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.