Saturday, December 1, 2012

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago

Catherine Zeta-Jones won the Oscar on her first nomination for her performance as Velma Kelly in Rob Marshall's Chicago. I think that it is safe to say that musical performances are among the most difficult to judge in terms of Academy Awards recognition. That comes with the fact that some people just outright hate musicals, and refuse to even give them a real try. Obviously film industry people are more likely to be accepting and loving towards musicals, which is why every once in awhile a good one comes around and captures the hearts of voters (Chicago, Moulin Rouge, and Dreamgirls are the most recent examples, though Les Misérables is certainly on the right path). Still, critics of Oscar winning musical performances seem to have one overlapping criticism that I've seen over and over again: "they just won because they had a few great musical numbers". Jennifer Hudson would surely agree with me. That may be true in many ways, but that's because in a musical, songs are the equivalent of crying scenes in dramas--the place where actresses get to show off the emotional core of their characters and just plain show off.

That is especially the case of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. There is no doubt that Velma Kelly is the flashiest and most fun character in the film, a grand diva type that relishes the fame afforded to her by murdering her sister and husband and is one of the few that has actual talent to back it up. It doesn't hurt that she gets all the best musical numbers, while poor Renée Zellweger is saddled with flatter tunes like "Roxie" and "Funny Honey". The problem Zeta-Jones faces is in Bill Condon's adaptation of the stage musical to screen. In order to keep the film shorter, most of her meatier scenes have been stripped away to keep the focus on Roxie (which is why Supporting Actress feels like the right category for her) leaving her musical numbers the only spots in which Velma truly gets to shine and feel like an active part of the storyline.

Thus, when Velma is not singing she comes off as a slightly one-note diva type character, with Zeta-Jones using her deep voice and overall forcefulness to full effect. She's got the character's blend of cold ruthlessness and desperate sexuality down pat, and those early scenes where Roxie fawns over the then more famous Velma are an absolute blast. Zeta-Jones adapts well to the sudden lack of attention she receives  and the jealousy she feels towards Roxie is potent yet subtle. Velma always maintains her rough outer exterior throughout the film, and that's due to the carefully modulated changes Zeta-Jones makes. When she's not singing, Velma is larger than life with a flash of humanity and sadness making appearances every once in awhile. However, she never really gets a moment to do anything but preen delightfully.

As solid as she is in her dialogue scenes, the meat of Velma Kelly and Catherine Zeta-Jones' performance becomes rousingly apparent in her musical numbers, and that's where she earns her Oscar 100%. Her three big numbers are the best in the film for a reason. "All That Jazz" is her most playful number, and has become the most iconic representation of the film. It's in that number where we get to know Velma Kelly's ruthlessness and lack of remorse, and Zeta-Jones is just flat out sexy in the face of having just killed her sister and husband. "Cell Block Tango" is technically a group number, but I only think of Zeta-Jones. It's in that number where Zeta-Jones is her most theatrical, but her rage bursts off the screen and thrives under that theatricality. My favorite number in the film has always been "I Can't Do It Alone", a truly desperate performance of emotional frankness in which Zeta-Jones is somehow pathetic, hilarious ("the first part's shit"), and absolutely winning. My reaction is literally the same as Roxie's everytime, as Velma wins me over gradually despite how awful she's been to her. Those three numbers, each deserving of being considered some of the best of all time, reveal the emotional core of the hard-edged Velma Kelly.

It's easy to forget that Catherine Zeta-Jones is also very funny in the film, whether chiding Mama Morton for copying Roxie's hairstyle or devising ways to flash the jury in order to sway votes. It's a purely enjoyable performance that I could watch over and over again and never get tired of. Sure, she can be pretty theatrical at times, but it's a musical and subtlety is not something you find in most musicals because of their inherent absurdity (especially Chicago). Many of her critics say that the performance is all glitz and great singing and dancing, but Zeta-Jones finds Velma's vulnerability buried underneath all the barbs and sequins. In the end, my point is that the most revealing parts of musical performances should be the numbers, and Catherine Zeta-Jones demonstrates that beautifully. 5/5 Thelmas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Queen Latifah in Chicago

Queen Latifah received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Matron Mama Morton in Rob Marshall's Chicago. It now seems inevitable that Chicago's Best Picture win has become something of a controversial one, because the film isn't the type of powerfully moving drama that the Academy rewards these days. Instead, Chicago is a biting social satire hidden beneath layers of sequins and frisky musical numbers. It's about Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), a common housewife who murders her lover and finds herself loving the fame and attention being tried for murder gives her. Queen Latifah plays the corrupt matron of the Cook County Jail, who trades legal favors and supplies for cash from the ladies on Murderess's Row. Also of importance is Velma Kelly (Best Supporting Actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones), a vaudeville diva who killed her sister and husband and was Mama's favorite before Roxie came along.

Mama Morton is just about everything you'd expect a character played by Queen Latifah to be-- bold, earthy, and eminently lovable. Sure, at heart she's probably not a very good person but the film loves it's characters immoral and Latifah has the charisma to pull it off. Her big (and only) number is the playful "When You're Good to Mama", which is a nice showcase for her voice and allows her a glamorous and completely enjoyable entrance. But that's really the first and last time that Mama Morton has any moment of significance, and for the remainder of the film she serves as the mediator between Roxie and famous lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), often just explaining plot points and being greedy. Honestly, it is hard for me to come up with much of anything to say about this performance because it really highlights the best parts of Queen Latifah the actress, but doesn't allow her to dig much deeper than her usual genial acting style.

There are little scraps of what the performance could have been such as the question of Mama's sexuality, but Latifah's never given any scenes to flesh these moments out. Ultimately, I liked Queen Latifah in Chicago for the same reasons I like Queen Latifah in any movie--she's undeniably fun to watch and brings a natural blend of good humor and toughness to all her roles. Her chemistry with Zeta-Jones and Zellweger is fine, and I always enjoyed when she was on screen. But as far as Oscar is concerned, this performance shouldn't have even come close to getting a nomination as one of the best of the year. 2.5/5 Thelmas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Best Supporting Actress 2002

And the nominees were....

