My current Top 5

My current Top 5

1/31/2010

Best Actress 1959: Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly, Last Summer"

Suddenly, Last Summer goes on for over 30 minutes before Elizabeth Taylor’s Catherine appears for the first time but her name has been mentioned a lot already. We hear that she is a wonderful girl, rare and precious but also that she has gone crazy during her vacation with her cousin Sebastian who died a mysterious death. Since then, Catherine lives in an asylum under the order of strict nuns but even they won’t keep her since she apparently is too vulgar and dangerous to be around. Catherine’s aunt Violet is eager to have Dr. Cukrowicz, played by Montgomery Clift, perform a lobotomy on Catherine – officially because of her madness but it’s clear that Violet fears that Catherine knows to much about Sebastian’s death and so she wants to silence her forever.

Even though we are told that Catherine is the crazy one and Mrs. Venable has only her best interests in mind, it becomes clear very quick that quite the opposite seems to be true: Katharine Hepburn’s Violet is clearly close to a mental breakdown while the first impression of Catherine is that she is a head-strong girl hunted by an awful memory – but certainly not crazy.

Both Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor were excellent in interpreting their parts. While Katharine Hepburn played her character very restrained and controlled, Elizabeth Taylor gives the kind of exaggerated performance that a character like Catherine in a movie like Suddenly, Last Summer surely needs. She is melodramatic and over-the-top but she never becomes unbelievable. It’s a testament to her ability as an actress that was always able to stop before her performance became a caricature. Oh, and she probably never looked more beautiful.

In her first scenes with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor establishes Catherine as a character who is not only not crazy but seems to be much more aware of everything than everyone else.

She openly talks about all the things that she is accused of and she seems to be rather amused by it. She takes a rebellious attitude to the things that happened to her – if people do think that she is crazy, then she wants to be crazy. Only when Dr. Cukrowicz shows himself to be a much more sensitive and intelligent person than she is used to see and she realizes that he seems to be on her side, her surprise changes her character. Catherine seems to know what everything is about but at the same time she does not. The memory of the terrible events during her vacation with Sebastian is inside her but the shock she suffered prevents her from experiencing it again. She is only hunted by fragments, by sounds, by images.

Catherine is probably only considered crazy because she is the only one of the characters in the movie who really and openly talks about the truth without pretending. It’s clear that her “insanity” is only a shock reaction and that she sees everything quite clearly. She knows why her aunt sent her away in this asylum, she knows how her greedy family will behave. Just like Mrs. Venable spends a lot of time talking about Catherine, Catherine spends a lot of time talking about Mrs. Venable and for the viewer it is clear that Catherine is the one to trust.

Just like Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor is given a lot monologues but she is never able to fill them with as much passion and dedication. While her overacting fits the style of the movie and works for the character, it sometimes reduces the impact of Liz’s performance.

But even though one can’t deny that the sheer difficulty of the role is a real challenge for every actress and Elizabeth Taylor certainly did an impressive job in bringing this character alive.

The highlight of her performance is without a doubt her final scene when Catherine remembers what happens last summer. In a never-ending close-up, Elizabeth Taylor shows the horror and the truth of Sebastian’s death and performs it with astonishing rawness and dedication that is almost exhausting to watch.

Even though Catherine is the most central character, Elizabeth Taylor doesn’t leave the same lasting impression as Katharine Hepburn but she still gives a formidable piece of work that gets

Best Actress 1959: Katharine Hepburn in "Suddenly, Last Summer"

It’s always hard to judge a performance from your favorite actress because it’s very easy to let personal preference cloud your judgment. But I think that so far I have been very fair when it comes to judging performances by Kate so I trust that I am also fair in this case.

Suddenly, Last Summer is a grim, gothic tale of homosexuality, cannibalism and mental disease. If the viewer wants camp, then Suddenly, Last Summer is the ultimate revelation. But it’s all done in such a serious way with so much talent involved that the outcome is still a fascinating, gripping tale, as ridiculous at the plot may seem.

Both Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor are the natural stand-outs in the movie since they have the showy, flashy and wonderfully-written parts that only Tennessee Williams could write for women. And both women also perfectly understood the material they worked with and how to interpret their parts.

Katharine Hepburn plays Mrs. Violet Venable, a woman who mourns the loss of her son who died last summer on vacation in Greece. The only witness to his death was his cousin Catherine who has apparently gone mad since then and spends her days in an asylum. Mrs. Venable is very eager to have Montgomery Clift’s Dr. Cukrowicz perform a lobotomy on Catherine to stop her madness – but it is clear right from the start that Catherine seems to know something about Sebastian, Mrs. Venable’s beloved son, and his death that Mrs. Venable wants to be kept secret and a lobotomy seems to be the only way to guarantee it. But since Mrs. Venable is the richest woman in town and waves a new hospital in front of Dr. Cukrowicz’s face it seems to be only a matter of time before she gets her wish.

Katharine Hepburn obviously knows that the whole movie is camp and that her part is a borderline caricature. Catherine may be the one who is officially crazy but Katharine Hepburn leaves little doubt that Mrs. Venable is actually the one close to a mental breakdown. But she chose to avoid any grand gestures or crazy facial work and instead decided to play the part as straight-forward and subtle as possible without ever making it too subtle – the craziness is always there but in a very controlled and hidden way which makes the whole performance incredibly mesmerizing.

Overall, this is one of Katharine Hepburn’s most fascinating performances. Her entrance is among the great movie entrances ever. The first thing we hear is her voice while she is slowly coming down in an elevator. Her voice has an echo which makes it even more haunting and the way her secretary says “She’s on her way down” seems to announce the arrival of a queen. And considering the power and wealth of Mrs. Venable, the description “Queen” might even fit. The first word we hear her say is the name of her son, Sebastian. She will say that name a lot more times. It becomes clear very quickly that her whole life was build around him – she tells Dr. Cukrowicz with pride that she and her son were rather known as a couple than mother and son, people referred to them as “Viola and Sebastian” when they were on their yearly trips. Mrs. Venable seems to have worshipped the ground her son walked on, maybe she was even in love with him...

Everything that is so typical about Katharine Hepburn, her way of talking, her mannerism, her slight arrogance fits together perfectly in this performance. She makes Mrs. Venable a crazy mess without ever letting her appear like that – she carefully avoids all clichés and shows that Mrs. Venable is a woman who knows her power and her position and is used to get what she wants. Mrs. Venable may slowly go crazy but she still knows what she is doing. Katharine Hepburn wonderfully shows that in the mind of Mrs. Venable everything she does makes sense and has an irrevocably logic. She dominates the screen with self-security and self-assurance but there is always a desperation and loneliness behind her façade that gets her closer and closer to the edge of insanity.

Mrs. Venable lives in the past and the memory of her dead son is all that seems to keep herself alive. Her first appearance in the movie is basically a 30-minutes long monologue where she constantly talks about her son, his life, his work, his views and his experiences. And from time to time she lets her niece and her hope for an operation drop in. Katharine Hepburn does all this in a grandly nonchalant way but when she talks about a trip to the Galapagos islands she did with her son and she describes the cruelty of nature, then her acting becomes incredibly intense and holds the viewer on the edge of the seat.

