My current Top 5

My current Top 5

7/21/2011

Number 32: Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Katharine Hepburn was such a well-known, distinctive and original actress that any impersonation could probably only be like a drag-queen-act in a nightclub – but Cate Blanchett is such a versatile chameleon that it was possible for her to disappear in the skin of this movie legend, giving a performance that is half impersonation and half own creation.

It’s an incredibly entertaining turn that manages to shine even next to the larger-than-life performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and the almost too-overwhelming visuals of The Aviator. And even though Cate Blanchett never truly becomes Katharine Hepburn (is there one moment where one forgets that this is Cate Blanchett on the screen? I don’t think so) she still comes across as the best illusion humanly possible.

Cate Blanchett also approached the difficulties of the part very smartly – in her first scene she is almost like a parody. There’s the voice, the behavior, the constant talking, the political views, the golf-playing, the energy. She creates the kind of Katharine Hepburn we all expect – and then, step by step, she allows her to become deeper and more serious and the audience can accept those new, unknown sides of Katharine Hepburn because Cate Blanchett created the more famous images before.

Cate Blanchett obviously bursts with confidence in a part that needs all this confidence – because one hesitation, one false step would ruin everything and turn the performance into a laughing-stock. But Cate Blanchett shines and is able to appear completely natural in a performance that couldn’t be more stylized. She clearly inhabits the voice and the mannerisms – but never uses them to create her character but instead presents them only as a side-effect to her own characterization in which she shows a confident, but also insecure woman and actress.
 
Cate Blanchett is not the driving force of The Aviator – and why should she be? She’s the supporting player, the only truly important female in Hugh’s life who cannot accept his life-style. Cate Blanchett doesn’t steal the show but she delivers some of the movie’s greatest moments – when she talks to Howard in his bathroom and tells him about her brother, the funeral and the role of the media or finds herself torn between the eccentricities of her family and her love to Howard.

It’s a wonderful portrayal, an illusion that can be accepted very easily and stands as a great testament to the talents of both Katharine Hepburn and Cate Blanchett.

7/20/2011

Number 33: Katina Paxinou as Pilar in "For Whom the Bell tolls" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Katina Paxinou’s performance as Pilar, a strong and man-like rebel fighter living in the mountains of Spain in the movie version of Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell tolls certainly stands out among the winners in this category – a character like Pilar has probably never been seen on the screen before or would be again.

Pilar is a headstrong and commanding woman, a born leader but also a kind of new mother for Maria (played by Ingrid Bergman), a rape victim rescued by the rebels. All this allowed Katina Paxinou to create a character who can be tender and loving but is also a true force of nature, a woman who loves to give a loud laugh, who can fight as easily as any man and who will not be intimidated by anyone. Before the character of Pilar even enters the first time, the rebels talk about her and say that she ‘fights like a bull’. And when Katina Paxinou finally appears, she does her best to create one of the most extraordinary, original and impressing characters ever seen on the screen – everything by her is done wonderfully to craft a woman who, as she says it herself, ‘would have made a good man.’

But the rebels in the mountains don’t only have to fight against the enemies outside – they also have trouble in the group: Pablo, the leader and also Pilar’s husband has become ‘lazy, a drunkard and a coward’ (the words of Pilar) and they don’t trust him anymore. So Pilar takes over the control of the group, telling Pablo ‘You understand now who commands? I command.’

But apart from being strong and determined, Pilar also has a soft side. She tries to bring Robert (an American fighter) and Maria together, always feeling like a mother to Maria and watching Robert very carefully. Katina Paxinou’s most impressive scene comes when she tells Robert and Maria that ‘Many things tire me. And one of them is to be old and ugly.’ She tells the two how she has spent her life being ugly, ‘how it is to be ugly all your life and to feel in here that you’re beautiful.’ The strength of this scene comes from the fact that Pilar may not be a conventional beauty but she is still such a fascinating personality that it is completely believable when she adds that, despite her looks, many men have loved her. 

Unfortunately, Katina Paxinou loses a lot of her impact on the story in the second half of the movie in which she is never really again put in the spotlight. Her wonderful voice makes some voice-over monologues extremely memorable but apart from this, she sadly never impresses as much again as she did in the first half of the story. Still, Katina Paxinou’s work is still extremely powerful and completely one-of-a-kind.

