My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/30/2011

Number 61: Geena Davis as Muriel Pritchett in "The Accidental Tourist" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Geena Davis is most certainly another member of the ‘I’m glad this actress has an Oscar but why did it have to be for this movie?’ club. She’s a very talented and underrated performer with a strong screen presence and brings almost all roles she plays to wonderful life – unfortunately, her Oscar-winning performance is the exception. In The Accidental Tourist, Geena Davis played Muriel Pritchett, a wacky dog trainer who falls in love with a grieving man at first sight and tries to get him out of his emotional hole.

The role of Muriel is a role the Oscars were made for. She gets a lot of screen time, stands as the emotional anchor of the movie, constantly brings the movie forwards and due to her eccentricities and unusual character stands out among the other, more conventional cast members. Unfortunately, Geena Davis missed most of these aspects of Muriel and that way what could have been a wonderful and lively performance became a rather standard, very often lifeless and confusing piece of work.

The problem is that The Accidental Tourist is an extremely, or better, unbearably slow movie with wooden performances from the entire cast. Well, what a great opportunity for Geena Davis to save the movie and give it the spark and humour it needs (that’s at least what the part promises). But instead of being a joyful and charming creature, Geena Davis makes Muriel almost just as boring and uninteresting as William Hurt his Macon. She seemed to think that Muriel’s horrible haircut and cloths alone make her quirky and interesting and because of that she didn’t need to invest any of these qualities into her acting. But so many of her lines that could have been funny, charming and a breath of fresh air just feel like a never-ending repetition because she delivers them so completely uninspired, letting almost every chance to become the force of nature we would have expected go by.

Another problem is that Geena Davis fails to make her character truly understandable. Does Muriel always chase the first guy that comes into her shop? We never learn why she is so fascinated by Macon. In the end, she seems more like a stalker than anything else (when she invites him for dinner, she looks at him with such big eyes and a crazy look that you have to wonder if she will eat with Macon or if he will be the main entrance). So, her attempts to cheer Macon up become rather annoying after a while and because of that you also don’t understand why Macon would fall for her.

Well, all this sounded very negative and Geena Davis also used to have a lower position in this ranking – so why did I upgrade her? Well, even though she isn’t the breath of fresh air this boring movie would have needed, she is still the best thing about it. It may be frustrating to watch her misinterpretation of the character but she is still very charming – simply on a lower level than could have been possible. And while I think that she does not use her comedy very wisely, she is still extremely strong in the more dramatic parts of her performance. Her best is when she doesn’t say anything and simply listens to Macon explaining his grief. The look on her face is wonderful and finally, she gets a chance to explain that there is much more underneath her strange cloths and that Muriel possesses a true inner strength. Geena Davis is also excellent when Muriel and Macon have a fight and she yells at him ‘You are so selfish! You are so self-centered! You have all these fancy reasons for never doing a single thing I want!’.

So, I think the biggest disappointment in this performance is that Geena Davis could have been excellent but only settles for competent. But on this lower level, she still does some enchanting and memorable work.

6/29/2011

Number 62: Angelina Jolie as Lisa Rowe in "Girl, Interrupted" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

The fact that Angelina Jolie is an Academy-Award-winner seems to be rather forgotten today since by now she is mostly known as one half of Hollywood’s hottest couple. But in 2000, she took home an Oscar for playing a wild and rebellious patient in a mental institution in what was supposed to be a showcase for Winona Ryder.

Basically, this is the kind of role that the Oscars loves to honour and that actors love to play – it offers almost never-ending possibilities to run the gamut of human emotions from A to Z and back again in 2 seconds and start all over again right away. Rage, anger, wild hysterics, laughter, kindness, malignance, tears, break-downs – it’s all there and Angelina Jolie makes sure to not miss any of those emotions and situations and, while she is at it even puts in a few more, too. It’s all you would expect from a role like this and Angelina Jolie posses the necessary talent and charisma to pull it off.

My problem with this performance is mostly that it’s a very one-dimensional role in which Angelina Jolie gives a performance that seems to often too limited. Every gesture, every look, every line-delivery indicates that Lisa is crazy, rebellious, wild, uncontrollable – this is certainly impressive when she appears for the first time but ultimately her performance becomes rather repetitious very soon. Since Angelina Jolie isn’t given any more depth in her character, this kind of ‘surface-acting’ is all she can do to succeed in her part and I don’t blame her for trying and applaud her for being such a force of nature but somehow everything about her feels too much out of the book ‘How to play crazy in 10 days’. Because of this, her work feels also very calculated and contrasts sometimes with the rebellious and unpredictable character she plays – basically, it’s a calculated attempt to appear spontaneous and so Angelina Jolie tried to think of as many unusual moves and gestures as possible while letting her voice run the whole spectrum from ‘mousy’ to ‘menacing’. Angelina Jolie also does not get much help from the director of the movie who tried to turn Lisa into some kind of crazy queen in the hospital (she moves her head with a cigarette in her mouth and immediately a hand with fire appears out of nowhere).

So, after explaining the limitations of the parts and her performance I want to say that within these limitations Angelina Jolie gives a very strong performance. Yes, her hysterics are very predictable but she still commands the screen effortlessly and terrifies everyone around her in a very intense, uncomfortable way. She’s able to show that Lisa is a woman who is very fascinating at first but who can put you off just as easily a few moments later. Angelina Jolie also tries to show some new sides of Lisa once she and Winona Ryder are out of the hospital and the moments when she terrorises a former friend with her way of talking is done masterfully.

So, a limited role and a limited performance but very impressive within these limitations.

Number 63: Jo Van Fleet as Kate in "East of Eden" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

In her first year in movies, Jo van Fleet made a big impression in Hollywood, starring in The Rose Tattoo with Best Actress winner Anna Magnani, I’ll cry tomorrow with Best Actress Nominee Susan Hayward and winning an Oscar for East of Eden, co-starring with Best Actor Nominee James Dean.

In East of Eden, Jo van Fleet played Kate, the madam of a brothel and, as it turns out, the mother of James Dean’s character Caleb and his brother Aaron.

This performance is one that is usually praised and admired – personally, I don’t quite understand that. When I first started watching the winners in this category I even had Jo Van Fleet on the last position simply because I found her performance so unspectacular and even obvious in a lot of moments. Well, my opinion has changed a little bit – I still have some problems with this piece of work but at the same time I began to appreciate the level of both mysteriousness and realism that she brings to her role.

But I also think that the mysteriousness of Kate works both for and against Jo Van Fleet. On the one hand, she has by far the most interesting character to play – a woman who leaves her husband and her children to open a brothel in another town sounds like a juice and interesting role, that’s for sure. But sadly the movie never truly connects with Kate – she is always an outsider, we hardly learn anything about her and the movie tries to keep as much distance from her as possible while at the same time Jo Van Fleet tries to keep as much distance as possible from the movie. The result is the already mentioned mysteriousness but sadly the movie also dropped everything that could have been interesting about Kate and left Jo Van Fleet with little to do apart from her big scene opposite James Dean.