Only when the talk comes to the death of her son, Mrs. Venable lets her masque drop. Katharine Hepburn shows that there is obviously something wrong with his death, something that she is trying to hide. But this secrets is so upsetting to her that it seems impossible for her to hide its existence. But maybe Mrs. Venable can’t hide the existence of the secret but she can hide its meaning and since Mrs. Venable is used to always get her will there doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Kate is not the central character in Suddenly, Last Summer and  she is gone for a long part in the middle and never gets as much focus again as in her first big scene but Mrs. Venable’s presence is so strong and her influence over the whole story so dominating that the power of her character can’t be denied.

At the end; Katharine Hepburn is even able to top her entrance with one of the most exhilarating exits in movie history. That whole scene could have so easily been overdone but again, Kate chose to simply play it totally straightforward without any doubt or signs of craziness and that way makes Mrs. Venable’s descent into madness even more tragic and frightening.

Despite all the evilness of the character, Katharine also shows enough pathetic and tragic parts in Mrs. Venable that she becomes an altogether pitiful character.

This is easily one of Kate’s greatest achievements and for this she gets

Best Actress 1959: Simone Signoret in "Room at the Top"

Room at the Top tells the story of Joe Lampton, a young and ambitious man who tries to make it to the top by getting close to Susan, the daughter of a powerful man but he also falls in love with Alice, an older and unhappily married woman.

Everything in Room at the Top is very British – the actors, the locations, the whole atmosphere. So the casting of French actress Simone Signoret in the part of Alice was a genius idea – it perfectly underlines that Alice is a woman who sticks out from all the other people in the movie and also points out the loneliness of the character. Alice is a woman in a world that does not fit her. When she talks about her youth in Paris, it’s clear that she did not imagine that life would bring her in some English town as the wife of a British snob who (almost openly) cheats on her.

Alice is different and that differences makes her an incredibly fascinating woman. A lot of this is owed to the fact that Simone Signoret is a very unique presence of the screen. Her wonderful voice, her captivating accent and her unique beauty help immensely to give Alice all the qualities the script demands from her. Her no-nonsense and thoughtful approach to this passionate character is very unique. Simone wonderfully underplays all the emotions of Alice and gives a very subtle performance of a very passionate character.

This underplaying of Alice is the most fascinating aspect of Simone’s performance. The loneliness of her life seems to have made her a rather withdrawn woman but at the same time, Simone constantly hints that there is a very loving and living character beneath the calm surface. As another character in the movie puts it: “Alice is all woman.”

Simone Signoret’s ability to turn Alice into such a complex character is wonderful to watch. And she is also able to bring the much needed tragic quality to Alice – because Alice is a woman who is mostly sad and Simone’s sad smile is an unforgettable image. Simone is flawlessly able to show melancholy and tragic in every second of her performance but at the same time, she never overplays the sadness of the character. She doesn’t use Alice’s unhappy life and marriage to create any sympathy for her and instead, she suffers quietly inside. Despite the passion that Alice possesses, she is also a rather logical and matter-of-fact character and her suffering is only another matter-of-fact circumstance that doesn’t need any accentuation.

But Alice is also longing for love and passion. And she finds happiness in an affair with 25-year old Joe. Joe is a very complicated character. On the one hand, he likes to shout out loud that he is proud to be a member of the working class but on the other hand he tries everything to get ahead and leave this class. And he envies the rich and powerful just as much as he seems to despise them – so his love to Susan is never a real love. The only real love that Joe experiences is with Alice because with her he can be just as he is. There is no pretending between the two and Alice knows that. She knows how much their loves is worth and that she, even though she is older than him and they have to hide their love, can give him more than any other woman. Simone Signoret is able to portray this by making Alice an incredibly mature character – she is far beyond girlish romance but instead she knows life and love and what it all means. Simone wonderfully balances two aspects of Alice – on the one hand, she is mature and grown-up and it’s obvious that Joe isn’t her first lover and her quiet confidence seems to show a strong character but on the other hand her constant melancholy drive her into a state of dependency from Joe and the love she has for him goes far beyond a casual affair. Simone’s ability to mix strength with weakness and toughness with loving softness keep Alice a believable character.

To see Simone Signoret express so much with so little is amazing. She would have a lot of opportunities to show big emotions and break downs. Her break-up with Joe could have been such a scene but she chose to simply sit on a chair and talks very quiet and calm, but the viewer can see her heart breaking inside. During their whole time together she helped him to develop himself and become a better person. As the more mature and experienced of the two, she seemed to take the lead but at the same time she needed love and protection herself but he ultimately chose his own interests over her. When she tells him how wrong he is, her eyes are so reproachful that she can make Joe feel ashamed of all his behaviors without having even to raise her voice.

This voice is another big plus in Simone’s performance. Her French accent works wonderfully to turn Alice into this passionate woman whose voice sounds sad and hungry for life at the same time.

It’s an unforgettable portrayal that doesn’t need any big outbursts or break-downs – Simone's ability to show any kind of feeling or emotion only with her eyes is enough to stay in the viewer's mind.

The only thing that works against Simone is the script that unfortunately reduces Alice to one of two love-interests of Joe without any life beside him.

Still, a marvelous performance from one of the great actresses that gets

1/30/2010

YOUR Best Actress of 2001

The poll results are:

1. Nicole Kidman - Moulin Rouge! (22 votes)

2. Halle Berry - Monster's Ball (13 votes)

3. Sissy Spacek - In the Bedroom (4 votes)

4. Judi Dench - Iris & Renée Zellweger - Bridget Jones's Diary (2 votes)

Thanks to everyone for voting!

1/28/2010

Best Actress 1959: Doris Day in "Pillow Talk"

Doris Day received the only Oscar nomination of her career for her performance as Jan Morrow, a very blond and self-reliant interior decorator who falls in love with an innocent man from Texas not knowing that he is also the annoying macho with whom she has to share her telephone line.

Pillow Talk is probably the quintessential Doris Day-movie and it’s very fitting that she received her Oscar nomination for this even though she has given a lot of more impressive performances in her career.

Jan Morrow combines everything that Doris Day is famous for – she is a little naïve, pure and innocent, apparently independent and happy without a man while secretly desperate to meet one.

Pillow Talk is very much like Doris Day’s performance – sweet and innocent but at the same time full of sex. It’s a cheerful, colorful and amusing story that is able to mention sex and lust in almost every moment without ever losing its innocence. And Doris Day was always perfectly able to show the same thing in her performances – childlike innocence mixed with a good deal of sex (but of course, not in the way that Carroll Baker did in Baby Doll). The way she runs through her apartment makes her look like a little girl but she has the confidence and the intelligence of a grown woman.