7/19/2011

Number 34: Brenda Fricker as Mrs. Brown in "My Left Foot" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

My Left Foot is mainly a showcase for one of the greatest male performances in motion picture history given by Daniel Day-Lewis in the part of Christy Brown, an artist who suffers from cerebral palsy. But somehow unknown actress Brenda Fricker was able to hold her own against this powerhouse performance and leave an unforgettable impression herself as Mrs. Brown, the loving and supportive mother of Christy – a truly remarkable achievement considering that this performance has no truly showy scenes or typical Oscar bait but the warmth and understanding that Brenda Fricker displays in this part is a strong contribution to the overall success of My Left Foot and a strong counterpart to the work of Daniel Day-Lewis. 

Even though My Left Foot tells the story of Christy Brown, it’s the relationship between him and his mother that dominates the movie and provides its greatest moments. Mrs. Brown may have a lot of children but Brenda Fricker makes it clear that, even though she loves all her children, Christy has a special plays in her heart. She knows that he needs her because of his illness and she also tries to raise him just as her other children (going to church with him, playing with him). Brenda Fricker plays all this with a refreshing simplicity that does not try to turn Mrs. Brown into a saintly über-mother but instead turns her into a very ordinary woman who accomplishes extraordinary things.  

Besides Christy, Mrs. Brown has also the other members of her family to take care of. She especially tries to help her husband get closer to Christy and constantly encourages him to talk to his son or do something for him. Brenda Fricker realizes all the aspects of Mrs. Brown’s character wonderfully – her love and devotion and, when he falls in love, her fear of him being hurt. When Christy improves his speaking skills, she is the only one who’s not happy, saying ‘It doesn’t sound like our Christy’, maybe realizing that he won’t need her forever. Like Mrs. Baker in Butterflies are Free, Mrs. Brown has to learn that her son needs his own life.

Brenda Fricker is also a big part in the most moving scene of the whole story – when Christy Brown picks up a piece of chalk and writes ‘Mother’ on the floor. Without Brenda Fricker’s moving reaction shots, the scene wouldn’t be half as good.

Brenda Fricker does not play a very complex character but the feelings and emotions she projects are genuine and honest. When she tells Christy ‘If I could give you my legs, I would gladly take yours’, the audience knows it’s the truth.

It’s a beautiful and strong performance of a strong woman which never pales next to the work by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Number 35: Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel made Oscar-history by becoming the first African-American to win the coveted award – this may have seen like a big step forwards but it did not open any new possibilities for Hattie McDaniel as an actress nor did it improve the roles for African-Americans in general. And the fact that Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for playing a devoted slave also does not really indicate any progress – but in the end, all those questions don’t matter when it comes to judging her performance.

Like every other aspect of Gone with the Wind, Hattie McDaniel is absolutely first-class as Mammy, the loving slave and later servant of Scarlett O’Hara. She may often get pushed in the background but the simple truth is – the character of Mummy is probably just as famous as that of Scarlett O’Hara. And all this is thanks to Hattie McDaniel’s talent to turn a one-dimensional character into a three-dimensional, memorable person.

Gone with the Wind is basically Vivien Leigh’s show but the movie is epic and long enough to let every character shine. And Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy is a lot of things at once: she is the movie’s comic relief, a task that Hattie McDaniel fulfils with utmost ease, she is a loving and loyal slave, a task that she fulfils again with utmost ease thanks to her warm and strong screen presence, but she is also the conscience of Scarlett, a woman who more than once says the things that Scarlett does not want to hear. Hattie McDaniel’s natural performance may often seem rather simple but a look closer at the character of Mammy shows a lot of unexpected and rich work.

Hattie McDaniel also works wonderful with the other cast members, especially Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. Mammy isn’t afraid to say to Scarlett what she thinks and Rhett Butler describes her as one of the few people whose opinion he values. And Hattie McDaniel’s performance crafts a character that is justified to earn this high opinion. She is able to make you smile and appear very wise at the same time while never betraying the character she plays.