This doesn’t mean that Jo Van Fleet faced a lost battle – Louise Fletcher was able to make a two-dimensional and distant character fascinating. Jo Van Fleet had some good material but her acting-style is often too distracting. When she lightens a cigarette, she seems to shout: ‘Look at me, I’m a method actor!’ or when she is moving a chair or bows her head to avoid James Dean’s look – it all just screams acting and feels very calculated. Nevertheless, she becomes rather impressive when Caleb asks her about his father and she tells him: ‘I shot him because he tried to stop me. I could have killed him if I wanted to but I didn’t, I just wanted him to let me go… he wanted to bring me up like a kid and tell me what to do, well nobody tells me what to do!’ But her best moment came earlier when she and James Dean are meeting outside and they talk to each other like strangers (which, basically, they are). The way she accepts his presence, laughs at bit, teases him before she ultimately realizes what he really wants is done extremely well – also because her chemistry with James Dean is perfect.

So why this position? Well, somehow what’s so distracting about Jo Van Fleet also works for the character and vice versa. There is something fascinating about Kate but the question is: does this fascination come from the writing or from the acting? I think it’s more the writing but Jo Van Fleet is still an acceptable vessel for Kate’s words. She is also very good when Caleb visits her in the middle of the night and she, unaware of his identity, shouts for her bullies to get him out and then she looks at him through the door with a kind of understanding look, as if she recognized him. Also, she is very touching in her last scene, the way she says ‘Oh, Cal…’.

At the end, the Academy honoured a very good actress, shown by her other two very different and very good performances in the same year.

Number 64: Teresa Wright as Carol Beldon in "Mrs. Miniver" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

In my first ranking, Teresa Wright made it right up to position 55 but now she dropped down a few spots for her simply and lovely performance as the ill-fated Carol, Mrs. Miniver’s daughter-in-law, who lives in an idealized England, full of lovely and nice people who have nothing more to say than ‘May I?’, ‘How kind’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Oh please!’

Teresa Wright is a very natural actress with a lot of personal charm – and it’s mostly this charm that helps her to turn Carol into a very sweet and memorable character. Carol may start out as a fresh and interesting woman but, before you know it, she has been turned into the little wife who fears for the life of her husband during World War II. In this way, Teresa Wright does not play a true character but rather a symbol – Carol seems to stand for all the new young brides who married her love as soon as possible because every day may be the last. In this context, Teresa Wright, despite being charming and lovely, does not really have that much to do apart from either looking happy or worried and the character of Carol might have been more interesting if a less sugar-coated actress had tried a more realistic approach but at the end of the day, Teresa Wright certainly does succeed in her performance.

With her first appearance, Teresa Wright easily lays the foundation for her storyline: she asks Mrs. Miniver to make the man who works at the station to withdraw his rose from a flower contest because Carol’s grandmother also takes part in this contest and isn’t used to competition. Vin Miniver, the son of the Minivers who is just back from Oxford, reacts angrily and accuses Carol of manipulating the contest because she is a member of a better social class. In the following conversation, Teresa Wright easily makes Vin look like a fool without losing her charm or her lively spirit. In this one scene, Teresa Wright has shown that Carol cares very deeply about her grandmother, that she is a lovely young girl – and that she obviously will fall in love with Vin sooner or later.

Unfortunately, Teresa Wright is also an actress who often tends to overdo her expressions – whenever a moment requires a neutral face from her she decides to smile brightly and whenever she is supposed to be a little sad she looks as if somebody just died.

In some ways, Teresa Wright failed to make Carol a truly interesting character – it’s easy to feel sympathy for her and the love story between her and Vin is done as enchanting as possible but, as I said, there is not much to the role except smiles and tears. But, thankfully, Teresa Wright still holds a tight grip to the part and obviously understood her. This is most clear when she is able to show perfectly just the right moment when Carol truly falls in love with Vin and realizes that he is a much more mature character than she had expected – when sirens announce a German attack, Vin immediately starts to take over the situation and even gives orders to Carol’s grandmother. And suddenly, you can see how Carol sees him with different eyes.

Her biggest moment is undoubtedly her speech to her mother-in-law in which she defends her right to be as happy as possible since there could be a lifetime of tears ahead of her.

Teresa Wright does show a woman full of hopes and fears and the performance is extremely easy to like and enjoy and it’s no surprise that she won an Oscar for it but my admiration has cooled down a bit.

Number 65: Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet in "Rosemary's Baby" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

I already showed in my Best Actress Ranking that some performances, no matter how iconic they are, simply don’t do it for me. In the Supporting Actress category, there is probably hardly another performance more iconic than Ruth Gordon’s next-door-witch but as you can see from this ranking, I am not a real admirer. Compared to my old ranking, she got a higher position, but only a few spots…

Ruth Gordon is certainly another member of the ‘I’m glad this actress has an Oscar but why did it have to be for this movie?’ club. First, what bugs me is that her performance and her character are so one-dimensional…I mean, apart from playing an annoying neighbor, what else does she do? There is no depth, no emotion, nothing. At least I would have expected some hidden signs of evil in her character, but not even that (except for her conversation on the phone when she talks to the doctor about Rosemary’s pregnancy and the look on her face when Rosemary tells her that she’s going out can can’t have her drink, but that’s not enough). Ruth Gordon’s own personality and screen-presence make sure that Minnie is as eccentric and weird as possible but underneath all this lays a sadly very empty and unremarkable performance.

It’s mostly the combination of Ruth Gordon’s unusual voice and her costumes that creates Minnie as the well-known character she is. With these assets, she is able to leave an impression and becomes strangely entertaining but, ultimately, her role is really nothing more than an underwritten comic relief since her chances to portray a more sinister side in her character are so limited. It’s really frustrating to watch her, like Lee Grant in Shampoo, give everything for a part that isn’t worth it. I think that the actor who played Minnie’s husband was more successful in creating a character that is both the stereotypical annoying neighbor but also evokes a feeling of insecurity, of danger. It’s a combination that Ruth Gordon missed unfortunately.

It’s certainly an interesting performance and I won’t deny that Ruth Gordon is amusing to watch but there is too much missing in this part for me to give her a better position.

6/28/2011

Number 66: Lee Grant as Felicia Carr in "Shampoo" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

And we have another member of the ‘I’m glad this actress has an Oscar but why did it have to be for this movie?’ club.

In Shampoo, Lee Grant plays Felicia Carr, the bored society wife of a politician and one of the many mistresses of Warren Beatty (I lost track how many times she has sex with him during the movie).

First I want to say the good things about her performance: Lee Grant is a great actress and in Shampoo, you can see how she sinks her teeth into this part. Not a single line seems wasted, she uses every opportunity to shine and command the screen (but in a good way). Of all the women in the movie, she seems to be the only one truly dedicated to her role, trying make as much impression as possible. First, we only hear Felicia while she is having sex with George in a dark bed-room and Lee delivers her lines excellently (‘Could you just move…because that’s…that’s…JESUS CHRIST!…that’s right…’). In a later scene, she has a great emotional moment when she is angry at George and tells him ‘Don’t take up my time because my time is important!…You have no respect for me. You, you, you, you can’t distinguish between me and one of your goddamn Hollywood numbers!’ And then there is her strong final scene at the election party when is she is realizing that her life is slowly falling apart (she seems to lose both her husband and her lover to another woman) and she tells her husband ‘I hope you like Miss Shawn. Because she’s going to be very, very expensive.’ And her final scene, when she is showing her husband the finger, is a great way for the character to leave.

