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)

Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show

Ellen Burstyn received her first Oscar nomination (and only in this category) for her performance as Lois Farrow in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. Of the 4 performances nominated for acting awards for The Last Picture Show (Burstyn, Leachman, Jeff Bridges, and Ben Johnson), Ellen Burstyn's performance as Lois Farrow is probably the least important to the plot of the film. Burstyn plays the mother of Cybill Shepherd's Jacy Farrow who tries hard to stop her daughter from making some of the same mistakes she did when she was younger. She doesn't want to see Jacy marry her boyfriend Duane (Bridges), and would like her daughter to marry a wealthy man so she wouldn't have as hard a life as she did. The character is nothing particularly unique or special, it's what Burstyn does with her that makes this such a great performance.

As with the entire film, realism is a key aspect of this performance. Lois Farrow could easily fall into the category of being another overbearing monster mother (see: Margaret Leighton) but Burstyn and Bogdanovich don't take the easy route and instead make her a charming and rational woman. Burstyn's first scene is her scolding Jacy and telling her to be careful not to get pregnant and that she shouldn't marry Duane. It's abundantly clear that even though Lois is saying all these horrible things, she does it because she loves her daughter and they actually have a strong relationship. Burstyn's also very charming in this film, using her accent in a sort of 'aw shucks' type of way that makes her character endearing. Even when Lois is openly seducing other men I couldn't help but like her, and that's a testament to the charm and talent of Burstyn. For the majority of the movie Burstyn is the most luminous presence, imbuing wit and likeability into a character that seems like she should be more of an antagonistic one.

All becomes clear when we get to the funeral of Sam the Lion. Without having a single scene with Ben Johnson, Burstyn is tasked with creating a long ago romantic history real all by herself and she succeeds with grace and color. It's a testament to Bogdanovich that he never gave her a scene with Johnson because that would be the easy way out and it adds extra depth and hindsight into Lois's storyline if they never met in the course of the film. Her final scene talking to Sonny about her time with Sam the Lion is so emotionally powerful and moving especially because it comes from nowhere. You look back at why Lois is fighting so hard for her daughter to have an easier life and realize that she does it because she made a lot of mistakes in her life and her bitter harshness comes from experience, heartbreak, and person mistakes she has made. Until Sam the Lion dies Lois doesn't understand her daughter and we don't understand Lois.

Ellen Burstyn's performance is one of charm, deep seeded emotion, and depth. The script gives her so much to work with and Bogdanovich handles her character arc the best, at least as far as the women are concerned. I love that Lois Farrow is somehow simultaneously likeable, unlikeable, a romantic, and a realist all at once and Burstyn navigates these various traits in a very realistic way. I felt a real connection with her and that I knew her because all of her struggles in life were just so grounded in real emotions and experiences. She just mines gold out of the material she was given, and that's among the best things a supporting actress can do. 4.5/5 Wiests.

Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show

Cloris Leachman won an Academy Award on her first and only nomination to date for her performance as Ruth Popper in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. Set in a small Texas town, the film explores the lives of the town's numerous residents and goes out of its way to attempt and portray them in as realistic way possible. Cloris Leachman plays Ruth Popper, the depressed wife of the town's football coach who finds herself falling into a relationship with one of her husband's players, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms). Of the two nominated ladies, this performance is definitely the more baity role, and it gave Cloris a chance to really show off her range as an actress. Her role is also very sympathetic and has become something of a symbol for the movie and when I think of Cloris or The Last Picture Show, her final scene immediately comes to mind.

All that being said....I wasn't as crazy about this performance as many, many other seem to be and I really am not completely sure why. I have my suspicions that it is the beginning of the performance, along with Timothy Bottoms as a limp costar that makes me more skeptical about this one. Timothy Bottoms being an absolutely drag to watch and sucking the life out of nearly every scene he's in is not really Cloris's fault, but I thought the chemistry they had was just really, really awkward. Cloris never got to act next to Ellen Burstyn or Jeff Bridges or even Cybill Shepherd which was a shame. When we first meet Ruth Popper she might as well have been a zombie, and Cloris played her a little too robotic to start at the beginning. Her approach worked in getting across that this woman was not very happy in her marriage and is shut off from the rest of society, but didn't succeed in making an emotional connection. A majority of the exchanges in the film that were meant to make you feel for Ruth Popper just left me slightly uncomfortable and annoyed with her.

