My current Top 5

My current Top 5

7/27/2010

Best Actress 1988: Melanie Griffith in "Working Girl"

Performances in comedies have always been appallingly underrated at the Oscars. Maybe I should be more specific and say ‘Leading performances in comedy have always been appallingly underrated at the Oscars’. The supporting category seems to be where the Academy likes to see the funny guys and girls but for the leading category, they want their tears and drama. The complaints about the disregard for comedic performances have always been loud and clear. But, of course, this does not automatically mean that every comedic performance that does manage to receive a nomination should be praised to heavens. Because comedy is very hard to do successfully and not every actor and actress can pull all the tricks off. And it gets even harder when the comedy they star in is a movie that is hardly a real comedy because it offers almost nothing funny or even slightly amusing – like Working Girl.

It’s a badly aged story that actually tackles some timeless themes like success, morals and how far one is willing to go to get ahead but at the same time it’s presented in a very dull, unlikable and simply unfunny way with a screenplay that has some clever ideas but fails to implement them into witty dialogue or plot. So, all that could safe Working Girl at the end of the day is the acting.

The main tasks are given to Melanie Griffith, strangely billed third behind Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver despite being the central character, who received her only nomination for playing Tess McGill, an ambitious secretary who dreams of getting ahead in the business world. The introduction of her character takes place on a ferry on which she, together with hundreds of other women, is on her way to work. Considering the haircuts and the cloths that all the women display, the movie could also be called ‘Voyage of the Damned’ but this pain for the eyes (and good taste) shall not distract from the performance by Miss Griffith.

Tess McGill combines a lot of different aspects but it is never clear if she is a complicated or simply badly written character. The screenplay establishes very soon that she possesses a golden gift for the business world: instincts. These instincts tell her on the one hand what would be a good business idea but they also tell her that a career is not something that will happen to her – she has to make it happen. So she takes speech classes and does her best to make sure that everybody else will notice her talents, too. So, her instincts tell her on the one hand what she can do and on the other hand what she has to do. But for some strange reason, her instincts don’t tell her how to behave in her work space and when it would be better to be silent – it is told that she had to change her job three times in a short space of time because of her big mouth and too often unacceptable behaviour. The movie takes the side of Tess, though, because it wants to make clear that Tess is actually always right because all she wants is to be taken seriously and treated with respect. So, Tess is a character with a lot of aspects – she wants to get ahead and knows how but at the same time doesn’t, she lives in a world of business and should know how to be taken seriously (for example by changing her hairstyle and her outfits) but at the same time doesn’t, she seems intelligent but at the same time she doesn’t. Ultimately and unfortunately, everything that Tess does and says doesn’t come from being an actual person but is simply written in a way that it fits the ideas of the plot. This brings us back to the aforementioned opinion that Tess is either complicated or badly written. Actually, it is both – she is badly written and this makes it very hard for an actress to turn her into a believable character. So the question is: was Melanie Griffith up to the challenge? Could she combine Tess’s intelligence, ambitions, instincts with her naivety and stupidity?

Let’s put it this way: the constant clearing of her throat that Tess demonstrates is actually the most inspired acting choice of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl because it shows her insecurity, her shyness and nervousness before she speaks – but considering that she does this clearing also at basically every other moment, even when she is in bed with Harrison Ford, makes it questionable how thought through this concept really was.

Right in her first scenes Melanie Griffith demonstrates something that she will keep for the rest of the entire movie: a complete lack of ability for comedic acting mixed with unappealing deliveries of her dialogue. This results in a shockingly monotonous and flat performance that is not only a victim of the bad writing but ultimately becomes also a failure in its own.

One can say that she possesses the right acting style for a light, romantic comedy but she lacks any sort of charm or genuine likeability and after a while of watching Working Girl it becomes clear that her acting is not really light but she simply lacks the talent to go beyond the surface of her character. All this makes Melanie Griffith a surprisingly huge bore and forgettable in her own star-vehicle. Sigourney Weaver acts her off the screen without even trying – her screen presence and talent to infuse a good deal of comedy into her interpretation of Katharine makes her a wonderful commanding character and, despite all the signs of furtiveness, one that is much more likable than Griffith’s Tess. Sigourney Weaver knows how to expand her fake friendliness to a level where her character seems to be genuine friendly while Griffith’s lacks the presence, the charm, the humour and basically, the talent to compete with her on any level. Sigourney Weaver isn’t the only one in the cast to outshine her easily – Joan Cusack is more memorable and funny in what feels like 3 minutes of screen time while Harrison Ford, despite giving a goofy performance of a goofy character, has more appeal in his left foot than Melanie Griffith in her whole performance.

But what is it about Miss Griffith that her performance seems so insufficient? Well, first of all, there is such a complete lack of energy in everything she does that it becomes both frustrating and boring to watch her after a couple of minutes. But wait: Doesn’t this make sense because Tess is much too shy and inexperienced to ever put herself in the foreground or speak with anything else than a whisper? Maybe but isn’t this also the Tess who has no problem to complain when things don’t go as she wants? Yes, but isn’t Tess now in a different position, working for Katharine, and trying to make a good impression while also being too intimidated by her power? Yes, that’s right – Katharine is an experienced and powerful business woman while Tess is an inexperienced and unimportant secretary. So, it can make sense that Griffith holds everything back in her performance to portray this woman. At a party Tess confesses that she can’t deal with people the way Katharine does. Here are a teacher and a pupil. So the question is: will Melanie Griffith show a development in Tess’s character as she makes her way to the top or will she keep her awkward acting style? In the first case, there may be some logic in her earlier scenes while the second case would only prove her lack of ability to pull this character off.

But this doesn’t change the fact that in her performance in the early scenes Melanie Griffith concentrates solely on showing Tess’s insecurity and rebellious attitude against everyone who doesn’t take her seriously. It was already mentioned that the character of Tess doesn’t make a lot of sense and in the hands of Melanie Griffith, she makes even less because she lacks one substantial element in her performance – plausibility. Tess is actually an intelligent women because she knows her own faults but at the same time also her talents but Melanie Griffith simply fails in showing this. Because she possesses zero energy, she completely fails to show any ambition and, yes, intelligence in Tess. Because of Melanie Griffiths’s performance it is just unbelievable that Tess is a woman with even a single idea in her head, much alone a business idea. When she suggests a different kind of food for Katharine’s party it has a deeper meaning because Tess has read about it, showing how she keeps herself informed about everything, even down to things like finger food. But she is so drowsy in these scenes and simply fails to make the actions and thoughts of Tess believable. It again seems hard to judge Melanie Griffith for doing what seems to make sense at this moment (because, as mentioned, Tess is too insecure to talk in a different way in front of Katharine) but considering the things that Tess will do later, this total lack of confidence just doesn’t feel right. Even if Melanie tries to show Tess’s inexperience, it’s all so frustrating because she simply must show a certain sense of comedy, a likeable charm and an aspiring personality to create also a woman who can carry the story and be the centre of attention but it seems that Melanie Griffith is too determined to walk monotonously and almost bored from scene to scene.

When she makes her first real business idea to Katharine, it’s certainly obvious that she has a great idea but doesn’t quite know to bring it best across. While Melanie Griffith plays these reluctant parts well, one can’t help but feeling that she simply couldn’t do it any better – apart from this monotonous reluctance, there is nothing else in her performance. The script certainly wants to express that Tess has a brilliant idea but Melanie Griffith fails to make it believable that Tess is able to come up with brilliant ideas.