  • Kathy Bates as Roberta Hertzel in About Schmidt
  • Queen Latifah as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago
  • Julianne Moore as Laura Brown in The Hours
  • Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean in Adaptation.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in Chicago (winner)

The Field: Of all the Supporting Actress races in the 2000's, this one remains probably the most hotly contested, which makes it an exciting field to (hopefully) get me back into the swing of things. It also helps that I've seen 3 of these films and have warm feelings towards each of them. Kathy Bates' performance is the only one I'll be discovering for the first time, by the way. This also marks the first time that a previous winner of mine (in this case, Julianne Moore) gets a second chance at gold so it'll be interesting to see whether she can pull off another victory (she sure has tougher competition, that's for sure). The ladies of Chicago will be going first, both of whom whose reviews are in the can and will be unveiled at a steady pace. My goal is to make the gaps in reviewing be between years and not in the middle of them, if possible.

Also I'd like to introduce the new face of my grading method, which I decided to change not become I don't love Dianne Wiest but rather that I've felt for awhile now that Thelma Ritter should probably be the face I was using when judging the ladies of the supporting category being the reigning nominations queen at 6 nominations. I've already reviewed 2 of Thelma's performances and fell in love with her in Pickup on South Street (click for my review) and thus my scoring will expressed in:

--Fancy Funerals--

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1985

#5. Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor: Anjelica is the first winner to receive a last place ranking from me, and that's due to her uneven but memorable performance as Maerose Prizzi. Her opening scenes rank among the best of these five ladies, but the amount of lackluster scenes that pile up after that dull her impact incredibly. Still, this is a performance with many classic lines and moments, and one that I used to despise and now only feel mostly ambivalent towards. Chalk that up as a small victory for Anjelica, I suppose.

#4. Meg Tilly in Agnes of God: Clearly the most out-there performance of the batch and thus the hardest to compare with her fellow nominees, but Meg Tilly sure does entertain as Sister Agnes. My closing thoughts in my review still stand, and I still have trouble describing my opinions on her memorably strange turn. She's a very unlikable and grating character, but she almost single-handedly makes the film work, and somehow makes her character not only believable but more believable than the two pedigreed actresses that costar in her film. Wonderfully weird is a good way to describe this one, I suppose.

#3. Amy Madigan in Twice in a Lifetime: I have literally never heard anything about Amy Madigan or this film before reviewing her performance, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her performance in Twice in a Lifetime to be a very strong one despite the dubiousness of the film. She's the film's trump card, and she makes the movie work almost single-handedly with her dynamic energy and forceful unwillingness to let her family off the hook. Her performance may not be as memorable or as over the top as her fellow nominees, but her restraint and self-awareness make this performance completely nomination-worthy.

#2. Margaret Avery in The Color Purple: These long four months have been the most beneficial to Margaret Avery, as her performance has climbed it's way up two spots after my initial viewing found me significantly less satisfied with it. But I'm glad I've seen the light, because this is a very elegant and graceful performance that fits very well with her director's style. Her Shug Avery may not be as fleshed out as she could be, but what she's lacking in raunch she makes up for in pure emotional impact and phenomenal chemistry with Whoopi Goldberg. If she had sung her own songs, this might have even been a half a point higher.

#1. Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple: Though I fell in love with both of the Color Purple ladies, there was no denying that Winfrey's Sofia is my choice in this strong year. She's the least realistic character in The Color Purple, and is very often cartoonish, but by the time she circles back around and absolutely breaks your heart you don't even really care about that anymore. Larger than life, and as entertaining as can be I have no shame in my love for this performance.

The Year in Review: The amount of time it took me to complete this year should not be looked at as a commentary on the quality of these ladies' performances, but rather a commentary on my lack of motivation and extreme business over the last few months. In what seems to be a running theme, of these 4 films I really didn't like three of them (I give you 0 guesses as to which ones), though for the most part these ladies were the best parts of their respective movies. In an ideal world, the three ladies from Clue would have been duking it out for the Oscar, and I'd be satisfied with any of them having won really. But alas. Not to take anything away from Oprah, who is fantastic. I have another year already lined up, but I'm going to play it smart and get at least two or three reviews in the can before I even announce it. I'll throw out a useless hint: It's a year from 2000s with 2 nominees sharing a single film.

Shoulda Been a Contender: Eileen Brennan in Clue; Madeline Kahn in Clue; Lesley Ann Warren in Clue

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. Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" (1997) 
  10. Ellen Burstyn in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  11. Oprah Winfrey in "The Color Purple" (1985)
  12. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  13. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  14. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  15. Margaret Avery in "The Color Purple" (1985)
  16. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll" (1956)
  17. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
  18. Ethel Waters in "Pinky" (1949)
  19. Amy Madigan in "Twice in a Lifetime" (1985)
  20. Meg Tilly in "Agnes of God" (1985)
  21. Gloria Stuart in "Titanic" (1997)
  22. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  23. Barbara Harris in "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971)
  24. Geraldine Page in "Hondo" (1953)
  25. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  26. Amy Irving in "Yentl" (1983)
  27. Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (1997)
  28. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  29. Cloris Leachman in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  30. Margaret Leighton in "The Go-Between" (1971)
  31. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  32. Mercedes McCambridge in "All the King's Men" (1949)
  33. Joan Cusack in "In & Out" (1997)
  34. Anjelica Huston in "Prizzi's Honor" (1985)
  35. Ann-Margret in "Carnal Knowledge" (1971)
  36. Donna Reed in "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
  37. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill" (1983)
  38. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  39. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) 
  40. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  41. Celeste Holm in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  42. Ethel Barrymore in "Pinky" (1949)
  43. Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" (1997)
  44. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962) 
  45. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  46. Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)
  47. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant" (1956)
  48. Marjorie Rambeau in "Torch Song" (1953) 
  49. Elsa Lanchester in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  50. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door" (1937)

Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor

Anjelica Huston won an Academy Award on her first nomination for her performance as Maerose Prizzi in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor. If I never have to watch Prizzi's Honor again in my life, I would be just fine. It's not that the film is awful by any means, but I really just don't find it to be funny or come together in any coherent or clear way. It's trying to be a crime drama, comedy, and romance all rolled into one and just messes up each of those aspects without having any discernible strengths. The film is about the unlikely romance between two hit man/woman/people, Charley Partanna (Nicholson) and Irene Walker (Turner) and the troubles they face balancing their love and the demands of the powerful Prizzi crime family that employs Charley. Kathleen Turner is so very drab and Jack Nicholson pushes too far into the realm of clownishness  I enjoy William Hickey's performance more than most because at least he is entertaining and consistent in his outlandish characterization. Huston plays Maerose Prizzi, who has been ostracized from the family due to some vague situation involving Charley, to whom she was engaged. Honestly, I watched this film two hours ago (for a second time) and already am unclear about the reasons behind Maerose's exile, that's how little this film has stuck with me.

