Friday, December 30, 2011

Gloria Stuart in Titanic

Gloria Stuart received her sole Oscar nomination for her performance as Rose DeWitt Bukater in James Cameron's Titanic. In my opinion, movies don't get much better than Titanic. It's a piece of pure cinematic bliss, where I sort of put away my critical mind for 3 hours and embrace everything that James Cameron puts on screen. It's a film that gets my emotions going every single time, and the final scene where Rose walks up the staircase to meet Jack gets me everytime--and I'm the type of person who usual scoffs and rolls his eyes at saccharine schmaltzy fare like The Shawshank Redemption. Yes, writing has never been James Cameron's strong suit and broad performances from Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, and to some extent Leonardo DiCaprio don't help the criticism. But to me the film transcends these limitations and is just a great time at the movies.

The parts of the film that feature Gloria Stuart are the slowest, featuring a team of treasure hunters attempting to find the "Heart of the Ocean" who Rose contacts after they find a picture of her on board the sunken wreckage. Her role is essentially that of a glorified narrator, as the film flashes back to her time on board the ship, where Rose is played by Kate Winslet. Despite her short amount of screen time, Stuart has to serve as the emotional anchor of the film that convincingly connects herself and Kate Winslet while evoking memories her character has of the sinking of the ship. In this goal, she succeeds wonderfully. As you see this older Rose looking through some of her things that were recovered by the divers, you see the memories rushing back through Stuart's eyes and as the treasure hunters realize that this woman is the real deal, so do you. Her and Winslet have a similar spark and you can really feel that they are the same woman, despite physical differences.

It's hard to praise Stuart's performance fully because she does so little. Her narrations throughout the film often stick out as being in the wrong spot, even if her line readings are perfectly adequate. At the time the film was made, Stuart was only 87 years old playing a woman who was 100 years old, but that never quite comes off on screen. Yes, she seems old but you wouldn't guess that this woman is 100 years old, she was much to spry in the film. I don't really have any particularly harsh criticisms of this performance because there isn't much to go off of. She really exemplifies the title of this category because she is meant to support the main story, and does so beautifully. Even with the lack of screentime, Gloria Stuart's Rose is almost as memorable as Kate's and she absolutely deserved this nomination. 4/5 Thelmas.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting

Minnie Driver received her first and only Oscar nomination for her performance as Skylar in Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting. 1997 is not considered to be a very good year for this category, and it's easy to see why. The performances were across the board underwhelming, with only Julianne Moore's role being something interesting or even Oscar-y. Driver's role as Skylar is Good Will Hunting is a perfect example. It's a terribly generic role of Matt Damon's girlfriend, who is essentially an ordinary college girl. It doesn't help that Driver looks about five years older than she is supposed to be, and she towers over Damon who looks so young in the film. Good Will Hunting lost a lot of its luster for me this time around, though I still appreciate Damon and Williams' performances more than most. As for Driver, her performance really is all over the place and generic but she has some really strong scenes that work for me.

Minnie Driver is at her best in the film when she is portraying the beginning of the romance between Skylar and Will. The two of them have a good, natural chemistry (apparently they were very briefly an item after the movie) and you can see the attraction Will might have to this girl. The two are vastly different from one another, and Driver makes her so dorky and average in an appealing way. She's got the looks but not the ego. Just like Kim Basinger, a lot of Driver's natural gifts come in handy. She's got a deep voice mixed with that British accent that makes her sound very unique, and her height allows her to tower over even Ben Affleck. All of her charm and appeal comes from how normal Skylar is. She's appealing because she's the type of person you feel you've know you're entire life. This section of the performance is really strong, because Driver convinced me of Will's attraction to her, and was so lovable.

Then comes the scenes where Driver actual has to start displaying some of the tougher emotions, and build an even strong connection with Damon to elevate her character to someone that he falls in love with. It all comes to a head with a huge confrontation scene where Damon ends up screaming at her as she sobs in the most dramatic way possible. It's here that Skylar disappears and the performance becomes Minnie Driver ACTING. The level of her hysteria is horribly awkward and comes out of nowhere, with none of the emotions that Driver is portraying carrying any weight and her awful hand motions looking very self-conscious and fake. It doesn't work because you don't feel like these two love each other. They seem like a fun, casual couple that would go on a few dates and have fun together. The relationship never goes to a place where either of these two would act like this, or at least the screenplay never allows them to get there. Driver's shrill overcompensation doesn't help.

Once again I find myself with a performance of extremes. The script of Good Will Hunting lets Driver down in a lot of ways, and this role is not an Oscar role in a lot of ways. She takes advantage of her natural affability and a warm chemistry with Damon in those early scenes, but quickly becomes shrill and awkward with him with the drama begins to unfold. Minnie Driver isn't a bad actress, but her inexperience at creating a full character comes through here. Not the worst nominee ever, but this performance shouldn't have earned her a seat at the Kodak Theater. 2.5/5 Thelmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential

Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her performance as Lynn Bracken in Curtis Hansen's L.A. Confidential. I'm sure that before L.A. Confidential came out, nobody ever would have ever that thought that Kim Basinger could have even come close to being an Oscar nominee --much less a winner! That just proves what the right role in the right movie (and a weak year for nominees) can do for any actor and actress so--keep hope alive Taylor Lautner and Megan Fox! All kidding aside, Basinger's win is one that isn't very popular but on paper she has the most academy friendly role besides Gloria Stuart. She's in a film that was a huge hit with the Academy, she looks stunning throughout the film (don't think that doesn't play a role in voting), and she is startling better than she ever had been at this time. Oh yeah, and she's a prostitute! The stars just aligned right for her to become an Academy Award winner. I happen to think she's actually somewhat good in this movie, and far from the worst Oscar winner.

