Andy Hart from FandangoGroovers sent us an e-mail asking us what our best movie years are and instead just blurting out what years I chose, I opted for introducing my reasoning behind the chosen years.
Because I’m suicidal.
There have been other posts like this obviously, citing the year that saw the height noir as a style in 1941. It’s easy to assume that the year before, 1940, might be a weaker year but I don’t think so (what were you thinking, Paolo?). I already said that 1941 was the year of the noir and it was the beginning of stylistic achievements that will be influential for the next forty years. But no one wants to peak young Those arguments, I admit, are me trying to put both years under investigation before I declare them as banner years).
What 1940 has is diversity. What other year could boast an animated movie that has different yet complementary aesthetics and another movie that successfully convinces us that the all-American Jimmy Stewart is European and/or a man of class? What year will we find such comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It was also a great actressing year that followed 1939. Joan Fontaine being the light anchor in only Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Katharine Hepburn returns and makes the studios realize that her sense of comic timing can crowd the movie theatres. And Vivien Leigh simply haunts us. The movies: Fantasia, The Shop Around the Corner, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Waterloo Bridge.
Because it was the year of (forgotten) classics.
1955 saw three movies so breathtaking that it almost makes me want to say ‘Revisionist Western,’ although it would be too anachronistic to use that phrase. But those movies subverts North American ideas of villainy, race and It was also the year of the blond.
Doing away with her Academy Award-winning de-glam, Grace Kelly has a career-best performance in another Hitchcock movie as a smart golden-locked woman. Shelley Winters plays victim to Robert Mitchum, too charming to be good, but she might not necessarily be dumb. Marilyn Monroe almost steals Evelyn Keyes’ husband and makes us think differently about the hot air on street vents. Julie Harris, a honey blond, steers the lost James Dean, in his best performance, into sanity and domesticity. But the brunettes represented too, James Dean also finding love in a hopeful teenager Natalie Wood. Jean Simmons making Marlon Brando fly her to Cuba and she still won’t give him the love that he doesn’t deserve yet. And Martine Carol, overshadowed by younger French actresses, gives us a 19th cnetury circus act that we should never forget. The movies: The Night of the Hunter, East of Eden, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Catch a Thief, Lola Montes.
Because I might be suicidal after all.
1974 saw most movies come back to the streets. Walter Matthau deals with a subway train gets high jacked in Manhattan, New York City by good for nothing British terrorists. Los Angeles saw its share of impersonators, near impossible water shortages and crazy ladies chasing for their children riding in school buses. In San Francisco, Gene Hackman and John Cazale do their job as many lovely yet suspicious conversations under wiretap. And the past catches up with the present as Michael Corleone does his best to escape chaos and brotherly betrayal in Havana, Cuba. But that doesn’t mean that the rural areas didn’t get some love, as a singer travels to find a job and a college student finds a crazy family.
When it comes to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese directs a melodrama (he needs to do another one and if you say Hugo I swear I’ll…). Francis Ford Coppola created a kinetic magnum opus and lost Best Picture against himself. A frazzled married woman played by Gena Rowlands and a tough woman with a tougher lawyer in Faye Dunaway lose to determined single mother brought to life by Ellen Burstyn. The movies: The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence.
Because I’m a hopeless romantic.
2010 was the year I started blogging, the year culminating the plurality that independent cinema has worked for in the past forty years. Indie masters like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Edgar Wright made movies with actors who will become Hollywood’s future and made hundreds of millions of dollars with them. I’m going to try to stop overusing the word ‘indie’ no, although I used it one last time to a movie so good that it doesn’t even need to be finished.
But in 2010, I surprisingly found sympathy within mopey characters aimlessly wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Or it could be London, where a reluctant king impersonates an Emperor penguin for the young daughters who themselves will make history. Boston also has its share of competitive brothers, both brothers and their entertainingly abrasive mother, sisters and wives. A brother and sister explore what we assume is Lebanon and learn a heart wrenching through, out of all things, mathematics. The fashionable Milan has a shy, Russian housewife learning what love is in its primal states, throwing her life away from him. And I learned how to love an overrated director since he created characters who can make the Parisian streets of their dreams shake and bend. The movies: Greenberg, I am Love, Meek’s Cutoff, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Fighter.
Other years under further investigation: 1927 – the year when the Academy started getting it wrong (Sunrise, Metropolis), 1939 – the height of the studios (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind), 1966 – the year when we said terrible things to each other a lot (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Persona), 1988 – when he loved and hated the Germans (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, Die Hard), 1991 – genre versus genre (Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 2001 – weirdest sexiest year ever (Mulholland Drive, Y Tu Mama Tambien).