After the first negative impressions in her performance, Melanie Griffith starts to get a little more tolerable in her part – probably because one gets used to her after a while. It becomes now clearer that Tess has dreams and wishes but she misses experience and self assurance and so shows her character as the complete opposite of Katharine. She’s very naïve and doesn’t have yet what it takes. Later it becomes clear that she is also the exact opposite of Katharine when it comes to values and morals. Early on, Tess thinks it would be the best thing to copy Katharine as much as possible but soon she finds out about the true nature of her boss. Working Girl seems to want to make a point of showing that it isn’t necessary to throw your values overboard to get to the top – and that’s why at the end of the story, Tess is basically still the same woman as at the beginning. This means, that Melanie Griffith still plays her in the same monotonous, bored way. Yes, but isn’t this the point? Tess got ahead without denying who she is! Yes, but isn’t this what actually happened – Tess lied, she stole Katharine’s boyfriend, she manipulated people around her. So she actually did do a lot of things that Katharine would have done. It’s just not believable that none of her actions would have affected her character. Is it really believable that in the end, Tess goes to her new job without even knowing what it is? The ending of Working Girl creates only more contradictions in Tess and Melanie Griffith simply decided to ignore all of them and not create any controversy by simply running the gamut of emotions from A to B. All this makes it sadly clear that also in the early scenes, Melanie Griffith didn’t really act in character but simply did as well as she could – which, unfortunately, is not much.

When Tess begins her journey into the upper business world, Melanie Griffith again makes it never believable that she could really hold her own in any of those scenes or impress even a single person. That’s why it made sense to give her Harrison Ford as a screen partner who basically plays her key to this business world. He gives her guidance and expertise – but since Jack thinks that Tess is an experienced business woman herself he doesn’t do too much which brings us back to the question how she could convince even one single person. And this includes Jack. While Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith have…some chemistry together, it’s not nearly enough to make his fascination of her believable and when he tells her he loves her it’s easily the most alive moment in the movie simple because the viewer suddenly wakes up and asks “What? Why?”

Basically, Melanie Griffith always seems like a deer caught in the headlight – not knowing why she is there or what she has to do next. From her bored way of talking to a bride at a wedding to her incredibility as a romantic interest or a business woman she simply makes an unbelievable character even more unbelievable.

Even at Tess’s hour of glory, when the truth is revealed and Katharine exposed as a liar, Melanie Griffith keeps the same face the entire time and it again makes absolutely no sense that any of the business people would believe her instead of the strong and believable Katharine. And the fact that Jack at this moment decides to basically put his whole career into her hands is an even bigger mystery.

Tess could have been a great character if the writers hadn’t bended her too many times to fit into the story and that way robbed her of any credibility. Combined with Melanie Griffith’s uninspired acting which only emphasizes the problems of the character by being surprisingly monotonous and dull, Tess McGill becomes one of the most frustrating and disappointing creations in the history of the Best Actress category. While she finds some ways of entertaining the viewer, Melanie Griffith never goes any further and so can’t get more than

7/24/2010

Best Actress 1988: Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liaisons"

Glenn Close received her fifth (and to this day, last) unsuccessful Oscar nomination for her performance as Marquise de Merteuil, a scheming and manipulative aristocrat in Stephen Frear’s Dangerous Liaisons. It is a story of lust, desire, lies, seduction and hate told through the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) and the Marquise who enjoy to manipulate and even destroy the life of the people around them.

In the role of this fascinating character, Glenn Close gives a deliciously evil and calculated performance that matches the fascination of this woman at every step. It’s a perfect symbiosis of character and actress as Glenn Close obviously enjoys playing a woman who obviously enjoys playing herself. Both the character and the actress seem totally satisfied with what they are doing and this accordance resulted in one of the great screen performances because that way Glenn Close does not only make everything she does so engaging but she also makes it incredibly entertaining. Even though Glenn Close is constantly ‘in character’, she also more than once winks at the audience – when she gets out of her carriage and gives an evil smile before appearing caring for the sake of her friend, she obviously doesn’t do this for her own amusement but rather as an inside joke for the viewer – but the result is still wonderful to watch. Glenn Close could even have looked directly into the camera and said ‘I know I am evil but I’m having a lot of fun’ and it would have been enough. It’s thrilling to see an actress who knows what she is doing in a difficult part and finding the perfect balance between taking the part too seriously and not seriously enough.

Besides that, Glenn Close gives a very controlled performance that seems calculated down to the slightest movement of her lips but the result is chilling because it so wonderfully works with her character – a woman who not only wants perfect control over the people around her but also over herself, a woman who must constantly put up an act for everybody to hide her true feelings and thoughts, a task which she has perfected over the years.

What’s so thrilling about Glenn Close’s work is how she is able to constantly top herself – from her first verbal duels with Valmont to her dialogue about her own development to her declaration of war to her breakdown to her final scene, her whole performance is a constant rise of excellence. It’s an almost magnetic quality that Glenn Close possesses in this part and her thought through line delivery and prepared body movements make every appearance of her character another highlight.

Dangerous Liaisons is a thrilling story filled with interesting characters but it’s Glenn Close and John Malkovich who carry the whole production on their shoulders. They may make life misery for every one around them but they are a real treat for every viewer. Their perfect chemistry in every one of their scenes together, the way they play with words, tease and irritate each other is certainly unforgettable. Both show a combination of love and hate for the other one as it becomes clear that the company of Valmont is the only time when the Marquis can show her true face and be herself. This also seems to be the only time that she really enjoys herself even when she despises him.

Glenn Close crafts a woman who may spend most of her time sitting or lying in her own house but who still seems to know everything and everyone. A woman who sees herself as a spider in a web of intrigues and lies, a puppet master who pulls the strings of the emotions and actions of people as she pleases. Valmont may have his own agenda and be the most central character, but she truly dominates the story and always redefines the atmosphere of the story – whenever Glenn Close appears, she takes over, just like her character. What’s so delicious is that Glenn portrays all the arrogance and self-assuredness in her character while the movie is constantly working to destroy these images. This way she constructs a character slowly walking into her own destruction but who is too sure of herself to realize this. Her constant success in scheming and manipulation have made her blind for a situation when things don’t go as planned – the moment Valmont behaves in a way that she cannot control, she loses control over everything. She may think of herself as a puppet master but she is actually only a part of the overall game. That way she becomes as much pathetic as terrifying, a monster and a misery.

But Glenn Close doesn’t end on playing a character the viewers love to hate, instead she creates a character one might even hate to love. She constantly displays her fascination but at the same time she shows so many ugly and dangerous side in her that the viewer feels ultimately trapped by her. She dares the viewers to deny her any respect but at the same time throws it back in their faces. That way she creates a woman who constantly slips away from any understanding. The moment one feels to know her she is already two steps ahead in demonstrating that we don’t know her at all. By putting a lot more depth and complexity in the character than expected, the Marquise is as mysterious as she is real. Life may be a game for her – but a very serious one.

The Marquis may also have reasons for what she is doing but in displaying her constant manipulations, Glenn Close very often hints at a back story, a life before Dangerous Liaisons begins. It’s her greatest gift to expand the character way beyond everything in the script and suggest at the past in a way that hardly any other actress could have. Even though it sometimes appears that the Marquis is only acting out of a certain boredom that gives her opportunity and time to be completely absorbed in her own plans of revenge and misery, there seems to be a constant struggle inside her, a need to carry out her own desires and plans to prove her own abilities, dominance and, most of all, independence to herself. In a long monologue, wonderfully executed by Glenn Close, she tells how she developed her talents to listen and plan – it shows how a woman, hungry for power, found the perfect way for her to fulfill her needs and obsessions but it also is a testament to the emptiness inside her. The Marquise is a woman who spends a good deal of time looking in a mirror as if she is constantly checking that the woman she created is still in tact but with little looks of sadness and fear, Glenn Close constantly makes the viewer wonder if this woman is so keen on destroying the happiness of others because of her own misery, her own feelings of loneliness which she tries to overbear with meaningless affairs. Only once does this cool, calm and self-confident woman lose her temper – when she shouts at Valmont that she, after her marriage, will never again be ordered around. By the delivery of these lines, Glenn Close demonstrated how paper thin the aura of superiority and self assurance really is – the Marquise is a woman who apparently lives in constant fear of losing the control over her own life and becoming trapped in a world dominated by men. Her whole appearance of grace and confidence seems to a masque to hide an insecure woman who doesn’t know where she is going and how it will all end.