But Hattie McDaniel does not only provide laughs and gives good advice, she is also a wonderful actress, displayed in so many scenes. When she tells Scarlett about her mother and tries to give her courage when things become almost too difficult for Scarlett to handle them. But of course, her great highlight is when she tells Melanie about the death of Bonnie and what has happened between Scarlett and Rhett. In this short scene, she has to make the whole tragedy visible for the audience and succeeds on all levels. A heartbreaking moment because of what Mammy says but even more because of how she says it.

When Scarlett returns home to Tara, Mommy is one of the first person to welcome her – and we realize very quickly that we missed her just as much as she did. Considering the limits of the role and the focus of the movie, this is a grand achievement by a wonderful actress!

Number 36: Claire Trevor as Gaye Dawn in "Key Largo" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Somewhere, Claire Trevor is not very happy about my decision to re-rank the winners in this category since she went down a good 20 places – but this does not mean that my appreciation for her wonderful turn as Gaye Dawn, the mistress of gangster Johnny Rocky in Key Largo, cooled down. My reason for ranking her lower this time is that I think the role itself is rather disappointing and doesn’t allow Claire Trevor to do anymore than constantly beg for a drink she will never get – but I still enjoy her work very much and think that she got as much out of this thin part as humanly possible.

The best aspect of this performance is that Claire Trevor was able to keep Gaye Dawn on the edge for the entire run of the movie – there is never a real moment of piece in her, she is always shaking, always desperate, always humiliated. It’s a character that is very easy to sympathize with but Claire Trevor thankfully never plays for the camera but instead believably shows how much she both loves and hates Johnny.

Claire Trevor belongs to the list of winners in this category who are the best thing about their movies – Key Largo is a sometimes fascinating but ultimately lacking drama which features rather standard work from the male players and an incredibly awkward and unskilled performance from Lauren Bacall.

As mentioned earlier, Claire Trevor mostly gets to display every kind of human misery in her part – while this doesn’t really result in a very developed character or performance it still is scene-stealing on a very high level and Claire Trevor also provides the most energetic and powerful moments of Key Largo. Her big ‘Oscar-scene’, when Johnny forces her to sing for a drink, is an unforgettable gripping and also embarrassing scene – like the other characters in the movie, you can’t help but feel embarrassed for this woman who gives up all her dignity for a bit of liquor. It’s a heartbreaking and chilling moment that belongs to the best this category has to offer.

Once Gaye decides to work against Johnny, the character loses a bit of her fascination but there is no denying that Claire Trevor leaves an unforgettable impression in a role that is both thankless and thankful.

Number 37: Estelle Parsons as Blanche Barrow in "Bonnie and Clyde" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Estelle Parsons won her only Oscar for portraying one of the most infamous movie-characters of all time – the shrill, over-the-top, screaming, endlessly annoying but ultimately tragic Blanche Barrow in the classic Bonnie and Clyde.

This is a performance that seems mostly praised or hated with nothing in between. Those who dislike this performance mostly seem to dislike the character – but for me, this is only proof that Estelle Parsons did a fantastic job since she did exactly what she was supposed to do: showing Blanche as a neurotic and hysteric mess who underlines the stress of the situation the gang is getting into while also standing as a symbol for the tragedies they have to endure as time goes on.

With her performance, Estelle Parsons makes it easy with the viewer to sympathize with the character of Bonnie – it works in the context of the movie in which Bonnie and Clyde may be killers but are still a glamorous couple and in some way the heroes of the picture. Gene Hackman makes Warren Beatty even more handsome while Estelle Parsons make Faye Dunaway even more admirable.

But Estelle Parsons does not disappear behind Faye Dunaway. Her performance is much too loud and hysteric to get lost anywhere – who can forget Blanche running around in the middle of a shooting, screaming at the top of her lungs (one of the funniest scenes I have seen)? The most important triumph in Estelle Parsons’s work is that she makes Blanche a realistic character – Bonnie and Clyde is placed somewhere between the old and melodramatic style from the 40s and the realism of more modern pictures and the performances all capture this by being both over-the-top and believable.