The first thing we ever see of Jan is her naked leg. Finally, the camera pulls away and we see Jan, wearing only her underwear, sitting on her bed. These images contrast sharply with the conservative, independent and old-fashioned woman she turns out to be. And it just as much contrasts with Brad Allen – they both share the same telephone line and whenever she tries to make a call he is on the line, sweet talking different women around the clock. Doris Day shows how much dislike Jan has for this man very effectively – it’s a combination of jealousy, regret for her own state and the simple fact that Brad is a womanizer while she is looking for a perfect Mr. Right.

Of course, officially Jan is very happy without a man – at least, that’s what she says but considering that this is 1959 and a Doris-Day-movie it’s obvious right from the start that this woman is never complete without a man.

Pillow Talk is a real treasure – it’s old-fashioned, but also very sexy and incredibly funny thanks to the hilarious work from both Rock Hudson who looked never better and was never funnier and Thelma Ritter who had a simple role but was still able to steal all her scenes away from everyone else. Unfortunately, Doris Day never gets the same chances to shine as these two – her Jan is the straight character in this story who mostly reacts to her surroundings.

But there is still a lot to be appreciate in her performance. Her overwhelmingly charming personality was never put to better use and she acts with ease and simplicity throughout the movie that allows it to be always much more sophisticated and elegant than your average sex comedy. Doris's confident portrayal also helps to make the ending in which Brad, who could have every woman he wants but choses Jan, as believable as it is romantic.

Doris Day is also able to play a rather naïve woman without ever making her appear dumb or simple. The audience knows that Brad is joking with her and pretends to be a shy guy from Texas but there is never the need to look down on Jan for being fooled thanks to Doris’s honest, goodhearted and straight-forward characterization of Jan as a woman who is longing for love and who is overwhelmed when it finally happens. Of course, the chemistry between Rock Hudson and Doris Day is the key to the success of the movie and they both sparkle together.

Doris starts her performance as a symbol of efficiency, righteousness and goodness but it’s clear that handling men is not one of her strength. When Brad says that she listens to him on the phone to brighten up her drab life, she angrily answers “If I could make a call every once in a while my life wouldn’t be so drab” without even noticing what she says. When Tony, the son of a client, is almost trying to rape her in the car, her reaction is a simple “Oh, control yourself!” and then she even agrees to have a drink with him so he will stop.

As I said, Doris’s Jan is a mostly observing character who only takes initiative when a man tricked her into doing that. This surely reduced every depth in the character and basically turns her into a man’s object of affection who willingly takes that part but Doris Day also gets the most funny moments of her performance out of these reactions. When Brad pretends to be gay or she learns the truth about his identity, Doris’s wide-eyed reaction shots are the most memorable moments of her performance.

Overall, it’s an engaging, but also harmless performance that gets

1/25/2010

Best Actress 1959



The next year will be 1959 and the nominees were

Doris Day in Pillow Talk

Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story

Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer

Simone Signoret in Room at the Top

Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer

1/21/2010

Best Actress 2001 - The resolution!

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


5. Judi Dench in Iris

In playing Iris, a philosopher and writer who suffers from Alzheimer disease, Judi Dench gives a typically dignified portrayal that contrasts very effectively with later scenes of despair and illness and she believably shows that the knowledge about her own situation is the most important thing for a woman who has always put knowledge above everything else. Even though her later scenes of loneliness and confusion don’t offer much of a challenge for her, Judi Dench gives a very moving and memorable performance.



                     
Halle Berry gives a surprisingly raw and powerful performance as a woman who suffers a series of devastating tragedies but unfortunately is not very consistent in her portrayal and mixes scenes of overwhelming emotions and truth with moments of awkward over-acting and shrill hysterics. Still, it’s a harrowing and unforgettable demonstration of a hopeless and helpless soul.



3. Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom

Sissy Spacek gives an uncompromising portrayal of a grieving mother who retreats more and more into her own world of silence and anger. It’s a fascinating, honest and subtle performance that offers a lot of unforgettable images. Unfortunately, the character of Ruth is very underwritten and more than once steps into the background but Sissy Spacek is able to create a complex and disturbingly real character who has no way out of her sorrow and sadness.



2. Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary

In the role of Bridget, Renée Zellweger creates a unique and hilarious character who doesn’t need big dramatic scenes of despair and anger to be unforgettable. Thanks to Renée, Bridget becomes a very real heroine who amusingly and awkwardly fights her way through life and love. Her greatest success is that she never takes herself, the role of Bridget or the movie too seriously – instead she portrays all of Bridget’s facets in a very nonchalant-way and so helps to make her incredibly charming and delightful.




In Moulin Rouge!, Nicole Kidman gives a star-performance on the highest level. From the first moment, she completely dominates the screen and is wonderfully able to survive all the craziness around her. In a loud and over-the-top movie, Nicole Kidman prevents Satine from ever stepping into the background and shows her character’s arc believably and effectively. It’s a fascinating and unforgettable performance that is funny, touching, crazy and romantic.



Best Actress 2001: Nicole Kidman in "Moulin Rouge!"

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

That’s the message we learn right at the beginning of the movie-musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge!. But considering we are watching a colorful, loud and over-the-top romantic musical, it all starts surprisingly different: gray and quiet. We see Christian, alone, telling us that the woman he loved is dead. We know right from the beginning that Nicole Kidman’s Satine is doomed.

Soon, Christian begins to tell the story about the love between him and Satine. We learn how he came to Paris as a young, hopelessly idealistic man to live a life of freedom, beauty, truth and love. We keep hearing about Satine and Christian and his friends plan to read a play that they wrote for Harold Zidler, the owner of the Moulin Rouge, to Satine.

So, they enter the world of the Moulin Rouge which could not be more wild, loud, colorful and over-the-top. It’s a bombastic kaleidoscope of music and colors with fast-moving cinematography and quick editing.

But suddenly, everything goes quiet and silent…In the role of Satine, Nicole Kidman has one of the greatest entrances in the history of motion pictures. Slowly, she comes down from the ceiling, sitting on a swing, singing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.

But even the first close-up of Satine is already intermingled with a pale vision of her death. Death is always with her.

In Moulin Rouge!, Nicole Kidman gives a real movie-star performance on the highest level. From the first moment, she completely dominates the screen and perfectly lives up to all the talk about her – it’s not hard to imagine that she is the star of the Moulin Rouge. She sings and dances wildly and crazily but always with dignity and precision.

The most remarkable feat about Nicole Kidman (and the wonderful Ewan McGregor) is that they were both able to survive all the craziness around them. The movies goes extremely fast, it’s highly stylized and impresses with its Art Direction and Costume Design, but Ewan and Nicole were able to prevent their characters from ever stepping into the background. Instead, the love story between the two is the heart and soul of the movie and the wonderful chemistry between the two actors helps to make this successful. His idealistic and optimistic wide-eyed writer fits perfectly to her initial cold and distant prostitute.

Nicole Kidman plays the part with a lot of confidence. Her voice may be a little thin but that doesn’t prevent her from singing them in the most wonderful, passionate way. She flawlessly shows everything that Satine is supposed to be from her fervent outbursts to her moments of desperation.