The role of Lynn Bracken is a very limited part, she doesn't do much in way of plot besides sleep with a couple of men, and her whole purpose is to be mysterious and sexy. All of these things play perfectly to Basinger's strengths, and that's why she handles herself to capably. Her stiff acting style and unique, sultry voice helps to give Lynn an unorthodox mystique. For the beginning portion of her performance her character is supposed to be simply an ethereal enigma that attracts Russell Crowe's Bud White. In two short scenes she is meant to be nothing more than appealing, and she does that well. Her physical resemblance to Veronica Lake also helps out a lot obviously, because that is the whole conceit of the character. She doesn't really do much deep acting in these scenes, because that is not what is asked of her. Instead she gives her character a real presence that works.

Eventually we finally get to see some more sides of Lynn Bracken as her relationship with Bud White develops into a romance. Basinger and Crowe don't have much chemistry, but their relationship works on the most basic level. Her character ends up being exactly what you would expect--a stripper with a heart of gold, and where Basinger struggles is making Lynn anything beyond a  trite plot device. When she is asked to show some real acting she isn't bad (far better than anything I've seen her in), but she never really succeeds either. Her performance works better on a physical and atmospheric level. She is so well cast and never makes any real missteps that I find this performance hard to really criticize. More to blame is the script and the fact that her character has no real arc or growth. Lynn Bracken doesn't do anything worthwhile in the film, and Basinger doesn't even really get an 'Oscar scene'.

Should this performance have won an Academy Award? The answer is a resounding no. Is it deserving of a nomination? Well, not particularly but it's far from the worst performance that has ever been nominated, and actually is something of a unique performance. Basinger needed to be rewarded for her performance, but not with film awards. Maybe it's my adoration for L.A. Confidential that allows me to excuse this performance so much, but I just don't get all the negative criticism. Ambivalence seems more appropriate.  3.5/5 Thelmas.

Oh, and Happy Holidays to everyone! :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights

Julianne Moore received her first of four Oscar nominations (two in the supporting category) for her performance as Amber Waves in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights. On the surface, Amber Waves does not seem like the type of character the Academy would recognize. But in a weird way Amber Waves is a bizarre mixture of two of the their favorite types of supporting actress roles-- she's both a sex worker (in this case a porn star) and an emotional mother. Boogie Nights is a film about the "Golden Age of Porn" in the 1970s and 80s, and a popular porn star named Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and the group of filmmakers and actors that surround him. Amber Waves is the "mother" of the group, always looking out for everyone around her while at the same time trying to regain the right to see her biological child. She is the emotional core of the film, and her relationship with director Jack Horner (an also Oscar-nominated Burt Reynolds) is a pivotal aspect of the film.

Julianne Moore really had her work cut out for her with Amber Waves. She has the task of making her character simultaneously sexual and believable as a porn star while at the same time building up these motherly relationships with everyone around her, even those she has sex scenes with. Not a scene goes by where Amber isn't giving out some parental advice or looking out for one of the characters. Julianne gives her an appropriately warm and approachable quality and is careful not to dip too deeply into being flat out creepy. Her relationships with Jack and Dirk are two of the most important in the film, and in many ways is the only thing keeping these two together. Her scenes with Wahlberg are especially fascinating, somehow being simultaneously sensual, maternal, and just a little bit oedipal. She refers to him as her 'baby boy' on numerous occasions, and is protective of him from him from the first moment Jack approaches him, but is also the first person he has an onscreen sex scene with. It's this weird dichotomy that the two handle well.

Amber's biggest storyline is her regrets about losing joint custody of her son, who she had with a past husband in a much more normal life. It quickly becomes apparent that Amber needs to be a mother as much as those around her need a mother. Her deep regrets about losing her son because of her 'inappropriate' life style and drug addictions manifested themselves in this burning desire to nurture and be loved. Moore clearly understands and relates with her character, and she is very careful not to make Amber a caricature or someone to mock. Clearly, this character could have been a lot more crazy, or unsettling, or contemptible but the balance that Julianne has makes her character so much more fascinating. There are only two scenes where she goes over the top, her most important being her custody meeting with her ex-husband. It quickly becomes apparent how uncomfortable she is without someone to mother around who would protect her, and her breakdown is heartbreaking and well done. It's a tough scene that might be, to some, a little overdone, but I connected with her emotionally and it worked.

Julianne Moore and I have a really interesting relationship. She's an actress who I genuinely like and admire for her choices (she was great in Crazy, Stupid, Love. this summer) but at the same time one who I have never quite fell in love with, as the rest of the world seems to have. She's one of the three actresses (the others being Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer) who I feel guilty for not absolutely adoring. However, there is no denying that her performance in Boogie Nights is a phenomenal achievement and Amber Waves is an incredibly memorable character. With the amount of characters in this film, Amber occasionally fades into the background for awhile and her storyline never quite gets a good conclusion but neither of those are Moore's fault. Julianne Moore does an outstanding job, and gets 4.5/5 Wiests.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Best Supporting Actress 1997

And the nominees were....

  • Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken in L.A. Confidential (winner)
  • Joan Cusack as Emily Montgomery in In & Out
  • Minnie Driver as Skylar in Good Will Hunting
  • Julianne Moore as Amber Waves in Boogie Nights
  • Gloria Stuart as Rose Calvert in Titanic
The Field: Probably the perfect year to get me back in the groove of things, because it's one where I'm truly excited to see/revisit all of these performances. Titanic and L.A. Confidential are two of my absolute favorite movies, I admire Good Will Hunting a lot, Boogie Nights was a movie I was a little tentative on the first time around and am excited to give another try, and I haven't seen In & Out. It's nice to be doing a semi-recent year because I've been on quite an older year streak with 1956 and 1953 back-to-back, the latter sucking the reviewing energy right out of me. Julianne Moore's up first this year, and I'd love to hear some overall thoughts if anyone's still hanging around here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1953

#5. Marjorie Rambeau in Torch Song: Such a waste of a nomination. In a film that's so overflowing with Joan Crawford's diva attitude, it's bizarre that such a wisp of a performance got the recognition. She's in the movie for such a brief amount of time, and doesn't do anything memorable with that time. Her mannerisms are off putting and   exaggerated, and she doesn't register on any level other than bad.