Now the not so good things: Despite the fact that Lee Grant gives all she has in this role, she totally misses what all the others have: charm. Shampoo is a light comedy and Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie and Warren Beatty can make that work, but Lee Grant can’t. Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn also have much more chemistry and screen presence – and, on top of that, better roles that require much more emotional and intellectual acting.

It’s almost thrilling to see Lee Grant take such a throwaway-role and fill it with life but at the same time her combination of missing screen-presence and lack of screen-time make it hard for her to stand out – even in an overall rather lifeless movie like Shampoo. It’s frustrating that Lee Grant, despite all her efforts, remains so incredibly pale – as I said, she tries very hard but can only go so far and, at the end of the day, it seems rather shocking that a majority of Academy members actually thought that this was an Oscar-worthy performance.

An actress with more natural charm and a stronger screen-presence might have done more in this role but ultimately, even the most talented actress could not have overcome the limitations of the script and the part. In this way, Lee Grant did a respactable job – but hardly praiseworthy.

Number 67: Miyoshi Umeki as Katsumi Kelly in "Sayonara" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

When Anthony Quinn announced Miyoshi Umeki as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the audience gasped since Elsa Lanchaster was the clear favourite and also the other three nominees seemed to have better chances. But it was Miyoshi Umeki who took home the Oscar for her very short role as Red Buttons’s suffering wife in Sayonara, a story about love that has to fight intolerance to succeed. I think it can be assumed that both actors, Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki, won their Oscars not so much for their acting but rather for the characters they played and their ultimate tragic fate. Yes, Academy members are sentimental.

But even with this observation, I don’t want to take anything away from Miyoshi Umeki’s performance. She used to have a lower position in my ranking but I ‘upgraded’ her a few spots because I can’t deny that, out of all the elements in Sayonara, she is by far the most memorable – okay, this does not mean a lot since Sayonara is a rather messy film but while the story of forbidden love regarding Marlon Brando does not work, Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki do work.

Miyoshi Umeki has a very small role, maybe fifteen minutes and most of the time she doesn’t say anything and only stands around, being the obedient wife that she is, but she has a simply absolutely adorable screen presence that I always compare with that of Audrey Hepburn. You just have to smile when you see her, her shy behavior, her nervous laugh. As Marlon Brando puts it, ‘She’s just as cute as a bug.’ Of course, I don’t want to give Miyoshi Umeki benefit for being cute – being cute and giving a good performance are certainly two separate shoes but she simply lights up the screen whenever she appears, she is able to evoke an interest in her character, a sympathy and, ultimately, a feeling of great pain. With her unique screen presence, she is able to outshine Marlon Brando and it’s always Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki who make this movie watchable and who are the most interesting characters. Their simple minds and their unquestioning love are heartbreaking.

But the good thing is that Miyoshi Umeki is not only sweet – but also good. It’s clear that if she had been given a better part in which she would have gotten more to do than smile at Red Buttons or Marlon Brando, she would easily have been up to it. But as it is, she was only given a little bit – her few scenes may not be truly remarkable but her combination of screen presence and instincts for her role help to achieve very memorable results. Overall, she has three great scenes: first, when she serves Marlon Brando and Red Buttons with wine before dinner. She doesn’t say much and the scene is surely not very challenging but she is so loveable, so adorable that you immediately fall in love with her. She wins you over in two seconds and so lays the foundation for the plausibility of the love between her and Red Buttons’s character. Later, there is a heartbreaking scene when her husband finds out that she wants to have an operation on her eyes to make her look American. He is furious about her and she cries, sobbing that 'Then I have good eyes. I fool everybody. I look American, like Joe. I want him be proud of me.’ It’s just heartbreaking and Miyoshi is wonderful in this scene. And then, later, they watch a puppet show, where the lovers kill themselves because they can no longer face live. Miyoshi says, moved to tears, ‘It is so beautiful…They will live in another world, on a beautiful lake…floating always together. Like water lilies.’ It’s a banal line but Miyoshi Umeki makes it almost sound like poetry.

So, considering the low position in this ranking, the praise may be a little too much but I just want to explain why I see more to like in this performance than most other people do. Yes, it’s almost nothing she has to do – but the little she has to do is realized beautifully.

Number 68: Helen Hayes as Ada Quonsett in "Airport" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Helen Hayes, the ‘First Lady of the American Theatre’ won her second Oscar for her funny performance as Ada Quonsett, a loveable old stowaway on a plane with serious troubles in the blockbuster Airport.

Helen Hayes’s performance is one of those cases when a supporting player saves a whole movie from failing completely. Airport is a disaster flick that wants to see itself as a serious character study and while Van Heflin and Maureen Stapleton give impressive dramatic performances, it’s Helen Hayes who gives the movie some much-needed humour. The scene when she first enters the screen, with a friendly smile on her face, is a comedy highlight alone because we surely didn’t expect the stowaway to be a little old lady. The following scene, when she explains how she gets aboard, is also priceless. The way she talks with Burt Lancaster is just hilarious: the way she is certain that she won’t be punished because ‘it wouldn’t be good publicity for an airline to prosecute a little old lady just because she wanted to visit her daughter.’ Or the following scene when she wants to get into the Commander’s Club with the card of another woman. Later on the plane, Helen Hayes can show more talent for comedy and who can’t love her at the end whenshe tries to walk away in another woman’s coat.

Yes, it’s a very memorable performance that is also very easy to love – but at the same time, it’s a little hard to respect her. Most of the humour comes from the fact that Helen Hayes is a loveable old lady doing things we wouldn’t expect a loveable old lady to do. The scene when she fakes a faintness to get rid of her guardian is also a little too much and maybe somebody should have told Helen Hayes to not distort her face so many times – at various moments, Helen Hayes lets it become too obvious that she is playing for the camera and constantly winking at the audience to love her for being so loveable and funny. This works to an extent, especially because Airport is the kind of movie that benefits from this kind of performance, but it’s not necessarily a towering achievement in acting.

So, it’s a nice and charming performance by Helen Hayes that gets as much benefit from me as possible for breathing life into Airport every time she appears but this appreciation can only go so far considering the overall acting quality and role.

6/27/2011

Number 69: Melissa Leo as Alice Ward in "The Fighter" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

It’s always very hard to judge the most recent winner – especially today when you have so many awards, web sites etc that cover all performances and make you form an opinion about a specific piece of work before you have even seen it. In the case of Melissa Leo, I expected a lot – her sweep of the pre-Oscar awards, her reviews and everything else indicated a great performance. Well…as you can see, I have to disagree here.

In The Fighter, Melissa Leo plays Alice Ward – the tough, ambitious and controlling mother of Micky and Dicky, two brothers with different careers in the boxing ring. Alice Ward is the kind of mother we already know from other movies – she is not only a mother but also a manager, she tries to get her sons ahead while controlling every single aspect of their life. It’s the kind of character that makes it easy to root against but in the end, there is almost always an obligatory scene with some tears when we learn that everything she does is out of love.

