My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/30/2010

Best Actress 1971

 

The next year will be 1971 and the nominees were

Julie Christie in McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Jane Fonda in Klute

Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday

Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots

Janet Suzman in Nicholas and Alexandra

6/29/2010

Best Actress 2007 - The resolution

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



Compared to her performance 9 years earlier, the decline of quality in Cate Blanchett's work is almost shocking. But judged on its own, what remains is a competent performance that is worth seeing but also falls too short in a lot of aspects. Sometimes it is good, sometimes even very good, with some occasional highlights but often incredibly weak.



                     
Fiona is a character that is rather thin and appears more to be a plot-device sometimes but it is thanks to Julie Christie’s simple and shining performance that she becomes so haunting. It’s an unforgettable and heartbreaking portrayal of a personal tragedy that never turned into sentimentality and is played with a sometimes overdone but still incredibly effective mix of grace and dignity.

In a performance that could so easily have been a disaster, Ellen Page is a real success thanks to never leaving the narrow frame of the movie and the script. Instead of trying to add too much depth to a young girl who doesn’t possess it yet or going the straight comedy route, Ellen Page found exactly the right balance in which she could create a Juno who is more than just a never-ending recollection of feisty comments but also fulfills the tasks that she is given in the context of the story.



2. Laura Linney in The Savages

Laura Linney creates Wendy as a women who is self-involved without being narcissistic, funny without being annoying, defensive without being aggressive. She does all this in a very natural performance that is certainly the highlight of the picture and presents a wonderful mixture of heartbreaking drama and unforgettable comedy. The way she creates this character, brings her to life and into the viewer’s heart and mind is a truly wonderful achievement.




This is a performance that is destined to go down in movie history. A grandiose, gigantic, colossal and volcanic piece of work that illuminates the screen and, like few other performances before, reaches to completely new levels of excellence. A miracle in technical perfection and a firework of emotional truth.



Best Actress 2007: Julie Christie in "Away from Her"

For a long time Julie Christie appeared to be on her best way to take home her second Oscar for her performance as Fiona Anderson, a woman suffering from Alzheimer disease, in the critically acclaimed movie Away from Her. Her dominance over most critics award already seemed like a good sign but she also scored points where it counted – at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Award. A victory now seemed almost given until the night that changed it all – the BAFTA ceremony. The fact that British acting legend Julie Christie had to step back and let French actress Marion Cotillard take the ‘British Oscar’ seemed almost like a message to the Academy: ‘It’s okay if you vote for Marion instead of Julie. Look, we did it, too.’ Marion Cotillard now gained steam and finally was the one to receive the Academy Award.

Looking back on the race, it doesn’t seem that surprising that Julie Christie lost the Oscar. Hers is a very subtle and underplayed performance that very often slips in the background of the picture – a little like Sissy Spacek who was the frontrunner a very long time for her performance in In the Bedroom until a more ‘obvious’ performance came along. These kind of subtle performances in almost secondary roles can easily disappoint the viewer, especially after such a wave of critical praise.

But even though, Julie Christie certainly did an admirable piece of work in a very underwritten part. Overall, there seem to be two words to describe Julie Christie’s performance in Away from Her: beautiful and limited.

There is no denying that she is absolutely luminous and brightens up the screen whenever she appears. Her soft voice and face create wonderful moments of heartbreaking hopelessness as she slips further and further away into the darkness of her mind. On the other hand, she suffers from the same problem that Judi Dench had in a similar role in Iris – the fact that the character is reduced to a symbol of suffering with little much else to offer. In fact, Judi Dench had even more advantages in her part. Iris spent some time to show the women before the illness and portrayed how important it was for her to finish her book before it would be too late. Plus, Kate Winslet’s Iris in the flashback scenes laid the foundation for Judi Dench’s performance and made it much easier to understand. Julie Christie didn’t have any of this luxury in Away from Her. The movie begins immediately with her disease, there is no deeper look into her character and the script never gives a real chance to widen her performance since it only demands her to suffer gracefully. The result is the same as in Iris: while the leading lady gets the showy but at the same time unthankful task of demonstrating the process of the disease, the actor who plays the husband steps more and more into the foreground and gets to deliver a much more complex and interesting performance since he is the one who has to cope with the disease in a much more different, but much more interesting kind of way.

So, there is a lot that is working against Julie Christie but she miraculously overcomes most of these obstacles by giving a devastating performance that connects beautifully with the simplicity of the character and never tries to appear as more than it really is.

What becomes immediately noticeable while watching Julie Christie is how much grace she puts into her performance and the character of Fiona. ‘I think all we can aspire to in this situation is a little bit of grace’ is what Fiona tells her husband Grant. But while it’s certainly easy to admire this acting style, one can’t help but wonder: is there a thing as too graceful? Julie Christie turns Fiona into such a quiet voice of dignity that she almost appears saint-like in the acceptance of her own fate. While this is certainly an interesting and moving approach to the part, a little bit more three-dimensionality and openness would have resulted in a more complex and captivating performance. This overwhelming amount of dignity also puts Julie Christie into danger of resting too much on the fate of the character that the screenplay dictates instead of trying to create this fate herself. A couple of times one can’t help feel that Julie Christie rested too much on the mysterious effect of her voice and her sad face and stayed too much on the surface of the character while trying to hide this behind a subtlety that sometimes makes her performance seem much greater than it really is.

Still, it’s certainly not Julie Christie’s task to show the complexities of her diseas but to provide the hunting images that serve as the catalyst to show the pain and the suffering that Alzheimer brings to the patient and the relatives. In the pure heartbreaking honesty she brings to the role she even surpasses Judi Dench who might have been given a better character but wasn’t quite able to display the tragedy in such an effective way. As mentioned, Julie Christie doesn’t really get anything from the screenplay – she only has herself to rely on and she is too much a pro and too confident in her own abilities to not know that this is everything she needs. The story is never as moving as it could have been if Fiona would have been written more three-dimensional but Julie Christie achieves the maximum that is possible. Her long, lost looks of confusion that she, as soon as she realizes them herself, tries to hide behind a relaxed laugh, are certainly unforgettable. Fiona is very well aware of what is happening to her but it seems that she wants to take the burden herself and make it as easy as possible for her husband.

But there is also a little more to the story – the history of Grant’s infidelity during their marriage. The fact that Fiona knows about this but at the same time doesn’t show her true feelings makes the later scenes when she apparently begins to lose more and more memories so fascinating. One could easily assume that Fiona may be punishing her husband for what he did to her years ago by now doing almost the same to him – something that Grant even suspects. But Julie Christie’s performance never really hints into this direction. It seems that she wants to keep him out of her whole decline as much as possible. Maybe out of love, to spare him the suffering, or out of mistrust. When she tells him that her new friend at the home, with whom she spends more time than with her husband, doesn’t confuse her it is certainly also a wink at her husband that he does, in fact, confuse her, since he is demanding so much from her that she can’t give, since his image also seems to remind her of dishonesty and betrayal, feelings that she can’t comprehend and handle.

The tragic twist of irony in the story is that Fiona is the one who wanted to handle the situation as practical as possible and not create any unnecessary problems but in the end, it’s not possible for her anymore. In the end, she is the one who is causing so much pain to her husband even though she wanted to avoid this. Julie Christie is wonderful in the moments when she is talking to Grant. The confusion on her face that she tries to cover with a fake confidence show that Fiona is aware that she probably should remember something – but it seems not clear to her what this might be. She is not really aware but also not unaware. Julie Christie’s glorious face portrays with a haunting simplicity the pain in Fiona as she goes back and forth from light to darkness. The moments of almost terror on Fiona’s face when Grant confronts her and tells her that he is her husband is probably the most memorable moment in Julie Christie’s performance as it seems like a wasted opportunity but also the highlight at the same time. She wonderfully shows the confusion in Fiona that is turning into fear because she seems to be aware of her own decline at this moment. Maybe there are some little memories left in her but it seems outside of her control to reach them. At the same time one again wishes that a moment like this would have been better used. As quickly as the panic came to Julie Christie’s face it is also gone again.