#4. Grace Kelly in Mogambo: The hardest performance for me to write about, because I just find myself completely ambivalent towards everything about Grace Kelly in Mogambo. I'll admit that she has a pretty thankless role and Clark Gable is terrible, but her inexperience doesn't help. She has moments good, bad, and in between that leads to an uneven performance. She's quite beautiful, though, and that is what I assume helped her get the nomination (along with the gossip columns).

#3. Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity: In the outstanding ensemble cast like of From Here to Eternity, Donna Reed comes off as the clear weak link. It's not that she's terrible, but rather that she is a little too average in a role that should have a lot more vivacity. She starts off strong with a clear eroticism, and descends into mediocrity, and finally ends up horribly awkward. It's tough to see an actress squander such a juicy role with a perfectly okay performance that could go much, much farther than she takes it. Not the worst winner, but perhaps one of the most disappointing in terms of potential.

#2. Geraldine Page in Hondo: The most grounded and natural performance of the bunch, Geraldine Page gives a warm and balanced performance as Angie Lowe. She's given a somewhat unbelievable romance and a ham of a romantic interest, but Page handles it all as best she could. Angie's interest in Hondo grows as each scenes goes by, which Page shows through a series of calculated lingering stares and smiles. It's those scenes where she is allowed to express her interest where Angie really shines in the film. Page's onscreen charisma and grace is on full display, and you can see where this actress could grow to be one of Oscar's favorites. Nothing extraordinary, but solid work.

#1. Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street: An easy winner in this weak year, Thelma Ritter's touching performance as Moe would be wonderful in any year. Her character is one that could easily fall into stereotype or gimmickry, but Thelma does an amazing job at creating a complete character that has real emotional moments and every scene is superbly calculated. Her final speech is one of the best scene I've seen in any movie, and sealed the deal for Thelma's win.

The Year in Review: The most agonizing year yet, only because so many of these performances just weren't that good. I apologize that the quality of this 'Verdict' isn't quite up to par, it's just that I haven't felt up to writing about these women for weeks now and just would like to move on. Geraldine and Thelma are proficient enough, but Grace and Marjorie really put a damper on this field. My next year is still to be determined, but I'm hoping that I'll be doing a more recent year to jolt this blog back to life.

All Supporting Actress Nominees Ranking:
  1. Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker" (1962)
  2. Dorothy Malone in "Written on the Wind" (1956)
  3. Thelma Ritter in "Pickup on South Street" (1953)
  4. Linda Hunt in "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1983)
  5. Anna Paquin in "The Piano" (1993)
  6. Cher in "Silkwood" (1983)
  7. Eileen Heckart in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  8. Emma Thompson in "In the Name of the Father" (1993)
  9. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed"(1956)
  10. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  11. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  12. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll"(1956)
  13. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate"(1962)
  14. Geraldine Page in "Hondo" (1953)
  15. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  16. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  17. Amy Irving in "Yentl"(1983)
  18. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  19. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  20. Donna Reed in "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
  21. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill"(1983)
  22. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  23. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
  24. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  25. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962)
  26. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  27. Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)
  28. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant"(1956)
  29. Marjorie Rambeau in "Torch Song" (1953)
  30. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door"(1937)

Grace Kelly in Mogambo

Grace Kelly received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Linda Nordley in John Ford's Mogambo. Of all the performances I've reviewed so far on this little endeavor of mine, Grace Kelly's in Mogambo is undoubtedly the one I've had the hardest time writing about. It's not really a statement on the quality of the performance (which was not great) or the film (which was melodramatic fun), but I can't really say what makes this performance so hard to judge. It's just an incredibly unremarkable performance that has so many awkward moments that mix with terrible acting and a few fleeting decent moments. Mogambo is essentially a love triangle between Kelly, Clark Gable, and Ava Gardner set in Africa that gives all three of them an opportunity to be lovestruck, melodramatic, and gaze deeply into someone else's eyes longingly. It's a pretty harmless film that is very old Hollywood.

Linda Nordley is perhaps the most boring character that I've had to review so far because what she essentially is a giant cliche: the reserved British woman who experiences a sexual awakening through the help of a 'wild' man. The worst aspect of the performance is Kelly's handling of the 'reserved' Linda when she first arrives at the African outpost. Her accent is absolutely dreadful, and her every move awkward and stilted. She's trying too hard to make Linda seem like an uptight shrew and instead makes her character unreal and stupid. I understand the whole purpose of her performance at this point was to be naive and transform through her 'love' with Gable, but it's just not effective because Kelly is so terrible.

It doesn't help that Clark Gable gives one of his worst performances, and is just terribly mean in this movie. To give Kelly some credit, she does manage to do a decent job at depicting the sexual tension that exists between her and Gable, particularly the first scene between them when Gable rescues her from the panther (no joke!). At the very, very least I felt a change in her character from the beginning to the end. Her performance was filled with histrionics and inexperienced acting to get to that point, but I sort of see potential in Kelly here. Her material really lets her down, as does her leading man, and it was near impossible for her to recover from that point.