Knowing the details of Maerose's exile isn't especially important, because Anjelica Huston makes you feel the emotional impact of the exile from her first second on screen. She's an actress who always makes a big impression by virtue of her striking looks, but decked out in some memorably garish outfits she makes an even more startling impact. Her first scenes in the film are her best. They take place at a wedding where Maerose's presence is unwanted by her father, and here Huston does a marvelous job at expressing just how wounded and hurt she is by the forced isolation from her family. Huston is known for her strong and forceful characters, but in these first few scenes she does an adept job at playing Maerose as a strong woman struggling to maintain her composure. She also has very good chemistry with Jack Nicholson (most likely because of their longtime real-life relationship), despite the fact that he seems content with just mugging to the camera, a trap she herself falls into on occasion.

After these initially bursts of stark vulnerability, Huston's performance devolves into amateurish but not altogether awful territory, unfortunately. The script plays Maerose as the mastermind behind many of the events in the film, placing Anjelica as a sensual seductress and devious schemer. The seduction scene just didn't work for me, as Anjelica seems determined not to show any emotion besides a steely ambivalence, and instead focuses on her dialogue and line readings (which are admittedly sometimes genius). She maintains this steely flatness for the remainder of her film, with all that vulnerability shown at the beginning of the film disappearing altogether. It's a puzzling approach to the character, and one that makes her character too uneven and unbelievable. I may sound a little back and forth on this performance, and that is because in every scene (after the wedding) I found something small to like and a lot of larger things that took me out of the performance. I think she was trying too much here, and lost control of the emotional reins of her character.

That being said, Maerose does play to many of Anjelica's strengths of an actress such as her skill for dialogue and an absolutely domineering screen presence. I'm not sure she was quite the right actress for the part, ultimately, so I can only assume her relationships with Nicholson and her father convinced them that she was the right choice. It's not an awful performance by any means, and those early scenes are exceptionally good if only she could pull it together throughout the rest of the film. 3/5 Fancy Funerals.

Margaret Avery in The Color Purple

Four months later....

Margaret Avery received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Shug Avery in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple. Of the two nominated supporting ladies, there is no doubt that Shug plays a more important role in main character Celie's (Whoopi Goldberg) journey. Shug first enters the film as a potential rival of sorts, a free-wheeling jazz singer who Celie's husband Mister (Danny Glover) has long been infatuated with, and someone who he openly has extra-marital affairs with. However, the two women eventually form a tight bond as Shug helps Celie open up and stand up to her abusive husband, eventually even embarking on something of a romance. Another key aspect of the performance is Shug's desire to reconcile with her father, the town preacher, who looks down upon her extravagant lifestyle as immoral and ungodly.

It's an incredibly juicy part, and Avery does a commendable, if slightly uneven, job of portraying all facets of Shug's personality. Where she struggles the most is in showing the excess of Shug's lifestyle. From her very first scene, when she arrives at Celie's home drunk out of her mind, I never found myself convinced of her immorality. It takes all of one scene for Avery's niceness to come out, and thus never really believed her as the crass party girl that makes her father upset with her. From that first scene onward  Avery emphasizes the pleasantness of Shug. Avery made a conscious choice to downplay Shug's party nature and instead focus on her kind heart, which is admirable though dulls the impact of her "wild" party scenes. It doesn't help that director Spielberg seems imminently more interested in big emotional moments rather than characterization.  It's also sad that my favorite Shug moment in the film, when she sings "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)" to Celie, can't be attributed completely to Avery with Tata Vega serving as Shug's singing voice.

However, it's because of Avery's choice to downplay Shug's rowdiness and focus on the inner soul of the character that the rest of her performance is supremely touching and rewarding. Her chemistry with Whoopi Goldberg is phenomenal, and scene by scene they build a warmth marked by playfulness and mutual support. Though Spielberg dulls the sexual implications of the film, the two actresses clearly know what type of relationship the two really have, and do a good job at underpinning their relationship with just the right amount of sexuality to get the point across. Her most moving moment in the film is another that can't be completely attributed to her, the moving reconciliation with her father that culminates in her singing a song ("God Is Trying to Tell You Something"). It's her big moment in the film, and one that causes me to tear up (I crumble to pieces in the final scene of the film every time). The film's focus is on sentimentality and moving emotional moments, and that shows in Avery's performance. She's consistently elegant, touching, and has the type of sentiment that Spielberg requires.

Ultimately, Avery's performance in The Color Purple is the one that most improves on multiple viewings, starting out as a mere 3/5 when I first saw it. It's not quite as flamboyant or showy performance as Whoopi or Oprah's, but instead is a more graceful and affectionate performance that emphasizes the warmheartedness of this supposedly "immoral" woman. The performance is far from perfect, though Spielberg's heavy-handed direction has something to do with dulling her rowdy impact, and nobody could make a relationship with a character as deplorable as Mister believable, but those are only minor points off an otherwise well-calibrated performance. 4/5 Funeral Funerals.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple

Oprah Winfrey received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Sofia in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple. The film is about Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg), a young black woman who is forced into marriage at a young age, and Celie's growth from a timid and confidence-less young woman to a stronger one willing to stand up for herself. I've seen The Color Purple twice now in an effort to motivate myself to write about either Margaret Avery or Oprah Winfrey's performances (which is not a comment on either the film or the nominated ladies, but rather my lack of motivation and exhaustion from work) and each time Sofia has stood head and shoulders as the most vigorous presence in the film. It's really a combination of the charisma of Ms.Winfrey and the larger than life ardor of the character she plays. Sofia is the domineering wife of Harpo (Willard Pugh), the buffoonish and ill-behaved son of the tyrannical "Mister" (Danny Glover).