Through the character’s of Christian and Satine we learn that love can overcome all obstacles, that it can survive even the most hateful attempts to destroy it and that it is better to have loved and lost that love than to have never loved at all. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor make this almost old-fashioned movie love concept work without ever making it seem unbelievable. They go along with the movie and its message and play their parts with as much dedication and seriousness as possible.

At the beginning, Nicole Kidman plays Satine with a lot of superficiality but during the course of the movie, she opens her up more and more. When she says that she wants to become “a real actress” she shows how big these dreams are by demonstrating a certain sadness on her face that comes from still having to be in the Moulin Rouge. Nicole Kidman shows how Satine may early develop feelings for Christian but that her dreams about being an actress are still more important to her until she finally realizes that these dreams don’t matter anymore as long as she can be with Christian. Nicole makes this character arc very believable and gives a lot more depth and complexity to Satine than other actresses might have.

We know right from the start that Satine will die but Nicole Kidman fills the part with so much energy and life that it’s somehow impossible to believe – even when she is coughing blood. She makes Satine such a fascinating woman that her ultimate death is just as shocking and moving as if we had never heard about it before.

Overall, Satine is probably a rather easy character in herself but to make this character realistic and believable is incredibly hard and Nicole Kidman did an admirable job in doing so. Her performance has to be in tune with the over-the-top happenings around her but at the same time she must create a real human being. She has to be crazy, funny, touching, romantic, hopeful and hopeless.

Satine is a character for the ages and will probably be the role that Nicole Kidman will always be remembered for. For this, she gets

Best Actress 2001: Renée Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary"

Only once in a while does the Academy give a nomination for a performance that is neither very deep nor very complex nor very dramatic but instead, simply laugh-out-funny, very original and memorable.

The nomination for Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary is such a case.

Bridget is no woman suffering the loss of a son, facing serious illness or being forced to become a prostitute to support her bed-ridden mother. Instead, she is a single woman in London who, after having been alone and unhappy for years, suddenly finds herself with two possible romantic interests.

Bridget Jones’s Diary is a real feel-good movie and Renée Zellweger in the title role gives a performance that is a role model in comedic brilliance. Like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, she creates a unique, flawed but totally loveable and unforgettable heroine for whom love is a very complicated matter.

Of course Bridget Jones’s Diary is no Annie Hall but simply a funny and entertaining movie, carried by Renée Zellweger’s equally funny and entertaining performance.

Her greatest success in this movie is that she never takes herself, the role of Bridget or the movie too seriously – instead she portrays all of Bridget’s facets in a very nonchalant-way and that helps to make Bridget so charming and winning.

Renée is also able to make Bridget very real. She is a very typical human being – thinking negatively but always mixed with high hopes at the same time. She’s a bit clumsy, she doesn’t know when to talk and she surely always speaks before she thinks, but, as Mark Darcy puts it, we love her just the way she is.

The comedic highlights of this performance are those moments when Bridget is simply making a fool of herself which is like a car accident – you simply can’t look away. But unlike a car accident it’s also absolutely hilarious. The best scene is easily when she is introducing a new book at an important social event and awkwardly makes her way through an improvised, awful speech before she finally has to introduce her boss which results in probably the greatest mix of acting and voice-over that one can ever find. Renée’s look on her face when she is trying to say “Mr. Fitzherbert” while the little voice in her head is telling to her to say “Tits pervert” is absolutely uproarious.

This is not the only case when Renée’s voice-over is fantastic. For the whole movie, she keeps delivering joke after joke most perfectly and blends it very well with the context of the movie.

Renée also works great with her two male co-stars and she always makes the idea that both Mark and Daniel could be interested in her very believable. Renée always makes sure that both parts of the movie, the comedy and the romance, are constantly connected with each other. The movie can be funny at its most romantic moments and romantic when it’s funny thanks to Renée who combined all this in the character of Bridget.

So, this is surely not your typical Oscar-performance and Bridget is certainly not the most challenging character when it comes to depth and complexity but Renée Zellweger gives a hilarious and unforgettable performance that gets

1/20/2010

Best Actress 2001: Judi Dench in "Iris"

In Iris, Judi Dench plays Iris Murdoch, an English philosopher and author of 26 novels.

Right from the start, when we see Iris sitting on her bicycle, driving too fast for her husband to catch up, we are already given a perfect picture of a woman who is independent, strong-minded and knows what she wants and what she is able to do.

In the early scenes of Iris, Judi Dench gives her usual dignified portrayal of a unique woman. When she is giving a speech or simply talking to her husband in a supermarket, she does it with so much style and elegance that she might also be the Queen of England. While this is simply something that Judi Dench automatically does with almost every role she is playing, it serves the character and the movie very well – we see that Iris is no ordinary woman.

But very soon we find out that this woman who lives in a world of books and thoughts, who is a thinker and a poet, suffers from Alzheimer disease. At first, she has trouble remembering the spelling of certain words but her condition soon gets worse.

What’s so special about Judi Dench’s performance at the beginning of Iris’s illness is that she is able to show that Iris is intelligent enough to know what’s going on. She realizes her own decline, she is very aware of what is going on inside of her – and Judi Dench wonderfully portrays her fear of not being able to do anything against it. Judi Dench demonstrates that Iris’s biggest worries are to finish the book she is writing right now which seems like a race against time.

Also in the all the scenes that show how Iris is tested and examined, Judi Dench clearly and flawlessly shows that the most important thing for Iris is to be always aware of her own state. She doesn’t seem to mind what will happen to her as long as the doctors tell her the truth and she has the complete knowledge about herself.

When Iris’s condition gets worse, Judi Dench gives a very moving, but also rather standard performance that stops surprising the viewer. She handles the scenes of Iris’s loneliness, of her confusion and her retreat into her own world very well but in these scenes, she stops making Iris an interesting, complex character and focuses mostly on the moving effect of her scenes. When we see how this woman, who used to be so confident and intelligent, is not able to open the door or simple repeats a sentence endlessly because she can’t do anything else, it’s certainly heartbreaking to watch.

A lot of the success of Judi Dench’s performance depends on the work from Kate Winslet who, in her flashback scenes, lays the foundation for the character of Iris. If it wasn’t for Kate’s fresh, original and endearing performance, then Judi Dench’s performance wouldn’t be half as effective – because it’s Iris’s uniqueness and her strength that makes her such a fascinating person and we almost only see this in the flashback scenes. The Iris of Judi Dench would not be very interesting without the Iris of Kate Winslet.

As Iris, Judi Dench’s task is mostly to make the tragedy of the character visible to the audience. She does this very touchingly and creates a lot of unforgettable images and overall gives a performance that gets

1/19/2010

YOUR Best Actress of 1996

The polls results are:

1. Frances McDormand - Fargo (13 votes)

2. Brenda Blethyn - Secrets and Lies (12 votes)

3. Emily Watson - Breaking the Waves (9 votes)

4. Kristin Scott Thomas - The English Patient (2 votes)

5. Diane Keaton - Marvin's Room (1 vote)

YOUR Best Actress of 1956

The poll results are:

1. Carroll Baker - Baby Doll (16 votes)

2. Deborah Kerr - The King and I (13 votes)

3. Ingrid Bergman - Anastasia (8 votes)

4. Katharine Hepburn - The Rainmaker &  Nancy Kelly - The Bad Seed (2 votes)

1/17/2010

Best Actress 2001: Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball"

Like Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom, Halle Berry plays a mother who mourns the loss of her son but Halle Berry’s Leticia Musgrove faces even more tragedies in her life: before the death of her son caused by a hit-and-run-accident, her husband is executed in prison. Later, she meets a white man and starts a relationship with him, not knowing that she shares a tragic connection with him.

