90’s Showdown: The Contenders 2
Yesterday I talked about this spin-off’s beginning (keep voting on Andrew’s page you guys!), and I promised more performances so here they are.
Kirsten Dunst in Dick (1999): Dick has two leads – Michelle Williams using her doe-eyed delivery with a comic flair that she barely shows, and Kirsten Dunst in her prolonged Torrance Chapman phase. Dunst is so thorough in her sunniness, her delivery of dick jokes quick, matter-of-fact yet hilarious. She also exposes the ridiculousness of the movie’s conceit in unabashedly girly but cunning ways. And if you don’t believe me, the movie is available on YouTube, you guys!
Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love (1998): Despite recommending expensive shit on her website, we should still honour Paltrow for being one of the few contemporary American actresses who can play British. That can’t be said enough. She also conveys a Renaissance styled warmth – her curly blond locks helping very much to bring this forth – both during her post-coital mornings with a fictional William Shakespeare, telling a man that she knows every word of Juliet and playing multiple levels of the role she was meant to play.
Marie Gignac in Tectonic Plates (1992): To conjure up Gignac’s is admittedly trolly. I serendipitously watched it, yet to confirm or deny that she’s a worthy entry on this list is something you can’t even do through illegal torrents. And trust me, I checked! You have to go a library in Canada to know if I’m not fucking with you. It’s the kind of entry on a list that makes its reader seek out instead of sleepwalkingly confirm what you think you already know, an entry that makes this list personal. And yes, if you get to watch her, the wig she wears to show herself in her college years is kind of ridiculous. But it eventually…grew on me and helped with suspending disbelief. Her performance is meditative, making sense with the movie’s title. That like tectonic plates, her life, whether portrayed in the black cube of a studio or the colourful world of Venice, is full of loss that takes time to heal and sublimate. I’ll also never forget her surprising youthful smile in her character’s older years, where all the pieces of her life come together.
Patricia Arquette in True Romance (1993): I probably don’t hate the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl so much because I see versions of her in creative and sometimes gritty films. Arquette in True Romance is a great example, her bubbliness making even racism palatable. She also makes one half of a great movie couple who should always be together until the end.
Sigourney Weaver in Alien: Resurrection (1997): is one of the most divisive sequels ever, and there’s Weaver’s basketball game among other ridiculous set pieces within the space ship, but she probably works the hardest here more than in any of the Alien franchise movies, having to be compassionate with the alien race to whom she once was deathly afraid.
Gong Li in Raise the Red Lantern (1991): She conveys eroticism through the foot massages she receives, her own adult moment. But Li’s character in Raise the Red Lantern is forever a child, her seemingly Western petulance and moodiness, brought forth by oppression and competition from both the men and women within her archaic household, is endlessly fascinating. This has other levels of performance I have yet to discover.
Angelina Jolie in Girl: Interrupted (1999): There are three Angelina Jolies, one is the enemy of the gossip reading bachelorettes who will staunchly be on Team Jennifer. The second is the one with the impenetrable gaze, the grown-up Jolie dressed up by Vogue for red carpets, occasionally appearing in glamorous yet terrible movies. The third one lunged at the screen like a feral child in Girl Interrupted, the one we miss. The one who knows the word attack and uses it to her advantage, who knows the dangerous side of liberation from experience.
Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut (1999): Rewatching Eyes Wide Shut I will now remember that scene when Kidman is wearing glasses sitting with the actor playing her child, looking at Tom Cruise, smiling while he remembers her sexual dream. It’s not necessarily her acting chops that bring the message of her character’s insidious deviant deception across but Kidman is a great collaborator here. She oscillates between vulnerable girly girl and bourgeois wife at a time in her career when she could.
Tomorrow: Many for the price of six.
Hat Trick Girls
Doing this post on a whim. Much more actresses have one or two great movies a year, but due to realizing that the great Claudia Cardinale has been in three great movies in 1963, I decided to do some time-wasting and find out which other women have had the same luck.
