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 (RenĂ©e 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.