In showing her character’s grief and sorrow, Halle Berry chose the exact opposite route than Sissy Spacek. While Sissy showed a woman who becomes more and more introverted and who grieves silently, Halle Berry makes Leticia an emotional firework who openly and without any reservation shows how much the tragedies of her life affect her.

In her first scenes, Halle already gives us a good picture of Leticia: she is tired. Tired of going to a prison to visit her husband, tired of everything. It’s the day of his execution but she has bigger problems in her life, like her too old car. Leticia is a woman whose sole ambition is to survive. She doesn’t expect anything out of life anymore. Halle Berry is perfectly able to show the two extreme parts of Leticia – she is a woman who can’t fight anymore but at the same time, she keeps fighting.

In a lot of parts, it’s an astonishingly raw and powerful performance. When we see her in the hospital, crying helplessly, overwhelmed by the death of her son, Halle Berry is emotionally devastating. She is not afraid to let every emotion be bigger than the next, making her loss and grief absolutely tragic and her uncompromising picture of a woman who just lost her child hits the viewer hard.

Halle Berry succeeds in making these overpowering emotional outbursts a normal part of Leticia’s character and her acting is luckily able to make most of these scenes honest and natural instead of over-the-top and awkward.

Unfortunately, Halle Berry does not succeed all the time. While she reaches incredible heights in her performance, she is not always able to avoid various scenes with unbelievable overacting and shrill hysterics that more than once threaten to destroy everything that she achieves in her great scenes. When she is hitting her son because he ate chocolate, she looks so uncomfortable and like a bad drama student who doesn’t know what to do, where to put her arms, how to deliver a line, how to act at all.

It’s also hard to praise her performance while knowing that it also contains one of the worst acted scenes ever by an Oscar-winner, her infamous “Make me feel good”-scene. Halle Berry has all the right instincts in this scene: Leticia is drunk, desperate and still grieving – there is no reason for her to act logical or “normal”, but she simply fails horribly in the execution of the scene which as a result feels out of place and could have destroyed the whole performance.

But even though Halle Berry is uncomfortable to watch in some of her bad scenes, one can’t help but feel overwhelmed by Leticia’s misery and Halle Berry’s ability to bring this all to life without ever making it appear unbelievable.

The most fascinating aspect of this performance are the final minutes. Halle Berry’s wordless final scenes, the look on her face, her shock, her disbelieve und ultimately her acceptance are played incredibly beautifully and really show that Halle completely understood and inhabited this character. It’s a wonderful display of subtlety that was grandly missed in this performance up to this point.

Unfortunately Halle Berry’s performance is not very consistent and offers a constant up-and-down of excellency and awkward overacting. Still, Monster’s Ball is a very strong movie which is due to Halle Berry’s and Billy Bob Thornton’s (mostly) realistic portrayals of two hopeless and helpless souls.

For this, she gets

1/14/2010

Best Actress 2001: Sissy Spacek in "In the Bedroom"

In the Bedroom begins very romantically: we see a happy couple, teasing and laughing until they are lying under a tree, kissing each other. But the happy, carefree atmosphere of the beginning will soon change into a depressing and gripping story about death, grief, revenge and accusations.

The first part of the movie puts the couple of Frank and Natalie in the main focus. We see them again together at a barbecue at his parents’ house and everything seems to be “typically American”. But soon we discover that Natalie is not only older than Frank, she has two little children and a rowdy husband from whom she is divorcing.

We meet Sissy Spacek’s character Ruth for the first time in the kitchen when Natalie is looking for her. Her character does not actively enter the scene, rather she just seems to enter the screen by accident. The whole atmosphere of the barbecue, with Frank’s father Matt preparing the meat and Ruth standing in the kitchen seems to confirm the impression of a perfect American family. But with the relationship between Frank and Natalie, something new has entered their life and Richard, Natalie’s husband, begins to threaten this safe world.

In her first scene, Sissy Spacek leaves little doubt that Ruth is not too happy about the relationship between Natalie and her son. She is polite to her, she acts friendly, but she does not talk to her except when Natalie speaks to her first and she is also not really interested in her. She doesn’t say anything negative about her but whenever she talks to her husband about the two, she tries to bring logical reasons (from her point of view) against the relationship.

Sissy Spacek makes Ruth a very real woman. She is not a mother full of love, sometimes she even appears to be rather cold but she is always believable in her attempts to do what she thinks is best for her son.

Ruth is also a woman who finds herself alone on her side. Her son won’t talk to her about his relationship, claiming it’s nothing serious and her husband doesn’t seem to mind either – rather, he seems actually proud of his son for having a relationship with the attractive and mature Natalie. Like his son, he doesn’t see any problems with it – she is the one who is concerned about the relationship. Even when Richard and Frank get into a fist fight, Ruth remains the only one who thinks that the relationship should end.

The fist part of the movie does not demand much from Sissy Spacek apart from being concerned about her son. But she does this very realistically in a very subtle performance and already establishes all we need to know about Ruth.

But suddenly, Ruth’s worries are confirmed in the most horrible way and she turns into a symbol for motherly grief and anger which Sissy Spacek flawlessly demonstrates with a heartbreaking facial work that shows all her sorrow and grief in every second of her life.

From now on, the movie focuses on Matt and Ruth and how they react to the murder of their son and how they cope with their sorrow in their own ways, alienating each other in the process. Both are unable to speak about what happened and retreat into their own worlds and silence becomes the only communication they know.

The main problem that Sissy Spacek as Ruth faces is that her character always stays in the background for most of the time. Even in the part of the movie that deals with the parent’s grief, it’s Tom Wilknson’s Matt whom we follow and who gets to show a real character arc. Sissy Spacek never gets such chances to shine but she still makes sure to use every on-screen moment wisely.

Her quiet, chain-smoking grieving mother is surely a hunting and unforgettable image. But it’s the question if it’s really Sissy’s acting or the image of a grieving mother that leaves such a devastating impression. The image of Ruth, watching TV, apparently dropping out of the world, may be very powerful but it doesn’t demand much acting.

But Sissy successfully shows how Ruth more and more retreats into her own world because of her grief. She is not able to communicate with her husband about that – every time she talks to him, there seems to be a kind of accusation in her tone. She is angry that he is going out, talking to friends. Ruth is trapped in her grief and silently demands the same from him. She has no outlet for her feelings. Everything is inside her, her hate, her anger, her frustration, her deep sorrow. She has no one to talk to about this, instead, her anger simply grows inside of her while she keeps watching TV and smoking cigarettes.