Sofia is the absolute opposite of Goldberg's Celie in nearly every way, a spirited and boisterous character with an energetic physicality that makes her character larger than life. She storms into the film and is instantly the most magnetic personality on screen, as she fights back against the various offenses thrown her way by Mister, Harpo, and even Celie. Winfrey allows Sofia to be a woman of perseverance and undying vitality. When the frequently beaten Celie advises Harpo to beat his wife to set her straight, Sofia confronts her and shows the ferocious doggedness of her refusal to be treated as a lesser person and the love she has for her husband. Sofia only knows how to be her wholly independent self, and won't allow herself to be anything else or hold back in the same way that Celie will. Winfrey drifts between comedic and dramatic moments gracefully, all the while maintaining the unapologetic girth of her character. Which, of course, makes the demoralization of her character even more completely and utterly devesatating.

After punching the condescending (and white) mayor, Sofia finds herself physically and emotionally beaten down and placed first in prison and later in service of the mayor's doltish wife, Miss Millie (an amusing and spiky Dana Ivey). Separated from her family and physically scarred for life, Sofia shrinks in everything but physical stature and becomes a broken version of her dominant self. Winfrey once again nails the physical aspects of the character, effectively showing the shameful and despondent nature of  Sofia's life through her walk and body language. This previously overly-expressive woman becomes a broken woman just moving through life without really living it. Winfrey's scenes working for Miss Millie is like watching an emotional zombie as she tunes out the world around her and puts her head down and does as she's told. She has many devastating moments where Miss Millie flirts with reuniting Sofia with her family, and ultimately none of them succeed and Winfrey shows a Sofia so broken that it doesn't even faze her. She's numb to the world around her.

At the end of the film, we don't exactly get an explanation as to how Sofia is reunited with her family but she is, and the climactic dinner table scene is a fabulous denouement to the film and both Winfrey and Goldberg's performances. Celie finally gains the conviction to leave her husband, and this show of perseverance reignites the old Sofia into action. It all happens a little quickly, but Winfrey adds such emotional heft to the scene (I suspect Spielberg cut some scenes here too) that you don't really care. It' an emotional journey that Winfrey travels, and one that is more than worth taking. Sofia can be a bit of a cartoon at times, especially in the beginning of the performance, but Oprah balances out the cartoonish and touching in a very cinematic way. Do people like Sofia exist in real life? Probably not but Winfrey succeeds in making you not care about realism and instead loving the force of nature Sofia is. 4.5/5 Fancy Funerals.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Meg Tilly in Agnes of God

Meg Tilly received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Sister Agnes in Norman Jewison's Agnes of God. Tilly plays a novice nun who gives birth and claims the dead child was a result of a virgin conception. Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft play a psychiatrist and mother superior respectively who butt heads in the resulting police investigation. The film itself is an exceedingly dull experience, with the two female leads giving weak, directionless performances that only highlight the stagey blandness of the material. Through the overall strange nature of her role, Tilly is immune to the banality of her film by being the only performer who holds your attention. Sister Agnes has to be one of the most unique and just plain strange characters to be nominated for this award, which makes Meg Tilly's performance a really hard one to review, much less to give a rating. The character is just on a whole other wavelength from most Oscar-nominated characters.

Sister Agnes isn't just a naive girl, she's a young woman who has spent the entirety of her life away from the rest of civilization under the sole care of an abusive mother who never taught her anything in the ways of sexuality or even just much general education. She's uncommonly confident in her skewed opinions and views, and sticks to the things her mother taught her despite everyone around her saying otherwise. Meg Tilly plays this bizarre (almost cult-like) dedication and naivety with various layers of sweetness. She has some obvious physical advantages, with her childlike face and baby voice (which is as grating as her sister's, albeit in a completely different way) allowing her immediate sympathy. Each scene seems to reveal an additional layer of Sister Agnes, and she gets progressively more unsettling, crazy, and otherworldly as the film progresses.

One thing Meg Tilly is not during this course of Agnes of God is subtle, but in this case that's probably a good thing. A character as unstable (and frankly, unrealistic) as Agnes isn't one that an actress needs to ground or base in reality because she's by design a unique, strange creation. Were Tilly playing Fonda or Bancroft's character her unsettling and glazed over delivery would be out of place, but it fits the role of Sister Agnes snugly. Tilly isn't afraid to dive into the outlandishness of her character, and she succeeds in making her the most interesting aspect of the film through pure watchability. It's a bold performance in which Tilly fully understands the absurdity of her character and embraces it wholeheartedly.

This performance is surely not to be for everyone, and I'd venture to guess that many probably even despise it. I'll admit that this was among the toughest performances for me to write about, much less rate. She just has a puzzling effect that changes from scene to scene. It's just so out there and it's own type of acting that comparing this to other performances of a completely different nature (sort of like Patty Duke's Oscar winning performance) is near impossible. Meg Tilly's presence is always felt in the film, and she does well in making Agnes memorable but never quite likeable. That's not to say Agnes needs to be likeable in the film, but makes it more difficult to rate. It's just a unique accomplishment that I feel will take me awhile to fully describe my thoughts on coherently. For now, I settled on 4/5 Fancy Funerals. That's just the rating that feels right to me.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Amy Madigan in Twice in a Lifetime

Amy Madigan received her only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Sunny Sobel in Bud Yorkin's Twice in a Lifetime. As far as marital dramas go, Twice in a Lifetime is a pretty standard and unspectacular film, starring Gene Hackman as a middle-aged steelworker who leaves his wife (an effective Ellen Burstyn) for a sultry barmaid (Ann-Margret). The film treats this central development as an inevitability and thus loses much real drama. It doesn't help that Hackman and Ann-Margret give such insufferable performances that I found myself easily giving my sympathies to Burstyn. Amy Madigan gives the most magnetic and lively performance in the film as Sunny, the couple's oldest daughter who finds herself going through some financial struggles, with the separation of her parents affecting her deeper than her parents might have thought.