When Valmont wants a promise fulfilled, she seems cornered and finds only one way to escape – a declaration of war against him. It’s a fantastic moment as Glenn Close keeps her mysterious smile just until she pronounces the single word ‘War’ and even after that she still gives an almost unnoticeable, superior smile that shows how completely she transformed herself into this character. That way she crafted a complete person in a way that many other actresses might have missed. Instead of only focusing on the razzle-dazzle sides of the Marquis, Glenn Close tries to find a bigger truth even though the sometimes almost shallow and two-dimensional character doesn’t seem to allow that. But again, one can’t help but wondering if this declaration of war was really meant by the Marquise in the way it seems – how far would she go or is this just another game for her, not more unique or special than all the others?

This single world is basically the last real dialogue in her performance except for a few hysteric orders at her maids. From then on, she only acts silently but it’s the last scenes that offer some of the most unforgettable moments in movie history and tell more about her character than pages of dialogue could have. Her reaction to some terrible news is the only time that her performance doesn’t seem calculated as this is also the only time that the Marquis completely lets go – one of the most chilling scenes of pain and grief ever captured. Even though she always seems like a strong woman who didn’t need anyone in the world, it’s still clear that she lost the only one she considered her equal, a loss that can’t be replaced.

At the end her character arc develops for the worst. She may look down on society and secretly uses its conventions against itself but at the same time, she gets her whole self-esteem from this society – so when it turns against her, it announces the final decline for her. Like an onion, Glenn Close and the movie slowly peel layer after layer of this character until the last layer is finally deleted when the Marquise removes her make-up. It’s just a thin layer of powder that can be removed with one wipe but it suddenly changes her whole appearance which again demonstrates how paper-thin everything on the surface of this woman really is. At this moment, all that characterized her so far seems to slowly disappear, a woman looking at the ruins of her life and herself.

In this part, Glenn Close has to do most of her acting with her eyes and her stern face – and she succeeds on all levels. It’s a subtle portrayal, presented as a true force of nature. Glenn Close uses her unique looks, strength and overpowering screen presence to create an apparently powerful, but ultimately helples character.
Chilling, unforgettable, delicious, outstanding – all words that perfectly describe Glenn Close’s performance for which she gets

7/19/2010

Best Actress 1988: Jodie Foster in "The Accused"

1988 was Oscar’s salute to the 80s. Rain Man, The Accidental Tourist, Working Girl, The Accused – all movies that couldn’t be more 80s even if they tried. But, of course, every decade produced movies that are a symbol of the time they are made in – not all movies can be set in Shakespeare’s times. But none of the aforementioned movies were able to really be timeless – today, they seem rather dated and even forgettable. Only The Accused, thanks to a very serious topic that will unfortunately never be dated, is still able to pack a punch but suffers mostly from the aura of ‘lifetime movie’ that constantly surrounds it. When all is said and done, it’s a powerful message told by an average movie with only two things to really make it worthwhile – the performances by Kelly McGillis and, especially, Jodie Foster.

The Accused was Jodie Foster’s transition from former child star into full-fledged, critically acclaimed dramatic actress. Her Oscar was won for the kind of tour-de-force that seems destined to win awards even before the first ‘Action!’ – as a lower class, white trash girl who gets gang-raped in a dirty bar by drunken patrons and wants to see justice done. What separates this movie from most others of this kind is that it takes justice even further when Sarah’s lawyer Kathryn also begins to prosecute those men in the bar who didn’t rape Sarah but who cheered and celebrated during the crime and that way provoked the others to continue to rape her.

Another thing that sets The Accused apart and ultimately makes it a much more layered movie is the fact that Sarah Tobias may be a rape victim – but she isn’t a saint. Jodie Foster’s performance never tries to gain the audience’s sympathy by presenting Sarah as a poor, sweet, innocent little girl who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, Sarah is loud, provocative, uneducated and easily loses her temper. Sarah wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time, she is a frequent visitor of the bar and on this particular evening she was angry at her boyfriend with whom she had a fight and so she decided to have some fun, danced and flirted with some guys, maybe even aroused them – her provocative outfit and sexy dancing made it easy for her to get the interest of the guys in the bar. Basically Sarah does everything that would most people who read about a case like this say ‘Ah, she was asking for it!’ But the movie makers and Jodie Foster make it perfectly clear that there is no ‘asking for it’. Because this time we don’t read about the crime but we are witnessing it. And that way we can see that, even though Sarah may have gone too far in her behavior, she clearly noticed that something went wrong and clearly asked the guys to stop it when they began to go too far. There is a sudden and dramatic change of atmosphere when the fun and desire in the room suddenly turns into a shocking crime. These scenes show that Sarah was certainly not asking for it, that she wanted to get out, that she screamed and kicked and that only force and violence could help her attackers to get what they want.

But, unfortunately for Sarah, the people around her react exactly the expected way. Her reputation, her behavior, her temperament that would make her an unlikable witness in front of a jury, turn against her. But Sarah is the kind of woman who wants to see justice. Jodie Foster shows that she certainly won’t change her character for the jury because for her, it’s not her character that’s on trial – it’s the criminals. Jodie Foster demonstrates that for Sarah, it’s all about the crime against her. Why should she not be a witness in her own case as her lawyer first insists because she is afraid that the jury would not like her? It’s up to Jodie Foster to bring this part to life and create a believable character who wants the crime to be judged while people around her judge the crime – and her. What works so well in this performance is the fact that Jodie Foster is one of the few actresses who is able to play characters that are not as smart as she is. A lot of actresses let her personal intelligence shine in their performances but Jodie Foster holds all her personal qualities back to create a real character from the lower end of society.

It’s certainly a showy role on every level but not one that produces an acclaimed result automatically – the level of difficulty is very high and only a talented actress can reach it. Jodie Foster certainly did reach even if she sometimes went too far in her interpretation.

In this performance, Jodie Foster doesn’t only show the terror or rape but also the terrible aftermath which is characterized by pain and fear. On a technical level, the performance is certainly a stunning achievement. The way Jodie Foster uses her voice is especially impressive – her constant whispering after the rape show how much her voice has suffered from the screams and shouts but also how introverted she is at these moments. Her mix of fear, shock and embarrassment is played extremely well and Jodie Foster doesn’t forget to also show the anger in Sarah. Anger for the people who did this to her. It seems that this anger is the driving force of Sarah’s character – the painful memory of the rape is always overshadowed by her thirst for justice, a justice carried out by the law. Even though Sarah may not be a very educated woman, she still has a strong feeling of what is right and wrong and how the search for justice should be done. She possesses strong instincts that guide her through life, even though they sometimes lead her into bad situations. Jodie Foster shows that Sarah mostly lets these instincts control her life and that way she creates a strong contrast to the character of Kathryn, an intelligent lawyer, who always thinks at least three steps ahead. It’s the combination of these two women that will lead to justice – one has the legal experience, the other one the strength and determination.

At the same time, it would have been better for both the movie and the character, if Jodie Foster had also invested more into the experience of the crime. Sarah never really seems to think about what happened except when the script calls for it. The scene when she tells the story of her rape in the witness stand is certainly unforgettable and Jodie Foster makes the events appear right in front of the viewer’s eyes (so making the later flash-back scenes almost unnecessary), but these memories only come when they are called for. A little more focus on how the rape affected her character would have been desirable.

The character of Sarah is very underwritten actually, so it is up to Jodie Foster to turn her into a three-dimensional human being. She succeeds in this area wonderfully by a) showing the tough side of her character, b) opening this side up more and more during the run of the story and c) adding little touches that show her life and back story. The relationship with her boyfriend is explained in a few scenes but the real highlight of Jodie’s performance is the telephone call to her emotionally unavailable and estranged mother after the rape. Here, she magnificently shows a woman who is longing for hold and support after a horrible incident but finds only distance and disinterest. These kind of phone-calls are always a great opportunity for every actor because you don’t have to share the screen and can demonstrate a wide range of emotions which Jodie certainly does.

