Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 2002

#5. Queen Latifah in Chicago: It's hard to dislike Queen Latifah's saucy performance as Matron Mama Morton because of the amount of pure charisma Queen wields in this (and all of) her roles. At the same time, it's hard to acknowledge this as an Oscar-caliber performance because of the lack of depth (of any kind) in this performance. She's a great singer and tons of fun, but Latifah clearly road the Academy's love of Chicago to a nomination that she didn't really need. In fact, an Oscar nomination only highlights the limitations of this performance more.

#4. Kathy Bates in About Schmidt: On a first viewing, I found Kathy Bates' performance as Robert Hertzel to be simply a case of the actress doing what she does best-- creating high quirk characters with a rough edge that are absolutely hilarious but somewhat light and unnecessary to the overall storyline. Many of those facts are true, but after a second viewing of her scenes I found the contribution she makes to the film invaluable. For starters, she's absolutely the most (and sort of only) hilarious person in the film nailing her line readings and comedic timing. But she also plays her scenes with just a hint of forceful desperation that is potent and invaluable to getting to know her family. A truly great comedic supporting performance.

#3. Julianne Moore in The Hours: In her film, Julianne Moore is nothing short of ethereal in her expression of her character's deep dissatisfaction with her seemingly-idyllic life. She does well in keeping with the melancholy tone of her film, and approaches her character in a unique fashion. By expressing the numbness in Laura Brown's life with an unsettling stillness, Moore makes her character the most memorable and striking in the film. The performance is fairly one-note due to the limitations the script places around Moore's character, but damn if Julianne Moore doesn't nail that note and work it for all it's worth.

#2. Meryl Streep in Adaptation.: It's the sign of a strong year in this category when a performance this strong comes in merely at #2. Meryl Streep pulls you into the sad descent of Susan Orlean, slowly unveiling the inner sadness that exists under Orlean's carefully controlled exterior. Her deliberate and carefully modulated performance reveals the hidden displeasure and lack of passion existing in this woman's life inch by inch, until she makes the terrible mistake to drown out this melancholy with drugs and the wrong guy. It's a devastating transformation, and a true testament to Streep's talent.

#1. Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago: This Oscar win has become a very divisive one, but I'm completely on the love side when it comes to Catherine Zeta-Jones' performance as Velma Kelly. Zeta-Jones delivers a performance that mixes a healthy amount of theatricality  and pure musical talent with a subtext of rage and hidden vulnerability. Her three big numbers are among the best movie musical songs not only because of her wonderful voice but also because of the amount of pure emotion she pours into each and every note. Rarely do we see performances as fun yet moving as this one.

The Year in Review: 2002 was a banner year for this category, with four of the five performers giving truly fantastic yet vastly different performances. Ultimately the pure enjoyability of Zeta-Jones' performance beat out the sad and emotional performances from Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore to become my pick for the year. Kathy Bates (and to a much much lesser extent Queen Latifah) is whole lotta fun as well, single-handedly injecting her film with a whole lot of comedy. My next year will be an oldie, but I probably won't get started on it until at least after this year's Oscars are finished because I have a little bit of catching up to do in the Doc and Foreign categories. Here's a fun clue for my next year: it features 4 winners of this category and 1 single-time nominee.

Every Supporting Actress Nominee Ranked:
  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. Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Chicago" (2002)
  5. Linda Hunt in "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1983)
  6. Anna Paquin in "The Piano" (1993)
  7. Meryl Streep in "Adaptation." (2002)
  8. Cher in "Silkwood" (1983)
  9. Eileen Heckart in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  10. Emma Thompson in "In the Name of the Father" (1993)
  11. Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" (1997) 
  12. Ellen Burstyn in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  13. Oprah Winfrey in "The Color Purple" (1985)
  14. Patty McCormack in "The Bad Seed" (1956)
  15. Claire Trevor in "Dead End" (1937)
  16. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall" (1937)
  17. Margaret Avery in "The Color Purple" (1985)
  18. Mildred Dunnock in "Baby Doll" (1956)
  19. Julianne Moore in "The Hours" (2002)
  20. Kathy Bates in "About Schmidt" (2002)
  21. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
  22. Ethel Waters in "Pinky" (1949)
  23. Amy Madigan in "Twice in a Lifetime" (1985)
  24. Meg Tilly in "Agnes of God" (1985)
  25. Gloria Stuart in "Titanic" (1997)
  26. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek" (1983)
  27. Barbara Harris in "Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (1971)
  28. Geraldine Page in "Hondo" (1953)
  29. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas" (1937)
  30. Amy Irving in "Yentl" (1983)
  31. Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (1997)
  32. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962)
  33. Cloris Leachman in "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
  34. Margaret Leighton in "The Go-Between" (1971)
  35. Rosie Perez in "Fearless" (1993)
  36. Mercedes McCambridge in "All the King's Men" (1949)
  37. Joan Cusack in "In & Out" (1997)
  38. Anjelica Huston in "Prizzi's Honor" (1985)
  39. Ann-Margret in "Carnal Knowledge" (1971)
  40. Donna Reed in "From Here to Eternity" (1953)
  41. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill" (1983)
  42. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago" (1937)
  43. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) 
  44. Holly Hunter in "The Firm" (1993)
  45. Queen Latifah in "Chicago" (2002)
  46. Celeste Holm in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  47. Ethel Barrymore in "Pinky" (1949)
  48. Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" (1997)
  49. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962) 
  50. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence" (1993)
  51. Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)
  52. Mercedes McCambridge in "Giant" (1956)
  53. Marjorie Rambeau in "Torch Song" (1953) 
  54. Elsa Lanchester in "Come to the Stable" (1949)
  55. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door" (1937)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Julianne Moore in The Hours