This was a near-impossible evaluation for me to write, and I fully recognize this is far from my best review--Kelly just didn't inspire me to write anything meaningful about her and that's why it took me so long. The film is worth it even if just for the scene where Gable just violently throws Kelly to the ground in order to protect her from an oncoming gorilla (I couldn't find a good clip on YouTube) that made me die of laughter. 2/5 Thelmas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity

Donna Reed received an Academy Award on her first and only nomination for her performance as Alma 'Lorene' Burke in Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity. It's easy to see why Donna Reed won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1953. Her film won Best Picture, she was a well-established actress, and her role was pure Oscar bait (prostitute!).  From Here to Eternity is about a group of soldiers stationed on Hawaii, eventually building up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ensemble cast, including Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Frank Sinatra, are all quite great but I have to say that Donna Reed is probably the weakest leak of the five main cast members. She plays Alma Burke, a 'hostess' at a gentleman's club (under the name Lorene) that falls for Clift's Private Prewitt.

Her performance has two main sides to it (much like her character)-- the first one is when she is 'Lorene', working at the gentleman's club for. Here is where she really shines, oozing with so much sexuality it's easy to see why she attracts Prewitt. She never overplays her sexuality, however, and instead manages to be quite mysterious and exotic, even. This was clearly a stretch for her, given her usually wholesome image (even though this movie came out well before her television series), and it must have been a shock to voters that Reed could play someone so sensual. Her relationship with Clift at the club is something for us to question, and it somewhat feels like we dont' know where Alma really is at in regards to Prewitt. They have a great chemistry, but it's hard to tell that line between whether Alma loves him or is just doing her job. It's handled well by Reed, even if it is a little unspectacular.

It's when the two get together outside of the club and she reveals her name is actually Alma that she loses all of that exotic mystique and instead becomes bland and unappealing in every way. It's strange how much that black dress worked for her, and how lacking she is out of it. The remainder of Reed's performance is very all over the place. There is one scene in particular where she is telling Clift her plans to return to her home where she seems to be more of an mad scientist than a young woman returning to her hometown. She freezes up and looks maniacal rather than sad or nostalgic. In her final big confrontation scene where she is screaming at Clift not to return to the army during the attack on Pearl Harbor, she is horribly over dramatic and incredibly awkward to behold. She doesn't handle any scenes where she has to display an outpouring of emotions well at all. Watching her cry was one of the most awkward scenes in the film, and not natural.

I don't want to sound too hard on Donna Reed, because in all reality this performance was an average one. She's good at the beginning (not great), and just awkward at the end (not dreadful). In the middle of that she's mostly just there and pretty bland. I just can't help but be disappointed a little in this performance, because it had all the makings of a great one. In a great film with a strong script and phenomenal costars, Reed squanders all that potential and instead gives a shrug-worthy performance. 3/5 Wiests.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Marjorie Rambeau in Torch Song

Marjorie Rambeau received her second and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Stewart in Charles Walters' Torch Song. I suppose that after the phenomenal experience that was Pickup on South Street and Thelma Ritter's performance, I think I sort of needed Torch Song and Marjorie Rambeau's performance to bring me back down to reality. It's not even that I hated the movie, I actually found it entertaining in a 'watch Joan Crawford play Joan Crawford' sort of way, especially her awkward and unnecessary blackface musical number. It's basically about Jenny Stewart, a diva theater actress and her romance with a blind pianist (a very Alan Cumming-esque Michael Wilding). Still, it's nothing revolutionary and was very, very slow. Marjorie Rambeau has 3 scenes, two that are probably somewhere around two minutes and one that is longer and (I'm assuming is the reason she received this nomination) has some emotional weight. 

I'd talk about those first two scenes if I felt that I had something to say about them. At the start of the film, Mrs. Stewart is implied to be taking advantage of her daughter's wealth, but when we meet her Jenny doesn't seem to mind. It is kind of difficult to tell what exactly her purpose in the film is in that way. She's not the horrible mother but also not completely the quirky comic relief either. The only real memorable or funny moment in those first two scenes is a amusing moment when Rambeau has to say "We're just poor people" while flinging a fur coat over her shoulders. Those first two scenes basically give us a slight preview of what is to come in her final scene.

Her big 'Oscar moment' is the third scene, in which Mrs. Stewart helps her daughter to decide to pursue Wilding despite Jenny's trepidations about him. It's a very strange scene, and Rambeau bounces back and forth between awkward actorly mannerisms and an endearing spunk. She overplays each and every reaction with terrible eye-rolling and over exaggerated pantomimes of exasperation. This is the type of material that justifies a performance like Rambeau's, but not the nomination itself. Were she not nominated I might have found her awesomely terrible and perfectly in line with Joan Crawford's melodramatic tendencies. Rambeau obviously knew that she was supposed to be some kind of comic relief or quirky character, and she does accomplish the feat of making Mrs. Stewart likeable in a giddy, adorable sort of way.

But in the end there is no denying that this performance should not have come anywhere close to the Academy Awards. I can only assume that the members of the Academy found her performance endearing and wanted to honor her long career with this nomination, like they so often do. But against three young things and an even more revered screen veteran as her competition, she obviously didn't have a chance. It's a joyfully bad performance if not nominated, but a truly terrible one since it was. 2/5 Thelmas.

Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street

Thelma Ritter received her fourth Oscar nomination for her performances as Moe Williams in Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street. As far as the films that I've had to watch for this Supporting Actress project so far, Pickup on South Street ranks towards the very top of the list, and is truly an engaging masterpiece from Fuller. It is about a pickpocket named Skip McCoy (an excellent Richard Widmark) who steals a wallet from Candy (Jean Peters), without realizing that the wallet contained stolen government microfilm that Candy was unknowingly delivering to a group of Communists. What ensues is both the police and the Communists attempting to retrieve the microfilm from Skip. Thelma Ritter's role is as Moe Williams, a hustler who gives away information to both the police and criminals alike for a price. It's a very different type of role than her other nominated performances, where she usually played either housekeepers (All About Eve, Pillow Talk) or mothers (Birdman of Alcatraz, The Mating Season). Here she gives a complex, interesting performance with so much depth and value.