As mentioned, during the movie, Jodie begins to show another side in Sarah, a more soft and understanding one. She begins to listen to her lawyer, trusts her and finds a better way of communicating than her usual anger. That way she is also able to create a character the audience can relate to and understand. It would have been very easy to let a character like Sarah slip away from the viewer but Jodie Foster carefully avoided this. She certainly found the right tone for most of the performance but unfortunately sometimes she seemed to have been too overwhelmed by the nature of the story that demanded one emotional roller coaster after another and sometimes she simply went too far. Especially noteworthy (in a negative meaning) is the scene when she is confronting Kathryn in her apartment. She expresses the anger and frustration of Sarah well but gets too over-the-top in her delivery. During most the story, Jodie Foster does a good job of projecting the feelings of hurt and shame that are in Sarah since the rape but at the same time, she too often appears too…exaggerated. If she had taken one step back during a lot of her scenes her performance could have been much more memorable. The technical and the emotional parts of her performance work very well but they never really connect. It seems that Jodie gets the best results in her performance in scenes that didn’t intend to be great and where she could be more relaxed. Whenever she knows that a scene demands strong acting, she seems to become a little to stiff. It’s also strange that, considering the dominant nature of her part, Kelly McGillis as Kathryn very often dominates the movie and is able to more than once, challenge Jodie’s performance with her own subtle portrayal.

Still, the one scene that will surely stay with every viewer forever, the scene of the rape, is done perfectly. Especially because Jodie Foster is finally extremely relaxed in the scenes leading up to the crime. Her way of flirting, the way she presents a woman who only wants to have a good time, her dancing is all done very believably and naturally until she suddenly changes the character and begins to show the horror of what’s happening to her. It’s exhausting to watch the scene and Jodie Foster certainly delivers a tour-de-force here, especially because the scent itself is so…long. The rape goes on and on, first by one man, then another and then another and Jodie goes on, too, stays in a state of pain and agony that she can only express with her eyes.

It’s laudable that Jodie Foster so completely threw herself into the part and was not afraid to show a more unlikable side of her character while never letting her lose her dignity. But she still seemed too often destined to make sure that her character would be the dominant force of the story even though she didn’t have to do that since the movie’s structure guaranteed that already. It’s clear that she played the part very effectively, but just sometimes, a little less would have been more. But it’s still an unforgettable performance of a very challenging role that gets

7/17/2010

Best Actress 1988


The next year will be 1988 and the nominees were

Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons

Jodie Foster in The Accused

Melanie Griffith in Working Girl

Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark

Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist

7/16/2010

YOUR Best Actress of 2007

Here are the results of the poll:

1. Julie Christie - Away from Her (24 votes)

2. Marion Cotillard - La Môme (21 votes)

3. Laura Linney - The Savages (8 votes)

4. Ellen Page - Juno (7 votes)

5. Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2 votes)

Thanks to everybody for voting!

Best Actress 1971 - The resolution

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



Because the screenplay so rarely lets Alexandra have her own moments to express a more layered side, Janet Suzman took things in her own hands and used the small moments of the movie to show that Alexandra is both Empress and woman. But while she doesn’t do anything wrong there is the constant feeling that she simply could have done more. She suffers nobly and expresses poise and grace, but the tasks of the script simply don’t challenge her as much as most of the other actors.



                     
Vanessa Redgrave elegantly and intelligently builds the arc of her character and dominates her part of the storyline with ease and passion. She works well with what she is given and even adds a little more with a thought through and entertaining performance but the story of Mary, Queen of Scots never becomes as thrilling, fascinating and tragic as it could have been. The main reason for this seems to be that while Vanessa Redgrave acts beautifully from the outside, there is something missing on the inside. Instead of crafting a character that believably makes history, she lets history and the script dictate her what to do.
Jane Fonda clearly knows Bree and what she feels and thinks. While a lot of scenes with her feel forced into the movie and don’t really connect with the rest, Jane Fonda has the ability to turn Bree into one logic creation. It’s only her performance that holds everything together and shows the fear and terror of Bree just as effectively as her insecurity and worries. But the combination of Jane Fonda's constant awareness while acting and her shortcomings as an actress prevent her from giving a fully realized performance and characterization.



2. Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday

In Sunday Bloody Sunday, Glenda Jackson perfectly combined her screen presence with the emotionally unsatisfied Alex. She intelligently explored all the aspects of her character, her background and her past, her thoughts and emotions, her hopes for the present and for the future and gave a heartbreaking and yet encouraging performance that creates some unforgettable images.




Julie Christie gives a wonderfully crafted, passionate and almost lyrical performance that brings this complex character to a glorious life – a mystic creation with many shades and edges. Constance Miller is the sort of character a poet would write about and Julie Christie’s performance knows exactly how to add a certain amount of mystery in her character without over- or under doing it. Everything she does, every movement of her body, her hands, her face, adds to the enigma but the result feels never controlled. A fascinating portrayal that is able to catch all the aspects of the character without ever fully exploring them.



Best Actress 1971: Julie Christie in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"

Constance Miller and Alma Brown – two women from different times, but both trapped in a traditional world of men. And both characters in movies that impressively and unforgettably destroy the illusions of this traditional world. And because both are the only women of importance in this world they had to find a way to cope with the men around them and try to hide their tender characteristics behind a trough and strong exterior.

Eight years after Patricia Neal received an Oscar for bringing Alma Brown to live, Julie Christie received her second Best Actress nomination for playing Constance Miller in Robert Altman’s classic anti-Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Constance is a tough and experienced ‘dame’, or as she puts it, a whore who travels to the frontier lines to help John McCabe set up a brothel. While McCabe has already established an average brothel that serves its function, Mrs. Miller takes a different approach – she emphasizes the importance of comfort and sanitary conditions. She knows that success will come if the men get something different (and better) than everywhere else. And it surely doesn’t take long before their establishment brings in a lot of Dollars.

Constance Miller is a rare ray of light in an otherwise dark and dirty world. While she is actually a part of this world, there is also something in Julie Christie’s looks and acting that sets her apart from her surroundings and creates a fascinating characters that both denies and symbolizes the world she lives in. Perhaps more than in any other of Julie Christie’s performances, her work here depends on the images that she and Altman project. She has created some wonderful images in her career from the loneliness of Fiona Anderson sitting in a chair in an empty room to the bored desperation of Diana Scott walking through an empty castle – but never again will she be as unforgettable as at the end of McCabe & Mrs. Miller when Constance is lying in a Chinese opium den, starring at a glass egg which she is slowly rolling around in her hand. It’s a thrilling sight of a woman who is still as mysterious as she was in the beginning. The character of Mrs. Miller seemed to have become accessible for the viewer during the run of the story but at the end we have to realize that she is still an enigma, a woman who appeared out of nowhere and changed a certain way of life. If Marry Poppins had been a whore, too, she might have teamed up with her – together they could have cleaned a lot of brothels.

Julie Christie excelled in these images of characters, being alone in a world that doesn’t seem to understand them. The wonderful shot of Mrs. Miller, walking alone at night outside her brothel, is another one of those thrilling images that beautifully flows along with the story and style of the picture. In McCabe & Mrs. Miller, she constantly shows a woman who seems to be alone even when she is interacting with other characters.

Just as captivating as this final shot is her introduction, the image of Mrs. Miller as she arrives for the first time in Presbyterian Church, a sudden sight of sophistication and elegance in an unlikely place. Never before has Julie Christie’s unique voice and her distinct accent been more fascinating – her wonderful English pronunciations certainly don’t fit into her environment but it again serves to set her character apart.

But Julie Christie and Robert Altman don’t reduce Constance Miller to an arrangement of images. Instead, Julie gives a wonderfully crafted, passionate and almost lyrical performance that brings this complex character to a glorious life – a mystic creation with many shades and edges.

Constance Miller is a whore. She is very frank about that but she couldn’t be more different from all the girls who work at the brothel. She is charming, graceful – and most of all, smart. She certainly doesn’t have the manners of a real lady (the way she eats her foot is definitely proof for that), instead she is very practical about everything. She may run the show but she is also willing to work just like the other girls do – the only difference is that she is charging more. In her approach to the part Julie Christie shows that Constance, even though she is not old, already has a lifetime of experience behind her. But it seems that some day in her past she realized that she had much more to offer than just her body.