Yes, I’ll admit that I’ve only seen Cardinale and Williams’ full list while the rest are below because I’ve seen one or two of each actress’ movies. Many of the women on the list are also here because of their supporting roles. It’s hard to carry a great film. Can you imagine trying to do the same for three?
Also, I know nothing about the silent era but I’m sure that I’ll eventually learn that the likes of Lillian Gish and Janet Gaynor have hat tricks under their CV’s, the latter winning the first Best Actress Oscar for three performances. It’s also harder to get names of actresses and movies belonging to world cinema. If I could only double myself and extend the hours of a day.
And yes, Williams is here because as much as I hate parts of Shutter Island, I know a lot of you love it. Although I’m sure her 2011 is looking better than her 2010. Here goes the list.
Olivia de Haviland – 1939 – (Gone with the Wind, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth of Essex)
Barbara Stanwyck – 1941 – (The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire)
Grace Kelly – 1954 – (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl)
Claudia Cardinale – 1963 – (8 1/2, The Leopard, The Pink Panther)
Faye Dunaway – 1974 – (Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Four Musketeers)
Minnie Driver – 1997 (Princess Mononoke, Good Will Hunting, Grosse Pointe Blank)
Patricia Clarkson – 2003 (Dogville, The Station Agent, All the Real Girls)
Michelle Williams – 2010 – (Shutter Island, Blue Valentine, Meek’s Cutoff)
A factor in making this list involved representing each decade, one actress per decade to be more frank. I chose de Haviland over Bette Davis’s movies in the same year, Kelly over Marilyn Monroe‘s 1953 (it hurt me to do that), Driver over Kirsten Dunst (Driver might be disqualified since her involvement in Mononoke only came through 1998/1999, when Miramax released the film stateside, but Dunst 1999 films are guilty pleasures that I can’t admit to the public yet) or Clarkson over Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2002. Besides, this post is a picture overload already, as is most of my posts in this blog.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no actress in the list that has an 80’s hat trick. Great roles and movie seemed spread out generously among the Meryl Streep generation and the Brat Pack girls.
Lastly, I’ll make a list for the boys and the directors, or make hat trick lists for consecutive years or movies, but only if you ask nicely. Or better yet, if you could do the rest 😛
- Princess Mononoke – Japanese Anime (8thumbsup.wordpress.com)
Valentine’s Post: Blue Sky
The story of Blue Sky is set in the late 1950’s but it’s set under the lens of the early 1990’s aesthetic principles, with its electric guitar and synthesizer music accompanying female eroticism. Does that sound like I have preconceived notions and biases against the movie? Because unfortunately, I do, with all the assumptions that this film is gonna seem dated.
Another disadvantage against the film is its two plot lines combined because they couldn’t stand on their own. First is the erotic wildness of Carly Marshall (Jessica Lange), a problem that’s going to get violently fixed or will bring her to her own doom. The second concerns her husband, military man Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), an insubordinate sane voice against the nuclear testing in the two bases he’s assigned in – Hawaii and Mercury, Nevada. This second plot line is the less cringe worthy yet the less interesting one.
Because Hank encourages her to do so, Alex finds a friend with Glenn (Chris O’Donnell!), Johnson’s son. She tells him about ‘noment,’ moments when nothing’s happening, and ‘slowments,’ moments when people are too lazy. I gotta bring those back. He kisses her, which is funny because I would have laughed at those dorky words, being born in the generations when I was. Their kisses are interrupted by Hank and Carly ‘kiss and make up’ after the dance, a heightened, more sexualized version of the adolescent’s innocent love.
Alex and Glenn hang out later at the ‘off-limits,’ area. They talk about the Manhattan Project and marriage in a way that they’re not seriously talking about it. Alex tells Glenn her fears of marrying a military man because marrying one might turn her into her mother. Alex hands Glenn an old grenade, he throws out the window, the grenade explodes. Glenn’s dad, army in tow, finds the two, and Alex’s hair is dishevelled and all. Her mom then throws her all these accusations, the mother sublimating her own guilty past to her daughter.