The reason why this performance did not work for me is a combination of various elements – on the one hand, she is too over-the-top in a lot of scenes (the scene with her throwing the plates…I thought this kind of acting had died with Susan Hayward) or completely uninteresting in the others. She establishes her character extremely one-note right in the beginning and she stays on that note for the whole movie. There is a scene at the beginning when she is crying in a car, disappointed by the behaviour of her son Dicky. But this scene comes much too sudden because before this moment Melissa Leo failed to establish any kind of emotional chemistry with her male co-stars and so what could have been a moving and effective scene only felt out-of-place in the context of the movie and the character of Alice.

But even though Melissa Leo does not really work very well with her co-stars in the beginning, the chemistry among the cast improves as the movie goes on. In the later scenes, she develops a believable relationship with Christian Bale and both actors succeed in using a similar acting style that creates a believable mother-son-relationship.

But most of the time, Melissa Leo simply fails to impress because the character is put into so many hard-to-buy situations. Her conversation with Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg is done so annoyingly, her big eyes when she first learns about Amy’s character are so exaggerated, the scene when she drives to Micky’s house with her 5000 daughters is so silly. Not even a few more serious looks during the whole proceedings can save this performance – on the contrary, they rather look like a desperate attempt by Melissa Leo to keep herself from crossing the line from character to caricature but, unfortunately, she crosses this line too often.

A sometimes entertaining piece of work that failed to impress me in most parts.

Number 70: Ethel Barrymore as Ma Mott in "None but the lonely Heart" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

In my initial ranking of the winners in this category, Ethel Barrymore made it up to position 53 but like Mary Astor, she, too, has gone down a few places now.

Considering that Ethel Barrymore is called one of the greatest American actresses, I find her work in movies very…limited. She basically uses the same acting style in every role she takes – a knowing smile, her head lowered to the front, a slightly sarcastic line-delivery. All this works and I have never seen a bad performance by this actress – but she doesn’t exactly blow me away either.

In None but the lonely Heart she played the strong, bitter but ultimately loving mother of good-for-nothing Cary Grant. None but the lonely Heart is an extremely dated motion picture – the kind of movie that probably was hailed as very realistic in the 40s but leaves a rather bad taste today. Cary Grant played his part with charm and ease but ultimately he was much better suited for the kind of roles he is mostly known for – elegant comedy. Ethel Barrymore is probably the best player in this tale and it’s not hard to see why the Academy honoured her – her controlled and grim performance fits the movie and dominates it at the same time. But, as I said, for me, it feels too dated and too limited to be truly effective.

We first meet Ma Mott when her son comes home again and you immediately realize that there is not much love between them. Ma Mott says to her son (after slapping him): “I don’t get more respect from you than from that father of yours” and then she tells him “Stay or go!” Later, we find out that Ma Mott is seriously ill and that there may not be much more time – but she is too proud to tell her son. But he does find out anyway and decides to stay with her and help her. Now we can see how the two of them start to like each other and begin getting along.

It’s a role that allows Ethel Barrymore to show everything that actors can dream of – anger, frustration, fear, love, happiness, desperation. But in combination with Ethel Barrymore’s acting style, it all lacks life, energy and almost every interesting aspect. But she shines whenever she lets the viewer see that underneath her grim face is actually love and she is also very impressive when she tries to hide her pain from her son – Ethel Barrymore makes Ma Mott an exhausted woman, who never had an easy life and who is always worried about the things around her. And so she ended up as this bitter, no-nonsense woman who doesn’t know what the future will bring.

Ethel Barrymore is not bad, definitely not. But it’s the kind of performance that you most likely feel ‘neutral’ about – not bad but not exactly great either and not a performance you would want to watch again.

Number 71: Shelley Winters as Rose-Ann D'Arcy in "A Patch of Blue" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

While all the other acting categories have a good share of two-time winners, there are only two women who have won two Supporting Actress Oscars. Shelley Winters became the first women to do so when she won her second Oscar for her portrayal of Rose-Ann D’Arcy, a loud, vulgar and disgusting racist who treats her blind daughter Selina (whom she blinded herself by accident) like a slave, beating her at every possible situation. To see a character like this awarded by the Academy seems rather surprising but the weakness of the category that year and Shelley Winters’s popularity as an actress probably helped her to take home the Oscar. And, of course, as Mo’nique has shown last year, the character of a brutal and violent mother seems to have some sort of fascination for the Academy. I don’t want to comment on Mo’nique now but as you can already see, my level of fascination for the performance by Shelley Winters is rather low.

A Patch of Blue works like a fairy-tale, with a poor princess who is badly treated by her evil step-mother (only in this case, it’s her actual mother) and waits to be saved by a white knight (only in this case, the knight is black). In this context, Shelley Winters performance works because she is pure evil: full of hate and anger without a single redeeming feature. When we hear her footsteps outside the apartment, we feel just as scared as Selina (Elizabeth Hartman in an incredible beautiful and touching performance that should have won the Oscar). Shelley Winters is also very effective when she screams and shouts at her or even slaps her. Yes, she is the evil mother from a fairy tale and we have no sympathy for her.

Shelley Winters herself said that she hated the character and didn’t understand her. The Academy was probably very impressed that, despite her hate for the character, Shelley Winters was still able to make her so effective and seriously scary. But my personal problem is that Shelley Winters took a too easy way to play Rose-Ann. She didn’t understand the character and it’s very obvious from the way she plays her, that she didn’t even try. Instead of trying to go really into the part and give Rose-Ann some depths and maybe an explanation for her character (In one scene, she manipulates her father against Selina with a totally evil look. Why does she do that to her own daughter???), she decided to simply make her as loud and bad as possible, simply working on the outside instead of the inside. Because of that, it’s a totally two-dimensional performance in which Shelley Winters constantly gets the opportunity to scream at the top of her lungs. But what Shelley Winters did, too, is to turn Rose-Ann into a total cartoon character, a caricature. Of course, the script does so, too. Shelley is given lines like ‘Answer me or would you like a slug in the puss?’ or ‘Can you believe it? After the smack-around I gave her last night?’. Only at the end, Shelley seems to show some feelings for her daughter or when Selina throws up in the apartment, she tells her with a caring voice “Stop that. Stop it, Selina!”

It’s a very confusing performance for me. On the one hand, I love the movie itself and the performance by Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters always holds her own against her and never feels out-of-place in the story. Just like Jane Fonda in Coming Home or Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur, Shelley Winters’s performance feels perfectly fine while you’re watching the movie but becomes shockingly lacking by further attention. I won’t deny that she contributes to the movie – a movie which is for me absolutely wonderful but I think her contribution only happens in the limited possibilities of her part. She is so effective because she is so limited – but this doesn’t make Shelley Winter’s acting impressive.

In the end, her performance works as the evil villain who is a total contrast to the saint-like Sidney Poitier, but it’s too little to compete with the other performances in this ranking.

Number 72: Margaret Rutherford as The Duchess of Brighton in "The V.I.P.s" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Here, we have another member of the 'I’m glad that this actress has an Oscar but why did it have to be for this movie?' club.

Margaret Rutherford will always be remembered for her work as Miss Marple, but she was more than that: a great character actress!

In The V.I.P.s, she is able to show her talent for comedy and also gets some more serious moments and it’s obvious in every single scene of her appearance that you are watching a great talent but this great talent is never really allowed to shine since her part is so underwritten and one-dimensional that it enabled Margaret Rutherford only to impress a little before pulling her back again. I think that she owes her Oscar to the fact that she was competing in a very weak year and that the members of the Academy wanted to appreciate her for stealing the whole movie from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Personally, I think that it was Maggie Smith who stole the movie but I can understand why Academy members would think differently.