From the moment she steps onscreen, Thelma Ritter delivers such an interesting characterization of Moe Williams, and fully inhabits the character is every way possible. In her first scene in the police station we see the swagger and shadiness of Moe in a typical but effective way. Even though she wears these flowery dresses and appears to be a nice older lady, the way Thelma moves and speaks indicates the polar opposite. She just reeks of shadiness and underhanded dealings. This part of her performance merely sets up the character of Moe and sets her arc into motion. The scene establishes her as someone with a different sort of ethical code than the rest of the world, one where she looks out for herself because that's what needs to happen for her to live. It also introduces her desire to save money for a 'Fancy Funeral' rather than an anonymous one in a bad part of town. She's entertaining and quite good here, but really takes off in her subsequent scenes.

After her first scene in the film, each time we see Moe again Ritter peels back layers of this woman until finally reaching her tragic denouement. Her meeting with Jean Peter's Candy is where we begin to see the cracks in Moe's harsh exterior, but not too much. She's still appreciably slimy (even going as far as to force Candy to buy a tie) but this encounter has a snowball effect on the rest of the performance. When she meets with Skip at a bar we see the doubts grow within her about this ethical code of giving away information about people she cares about. She cares to much about Skip to be giving information about him. Then comes the real emotional kicker, where Moe is confronted by a Communist in her apartment looking to get Skip's address. It's a scene handled with such a natural delicacy and openness. Moe is fed up with the world and all her double dealings, and in this five minute sequences gives a performance that on its own would be worth an Oscar. She's heartbreaking and effecting to the point that I've teared up each time I've rewatched it in amazement.

What is so great about this performance is the journey that Ritter takes Moe on in the course of her four brief scenes. She gives such a fully realistic and natural performance, even though the role is one that could easily be overacted to stereotyped. I imagine there are a lot of people who will disagree with me, because the part and the accent could be seen as a little over the top and gimmicky. But I didn't see that, obviously. What I saw was an emotional rousing performance from an actress who I never really had seen be this good. A great performance in a great film. 5/5 Wiests.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Geraldine Page in Hondo

Geraldine Page received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Angie Lowe in John Farrow's Hondo. The film isn't one where you'd typically find an Oscar-nominated performance, because it's a pretty standard Western. It's got a generic Cowboys vs Indians plot, but still manages to be fun albeit slight entertainment. John Wayne plays Hondo Lane, a US Army Calvary scout who happens upon the ranch of Angie Lowe (Page) and her son, Johnny (Lee Aaker). What follows is basically exactly what you'd expect-- they fall in love, Indians attack, etc. Geraldine Page is an actress who I've seen very little of, but the two Oscar-nominated performances I have seen (The Trip to Bountiful and Sweet Bird of Youth) both really amazed me. This was her first credited film appearance, and she gives one of the most endearingly normal, unshowy Oscar-nominated performances I've seen so far.

The subtlety that Page brings to the film is almost a necessity when paired with an actor like John Wayne. At this point in his career, Westerns like this one obviously were business as usual and Hondo doesn't have anything particularly special to add to the genre. What is great about Geraldine Page's performance is the balance that she provides to the film. Wayne's performance is one we've seen from him many times--gruff and robotic, and in response Page is subdued and simple. Her and Wayne have a nice chemistry in the film that Page allows to grow stronger and stronger over the course of the film. Angie's interest in Hondo grows as each scenes goes by, which Page shows through a series of calculated lingering stares and smiles. It's those scenes where she is allowed to express her interest where Angie really shines in the film. Page's onscreen charisma and grace is on full display, and you can see where this actress could grow to be one of Oscar's favorites.

However, her film really doesn't do her any favors. Basically everything about her film is a leagues below her level, most notably her fellow actors and the script. There are a lot of scenes were Page struggles to make anything of her character and is forced to act with actors (mostly the 'Indians') who are about as good as charismatic as a block of wood. Oftentimes she doesn't seem to be anything more than a tool for the story, shifting back and forth between different characters like nothing more than a prop. She also has a serious lack of chemistry with the child actor that plays her son, and there is literally no connection between the two. Most of these things are not directly Page's fault, but hold her performance back nonetheless.

The real genius of this performance is how normal and average Angie Lowe is, a rare sight in this category. She just feels like a real person, with no huge dramatic scenes or showy moments to be found. It's a refreshing type of performance for this category, which is so often filled with over the top shrews or sultry ingenues. But as much as I admire Geraldine Page's performance and the fact that the Academy would award such subtle work, the limits placed around Page are too strong for even her to break out completely. It's still a reliable piece of work that is getting 3.5/5 Thelmas.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Best Supporting Actress 1953

And the nominees were....

  • Grace Kelly as Linda Nordley in Mogambo
  • Geraldine Page as Angie Lowe in Hondo
  • Marjorie Rambeau as Mrs. Stewart in Torch Song
  • Donna Reed as Alma 'Lorene' Burke in From Here to Eternity
  • Thelma Ritter as Moe in Pickup on South Street

The Field: What I like about this year is the diversity of both the films and nominated actresses. This line-up includes two Oscar favorites (Ritter and Page), an actress who would become better known for her TV roles (Reed), an emerging movie star (Kelly), and an old screen veteran (Rambeau). The only one of these films I've seen is the eventual Best Picture winner, From Here to Eternity, so once again I get to go into these performances mostly fresh and without any preconceived notions. Also, with this year Thelma Ritter becomes the first person that I get to write about twice, which is fitting because she's this category's biggest loser. This group of actresses has me very excited, so I'm glad to get started on year #6.