Carly supposed to be the insane one who has to be cured, but Hank actually steps on a few delicate toes. Instead of confronting his boss about the latter’s indiscretions with his own wife, actually faces him about the nuclear testing that has irradiated two people. This leads to a physical argument that gets him to prison and then to a mental hospital where he is drugged. Nonetheless, its’ her duty now in the film’s third act to defend her husband from all the lies, while I wonder how her husband would defend her if this movie took the usual path of making her the insane one.
The only ray of optimism comes from Jessica Lange’s Oscar win, and if you’re a latent completist just like I am, this film is a must watch. But is her performance perfect? There’s something performatively cunning about her pretending that her father works for the New York Times, as if she’s winking to us,blatantly pointing to her character’s delusions. There are moments, however, where Lange doesn’t use clichés. Instead of being spiteful because Hank won’t dance with her, she dances with his boss not out of spite but with a human insanity all her own.
It’s also interesting to watch Carly’s ability to make her own fictions with her frustrated life. As she tells the Johnson’s wife that ‘a woman’s charm is mostly illusion.’ She puts red cloth over the lamps and suddenly an army base living room is now a cabaret room, a place where she can teach her girls to dance. An important theme in this film is Carly dressing like movie stars because that’s apparently that’s the only way for the audience to tell eras. The film ends with Carly putting away her vulnerably sexy Monroe-Bardot-Charisse hybrid to looking like Elizabeth Taylor, to looking like a survivor.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Rule number 4 or whatever of blogging – Be careful when you’re blogging while drunk and/or angry. I wouldn’t recommend people to do it because instead of writing seven hundred words for a piece, I end up writing half of that when I’m drunk and/or angry. That, however, often means I get a lot of work done because of either fatigue and just wanting to get things over. Speaking of…repeat after me kids, drunk and/or angry, I’m only one of those things tonight but the characters of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are both. I’ve had the chance finally to buy the book since one of my coworkers have, and decided to read it while playing the movie. Not the best idea since there’s a lot of cut, paste and add in the film’s script, but do as I say, not as I do. I haven’t finished rewatching the film, but I’ve fed you kids trash for the past two days might as well talk about a great film, although I’m not sure if I give justice to it.
I also want to say that I kept imagining Henry Fonda as George, who was offered the role on the play’s first Broadway production. I also want to say that George (Richard Burton) concedes the play to Martha (Elizabeth Taylor). I don’t know why that is. Maybe he plays the calmer host to Martha’s angry drunk host. I’m not gonna say that Burton’s performance isn’t great because I don’t even believe that, but he has the most lines yet it doesn’t feel that way. I will now try to entertain you with the best line reads in the film.
MARTHA (In a so-there, childish voice) Daddy said we should be nice to them.
eta. MARTHA Ha HA! Wonderful; marvelous. (Sings) “Just a gigolo…Everywhere I go,…”
HONEY (Sandy Dennis) He’s not a floozie…he can’t be a floozie..you’re a floozie.
GEORGE And that’s how you play get the guests.
ETA GEORGE Flores; Flores para los muetros. Flores.
NICK (George Segal, who honestly is as good looking as he is young and fit) Where is your husBAND?
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Catholic education, in my experience, gave me the most intelligent and well-read adults who unfortunately aren’t good teachers.
Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the movie where she won her first Oscar, gave me high expectations. I want to dismiss her performance. Her Jean Brodie is intentionally a caricature and I’ve seen deluded done better. Sometimes she slows down and lowers the pitch of her voice thinking that she’s fooling both the other character and the audience that she’s being profound. The character’s interesting, as she ‘educates’ nine year olds about her lovers is an education. But hey, she talks about Flanders field and quotes Robert Burns – THAT’s an education, right? This talk about ‘intruders’ and ‘do as I say’ eventually leads to more vulgar discussions and at one point I was wondering when should one girl stand up and put an and to her.
Sandy (Pamela Franklin) comes to our rescue, and is this movie’s best in show. Jean calls Sandy dependable, faint praise for calling someone boring, and Sandy does seem boring since other girls are assigned by Miss Brodie to be more interesting. But she takes of her glasses – a cliché yet an effective one thanks to her – and does the best reverse striptease, showing how much a girl of the 1930’s has to put on. And young Sandy owning a 43-year old Mr. Lloyd. ‘You could go on painting. You don’t need a model,’ indeed. She does the simplest but most effective things. Again, Brodie is right in saying that any girl she teaches is hers for life, as Sandy can change one thing around her, and can do it again in her future.