Fiona is a character that is rather thin and appears more to be a plot-device sometimes but it is thanks to Julie Christie’s simple and shining performance that she becomes so haunting.. It’s an unforgettable and heartbreaking portrayal of a personal tragedy that never turned into sentimentality and is played with a sometimes overdone but still incredibly effective mix of grace and dignity that gets

6/28/2010

Best Actress 2007: Marion Cotillard in "La Môme"

When Marion Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Môme, she became only the second woman to receive this honor for a foreign-language movie. Besides having to overcome the language barrier, Marion Cotillard also had to prevail against favorite Julie Christie who had (mostly) dominated the award season so far. But in the end it shouldn’t be a surprise that she could turn her ‘dark-horse’-status into a glorious victory. Hers is one of the most astonishing tour-de-forces that was ever captured on the screen, a miracle in technical perfection and a firework of emotional truth.

From her years as a young woman singing in the streets of Paris to her last bedridden moments of life, Marion Cotillard gets so deep into the soul and mind of this artist who combined a lust for life and the stage with a terrifying self-destruction that her work leaves the concept of the usual biopic-performance far behind and turns into something much more real, much more authentic and almost frighteningly perfect. She never lets the images or characteristics of Edith Piaf control her performance but instead works from the inside to create a woman who, as if by accident, turns out to be that famous singer.

In the part of a woman who couldn’t be more temperamental, loud, obnoxious and almost unlikable, Marion Cotillard never asks for the audience’s sympathy but her presentation of Edith is so believable and decipherable that she brings the character as close to the viewer as humanly possible and that way makes it impossible to be denied this sympathy. Even in her most senseless outbursts of anger and frustration, Edith Piaf remains a character that is understandable and human. Just as all the people around her are fascinated by this difficult woman, Marion Cotillard also expands this fascination beyond the movie screen. She dominates the movie with a seldom seen screen presence and confidence that allows her to work herself through the impossibly difficult tasks of the script which would have been insuperable for almost every actress.

From a simple technical point of view this performance is already a superlative. At each stage in Edith’s life, Marion Cotillard catches every nuance of this character. The voice, the walk, her behavior – everything slowly changes but Marion Cotillard keeps the spirit and the inner fire alive. The contrasts of the young Edith, awkwardly entering a stage for the first time, and the old Edith, lying in her bed, brought down by drugs and the tragedies of her life, is so immense that it seems impossible that this is really the same actress. In a role that was destined to be a disaster, Marion Cotillard's performance gets everything astonishingly right. Over all the years of her live, she creates both Edith Piaf the artist and Edith Piaf the woman – and showed how close they were connected and how love has constantly dominated her work and how her work has constantly dominated her love. Her performance is filled with a breathtakingly amount of passion and detail that makes it such a masterwork in complexity and honesty, from her way of admiring Leplée’s polished nails to her inability to use a knife and a fork when drugs have almost destroyed her.

Right from the start, Marion Cotillard shows that Edith Piaf is a woman who enjoys life even though it does not offer very much to her. Living in poverty and being surrounded by violence and desolateness, Edith can only use one thing: her voice. Even though her pronunciations isn’t perfect, her voice immediately calls for attention. In these early scenes, Marion Cotillard already shows that Edith has a certain tendency for over-activity, a larger-than-life character who doesn’t know any boundaries and who wants to live according to her own rules even though her life is controlled by others. Marion Cotillard’s performance is always one that, just like Edith, seems to know no boundaries – she is absolutely willing to completely let go and live every moment of her work with a fascinating intensity, a constant walk on the thin line between true characterization and appalling caricature where she never makes a false step.

Marion also shows another feature of Edith that she will keep for her whole, short life – an impossible stubbornness, an unwillingness to compromise, a constant insistence on her own views and opinions. Edith is certainly not an intelligent woman and considering her up-bringing, there is no reason why she should be. This stubbornness could so easily keep her from entering the stage and becoming a world-wide sensation – it’s only the support of others that is bringing her to the place she is but the movie also makes clear that Edith’s talent and her voice are the driving force of her existence. Marion Cotillard is not afraid to show that Edith owes everything to others but never thanks them for it – Edith is solely an artist who lives for her work while everything around her seems not to matter. Just like June Carter tells Johnny Cash in Walk the Line: ‘No, things don’t work themselves out. Others work them out for you and you just think they work themselves out’. It seems that artists on the level of Johnny Cash or Edith Piaf cannot exist in the real world but are a construct of others. Marion Cotillard wonderfully shows how this stubbornness slowly turns into the eccentricities of a true diva as the years go on and she achieves a status where she can decided for herself and ignore everyone and everything. Edith has changed so much in the process of becoming a great star and Marion Cotillard captures all this again in an acting style that never holds back or doubts its own tendencies to be larger-than-life – she completely embraces Edith and what she is. Like a volcano, Edith can erupt any moment.

But she also finds the exact right way to express the quiet moments of Edith’s life. Her shy happiness when she receives praise from Marlene Dietrich is just a short moment but one that brings Edith again very close to the viewer’s heart. Her scenes with Marcel are as romantic as they are strange. Only a woman like Edith could so completely give all her love at once that it seems to become an obsession for her. Still, Marion Cotillard’s eyes, that can express so much with so little, always show the longing and need for love and support. It’s almost surreal to see Edith so happy since the movie uses every opportunity to show the tragedies and sorrows of her live and the scenes with Marcel are so hunting because the viewer already knows what will become of Edith in later years and that this relationship can’t end well. In her most famous scene, done in one incredibly long take, Marion Cotillard again doesn’t ask for sympathy when she walks through her apartment like a fury, looking for a watch until she finally learns a devastating truth – in a scene that would have been so easy to get wrong, Marion Cotillard gets everything right by letting her emotions overcome herself and the audience. It’s a moment of epic proportions, of an overwhelming grief that is unforgettable and will forever rank among the great scenes in movie history.

Everything in this performances comes so natural to Marion Cotillard – tears, laughter, desperation, happiness, at all different ages and stations in Edith’s life. In the tradition of the great larger-than-life characters like Norma Desmond or Jean Brodie, she finds exactly the right way to portray Edith to make it as real as possible while also adding a sense of theatricality that shows that this is not a documentary but a portrayal of a real character that tries to bring together everything Edith Piaf was in a highly stylized way.

And Marion Cotillard doesn’t forget that, above all, she was an artist. The same way she captures the woman behind the well-known images, she embodies these images, too. The scenes on the stage are simply wonderful as Marion never acts, but totally lives these moments. She may be lip-synching but it’s done with so much passion and realism and the speaking voice of Marion fits so perfectly to the singing voice of Edith, that the illusion is perfect. In these moments, Marion makes it understandable why this woman is so drawn to the stage, why she has to go out there, why she would risk her life for it. Because this is her life, without the stage, there is nothing. Not even love can replace this need.

At the end, Marin Coillard has created one of the most complete characters in a movie that so annoyingly jumps from scene to scene, from old Edith to young Edith and back again that her performance could so easily have been destroyed but she survives all this to find the humanity behind the make-up. When the beginning notes of ‘Je nre regrette rien’ are heard for the first time and Marion shows with a heartbreaking wonderment Edith’s reaction to this song that so perfectly captures her life, it is a chilling moment as the audience is already aware how much this song will define her image for the years to come. And when she finally returns to the stage and sings the song, the images of her friends and supporters over the years are a perfect mirror for the audience in front of the screen. Like them, we feel that we have known this woman all her life, been with her though every moment and it’s overwhelming to see her on the stage again, this little woman whose voice can fill the greatest hall and touch the most cynical heart.

This is a performance that is destined to go down in movie history. A grandiose, gigantic, colossal and volcanic piece of work that illuminates the screen and, like few other performances before, reaches to completely new levels of excellence. For this, Marion Cotillard naturally gets

6/26/2010

Best Actress 2007: Ellen Page in "Juno"

Ellen Page received her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the successful and popular comedy Juno. In this, Ellen played the title character Juno McGuff – a constantly wise-cracking, sarcastic and precocious 16-year old high-school student who gets pregnant after her first time with her boyfriend.