Madigan is without a doubt an actress with some interesting qualities, lacking in conventional beauty and having a brusque vocal quality that she can't seem to downplay no matter the role. Dressed in a collection of frumpy soccer mom outfits and a tomboyish haircut she pummels through this film like a bulldog, vacillating between quiet lovability and manic rage. It makes for an interesting combination, as Sunny clearly has positioned herself as the person in the family that protects and watches out for everyone, and is not equipped to handle the situation that the separation has placed her in. After finding out about the affair that her father has undertook with a barmaid, you can feel that Sunny's furious reaction goes farther than pity for her mother and hurts her on a higher level. A key part of her storyline is the financial troubles she and her husband (who she loves) are going through, and Madigan makes it palpable that Sunny hates her father for messing up a life that she desperately wants to have. It's been done before-the children falling apart because of a change in their parent's relationship, which they have modeled their own lives on, but Madigan doesn't make it seem too overdone.

This personal rage culminates in an intense and wonderfully acted scene in which Madigan confronts Hackman at the bar where he is openly flirting with his new mistress. As Ellen Burstyn reacts with passivity and confusion, Madigan takes up the position of being angry for her and delivers as forceful confrontation that is somewhat ruined by Hackman's buffoonish performance. Madigan isn't afraid to overdo it and even though she dips a little too deeply into overacting she comes out on top with the pure force of the scene. After this confrontation towards the middle of the film Madigan is left to pick up the pieces of her now "broken" family, and handles herself with strength and composure for the rest of the film. She's not allowed very much more important scenes, but distinguishes herself adequately by being emotionally available and alert for the rest of the film. By picking up the pieces of the family and putting them back together, Madigan's character grows to become a strong and independent person separate from her parents more than she thought she could be.

I suppose the main detracting factor in the performance is that sometimes Madigan can be a little uneven, but that is something that seems built into her character. As the mediator and central figure in her family dynamics Madigan changes her approach from scene to scene, but remains a rough edge throughout. It's a consistently interesting performance that makes use of her natural talents as an actress and rises about the mediocre material.What I got out of Twice in a Lifetime may have been ever so slight, but Amy Madigan does her best to link together the pieces into something that sort of works. At the very least when she was off screen I always preferred her to the alternatives (Hackman, Ann-Margret, Sheedy). 4/5 Fancy Funerals.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Best Supporting Actress 1985

And the nominees were....

  • Margaret Avery as Shug Avery in The Color Purple
  • Anjelica Huston as Maerose Prizzi in Prizzi's Honor (winner)
  • Amy Madigan as Sunny Sobel in Twice in a Lifetime
  • Meg Tilly as Sister Agnes in Agnes of God
  • Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in The Color Purple 

The Field: It's been a while since I've done a year from the 80's, so I was pleased to see this year come up, even if I was kind of hoping to do a year from the 2000's. But I'm a stickler for keeping it random, and this year is one I'm excited for too. The Color Purple is one of those classics that I'm ashamed I haven't seen yet, so that is easily the film I'm most looking forward to. I've seen Prizzi's Honor but don't have particularly fond memories of the film itself, so hopefully this time around the experience will improve. Amy Madigan is the first up, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1949

#5. Elsa Lanchester in Come to the Stable: I don't think any actress could have done much with the role of Amelia Potts, though few could have made her as weird and outlandish as Elsa Lanchester. Even though the part is nothing to write home about, I can't help feeling that Lanchester could have made her character a little less strange and more understandable. Well, at least the actress appeared to be having fun with this performance.

#4. Ethel Barrymore in Pinky:  If anything, Ethel Barrymore felt very comfortable in this role, playing a type that fit her well. Perhaps that is why she never decides to take her performance to another level, instead playing her role firmly but lacking in further depth or introspection. She's not by any means awful, but instead just solid in her characterization. Miss Em is crusty, rude, and just a little bit saucy and Barrymore never tries her hand at going past those parts. A solid supporting turn that didn't need the awards recognition.

#3. Celeste Holm in Come to the Stable: I have to admit that Celeste Holm's performance is by no means all that much better than Ethel Barrymore's, but the fact that I enjoyed Holm's weirdness gave her a slight edge. She's everything the slim role calls for--happy, adorable, and wields a perfectly respectable French accent to make her character as much of a joy as she's meant to be. Simply put, this is not Oscar level material Holm was given, so she doesn't get a chance to do anything with it. But man does she play a mean game of tennis.

#2. Mercedes McCambridge in All the King's Men: Without a doubt the most emotionally complex role of the bunch, and I can see why this performance would strike enough people's fancy that she would get the win, but McCambridge doesn't quite rise to the occasion for me, and instead finds herself trapped in a film that doesn't know what to do with her. Her performance has a very strong beginning, a weak middle (in part thanks to her lack of significant screentime with Broderick Crawford), and an nonexistent end. We don't see a strong character growth as the film progresses, and I wish we had one or two more scenes to flesh Sadie out further. Uneven work.

#1. Ethel Waters in Pinky: I had an easy choice in this very weak year for the Supporting Actress category, with Ethel Waters's soulful work as Dicey Johnson coming out victorious. She leaves a strong emotional impact that lasts much longer than I'd expected. Dicey Johnson is by no means a great character, but it's the simplicity and natural acting style of Waters that makes this a great performance, even if it lacks weight. Even though she's my weakest winner yet, there is still a lot to take from her performance and I'm pleased that she is my winner.

The Year in Review: This was such a weak, dismal year to review. I'm not a huge fan of any of the films, even if I found something to like in each of them. Ethel Waters was an easy choice, though I certainly understand those who enjoy McCambridge's work. Poor Mercedes couldn't quite catch a break with me, as both of her nominated performances did not perform well. Sorry, Mercedes! I can't imagine anybody truly loving the ladies of Come to the Stable, but I'm sure Ethel B. has her fans. This next year will be my 10th, which makes me realize how slow these have been coming along. As always, I'm hoping to pick up the pace but I'm suppose I'm pretty content with my slowness.