Inspired by Nick and Antagony via Nathaniel . Se nervous. It took me like a month of listing and can and can’t to do this. How do I even judge a great performance? Physicality? Double or triple threats? Filling the shoes of a memorable literary character? And I combine leading and supporting performances because I’m cool like that. Anyway, here goes -
Vivien Leigh. “Gone with the Wind,” as Scarlett O’Hara. Directed by David O. Selznick & George Cukor, 1939. Oscar winner.
I’m pretty sure I”m gonna be clobbered if I didn’t include her in the list. I tried not to, but I can’t help it. Watching the film means finding another great line that Leigh delivers, considering that she doesn’t have the best lines in the film (the honour would go to Melanie Wilkes). Of course, there’s watching Leigh in four hours going through different stages of Scarlett’s life, in different eras, and both actress and character fit well. She grows into an adult yet her eyes hint of childlike mischief. She’s a character, on paper, that we should love to hate, and yet we still love her.
Hattie McDaniel. “Gone with the Wind,” as Mamie. Directed by David O. Selznick, 1939. Oscar winner.
Writing this, I realized that Mamie’s often brings bad news. Most of the time, she’s the one to tell other characters whether a member in the family has died or is suffering. She’s also there to tell Scarlett if she’s making a mistake. She’s family whether Scarlett thinks otherwise., arguably Scarlett’s surrogate mother, feeding her and clothing her. In “Gone with the Wind, McDaniel puts some subtlety into crucial scenes not permitted to any actress of her race in any other movie at the time. McDaniel took on Mamie character with tragedy and comedy and ambiguity.
Bette Davis. “The Little Foxes,” as Regina Giddens. Directed by William Wyler, 1941. Oscar nominee.
Despite of the performance’s reputation, Davis doesn’t make her character that much of a monster. There’s honesty in Regina’s wish to give her only child Alexandra a better life she couldn’t have in her youth. Yet she’s an anti-Scarlett, or a more ruthless version of the Southern woman. She has the ability to attack after being vulnerable and cheated, has to do certain unspeakable things for her ambition and survival, crushes her family like enemies and in minutes she treat them like friends. All of that done with great finesse.
Moira Shearer. ‘The Red Shoes,” as Victoria Page. Directed by Michael Powell, 1948.
I apologize for the forthcoming use of adjectives and nouns, but who else can show youth and exuberance and pathos. She has this childlike quality, and her ambition for a dance career has thrust her into this adult world where people, sepcifically her boss (Anton Walbrook) and husband, would be pulling and tugging for her. I make it sound like a coming of age story, but Shearer’s performance shows the difference sides youth and the decay of that youth. She goes from rosy to fragile. That and being the quintessential pre-mod British girl holding our attention for at least fifteen minutes in that dance sequence.
Isuzu Yamada. “Throne of Blood,” as Lady Asaji Washizu. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, 1957.
This is Noh and Kabuki at its best. It’s also one of the most interesting interpretations of Lady Macbeth, as well as any royal consort who has to act through her man instead of being free to do so in her own right. The audience sees her sitting down, like in meditation, symbolic of someone so ingrained her own rhetoric and dragging down her devoted husband with her. She is calm as a person who helped her husband kill a man. Yet in public she is a gracious host and tries to behave as if she’s advising her husband and not suffocating him. She shows her as guiltless because those with guilt actually live through the end – she won’t. She spends the final act being tortured on earth. More conventional interpretations of the character shows her as hollowed out, yet Asaji is fully fleshed yet possessed. She’s a monster and not a queen.
Helen Mirren. “Age of Consent,” as Cora Ryan. Directed by Michael Powell, 1969.
Helen Mirren’s trademark is to show off her body, but she uses it in this movie to its fullest potential. When she’s skipping and posing on the beach or in the dirtiest places, trying to hide money from her tyrannic grandmother, she’s that kind of actress that you can tell her what to do or say and she’s game. Her Shakespearean training helps convey this class and strength, surprising for this feral child in the middle of nowhere, yet still make us believe that she’s innocent. No wonder James Mason’s character Bradley was attracted to her and wanted her as a muse. Like and unlike a Galatea-like character she professes her love for her man and she’s so certain of it that Bradley nor the audience can doubt it. Her accent work’s good too. Mirren’s later performances will be that on an ice queen, and we’ll probably never get something as invigorating as this performance from her again.