I almost forgot that Celia Johnson gives a deceptive performance as Miss Mackay. While talking to the girls about how artistic and musical Miss Brodie is, I wonder if she’s jealous of Brodie or letting the girls think that she’s ‘cool,’ warming up to them so they can tell the truth.
After this movie, TVO showed Elephant, obviously.
Nonetheless, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They and California Suite better be awesome.
In the 90′s Part 2
Coming out of the 90’s my lists would have sucked. I was twelve, I grew up on HBO Asia and Kristie Alley. I’ll be harsher towards the pictures than the actresses, because honestly, every woman in this list did some great work, but ten years after the 90’s, I had the chance to see better performances and films. Here’s what my list looks like now. Italics indicate Oscar winners for said categories.
- Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
- Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991)
I don’t understand how James Cameron’s campaign for her failed.
- Irene Jacob (The Double Life of Veronique, 1991)
- Emma Thompson (Howards End, 1992)
- Patricia Arquette (True Romance, 1993)
- Julianne Moore (Safe, 1995)
- Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies, 1996)
- Demi Moore (G.I. Jane, 1996)
- Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, 1997)
- Kate Winslet (Holy Smoke, 1999)
- Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- The Age of Innocence (1993)
- Heavenly Creatures (1994)
There’s a few people in my social circle who thinks this movie is ‘ugly.’ I will one day square off with them.
- Casino (1995)
- La Haine (1995)
Changes yet still romanticizes my perception of Paris.
- Twelve Monkeys (1995)
- Fargo (1996)
- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
If anything, the advantage it would have had against Thin Red Line is how varied the colours are in this film.
- The Thin Red Line (1998)
Then come the lists of what I thought then. This is probably a mix of what you guys think as overrated AND underrated.
Old Best Actress List
- Nicole Kidman (Far and Away, 1992)
The performance is less complex but more lively than her work a decade later.
- Winona Ryder (Little Women, 1994)
- Kate Winslet (Heavently Creatures, 1994)
- Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, 1995)
- Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
Still has the best rendition of the ‘what’s in a name’ soliloquy. Too bad she sucks now, Temple Gradin.
- Madonna (Evita, 1996)
I’m still glad this went to Madonna. It would have been just another notch on Meryl’s belt.
- Demi Moore (G.I. Jane, 1997)
- Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, 1998)
- Sarah Michelle Gellar (Cruel Intentions, 1999)
I don’t understand how she hasn’t made the ‘best evil teen’ list they make once a year.
Old Best Picture List
- Hook (1991)
What? It has Magge Smith, Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts in it.
- Dracula (1992)
- Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Still love it.
- The Lion King (1995)
- Evita (1996)
Still one of the best edited movies.
- Hamlet (1996)
- What Dreams May Come (1996)
- Titanic (1997)
You did too. And again, James Cameron can sink a boat.
- As Good as it Gets (1997)
- Elizabeth (1998)
I kinda think it’s an obscene film now.
The Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End has its Murnauesque tendencies. A drama about property, class, and family, the film’s first four minutes have no dialogue, as Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), owner of the titular house, walks ghostly outside in the garden. She looks in while her husband Henry (Anthony Hopkins), the rest of her family, and a guest, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter) are inside having a party. The film evokes a poetic atmosphere within the English suburbs, with the grass and wisteria and trees and the moon. Helen lightly blames the moonlight for her short engagement with one of the Wilcox son, Paul.
Helen’s poor friend Leonard Bast gets enthralled by his environment as well, and thus gets his silent sequences. They meet after a lecture on Beethoven’s Music and Meaning, showing his intellectual side despite his poverty. She steals his umbrella, he walks in the rain to get it back. He goes on walks because of a book he’s read, much to the chagrin of his wife Jacky. He also has a strange recollection of his first meeting with Helen, the gates close on him but she looks back, smiling.