Despite all the obvious problems that arise when Blanche enters the movie, Estelle Parsons is still able to make this character not only annoying but also very interesting. The relationship between her husband which seems more like that of a child and its father (the way she grabs her arm when she sees a gun or constantly calls him ‘Daddy`) is endlessly fascinating. Estelle Parsons’s appearance also begins to turn the movie around – up until now Bonnie and Clyde seemed to have an easy life, killing and robbing, but Blanche not only makes life much harder for them but she also accompanies the downfall of the duo.

Estelle Parsons also miraculously achieved to turn the character completely around during the run of the movie without ever turning her into somebody else. In the scene in the car, she suddenly shows a new and unexpected side in Blanche and it’s maybe the most moving and human moment of the whole story. Later, she has one powerful scene after another, kneeling on the floor and praying after her husband has been hit by a bullet, ‘Dear God, please help us!’ It’s a very hard scene because immediately after her prayers, Blanche realizes that her eyes are hurt and she screams ‘I think I’m blind’. It seems as if God had answered and he has shown Blanche that it is too late for prayers – because of Estelle Parsons, that whole scene is so strong and for the first time the movie achieves a much more serious tone in which a lot of aspects are put in new perspectives. And her later scenes, when she screams ‘Daddy, don’t die!`or she is alone and blind in a police cell are incredibly moving and heartbreaking.

A curious and sometimes even strange performance – but all this only helps to achieve very memorable and powerful results.

7/13/2011

Number 38: Eileen Heckart as Mrs. Florence Baker in "Butterflies are Free" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

When Eileen Heckart played the part of Mrs. Florence Baker in the Broadway production of Butterflies are Free, she lost the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress to Blythe Danner who played the hippie-neighbour next door in the same play. But when the play was turned into a movie, only Eileen Heckart reprised her stage role – and won an Oscar for her efforts.

Like Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue, Eileen Heckart plays the mother of a blind child. But that’s about all that these two roles have in common. While Shelley Winter’s Rose-Ann is cruel and full of hate, Eileen Heckart’s Mrs. Baker is over-protective, full of love and unwilling to let go and give her son his own freedom. She plays the sort of mother a lot of people know: criticizing your apartment, bringing you new clothes, looking into your refrigerator to see what you’re eating.

Butterflies are Free can be parted into three chapters: Before mother comes, while mother is there and after mother is gone. Eileen Heckart’s strong presence and unique voice dominate the whole movie just like her character is supposed to be. In an unforgettable way she comes into Donnie’s apartment and begins to criticize everything she sees, but not in an unlikable way but in a way (almost) every mother does: out of love.

Eileen Heckart plays Mrs. Baker with a wonderful combination of dry humour and honest feelings. There can be so much sarcasm in her voice the one moment and an incredible amount of love and worry the next one. An early highlight is when she sees Goldie Hawn in her underwear and Goldie tells her that she came by because she had trouble zipping up her blouse and she responds with a big, friendly smile ‘So I see. Where is your blouse?’

From that moment on Eileen Heckart and Mrs. Baker dominate everything around her, trying to convince her son to leave this place and come back home again with her. In all the arguments that follow, Eileen Heckart always makes it perfectly clear how much Mrs. Baker loves her son and how unwilling she is to see that he needs his freedom and his own life.

Especially in her scenes with Goldie Hawn. Eileen Heckart’s dry humour comes to perfection as she couldn’t make it more obvious how much she disapproves the relation between her and her son.  In one scene particular Eileen is wonderful, when Goldie says ‘I don’t think anyone could call me a prude’ and Eileen says ‘I’d like to see them try!’

The big arc of her character comes at the end when, finally, Mrs. Baker realises that she has to let her son go – her touching close-ups are heartbreaking and she is especially wonderful when she tells her son ‘You know Donnie, it’s not easy to adjust to not being needed anymore…’ And when she says goodbye to her son and tells him that she loves him her son tells her that he knows – and the audience knows, too.

Maybe a little problem I have with this performance is the fact that, sometimes, Eileen Heckart appears a little too calculated. It seems rather obvious that she played this part on the stage many times as everything seems well rehearsed and Eileen Heckart almost rushes through some scenes as if she had something else to do.

Still, does are only small complaints that can’t ruin an overall wonderful performance.