Faye Dunaway. “Network,” as Diana Christensen. Directed by Sidney Lumet, 1976. Oscar winner.
She knows how to walk into a room. To talk Max Schumacher’s (Billy Holden) ear off and let him just stand there and take it. Being a seductress yet frigid is a hard thing to pull off, and Dunaway does it. Her performance, especially the ending, makes its audience wonder whether she’s a victim or survivor. Max condemns her, that she’s probably gonna jump off from her corner office in a year or two. Yet she placidly and without hesitation plans for an assassination without Max’s words clouding her brain. Also, here and in any other movie, Dunaway is a master of modern American elocution. She doesn’t veer off in a fake British accent like most of her predecessors not does she talk like an accordion like most American actresses. She commands the other person so quickly yet doesn’t get them and the audience lost.
Helena Bonham Carter. “A Room with a View, ” as Lucy Honeychurch. Directed by James Ivory, 1985.
Bonham Carter’s work in this movie can arguably be that on an ingenue’s, but you know the Chinese proverb of an apprentice’s limitless possibilities. As Lucy, she goes on vacation in Italy to learn about art and culture and watch Italians fight, but her stature while absorbing this information that makes her less passive than any other character in that film. She speaks a certain way depending on her situation. She could be ghostly and trapped, childlike in her complaints, or assert to others that her conventional life makes her happy. There’s also that moment when she answers a crucial question and breaks down and becomes free, and is so matter of fact about that answer. Bonham Carter’s recent reputation as Tim Burton’s wife and muse also makes this early performance a discovery of how soft and subtle she could be.
Cate Blanchett. “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” as Meredith Logue. Directed by Anthony Minghella, 1999.
She’s a star even in her many supporting roles like this one. Watch Blanchett’s performance create a back story in a few seconds by a look, by simply flipping her hair and being swept by her surroundings. Meredith is one of the Americans in Venice, yet refreshingly not as jaded as her peers. She doesn’t just use her appearance to shape her role. That insufferable inflection as she calls Tom Ripley ‘Dickie’ is one of the most memorable parts of the film. Fact: Gwyneth Paltrow arguable stole Blanchett’s Oscar, and in return this movie gets Blanchett to steal Paltrow’s boyfriend.
Viola Davis. “Doubt,” as Mrs. Miller. Directed by John Patrick Shanley, 2008.
This wonderfully paced supporting work reveals so much about the shocking words coming from Mrs. Miller. Another way of talking about this scene stealing performance is that of a pressure cooker, a women dogged by Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) until she explodes and tells the truth. She uses the words ‘caught’ and ‘nature’ not like innuendos but a natural part of an oppressive vocabulary. She makes herself understood. Remember that in the film version, their conversation happens in public and Davis doesn’t hush up nor careless go into histrionics. She doesn’t apologize for her presence and makes herself an equal by sharply telling Aloysius that she has to go back to her life, and to defending and loving her son without making the latter nor the audience think that she didn’t ask for him, as many fictional mothers like her do.
Sure, Scarlet O ‘Hara (Vivien Leigh), the (anti)heroine of “Gone With The Wind,” is the one getting the ‘bitch’ label and Mamie (Hattie McDaniel) has her share of berating Scarlett and trying to tell her what to do, but Melanie Hamilton Wilkes (Olivia de Haviland) had the best zingers. I would love to have known this character and the kind of bitchy stuff she would have said in confidence.
Olivia De Haviland is a star on her own right. It’s somehow baffling that she’d play second fiddle to Vivien Leigh and sometimes, Bette Davis. She portrays Melanie with such placidity that some in the audience might not notice the frankness in rebellion in her words. Like “Phil Meade, you hush your mouth. Do you think it will help your mother to have you off getting shot too? I never heard of anything so silly.”
One of her character traits is her persistence in protecting and defending Scarlet. Scarlet did save her life after all, something that the other characters around her has forgotten. When Scarlet shoots a Yankee, she drags her husband’s sword, if she’d be called to help. She tells Scarlet that she’s glad the latter killed him. Glad? Anyway, to hide this murder, she assures the others at Tara – “Don’t be scared, chickens. Your big sister was trying to clean a revolver and it went of and nearly scared her to death!”
