My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1998: Fernanda Montenegro in "Central do Brasil"

Fernanda Montenegro belongs in the little category of actors who received Oscar nominations for non-English speaking roles. In the Brazilian movie Central do Brasil, she played Dora, a delusional and bitter woman who earns money by writing letters for illiterate people at the central station in Rio de Janeiro.

Fernanda Montenegro gives the kind of “rough woman with a heart of gold” performance that is so easy to admire when done right. And she certainly does it right. Fernanda Montenegro has a very distinctive, unique face that is perfectly able to communicate anger, frustration and bitterness without becoming too appalling and maybe distance the character from the viewer. Instead, she is able to combine almost grandmother-like qualities with a strong and unfriendly exterior. The biggest success of her performance is the fact that Fernanda Montenegro shows that at the beginning of the movie Dora does not possess any real loving or kind traces in her character as her hard life has turned her into the woman she is today – a typical woman living in a big city full of isolation and loneliness. She has contact to a friend, she can be happy and lively with her but the moment she enters the train to work, she distances herself from everybody and becomes part of the moving masses in the big cities that don’t interact, stay away from each other and don’t show any inner feelings. It’s the meeting with the little boy Josué for whom she has to take care that changes her character but Fernanda Montenegro demonstrates in her performances that the love and kindness in Dora isn’t something that suddenly comes out of nowhere but rather has always been in her but has been repressed all these years because she never needed these characteristics to survive in the city. She probably even forgot that she ever had them but during the run of the movie, they are slowly coming back.

In playing this process in Dora, Fernanda Montenegro never tries to manipulate the audience but makes her character’s actions and intentions constantly believable and is always in control of what she wants Dora to communicate to the audience without playing ‘for the audience’.

Fernanda Montenegro also gets some bonus points for sharing the screen with Josué, a little kid who lost his mother and with whom Dora starts a road trip to find his father, and always constantly redefines the relationship between them without ever losing the balance between them. Dora only starts to take care of Josué after she sold him to some criminals and got him back at the last moment; this already shows the heartlessness and emotionally coldness of Dora but her conscience finally brings her to do the right thing. Josué is not a precious little boy but rather very demanding and exhausting which makes the pairing of the tow characters incredibly interesting to watch. There is a constant shift in how Dora sees Josué – first, it is pity that makes her take him home after his mother has been hit by a bus and he lives alone at the central station but there is no deep feeling for him that would make her help him more. Later, it seems to be a sort of responsibility for him, an urge to protect him until she finally shows how much this boy has grown to her at the end. Fernanda Montenegro never overplays her emotions and the change in her character but plays it all very subtly and uses her expressive eyes and face to hint at a greater truth behind it.

Fernanda Montenegro plays the situations of her life in a very matter-of-fact way and so tells much more about Dora and her background than the script ever suggests. The way she first rejects Josué even though he just lost his mother and is alone shows how much she has alienated herself from people. But even though this is not a story about the loneliness of elderly people as Dora knows precisely what she wants and also has friends of her own. But she doesn’t want to have too much contact to that little boy since he is constantly asking about the letter that Dora wrote for him and his mother and Dora is afraid that her secret may be revealed: the fact that she never sends the letters she writes. She keeps them at home and sometimes even destroys them and mostly decides that it would be better for the people if the letters are not sent. Fernanda Montenegro shows in her early scenes that she mostly despises her customers and looks down on them – it seems that from her point of view, she has the right to decide what’s best for them or she simply doesn’t send the letters because she dislikes the people who made her wrote them. Maybe it’s the hate for her life that makes her act this way. Also the matter-of-fact way in which Dora steals from a little shop right after she got angry at Josué for stealing there himself tells about her character and Fernanda Montenegro never shows any sign in Dora that she recognizes her own hypocrisy – for her, stealing is probably a part of life but it’s still bad so she has to be angry at Josué for doing it.

It’s also interesting to watch how Dora tries to get involved with a religious truck driver. Fernanda Montenegro tries to soften Dora, make her seem more appealing but she already seems to know that it’s no use. So when the man drives away from her, it doesn’t seem like such a big surprise even though Fernanda Montenegro shows that Dora really had hope and dreams regarding this man.