Margaret Rutherford played The Duchess of Brighton, an old, loveable but also often confused lady who wants to travel to America because she has to work to keep her home, a big old English castle. As I said, my problem with this performance is basically the writing – I constantly have the feeling that someone was reading the script and thought ‘Mmh, let’s throw in some old lady for laughs. Hey you, write the part and bring it to me in 5 minutes.’ It could have very well happened that way. The character appears every twenty minutes or so, acts a little confused for two minutes and leaves again. Don’t get me wrong, Miss Rutherford plays this very well and gets laughs out of a nothing-script. The way she always takes pills that are either supposed to keep her awake or make her asleep give you a big smile on your face (she once says ‘I shall clearly arrive in Florida in an advanced state of drug addiction.’) and you also have to love her when she is putting an arrogant Stewardess in her place or when she is asked to fasten her seatbelt, and she says ‘I haven’t brought a seatbelt with me!’ Yes, these moments are able to entertain but the character of the Duchess is basically forgotten before she even leaves the scene – it’s comic relief on a very low level. On the one hand, Margaret Rutherford succeeds as a comic relief because she does provide some laughs in an otherwise dreary movie but these laughs come at the expense of her whole character which is so paper-thin that it becomes impossible for her to become a real, believable human being. But thankfully Margaret Rutherford is also given a more touching, quiet scene when she talks about her home in England and later, when she finds a way to save her home without having to go to America. These two scenes show that Margaret Rutherford could handle drama just as well as comedy – but in The V.I.P.s, it’s all too shallow and superficial. A thin role like this, put in a movie for some new energy and some laughs, needs to be much more memorably played and executed to really impress.

So, I have to say that Miss Rutherford surely makes the most of her role and I don’t want to deny her charm, talent and screen presence but at the end of the day it’s just a role that is too undemanding and underdeveloped.

6/22/2011

Number 73: Mary Astor as Sandra Kovak in "The Great Lie" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

The first time I ranked all the winners in this category, Mary Astor made it to position number 58 but this time I was less generous. The last time I appreciated a certain level of entertainment that she showed in her role but this time I found myself only being distracted by her over-the-top acting that consisted mostly of camp effects than anything else.

In The Great Lie, Mary Astor played Sandra Kovak, a famous pianist, a temperamental diva – and the secret mother of Pete Van Allen’s (Bette Davis’s husband) baby. The Great Lie is one of those typical, melodramatic movies from the 40s – in fact, even worse and only the involvement of actresses like Bette Davis and Mary Astor helped to get this picture some serious reputation. But even those two actresses aren’t able to turn The Great Lie into something better. I admit that the movie does entertain – it’s the kind of movie that makes Bette Davis-fans scream with joy while all fans of old Hollywood movie-acting also won’t be disappointed. It’s a two-hour-long bitch-fight between two skilled actresses – surely more than enough people are willing to love this movie just for this. But I am not among them.

The Great Lie is full of clichés and unbelievable over-the-top moments. And Mary Astor’s performance fits very well in the context of the movie – over the top and unbelievable. In her first scene we see her in full diva mode – complaining about everything, slapping her servants and acting superior to everyone around her. Sorry, but Mary Astor is not the kind of woman to pull that off – there are actresses who are believable as a diva, but Mary Astor simply misses that certain quality. In her performance, it all comes actress as pretentious and somewhat laughable.

She is always better whenever the movie doesn’t force her into this kind of performance – in her more quiet moments, she is able to communicate her character’s feelings and thoughts much more effectively than in any loud, over-the-top scene. She does have a great moment when she looks at the pictures of her child but she lets it go so quickly that all the effect is ruined before it truly started.

Her biggest success and probably the reason why the movie achieves a level of entertainment is her chemistry with Bette Davis – her acting choices may too often be exaggerated but these two actresses still know how to work together. A rather astonishing fact is that Mary Astor was not overshadowed by Bette Davis – but the reason is less Mary Astor but rather Bette Davis who is surprisingly pale and boring as the loving wife. Mary Astor has the juicier part, that’s for sure, but she, too, suffers from a lack of screen presence and rather negligible acting.

What is probably the movie’s highpoint is unfortunately also Mary Astor’s low point – her scenes with Bette Davis in a little cabin in the desert where Sandra is supposed to have the baby that the other woman will raise as her own. Mary Astor’s failed attempts to portray a true diva become very noticeable here – her constant complaining, her behaviour that changes all the time from grown woman to little child and especially her
incredibly over-the-top screaming scene are a complete failure. Again, I won’t deny that Mary Astor’s performance works extremely well in the context of the whole movie – but that theatrical, over-the-top style is just not for me, especially when that’s all the actress has to do. There is no real character, no real emotion, it’s mostly just being a bitch.

It’s a thankless part that Mary Astor tried too hard to fill with life – but some successful line deliveries to Bette Davis or some more powerful quiet moments can’t make up for all the over-the-top choices she did in The Great Lie.

Number 74: Ingrid Bergman as Greta Ohlsson in "Murder on the Orient-Express" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

As Katharine Hepburn once said, all the right actors win Oscar, but for the wrong roles. For most people, Ingrid Bergman is the best example for this since none of her three Oscar wins seem universally loved. Her most controversial win was for Supporting Actress.

Ingrid Bergman plays Greta Ohlsson, a simple-minded (or as she says it: “born backwards”) nurse who is one of the suspects in a murder case on the Orient Express.
I have to confess that I am torn when it comes to this performance – on the one hand I like what Ingrid Bergman did here and I think she is by far the most memorable cast member but on the other hand I also realize how little she actually gets to do and how she is trying to hide this behind certain gimmicks in her performance. I do like that she brought some complexity to her part during her five-minute scene and that she shows how much Greta is actually hiding inside but at the same time – acting choices like looking desperate when Poitot asks her about her time in America or scared when he asks her why she is making this trip don’t really need much time to be thought-out and would also probably be made by an acting student in her first semester.

I confess – her performance works. When she suddenly begins to cry because of her non-religious parents or moves her head away, hunted by her memories when Poirot accuses her touch me deeply. But at the same time I just can’t help and think ‘Really? That’s it?`

I think that Ingrid Bergman succeeded where Gloria Grahame failed – she turned her nothing role into a kind of scene-stealer but the level of success is still so incredibly low that it’s very easy to praise her even though she didn’t really do anything. The awful truth is that the part of Greta Ohlsson is a big ‘nothing’ that was only turned memorable by Ingrid Bergman’s tics and mannerisms – or, as would probably be a better word, gimmicks. So, in the end, I have to ask myself: did she fool me with these gimmicks? Did her awkward smile, her stutter or her accent really fool me so much that I saw things in a performance that weren’t there? Well, I hope not – I may like this performance but as you can see from the position in this ranking that still does not mean that I appreciate it very highly.

It’s a very interesting approach by Miss Bergman and I applaud her for not failing completely but again – how could she fail when her role didn’t ask anything from her?

Number 75: Gloria Grahame as Rosemary Bartlow in "The Bad and the Beautiful" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Gloria Grahame is the first member of a club that I like to call ‘I’m glad this actress has an Oscar but why did it have to be for this movie?’