A 16-year old knocked-up high-school girl is certainly not the kind of character one would expect among the Best Actress line-up but there is no reason to dismiss this performance when comparing it to the usual dramatic heavyweights in this category. Ellen Page gives a strong and very confident performance that ends up much more mature and detailed than one would except after the playful and childish title sequence.

The sad truth is that the Oscar-winning screenplay is actually the weakest point of the movie. Just like a lot of Neil-Simon-pictures, one can’t help but constantly wonder ‘Who talks like that?´. But unlike Neil-Simon-pictures, where everybody is constantly throwing around supposedly witty bonmots, the burden in Juno is put solely on the small shoulders of Ellen Page. And it’s this task that is both working for and against her.

In the constant fight script vs. actors, Ellen Page carries home a victory round after round as she is able to use Diablo Cody’s forced one-liners and unnecessary jokes (Why Morgan Freeman?) and make them sound as natural as humanly possible. She made the wise decision to not fight against or try to over-or under-emphasize them but instead completely embraced all the qualities of the script, may they be good or bad, and create Juno as a mix of the script’s guidelines and her own instincts. While the script achieves something that is certainly rarely, namely over-the-top dialogue, Ellen Page wonderfully underplays the delivery of those lines. How many other young actresses would have turned Juno into an annoying collection of tics and proud outsider-status? Ellen Page instead made all of Juno’s constant remarks such a natural thing while playing her with a mix of the decisive assuredness of a girl years ahead of her age and a young girl who is using her open-mouthed and sassy nature as a constant mechanism of self-protection. In a performance that could have so easily been a disaster, Ellen Page is a real success thanks to never leaving the narrow frame of the movie and the script. Instead of trying to add too much depth to a young girl who doesn’t possess it yet or going the straight comedy route, Ellen Page found exactly the right balance in which she could create a Juno who is more than just a never-ending recollection of feisty comments but also fulfills the tasks that she is given in the context of the story.

Ellen Page completely made Juno her own and uses her appealing personality that is able to make her loveable despite being such a nag sometimes. As mentioned before, the fact that she was able to make Juno so natural and believable is already a little miracle that deserves high praise. What’s even more is the fact that Ellen Page was also able to make Juno…funny. The constant jokes and remarks that the script offers are almost never as funny as they would like to be but Ellen Page's sarcastic, dry and most importantly totally earnest delivery of them actually turns them into amusing moments. That way she makes sure that Juno is actually a comedy

The most important weapon in Juno’s arsenal, next to her sarcasm, is her ability to simply not care what other people might think of her. Ellen Page lets Juno burst on the screen and behave and talk just like what she is: a 16-year old girl who tries her best not to think about what’s ahead but who, despite her appearance that so desperately tries to be cool, is much more insecure than she would like to admit. Ellen Page is able to add an amount of depth to Juno that is exactly right for the style of the movie – not too much to destroy the careful construction of humor and not too little to make Juno a banal and one-dimensional plot-device. In just a few brief and wordless moments, Ellen Page's face demonstrates how Juno, up to that point so sure of herself and apparently shaken by nothing, changes her mind as she sits in the waiting room of a clinic, preparing herself for the abortion – but then decides to have the child. It’s the perfect portrayal of a teenager who actually can’t handle such a big decision. She finally becomes aware that this is all too much for her to handle and so she decides to postpone the difficulties of her pregnancy – even if that means having the baby. And of course, the fact that a friend of hers protested outside the clinic and told her that her unborn child already had fingernails surely influenced her, too. Juno may try to appear cool and casual, but she is not made out of stone.

Even though Juno carries her heart on her tongue and never stops from saying what’s on her mind, Ellen Page is able to add a little more mystery to her than expected. When she sees Vanessa, one half of the adoptive parents she has decided on, in a mall, playing with a little child, it’s impossible to know what Juno could be thinking: is she happy that she made the right choice for the adoptive parents as Vanessa is so full of love? Does she see herself in Vanessa and thinks about how great it must be to have a little child to take care off?

Ellen Page also doesn’t make the same mistake as Diablo Cody’s script: underestimate the supporting players. While they remain mostly paper-thin and clichéd, all the parts are played by talented actors who know how to shine in even the most banal part. So, Ellen Page never tries to put Juno into the spotlight but she instead is always aware when each actor has his/her moment or when Juno should be more in line with the rest of the characters. While the movie makers want to make sure that Ellen Page is the sun in the universe of Juno, Ellen Page recognizes that it’s actually the unborn child around which everything circles.

Ellen’s best chemistry is with co-star Jason Bateman who plays the future adoptive father even though he is not prepared to have a child since he still has too many dreams he wants to see come true. Both are very relaxed and natural around each other, both happy to have found someone who seems to understand their needs and feelings and whom they can consider equally cool. Here, Ellen Page understands that Juno is just a young girl who seems to have a little crush but when she becomes aware of the consequences, she finally shows a more weak side – a helpless breakdown in her car which is done very convincingly and naturally by Ellen Page who shows both the fear of the future and the regret about the present at this moment.

Ellen Page wonderfully shows Juno’s pregnancy as a process of self-discovery but never overdoes it. Juno will remain the same young old girl as before but she has learned more about life and love that she would have thought. But even though Ellen Page makes the most of what she is given, the script, as mentioned before, is also her biggest enemy. She is able to get the most out of it and make it shine much more than it would have with a less capable leading lady and while this certainly is a stunning achievement, the fact remains that there is a certain limit to how much one can rise above average material. Ellen Page catches all the different emotions and feelings of Juno but she does this without ever having to stretch either herself or Juno too far and stays with her performance in line with the simplicity of her character.

Still, it’s a remarkable, fresh, funny and memorable performance that gets

6/25/2010

Best Actress 2007: Laura Linney in "The Savages"

Laura Linney’s Oscar nomination for her performance as the neurotic wanna-be playwright Wendy Savage who has to take care of her sick father together with her brother in the dramady The Savages is certainly a case of ‘the nomination is the win’. She was never a threat for the gold but the fact that the Academy remembered her performance after almost every other award body ignored her (even the Golden Globes who have an extra comedy category for her kind of performance) surely proved that she is on the their radar.

The first moment Wendy appears on the screen already tells a lot about her character – she is at work but actually only concentrating on phrasing applications for a scholarship to write a play about her own experiences as a child. When a colleague appears, she smiles and flirts and pretends, and when he is gone, she again focuses on her application. Later, she goes through a storage room and fills her bag with paper and apparently all office supplies that aren’t nailed to the floor. Laura Linney here effectively builds the foundation for both her performance and the character of Wendy: she plays her scenes with a very prim charm and a relaxed naturalness while also adding an always visible element of comedy. This way, she creates Wendy as a women who is self-involved without being narcissistic, funny without being annoying, defensive without being aggressive – and apparently a neurotic mess.

For her, stealing from work is probably one of the most natural things in the world. Wendy is a woman who has her own sense of justice, about what she should get and what she deserves but at the same time she probably doesn’t even think too much about this – for her, it’s just an ordinary part of life, something that’s only too natural and so many people do because it seems like such a victimless crime. This way, Laura Linney makes Wendy immediately recognizable as one of those typical neurotic characters that appear in so many movies but during the story that follows she also makes her much deeper and complex than first expected.

The most refreshing aspect of Laura Linney’s performance is how she shows that Wendy is a woman who is both always aware of how she might be seen by other people or how others might react to her and at the same time so caught up in her own life and her own views and sometimes so unable to control herself that she very often evokes exact the kind of reactions from other people that she normally tries to avoid. It seems as if Wendy is constantly playing and experimenting with different personalities for herself. Wendy isn't trying to hide her true character because she doesn't know her true character herself yet. It seems never clear what kind of character she really is but Laura Linney is always in control of what she wants to show about Wendy – while never letting her performance appear ‘controlled’ but instead doing it all in the most natural and realistic way.