Her best and most moving moments come towards the end of the movie when she unites Josué with his two brothers and later, when she gets on the bus and starts to write a letter to him. Fernanda Montenegro wonderfully displays the sadness and joy that both overcome Dora at this moment. The sadness for leaving Josué behind but also the joy for having experienced this trip that showed her new sides of her own character to herself. It seems as if this trip had brought back feelings and emotions that Dora had forgotten about a long time ago but now the sheer sensation that there is more inside of her than she imagined shows that Dora has developed herself. It’s doubtful if the life in the city to which she returns will allow her to keep her new spirits but it’s a joy to watch her express them in the subtle way that Fernanda Montenegro does in the last moments of Central do Brasil.

For her impressive and captivating performance that beautifully carries the movie’s story and message she gets


The Musical blog-a-thon

Here is my part to the musical blog-a-thon on Encore's World of Film & TV ! Enjoy! (Spoilers!!!)

I thought for quite some time which movie musical I would discuss here. There are so many I love and the term ‘favorite’ is actually very complicated – should I discuss the one that I watch the most, the one I think is the best, a guilty pleasure?

At first, I thought I would discuss about Oliver! since this a movie that usually gets a lot of hate but I really enjoy it. But in the end I decided to go with this familiar classic (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) because West Side Story has a very special place in my heart: for me it was the movie that started it all – my love for movies, my love for the Oscars and my love for musicals. There was a time when I watched this movie basically every day and I decided to see more ‘classics’ and musicals. And when I found out that the movie won 10 Oscars, I was happy and impressed and decided to learn more about those Oscars. West Side Story was also the first musical I saw on the stage and I was looking forward to it more than to Christmas.

Anyway, this discussion is about West Side Story. If there is anyone who doesn’t know the story yet (but could there be?), here’s a little summary: it’s about two street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are typical all-American boys while the Sharks are immigrants from Puerto Rico. They fight each other for the dominance on the streets and things turn tragic when Tony, the former leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. When I mention that the story was modeled after Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet it’s probably clear very soon that things will not end well.

One of the trailers of West Side Story says that ‘Unlike other classics, West Side Story grows younger’. This is actually very true and only half the truth at the same time. West Side Story is full of these contradictions. Is there another movie that is so dated and so timeless at the same time? So flawed and so flawless, all at the same moment?

When a musical is transferred from the stage to the screen, there are various ways to do that: one can change it so it completely exists in its new environment (like Chicago) or one can use the new medium while also keeping the stage roots intact (like Oliver!) . In the case of West Side Story, it was probably the work of Jerome Robbins to keep it as close to the stage as possible. Even though the movie begins with very impressive shots of New York from above and the gangs are dancing through the wide streets of the city, the movie always keeps a rather ‘inside-feeling’ and the possibilities that the movie screen gives never seem used or wanted.
Even during those dances on the street, the movie always keeps the feeling of a filmed stage production which basically is one of the reasons why the movie is so dated and timeless at the same time. This is basically the deciding matter if one will love or reject the movie – if one can accept dancing street gangs, then the movie will give a you a lot. If you think they look ridiculous, then the movie is simply not for you. Dancing street gangs are certainly something that works much better on the stage – in the theatre, it’s much easier to accept certain things and to see it for what they are in an obviously make-believe environment. In a movie, it’s much harder to combine the elements of a musical with the reality of the medium. And so, instead of really trying to change the tone of the musical for the screen, the whole production was mostly just transferred without betraying its roots. One has to accept this, one has to accept that dancing street gangs are simply artistic expressions. In the world of West Side Story, aggression, brutality, repression are expressed in dance – it’s a musical, after all! And it’s thanks to the brilliant choreography of Jerome Robbins that these dances are still a joy to be seen and so wonderfully express all the emotions of the characters. As I said, dated and timeless. That’s West Side Story.

The movie also suffers from the heavy-handed dialogue and sometimes hard-to-believe actions. Again, it’s much easier to believe that two people fall in love from the first sight on the stage. In a movie, it comes across as unrealistic and the movie version makes all the flaws in the dialogue that Tony and Maria speak during this first meeting very noticeable. Again, it’s up to the viewer to either accept it or reject it. Flawed and flawless. That’s West Side Story.

And the movie also suffers from the simple fact that the two leading characters, the one that should carry the story, are never as interesting as the supporting characters. Especially Tony is an extremely underwritten and confusing character as it’s hard to believe that this naïve and almost totally inexperienced baby-face could once have been the leader of a street gang. In the case of the movie version, this thin writing is combined with the miscast of Richard Beymer who obviously has the talent to play Tony. His desires, his pain in the final scenes, his love for Maria, it’s all done extremely well but one can’t get past the fact that he is totally wrong the part, physically. It’s like casting Danny DeVito as Stanley Kowalski – it doesn’t matter how much talent the actor has, sometimes looks do matter.