I think Melanie’s held more deadly weapons than any other character in the movie, male or female. Again, she tries to defend Scarlet, who might be blamed for causing the males’ drunken behaviour and for her second husband’s death. Mellie finds her husband, Ashley (Leslie Howard) under arrest for drunkenness. I can’t believe that I missed her telling off the Yankee captain that ‘If you arrest all the men who get intoxicated in Atlanta, you must have a good many Yankees in jail, Captain.’ With rapid fire impatience from her this time. Her character’s a great observer, being a woman and a Southern wife of a former plantation owner in occupied Georgia. She knows how to behave in any circumstance.
People know Mellie for her kindness especially in her last days. Her last command to Scarlet, to ‘take care of Ashley,’ if we can indulge on some overreading, inadvertently sets off a series of events that somehow made sure that we’d never see Scarlet and Ashley together, nor Scarlet with her third husband Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Mellie and Scarlet might be best friends, but she keeps her husband, perhaps after her death.
Inspired by Nathaniel, Nick, and Tomas. My A Star is Born posts will be out when the movie plays in my rep theatre. ETA: This post is also now a part of Nathaniel’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ series.
I was screen capping A Streetcar Named Desire for my “Godfather” cast career post. Get some good caps of Brando, get out. Something really captivated me while skimming through this movie, because it felt like watching the frills and frenetic images of a silent movie at parts. Streetcar has that ‘silent’ German feel while the weaker On the Waterfront has Neorealist touches. East of Eden and Splendor in the Grass brings the crazy, which I like, but despite of how much I love them, I think colour drowns out the emotional punch that his black and white films had. [ETA: It's been nine months since I wrote that sentence, I'm not sure if I agree with that now.]
The silent-era feel of the film was especially true when Vivien Leigh was on-screen. It helps since her character is a relic of the past, and the silent aesthetics compliment her. The camera captures her through overhead shots and full body long shots. It zooms and zeroes in her shamelessly as if Kazan wants us to feel her emotions by exposing her so closely on-screen. The mise-en-scene helped a lot into the mood of this film, enveloping Blanche with its draperies and decay.
I’ve been ambivalent with the movie, since it was one of the first classic-era films I’ve been introduced to. I saw this before Gone with the Wind. The film astounded me on my first viewing, watching Leigh’s vulnerability and Brando’s wavelengths. Seeing Brando in a suit seems even scarier because he’s calm at the moment and the audience knows he’s just waiting to snap.
But then it’s dialogue-heavy, like most early film adaptations of plays, and I’m more of a visual guy and I didn’t appreciate what this movie did visually back then. And since it’s one of my first outings on classical film, I ran to iMDb and most of when were cheering for the film. There’s a few who deride her performance, although it’s clearly the best of the bunch.
I got around to reading the play and I interpreted the ‘following morning’ scene – when Blanche makes it seem that she’s encountering trash for the first time, specifically the lines where Blanche tells Stella that the latter has forgotten about Belle Rive – as more sorrowfully than Leigh and Kazan did (honestly, I’m probably not gonna be the most subtle director ever, and that’s why I don’t plan to become one). So there was a brief period of slight dislike there.
But then this last time I saw Leigh playing Blanche strong to protect her sister, worn out both physically and mentally, convulsing on the floor. None of that was fake. Enjoy the screen grabs.
Vivien Leigh may be the great beauty of 1939, but in “Waterloo Bridge” she turns herself into just one of the girls. As Myra Lester she’s meek and chummy and a little bit fragile. We first see her behind other girls passing by the bridge, we only see her because we’re looking for her. She’s not the lead of her ballet company playing in a vaudeville theatre, nor the first lady to get the job or the soldier. What makes her stand out in the crowd and to Captain Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor) are her ideals. The rainy day after their first date will put her in a whirlwind engagement and a series of events that will slowly but surely transform her, and Leigh transforms with her character every step of the way.
Roy, however, keeps the innocence that Myra’s lost, a difficult thing to pull off for a grown man who’s fought in the Great War. He’s also the soldier who doesn’t take no for an answer which makes us feel a little uncomfortable but fortunately finds Myra who’s in love with him despite a few apprehensions. His speech and body language are good, especially in the scene when he has to go through the bodyguards in his barracks. Yes, Taylor only uses the British accent one word per sentence, but we let that go.
Although made by MGM and stars Nebraska-born Taylor, the film is very much British. It kinda reminds me of “Brief Encounter” in a way that there’s a certain noir aspect to the film. Instead of guns and grifters, there are menacing shadows inside night clubs and train stations and ancestral homes and flats, fogs on bridges, headlights on women’s faces. Instead of a suburban American home, romance is set in London grit. It’s like love isn’t meant to last in the city, or that the city has too many roadblocks and temptations that take two perfectly matched lovers away from each other.