It sometimes appears that Wendy isn’t really such a neurotic character but rather that she just wants to be like this. Whenever the situations of her life become too much for her to handle, she retreats into a place where she can be loud, angry and even obnoxious – being like this helps her deal with her life and if she can convince herself that she really is like this, it might also become justifiable for her. But these neurotic sides aren’t the only ones that Wendy is balancing – there is also a humorous and sarcastic part in her. When her brother tells her that she can sleep on the couch and Wendy says with the greatest way of delivering ‘Where is it?’ because it’s covered in books, she is obviously proud of herself for being so clever and funny.

Laura Linney also handles the moments of Wendy’s affair with a married man with a wonderful mix of pathos and practicality. Having this affair is nothing that seems to trouble Wendy from a moral point of view. The only thing that does bother her is that she is afraid to become a cliché – a woman who is having an affair with a married older man. When he finally tells her that he is only 13 years older than her and that she isn’t exactly 20 anymore, the only way to react for Wendy is again a mix of anger and retreat. The funny thing is that Wendy probably didn’t really think that she might be a cliché – but she thought that she had to think that because that way she can pretend to herself to be smart enough to recognize this while keep going with it at the same time. She probably only wanted to tell her boyfriend about this so he could see that she is aware of all this, that she realizes it, that she isn’t stupid – but his reaction was too unexpected for her. In the end, Wendy doesn’t realize that by trying so hard not to be a cliché she actually ends up a lot more like a cliché than many others would. Laura Linney’s portrayal in all these scenes is so impressive because she is always showing Wendy as what she really is and not what she would like to be. She isn’t afraid to let Wendy look foolish or unlikable but she uses her charm and her talent for dry comedy to make her completely enchanting nonetheless. Laura Linney never forgets to bring a good deal of comedy in her performance but she never seems to try to actually make the audience laugh. Her line deliveries are sometimes so serious that one has to wonder if one should laugh or cry but there is always something that tips the scale in the direction of laughing. Her greatest moment in this area is probably her dead-pan delivery of the line ‘Are you having a heart attack?’ during a game of tennis with her brother. Besides that, Wendy is a woman who is always quick to panic and overreact but Laura Linney uses especially these moments to put in the most comedy into her performance. Who can forget her frantic phone call to her brother at the beginning of the movie?

Her amusing embarrassment when they are watching an old, from today’s point-of-view racist movie with some black people is very funny but later, when she is having one or her mood swings, she doesn’t seem to care again what others think of her. The way she runs through the hospital, looking for a little pillow she gave her father, again shows how she likes to totally focus on little things when she can’t deal with the overall situation. It shows how much the nearing death of her father is affecting her. When she is crying that she and her brother are such horrible people for putting their father into a nursing home, it is again a moment where Wendy feels that she has to cry, she has to show sorrow – but at the same time she would never actually take her father to her own house. But showing her regret is something that helps her to feel better. And later, when she is trying to get her father into a better nursing home that actually wouldn’t take him because he is too sick, she is trying to help him by cheating on a questionnaire. Again, Wendy likes to pretend that she is doing it for his own sake but she is actually doing it to make herself feel less guilty.

In her own constant awareness of her character, Wendy also knows that her lying and pretending might not be justified even if she pretends that it is. When Wendy tells her brother about an important scholarship that she received, Laura Linney plays the scene with a combination of both pride and sorrow because at this moment Wendy feels proud and happy to be better than her brother but the weight of this lie is bringing her down at the same time. When she finally reveals where she really got the money from, Wendy again tries to justify her behavior and Laura Linney shows that she seems more justifying it to herself than anyone else. The greatest achievement of Laura Linney so becomes to make Wendy a woman who is basically completely unsure of herself, insecure and frightened and who tries to cover it up, to make it in the world because she has to and to try to get the best out of life – even if the only person who is standing in her way to achieve all this is herself.

Laura Linney also works wonderful with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His character is much more realistic and pragmatic than Wendy and their arguments and fights that are still always an expression of the loving relationship between them are certainly the hightlights of the story. Also wonderful is the scenes when Wendy is looking for affection from one of the male nurses in the hospital.

Laura Linney does all this in a very natural performance that is certainly the highlight of the picture and presents a wonderful mixture of heartbreaking drama and unforgettable comedy. The way she creates this character, brings her to life and into the viewer’s heart and mind is a wonderful achievement that makes the unexpected nomination very understandable. A strong and immensely likeable performance that flawlessly interacts with the work from her co-stars which gets

6/22/2010

Best Actress 2007: Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

When it was announced that Cate Blanchett would reprise her star-making and award-winning role as Queen Elizabeth I, the speculations about the possibility of her winning an Oscar for the sequel immediately began to grow. Since it is now seen as almost common knowledge that Cate Blanchett should have received the award already in 1998, this could have been the perfect opportunity for the Academy to make it up to her. And sure enough Cate Blanchett received her second Best Actress nomination for her role and became a member of a very small group of actors who received two Oscar nominations for playing the same role in different movies.

But, just like in 1998, Cate Blanchett had to settle for a nomination – the win was again not possible for her. And while one could certainly argue that she should have received the Oscar for Elizabeth, there is no need to complain about her loss for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

When an actor receives two Oscar nominations for playing the same character in two sequent movies, it is always inevitable to compare these two performances even if they should only be judged on their own merit. But in the case of Cate Blanchett, it is also necessary and helpful to compare the two movies she starred in that covered events from the life of famous Queen Elizabeth I. While Elizabeth shows a young woman who suddenly becomes Queen and has to get used to her new life and deal with various threats and problems, Elizabeth: The Golden Age shows an experienced and strong Queen who must face the danger of the Spanish Armada and deal with unexpected feelings of love and passion. Elizabeth was a movie that showed a rather intimate portrayal of a grand woman but that was still able to become a historical epos because it so thrillingly dealt with the emotions and schemes of its characters. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the exact other way around – it’s a movie that tries to be as epic and majestic as possible but ends up as nothing more than a royal soap opera. And that is also true for Cate Blanchett’s performances.

Her Elizabeth 12 years ago was a complex and rich character, a wonderful creation that combined the inexperience of a young and lively woman with all the qualities of a born Queen. Unfortunately, all these qualities are strangely lost in her work from 2007. But it’s not entirely Cate Blanchett’s fault that her work doesn’t impress the way it used to be – she also suffers from the bad material that she is given throughout the entire running time of Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

The movie begins over 30 years after the last one had ended and it becomes immediately clear that Elizabeth is not the same girlish and lively woman she used to be. Cate Blanchett does a good job in portraying that Elizabeth has turned into a powerful Queen, a woman who has by now gotten used to her position and her obligations and who is aware of her own importance. Still, Cate Blanchett doesn’t display any arrogance in her performance but is able to show all this in a very matter-of-fact way that certainly fits to her royal character. But while she does a good job at showing the growth of Elizabeth at the beginning, there is something strangely off about her performance. Never before in her career has Cate Blanchett seemed so…aware while she was acting. It’s as if she is constantly winking at the audience to tell them ‘I know that I am in a bad movie. But have some fun anyway!’ Cate Blanchett looks right from the beginning as if she knows that her appearance in this film was a bad idea. The young, rather unknown actress from 1998 has turned into a world-known celebrity by 2007 and Cate Blanchett seems to be too sure of herself now. She apparently knows what she can do and what works but it seems as if she is running on auto-pilot, screaming her head off and chewing the scenery while also adding some very welcome quiet moments – it’s all impressive on a technical level, but surprisingly flat nonetheless.

Almost everything that made Elizabeth such a fascinating woman in the first movie is gone from both the script and Cate Blanchett’s performance. She isn’t able to really connect with her surroundings, with the audience and not even with her own work a few years earlier. Cate Blanchett never makes it imaginable what might have happened between the first and the second movie – in those thirty years that are untold but undoubtedly shaped this woman. Cate never gives any hints about this process and so the viewer can only connect the two performances directly – but they are too different to make this work.