Well, the fact that she had been in three big movies that year, The Bad and the Beautiful (winner of 5 Oscars, including Miss Grahame herself), Sudden Fear (nominated for Best Actress: Joan Crawford) and The Greatest Show on Earth (winner of the Award for Best Picture) definitely helped her to take the Oscar home. But still – a combination of a couple of good performances should not be enough to win an Oscar if none of those performances would be worth it alone. She would even have been more deserving for The Greatest Show on Earth – the problem with her work in The Bad and the Beautiful is not that Gloria Grahame is bad but rather the fact that her part is so incredibly negligible without any highlight in any sense that it’s shocking that enough Academy members even remembered her in this.

In The Bad and the Beautiful, Gloria Graham plays the bored, southern-belle wife of a successful author who wants nothing more than a trip to Hollywood and some excitement. The movie tells three stories from three points of views. The first one from the point of a director, the second from the point of an actress and the third from the point of a writer. Since Gloria Grahame plays the wife of this writer, her character doesn’t enter the movie until the third story, that means her first appearance comes about 80 minutes after the movie started and about ten minutes later she’s already gone again. I know that this is the supporting category and size does not matter but what does matter is quality and you simply won’t find it here.

During her ten minutes on the screen, Gloria Grahame gives, no doubt about that, an entertaining performance. Each time her husband sits down to start to write something, she comes in and disturbs him. She’s a charming little creature and I actually give Miss Grahame some credit for making Rosemarie so charming because she is actually very annoying. At the same time it’s hard to believe that her husband would actually accept all her behaviours and characteristics – the chemistry between the two actors is unfortunately non-existent.

At a lot of moments, Gloria Grahame also seems lost with the type of roles she plays – the man-hungry, lusty but at the same time conventional and devoted Southern bell-wife is a character that can’t work in such a short time and it’s obvious from the writing that nobody ever expected her to work. Gloria Grahame herself adds to these misfires by lacking too much personality in this role – her line-delivery is probably supposed to be cute but she too often sounds as if she is reading from a teleprompter.

It’s a nothing-role that probably wouldn’t have allowed any actress to impress – and that’s why it’s simply impossible to connect this performance with the word ‘Oscar'. She finds some good moments, like her child-like excitement when she sees film star Lana Turner in the bungalow next door and her last scene is also quite good, when she and her husband are having a fight and she tells him: ‘James Lee Bartlow, you take a good look at yourself in that mirror. You’ve changed since you’ve come to Hollywood, and I don’t mind telling you, it’s no chance for the better.’ But…one line is just not enough.

Gloria Grahame is neither a scene-stealer nor is her character an unforgettable creations – at the end of the movie, you have probably forgotten her again. I feel sorry for putting this talented actress at the last place but it’s just not possible to come up with even one reason why this is an Oscar-worthy performance.

6/21/2011

My Ranking of all Best Supporting Actress winners


Well, time to move on...with my personal ranking of all supporting actress winners. I have to warn you right now that my taste in this category is, in some parts, rather different from the usual opinions so prepare for some rather unpopular choices...

Here are the ladies wating to be ranked:

Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse (1936)
Alice Brady in In Old Chicago (1937)
Fay Btainer in Jezebel (1938)
Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Mary Astor in The Geat Lie (1941)
Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Katina Paxinou in For Whom the Bell tolls (1943)
Ethel Barrymore in None but the lonely Heart (1944)
Anne Revere in National Velvet (1945)
Anne Baxter in The Razor's Edge (1946)
Celeste Holm in Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Claire Trevor in Key Largo (1948)
Mercedes McCambridge in All the King's Men (1949)
Josephine Hull in Harvey (1950)
Kim Hunter in A Streetcar named Desire (1951)
Gloria Grahame in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity (1953)
Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront (1954)
Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden (1955)
Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind (1956)
Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara (1957)
Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables (1958)
Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry (1960)
Rita Moreno in West Side Story (1961)
Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (1962)
Margaret Rutherford in The V.I.P.s (1963)
Lila Kedrova in Zorba, the Greek (1964)
Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue (1965)
Sandy Dennis in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Estelle Parsons in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower (1969)
Helen Hayes in Airport (1970)
Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show (1971)
Eileen Heckart in Butterflies are Free (1972)
Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (1973)
Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient-Express (1974)
Lee Grant in Shampoo (1975)
Beatrice Straight in Network (1976)
Vanessa Redgrave in Julia (1977)
Maggie Smith in California Suite (1978)
Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Mary Steenburghen in Melvin and Howard (1980)
Maureen Stapleton in Reds (1981)
Jessica Lange in Tootsie (1982)
Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously (1983)
Peggy Ashcroft in A Passage to India (1984)
Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor (1985)
Dianne Wiest in Hannah and her Sisters (1986)
Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck (1987)
Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist (1988)
Brenda Fricker in My Left Foot (1989)
Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost (1990)
Mercedes Ruehl in The Fisher King (1991)
Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Anna Paquin in The Piano (993)
Dianne Wiest in Bullets over Broadway (1994)
Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Juliette Binoche in The English Patient (1996)
Kim Basinger in L.A., Confidential (1997)
Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock (2000)
Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago (2002)
Renée Zellweger in Cold Mountain (2003)
Cate Blanchett in The Aviator (2004)
Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener (2005)
Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls (2006)
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (2007)
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)
Mo'Nique in Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009)
Melissa Leo in The Fighter (2010)

6/20/2011

Here they are once again...


So, all the movies have been ranked. Once again, here they are:

83. Cavalcade
82. Cimarron
81. Rain Man
80. Going my Way
79. The Broadway Melody
78. The Greatest Show on Earth
77. Terms of Endearment
76. Forrest Gump
75. Grand Hotel
74. Gladiator
73. Rocky
72. A Beautiful Mind
71. Chariots of Fire
70. Crash
69. Braveheart
68. Patton
67. The Sound of Music
66. Around the World in 80 Days
65. Kramer vs. Kramer
64. Marty
63. Mrs. Miniver
62. Gentleman's Agreement
61. The Sting
60. Driving Miss Daisy
59. The Great Ziegfeld
58. Tom Jones
57. An American in Paris
56. A Man for all Seasons
55. The Lost Weekend
54. The French Connection
53. Ben-Hur
52. The Life of Emile Zola
51. Gigi
50. Out of Africa
49. You Can't Take it With You
48. Slumdog Millionaire
47. Wings
46. In the Heat of the Night
45. Dances with Wolves
44. The Departed
43. Mutiny on the Bounty
42. The King's Speech
41. Titanic
40. How Green was my Valley
39. Oliver!
38. Ordinary People
37. Platoon
36. Hamlet
35. All the King's Men
34. My Fair Lady
33. No Country for Old Men
32. Million Dollar Baby
31. From Here to Eternity
30. The Deer Hunter
29. The Best Years of our Lives
28. Chicago
27. The Last Emperor
26. All about Eve
25. Gandhi
24. On the Waterfront
23. The Hurt Locker
22. It happened one Night
21. West Side Story
20. The Silence of the Lambs
19. One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
18. Shakespeare in Love
17. The Apartment
16. Unforgiven
15. The Bridge on the River Kwai
14. Midnight Cowboy
13. Annie Hall
12. Rebecca
11. Amadeus
10. American Beauty
09. Casablanca
08. Schindler's List
07. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
06. Lawrence of Arabia
05. The Godfather: Part II
04. Gone with the Wind
03. All Quiet on the Western Front
02. The Godfather
01. The English Patient


And that's it!