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. Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" (1997) 
  10. Ellen Burstyn in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  11. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  12. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  13. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  14. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll" (1956)
  15. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
  16. Ethel Waters in "Pinky" (1949)
  17. Gloria Stuart in "Titanic" (1997)
  18. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  19. Barbara Harris in "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971)
  20. Geraldine Page in "Hondo" (1953)
  21. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  22. Amy Irving in "Yentl" (1983)
  23. Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (1997)
  24. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  25. Cloris Leachman in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  26. Margaret Leighton in "The Go-Between" (1971)
  27. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  28. Mercedes McCambridge in "All the King's Men" (1949)
  29. Joan Cusack in "In & Out" (1997)
  30. Ann-Margret in "Carnal Knowledge" (1971)
  31. Donna Reed in "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
  32. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill" (1983)
  33. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  34. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
  35. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  36. Celeste Holm in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  37. Ethel Barrymore in "Pinky" (1949)
  38. Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" (1997)
  39. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962)
  40. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  41. Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)
  42. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant" (1956)
  43. Marjorie Rambeau in "Torch Song" (1953) 
  44. Elsa Lanchester in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  45. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door" (1937)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Elsa Lanchester in Come to the Stable

Elsa Lanchester received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Amelia Potts in Henry Koster's Come to the Stable. If Celeste Holm's Oscar nomination for her performance in this film was unwarranted, I don't even know how you would classify the nomination for Elsa Lanchester. Her character, Amelia Potts, is a famous painter who paints religious scenes and meets the two traveling nuns (Holm and Loretta Young), eventually taking them in and giving them shelter for the course of the film. She never really gets a whole lot of substantial screentime, and with one minor exception never has a scene that really allows us to see to far beyond the surface of Amelia Potts. Lanchester is a very appealing performer who I'm sadly not all that familiar with, but who I see great potential in having some interesting roles were I to continue watching her films. It's just this one that doesn't show her in the best light, and should have come close to an Oscar nomination.

Her performance is filled with an abundance of quirk and strange mannerisms. Amelia Potts always seem deathly confused as to where she is, what she is doing, and perhaps even who she is. I don't know if this was an acting choice made by Lanchester or if Koster wanted Amelia to be an exceptionally kooky lady, but no matter who the blame should be placed on it doesn't work. This flighty personality allows Lanchester to stumble around as the nuns constantly are helping her with even the most mundance of tasks, as she pushes forward with a permanent glazed over look that makes Amelia Potts seem, quite frankly, a little mentally unstable. I suppose this method makes the fact that these nuns railroad her into letting them stay in her home more convincing, but I don't quite understand Lanchester's execution. Her character doesn't seem like a kind old woman but rather a timid and easily manipulated one. It's just a strange choice that doesn't work.

However, it's hard to begrudge Elsa Lanchester too much, because the role is such a slight and unnecessary one that her bad performance doesn't cause any harm to the film. Besides one scene where she yells at Hugh Marlowe for being a selfish man, she doesn't have any other moments that distinguish her from the rest of the film. My guess would be that the director just let Elsa Lanchester loose to do whatever she wanted with the character and she had fun being a total spaz. How the Academy recognized her work as something worthy of awards is beyond me. 2/5 Fancy Funerals.

Celeste Holm in Come to the Stable

Celeste Holm received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Sister Scholastica in Henry Koster's Come to the Stable. On paper, Come to the Stable seems like the sort of crowd pleasing, feel good film that occasionally can gain a lot of traction at the Academy Awards (most recent example: The Blind Side), but hidden underneath it's cheery surface is one seriously bizarre film. It is about two nuns (played by Loretta Young and Holm) who are on a mission "from God" to build a children's hospital in the small New England town of Bethlehem. All that is fine, except these are nuns that use their standing to break into people's houses uninvited, drive at what appears to be hundreds of miles per hour, and just generally take advantage of everyone under the pretense of doing "God's work". All this strangeness comes together in a climactic, match? I found myself laughing in disbelief more than a few times at this altogether strange experience, and I'm baffled the Academy for admiring this weird film enough to give it 7(!) nominations.

Now on to Celeste Holm, who plays the funnily named Sister Scholastica, who is one of the two nuns to undertake this mountainous endeavor along with Loretta Young. They are together on screen in every single scene in the film, though I don't have any problem with Holm being in the supporting category because she really plays the role of Young's sidekick for the entire film. Sister Scholastica is a French nun who does not speak very good English, and thus Young does most of the talking and negotiating for the two of them. This leaves poor Celeste Holm to smile cheerily at her side and occasionally repeat something she says in a French accent. I really had no problem with her accent, which I found convincing enough to work. No, it's not a perfect accent by any means but it's convincing and quite frankly who cares if she got it right? Holm is a good actress for this part because she is just such a charming and affable presence and does the most she can with the part, which usually involves smiling....a lot.

Is this mind-blowing work? Not by any means, because I don't think anybody could give a substantially effective performance with this material. Instead, Holm works it the best she can and has a lot of loveable moments. She gets to be adorable as she hands out St. Jude medals to gangsters, and has a hidden talent for tennis. In this scene, probably her most important plot wise in the whole film, she reveals her "dark" past as a tennis player as if she used to be murderer and God would hate her for playing tennis. It's such a bizarre scene as we watch Holm play tennis in her habit and you can't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the game. How Holm got a nomination for essentially being Loretta Young's sidekick I'll never know, but I can't hate on this performance. There is nothing substantial to hate. 2.5/5 Fancy Funerals.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ethel Waters in Pinky

Ethel Waters received her only Oscar nomination for her performance as Dicey Johnson in Elia Kazan's Pinky. With this nomination, Waters became the second African American nominated for an Academy Award after Hattie McDaniel's landmark win in this category in 1939 for her performance in Gone with the Wind. Regrettably, this role isn't anything vastly different from McDaniel's, as Waters plays a poor laundress who spends her time taking care of her elderly neighbor, Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore). It's a role with a lot of emotional similarities to McDaniel's--Dicey is a simple woman who serves as the heart of her film and doesn't have any aspirations but to live a good life and give one to her daughter, the eponymous Pinky. What this leaves Water to work with is a very stable character that experiences very little change in the film, but also one with huge pathos.

Perhaps the biggest problem Waters has to overcome in the film is being stuck with the absolutely atrocious Jeanne Crain as her main acting partner. Crain doesn't do anything but look sullen in EVERY scene she's in, and it's tiresome and kills the flow of the film. However, Waters does succeed in making Dicey an incredibly powerful presence in the film, using her interesting looks and hugely expressive face to leave her mark on the film. She transcends the stereotypes (overtly religious, unflinchingly caring, sass) by not pushing them to hard and instead using her voice in a quiet way. She never strains beyond what is necessary, and only goes as far as to make her point. By not highlighting these elements and instead relying on her natural gifts she allows the audience to connect with her deeper, fleshing out a real person underneath all the stereotypes. She is masterful in wielding guilt, pity, and sentiment on both Pinky and the viewer. The best way to describe her performance is soulful and lacking in mannerism and actorly moments.