Howards End is a movie of many tones, but I don’t mean that it’s uneven. There’s the comedy of errors tone, when the other Wilcox son Charles (James Wilby) drives the Schlegel aunt to the house. She confuses him for Paul and a row ensues. Helen and Margaret (Emma Thompson) are pretty funny characters themselves, calling themselves chatterboxes, the Schlegel children critical of their outspoken ways.
Then there’s the elegy, represented by Ruth. If you’ll indulge me in overreading, Ruth is also after a Biblical figure of unwavering loyalty and standing by her family. She was born in Howards End, Howard being a prominent name in some noblemen, a family plagued by tragedy. She’s kind of fragile, most of her children have grown up and married. and her husband tends to leave her in the house for business. She symbolizes permanence, shocked by the notion that Margaret has to move from the house where the latter was born. She has bursts of energy now and then, thanks to Margaret’s friendship, and there’s an implication that Henry and her family bring her down. This role’s part of the roles Redgrave has been getting in her later years, a woman haunted by her past.
There’s also a sense of urgency in the film’s drama, culminating in the forty minute mark, with Margaret becoming the protagonist. She’s like sunshine to this movie, her early moments especially with Ruth, we see her smiling and accommodating. Ruth’s last wish is that Margaret would inherit Howards End, Henry eventually asks Margaret to marry him. In Ruth’s last moments, she inadvertently passes the torch to Margaret, her silence replaced by Margaret’s protestations. Thompson made leading roles out of being the elder sister or friend with the voice of sanity, and her Margaret is still that archetype to Helen. But here in Howards End, she’s stuck between Helen’s idealism and Henry’s ruthless prejudice. Her last fight with Henry is one of the riveting arguments I’ve seen in a British period film and perfectly encapsulates Forster’s liberal stance.
There’s no need to say that Anthony Hopkins is amazing in this film. He plays his character with charm, ruthlessness yet repressed humiliation, opposite yet same from the cannibal that won him the Oscar. It’s reminiscent of other actors doing something different after their Oscar-winning or infamous roles. Like Marlon Brando dabbling in musicals after winning for “On the Waterfront,” or Denzel Washington becoming a sensitive shrink after becoming a psychotic cop, or Jack Nicholson playing a wounded playwright after playing a homicidal novelist, or John Wayne playing fatherly after playing racist.
Female Performances List
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.
James Mason: A Star is Born ’54
A film known for its memorable songs and emotional valleys, George Cukor’s 1954 musical remake of “A Star is Born” is also an effective parody of the Hollywood machine. Its circular events calendar and more circular narratives, lack of willingness to open doors, the 1950’s craze of finding the most groomed instead of the most able (I’m looking at you, Grace Kelly), vampire-like treatment of its talent whom they perceive as expendable, lack of respect for its talents’ privacy in dire times, absolute falseness, exoticization of the rest of the world and disseminating that information into the American household, misguided and hateful press agents (Jack Carson), how it separates loving couples. I suppose Norman Maine shouldn’t drinking that much or that his problems aren’t caused by Hollywood, or that Esther Bloodgett/Vicki Lester (Judy Garland), but Hollywood still looks bad.
It also looks bad because Esther, one of its victims, has so much humanity and pathos. She gets discovered by alcoholic superstar Norman Maine (James Mason), and her soaring career coincides with his self-destruction. I can’t pick out her shining moment in the movie. While she’s in the car with Norman, she seems to belong to her big city present with hints of the small town little girl of her past. As she’s in between the musical movements of “In the Trunk,” she goes from caramel-voiced actress then breaks out into song, holding back tears of joy and gratitude. In her dressing room, still in a jolly costume as an androgynous newspaper girl, she tells Oliver Niles of how she hates Norman for failing but says it with sorrow and remorse, and brings audiences to tears.
James Mason gets a moment too. It’s the last movie played in his retrospective, and what other way to end it than with his performance in this movie. Playing opposite Garland takes a lot of subtlety. But my favourite scene for him is when he ‘Kanye’s‘ his wife at an Academy Awards ceremony. He tells those who are attending the banquet that he knows them by their first name, convincing authority from a man who is there to beg. It’s horrible for him to do, but we still feel his pain. I also just inexplicably like it when actors stutter at the right moments. Both Mason and Garland play off each other well in this scene, even if they don’t look like a good couple in a few other scenes. And his “Why do you disgust me” in the first scene brings laughs too.