Well, that was it. 

To be honest, I was very hesistant at first to do this ranking because I knew how controversial my number 1 would be. But, after all, it's my blog and if you disagree with my ranking I hope that I have encouraged you to publish one yourself! 

I hope you all had fun following my ranking. I know that it took me a lot of time but I am very busy at the moment so I didn't have much time to do it. I hope I will be a little faster from now on.

Of course, I want to thank all you guys for commenting on my ranking - without you, it would only have been half as much fun!!!

Number 01: The English Patient (Best Picture Ranking)

Don’t rub your eyes, you’re seeing right: The English Patient is my number 1. And I am very well aware how unpopular this choices is. It’s the only winner in this category that has a whole sitcom-episode dedicated to the hate towards it. Complains come from all directions – it shouldn’t have won over Fargo, it’s boring, long, sleep-causing etc…Well, what can I say? For me, it’s simply the most perfect movie in this ranking that is also able to touch me more deeply than any other winner in this category. Unlike The Apartment or Annie Hall, I also didn’t need time to develop this love – even when I was still young I already admired this movie more than anyone I had ever seen. From the first moment Márta Sebestyén’s beautiful voice fills the screen and slowly changes into what I consider the best soundtrack of all time, I am overwhelmed, lost, captured in the world created by Anthony Minghella.

I don’t want to use this review to defend my opinion since I know that I will not convince anyone anyhow so I just want to stand up and declare: My name is Fritz and I love The English Patient. Boy, that felt good! I think that it’s very hard to explain why a certain movie is your favorite. I mean, I can praise the performances, the technical values, the script and the direction but it’s more than all these components that make it my number 1. Somehow, this movie is able to connect with me on a level the others couldn’t. The last 30 minutes have me in tears basically non-stop but The English Patient is a movie that doesn’t only make me cry by the tragic of the story but also simply by its beauty, its perfection and its overwhelming magnificence.

The performances here are all top-notch. Ralph Fiennes is an unlikely romantic hero and his character is an even more unlikely romantic hero but it works because The English Patient isn’t about a teenage romance but about an adulterous affair between two grown-up people who are very well aware of their doings and who cannot seem to explain their attraction to each other any more than Minghella can. The English Patient doesn’t give any reason for the affair and while most others tend to criticize it for this, I don’t really need an explanation – there is an obvious attraction between these two characters but why they fall in love will be their secret forever. Kristin Scott-Thomas is perfect as a woman who seems to be both out of ice and out fire. Juliette Binoche is outstanding as the caring nurse while Willem Defoe, Naveen Andrews and Colin Firth provide wonderful support.

As you see, I love the cast but I would never call it the best ensemble ever – so the cast alone can’t explain the number 1. There is also the story they play – the complex love affair, a story of betrayal and friendship, of war and peace. All characters seem to be lost while looking for something or someone to help them. Maybe I love this movie so much because I get so easily involved into the misery of tragic characters…who knows. I already said that Yared’s score is my favorite of all time but I think it deserves a second mention. His compositions are so peaceful but also so powerful and perfectly accompany the structure of the story. The cinematography…well, who could forget these images? Two flying planes, Juliette Binoche looking at the pictures in the church, the apparently never-ending desert. No other movie in this line-up is able to win me over with its beauty in the same way as The English Patient.

But it’s not just the beauty of it. I don’t want to be that shallow when I pick my number 1. It’s also what is hidden inside – as I said, the tragedy of the story, the fate of all the characters, involves me so much that I can forget everything else. The English Patient is probably not a perfect film from most point-of-views but it is from mine. Even more than perfect. Like the performances of Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves or Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, The English Patient leaves me almost feeling empty because every emotion inside of me seems to have been used up during the run of the movie. If a movie has a power to touch me so strongly while also being such a complex and deep drama with so much beauty to cherish and so much poetry to discover, then this is my number 1.

I don’t think that anymore words are necessary here – it’s not possible for me to put my feelings about this movie into words anyway. I just hope you are able to accept this as my number 1.

Number 02: The Godfather (Best Picture Ranking)

By now, it’s almost a cliché to call The Godfather one of the greatest movies of all time, but if the shoe fits…

The Godfather, or course, tells the story of the Corleone family and their involvement in the world of organized crime. It’s the kind of movie that everyone seems to know even if they haven’t seen it yet. Marlon Brando’s legendary performance, the head in the bed or the final shot have all become part of cinema history by now. And why not? The Godfather is just as good as it reputations claims it to be – and even better. It’s a wonderful example for perfect storytelling, character development, for the right balance between tension and peace.

The cast of The Godfather surely plays an important part in the movie’s greatness. Marlon Brando won an Oscar for his ultimate portrayal of the Don – it’s maybe not his greatest performance as an actor but it’s hard to deny the powerful impact he leaves on this movie. Al Pacino is the real leading character of the story as Michael, the young man who slowly gets drawn into the family – it’s an outstanding performance that doesn’t need to hide itself behind his works two years later. Robert Duvall gives the right amount of quietness to his part while James Caan burns up the screen as the hot-headed of the brothers. Talia Shire gets some impressive moments as the sister and Diane Keaton beautifully shows the innocence of her character.

What makes The Godfather such a masterpiece is the outstanding combination of actors, screenplay, direction and, of course, the score which results in a movie that somehow seems like a cliché about the mafia as we expect it but at the same time goes much deeper and constantly redefines our expectations.

The Godfather moves along with the right tempo, combining quiet but very tense moments like the opening scene with shots of violence or domestic abuse in the most effective way. It’s not only a typical gangster movie but instead presents very realistic and believable characters that are allowed to develop and present themselves constantly in a different light. The Godfather actually involves the viewer into the life, the dreams, the hopes and the plans of these characters.

I think I don't need to say anymore since I am sure everybody can perfectly understand my appreciation for this masterpiece.

Number 03: All Quiet on the Western Front (Best Picture Ranking)

When I started this ranking, I had little doubt that Gone with the Wind would be my number 1 movie from the 30s. But one of the last movies I saw was All Quiet on the Western Front and suddenly Gone with the Wind dropped to number 2. Personally, I was not expecting to be blown away like this by this anti-war movie from the early 30s but I was!

It seems almost strange to watch an anti-war movie that was made before World War II but I think the fact that this movie was made before the Nazis came to power helped to make this a very balanced movie that treats its German characters with the same respect that American characters would receive since after World War II, even movies about World War I seem to turn Germany into Nazi-land: The prequel.

Of course, the question is: could it be that I only appreciate this movie this much because of the German characters and the German point-of-view? But I strongly doubt it because I never even thought about nationality while watching this movie which is probably the biggest compliment I can give it at the same time – it’s a story that isn’t about nations, it’s about the horror of war and how propaganda turns even the most intelligent men into blind servants of death. Yes, All Quiet on the Western Front cannot hide its age but considering that only two years prior the Academy honored movies like The Broadway Melody or Coquette, makes this movie only even more impressive.