Julianne Moore received her third/fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Laura Brown in Stephen Daldry's The Hours. She was also nominated in 2002 for her lead performance in Far From Heaven. As far as Oscar favorites go, The Hours is definitely an atypical film to receive nine nominations be that it is a female-centric drama with gay undertones and is undoubtedly a downer of a film. It focuses on the lives of three women living in different time periods and how Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway connects them. Nicole Kidman plays Woolf herself in the midst of writing the novel, Julianne Moore plays a depressed, pregnant housewife finding an escape in the novel, and Meryl Streep is (sort of) a version of the novel's titular character preparing for a party for her AIDs-afflicted ex-lover. It's an fascinating and surprisingly engaging movie that is harder to love than its Best Picture competition, but contains many great performances. Of the three main leading ladies, I'd rate Julianne Moore's performance as my second favorite, eclipsed slightly by the more understated work of Meryl Streep but much better than Nicole Kidman's haunting yet one-note Oscar-winning performance.

Laura Brown is a 1950s housewife unhappy in her marriage to Dan (John C. Reilly), a veteran of World War II. She spends her days taking care of her young son Richie (Jack Rovello) and struggling to find meaning in her menial wifely duties. Julianne Moore takes a unique, hypnotic approach in expressing Laura's deep lack of satisfaction in her life. She really doesn't have a lot of huge emotional (aka "Oscar") moments, but instead relies on expressing her depression through an absolutely haunting stillness. She's nearly catatonic in the majority of her scenes, simply stripped of any happiness or liveliness. She has an ethereal, otherworldly quality that is so interesting and entrancing and effective at showing how little in the world this woman seems to care about.

Moore also pulls off making Laura sympathetic despite the deeply unsympathetic nature of her character. John C. Reilly is quite adorable and charming as her husband, and Jack Rovello is an adorable if limited child actor. It is clear that Laura's dissatisfaction life comes from within herself, not her family, and as hard as she tries to perform her duties like she is expected even the simplest task become arduous and tiresome for her. We get a glimpse into the roots of Laura's dissatisfaction when her neighbor and friend Kitty (Toni Collette) visits to ask Laura to feed her dog for a few days as she undergoes surgery. In this scene we see Laura open up and express her first real emotion besides sadness as she comforts Kitty and shows genuine affection towards her that clearly doesn't exist between her and her husband. It becomes clear that due to the time period she is living in, Laura isn't allowed the freedom to live life as she would like and she feels trapped in the stereotypes of the era. This encounter with Kitty leads to a kiss between the two women, and it is that kiss that pushes Laura to want to escape her life by any means and adds a further gay subtext to the performance.

The most affecting scene in the film is when Laura drops her son off at a neighbor's house so she can go to a hotel and kill herself. The emotional attachment that Richie has to his mother is made clear from the beginning, even if her love for him cannot overpower her distaste of her life. As he screams out for his mother as she abandons him, Moore is devastating in her portrayal of the emotional struggle her character is facing in making this decision. She knows that on some level her son knows she intends to leave him permanently, and that makes the decision even harder for her to make.

For the rest of her performance she returns to the same notes she traverses at the beginning of the film, that unsettling stillness and emotional barrenness. The scene of her pondering killing herself is surprisingly unemotional, partially because it is intercut with a voice over by Kidman's Woolf deciding whether or not to kill her heroine. Her performance for the rest of the film expresses my main complaint with this performance, that being that it is a fairly one note performance with a few great scenes of emotional variation and the rest of the film spent being simply morose. She nails that one note, and so affecting at it but ultimately I found the role a little too limiting for Moore to overcome completely. We see how sad this woman is and feel sympathy for her, but Moore isn't allowed a chance to put too much reasoning behind the sadness with the exception of the brief kitchen scene and that makes her character slightly flat.