The movie’s a circular one, beginning and ending both in a Hollywood benefit show. Esther returns to the place where she met Norman, filling his place. She appears to her audience as Mrs. Norman Maine, positioning herself as a traditional wife, as one of Hollywood instead of just being a newcomer. As she belts out in one of her numbers, the show must go on.
Oh and if you like Mondrian, you’ll love this movie too.
A good ten minutes of “A Star is Born ’54” are just monochrome film stills accompanied. Those ten minutes seemed thrice its length, almost ruined the experience, I wanted to walk out and get my money back. I should have known that film executives cut it up because the original three hours was apparently too long by test audiences at the time. Thankfully the last inserted parts of the film ended by the 70th minute, and the meat of the film and its musical numbers are intact. I was eavesdropping other people’s conversations after the screening, women in their forties strongly saying that the stills added nothing to the film. I hope to hear the other side of the argument someday.
Highway Robbery of 1958
Inspired by Nathaniel, again. Nominees for that year.
I don’t wanna be that guy who ridicules the Academy for its missteps, but I just noticed something about the year I indicated above. What do I know, I’ve only seen seven movies from that year, but those seven have pretty good performances. In essence, I’m FYC’ing people 50 years too late, and I’m really pushing myself for a chance to watch the movies that won and were nominated pretty soon.
Elizabeth Taylor got a nod for her performance in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” I haven’t seen it in a while. For an untrained viewer it would seem like there’s nothing special about her performance. But then her husband died while she was filming. Another actress could have made Maggie unwatchable, desperate and shrill but she made her character alluring and strong. But is that enough? Besides, Richard Brooks turned the movie into a ‘sexy drama’ and I still wonder what Elia Kazan would have done if he directed.
I do however have high praises for the supporting cast, who stole the show. Judith Anderson was haunting as Big Momma, and I can’t believe she was overlooked. And she gets better with other movies, but I love Madeleine Sherwood here too.
And then there’s Kim Novak in “Vertigo.” Honestly, I like her more as Judy Barton. Matt Mazur called Judy Barton ‘de-glammed’ although I see a campy character who’s rough on the edges, the total opposite of the classy Madeleine. Basically a character who’s lived two lives. Novak thankfully made her character balance these two personas well, without seeming schizophrenic. Novak could either have been a lead or supporting, but the poor box office revenues probably took it out of consideration for the Academy.
Another overlooked masterpiece is “Touch of Evil.” I don’t know why I’m so partial towards Janet Leigh because she becomes so much better a few years later and the Academy only paid attention to her once. Regardless, she can do more asleep and drugged up more than most of her generation can do awake.
Over-reading All About Eve
Inspired by Nathaniel’s post, again.
As suggested above, let’s do some over-reading. Margo Channing (Bette Davis), captured in a straightforward long shot, is on stage in front of a fake set, starts a row with her agent and her playwright Lloyd Richards in the audience area. The counter shot of her agent and her playwright are side view medium shots. They’re in the real world, they’ve trapped her in the fictional world and she wants either control of the world given to her, or she wants out. They can only bellow towards each other – that’s how distant they feel towards each other.
My first screening suggested that she’s a diva, but it’s more complex than that. Lloyd tells her things like ‘I shall never understand the weird process in which a body with a voice finds itself with a mind.’ Never have I heard the word ‘voice’ to limit another person. He compares her to a piano, which she takes offense for.
Art’s a collaborative process. Lloyd doesn’t get that, many people who might watch this won’t get that in the beginning, Margo gets a raw deal. This is probably why she wants to give Eve the torch and leave and get married. And even that gets complicated since she wants to marry so that she could become a ‘woman,’ as if being an actress makes her less than that.