Maria is certainly the more interesting character of the two and this also underlines the fact that both the play and the screen adaptation seem to be more interested in the Sharks than in the Jets. Maria is more down-to-earth, worried and lovely, just as loving as Tony but not as naïve. Natalie Wood has received a lot of criticism for her performance but to me, she is just outstanding. I can’t judge her accent since I don’t know how people from Puerto Rico are supposed to sound like, but her acting is surely first-rate. She wonderfully displays all of Maria’s feelings and her face is so angel-like that she lights up the screen whenever she appears. Her whole character is supposed to be a ray of light in this movie – her white dress at the dance that makes her noticeable even in the largest crowds, her light nightgown that she wears while Anita confronts her about Tony which makes her shine so bright in the dark room or her red dress at the end which again shows the beaming of the character. All these exteriors fit wonderfully to Natalie Wood’s ability to brighten up the screen which brings some light into the almost constant darkness of West Side Story. And I have seen West Side Story on the stage three times but there has never been a Maria who so completely broke my heart in the final scenes.

But even though Natalie Wood shines in her part, it’s the supporting players that make West Side Story. Russ Temblyn is wonderful as Riff, portraying all the feelings of this young man – insecurity and fear, hidden by arrogance and brutality. George Chakiris surely shouldn’t have won an Oscar but there is no denying the elegance and subtle danger he brings to the part. But it’s not only the leaders of the gang, even all the supporting players are portrayed very memorable. But while the movie seems to prefer the principle characters of the Sharks, it gives more chances to shine to the supporting players from the Jets. The Sharks are allowed to complain a bit about how mistreated they feel in America but it’s the guys from the Jets who really can show their inner pains and frustration as they live in a world that doesn’t seem to want them.

But of course in the end, there is one person in West Side Story that justly dominates every discussion about it: Rita Moreno. I have seen Anitas who danced better, I have seen Anits who sang better but never have I seen an actress bring the same amount of energy and fire to the part and the movie as a whole. The role of Anita is supposed to be a scene-stealer and it would be hard to screw that part up but Rita Moreno does still so much more here. This is one of the few cases where a supporting performance both carries and supports the movie. She doesn’t just dance her part, she acts it. She doesn’t just act her part, she lives it! It’s impossible to take your eyes off her whenever she appears on the screen. There is already a lot of energy and movement in West Side Story, but Rita Moreno manages to even add to that. Of course, the part of Anita is not just dancing and singing, it’s also the best-written part of the whole story. Anita is the conscience of the tale, torn between her loyalty to the Sharks and her love to Maria, suffering from tragedy but still determined to do what’s right. It’s a real showcase for any actress but Rita Moreno forever left her mark on this role.

I’ve already mentioned Maria’s costumes which brings me to another big plus of this movie: the technical values. The costumes that so wonderfully separate the Jets from the Sharks, are just one of the many wonders in this film. Who can forget the amazing Art Direction that, unlike the script and the direction, so wonderfully combines the stage roots of the production with the possibilities of movies? It all seems so fake and real at the same time and every set has its own tone, it’s own mood. The Bridal shop with it’s warm colors, Maria’s little bedroom with the colorful doors that show so much diversity in a world that doesn’t want it, the almost claustrophobic atmosphere under the highway or Doc’s shop, a little island of security which cannot keeps its innocence in this war. And then there is the astonishing cinematography. It’s mostly this that keeps the movie from really becoming a taped stage production. The camera that is almost always moving and constantly finds new angles and perspectives gives the movie an unforgettable living feeling – the dances become even more agile, the lover’s faces shine even brighter.

It’s nor hard to see why West Side Story swept the Oscars. When one accepts the basis and tone of the story, then it’s almost flawless despite its flaws.

Did I forget something? Let’s see…I can’t think of anything…oh, yes, there is also music!

Seriously, West Side Story surely has one of the greatest scores ever (even people who never heard of West Side Story know songs like "America" or "Maria"). Of course it’s hard to credit the movie for it since the score already existed but it still deserves praise on its own. Marnie Nixon’s wonderful voice, forever captured on the screen, deserves special credit.