The final scene of the film allows her to put a nice little bow on the top of her performance, as we see what became of Laura Brown in the future sequence and the film pounds home the underlying themes of her character. She's honest and open about her decisions and life and shows no remorse for what she did because it was the best thing for her to do. I'm glad they allowed Moore to play the older version of the character, because she retains the same haunting qualities and gives a fuller performance. This is a very good performance from Julianne Moore, and one that is unique and melancholic. It fits in well with the tone of her film, and shows off Moore's consummate ability to turn in compelling performances. Even when she's not allowed too much variation, she is nothing but watchable and memorable. 4/5 Thelmas.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Meryl Streep in Adaptation.

Meryl Streep received her thirteenth Oscar nomination (third in the Supporting Actress category) for her performance as Susan Orlean in Spike Jonze's Adaptation.. Is it safe to say that Adaptation. is the "weirdest" film ever nominated for three acting Academy Awards? At least when judging on the strict curve of typical "Oscar bait", I'd say so (though The Master is probably a close runner-up). Case in point, it is difficult to even begin to describe the film in a few brief sentences, but here goes: Adaptation. is about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's (Nicolas Cage) struggles to adapt Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) novel The Orchid Thief into a film.'s also a kind of, sort of, an adaptation of the book itself, which is about John Laroche (Chris Cooper), an orchid thief who was arrested for illegally poaching the flower off a state park. But it's not really a true adaptation, since a majority of the events were made up by Kaufman when he struggled to adapt the book, including inventing a fictional twin brother for himself also played by Nicolas Cage as well as inventing a romance between Orlean and Laroche. If you haven't seen the film, just go watch it and don't even bother trying to understand what that all means. The film is self-referential, confusing, and challenging in a way that most Oscar nominated films are not which is so refreshing.

Of all the characters in the film, Streep's Susan Orlean changes the most radically from start to finish, whereas the kooks played by Cooper and Cage have less radical changes occur. At the start of the film we see Susan Orlean as she probably is in real life, a serious journalist simply looking for a story by hunting down Laroche in Florida for an article. She's a very controlled, tightly coiled woman who approaches Laroche as a subject and nothing more. But Streep is a genius is subtle modulations, and a few scenes into the performance we begin to see the inner workings of Susan Orlean reveal themselves in subtle yet powerful ways. An early scene that stands out is when she is questioning one of Laroche's workers, who compliments her hair and softly touches it and cracks of longing, loneliness, and sexual frustration begin to show. Streep reveals these cracks with simple looks and a slight giggle, never overplaying her hand and always remaining a tight control over Orlean's emotions.

In the course of a few meetings with Laroche and in the process or writing her article (and eventually, book) she begins to acknowledge her loneliness more overtly in voice over. Streep maintains the control over her character's external demeanor, but the inner longing for purpose and the feeling that she is missing various types of passion in her life become very clear during her solitary scenes. She's the emotional core of the film, sometimes unveiling many of the themes very blatantly through voice over, but constantly adjusting scene by scene in a way that is sincere and very effective. We begins to see Susan Orlean as a tragic figure who is deeply unhappy in her life, and her admiration for Laroche grows as she notices his life is filled with multiple passions and her with not a single one.

Then, of course, comes the point in which Streep's performance finally joins in on the wonderful weirdness of her two costars. She is given some (fictional) drugs by Laroche that derive from the orchids he collects, and falls into an addiction to the drug as well as a romance with Laroche. The scene where she first tries the drugs is an absolute triumph, and Streep is funny, touching, and just zany enough to convincingly be drugged out. It's also a rather sad scene because instead of finding her passion and purpose in life, she finds herself seeking solace in this drug and in the arms of a somewhat crazy man. Though Streep is good at showing the very rapid descent of Susan Orlean, she can't quite make the romance aspects work. The script just sort of suddenly decides they are romantically involved, but Cooper and Streep have only mild romantic chemistry and work better as author and subject earlier in the film. In the final few scenes we see just how sad this woman has become, as Orlean becomes violent and pretty damn scary. She is nothing like the woman at the start of the film, but her problems remain mostly the same internally as she still struggles with those same persistent problems in her core.

Throughout this film we get to see the gradual decline of Susan Orlean, and Meryl Streep is an expert at convincingly tugging us along with this woman's sad descent. She is never over the top or pushing these changes, but masterfully unwinds them in a deliberate fashion. As she slowly unravels the inner workings of this woman, she shows how she attempts to fill to holes in her life only to make them deeper and more heartbreaking. In a film so "meta" and quirky, Meryl proves that she can once again acquit herself wonderfully and excel in any genre. This is easily the strangest of her thousands of Oscar nominated performances, but also one of her most interesting. 4.5/5 Thelmas.