Those are the few reasons why I preferred this movie over “Sunset Boulevard.” Cynically, the movie is two hours of watching people fight, but that’s what friends do. Its subtle, eloquent script trumps “Sunset’s” Mr. Obvious voice-over. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen “Sunset’s” ending twice before watching the movie in its entirety. That’s gonna ruin things.
A Streetcar Named Silent
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.
This one. It was really hard to choose.
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.
Silence of the Lambs
(not the most flattering angle ph. Orion)
Isn’t Clarice Starling is such a nice girl? There’s something about way she smiles and jokes around and has good rapport with others. No wonder Hannibal Lecter has a thing for her, just like every other leering pervert who goes to school with her.
In the scene in the Your Self storage facility outside downtown Baltimore, she asks the manager with a nervous laughter to call her friends at the FBI if the door falls down. She’s cordial yet in control. I wouldn’t even joke about getting stuck in some skeevy guy’s storage room. And as a first time viewer like I was a few months ago, I kind of was expecting the door to close. But watching the way she talks about the worst case scenario, we should have known nothing is gonna happen and she would be fine. If your definition of ‘fine’ is uncovering Benjamin Raspel’s decapitated head.
(hot damn, girl looks like Nicole from MTV Canada)
That early scene, as well as most of the earlier scenes, have such different qualities from the Clarice Starling later on who looks like she’s on the brink of tears. Jodie Foster had to give unity to the character after all. She’s a character appealing enough that Hannibal wanted to know her. I wanted to see her deal with other situations, and I was a bit frustrated but then again it’s a relatively short text – 118 minutes – in a genre film, and they can only allow certain things in there. But then, there’s always gonna her friendliness and wide-eyed constant learning and her humility when she’s not directly dealing with the case. Good enough for me.
The movie has always been a movie in parts for me, always catching the ‘transsexuals are very passive’ scene, because they could only either be passive or serial killers. And all British guys know how to put condiments on a cadaver. And all redhead chicks are both strong yet vulnerable. And all blonde guys have manginas.
While we’re in the ‘gender and sexuality’ thread of the conversation, Clarice is all we have as a representation of the female and feminine in this movie. Catherine, although with a coarser vocabulary, isn’t really Clarice’s foil because she’s just as resourceful yet vulnerable. And Ardelia isn’t a fully developed character. The boys, however, are a different case. An LGBT character is a serial killer yet Clarice’s declaration on the passivity of transsexuals isn’t invalidated. I didn’t take an Angus Reed poll or anything, but a queer man can love women as much as another can hate them. Technically Bill already has foils, but if the film had characters presented as Clarice or Bill’s foils, they wouldn’t be as effective on their own.
I first saw it in its entirety at the Toronto Digital Film Festival, a ‘horror’ film that froze me instead of jolted me, despite of the cloudy quality of the digital film . I won a poster for answering the trivia question of how many Oscars it won. I haven’t opened the poster yet, I don’t know where to put it in my room, I don’t even know where it really is. Then there was the crispier AMC’s televised run Monday night, when Miggs can smell Clarice’s ‘scent’ and Hannibal imagining Crawford imagining ‘fondling’ Clarice, and Bill ‘having’ himself so hard.
I discovered new things in this awesomeness the second time around, that ‘good bag and cheap shoes’ sounds like a hell of a fey insult and I should use it someday. Someone should tell Clarice about that ugly ass coat too. That Clarice kinda looks like Scully. That Buffalo Bill is capable of love. That apparently Anthony Hopkins and the girl who plays Catherine reunited in a really terrible Chris Rock movie that I still wanna see.
That adds to what we already know about that galvanizing moment when Lecter beats the shit out of that guard. And the poetic sequence when Clarice really finds the killer. The little Western touches within the film. That if Jodie Foster wasn’t a lesbian, I’d prescribe it to her. That Clarice is getting better at her game the same way Bill is. That you can never listen to Tom Petty the same way again. That this movie is probably a metaphor about the 90’s paying for our collective sins in the 80’s but I haven’t fully figured that out yet. That this movie’s the only Best Picture winner that encapsulates ‘grunge.’ And like Liz Lemon told her gay cousin, never help someone move a couch into a van.