But even though Cate Blanchett doesn’t reach the same levels here as before, she certainly isn’t to blame for the mess that is Elizabeth: The Golden Age. This is entirely the fault of an uneven script and a director who apparently had absolutely no idea if he was directing a drama, an action thriller or a romance. The movie obviously wanted to put the tensions between Spain and England in the foreground but at the same time keep the sea battle for the finale. So the only thing the viewer gets is some shots of an angry looking Spanish king and his weird daughter every once in while. But since this is not enough to fill an entire story, there is also a secret plot against the Queen’s life (sounds familiar? Right, that was already in the first movie), an unhappy romance (sounds familiar again? Maybe because that was already in the first movie) and a sub-plot concerning Mary Stuart. This could actually have been a very interesting story but the movie so completely rushed through this without ever even beginning to explore the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary. So when Mary is put to death and Elizabeth begins to feel guilty and wants to stop the execution and runs around her palace, screaming and crying, it is certainly a good opportunity for Cate Blanchett to show her talents but it seems just totally out of place since the movie never answers the question of ‘Why?`.

The love story, so interesting and captivating in Elizabeth, also does not really work this time. Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett share absolutely no chemistry with each other and Cate Blanchett seems never to know what she wants to express: is Elizabeth a frustrated old spinster or a passionate woman who must keep her feelings to herself or a cold Queen who years ago decided to give her live to England and for whom the thought of a romance is frightening? Cate Blanchett jumps from one expression to the next without ever connecting them.

But even though, Cate Blanchett deserves all the credit she can get for at least getting something out of her part despite being too misguided by the script and her director. Her famous scene with the Spanish Ambassador is surprisingly thrilling and exciting to watch in the context of the film. Cate Blanchett wonderfully shows how Elizabeth doesn’t seem to be able to trust her own ears when she hears the open threats and how the outburst of anger is the only way for her to express her confusion and worries. Playing a Queen for whom her royal status becomes too much has already been the biggest success in her earlier performance and these are again the moments when she shines. Cate Blanchett’s quiet but at the same time filled with fear voice when she warns about the Armada that is bringing the Spanish inquisition to England is an unforgettable moment that makes one wish that she would have had more chances to prove her talent for subtle displays of all kinds of emotions. Unfortunately instead there is only more of her ill-fated love to Walter Raleigh and a ridiculously over-the-top scene when she is slapping his mistress. Still, Cate Blanchett’s powerful screen presence and her strong voice fit perfectly to her character and there is no denying that she can create more wonderful moments besides the already mentioned highlights, like her scene in the church or the early scenes with her maid.

Overall, Cate Blanchett goes from one extreme to the other, from bad to wonderful, from strangely over-the-top to amazingly subtle, from a carricature to a character – often only in a few seconds and it becomes almost exhausting to watch as the movie itself doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested in helping her. It’s almost as if Elizabeth is an unwanted character in this story and she is very often neglected to the background and even when she is the center of attention, the script and the director seem to be interested in something else. Her big speech before the deciding battle is such a moment that seems destined to be a showcase for Cate Blanchett and an exciting moment in the story but the execution is rather disappointing.

Compared to her performance 9 years earlier, the decline of quality in Cate Blanchett's work is almost shocking. But judged on its own, what remains is a competent performance that is worth seeing but also falls too short in a lot of aspects. Sometimes it is good, sometimes even very good, with some occasional highlights but often incredibly weak. An uneven performance that gets

6/18/2010

Best Actress 2007


The next year will be 2007 and the nominees were

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Julie Christie in Away From Her

Marion Cotillard in La Môme

Laura Linney in The Savages

Ellen Page in Juno

6/17/2010

Best Actress 1967 - The resolution

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



Audrey Hepburn can be applauded for completely neglecting her charming personality in this role and bringing a lot of determination to the screen to give a memorable, touching, frightening, entertaining and, most importantly, believable performance. It might be mostly on the surface but this was still enough to turn Wait until Dark into a gripping thriller.



                     
Katharine Hepburn created a strong yet tragically helpless character, a warm and important presence that beautifully stands for a special kind of motherly love and anchors the movie’s most emotional moments while never giving in to easy sentimentality and avoids various clichés in her part even if she sometimes cannot fight against all the obstacles she is given by the screenplay.

Faye Dunaway certainly benefited from the legends surrounding the real Bonnie Parker but she also created a legend on her own and bursts with confidence and energy to catch all the different sides of her character, naturally running a wide array of human emotions and catching the comedy and the drama of the movie, even if she might lose some of her impact in later parts of the story.



2. Edith Evans in The Whisperers

It’s a performance that is almost impossible to fully grasp and understand as Edith Evans herself leaves so many questions open, constantly adding new aspects and dimensions to her part, flawlessly combining, separating, changing and intervening different parts and understandings of Mrs. Ross. Maybe Edith Evans played a character who, despite all the eccentricities and fantasies, is tragically ordinary. But her performance is anything but.




It’s a mysterious but at the same time very real performance that leaves the audience wanting more and being totally satisfied at the same time. Maybe the character of Mrs. Robinson is much more iconic than Anne Bancroft’s actual performance but this is a case when reality triumphs over everything that legend has created. It’s a fascinating and complex portrayal that fulfils all expectations and even more.




YOUR Best Actress of 1998

Because the blogs have a lot of problems with polls, I couldn't get the final vote number but I looked at the poll yesterday and can at least give you the ranking:

1. Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth

2. Fernanda Montenegro - Central do Brasil

3. Gwyneth Paltrow - Shakespeare in Love

4. Meryl Streep - One True Thing

5. Emily Watson - Hilary and Jackie


Thanks to everyone for voting!

Best Actress 1967: Faye Dunaway in "Bonnie and Clyde"

One aspect that is often criticized about Meryl Streep’s career is that she never starred in a true classic. Sure, this topic is debatable – The Deer Hunter or Out of Africa have surely secured a place in movie history and Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, The Bridges of Madison County or The Devil Wears Prada are small classics to some extent. But would one of those movies truly enter a ‘greatest movies of all time’ list? Maybe The Deer Hunter would but even if it did – Meryl Streep would be hardly the reason for it since her character is always put in the second row behind the male stars of the movie. But if there is an actress who has a large share of movie classics on her resume, it is certainly Faye Dunaway which seems so strange considering how completely downhill her career went after her peak in the 70s. Still, three leading roles in Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Network are much more than many other actresses would ever dare to dream of. But even though Faye Dunaway clearly played an important part in this decade, she is hardly ever considered one of the definite actresses of her era as the 70s seem to belong to Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn or Diane Keaton. Maybe the iconic status of her movies overshadows her actual work in them and make her a just one part of many in these classics, not exploring her actual contribution and the quality of her work itself. And it’s easy to see Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown or Network as movies that exist as a whole and that make it difficult to point out a specific factor that contributes to them. It seems that, like co-nominee Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, the images of her screen performances are more famous than the performances themselves – Bonnie Parker holding a gun and putting a cigar in her mouth, Evelyn Mulwray wearing a black had with a veil in front of her eyes or Diana Christensen following moments of insanity on TV with a thrilled combination of scheming delight and ruthless calculation. But it’s not difficult to go beyond those images and discover the rich, complex and intelligent creations that Faye Dunaway realized and how she left her mark on these classics, not only playing a part in them but actually adding to them with her work which was always shaped by her domineering and uncompromising screen presence that could express joy and vibrant energy as well as mysterious aloofness or cold, icy and uncaring emptiness. And all these qualities helped her enormously to achieve one of the most definite star-making turns in movie history – her electric confidence on the screen, her ability to turn herself into the unchallenged image of a well-known character and the iconic nature of her movie all resulted in a performance that is as noteworthy for its contribution to the overall tone of the movie as well as its dedication to be a part of its style.

