, Turner is wonderful as the 40ish wife who is exhausted by her husband. He is annoying and cannot connect to her at all, and she is finally tired of all his crap. But, the entire performance builds up to the excellence of the flashbacks where Peggy Sue gets to go back and live out her high school days again - a chance to change her life so she won't have to suffer such an exhausting existence later in her life.

What's so wonderful about her performance is how Kathleen Turner can hit comedy just as well as drama - she can be funny, sad, hopeful, everything you could want. When she has a touching moment, it's all believable; no matter what my previous statements were, Peggy Sue Got Married wouldn't work had Kathleen Turner not been up to the challenge of such challenging material that requires her to be extremely charming, but not annoying. And unbelievably, she fills Peggy Sue with it all - there's never a moment where I was unimpressed with her choices, her husky voice seems extremely odd for a teenager but she thankfully makes up excuses for her voice being so withered. Overall this is a great, enjoyable performance full of life, fantasy, dreams, hope, comedy, and unbelievable wit. An impressive performance all around.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sissy Spacek in "Crimes Of The Heart"

Sissy Spacek received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Babe Magrath in Crimes Of The Heart.

Crimes Of The Heart certainly has a way with annoying it's viewer endlessly with enough Southern values to drive them crazy however it's still a charming piece of work. With the help of three of the great actresses of that era, the film becomes better then one might expect. It is annoying and mostly full of over the top dialogue, but still there is a charm about it that keeps the viewer engaged in the story. The story of three sisters: the oldest sister who is turning into an old maid, the middle sister who has tried to make it in Hollywood, and the youngest sister who has just shot her abusive husband.

Sissy Spacek plays the youngest sister, Babe Magrath. She is a mostly kooky character who suffers from a facade of eccentricity that she uses to hide her real loneliness. When she shoots her husband, it's a moment of relief and tension - as she offers him lemonade basically right after trying to kill him. Sissy Spacek decides to make Babe kooky, but not crazy, always aware of her situation and her relationships with her sisters. They all love each other, but like all siblings, it takes them awhile to actually show it.

Babe is such a character on her own, Sissy Spacek really just has to find the perfect balance of black comedy to hold throughout her performance. Her random craziness is really just her own way of dealing with her own insecurity and self-loathing that forever haunted the girls' mother. Spacek's performance isn't necessarily funny, it's more of a charming performance that she tries many things with. Sissy Spacek gives a nice, illuminating performance the fills the screen with eccentric and electricity - she is fantastic at showing the many shades of an already complex character.