Monday, January 16, 2012

Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge

Ann-Margret received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Bobbie in Mike Nichol's Carnal Knowledge. This film was something of a controversy when it first came out, and it's pretty easy to see why. It's a movie about sexuality, focusing on Jonathan's (Jack Nicholson) struggles to find the perfect woman for him because of his unwillingness to compromise his "standards" (big boobs, nice legs, etc). There are numerous frank discussions of sexuality that must have seemed unseemly for the time, and the amount of nudity is high for the 70s. Ann-Margret plays Bobbie, a woman he meets at a bar and seems to have everything he wants in a girl. However, after being with her for awhile he begins to realize that she may not be the perfect woman for him after all. It's a very unusual and fascinating movie, that really gets you thinking about the connection between sexual attraction and relationships. None of the performances (not even Jack Nicholson) are particularly outstanding, however.

On paper, Ann-Margret seems like the perfect choice for this role. She's an actress who imbues sexuality into each of her roles, and her sex kitten-ish ways can either get in the way of her performance or enhance it. In this's a little bit of both, actually. Ann-Margret makes a strong first impression, absolutely oozing sexuality like she should. Many people would probably even say that her physical appearance played a very large part in her getting the votes for this nomination....and I would say they are probably at least somewhat right. She's absolutely stunning, and has a different body type for a major movie star, especially for this period in film history. The first part of this role plays to her strengths in a major way, and she develops a palpable sexual tension with Jack Nicholson that is heated and appropriate. Her voice is a key role to the success--and eventual failure--of the performance. She's got a very unique, cooing voice that works well in the sexual scenes and just plain doesn't in the rest of the scenes.

As Bobbie and Jonathan's relationship continues to develop, we begin to see Bobbie's priorities and desires changing while Jonathan's remain the same. Despite the fact that their relationship grows and they end up living together, Bobbie begins to desire marriage while Jonathan sees all women as "ball-busting" and marriage specifically as a way to entrap men. Their situation gives Ann-Margret plenty of opportunities to show off her range, but unfortunately that just doesn't come off in the performance. These final scenes of the relationship's later stages we are supposed to see Bobbie devastated and drained after Jonathan forces her to quit her job and wants her to stay at home and essentially serve him. But instead of coming off as emotionally devastated, we see Ann-Margret being robotic and zombie-like. Her limited acting style that is confined to "crazy" and "sexy" just doesn't work here. Then comes her voice. Her cooing and soft voice absolutely shoots down the weight of any of her line readings and she almost struggles to get them out in a coherent way.

Ultimately, Ann-Margret was not the right actress for this part. She's about half the right actress. For a script as wordy and emotionally rich as this one, Ann-Margret doesn't quite have the goods to develop Bobbie into a totally believable character. She's very attractive and handles the sexuality of the role right, which comes very naturally to her. However, at any sign of emotion her acting ability (and voice) lets her down. She's not a bad actress by any means, but one that needs a certain type of role to be truly great (see: Tommy). This performance has its virtues but the negatives definitely overwhelm the positives on this one. I guess the moral of the story is don't cast Ann-Margret when you want an emotionally rich and grounded performance. 3/5 Thelmas.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best Supporting Actress 1971

And the nominees were....

  • Ann-Margret as Bobbie in Carnal Knowledge
  • Ellen Burstyn as Lois Farrow in The Last Picture Show
  • Barbara Harris as Allison Densmore in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?
  • Cloris Leachman as Ruther Popper in The Last Picture Show (winner)
  • Margaret Leighton as Mrs. Maudsley in The Go-Between
The Field: This is definitely an interesting group of nominees, and two of the films are somewhat difficult to get you're hands on. I'll be watching Who is Harry Kellerman... (which remains the longest movie title ever nominated for an Academy Award) on VHS but at least I got it. I haven't seen any of these movies before so that will make these ladies very exciting for me. I already adore Cloris Leachman (Raising Hope is amazing!), and appreciate Ellen Burstyn's acting talents more than outright love her. Ann-Margret's Best Actress nomination is one of my favorites, and the other two ladies might as well be newcomers in my eyes. I'm very interested to see what you all think, because I somewhat think this year could be unpredictable. Carnal Knowledge is up first.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1997

#5. Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting: A performance of highs and lows so distant from one another that it hurls the performance into near-awful territory. The problem is that Minnie Driver and Matt Damon don't quite have enough chemistry to make their relationship believable, but at the same time have enough to make the attraction work. Driver is luminous in her early scenes, and cacophonous in her later scenes making for a wholly discordant affair. The script doesn't help, and neither does five years too old for the character appearance. She's the weak link of the movie, and this field.

#4. Joan Cusack in In & Out: Cusack was lucky to receive a nomination for her affable work as Emily Montgomery. It's a broad comedic performance that usual goes unnoticed, and she does a great job making her role funny and lovable. Let off of her leash, Cusack storms through this movie flinging out one-liners and hilarious physical comedy at the viewers, most of which are really funny. But it's that same lack of direction or a real narrative journey that holds back this performance from being one of the great comedic Oscar nominations. She's funny but not hilarious, and too crazy to make any real strong impact.

#3. Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential: I like this one more than most, and that's because Kim Basinger is just so damn right for this role. She looks, sounds, and moves just like this woman is supposed to, and even though this isn't a huge feat in terms of acting, Basinger never makes a false move. Lynn Bracken is supposed to be sexy, mysterious, and not a good actor and Kim Basinger is all of those things. She creates a real atmosphere around the character, one that just rings true to me. It may be more great casting that acting, but I give Basinger more credit than that. She did what she needed to do, and succeeded in my book.