Despite the incredibly ease in Waters's performance, there are very few moments where she truly gets to shine because ultimately Dicey Johnson is a role lacking in big moments. She has a few minor moments, such as the devastated look on her face as she realizes her good friend, Miss Em, is about to die. Another is her masterful use of restraint in a tense courtroom scene where she is ashamed to reveal that she cannot read. These moments don't hold as much weight as they could, but that is all Waters's doing. She keeps her performance at one level purposely, always subservient and minding her own business. It's a performance filled with subsistence.

Ethel Waters does an admirable job with her instinctive and soulful performance in Pinky. She delivers and easy to love performance that uses her natural gifts as an actress and a woman to develop Dicey Johnson into a well-rounded and relatable character. She never presses to hard on her acting talents, calibrating her performance to the appropriate level. Even with some less than satisfactory co-stars, she shines and achieves what she needs to in the performance. It's not a blockbuster or earth-shattering performance by any means, but a solid and reliable supporting turn. Nice work. 4/5 Fancy Funerals.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ethel Barrymore in Pinky

Ethel Barrymore received her fourth and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Miss Em in Elia Kazan's Pinky. This is such a strange movie in a lot of ways, but it also becomes very mundane and uninspiring by the time the credits roll. The film stars Jeanne Crain as Pinky, a light-skinned African-American woman who returns home after pretending to be a white woman in the big city and finds herself mixed up in some legal matters when Miss Em (Barrymore), a wealthy neighbor leaves her home to Pinky upon her death. The film almost collapses under the awfulness of Crain's performance (and the fact that she's white!), but manages to be a least mildly entertaining in an baity sort of way. Ethel Barrymore's performance is in many ways the centerpiece to the film as it is Miss Em's actions that dictate the plot, and she has a huge significance to Pinky and her mother, Ethel Water's Dicey Johnson.

I'm not at all familiar with Ethel Barrymore but just as with May Whitty in 1937 I imagine Miss Em is the type of character she plays frequently, so much so that by 1949 she could give a performance like this one without breaking a sweat. Miss Em is an affluent Southern woman living in huge mansion where Pinky's mother, Dicey has been taking care of her for very little pay for months. The two have developed a strong friendship through mutual hard times, though Pinky still resents Miss Em for being cruel to her when she was a young girl. Pinky is forced by her mother to become Miss Em's nurse in her final days and has to deal with an excess of complaints, orders, and general rudeness until Miss Em passes away. Barrymore handles the unpleasantness of her character with resolve and whip smart flippancy. Her frog-like voice bestows a crustiness that is perfect for the part, and in all actuality she isn't particularly likeable. Physically she never seems to be on the brink of death, but a majority of her scenes are her laying in bed so that is never quite on display.

So what's the problem? I guess the problem is that Barrymore needed to take this performance just a step farther in that at the end of the film we are expected to look back and say "Wasn't Miss Em just swell all along?", and I never felt she was all that swell. We never get anything more than a fleeting look at the heart that Miss Em supposedly has, and in fact Ethel Waters shows us more about her than Barrymore does through her discussions about their friendship. Barrymore doesn't fully show us any of the sides that apparently exist, and I suppose an argument could be made that the purpose of the performance was to show a woman who never let her emotions show but if that is the case then this is just a horribly one note performance. Barrymore's one shining moment was her scene with Evelyn Varden, her gold digging cousin where we see a sly sauciness that never peeks its head out again.

The pieces just don't come together to make Ethel Barrymore's performance special in any way, instead leaving us with a solid turn from an old pro. She's got the meanness of the role down pat, and that's obviously all that she worked towards evoking. She's just altogether a bitter bitch, but plays that part to the best of her ability. Whether the script or Elia Kazan or Barrymore herself is to blame is unknown but it's unimpressive all the same. A physically and emotionally stolid performance that is the definition of a solid supporting turn. I just have very little to say about it other than, what the role sounds like Barrymore is and nothing more. 2.5/5 Thelmas.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mercedes McCambridge in All the King's Men

Mercedes McCambridge received the Academy Award on her first nomination for her performance as Sadie Burke in Robert Rossen's Best Picture winning All the King's Men. In the pantheon of Best Picture winners, All the King's Men is one of the less flashy winners--which isn't a bad thing. It's a perfectly fine movie about the rise of Willie Stark, a small town politician who fights against a corrupt government until eventually he becomes corrupt himself. It's anchored by a charismatic (if scattershot) performance by Broderick Crawford as Stark, and Mercedes McCambridge plays his assistant, the fiery and coarse Sadie. As an actress McCambridge has a lot of similarities to Sadie, with her career spent playing tough broads and never fitting into the typical Hollywood starlet persona. Simply put, these two ladies were in a way meant for one another.

Her entrance into the film is a strange one, introduced as a heartless political savant who is skilled at her job and manipulating situations in favor of whatever candidate she is backing. From the beginning she serves as a sharp contrast to Joanne Dru's dainty Anne Stanton, a beautiful and elegant society girl. She has a strong desire to prove herself every bit as much man's equal, so McCambridge comes on strong with a great presence and an assertive demeanor. It's in these first few scenes that we see a strong and unique performance from McCambridge, who does her best to make Sadie a character constantly in flux, analyzing her options and weighing them against one another to position herself in the best spot. She's a little offbeat in her characterization, but that adds some interest in the performance and makes Sadie more than a one-dimensional bitch. McCambridge dances the line between evil-charming and evil-crazy well and never settles into one mode, which at the very least makes this an interesting performance to watch.

That being said, I wasn't altogether satisfied with this performance, which I think had a lot working against it from the scripting level and a lot of strange and/or distracting acting choices on McCambridge's part. First off is her relationship with John Ireland's Jack Burden. For the first three or four scenes of the two together they form a relationship that we are told is that of good friends, but McCambridge throws lustful glances at him that really confused me (and my roommate, proving I wasn't alone and/or crazy in this assessment). It's just something that never went anywhere and seemed too obvious to not be deliberate.