The performance improves vastly once Ruth and Sonny's encounters become a common thing, and the Cloris Leachman persona we are all more familiar with is allowed to peak its head out. Cloris seems more relaxed and lays on her typical charm while remaining in character and I finally felt some sort of emotional and empathetic connection with Ruth Popper. So far I feel I've been quite critical on Cloris, but I'd like to say that she does give a good performance but just not one that I warmed up to. All of her acting choices are solid if unspectacular, and I do think by the end of the film she salvages some of her early mistakes into that final explosive scene where Sonny returns to Ruth after leaving her for Cybill Shepherd. It's easily the best scene in the entire film as the emotions that Ruth has built up explode into a rampage on Sonny. It's the only truly startling and phenomenal part of Cloris's performance. I just feel like Cloris is making all the right moves but they just don't come together they way they should.

Ultimately, I feel like I have to apologize for not liking this performance because it is one that every else seems to infatuated with. She's saddled with an awful costar and turns out a technically adept but not emotionally rich performance. It's impossible not to love Cloris Leachman, but I don't think her dramatic gifts are nearly as good as her comedic ones. Her Oscar win for The Last Picture Show isn't the worst, but isn't where I would have gone this year.  3/5 Thelmas.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between

Margaret Leighton received her first and only Oscar nomination for her performance as Mrs. Maudsley in Joseph Losey's The Go-Between. The film, based on the novel by L.P. Hartley, is about a forbidden romance between Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie) and a farmer (Alan Bates), told through the eyes of a young boy they use to deliver letters between them. It's an absolutely dreary film to get through, as neither Christie nor Bates offer any appealing qualities here and the messenger, played by Dominic Guard is just okay as far as child actors go. Margaret Leighton plays Marian's mother, the harsh and commanding matriarch of the Maudsley family and actually gets very little substantial screentime. For the majority of the film Leighton can be seen somewhere in the background making her presence known in subtle ways but it is the last 15 minutes or so where Leighton (I assume) earned her Oscar nomination.

Mrs. Maudsley is a character type we've seen thousands of times before, and in this category especially. She's a high society woman insistent on keeping her family at the top of the ladder despite what they might think or want otherwise. It's hard to add new depth to a character like Mrs. Maudsley without the help of the script, so Leighton instead sets out to fulfill her "wicked witch" type role beautifully, and actually act instead of camp it up which would have been an easier choice. To be fair, Mrs. Maudsley isn't exactly the same as every other high society woman we typically see in films, and she respects the lower classes (at least on the surface) and isn't so high and mighty to not treat them civilly. Instead she will silently dart them a nasty look or two while watching a game of cricket or at a local gathering. That is essentially the extent to which Leighton operates for the first hour and forty minutes of the film, gliding naturally between superficial genteel hospitality and serving as a silent but strong presence of her family's "superiority". Leighton makes Mrs. Maudsley's projected dominance palpable even in passing.

Her fierce determination to remain societal superiority comes to a head when she catches Marian and the boy in the midst of exchanging a letter and she coolly coerces the truth out of the messenger. We can tell that Mrs. Maudsley is not surprised by this news and may have suspected it all along. This sequence that lasts probably between five and ten minutes is where Leighton exercises her acting ability by releasing all that contempt that Mrs. Maudsley has successfully kept held in while still maintaining some control of herself and acting a as someone "of her class" should. It's a delicate task to pull off, because it requires Leighton to be forceful without exploding into overacting and screaming, and she walks the line beautifully. All of her movements while she grills the poor boy express the anger that raising her voice and shouting would. It's an excellent acting choice by Leighton, and one that makes those last few minutes the most tense and engaging moments of the film. Even though the film concludes with Mrs. Maudsley living up to the tropes that her character type always does, Leighton navigates them like a pro and never takes the easy path.

However, the phrase "too little too late" comes to mind when looking at the overall effect of this performance. There's never a moment where Leighton missteps, but the script only gives her a brief section to really flex her acting muscles. I know this category is supporting, and screentime isn't of paramount importance when judging these performance but Leighton never gets a chance to make an impression like that of other ladies with even less screentime such as Claire Trevor in Dead End or Beatrice Straight in Network. So I commend this performance and give it a solid and respectable 3/5 Thelmas.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Name Change!