I'll start this year in a few days, but tomorrow or Monday I should have up an announcement about another new project I'm going to be starting. It's going to be one that's very relaxed and I expect to take some time, but I'll keep doing these Supporting Actress years at the same time. I also hope to get some more posts about other subjects going, but don't hold you're breath. I'm notoriously flaky. =)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1956

#5. Mercedes McCambridge in Giant: If a performance can leave me feeling more ambivalent than Mercedes McCambridge's did, I haven't seen it yet. Luz Benedict in just not an Oscar character--despite the fact that she shouts, is rough around the edges, and has such contempt for seemingly everyone around her. The blame has to be placed on McCambridge for giving her such a lack of presence or any charisma. An utterly pointless nomination, that I can't see very many people fully supporting.

#4. Mildred Dunnock in Baby Doll: An instantly loveable performance that gives Mildred Dunnock a chance to take this bizarre character and have fun with her. Aunt Rose Comfort flutters about the film catering to her family's every whim, so by the time Dunnock gets her heartbreaking dinner scene you feel a real emotional connection with the character that is surprising considering her screentime. Though she doesn't have much to do, there is no deny the quirky charm that exudes from the screen whenever Dunnock enters a room. This is a delightful performance that doesn't quite extend into the realm of truly phenomenal acting.

#3. Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed: As the unlikely sociopath Rhoda Penmark, Patty McCormack is an absolutely terrifying and iconic screen villain. She balances the immaturity and youth of the character with a startlingly haunting side that you wouldn't expect from such an adorable little girl. She works well with Nancy Kelly, and makes you question why this girl has gotten away with being such a spoiled brat for such a long time. It reaches the point where you can tell that she is so bad in the 'good girl' scenes that you realize she is just pretending to be a good girl, and you realize it along with her mother. A confident, technically adept performance that leaves a huge impression on you.

#2. Eileen Heckart in The Bad Seed: In just two brief scenes, Eileen Heckart gives a devastating performance that makes her entire film better. She tackles her role fearlessly and isn't afraid to dip into the realm of overacting and theatricality, and it pays off in spades. Both of her highly emotional scenes require her to be drunk out of her mind, but she doesn't blink twice. Her accusations against Rhoda really moves the film along, and she opens both Rhoda's mother and you're eyes exactly to just how devious this little girl is. Probably the most challenge performance to make convincingly, but under Heckart makes it fantastic.

#1. Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind: The biggest shocker of this group was how much I loved Dorothy Malone's delicious performance as Marylee Hadley. It's one that shows how great melodrama can be, and expresses the complex emotional struggles of Marylee in a powerful way. She has sensuality of the performance down pat, but what is truly impressive is how well she navigates Marylee's complex emotional problems. Her deep sexual obsession with Mitch could have easily come off as simply creepy, but she makes you pity her and realize that her character has some very serious problems. One of the best surprises I've had on a rewatch.

The Year in Review: A very strong year, with all of the top four performances being absolute delights. I thought for sure that Eileen would be taking this one, but Dorothy Malone's victory just proves that I should not come into a ranking with any kind of preconceived notions, even on the performances I've already seen. All four films were very good too, which is a relief after 1983's lack of any really great films. My next year will start in a couple of days, but I'm hoping to get some other posts out before then, and it's only a couple of years away from this one. This time it only took me about a month, so I'm hoping to slow get a rhythm going on these so I'm not quite so slow.

All Supporting Actress Nominees Ranking:
  1. Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker" (1962)
  2. Dorothy Malone in "Written on the Wind" (1956)
  3. Linda Hunt in "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1983)
  4. Anna Paquin in "The Piano" (1993)
  5. Cher in "Silkwood" (1983)
  6. Eileen Heckart in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  7. Emma Thompson in "In the Name of the Father" (1993)
  8. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed"(1956)
  9. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  10. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  11. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll"(1956)
  12. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate"(1962)
  13. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  14. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  15. Amy Irving in "Yentl"(1983)
  16. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  17. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  18. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill"(1983)
  19. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  20. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
  21. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  22. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962)
  23. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  24. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant"(1956)
  25. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door"(1937)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mercedes McCambridge in Giant

Mercedes McCambridge received her second and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Luz Benedict in George Stevens' Giant. 1956 seemed to be the year of the epic for the Academy Awards, with three films clocking in at more than three hours being nominated for Best Picture. Giant is the only one of the three I've seen, the other two being The Ten Commandments and Around the World in 80 Days, the latter obviously winning Best Picture while George Stevens won Best Director. I can somewhat see why that is, Around the World is the Shakespeare in Love or Chicago to Giant's Saving Private Ryan or The Pianist. The film was just an extremely long one that the Academy obviously respected and admired more than flat out loved. It is about the Benedict family, a filthy rich Texas ranching family and what happens after Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) marries non-Texan Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) on something of a whim. It's a towering achievement, even if it drags its feet a times, and you really get to know this family over the course of 201 minutes.

Mercedes McCambridge plays Jordan's sister Luz, a masculine woman who is used to being in control of the house and is threatened by Bick's new wife. It's an incredibly brief performance, at least in relation to the incredible length of the film. Luz is a very straightforward woman, and McCambridge's performance is also very straightforward. Her brow is furrowed in literally every scene she's in and her voice has that impeccable southern drawl at all times. Luz is often seen only from the back, and it makes you notice how well McCambridge handles her rough physicality. That's....about it. The character is really not much of anything to speak of, so this is an exceptionally difficult performance to write about. Luz doesn't have much of an effect when she's on screen, so it's no surprise that when she inevitably dies, I found myself feeling nothing. I didn't hate her or love her enough to really care. Her death causes not profound effects on any character, and she really is almost never brought up again or spoke about for the rest of the film. I guess Bick didn't feel much for her either.

What I think the film was trying to go for was having us be somewhat happy to see Luz die because she essentially is a horrible racist towards Mexicans, but so is 95% of the characters in the film, so I didn't make much of it. The only major effect she has on the rest of the film is that she leaves Jeff Rink (James Dean), a sort of rival of Bick's, some land for  him to live off of and the other characters make it sound like she had some kind of romantic interest in him. But we never get to see any of that, and there is very little interaction between the two characters besides her screaming at him. Perhaps some more of McCambridge's scenes were cut from the film, but that would have given her some more potential to create a character out of the cliche that is Luz.