And that’s why Constance Miller is mostly a business woman. She knows how to run the show and how to turn an average brothel into a gold mine. She knows that it takes money to make money and she is also able to convince McCabe of her plans without having to use her charm or her looks. She never tries to charm anyone or use flirting to get what she wants, instead, her tough and no-nonsense character lives according to her own rules. When she meets McCabe for the first time and makes her proposition, Julie Christie perfectly uses Constance’s experience and intelligence, her slight arrogance and feeling of superiority and her attraction to McCabe to show a woman who knows that she wants but also what’s best for those who work with her. Right at the beginning, when she looks out the window, she seems like a woman who actually has enough but she keeps going with a strong, practical spirit. For a woman to be taken seriously in this time and place it takes a lot of work – for a whore it seems impossible but Julie Christie makes it understandable and realistic.

When she has started to run the brothel, Mrs. Miller also becomes a mother for the girls. There aren’t many scenes that highlight this aspect but her thoughtful and caring acting in a few moments shows that Mrs. Miller knows how to handle her business and how to take care of her girls. In a different scene she helps a young post-order bride to prepare for her wedding and gives her the kind of advices that can only come from a woman who has had the life of Mrs. Miller. Julie Christie always finds exactly the right way to demonstrate the warmth and love in her character while also showing the strong and dominant side.

Mrs. Miller is also a lover. It doesn’t take long, of course, that McCabe and Mrs. Miller began a relationship together and it’s thanks to Julie Christie’s and Warren Beatty’s wonderful chemistry that these scenes are the heart and soul of the picture. Right from the beginning, Mrs. Miller not only appears like a business partner but also like a jealous wife, even shrill and unpleasant but later, she almost appears like a little girl – insecure, frightened but then loving and glad to lie beside this man. With him, she can be herself and with him, she is everything – when she is arguing with him about him getting out of a gunfight, she begins worried and frightened, then suddenly becomes the business woman again before she turns into a housewife in just a few seconds. Julie Christie wonderfully uses her expressive face under her dominant hairdo to show a woman who has spent all her life thinking about sex but wants to find closeness and love. When she displays a more weak side and shows tears coming out of her loving eyes, it’s an incredibly moving moment. In these scenes, she is the complete opposite of the business woman she was at the beginning. Both Mrs. Miller and McCabe seem ‘real’ in this world, they don’t represent the myth of the Old West, they aren’t Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly in High Noon even though they resemble them in some points. McCabe and Mrs. Miller both see the realities of life and think how they can get an advantage out of them. There is something trivial about their relationship but at the same time they appear like soul mates. Mrs. Miller rather wants to see her guy alive than a dead hero. She doesn’t mind if McCabe would run away in the dark or hide in a horse carriage because she sees no sense in fighting for a piece of land.

In this role, Julie Christie combines her wonderful talents for subtle acting with her equally wonderful talent for loud and shrill scenes. But Constance Miller isn’t Diana Scott – she knows when to hold back, when to stop and how to adjust herself to her environment. Julie’s Constance is a very controlled but also passionate character. Thanks to her delicate appearance, there is also a delicacy in her performance that wonderfully brings Mrs. Miller to live and makes her the emotional center of the story even though she is a rather secondary character. Mrs. Miller appears like a woman who would collapse if one touches her but the strength that Julie Christie projects defies every doubt about her. She wonderfully adds a dignity, loneliness, sadness and passion to the atmosphere of the movie but always keeps a mystery in and around her character.

The character is coming to a full circle at the final shot that shows that Constance Miller is also an opium addict. In an earlier scene, she has already taken opium and suddenly showed a big smile on her face and very childlike relaxedness after it. The image at the end is certainly not childlike – at this moment, she is a woman who is losing everything that seems important to her. It’s a picture of an almost unconscious woman who could have been so much more. It’s a swan sang to an era. The reflection on the glass egg resemble the reflection in her eyes – it’s not clear what is happening behind, how much of her experiences stay on the surface and one can’t help but wonder who this woman really is.

Constance Miller is the sort of character a poet would write about and Julie Christie’s performance knows exactly how to add a certain amount of mystery to her character without over- or under doing it. Everything she does, every movement of her body, her hands, her face adds to the enigma but the result feels never controlled. Julie Christie is an actress who seems to work both from within and outside, a perfect combination of technical and emotional method. It’s a wonderful and unforgettable portrayal of a character that could have easily been lost in the proceedings and for this she gets

7/14/2010

Best Actress 1971: Glenda Jackson in "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

The role of Alex Greville, a London company employee who is caught up in a complicated love triangle, was originally offered to Vanessa Redgrave who chose to do The Devils which had been offered to Glenda Jackson before. After they starred in movies for which they had been the second choice, they co-starred in Mary, Queen of Scots and then faced each other at the Academy Awards.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a gripping tale that still captivates, a movie that is a product of its time that allowed these kind of stories while also handling universal and timeless themes – sex, love, desire, loneliness, fear and ignorance. It tells the story of three protagonists and their strange connection: Alex Greville is a working women in London, Daniel Hirsch a Jewish doctor. They know each other loosely even though there is something, or better said, someone, they constantly share: Bob Elkin, a young, attractive and free-spirited artist who goes to bed with both of them. While this is already an interesting set-up, the most fascinating concept of the story comes when Alex and Bob are spending a weekend together and he leaves her for a couple of hours. Alex smiles with a sudden realization and, apparently not-caring, tells him that she is well aware that he is going to meet Daniel. Bob doesn’t deny it and leaves. The fact that both Daniel and Alex are aware that Bob sees them alternately is certainly unexpected but very promising – instead of trying to focus on a secret double life, filled with lies and betrayal, the story openly deals with its subject and so puts the characters of Daniel and Alex in the foreground as the constant questions about their characters and their motives are the movie’s leitmotif. Also Alex’s sister, an unfortunately over-the-top anti-establishment character who lets her children smoke pot, knows about this triangle. It’s a society that is as proud as possible of its own tolerance and anti-bourgeois attitude but it becomes obvious very soon that while Daniel and Alex go along with this, they are both longing for more.

In Sunday Bloody Sunday Glenda Jackson did something that she didn’t do very often on-screen: she allowed herself to be weak. Alex is not the domineering and destructive Gudrun from Women in Love. Even her Vicki Allessio in the sex-comedy A Touch of Class was a rather strong and powerful presence who only in the last minutes showed a weaker side. But Alex is a women whose troubles, sorrows, regrets, fears and doubts are visible in every moment of the story. But since Glenda Jackson never underplays her own strong screen presence, she makes clear very soon that Alex is aware of her own problems – and this is actually her biggest weakness: the fact that she allows herself to be weak even though she doesn’t want to be. Alex is a woman with lots of emotional baggage – an uneasy childhood and a failed marriage have made her rather desperate for love. It’s not clear how the relationship between her and Bob started and how she found out about his parallel relationship with Daniel. But Alex is a woman who, as seen in the scenes when she has to take care of her sister’s children, is trying to be as progressive and anti-bourgeois as possible and so she probably accepted Bob’s behavior as if she couldn’t care less. She wants to fit into these times that seem to accept everything and condemn any sort of tenures and rules. There was probably a time when Alex not forced herself to believe in these things but actually did believe in them. The relationship with Bob seemed probably very easy for her in the beginning – no suspicions, no conditions, everyone is allowed to do as he or she pleases. But her desire for Bob has grown with the time and now Alex is not able to accept it anymore – she wants him for herself. The problem is that Bob is the one who takes full advantage of their arrangement – he accepts no rules, he takes what he wants and only looks for his own pleasure and needs. Both Alex and Daniel put their own needs in the background, they try everything they can to please Bob, to hold him. Both show the insecurity that comes from being in a relationship with a man that swings both ways – both are afraid because neither can give Bob everything he wants.