Ruth is a woman who needs to blame someone for what happened. When she and Matt talk to a lawyer after a first trail against Natalie’s husband, we can see how she would like to put the blame on Natalie. When she gets angry that Richard might not go to prison, she shouts “He killed our son. That was no accident!”. She says these words not really loud, rather perplexed and helpless because the thought of the murder being an accident is so absurd that she doesn’t want to say it. The idea that Richard might walk around freely is just horrible to her – Sissy Spacek wonderfully shows that Ruth seems to feel more and more trapped because she has no way to control this situation in any way.

She also shows that the grief she has is always there. When they are visiting friends in their cottage it’s always obvious that her smile is just a façade.

But it’s not only the grief about the death of her son that is keeping Ruth so silent and tormented. She tells a priest that she is also feeling incredibly angry and we see how much sadness and frustration is really inside of her and that she doesn’t know how to handle it. When the priest tells her about the dead child of another woman and says that the child drowned, she simple answers “Oh”. She doesn’t say anything more but Sissy Spacek shows that for Ruth, this cannot be compared to the murder of her son because that was a death that could have been avoided if the others had just listened to her concerns right from the beginning.

But it also the fact that the killer of her son is still free. When she actually meets him in a supermarket, it becomes clear that she can’t return to a normal life as long as he is around.

All of the feelings inside of Ruth finally come out in a big fight with Matt. Ruth says everything that is torturing her and she openly blames Matt for her son’s death because he encouraged the relationship while Ruth was alwas the one who wanted it to end. She even accuses Matt of having wanted Natalie himself and that Frank only died because Matt liked the idea of having her around. We now see that the anger against her husband is troubling Ruth just as much as the mourning of her son. Sissy Spacek is not afraid to show Ruth’s unlikable side in this fight. It’s clear that Matt is the more sensible person, the movie openly takes his side but Sissy Spacek shows that grief is not a logical thing. In her sorrow, Ruth needs someone to blame, she needs an explanation why it happened.

Sissy Spacek surely gives a fascinating, subtle and honest performance despite the fact that her character is very underwritten and she more than once vanishes behind Tom Wilkinson’s more demanding performance as a grieving father and troubled husband.

Still, Ruth is a haunting and unforgettable portrayal that gets

1/13/2010

Best Actress 2001


The next year will be 2001 and the nominees were

Halle Berry in Monster's Ball

Judi Dench in Iris

Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!

Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom

Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jonses's Diary

1/11/2010

Best Actress 1996 - The resolution!

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


5. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room

In the role of Bessie, Diane Keaton suffers very nobly but neither the script nor her performance give any real depth to the character. It’s a simple and beautiful presentation of hope and fear that unfortunately never defies the sentiment of the story but rather intensifies it with a constant smile even in the most serious situations. That way, Diane Keaton serves the film well but never adds any complexity to her character.



                     
The part of Katharine may only be a love interest, but Kristin Scott Thomas never lets her be reduced to this and instead adds a lot of layers and nuances to create a fascinating woman who is not afraid to be unlikable in her adultery and for whom men would betray their allies and their best friends. In combining British arrogance and iciness with warmth and passion, Kristin Scott Thomas’s presence is felt in every second of the movie.




Brenda Blethyn wonderfully demonstrates that Cynthia is a lonely and needy character, full of self-pity and sorrow about her life and her past and probably her future, too. The loneliness and sadness that she displays in almost every second of her life is heartbreaking in it’s simplicity and effectiveness and results in an extremely moving and perfectly executed performance.



2. Frances McDormand in Fargo

In creating Marge Gunderson, Frances McDormand gives a performance that is real, unique, hilarious, intelligent, memorable and touching. She is able to demonstrate a lot of layers and nuances behind the stereotypical exterior and with brilliant acting choices, Frances McDormand shows that Marge is the only sane character in a world full of violence and that her niceness and naivety does not prevent her from solving a gruesome murder case.




In the role of the religious and backward Bess, Emily Watson gives a performance that is a masterpiece in rawness, honesty and uncompromising dedication. She conveys the self-humiliation of Bess without any reservation but instead expressed every emotion with total frankness and, as a result, gave a devastating tour-de-force that is rarely seen on the screen.




 

Best Actress 1996: Emily Watson in "Breaking the Waves"

The movies by Lars van Trier are certainly not for everybody and I will be the first one to admit that Breaking the Waves is a less than perfect film. But Lars van Trier is always able to get astonishingly raw and unaffected performances from the women he is working with.

I have to say that Breaking the Waves is a movie that’s doubtless far above my head and I probably did not even understand 1% of what van Trier wanted to say but I try the best I can.

It was probably a good thing that Breaking the Waves was the first time for Emily Watson in front of the camera. Her inexperience and van Trier’s direction helped her to give a performance that is a masterpiece in honesty and uncompromising dedication. She completely allowed herself to disappear into the character of Bess and did so without any reservation but instead expressed every emotion with total frankness and, as a result, gave a tour-de-force that is rarely seen on the screen.

With Breaking the Waves, Lars van Trier handles various themes that dominate Bess’s life: religion, love and sex. She is a deeply religious woman, dominated by a deeply religious village community. And with the same dedication that she follows God, she also falls in love with Jan, her future husband. She loves him unconditionally and bases her whole existence on her love to him. With him, she also begins to experience sexual love and for her, this love is a gift of God.

Bess is a very naïve, insecure and probably backward girl. We soon learn that she had already been to a hospital. She is a woman who is pure and good and her best friend says of her that she is someone who would give anything to anyone. But this feature of her will also be her destruction.

Bess is caught in a world of religious intolerance and fanaticism which has formed her all her life. When she goes to church, she literally talks to God – she talks to him with that quiet, always insecure voice and then answers with sudden conviction. Her God is not a loving God – he warns her, he threatens her and she tries the best she can to please him but the love that has entered her life makes it more and more difficult for her to do this. In the world of Bess, it seems that love and religion cannot co-exist.

When Jan has to leave her to work on an oil-rig, it almost breaks her apart. She prays for him to come again earlier even so “God” warns her to do that. In her eyes, God then answers her prayers but in the worst ways: Jan has a terrible accident that leaves him paralyzed and results in his earlier arrival. From now on, Bess blames herself and is willing to do anything that could make Jan be better again. Finally, Jan asks her to have sex with other men and then tell him about it. While she is reluctant at first, she starts to believe that by doing this she can help him to become better again and what follows is probably the most devastating process of self-humiliation that was ever put on the screen.

There are few performances that makes one feel so completely helpless. To watch how Bess, a character so pure and innocent, degrades herself is already as painful as possible but it’s even more disturbing to see how Bess continues to believe that she is doing the best thing for Jan. Bess realizes how she removes herself from God and the religious community – when she prays and suddenly, God doesn’t answer anymore, it’s a shocking and heartbreaking moment. But when she is willing to go back on a ship to have sex with a group of violent men, God is there again because Bess is sacrificing herself for Jan.