#2. Gloria Stuart in Titanic: Anchoring the weakest section of her film, Gloria Stuart's performance somehow comes out unharmed. Her screentime is very limited, but in that screentime you feel a real connection with this older woman. Every action that Stuart takes is filled with nostalgic power and I felt a real connection between her and Kate Winslet, playing the younger Rose. It is always hard having two actors play the same characters at different ages, but the two of them do it wonderfully. Yes, she may just be a narrator and often her parts interrupt the flow of the main story, but none of this is because of Gloria Stuart. She's just lovely throughout.

#1. Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights: Amber Waves is the most interesting and multi-facted character nominated this year, and thus quite easily walks away as my choice. Julianne Moore's performance is simply one of her greatest, masterfully balancing the motherly and porn star nature of her character in away that quite shockingly works. All of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the film feature her, and whether she is having sex, doing drugs, or taking care of Burt Reynolds you feel the deep sadness that surrounds this poor woman. Moore makes every scene count, and pulls off a miraculous and beautiful feat of acting.

The Year in Review: This year was as weak as every says, but I still managed to find some strengths in each of these performances, and the movies were across the board enjoyable for sure. Driver's performance is the only one I outright dislike, while Cusack, Basinger, and Stuart have varying levels of admiration and distaste. As I said in her review, I'm not usually a huge Julianne Moore fan but here she was just irresistible. What I don't understand is how in this weak of a field the Academy could not find room for Sigourney Weaver's performance in The Ice Storm. This is not just the Siggy fanboy in me speaking, because Weaver won the BAFTA and had many other nominations that season. It's upsetting, because she could have had a shot against Basinger and Stuart for the win. Oh, well. The next year will be up in a matter of days, hopefully less.

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. Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" (1997)
  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. Gloria Stuart in "Titanic" (1997)
  15. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  16. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  17. Amy Irving in "Yentl"(1983)
  18. Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (1997)
  19. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  20. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  21. Joan Cusack in "In & Out" (1997)
  22. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill"(1983)
  23. Barbara Harris in "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971)
  24. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  25. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
  26. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  27. Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" (1997)
  28. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962)
  29. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  30. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant"(1956)
  31. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door"(1937)

Joan Cusack in In & Out

Joan Cusack received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Emily Montgomery in Frank Oz's In & Out. Joan Cusack may just be the most unlikely two time Oscar nominee of all time. She's an actress known for her broad comedic performances and her two nominations are rare instances of the Academy recognizing her style of comedy. Of the two performances, In & Out is undoubtedly more over the top and consequently  the funnier one as well. The film is about a high school teacher named Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) who is accidentally outed as gay by a former student named Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) when he accepts an Academy Award. This is probably the only film based on an Oscar acceptance speech (Tom Hanks' Best Actor acceptance for Philadelphia), which makes it a fun little watch for Oscarphiles. Cusack plays Brackett's long suffering girlfriend Emily, who was scheduled to me married to him days before this revelation.

For the first part of the film Cusack channels her natural dorky charm to play the role of a devoted girlfriend. That natural charm allows her to coast through this first section. She's cute, endearing, and appropriately spacey. Her voice may be annoying to some, but I find it to be an good tool to make her stand out and charm you even further. We're told through the dialogue that Emily has lost a lot of weight in anticipation of the wedding, and was formerly overweight. She even gets a funny workout sequence featuring Richard Simmons, the guru behind her weight loss. Joan Cusack never missteps here, doing a good job at making her character everything that it needs to be. She's just a naturally funny lady using all the tools she has to make this woman lovable. That is why this performance is such an odd one to be nominated--it's not one with particular depth or an emotional pull. It's just funny.

Where Cusack really gets to shine is after her character is left at the altar by Howard. Cusack's reactions are pure comedy gold as Emily struggles to understand why exactly Howard waited three whole years to tell her that he was gay. Her performance is all over the place after the wedding, which is exactly how it is supposed to be. She storms through the movie dressed in her wedding dress screeching at the top of her lungs, delivering some of the most hilarious line readings ever (my favorite: EXCUSE ME!). It's just a performance that is easy to enjoy and has some genuine laughs. If you aren't a fan of broad or physical comedy this performance will definitely not strike your fancy. Also, it is here that her voice may become annoying to some. You have to like Cusack to enjoy these parts. But there is so much fun to be had in this performance, and it's weightless in a good way.

However, the delightful nature of the performance also highlights a lot of its flaws. For one, the role really goes nowhere, developing into a trite romance with Matt Dillon's character. Also, for as funny as she is, Cusack never quite dips into being hilarious. She's luminous and easy to love, but not rolling on the ground riotous in the same way that say Dianne Wiest is in Bullets Over Broadway or Melissa McCarthy is in Bridesmaids. It's a solid comedic performance that in a stronger year wouldn't have come close to a nomination. Cusack is having the time of her life, and Oz lets her loose to do whatever she wants so the performance becomes chaotic. I really like Joan Cusack's performance in In & Out, and this review may have indicated that she would get a higher score from me, but this isn't an Oscar performance. There's a reason comedy never gets nominated, because you have to be great to deserve recognition, same as drama. It's harder to make comedy great, and Cusack doesn't quite do that. 3/5 Thelmas.