Even though Bonnie and Clyde is another movie that turned 1967 into one of the most celebrated years in movie history, a mile stone most noteworthy for the way it brought new angles, perspectives and styles to Hollywood, the idea of putting an infamous gang of criminals into the center of the plot, portraying their point-of-view and not only following these people but actually turning them into a kind of anti-heroes, left a bad aftertaste for many contemporary critics but Bonnie and Clyde never intended to be the kind of biopic that audiences were used to but deliberately took a loosely approach to re-interpret a familiar theme for a new are of filmmaking. Bonnie and Clyde is an almost joyful presentation of crimes and murder, mixing the seriousness of various situation with unexpected comedy, providing a soundtrack that gives car-chase scenes an entertaining feeling and turns Bonnie and Clyde into likeable, charming, attractive and adventurous characters that can easily convince the audience to follow their side and create a strange, sometimes uncomfortable but still strong connection. Bonnie and Clyde never pretends to be a completely fact-based presentation of the life of these two people and the eventual members of their gang but always puts greater emphasis on the way it presents their life, taking deliberate freedom to tell their story in an experimental way, challenging the audience with a combination of entertainment and alienation. And while Bonnie and Clyde may start out as an experimental and romanticized presentation of this story, the second half of the picture clearly and drastically shows their eventual downfall, de-humanization and deaths without trying to evoke any pity or sympathy. So the picture does give some answer to the mystery of Bonnie and Clyde – even if it’s not an honest one. The characters of Bonnie and Clyde are not only mystified outlaws but Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway also added various other aspects to bring the audience on their side – dissatisfaction with their lives, a complicated love and a glamorous appearance that nonetheless hides complex and fully developed characters. Therefore Bonnie and Clyde is not the kind of biopic that depends on actors to not only re-create their real-life characters but rather copy their voices, looks and mannerisms. The names Bonnie and Clyde might be well-known but their actual behavior, characters and even looks are not. And so, like the picture itself, the actors could take a lot more artistic freedom, rather creating themselves a picture of these characters and shaping the viewers’ opinions and thoughts instead of fulfilling their expectations. And all this seems to be especially true for Bonnie and Clyde’s leading lady as Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker almost stands as a symbol for the film itself – but also for the real-life character. The image of Faye Dunaway, modeling 30s outfits and always ready to shoot if necessary, has by now basically become the image of Bonnie Parker, too. As stated above, it might be easy to overrate these images and forget Faye Dunaway’s efforts behind them but the way she immediately establishes these images is an important part of her overall performance creates a chilling and intriguing atmosphere of both authenticity and make-believe. It’s a rare case when a performer almost replaced the real-life character, re-defining it completely instead of re-telling its story. Faye Dunaway and Bonnie Parker have become one – but the reason for this is less her actual acting but rather this creation of images and the strong standing of Bonnie and Clyde as a film classic that seems to have a patent on their story and characters, even more so than the actual characters themselves. Bonnie and Clyde has somehow created a version of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as how they apparently should have been, that made it possible to follow their crimes and murders and yet still find them fascinating. And while Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway benefit from a movie that does everything to help them in this aspect, their charm, star personality, joyfulness, honesty and ultimately dramatic tension makes it clear that Bonnie and Clyde is not only a certain style or theme but also completely depends on its actors to realize this message and bring the central characters to life in a way that supports the movie without letting them be overshadowed by it.

Looking at Bonnie and Clyde’s Oscar nominations, both the importance and the success of the cast becomes visible very quickly – with 5 acting nominations, Bonnie and Clyde joins a handful of other movies that share this record, movies like All about Eve, On the Waterfront, The Godfather Part II, Mrs. Miniver or Tom Jones. And this honor makes perfect sense – the dynamic between the whole cast is the motor that keeps Bonnie and Clyde going and every actor adds to the overall success of the movie with dedicated precision. Estelle Parsons won a well-deserved Oscar for portraying Blanche, the neurotic member of the gang and the anti-Bonnie who lacks everything that her sister-in-law displays so easily. For Gene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde was the same kind of star-making picture as it was for Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and while Michael J. Pollard might be the least-known member of the cast, his work was just as deserving of the Academy’s recognition. But while the whole cast works on an equal level, Faye Dunaway somehow emerges as the most equal among them. The reason is that, more than any other member of the ensemble, she becomes a symbol for the tone and atmosphere of the story – radiant, romantic and glorious in the beginning, tragic and miserable in the end. She may always have to take a step back to Warren Beatty’s Clyde as the most central and deciding figure but Faye Dunaway’s screen presence and natural instincts work extremely well and help her to show Bonnie’s influence as well as her independence and self-determination – Bonnie is always as much her own person as she is a part of a team. In some ways, Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie is influenced by the situations around her as much as she influences them themselves – when Bonnie is playful and relaxed, the movie also has a very content feeling, when she explodes with anger, the tension of the scene grows, when she cannot find a way to deal with Blanche, the impossibility of the their situation begins to become more apparent and when death and fear begin to haunt their lives, Bonnie’s desperation becomes the overwhelming vessel for the approaching tragedy. Both the movie and Bonnie Parker benefit from Faye Dunaway’s ability to constantly almost explode with energy while always working very hard on the continuity of her characterization which works in perfect harmony with the development of the picture. In her first scenes, Faye Dunaway quickly portrays boredom, dissatisfaction and anger combined with a fake superiority that seems to make her think that she is somehow above her surroundings. In these moments, Faye Dunaway uses her unique beauty and sharp personality to portray a certain distinctiveness in Bonnie that makes her sudden attraction and dedication to Clyde believable but also finds room to portray the ordinariness of Bonnie whose life as the inexperienced und uneducated daughter of poor parents in a little town during a time when almost everybody was suffering from financial problems would usually offer her not much more than an unfulfilling life as a wife and mother. But Faye Dunaway finds an appealing combination of Bonnie’s ordinary life of which she is a clear part of while not belonging into it at the same time thanks to her distinct personality and her desire to be someone else. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty had only a couple of scenes before Bonnie jumps into Clyde’s car, thrilled by his looks, his character and his crimes. And so both actors had to build the foundation of their whole relationship in these couple of scenes and both simultaneously succeeded in portraying their inability to become a part of their environment, finding unexpected fulfillment with each other. Faye Dunaway’s radiant beauty both fits and doesn’t fit into her environment and in this way she is the perfect match for Warren Beatty’s Clyde – he, too, seems to be too handsome for his surroundings, too out of place on the almost deserted main road they are walking on. Bonnie and Clyde are outsiders even before they meet. It’s always clear that these first couple of scenes are only meant as a quick set-up for the rest of the story but it was important that both actors would portray their mutual attraction and willingness to go away together to form the strong relationship that will shape the rest of the picture. And thankfully they both did succeed. Faye Dunaway’s sudden joy when she runs down the stairs, her teasing of Clyde, her embarrassment when he states that she works as a waitress and her sexual excitement over his looks, his talks and his action make it believable from the start that these two are destined to be together and Faye Dunaway’s sudden aliveness as she witnesses Clyde’s crime shows how quickly and willingly she becomes a part of his way of life. She makes it clear that two things attract her to Clyde – his looks and his crimes. Faye Dunaway’s acting style show all this in just a few moments at the beginning and keeps it believable for the rest of the movie.