It’s hard to describe what it is about All Quiet on the Western Front that made it reach number 3 in my ranking. I think it’s the simple fact that no other anti-war movie has ever shattered me as much as this one. I think the reason for this is the way that the central characters are presented – how they are blinded at school by their fanatic teacher who bullies them into fighting for their country and learn at the first day at the front that reality is very different. It’s their fight for something to eat, their fear of death, their naivety compared to the experience of the men who are already at the front that really creates the strength of the movie. The sequence that shows a pair of boots that go from one killed soldier to the next is especially unforgettable. It’s the desperation that dominates the lives of these kids that turns All Quiet on the Western Front into one of the most haunting movies in history – the image of Paul, the central character of the story, praying besides the deathbed of his friend Kemmerich, telling God that Kemmerich doesn’t want to die is absolutely heartbreaking.

The battle sequences of this movie are also first-class in their technical execution and devastating in their message. The fight scenes at the graveyard are horrifying but even more so is the scene of Paul being trapped together with a French soldier whom he has mortally wounded. The soldiers is slowly dying next to Paul who is almost going insane with guilt and grief. But the movie also captures some quiet moments that are just as powerful – when Paul meets a French girl and goes to her home with her, we don’t need to see some sex scene as we would probably today; the shot of some shadows and the voices of Paul and the girl are enough and create a scene that is much more memorable than anything more ‘obvious’ could have been.

All Quiet on the Western Front is as powerful as a movie can be and it does not only focus on the horror of the war at the front but also the horror of the war at home – when Paul comes home and sees his old teacher trying to convince other boys to go to war it becomes clear to him and the viewers that there will be no end to this senseless killing. The final image of the movie shows the mass graves where Europe’s countries bury their future. 

All Quiet on the Western Front seems to be both a classic but also a rather forgotten movie but I happily discovered it as one of the most powerful statements against war ever made.

Number 04: Gone with the Wind (Best Picture Ranking)

Well…what can there be said? Probably not only the most famous movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture but quite simply the most famous movie of all time, Gone with the Wind is considered the ultimate Hollywood masterpiece, the crowning achievement of what is considered to be the ‘Golden year of American cinema’, 1939. And you know what – it’s true.

A movie with such a high reputation as Gone with the Wind should normally not be able to live up to it, but Gone with the Wind miraculously does. It could be easily dismissed as a long soap-opera or as an expensive ‘woman-picture’ but it’s quite simply one of the most amazing epics that ever hit the screen while also being a surprising character-study about the will to survive and to get ahead.

First of all, what about all the criticism that Gone with the Wind receives? A point that is often mentioned is its presentation of black characters. Well, personally, I think that Gone with the Wind presents its black characters just as what they are during the time the movie is set – slaves. I don’t expect these characters to be highly intelligent or the center of attention since they are slaves and surely never had an education. The character or Prissy might be offensive to someone but I don’t truly see her as a symbol for every black character back then but instead rather as one single character who simply happened to be like this. And even if you’re upset about Prissy, then there is still the character of Mammy who is much more developed than you would expect and Hattie McDaniel’s wonderful portrayal turns her into one of the most memorable characters of the movie. Another often negatively mentioned point against Gone with the Wind is its too romantic presentation of the South in general – well, I am not an expert in American history so I guess that some things are true and some are exaggerated but, after all, this is a movie from a Southern point-of-view. And during Gone with the Wind, I never have the feeling that the movie is trying to tell its audience that everything used to be better back then and that the South is something noble to die for – instead, it seems more like a general portrayal of characters who have to accept the change around them, who go from rich to poor and have to learn how to fight to survive.

So, now to the good. Where can one start? Well, I guess the only place to start is Vivien Leigh. The sheer fact that the producers back then actually searched so long for the right actress and then decided that an unknown British actress would be the best choice to play the Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara is probably one of the luckiest incidents in movie history as it gave way to the greatest match of actress and character in movie history. If ever anyone was truly born to play a role, it was Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. End of story. No more words necessary.

But even though  Vivien Leigh carries this epic on her shoulders, Gone with the Wind gives much more actors the chance to shine. Clark Gable couldn’t be more perfect as Rhett Buttler while Olivia de Havilland gives much more complexity to her saintly Melanie than immediately noticeable. Leslie Howard is often considered the weak link of the cast and while it can be agreed that it’s hard to believe that Vivien Leigh would lust for this guy, he still gives a very competent and satisfying performance.

All the technical values of Gone with the Wind are perfect, too, and it’s a shame that there hadn’t been an Oscar for Costume Design yet because Scarlett’s gowns alone would have been worth the prize. It’s no surprise that Gone with the Wind so completely swept the awards that year.

Gone with the Wind combines so much that it remains fascinating from minute 1 to minute 200. It’s a love story, a story of greed and selflessness, of growing up and starting anew. From the first moment that Max Steiner’s legendary score opens the movie you know that you are watching Hollywood magic. So many scenes stand out – Scarlett dancing in her black dress, the escape from Atlanta, ‘As God is my witness’, ‘Frankly, my dear’ and so much more…my personal favorite is probably the scene when war is declared and everyone at Twelve Oaks is running down the stairs – only Scarlett is walking up, not caring about politics, alone in her thoughts.

Well, I want to keep my review short for now and I guess that it is not really necessary to say anything more about a movies as famous as this one.

Number 05: The Godfather: Part II (Best Picture Ranking)

The eternal question among movie fans seems to be: The Godfather or The Godfather Part II? As you can see, my answer would be The Godfather but considering that the sequel is also in my Top 5 in this ranking, both movies can consider themselves to be among the greatest ever (at least in my opinion).

The brilliance of The Godfather Part II lies in its mixture of two major storylines – one of Michael Corleone and his actions as head of ‘the family’ and a flashback that tells how his father, Vito Corleone, came to New York and founded the Corleone crime family. Each story itself does not reach the same level of excellence that the plot of The Godfather reached but every time one of the story is in danger of losing some of its brilliance, The Godfather Part II changes its focus to the other story and captivates the viewer once again.

Personally, I prefer the plot concerning Michael Corleone a little bit more since it is an amazing display of the power of money and corruption, of questions regarding morality, loyalty, love and friendship and because Al Pacino gives a stunning performances for the ages that is completely deserving of its legendary status. But, of course, the cast around him does incredible work, too. Diane Keaton gives an unforgettable supporting performance and her confrontation scene with Al Pacino regarding her pregnancy is maybe the finest moment of the whole movie. Talia Shire got an Oscar nomination for her small role as Michael’s sister and while it can be argued if she was really worth that nomination, her plea for Michael’s brother Fredo is a very moving and honest moment. Speaking of Fredo, John Cazale is the unsung hero of this piece and his characterization is pitch-perfect and his scene with Al Pacino in Cuba, when Michael tells him that he broke his heart, is another highlight in a movie full of them.

In the flashback-story regarding Vito Corleone, Robert De Niro won himself an Oscar and he certainly captured the spirit that Marlon Brando had created two years earlier perfectly. It’s thrilling to see how the man who would later be Don Corleone lived before those times, how he came to New York as a little boy, how he started a family and later joined the world of crime.

I don’t think it’s really necessary to write anymore – surely everybody knows this movie and its reputation so it should be no surprise that I put it on number 5 in my ranking.