This all may seem silly to some, seeing that this is the second time I've change my blog's name but it's just had to be done both times. I loved the name of this blog but found myself not living up to it's potential so it had to be done away with. That's for a blog with a more active poster, so I'm changing my name to the much more relevant and broad Cinema Report Card. It's a stupid thing that's been bothering me, so now it's done.

For months now I've been trying to get myself to more actively post on this blog but school and everything is busy so I'm still not sure how often I'm going to post but it'll pick up soon I promise. I have a big project lined up that's been brewing in my mind since August and I'll be getting to it soon, I promise. I'll be finishing Supporting Actress 1971 this week, and I'm going to try and make myself do a year every two weeks so I can pick up the pace with these ladies. Anyone who is still around thanks for hanging around and I appreciate it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Barbara Harris in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Barbara Harris received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Allison Densmore in Ulu Grosbard's Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. This film is basically as dreary and puzzling as the title is long-winded. After directing Jack Albertson to a Supporting Actor Oscar in The Subject Was Roses, I can only assume that Grosbard wanted to prove his '70s credibility with this overly directed and outrageously boring pseudo-psychedelic film. The film is about Georgie Soloway (Dustin Hoffman), a narcissistic pop star dealing with a bevy of emotional problems that I don't really feel like listing here. I have to be honest and say that the parts not including Barbara Harris have already (less than a day later) blurred together in my mind, and I was very close to falling asleep at multiple times during this film. That being said, with all the awfulness surrounding her, Barbara Harris gets to "steal" the movie with a performance that gives the movie (and the viewers) a much needed shot in the arm.

Allison doesn't pop up until around the hour and fifteen minute mark, when Georgie is auditioning girls for some kind of part (I don't remember what specifically....or if it was even said). At first she seems to fit right in with the tone of the rest of the film--she's kind of a nutcase that flitters around the stage and is outright bizarre. It quickly becomes clear to the casting directors that she is not right for the part. She's too old, too neurotic and weird, and not a good enough singer (though I thought she sounded lovely) for the job. Harris has a very lively, skittish presence that draws you into her character even if you can tell that she's probably a bit of a handful and a total wreck. All these mannerisms work because she's playing a struggling actress--a notoriously quirky group. Eventually, Allison becomes fixated on this one lamp that she has placed her hand on and refuses to let go of, and Georgie takes a little bit of pity on her and attempts to talk her out of the room.

Here is where Barbara Harris gets to deliver the most emotional moments of the film, and Grosbard actually made some great choices when filming this sequence. When Allison auditioned we could only see her from a distance, just like Georgie and the casting directors. As he moves forward to speak with her we also get to see more of a close-up and our whole outlook changes on her. She looks like kind of a clown dressed up all fancy in a new dress that doesn't really fit her body type, with garish makeup, and an overall unnatural look for a woman her age. As the Allison and Georgie talk, all the weirdness and mannerisms that were so prominent fade away and we see a woman struggling with getting older and not being where she wants to be in life. Harris uses simple and time-tested techniques to make this mess of a woman become very sympathetic and relatable. It's all about her presence and the way she drops the mannerisms to reveal this broken and sad woman. This scene can't be more than fifteen minutes long, but it has more impact than the rest of the psychoanalytical drivel in the film.

This would be a truly phenomenal performance if it ended there with Allison being something of an enigma, but what follows is a few more scenes involving a romance with Georgie, and those sort of kill Harris' impact. She has no chemistry with Hoffman, and comes off as rather plain and timid in those subsequent two scenes. It's almost as if that one scene was the only exceptional scene, but once she left that theater the awfulness of the film started to bleed into the her performance. This was one of the hardest performances to grade because it is easily the worst film of any reviewed nominees so far. Barbara Harris is fascinating for a that brief moment of time, masterfully embodying one of cinema's most common themes (getting older), but when it comes down to it the film just drags her down too much and those final few scenes keep her from getting any higher than a 3.5/5.

[Note: I know I said I was doing Cloris & Ellen next, but those two will instead be last because I just waited too long to review them after watching the film and I'd like to have them fresh on my mind when I do. So Margaret Leighton is next.]