Glenda Jackson achieves a fascinating result by combining her strong and domineering screen presence with the insecurity and doubts of Alex. She shows that Alex is a woman who should be strong and who should be able to break up with Bob if he doesn’t react to her needs – but she can’t. At the same time, she also isn’t able to tell him about all this – she uses subtle hints, telling him that often people do the things they don’t want to do, she tries to fight with him about his time with Daniel but Bob is too distant from her emotionally. He lives his life according to his own rules and he simple doesn’t care if Alex is angry – because if she is, then he will simply start a relationship with somebody else. Another weakness that Alex doesn’t want – the inability to do anything. She has to fully accept Bob and his views or she loses him. His way or the highway. Sink or swim. It will take some time for Alex to realize that she can and must swim by herself.

Alex is a woman who doesn’t seem able to really face herself and her life. She rushes out of her house and quickly drinks a combination of coffee powder and tap water, she has hardly any furniture – her flat seems as unprepared for stability and longevity as Alex herself. A wonderful example of Glenda Jackons’s talent is that she is able to make Alex understandable. She is in full control of her and does neither try to evoke sympathy nor does she distance herself from the storyline. She plays Alex in a very unspectacular way that constantly shows a simple woman in an unusual situation. Glenda Jackson’s strong presence and constant intelligence in her performance prevents Alex from appearing naïve and stupid and instead creates a deep and layered character who is at crossroad in her life but tries to prevent a decision as long as possible. Glenda shows a strong intensity in her acting that makes it seem that Alex, despite her insecurities and calmness, is like a gun, ready to shoot at any moment. Things don’t just happen to her as Glenda makes sure that Alex always does everything out of her own free will – even if she actually would like something else. She knows that she can’t be happy with Bob but she keeps going. When she cries after he left her to be with Daniel, it’s not easy to say if she cries because she misses him or if she cries because she hates her life. It seems that at the beginning, there are tears of sadness because she really misses him but when she later experiences a break down in her office, this seems to be the time in her life when she finally realizes that something has to change for her. Her affair with another man is certainly not done out of passion or love – it seems that she wants to prove to herself that she is capable of doing a next step, of experiencing sex with somebody else than Bob.

But even though Alex tires to gain new strength during the run of the movie, it is, in the end, Bob who again makes the decision as he goes to America and leaves both Alex and Daniel behind. For Alex, this is finally the wake-up call and she refuses to be there when he comes back. In an outstanding scene that belongs to the best that Glenda Jackson has ever done, she sums up all her feelings and speaks all the things that have so long already been inside of her – if Alex is like a gun, this is the moment she finally shoots. So far she thought that anything would be better than nothing but now she has come to a point where nothing has to be better than anything. Glenda Jackson makes the viewer always aware that this is not a liberating moment for Alex – she is not happy about her own decision now but hopefully, she will be able to recover someday and find something new for herself. Alex is a woman who makes up her own mind and then sticks to her own decision. Just as she chose her relationship and suffering with Bob, she now chooses to finish it.

Glenda Jackson, even though a fascinating actress, sometimes feels a bit too limited in her talents because of the strength she brings to all her parts that sometimes prevents her from finding different sides in her characters. But in Sunday Bloody Sunday she perfectly combined her screen presence with the emotionally unsatisfied Alex. She intelligently explored all the aspects of her character, her background and her past, her thoughts and emotions, her hopes for the present and for the future and gave a heartbreaking and yet encouraging performance that creates some unforgettable images. Her body language is filled with self-doubt and fear, her voice is a little more shaky and contained, her face much softer than usual. That way she portrays a woman who should actually never get into the kind of situation she is in but Glenda Jackson gives enough reason to make her motives believable. A wonderful, powerful and yet delicate performance that gets

7/10/2010

Best Actress 1971: Vanessa Redgrave in "Mary, Queen of Scots"

Mary, the ill-fated Queen of Scots and Alexandra, the ill-fated Empress of Russia, have two distinctive things in common (besides their royal status) – a tragic death and the fact that they were both turned into Oscar-nominated characters which resulted in the meeting of these two women who lived in different times and places at the Academy Awards 1971. While Alexandra died from a firing squad together with her whole family, Mary died the way most royals did back then – beheaded. Her execution was the final chapter in her life-long fight against Queen Elizabeth I for the throne of England.

While Empress Alexandra seems to be rather a footnote in (movie) history, the character of Mary Stuart is almost as irresistible for actresses like that of her nemesis Queen Elizabeth I. It’s not difficult to see why since Mary offers basically all the same possibilities of great movie acting as Queen Elizabeth I – royalty, suffering, dominance and she also adds an underdog status, an overcoming of obstacles that ends with tragedy and the eternal mystery if her character is good or bad.

But even though Empress Alexandra might not be as interesting to actresses, she at least got the last laugh since she had been portrayed in a grand, historical epos – Mary Stuart’s 1971 vehicle, Mary, Queen of Scots, unfortunately was a royal soap opera that focused on a two-hour long cat fight between two women who, as history tells us, never even met.

Glenda Jackson is Joan Collins is Alexis Carrington is Queen Elizabeth I.
Vanessa Redgrave is Linda Evans is Krystle Carrington is Mary, Queen of Scots.

Filmed in sets that couldn’t look more fake in a high-school production, Mary, Queen of Scots is certainly not destined for greatness. And like basically all productions around this topic, it also put in not one, but two meetings between the Queens since the audience can’t be expected of watching two actresses scheme and fight against each other without ever sharing the screen.

So, the movie Mary, Queen of Scots itself leaves much to desire but what about its leading ladies? Here is where Mary Stuart got the last laugh as she was portrayed by the (by now) legendary British actress Vanessa Redgrave who right from the start of her career showed talent and poise in every performance. And it was only a matter of time before she, like almost every actor or actress from the island, took on a royal part from British history. And there are surely lots of part that make sure that Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Peter O’Toole and all the others will always have a job.

But even though these royal parts are always juicy and demanding, even the greatest actors and actresses can’t rise too high if the material is keeping them down as Cate Blanchett showed in her second outing as Queen Elizabeth I. And unfortunately for Vanessa Redgrave, the script never enabled her to really rise to the occasion – but also her own performance has various problems that make it hard to completely admire it.

She began her performance with a rather strong emphasis on the hysterical side of Mary who lives in France and constantly fears for her husband’s life. When he eventually dies, her mother-in-law uses the opportunity to send her away and Mary returns to Scotland. When she isn’t allowed to cross England on her way, this already begins the tension between her and Elizabeth I.

The first parts of the story have an equal focus on Elizabeth I and Mary and shows their dislike for each other and how they plan their next steps. As the movie goes on, Mary eventually becomes the clear center of attention and her story and fate is put in the foreground.

As mentioned before, both Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave suffer from the rather bad writing they are given but they both possess such strong personalities and dedication to their craft that the results are still satisfying. While Glenda Jackson, after having appeared on television in Elizabeth R, can obviously do Elizabeth I in her sleep and still create a fascinating character, Vanessa Redgrave doesn’t achieve quite the same level. Her work sometimes feels too rushed for its own good – she obviously knows how to handle the dialogue, how to appear royal but also human, how to display all the sufferings and problems of a Queen but also a woman and how to create the right amount of tension in her scenes with Glenda Jackson but Mary never really feels complete. Vanessa Redgrave runs all the right emotions and expresses the right amount of girlish foolishness and womanly intelligence but the results somehow lacks a certain ‘Je-ne-sais-quoi’ to become really outstanding. For one, the character of Mary makes it hard for Vanessa Redgrave to really shine. While she is given a lot of opportunities to show her talent for subtle and over-the-top acting in situations that go from arriving in Scotland like an inexperienced school girl, being threatened in her own palace, drugging her husband and then cheating on him in the same room and barricading herself in a tower, neither the writing nor Vanessa Regrave’s performance ever make her as captivating and intriguing as Glenda Jackson does Elizabeth I. The main reason for this seems to be that while Vanessa Redgrave acts beautifully from the outside, there is something missing on the inside. Instead of crafting a character that believably makes history, she lets history and the script dictate her what to do. It never feels that Mary is really acting out of her own ideas and believes but rather that Vanessa Redgrave is following the script with a competent, but uninspired performance. This also shows in the fact that she never really explores Mary’s motives for her actions but simply presents them as historical facts.