And it was a brilliant idea to switch the placing of the songs “Gee, Officer Kruppke” and “Cool” since it adds so much more to the tension of the story.

Or to make “America” a song between the boys and the girls from the Sharks instead of only the girls.

The new position of  “I feel pretty” also works very well. In the stage version, the song comes behind the fight between Riff and Bernardo. While it works also very well there because it creates a stark contrast to the tragedy before, the new placing of the song is just as good and makes just as much sense.

And it was a good idea to cut the dream sequence from “Somewhere” – as good as the movie is to bring this story, which should only work on the stage, to the screen, this dream could never have worked on film.  

But not only the dances, also the rest of the movie is so exquisitely well done. The story may be a little bit simplified and old-fashioned but it’s still incredibly touching and engaging. And West Side Story is also never afraid to shock its audience. Who can forget the amazingly choreographed fight scene between Bernardo and Riff?

West Side Story is a movie that achieves the impossible – to bring the aliveness and thrill and feelings of the stage production to the screen. Isn’t it thrilling to sit an audience and watch dancers do the dance at the gym right in front of your eyes, on a stage where you can see the brilliant movements so closely? Some of this brilliance is destined to be lost on the screen not because the quality of the dance decreases but because the feelings of ‘being there’, the thrill of the theatre is lost and can never be felt by a movie audience. But the movie version achieved the impossible and managed to bring almost the exact same thrill to the movie audience.


And even though the two main characters lack depth and fascination compared to the supporting players, their romance is done in such a simple and charming way that it’s impossible to not care about them. And the ending makes me cry every time...

Was this tragedy needed so that this silly war could end? Will it even change anything? Personally, I doubt it. But it's up for each viewer to decide for him-/herself.

So, I hope I could explain why the movie version of West Side Story is such a masterpiece and why it is one of the greatest movie musicals ever.  


Best Actress 1998: Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love"

In the recent years of the Academy Awards, women have usually won Oscars for playing suffering women – it doesn’t matter if they suffer from disease, from society or other things as long as they get some breakdowns and show a lot of tears. And it surely doesn’t hurt if these women are unattractive (but of course only in the movie!). But obviously there are always some exceptions to these rules. One of those is Gwyneth Paltrow’s win for the romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love in which she shows that an actress can be a radiant beauty, full of passion and love for 2 hours and still give a remarkable performance.

Gwyneth Paltrow played Viola de Lesseps, a young woman who loves poetry and the theatre and wants nothing more than being an actress on the stage. But since it is not allowed for women to appear on the stage during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, she has to disguise herself as a man to appear in William Shakespeare’s newest play, ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’.

Shakespeare in Love is a little miracle of a movie, a hopelessly romantic and funny tale of the famous bard at the beginning of his career, suffering from a writer’s block. This story is brought to life by a wonderful cast down to the smallest parts but it’s Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as his muse and lover Viola who give the movie its heart and soul.

Gwyneth plays Viola with an irresistible mix of breathless inexperience and decided maturity. She shows that Viola has been dreaming of the stage and a different life for a long time. She possesses an inner fire in her character, a longing for the theatre. When she is shown in the audience, mouthing the words spoken on the stage with such a passionate look on her face, the viewers immediately know everything about this character. She finally decides to pose as a man but when her plans become reality, she shows a nervousness, a stage-fright, that explains that all this is very new but also very exciting for her. And even though Viola had only dreamed of poetry up to that moment, something different also enters her life when she meets William Shakespeare: love. It’s a romance that is so wonderful because it shows a love that develops. At the beginning, Gwyneth plays Viola as exited and stimulated, maybe even a little intimidated when she meets the man who writes her favourite poetry and she makes it never clear if this is really love or maybe just a naïve groupie who mistakes her admiration for love. But the passion between them soon turns into a truly magic but also tragic love that is unable to defy the conventions of their time.

Gwyneth Paltrow is very confident in her own beauty and charm and doesn’t waste any time to draw attention to it. Instead, she focuses on that inner fire in her character, her desires, her passion and mixes it with a childlike innocence thanks to her virginal beauty that shines during her whole performance. Seldom has an actress ever been so radiant and full of light like Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love. It’s a typical star performance that rests on the actress’s own personality but Gwyneth Paltrow is smart enough to see the part’s depth and possibilities and how her character is the beginning and the end of the movie. She never tries to outact her other cast members but instead lets Joseph Fiennes, with whom she shares a wonderful chemistry, as the title character take centre stage but she also knows that Viola is the dominating force of the story – she ends Shakespeare’s writer’s block, she becomes his muse and his inspiration and when she leaves, she has changed him forever. But in the role of this muse, she is not passive – it’s not only her beauty that enchants Shakespeare but also her inner fire that Gwyneth Paltrow so wonderfully displays in Viola. She and Will share not only a love for each other, but also for the world of the players, the theatre. The love between them enables him to write and her to act. Viola’s desire to fulfil her dreams, her unconventional behaviour are just as memorable as her unique beauty.