Bess is such a simple and at the same time immensely complex character and Emily Watson was able to show all sides or her flawlessly and combines this with matching facial work that shows Bess naivety, her pain and her joy gloriously. Few actresses have ever so totally let go in their performances – Bess’s screams of pain when Jan leaves her, her desperate tears when her mother won’t open the door for her and the heartbreaking final moments in the hospital are among the most shattering moments ever seen.

Emily Watson’s portrayal of Bess’s thinking and logic, her love and feelings, it as flawless as it is devastating. The moments when Bess becomes an outcast in her village are almost impossible to watch. Bess is a woman who never acts out of any dubious motives – she always tries to do the right thing for Jan. When she tells her mother that she is sorry that she couldn’t be a good girl, it sums up all that Bess is. She is always worried about the feelings of others, she tries to act the way she should but her way of loving Jan is too grand and private to be understandable for anyone else.

The way Emily Watson was able to bring Bess to life without ever making it seem unrealistic and the way she was able to connect to the viewer is astonishing. Bess lives in her own world and has her own points-of-views that make it hard to understand her, but Emily Watson perfectly builds a relationship between herself and the viewer that makes it possible to follow her without ever looking down on her. Emily Watson never tries to use Bess’s tragic life as a way to make her more likeable. She makes Bess such a fragile character who actively runs into her own deterioration.

Emily Watson creates one of the most tragic characters in movie history and gives a performance that is monumental in its honesty, rawness and dedication. For this, she gets

Best Actress 1996: Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets and Lies"

In Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, we are shown two very different worlds: one belongs to the character of Cynthia, who works in a fabric, has a daughter who sweeps the streets and lives a lonely and depressing life at the lower end of the lower class. The other world belongs to Hortense, a young black woman who is a successful optometrist and lives a comfortable life that contrasts sharply with that of Cynthia. But very soon the paths of these two different women meet and change their lives forever.

Secrets and Lies starts rather depressing: with a funeral. The sad face of Hortense and the big floral wreath saying “Mum” immediately tells us everything we need to know. A little later, we are also introduced to the character of Cynthia. We see her working in a fabric and the look on her face shows what she confirms later: that her work pays the rent, nothing more. The next scene in her little house with her daughter enforces our impression of Cynthia and her daughter: they are basically British white-trash. Cynthia argues with her daughter who says that she didn’t ask to be born while Cynthia answers that she didn’t ask to have her either.

While we see that Cynthia is not very educated or refined, Brenda Blethyn wonderfully demonstrates that she it not average white-trash. Unlike her daughter she doesn’t swear, misbehave or act aggressively. Rather, Cynthia is a lonely, needy character, full of self-pity and sorrow about her life and her past and probably her future, too. She has barely any contact to her brother and his wife, her daughter mostly avoids her – we see that Cynthia is a woman who is longing for security and companion. She is the kind of character that the viewer would like to hug and comfort because the loneliness and sadness that she displays in almost every second of her life is heartbreaking in it’s simplicity and effectiveness.

While Brenda Blethyn starts her performance a little annoying, she very soon deepens the character of Cynthia and shows that beneath that quirky, squeaky woman lies an unhappy soul with a dark past and no hope for the future. Her breakdown during a seldom visit of her brother is an incredibly moving moment and Brenda Blethyn excellently rises to the highest acting challenges. To see how this already suffering woman has to stand so many blows of fate is like watching an already starving puppy being kicked in the head.

In another scene with her daughter, we see how she is admiring her legs. It’s not clear if she does that because she is thinking of a past when she could turn all the men’s heads with her legs or simply because she got nothing else to admire or maybe even only to make some conversation with her daughter. Brenda Blethyn never simplifies Cynthia even though she seems like such an exaggerated, stereotypical character at first. She always keeps talking about things nobody wants to hear, she doesn’t know when to stop or when it would be better to say nothing at all. Brenda Blethyn makes Cynthia an almost impossible to bear character but she is also able to captivate the audience with this. Brenda Blethyn never uses Cynthia’s sadness to make the character more appealing.

The real highpoints of her performance come when Hortense suddenly enters her life. Cynthia may have always thought about the little baby she gave up for adoption but when Hortense calls her on the phone and tells her that she is her daughter, it is an unimaginable shock for Cynthia. The way Brenda Blethyn is able to show this shock and her fear is exceptional. Out of nowhere her past has caught up with her.

Even more impressing is that famous, one-take scene when Cynthia realizes that, yes, she is the mother of this black woman. She never saw the baby after the birth and apparently she also never saw the father – it’s not made clear if she was raped by a man she couldn’t see but Cynthia’s crying scenes of remembrance seem to indicate that something terrible must have happened to her. In these scenes, Brenda Blethyn is breathtaking in her ability to show a towering amount of emotions. After her initial shock, Cynthia starts to warm up to Hortense and we see that she can find a lot of pride in the fact that her own daughter was able to live such a well-off life and turned out to be such a bright and intelligent woman.

Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean Baptiste have wonderful chemistry together and are perfectly able to demonstrate how Cynthia and Hortense grow fond of each other, how they start to build their relationship as mother and daughter and Brenda Blethyn is particularly wonderful in showing how suddenly joy and happiness enter her life.

Even though she is sometimes a little too exaggerated and over-the-top, Brenda Blethyn nonetheless gives an extremely moving, perfectly executed performance that gets

1/10/2010

Best Actress 1996: Kristin Scott Thomas in "The English Patient"

Before the Academy Awards in 1997, there was a lot of speculation about the category placement for Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott Thomas who both played the main female characters in The English Patient. It’s a movie which combines flashbacks with present-day scenes and while Kristin Scott Thomas is only present in the flashbacks, Juliette Binoche only appears in the present-day scenes.

The English Patient tells the story of a man who was almost burned to death in a plane crash during World War II and is now taken care of by a Canadian nurse in an abandoned monastery in the Italian countryside. Through flashbacks we learn his story – a story about love and betrayal.

In the end, it was decided to push Kristin Scott Thomas for lead because the love story between Katharine and Almásy is the heart and soul of the picture. While the placement is still debateable, I have no problems with it.

We actually see Katharine once in the present-day scenes – right at the beginning, sitting in an airplane, apparently sleeping. She doesn’t do anything in this scene, but Kristin Scott Thomas’s unique beauty already makes an aborbing entrence.

In the role of Katharine, Kristin Scott Thomas creates one of the most fascinating cold blondes that ever graced the screen. Besides being stunningly beautiful, Kristin Scott Thomas is able to add something mysterious, inaccesible but also intimate to Katharine – she never becomes a very emotional woman but instead tries to keep her feelings behind her calm face.

Katharine is a woman alone in a world of men and accompanies her husband who works with a group of geographers in the Sahara Desert. Kristin Scott Thomas immediately demonstrates a certain British arrogance and iciness but she is able to combine it with warmth and passion which makes Katharine a very fascinating woman right from the start. She shows that Katharine is neither shy nor afraid to say what’s on her mind. Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance is very modern and old-fashioned at the same time – Katharine’s looks are wonderfully 30s but her character is not. She may be a kind of trophy wife but she refuses to be reduced in any way.