I don't really feel much of anything for this performance, either positive or negative. Everything is done convincingly enough, but this is not the kind of acting that I consider nomination worthy by any means. I don't know how McCambridge got the nomination, so I'm assuming she got swept along with the film into one. 2/5 Thelmas.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind

Dorothy Malone received her first and only Oscar and nomination for her performance as Marylee Hadley in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind. As far as melodramas go, Written on the Wind is at the top in terms of pure trashy soap opera-like appeal, in the best possible way. The film centers around the Hadley family after the heir to the company Kyle (Robert Stack) impulsively marries his secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall). Kyle's best friend, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), who his father prefers to Kyle, is also in love with Lucy, while his sister Marylee (Malone) pines after Mitch. It's all one big love square of sorts, and Marylee is always at the center of it. Of the four main actors, Malone has the juiciest role, as Hudson and Bacall are purposely bland, and Stack (despite earning an Oscar nomination) is almost laughable in that he fails completely at his pitiable role. Marylee is undoubtedly the most complex character, and Malone shoulders the brunt of the emotional weight of the film.

Of the two Hadley children's deep psychological problems, Marylee's is perhaps the most troubling in that she is essentially a nymphomaniac whose unhealthy obsession with Mitch has led her to the point of becoming the town slut. Malone really knows how to use her body, and that level of physicality is important to show that Marylee has a sexual appetite, and isn't just a blandly pretty girl. Malone manages to make even the most garish outfits in the film sensual, and handles that incredibly bizarre lake scene especially well, making it simultaneously orgasmic and painful. To go with her blatant sensuality, Marylee is given all the bitchy lines and attitude to go along with it. She's playful at the most awkward of times, working to increase the tension at all times. Marylee wears all the contempt she feels towards basically everyone besides Mitch on her sleeve, and Malone handles that side of the performance perfectly. She's the perfect balance of Va-va-voom and malice.

It's in the emotions where Dorothy Malone's performance elevates to another level, as she handles the complex emotional makeup of Marylee with a startling proficiency. It takes only a few moments to realize the source of Marylee's pain--her deep love for Mitch, and she doesn't hide that fact at all. Besides openly offering herself up to him and keeping pictures of him prominently displayed in her room, she has her father asking him if he'd reconsider marrying her. Mitch's rejection of her has clearly pushed Marylee to a point of being an utterly pathetic, desperate whore. It's a heartbreaking sight to watch her barrage him with proposition after proposition, most of them only offering to have sex with him as if she needs it desperately. Surprisingly, her and Hudson have a natural chemistry, and the only scene where I saw him coming out of the coma he seemed to be in the entire film was the one in his room. Malone conveys the hurt Marylee feels phenomenally, and at the end of the film when she tries to blackmail Mitch you can tell it's not real because of her skill in laying out the feelings Marylee has for him.

This performance was overall a huge surprise for me, because the first time I watched Written on the Wind, I don't remember being quite as enamored with Malone and the film in general. It's a surprisingly emotionally complex performance, and the melodrama of the film only helps to make her performance better. It's a high difficulty performance, only because of the extreme melodramatic nature of the film, and the fact that it would be easy to make Marylee a one dimensional slutty character, but Malone hits all the right notes in elevate herself out of that stereotype. The only real criticism I can give to her is the fact that her dancing is pretty dreadful, but that isn't much of anything. If you've only seen this performance once, I'd recommend you go back and take another look at it, because you may just find yourself liking it as much as I did this time around. 5/5 Thelmas.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mildred Dunnock in Baby Doll

Mildred Dunnock received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Aunt Rose Comfort in Elia Kazan's Baby Doll. Films rarely get as unassumingly erotic as Baby Doll was, and as someone who doesn't feel that vibe from movies too often, I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the film. The film is about a poor cotton-gin owner named Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden) and his desire to have sex with his wife Baby Doll (Carroll Baker, Oscar-nominated for this performance), who he agreed to have sex with when she turned 20. After he burns down a rival's cotton gin, the man gets revenge by attempting to seduce his wife. All the performances were great, but Eli Wallach's performances as the business rival was particularly delicious (I never thought I'd find this guy so attractive). How does Mildred Dunnock fit into all this? She plays Baby Doll's daffy, slightly senile aunt who spends the film doing crazy things and being picked on by Archie Lee.

Of all the performances in the film, Mildred's is easily the one with the least to work with, but she turns her slight role into a completely loveable one with ease and grace. When we first meet Aunt Rose Comfort, it's in a scene where she is afraid to answer the phone because it scares her too much when it rings and from that moment on I knew that I was going to absolutely adore Aunt Rose whenever she came onscreen. Dunnock imbues her with a baby animal-like innocence that makes her hard to resist. The character doesn't actually spend a whole lot of time on screen, though, and when she is she's often in the background of the scenes. I imagine this was a somewhat difficult role to make convincing, and she does it handily thanks to her dedication to the insanity growing in Aunt Rose.

However, I can't help but feel her performance as a little bit slight, especially compared to the hefty roles of her co-stars. Her character is almost an afterthought throughout the film, and there were times that I even found myself forgetting that we hadn't seen her in awhile, which is never good. It's almost as if Dunnock was loveable when on screen, but not so vital a presence that I missed her when she wasn't. There was one notable exception to this overarching feeling I had, though, and that was during the big dinner scene. Aunt Rose, being absolutely insane, forgot to start the stove while cooking dinner (why put you're crazy aunt in charge of cooking?), and is mercilessly attacked by Archie Lee as being worthless. He decides that she needs to move out because they cannot afford to take care of her any longer, and Dunnock's heartbreaking reaction is one of the highlights of the film. The mix of resolve and sensitivity is just right, and it's a touching moment.