Secondly, once we flash forward to Willie Stark as governor McCambridge isn't given all that much screentime and doesn't do much with what she is given. Her romantic relationship with Stark is ridiculously undercooked, and consists only of her giving Dru some hateful glances. Neither her nor Crawford have any hint of romantic tension in a scene together. Even her big monologue about not being pretty just seemed out of place and frankly, out of character. The Sadie we've seen would not let Jack Burden treat her this way, and it feels disingenuous. It's as if the strong tough broad we saw in the first hour has devolved into a broken woman because of Willie Stark, but even that is portrayed in a convincing manner. If she wanted to play a broken woman or a changed woman, she needed to commit more to one side and not straddle the fence. It's sort of unclear where Sadie stands at the end of the film, which is sad (and not altogether McCambridge's fault).

When it comes down too it, the script leaves Sadie (and McCambridge) hanging. She pops up looking grim in the background but ultimately amounts to nothing, barely appearing for the last 40 minutes or so. With a mercurial first half of the performance and a wan second half, McCambridge's forceful and unique acting style cannot save this performance from being a muddled mess. I give her big props for her opening scenes where even though I may not truly love her acting she at least made Sadie a fascinating character to watch. This feels like a tag-along nomination to me, where voters so no other truly viable option and gave it to a performance in a film they loved. Which is a shame, really. I couldn't in good conscience give her a 2.5, so she'll make due with 3/5 Thelmas.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Best Supporting Actress 1949

And the nominees were...


  • Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em in Pinky
  • Celeste Holm as Sister Scholastica in Come to the Stable
  • Elsa Lanchester as Amelia Potts in Come to the Stable
  • Mercedes McCambridge as Sadie Burke in All the King's Men
  • Ethel Waters as Dicey Johnson in Pinky

The Field: I have to admit that, even though I pick all my years randomly I was very pleased to see this one come up for two reasons: 1) It's in one of the decades I haven't done yet (only the 00s and 10s remain untouched now) and 2) I only have to watch 3 films. Yes, I still have to write five reviews but it makes it a lot easy when there is only 3 films to squeeze into my busy schedule. That being said, even though I haven't heard great things about this line-up I'm still excited to do it. Mercedes McCambridge will get a second chance with me, and her performance is the only one I've seen. Barrymore, Waters, and Lanchester might as well be new actresses to me, but I'm familiar with Celeste Holm on a basic level. It'll be fun even if they are all awful, heck, maybe even more fun.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1971

#5. Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge: It was tough choosing between Ann-Margret and Margaret Leighton, but I ended up choosing Ann-Margret (I never know if I should call her Ann or if she'd get mad at me) as the weakest of the field because she did the least with the most. She gets the part right that you'd expect her to--she's sexy and saucy but can't handle the emotional chords when she needs to display something other than va va voom. She's robotic when she needs to be sympathetic and soft when she needs to be a hard ass. It just doesn't work and makes for a scattered, uneven performance.

#4. Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between: Margaret Leighton's performance has almost the exact opposite effect of Ann-Margret's. Given a role that could easily become a caricature or a cipher, Leighton works her hardest from the beginning of The Go-Between to give her character a presence that makes her final sequences understandable and tense. She's a true supporting actress, always in the background and working hard to make something out of nothing. It's an admirable performance, but one that doesn't have enough to fully warrant an Oscar nomination. She makes the film better, and that's reward enough.

#3. Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show: This was without a doubt the toughest of the five performances to write about and grade. Cloris does all that is required of her in the role and somehow doesn't make the emotional connection needed to make this performance an impactful one. All of my favorite moments in the film involving Ruth Popper are "Cloris" moments (her getting her head caught in her shirt), and not Ruth Popper moments which isn't a sign of a great performance. It's hard to hate this performance, but I don't really understand the love that is thrown on it. I still love you though, Cloris!

#2. Barbara Harris in Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?: If this was a one scene performance, Barabara Harris would be giving Ellen Burstyn a run for her money in winning this ranking. In a single scene Harris gives a performance that is off-putting and weird in the best way possible and then circles around and becomes shockingly heartbreaking. It's so out of left field and unexpected among the mess that is this film. Sadly, we have to watch as her awful movie drags her down by forcing her into a romance with Dustin Hoffman that kills the effect of the performance. It's a shame, really.

#1. Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show: It's an easy victory for Ellen Burstyn, who goes the furthest in developing a full character. With a surprising amount of charisma for such a potentially despicable character, her performance is the least predictable and safe in her film. She's not afraid to be the villain or the bitch and yet still pulls you around with an astounding final monologue that gives you a new perspective and how Lois Farrow is. It's wonderful work that leaves you thinking about her for days.

The Year in Review: This was a year filled with good performances, but lacking in great ones. If I took anything away from these five ladies it was how difficult it is to rate performances. To me, a 3 rating essentially means "good but not great", and I'm still exactly sure how to describe what separates a 3.5 and a 4, or a 4.5 and a 5. It's a tough thing to do, which I guess is why the Academy has the good fortune to just check one box and not explain their reasoning behind it. Nevertheless, I enjoyed doing this year even if the films weren't all that interesting (especially The Go-Between and Who is Harry Kellerman...). It's made me more committed to picking up the pace and not losing quality, and I'm hoping to keep a somewhat steady pace in the future. But I always say that, so....who knows?

Shoulda Been a Contender: Eileen Brennan in The Last Picture Show

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. Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" (1997)
  10. Ellen Burstyn in "The Last Picture Show (1971)
  11. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed"(1956)
  12. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  13. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  14. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll"(1956)
  15. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate"(1962)
  16. Geraldine Page in "Hondo" (1953)
  17. Gloria Stuart in "Titanic" (1997)
  18. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  19. Barbara Harris in "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971)
  20. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  21. Amy Irving in "Yentl"(1983)
  22. Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (1997)
  23. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  24. Cloris Leachman in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  25. Margaret Leighton in "The Go-Between" (1971)
  26. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  27. Joan Cusack in "In & Out" (1997)
  28. Ann-Margret in "Carnal Knowledge" (1971)
  29. Donna Reed in "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
  30. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill"(1983)
  31. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  32. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
  33. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  34. Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" (1997)
  35. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962)
  36. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  37. Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)
  38. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant"(1956)
  39. Marjorie Rambeau in "Torch Song" (1953)
  40. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door"(1937)