Gwyneth shows that Viola is the more down-to-earth-character in the relationship. She wants to live in a world of poetry and love but she also knows her duties and that she can’t escape them. There is a certain sadness that always seems to exist beneath her glorious smile. Acting on the stage is not just a diversion for Viola, it’s her way of being free, of entering a world that she will never know. On the stage, she can escape these duties and her personal life. With Will Shakespeare and his plays, she finds something that is really meaningful to her but she also knows that like any dream, it cannot last. Her love for him may be never-ending, but she knows that her relationship to him isn’t.

Gwyneth Paltrow has wonderful control over her face and knows how to use a smile or a tear effectively in her close-ups. She has to create a character who symbolises passion and love, hope and dreams, honesty, innocence and purity, a woman who could believable inspire William Shakespeare to write his greatest works – and she succeeds with a very subtle and beaming performance that may not be a true tour-de-force but which is still a tricky and demanding work that makes all these tasks look easy. It is also remarkable how easy she is handling Shakespeare’s words. In her first and last performance onstage, her Juliet is a wonderful combination of both a woman losing her love and a woman pretending to be a woman losing her love. Knowing that her happiness cannot last makes her appearance as Juliet so moving. And the goodbye scene at the end is truly unforgettable. In these final scenes, it becomes obvious that in some ways, Viola is only a plot-device in this story – she has to inspire Shakespeare and now that she has done that, she can leave again. But Gwyneth Paltrow never allowed her character to be reduced but always kept turning her into a full-flesh human being.

As mentioned before, it’s no tour-de-force but Gwyneth Paltrow so completely makes this beaming and shining character her own that it is impossible to imagine anyone else in this part. In creating a character as romantic and charming as the movie she stars in, Gwyneth makes an unforgettable impression and creates a wonderfully passionate heroine. For this, she gets


Best Actress 1998

The next year will be 1998 and the nominees were

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth

Fernanda Montenegro in Central do Brasil

Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love

Meryl Streep in One True Thing

Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie


YOUR Best Actress of 2008!

Here are the results of the voting:

1. Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married (14 votes)

2. Kate Winslet - The Reader (13 votes)

3. Meryl Streep - Doubt (12 votes)

4. Melissa Leo - Frozen River (11 votes)

5. Angelina Jolie - Changeling (2 votes)

Thanks to everyone for voting!


Best Actress 1942 - The resolution!

After having watched and reviewed all five nominated performances, it's time to pick the winner!

It’s an overall mixed performance that never truly reaches a level of excellence and Rosalind Russell’s ability to find humor in almost every angle of the script is often as misplaced as it is delightful but she deserves some kind of praise for appearing strangely indispensable despite all the problems in her work.

Teresa Wright’s approach to the part is charming and lovely but it is neither truly impressive nor challenging. Still, she created some of the movie’s most memorable moments and always adds a welcome change of pace whenever she appears.

3. Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year

The work with Spencer Tracy clearly had a strangely appealing affect on Katharine Hepburn, letting her open up her usual screen personality without losing all her qualities that made her such a natural choice for the character of Tess Harding. It's a delightful, charming and sometimes multi-layered performance even if those layers often were not able to connect to each other.

2. Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver

Greer Garson's performance is filled with the right amount of charm and seriousness, showing how Kay Miniver adjusts herself to the tasks she was given without losing the core of her identity, making the part not only tailor-made for her but also allowing her to embrace this portrayal of womanhood without scarifying the integrity of the character for the sake of sentimentality.

Bette Davis has rarely ever been so charismatic and hardly ever before or again allowed herself to be so completely in touch with the sentimentality of the story without actually becoming a part of it. It’s a mature and thought-through piece of work in a movie that could have existed with a purely emotional approach, too, but gained a vast portion of credibility thanks to Bette Davis’s central work that explored all the possibilities of the role while still working in harmony with the broader goals of the story.