But there is still a lot to admire in her work. Just like Janet Suzman, royal arrogance and dominance come very easily to Vanessa Redgrave. Her whole body language, her high chin and stubbornness perfectly portray her royal descent and her own opinion of herself.

Vanessa Redgrave also is able to fill her part with a certain amount of comedy. The way she says ‘Working, always working’ to her advisor when she enters his room just moments after his lover (who will become Mary’s husband) left the room, is a wonderful example of brilliant comedic line delivery as she is able to make the sentence both funny and innocent – funny for the audience and innocent as Mary is oblivious to what just had happened in the room.

Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, even though they only share the screen twice, work very well together as each of them does their best to create a woman as different from the other one as possible. While Glenda’s Elizabeth I is cool, intelligent, a great strategist who watches like an eagle over her kingdom and over her enemies, Mary is rather non-caring, sometimes too impulsive, naïve and inexperienced, a little like a sparrow, a woman who is used to a better life than the one she is leading in Scotland – the look on her face when she sees her now home tells everything. Mary doesn’t really possess anything that would qualify her for a Queen except her blood – but this blood is all she needs to be self-assured in her position. She displays a certain arrogance that isn’t really arrogance but an inbred attitude of not-caring. At the same time, she lacks the ability to mistrust those who are closest to her and so Vanessa Redgrave can show the surprise in Mary every time things turn against her. Unfortunately, Vanessa’s performance doesn’t really capture all the naivety and inexperience of Mary as she always demonstrates a huge amount of intelligence in her performance. Vanessa Redgrave is an actress who almost always creates characters who seem to be observing everything around them, who are always aware of what is happening and like to think one step ahead. This isn’t really working for her in Mary, Queen of Scots.

In her scenes with Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave reaches the highpoints of her performance. In their first meeting, she finds exactly the right amount of fake friendliness that quickly turns into hate and anger while in their second meeting, she unforgettably shows how Mary has decided for herself to find superiority in acceptance of her own fate. By accepting her own death, Mary is free of Elizabeth – nothing she can do or threaten her with has any effect on Mary anymore. Vanessa Redgrave gives a lot of dignity to Mary as she walks her final walk and movingly portrays a woman who is willing to die for her cause and her religion.

Vanessa Redgrave elegantly and intelligently builds the arc of her character and dominates her part of the storyline with ease and passion. She works well with what she is given and even adds a little more with a thought through and entertaining performance but the story of Mary, Queen of Scots never becomes as thrilling, fascinating and tragic as it could have been. In the end, Vanessa Redgrave gets

7/07/2010

Best Actress 1971: Janet Suzman in "Nicholas and Alexandra"

Janet Suzman surely got a royal treatment for her first appearance on the big screen – she played the part of Empress Alexandra, wife of Czar Nicholas, in the opulent and lush Nicholas and Alexandra, the over three hours long story of the last Russian Czar who, together with his family, faced a gruesome death after the Russian revolution.

Big, prestigious pictures like Nicholas and Alexandra are usually very popular with the Academy and so it’s no surprise that it received a nomination for Best Picture. Along for the ride was Janet Suzman whose previous nominations during the award season were limited to the category of ‘Promising newcomer’, a polite way to say ‘Come back when you paid your dues’. But her nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards is surely no surprise when one considers that, beneath all the royal gowns and queenly attitude, is a character the Academy loves: a supportive wife and suffering mother.

Times change, revolutions come and go, wars are declared and defeats accepted – but the character of Alexandra changes surprisingly little during all these events as the health of her family and, for a certain period of time, the support of her dubious friend Rasputin are the most important aspects of her life.

Because the screenplay so rarely lets Alexandra have her own moments to express a more layered side, Janet Suzman took things in her own hands and used the small moments of the movie to show that Alexandra is both Empress and woman. Whenever her husband seems to mistrust his own instincts or lets others influence his decisions, Alexandra tells him ‘You are the Czar’ in the most natural voice that is never threatening or appalled but simply declares a God-given fact. With this, Janet Suzman tells the whole, never-mentioned backstory of Alexandra and shows that she is a woman who has always been in a royal position, who believes in a God that made her husband Czar and her the Empress, who believes that she is part of a superior class. Neither of this is done in an unlikable or arrogant way but simply with a total conviction. This is the only life that Alexandra knows and her upbringings never let her believe or suspect anything else. This way, Janet Suzman wisely and intelligently explored a side that nobody else in connection to the movie seemed to have been interested in. Even though the story is called Nicholas and Alexandra, the Empress seems to be the rather forgotten character. Nicholas, wonderfully played by Michael Jayston, is the character who undergoes so many changes, who has believes that become doubts, who literally has to carry the weight of his country on his shoulders. For large sections of the movie, Alexandra is gone from the story and whenever she appears again, it’s mostly in connection to her children or Rasputin. But while it’s easy and legitimate to criticize Janet Suzman’s impact on the story, there is no need to complain about what she does with the little material she is given.

The biggest worry in Alexandra’s life is the health of her only son who suffers from hemophilia – an illness that he inherited from his mother. This guilt, that Alexandra is always carrying with her, and the fear for the life of her son, are the biggest motivations of Alexandra’s actions and thoughts. Janet Suzman is quite moving in her scenes of fear and worries and shows the human behind the royal protocol, a woman who is a loving mother while never forgetting that she is also an Empress and, as such, must keep her dignity and composure. In a moment that perfectly balances these aspects, the Czar and his wife return from a party, both aware that their son is ill – they walk into their palace, trying to hide their feelings until the doors are closed behind them and they suddenly rush up the stairs in their son’s room. Most impressive are Janet Suzman’s acting choices whenever the sickness of her son is affecting her in public. When she gets the news that he is ill while she is sending soldiers off to war, her face is like a masque that has suppressed every personal feeling since she was a child – but the fear and panic are quite visible in her eyes. Again, Janet Suzman doesn’t draw any attention to the behaviors of an Empress but shows it as the most normal thing. But still, Janet Suzman never shows what makes Alexandra think and act. Is she really blind to the changing world outside the palace? In some ways, Alexandra is the one steady factor in this story, a rock of undying principles but her intentions are never fully explored. In Janet Suzman’s performance, Alexandra never seems lightheaded but the acting and the actions of the character drift too far apart sometimes.

Besides playing a fearful mother and supportive wife, the biggest task of the story for Janet Suzman is to make the strange relationship between Alexandra and the grim Rasputin believable. And it’s again thanks to her understated and intelligent performance that Alexandra never appears dumb or gullible in her beliefs that Rasputin possesses a magic power. She simply shows a woman who is reaching everywhere to find safety for her son and becomes more and more fascinated by this seductive man. Unfortunately, both Janet Suzman and the script wasted an opportunity here to explore a darker side of this relationship.

Janet Suzman’s chemistry with Michael Jayston remains rather predictable and uninteresting for most of the plot. They show a loving and devoted couple while keeping up the façade of the royal protocol but their scenes together are never as captivating as the movie makers think they are. For Nicholas and Alexandra, there are good times and there are bad times. It’s mostly the good times that suffer from lifeless acting and writing but when the tragedy begins to show, their chemistry improves. Unforgettable is the moment when Nicholas comes home from the war to find a new Russia and a royal family under arrest – his pleadings for forgiveness and breakdown while his wife can’t do anything but cry and break down, too, is a wonderful moment and shows that Alexandra too, is suffering from the change in the country – more than has been visible so far. The images of a frightened Empress, walking through her palace, looking out of the window if her guards are still there to protect her, didn’t really allow Janet Suzman to explore these feelings.