Ultimately, Mildred Dunnock's performance is a tough one to fully get a read on. She's at times adorably bizarre and at others forgettable and borderline unnecessary. Her heart-wrenching final scene and overall elegance in the role has me leaning towards the positive in this performance, though I certainly understand the people who do not like this performance. Aunt Rose Comfort is a character that may not be for everyone, but I love me some craziness. 4/5 Thelmas.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed

Patty McCormack received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Rhoda Penmark in Mervyn LeRoy's The Bad Seed. This film (along with the novel and play) is famous for introducing the term 'bad seed' into pop culture, and that it has enduring so many years and is still common today can be at least partially credited to McCormack's chilling performance. Rhoda Penmark has many of the same qualities of iconic villains such as Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, in that she has a magnetic, almost seductive quality with a hint of deviousness that makes her off putting and sweet at the same time. Obviously she doesn't quite reach the level that those villains do, mostly because of her (and McCormack's) inexperience and youth, but many time during the film it felt like you were getting a look at at the origins of a sociopath as she learned the tricks of her trade.

The most admirable aspect of this performance is the balance that McCormack strikes between Rhoda's charming little lady side and her cold and heartless side. Throughout the film numerous characters comment on how well-behaved and mature Rhoda is for her age, as she always curtseys when an adult enters the room, and her disinterest in playing with other kids who are 'childish'. But it's her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) who starts to see the cracks in this facade, and as the film goes on we also begin to see Rhoda's is one of the kids who got away with everything as a child because of the obliviousness of the adults around them, but with a darker twist.. Some of her dialogue starts to sound horribly scripted and fake, as she says what she thinks will get herself out of trouble though she doesn't mean it. 'Nice' Rhoda is all an act. It's a difficult aspect of her performance to judge, because she is supposed to sound fake and unnatural, which is usually something that would lose points in my book from a performance. So you just have to take it for granted that this was McCormack's intent, and in that she succeeds.

The intentionally robotic delivery gives way to the real Rhoda, where we see her being a heartless little girl, who seems to have absolutely no remorse in any way for the crimes she's committed. McCormack can't help but be slighty campy in her handling of the character--but that only works to increase the strength of her performance. That camp element is really what makes Rhoda memorable, and lifts the film from banality. There is one particular scene where she finally spills the beans to her mother, and Rhoda's emotions come out for a second in a shocking and bone-chilling way, only to disappear as she attempts to return to the 'sweet girl' persona once more. The way she leaps praise on her mother just moments after revealing that she basically killed a little boy is horrifying and well-acted. The confidence in which Patty handles every scene is surprising considering her age, but she really knows her stuff and commits to every single second of the film.

You don't expect such an unnerving performance to come from Patty McCormack, but she delivers an iconic turn as future sociopath Rhoda Penmark. Her surprising amount of confidence in the role frees her up to give a type of performance that most child actors (such as Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird) would make unconvincing. She handles the duality of the role with ease and authenticity. Yes, the role is one that doesn't quite have the difficulty level as many other nominated performances, but is harder to elevate to the iconic status that McCormack achieves. She's stiff and unnatural in the best way possible. 4.5/5 Thelmas.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eileen Heckart in The Bad Seed

Eileen Heckart received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Hortense Daigle in Mervyn LeRoy's The Bad Seed. The film is definitely a departure from the usual Oscar-nominated films, in that it technically is a thriller film that borderlines on dipping into full fledged horror. It's easy to see why the Academy may have gotten confused though, because the film retains a lot of the theatrical elements from the original play and more often feels like a drama pretending to be a thriller. The performances are across the board solid, and I even liked Nancy Kelly's performance even if it had moments of extreme overacting. The two ladies who were nominated for Best Supporting Actress were Patty McCormack, playing the eponymous 'bad seed' Rhoda, and Eileen Heckart, who has significantly less screen time as the mother whose son dies at the beginning of the film. Heckart has an role that begs for an Oscar nomination--she gets to stumble around drunk, scream her lungs out, change emotions within a matter of seconds, and literally point fingers.

But oh, how well she does with each of those aspects of the performance. It's a role that she clearly knows inside and out, having played Hortense countless times on stage with the exact same cast. It's still no less impressive of an achievement. Hortense Daigle comes into the film at the exact right moment, and from the second Heckart walks in the door you feel a palpable change in the tone of the film. After forty minutes of faux pleasantries from every other character, Heckart ushers in a burst of reality that really gets the film moving. It's clear from the beginning that Hortense is viewed as 'common' by even the teachers at her son's school, and Eileen's lanky physicality and unique vocal quality support that downtrodden 'white trash' persona.

Being that this performance was born on the stage, there is an overt staginess to Heckart's performance, but I think it works completely in her favor. By allowing her free reign to stagger across the room and display her emotions freely, Eileen Heckart gives a performance of emotional devastation that will stick with you long after the film is over. She navigates the swift changes of emotion with ease and grace making some of the most unsuspecting moments, such as a hug with Rhoda both haunting and sweet at the same time. She overpowers every other person she's on screen with, and Nancy Kelly might as well have disappeared when Heckart sauntered on screen. She's like a storm set loose on the Penmark household, and the effect she leaves on both the audience and Kelly's Christine is much appreciated.

Eileen Heckart's performance is one that shows the true greatness a supporting actress can achieve with a minimal amount of screentime. Hortense Daigle is a great tragic figure, and I think The Bad Seed would be much worse off without her presence. Her experience in the role and the general theatricality of the performance make this one just shy of a perfect score, but I can't deny that the mark Eileen has left on will be with me for quite some time. Tackling this role with abandon and force, she manages to be calculated and loose in her performance at the same time, and mostly importantly so memorably tragic. An energetic performance that is not easy to pull off. 4.5/5 Thelmas.