Following those scenes, Bonnie and Clyde gives Faye Dunaway the chance to create Bonnie Parker as a woman who used her looks to maybe tease and play with Clyde but gets strangely insecure the moment she realizes that he will not respond to her sexual advances. Faye Dunaway used these moments to shed a different light on her Bonnie, slowing down the relationship with Clyde while deepening it at the same moment. She knows how to portray the confusion of Bonnie, her initial rejection and ultimately acceptance of his words – again Faye Dunaway has to use a short moment to show a fundamental shift in Bonnie and succeeds in it. From these moments on, Faye Dunaway uses her charm and bubbly personality to turn not only Bonnie but also Clyde into the adventurous, glamorous and almost adorable couple the movie wants them to be. For this, she uses an acting style that combines stylized moments which fit into the celebration of the central characters and a stark realism that adds to the believability of the overall story. Bonnie and Clyde is caught between old and new Hollywood and all performances combine an almost old-fashioned over-the-top approach with modern acting choices. Like few other actresses Faye Dunaway can create a certain danger in and around the characters she is playing, raising her voice to a threatening volume, switching her soft face into a hardened mask in one second. But Faye Dunaway wisely avoided to turn Bonnie into any kind of femme fatale – she always remains a very understandable character, acting out of primitive urges without any mystery hiding inside her. Faye Dunaway shows that Bonnie can be a stern killer, feeling no remorse or sympathy, and yet she is also a loving, kind and dreaming person, infusing her with shades of sadness and regret. But this does not mean that Faye Dunaway ever asks for any sympathy – instead, she is entirely honest in her interpretation but she is able to find different sides in Bonnie, demonstrating that killing and robbing is not a thrilling kick but instead she is driven by her desire to lead a different life, even if it means to kill to maintain it. And even when Bonnie is writing poems and reads them to the other members of her gang, Faye Dunaway never appears fake or anything else than sincere – in her work, Bonnie became a very honest person and therefore she also acts with a striking honesty in all situations. In addition, she always displayed a certain longing in her portrayal, displaying that Bonnie is a woman who never finds true fulfillment in life. And step by step, Faye Dunaway is changing the tone of Bonnie and Clyde after Clyde’s brother and his wife Blanche join the gang. As the life with Clyde, that used to be exciting and new, slowly turns into everyday life, Faye Dunaway displays how Bonnie begins to lose some of her spark and energy – but unfortunately, also Faye Dunaway herself begins to lose some of her fascination in these scenes. Faye Dunaway is an actress who needs a character and a script that constantly finds new angles and shades of her character, that supports her screen charisma and her ability to captivate the audience – but Bonnie becomes too straight-forward after the first unique impression begins to settle. Faye Dunaway knows how to portray Bonnie’s annoyance about Blanche, her frustration about never being alone with Clyde and her growing fear as the gang becomes more and more chased by the police and their lives change drastically over the running time of the movie – but her Bonnie doesn’t find the same captivating quality any more. She also has to face the disadvantage that, as Bonnie becomes more and more frustrated and begins to distance herself from the others, the movie shifts its main focus to the other players and allows the other character to unfold themselves, letting Bonnie slip in the background without letting her combine and display so many different shades again. Still, even in those moments, Faye Dunaway displays a great array of emotions and is able to turn Bonnie’s sudden desperation or her breakdown after having been shot at into quietly haunting and heartbreaking moments. And especially during the visit of her family when Bonnie realizes that she will never be able to get her old life back, Faye Dunaway finds the uncertainty and weariness of Bonnie in very silent, restrained moments. And her final close-up beautifully sums up her whole character even in the most serious situations – a comforting lock of love and understanding without any regret or self-pity.

Most of all, Bonnie and Clyde lives from the chemistry between Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Not just during their first scenes but for the entire movie the two actors craft the most important aspect of the movie, showing a doomed love that doesn’t work and yet still keeps these two characters together. Bonnie’s sexual frustration and clear admiration for Clyde finds logic in Faye Dunaway’s performance that throughout the movie underlines Bonnie’s inexperience and dependence on Clyde but also her strength and inability to completely comprehend his intentions and needs. But even if the love life of their characters might be complicated, both actors leave no doubt that Bonnie and Clyde would do everything for each other and need their mutual support and presence. Bonnie and Clyde are lovers, partners, friends, companions, accomplices. And Faye Dunaway finds the right balance to let Bonnie follow Clyde, guide him, support him, give him strength and demand his full attention. She gains Bonnie’s strength from her own work, turning her into a woman who exists on her own, is shaped by her relation to Clyde and influenced by her position in the gang. Overall, she plays her part with the right amount of emotions and a combination of over-the-top and subtlety that creates truly unforgettable moments of an unforgettable character. Faye Dunaway certainly benefited from the legends surrounding the real Bonnie Parker but she also created a legend on her own and bursts with confidence and energy to catch all the different sides of her character, naturally running a wide array of human emotions and catching the comedy and the drama of the movie, even if she might lose some of her impact in later parts of the story. It’s an almost playful but still grown-up performance that takes itself quite seriously but not too seriously to ever become pretentious.

6/16/2010

Best Actress 1967: Audrey Hepburn in "Wait until Dark"

Looking at the list of all those actors and actresses who received not only one but two Oscars during their career, it becomes immediately noticeable how varied this selective group is. There are legends like Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy or Marlon Brando, character actors like Dianne Wiest, Peter Ustinov or Jason Robards and largely forgotten performers like Luise Rainer or Glenda Jackson. And sometimes, a look at this list also evokes the question why other performers were never allowed to join this list. Of course, nobody should ever complain that a certain actor or actress ‘only’ has one Oscar when so many talented players went to their grave without a golden statuette. But it still is interesting to think about certain performers who won one Oscar during their career but somehow were never able to get a second trophy – despite various further nominations. Isn’t James Stewart an actor one would easily imagine to have two Oscars? He had the talent, he was extremely popular over a long period of time, gave many memorable performances…but the Academy clearly felt one was enough. And isn’t Audrey Hepburn somehow the female equivalent in this scenario? This is not a debate about if she actually ever deserved a second Oscar or if her talent as an actress called for it. But Audrey Hepburn was always such a beloved and popular figure who was able to charm every viewer with her poise and style, she was able to keep her position as one of Hollywood’s first leading ladies for many years and it’s doubtful that anybody would have felt less than overjoyed if she had ever walked up to the Oscar stage for a second time. Of course, she never had a chance to win for Sabrina against Grace Kelly or Judy Garland or for Breakfast at Tiffany’s against Sophia Loren. Looking back, it seems the most surprising that she lost for her celebrated work in The Nun’s Story against Simone Signoret in Room at the Top – this is not meant as a comparison of those two performances but looking at the Academy’s history, a performance like that of Sister Luke is usually exactly what it loves to honor. And what about her work in 1967? This year saw Audrey Hepburn giving two very different performances – she was natural, relaxed and likeable in Two for the Road and played a blind woman terrorized by a trio of gangsters in the movie adaption of the stage play Wait until Dark. While Two for the Road aged very well and is often remembered as one of Audrey Hepburn’s best performances, the obvious ‘acting’ that she had to do in Wait until Dark clearly impressed Academy voters more at the time. But did she have a chance for a second award? Considering that the ultimate winner was huge surprise, it’s basically impossible to tell how Oscar voters reacted to this line-up but there must have been a certain amount of sentiment on her side, especially after the controversy that had been created by her failure to receive a nomination for My Fair Lady. Sure, Academy members apparently didn’t find her worthy of a nomination that year but her non-caring attitude and her willingness to be a presenter at the award show anyway only added to the amount of admiration that everybody was willing to give her. Audrey Hepburn’s inability to turn this sentiment into another award was probably caused by the fact that her follow-up nomination didn’t come soon enough (three years are probably a lifetime in a voter’s mind) and the simple truth that Wait until Dark is not the kind of vehicle that helps an actress to win an Oscar, let alone a second one. Instead, it’s the kind of movie that offers a showy central role that the Academy certainly likes to honor with a nomination – but just not a win.

With Wait until Dark, Audrey Hepburn followed the footsteps of actresses like Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford who also received Oscar nominations for fearing for their lives in Sorry, wrong Number and Sudden Fear. Like those two movies, Wait until Dark is a well-made thriller that mostly seems to exist to let its leading lady drive herself into a state of more and more hysteria with each minute. The combination of fear, desperation, tears, screaming and panic is always impressive and certainly demands a lot of focus and willingness to completely surrender to the mental state of the character and it’s easy to image how difficult it must be to portray these feelings of fear and panic every day – but on the other hand these movies also never allow an actress to go beyond these expected emotions. The results are therefore performances that only happen on the surface and, as impressive as this surface may be, feel ultimately rather empty and shallow despite all the dedication and hard work that went into the creation of the characters. More than anything, this is obviously the fault of the script and the style of the movie – so it is hard to blame the leading actress for being a vessel for the movie’s horror and fear if this is exactly what she has to become. But the problem with the character of Susy Hendrix is the same with almost every character in thrillers like this – she is basically only a plot device to develop the tension and keep the audience at the edge of their seats. And also the script is never really interested in Susy besides the obvious tasks of being a terrified victim and the vessel through which the audience can follow the plot. So, the questions regarding a performance like this are a) did the actress fulfill the task of playing the fearful victim whose misery has the audience on the edge of their seat and who ultimately has to face her enemy in a fight for life? and b) was she able to add anything beyond this concept to humanize her character and craft a more multifaceted and independent person?