Just like Katharine always shows that there is more to her than beauty and style, Kristin Scott Thomas never lets her own beauty dominate her performance but instead shows a deep side in Katharine’s character that is sometimes rather ugly. Neither she nor Ralph Fiennes make any excuses for their passionate love affair – Katharine is always aware that she is cheating on her husband, she doesn’t fall in love with Almásy and forgets time and space. Instead, even in her most happy moments we always see her guilt and sorrow. When Almásy asks her after their first time together when she was the most happy, she answers ‘Now’. And when he asks her when she was the least happy, she again says ‘Now’. Kristin Scott Thomas is not afraid to make Katharine unlikable in her adultery.

Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas give very grown-up performances. This may sound weird, but it is meant to describe that they don’t fall romantically in love and act like teenagers but instead they always show that they are aware of what they’re doing even in their most passionate, spontaneous encounters. Ralph and Kristin demonstrate how troubled and disturbed their characters are by their love affair.

The sexual and passionate chemistry between Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas makes The English Patient one of the greatest love stories ever captured on the screen. From the first moment they meet each other it is clear that she will change his life forever.

At first, Katharine seems rather amused by Almásy's awkward and humorless behavior and tries to get him out of his shell – not in a flirting or sexual way, but rather friendly and interested. Katharine likes to tease Almásy but her loving feelings for him develop later.

The English Patient never explores the love between Almásy and Katharine – it doesn’t ask why or how and neither does Kristin Scott Thomas. Her character never explains why she is so fascinated by him but thanks to Kristin’s passionate performance, she doesn’t have to. On the other side, we also never learn about Almásy’s motives for his love, but again, Kristin turns Katharine into such a captivating character that no reasons are necessary.

It is not easy for actors to portray a love story in an epic like The English Patient. They have to show the intimacy of their relationship but also have to make their love as grand as the movie itself. Both Ralph and Kristin were wonderfully able to fulfill this task without any sentiment.

Kristin Scott Thomas may be only playing a love interest, but she never lets her character be reduced to this. She adds a lot of layers and nuances to Katharine who in the end, is not only a love interest, but becomes a symbol for the kind of woman who could make a man betray his colleagues, his friends and his country. Katharine may be nothing more than the memory of a dying man – but she becomes a lingering presence over everyone and everything.

Kristin Scott Thomas was able to bring this woman to life in the most glorious way and for this, she gets

1/07/2010

Best Actress 1996: Diane Keaton in "Marvin's Room"

When Marvin’s Room, a sentimental story about two estranged sisters, opened in 1996, it seemed that Meryl Streep would be one to get the Oscar attention after she was the only one to get a nomination from the Golden Globes. But Diane Keaton beat Meryl to the SAG Awards and finally was the one to receive the Oscar nomination for her performance as Bessie, a woman who took care of her sick father and her aunt for 20 years and is now facing leukemia.

We learn almost everything about Bessie in the first few minutes of the movie. She is having a doctor’s appointment where it is already mentioned that something is wrong with her. And she is also telling the doctor about her private life, about her father who is dying for 20 years and her aunt who is a little confused. Bessie talks about this with a mix of comedy and sadness – we see that taking care of other people is all that Bessie’s life is about and she has accepted it long ago. The way she talks about all this shows that it is not easy for her but she does it without any complaints. Diane Keaton makes Bessie a symbol of support and calmness.

The mix of comedy and drama that Diane Keaton shows in a lot of moments of her performance is also the theme of Marvin’s Room. This is not the serious, heavy-handed drama about illness and estranged relatives one expects – instead, it more often than once mixed the most serious scenes with a good deal of comedy, sometimes with effective and sometimes with disastrous results.

When Bessie learns that she suffers from leukemia, she has to get in touch with her estranged sister Lee again. They haven’t spoken in 17 years, but Lee immediately comes to visit Bessie to see if she can help her. Lee has enough problems of her own with her rebellious son Hank who tried to burn down their house but Bessie is able to connect with him very quickly – her quiet and friendly way of behaving is very different from the way his mother acts.

In the role of Bessie, Diane Keaton gives a very simple and beautiful performance. Diane Keaton is always a very warm, likeable and honest presence on the screen and this performance is no difference.

It’s mostly the banality of the script and the undecided directing that works against her. In the part of Bessie, Diane Keaton can never really make a good impression because almost all dramatic scenes are destroyed by an uncalled use of comedy. When we see her taking care of her sick father, it is destroyed by him putting the wrong button on his automatic bed. When we see her in hospital with a bandage around her head, it is destroyed by her aunt’s silly monologue. When we see her collapsing in Disney World after having discovered that she is bleeding in her mouth, it is destroyed by Goofy being one of the first people to take care of her.

There are some times in the movie when the mix of comedy and drama works but they mostly involve Meryl Streep. Diane Keaton’s most shining moments are her quiet ones: her moving reaction to the news of her sickness, her quiet desperation when her father is having an attack or her very touching breakdowns at the end when the fear of death enters her life.

Throughout the movie, Bessie also always remains that symbol of support and efficiency that she was in the beginning. Even in her own serious situation, she still has to manage her father’s and her aunt’s life, too, and she does it without complaining or even thinking about complaining – it’s a natural part of her life, like breathing or eating.

Marvin’s Room is a movie that is able to bring it’s sentimentality across mostly due to the great acting. Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep work very well with each other. Their re-union scene is very moving because it avoids too much sentiment and doesn’t overdo the comedy, either. Both actresses are so comfortable in their roles because they fit their talents perfectly: Diane Keaton’s acting seems to come from inside and helps to create this warm and charming woman while Meryl Streep’s acting seems to come from outside, is more prepared and elaborate which works well to create her distant, sometimes cold and confused character.

Overall, it’s a warm and engaging story and the actresses more than once bring tears to the viewer’s eyes with their equally engaging performances. That way, Diane Keaton serves the movie commendable, but apart from playing the character as written, she never does anything more. She never gives any more depth to Bessie except when the script asks her to which unfortunately, does not happen very often. Mostly, she even suffers from the script. A good example is the scene with Leonardo DiCaprio at the beach. Just when it is about to become a moving and great scene for Diane Keaton, it is over again.

Diane Keaton handles her dramatic scenes with Hank and her fight’s with Lee with dignity and shows a lot of talent and the scene when she talks about the love of her life who drowned in a river reminds one of the scene from Annie Hall when Annie talked about that old man and the free turkey because Diane again mixes it with comedy and drama. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work this time.

Overall, Diane Keaton suffers very nobly in this picture but she never really becomes Oscar-worthy in the process. She unfortunately never tries to defy the sentimentality of the script but rather underlines it with a constant smile of happiness even in her most desperate situations. That way, her character becomes very likeable and accessible but never really three-dimensional. When Bessie hears some devastating news on the phone, she breaks down crying and a great scene for Diane Keaton could be on our way, but only two seconds later, Diane is again smiling from one ear to the other and talks about how happy her life was and how glad she is for everything. Again, it’s a moving scene but a wasted opportunity.

Overall, it’s a charming, engaging, warm and likeable performance that gets