When the movie goes on and the situation becomes more and more dangerous for the royal family until they are imprisoned, Janet Suzman gets to display an expected variety of fear and suffering but, just as she did before, her character stays mostly in the background while it is again her husband who contributes the most moving and memorable moments of the story. It’s sometimes frustrating to watch Janet Suzman slide elegantly, but hardly noticeable through the tragedy of the story as it feels as if she didn’t even try to show a greater impact. But she again finds a small moment to create a lasting image – when a young man tells her that she should be happy that she is still alive after she complained that she isn’t allowed to take all her things with her, Janet Suzman shows a look on Alexandra’s face that demonstrates how her whole world and beliefs are falling apart as she has to accept this talk and, most of all, feels the truth and danger behind it. On the other hand, her final moments with her husband, their last night together, surely shows an unexpected tenderness between two people who, even in private, aren’t used to show their feelings, but the moment is too short and Janet Suzman again overshadowed by her co-star.

Janet Suzman maybe doesn’t do anything wrong in her part but there is the constant feeling that she simply could have done more. It’s certainly not a compliment when the best scenes of the movie are those that don’t involve her. She’s an Empress? Check! She’s a mother? Check! She’s a wife? Check! But while Janet Suzman gets to show the royal façade and the woman behind who keeps the royal façade up even in her private life, it all comes together rather lifeless and uninteresting. She suffers nobly and expresses poise and grace, but the tasks of the script simply don’t challenge her as much as most of the other actors. She is the center of attention during the more lifeless parts of the story and constantly slips in the background during the captivating parts. A competent performance that achieves what it wants to achieve but doesn’t go beyond that. For this, Janet Suzman gets

7/04/2010

Best Actress 1971: Jane Fonda in "Klute"

After having lost the Best Actress Award two years earlier to surprise winner Maggie Smith, Jane Fonda finally won her first Oscar (among a good deal of other awards) for her role as a tough but also very insecure call-girl whose life is threatened by a stalker in the thriller/character study Klute.

The reason why Klute isn’t really working is that mix of thriller and character study – it’s a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be and the compound of styles and genres, of action driven by characters and characters defined by the need for suspense makes it hard for the actors to rise above the weak script. Especially Jane Fonda suffers from the fact that she so obviously tries to give a multidimensional and deeply layered performance in a movie that doesn’t know how to handle it. Bree Daniels, the character that Jane Fonda is playing, never feels complete because everything that she performs or expresses feels like a last-minute attempt by Jane Fonda to widen her impact on the story and show the insecurity behind the tough façade. While this is all still very admirable and done with the usual competence by Jane Fonda, it feels like a failed attempt to reach true greatness. So, what remains is a performance that is still much more complex and multifarious than expected but the feeling of self-importance that Jane Fonda exudes at every moment of Klute prevents her from achieving the level of excellence she so exhaustingly tries to conquer.

Jane Fonda is an actress who possesses great instincts for what she wants her characters to be and how to express this. Unfortunately, she belongs to the category of actresses who aren’t able to bring these instincts across completely successfully. In her worst performances, Jane Fonda seems like a bad drama student who missed too many lessons; in her best performances, she seems like a very talented drama student who has mastered all the techniques and methods of acting but to whom one always wants to say ‘Okay, Jane, please do it again. And this time mean it.’ There is always a certain shallowness in her work, a feeling that she never gets as deep into her characters as would be possible and she herself would like to. Instead, she projects a constant awareness and reflection about her acting styles and choices. Maybe Jane Fonda suffers from the fact that she is too intelligent to completely let go and trust these great instincts inside her. Her famous and praised scenes with her psychiatrist, scenes in which Bree opens herself up and step by step reveals her inner fears and the demons that keep her from changing her life and allow herself to be happy, are generally considered to be a wonderful proof of her spontaneity and ability to slip into her characters, but to me, every movement of her arms, every expression on her face, seem to be a result of careful consideration. While she doesn’t feel as controlled in her performances as other actresses, it still seems that inside Jane Fonda’s head there is a constant reflection about what to do next and how to move now while saying the lines. This way, her best performances have a certain fascination from a technical point of view and, as mentioned before, are obviously a display of a great deal of talent, but they always stop one step before reaching a full embodiment of her characters. The praised scene when Bree, alone and feeling unwatched, licks a spoon with cat food, as if out of habit, is certainly an interesting acting choice that shows that Jane Fonda understands her character, but it never feels like a spontaneous gesture that came from being ‘in character’.

Jane Fonda mostly suffers from a rather fake voice that prevents her from delivering any lines naturally or being fully convincing in her parts. When Klute, a detective looking for a disappeared man who used to be one of Bree’s customers, tells her that he watched her with an older man in his office, she angrily shouts at him ‘Goddamn you!’  this scene so wonderfully displays the problems in Jane Fonda’s voice as she so obviously tries to say these lines with the right amount of anger and frustration but the result feels rather bored and forced and most of all…acted. Because of the problems with her voice, Jane Fonda can never prevent me from being aware that she is constantly acting and constantly searching for the next gesture.

Overall, it’s the combination of Jane Fonda’s intelligence, her constant awareness while acting and her shortcomings as an actress that prevent her from giving fully realized performances and characterizations. But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a lot to enjoy about most of her work, especially in Klute.

Her ability to fully understand her characters is certainly her strongest asset. Jane Fonda clearly knows Bree and what she feels and thinks. While a lot of scenes with Bree feel forced into the movie and don’t really connect with the rest, Jane Fonda has the ability to turn Bree into one logic creation. It’s only her performance that holds everything together and shows the fear and terror of Bree just as effectively as her insecurity and worries. In some ways, Bree is a woman who is fearing for her life twice – on the one hand, there is a deadly stalker following her but there is even more that troubles her. Her own inability to let herself enjoy life, her constant need to punish herself. There is something inside her that prevents her from taking a step in the direction she really wants to go and makes her always chose the other way, an unknown force that makes her destroy all the good things in her life. She may be trying to get out of her profession and start acting or modeling but something always pulls her back. It’s a childlike fear of happiness, a troubled soul that Jane Fonda displays with an intelligent and detailed performance. Her scenes with her psychiatrist may not appear as improvised and real as they would like to be but there is still a lot to admire about Jane Fonda’s work here. In these scenes, she is able to create a certain fascination about Bree. The sudden honesty, her self reflections that show that Bree knows more about herself and her own feelings than apparent at first sight, create a wonderful contrast to her earlier scenes and it’s in these moments that Bree suddenly becomes much more complex and captivating than before or after. Her surprise about being loved for who she is and not for what she represents or pretends to be is a wonderful human moment.

Still, for all the lines of self-awareness that Jane Fonda gets to deliver in these scenes, her greatest moments are wordless ones: when she is walking with Donald Sutherland along a little market and she tenderly hugs him from behind with a relaxed smile that has never been seen before. It’s in this moment that Bree allows herself to be happy, that she suddenly realizes how happiness can feel. But Jane also displays a certain sense of feeling secure and protected. In this one moment, Bree, who always likes to be so tough and strong, shows that she has everything she needs – but it’s also a smile that shows that Bree is aware that this happiness won’t last forever but just this one time, she is willing to let herself feel good. And then there is Jane Fonda’s final scene in which she, in a never-ending close-up, shows an unforgettable display of fear and grief.

Bree is a kind of messed-up character, a woman who is scared about being happy and rejects happiness when she finds it. She is unwilling to get too close, she prefers the distance and being alone despite the terror that has entered her life. These characteristics create a remarkable chemistry with Donald Sutherland as Jane Fonda can slowly show the change in Bree, how she plays with Klute but seems to hate herself for it, how she becomes closer to him even though she doesn’t want to. Bree is a realist, a woman who would like to dream but prevents herself from it. Jane Fonda expresses all this with while also handling the various themes and styles of Klute.

Even though she shouldn’t be, Bree Daniels is a fascinating character. And in some ways, Jane Fonda does give a fascinating performance that is a wonderful display of technical ability. Unfortunately, she misses an emotional and honest core in her interpretation and because of this, she gets