In some ways, Audrey Hepburn gave one of her most un-likely performances in Wait until Dark. She always knew how to control the screen with her aura of elegance, beauty and poise but she was also often cast in parts that demanded exactly this of her and not much more. She cannot be accused of ever resting on her charm but her unique appearance made it often very easy for her to add a level of excitement and content to her performance that would not have been possible otherwise and that was necessary for the movie’s overall success. Wait until Dark was different. Audrey Hepburn’s own personality certainly helped to make Susy a very easy to like and to follow person but beyond this the character never ‘needs’ Audrey Hepburn to come to life. Unlike Princess Ann or Sabrina, Susy Hendix does not depend on the charm and grace of Audrey Hepburn. Therefore, she had to work harder in this case and was only allowed to carry the story with her own acting. The final results show that Audrey Hepburn was indeed much more than just an elfin-like creature and had the determination and seriousness of a dedicated artist, focusing on all the aspects of the script to both serve her character and her movie – even if she was sometimes lost with the demands of a thriller like this.

Theoretically, Wait until Dark offers an easy chance for an actress to go beyond the pure elements of a frightening thriller to add a deeper layer to her character – the fact that Susy Hendrix is not only a woman fighting against three gangsters but also a recently blinded woman adjusting herself to the new demands of her every-day life promises to be an intriguing change of pattern and to present a closer look at the thoughts and worries of this woman without throwing her into the main plot of drugs and killers immediately. And Audrey Hepburn in fact does get various chances to craft Susy as a real three-dimensional human being – but is ultimately also held back by the script too often. As it is, even the blindness of the character is more a plot device than anything else – it didn’t influence the script but rather the other way around. And so the character of Susy was mainly created as a vessel for the tension of the movie and therefore had to be shaped into a specific form to fit to the demands of the overall storyline. This causes several problems for the character and the actress playing her: on the one hand, Susy must be insecure and unsure because of her blindness to add to the suspense of the movie and make her helplessness and panic more believable. On the other hand, she must be experienced enough to fight against the attackers and be competent and relaxed around her home so that her blindness won’t steal attention from the plot. This was solved by crafting Susy as a woman who had only been blinded recently (helplessness and panic) but has adjusted herself to the most important tasks already, is the best in blind school and has a partner who constantly demands of her to live her life without any help (experienced and relaxed). All of this makes the written Susy a strangely unfocused and indecisive character – and even Audrey Hepburn is not always able to overcome these contradictions but it is to her credit that she used the little opportunities she was given in Wait until Dark to her advantage while successfully making all the flaws in both the plot and the character less noticeable.

From a technical point-of-view, Audrey Hepburn fulfilled her tasks in Wait until Dark very well. During the first, more quiet parts of the movie, she portrays the blindness of Susy convincingly without ever trying to direct any attention to it – and works therefore in perfect harmony with the character of Susy as well as her movie. Just like Audrey Hepburn, Susy does not want her blindness to be a big deal even if she is suffering from the fact that she cannot see. But she wants to prove that she can do everything on her own and doesn’t want to be too dependent on help. Wait until Dark might be a slap in the face of Susy as it constantly only uses her blindness in the larger context of the story without allowing her to develop a voice of her own but Audrey Hepburn knows how to inject a certain sadness, a longing into her character to display her inner conflict between demanding a right to be an ‘ordinary’ blind person with all the problems that come with it and wanting to be ‘the world’s champion blind lady’ to prove to herself and her partner that she is strong enough to handle her life by herself. A scene in which Susy tells Sam that she will be whatever he wants her to be might a bit too theatrical, both due the writing and Audrey Hepburn’s slightly melodramatic acting in this moment, but a later scene in which she opens her character up to the little girl next door works very beautiful because Audrey Hepburn lets Susy be strong and weak, scared and brave, a little mean and very human all at once. Her little minute of self-realization comes as fast as it goes and Audrey Hepburn shows very touchingly how Susy needs these short moments to mourn her own situation to gain new strength and face her life another day. Even if the scene itself feels strangely disconnected from the rest of the movie, Audrey Hepburn still manages to build a stronger foundation for her character in this moment and intertwine it with Susy’s later actions and doings. But unfortunately Audrey Hepburn is not always so successful in her performance. While she may do a good job capturing Susy’s own insecurity and frustration with her situation while wanting to please her husband, too, she only truly shows these feelings whenever the script asks her to do but rarely finds any room to invest Susy with emotions by her own. That way her performance sometimes threatens to fall into the trap of the contradictions and shallowness of the overall story. And while Audrey Hepburn portrays the blindness of Susy with a welcome subtlety, she also feels more lost as Susy becomes more and more panic-stricken in the second part of the story. During the early scenes, Susy has very little interaction with any objects around her but later moments like Susy hysterically smashing all the light bulbs in her apartment or falling over a chair in a moment of fear make Audrey Hepburn’s acting much more noticeable. Somehow, she manages to be both too effortless in her handling of props and too obvious whenever the movie focuses less on Susy’s blindness and more on the dangers around her. Still, Audrey Hepburn is able to fill the part with her usual charm and thoughtful reflections. Her biggest success is that, despite the thin material she is given, she is able to give a mostly complete and thought-through performance – she doesn’t only focus on the character of Susy as she is today but shows how she might have been before she was blinded. She demonstrates that the bitterness and frustration in Susy only comes from feeling helpless and incapable but there is also a different side – that of a determined woman who can quickly react to new situations, who can be lively and charming and it’s not hard to imagine that this is how Susy used to be. She shows that being the ‘world champion blind lady’ is something she is may be doing for her husband but at the same time it’s clear that Susy would be so without him, too.

It’s commendable that Audrey Hepburn was able to invest so much more into Susy than the screenplay would have needed but it also be said that, like in the case of her co-nominee Katharine Hepburn, the success comes in small steps since Wait until Dark only allows her so much until it pushes her back for the sake of the story’s tension. But here Audrey Hepburn made the smart decision to not exaggerate the feelings of Susy from the beginning. Instead of immediately playing a fearful victim, she focuses on what Susy truly is at these moments– a woman not fearing for her own life but for her husband. The trick of the gangsters to make Susy believe that her husband is a murderer dominates the story for a while and Audrey Hepburn plays these scenes with convincing confusion and desperation even if she allows herself to be pushed aside very often too easily and often has to be surprisingly passive in a movie that is actually about her character’s fight for truth and life. As the story goes on and the tension increases, Audrey Hepburn unfortunately loses some of the control over her character – Susy is clever enough to figure out the truth eventually but this seems always to be directed by the script as Audrey Hepburn never really seems to let her make up her own mind. As the story finally reaches it dramatic climax, Audrey Hepburn also starts to intensify her acting – with mixed results. Her looks of complete fear as she is hiding behind the open door of the refrigerator or the moment when she is constantly lighting a fire create the movie’s most memorable and frightening moments and Audrey Hepburn knows how to both be a victim and command the screen in these scenes at once. But she also tends to become over-dramatic in these scenes, too, as she twitches her body in agony, grabs the banisters of her stair, dramatically pronounces words like ‘gasoline’ or desperately sits on the floor with a little doll clutched to her chest. In Audrey Hepburn’s defense, these moments never distract the viewer from the suspension of the scene – on the contrary, they even underline it but they also lack the overall quality that could be found in earlier scenes of Audrey Hepburn’s performance.

So, what’s the final verdict? Audrey Hepburn surely does a lot right and tried to give a performance that goes beyond the limits of the script but the structure of the movie only allows her to take little steps in this direction. So, regarding the questions from the beginning it can be stated that, yes, Audrey Hepburn did succeed to play the fearful victim that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats even if her acting is not always completely convincingly. Regarding the second question it can be stated that Audrey Hepburn did find moments in her performance that allowed her to show a different side in her character but only if she was given the opportunity. Overall, Audrey Hepburn can be applauded for completely neglecting her charming personality in this role and bringing a lot of determination to the screen to give a memorable, touching, frightening, entertaining and, most importantly, believable performance. It might be mostly on the surface but this was still enough to turn Wait until Dark into a gripping thriller. Maybe not a great performance but still a very memorable realization of fear and hope.