Number 39: Jessica Lange as Julie Nichols in "Tootsie" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Jessica Lange’s win as Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie is generally considered as a compensation by the Academy since she couldn’t win Best Actress for her acclaimed role in Frances against Meryl Streep’s Holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice. Well, I don’t want to deny that her work in Frances surely played an important part when Jessica Lange won the Oscar (and various other awards) for her role in Tootsie – but luckily it was a very deserving compensation.

In Tootsie, Jessica Lange played Julie Nichols – a soap-actress who has troubles in her personal life and becomes the best friend of Dorothy Michaels aka Michael Dorsey. Frankly, Julie Nichols is a very thankless part – she is the straight character who could easily get lost compared to Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing, Bill Murray’s one-liners or Terri Garr’s neurotic hysterics. Julie Nichols has hardly any jokes, her scenes tend to be more serious and could easily become boring next to the comedic brilliance of others. But personally, I consider Jessica Lange the heart and soul of Tootsie and her role and performance are much more important and challenging than she is usually given credit.

As Julie Nichols, Jessica Lange has to be charming, sexy, smart but naïve, a woman who tries to redefine her life and a love-interest. And she does all this wonderfully. She hast to make us believe that she really thinks Dorothy is a woman but she never appears to be dumb or crazy. Her scenes may lack the comedy that concerns the other characters but she is the reason why Tootsie is not only a comedy but also a very touching study about lonely characters and how they try to get ahead in life. Her role is so essential because the character or Julie is the reason why Michael changes from being cold and arrogant to warm and caring. As he says ‘I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.’ The innocence and charm that Jessica Lange displays here makes it easy to believe that this is true. And the ending of Tootsie would also never work without Jessica Lange’s wonderful portrayal – it all should be so unbelievable but somehow you have the feeling that Julie could actually forgive Michael for everything he has done to her.

So, Jessica Lange is the emotional glue that holds the story together and provides the most human moments in the movie. Scene like the one after her break-up with Ron, when she tells Dorothy ‘I’m so grateful to have you as a friend and yet at the same time…I never felt lonelier in my whole life’ or her wonderful and heartbreaking moment in the bedroom when she talks about her mother and the wallpaper are very memorable. The latter one is very simple but Jessica Lange shines when she talks. All her memories and dreams are lying in her voice and when she says ‘I made a million planes looking at this wallpaper’, she gives exactly the right feeling of a person who looks at her life and realizes that it is so different from the dreams she had.

Essentially, Jessica Lange gives a complex performance of a simple character. She shines in her scenes (and is not only dramatic but also funny, especially when she says ‘She scares the s**t out of me’ and when she tries to hide her laughter during a scene with Dorothy) and finds the right balance of drama and comedy which contributes enormously to this wonderful movie.

Number 40: Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in "Dreamgirls" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Well, here she is. It constantly amazes me how a performance that swept almost every award under the sun and received loud and strong critical acclaim from almost every angle was able to become such an object of hate on the entire Internet. Admitting that you like this performance is like admitting that you eat babies. But what can I say? Yes, Jennifer Hudson is obviously still a beginner in Dreamgirls and sometimes the part is clearly too challenging for her but at the same time there is something so outstanding, so spectacular and so first-class about her that I have to no problem to confess that yes, I really admire this performance.

There is often the argument against her that the Oscars aren’t the Grammys and she should not be awarded for her great singing voice – for me, this is a little too simple. Because even though her voice is undoubtedly the strongest aspect of her performance, she still also acts all these singing scenes – and she does it well. I admit that right at the beginning, her performance is a bit shaky – her tough behavior, her delivery of the lines ‘I don’t do back-up’ or ‘This dress does nothing for my body’ falls incredibly flat and her inexperience is obvious at every moment of her performance. But somehow, she begins to improve very fast. Her relationship with Jamie Foxx is done extremely well and she beautifully develops the character of Effie during the run of Dreamgirls.

Jennifer Hudson makes Effie strong and self-confident without making her annoying or unlikable. Her disappointment when she is taken away the lead in the band and her argument with the others show that Jennifer Hudson can be a true force on the screen if she wants to be. Her voice may unfortunately change its tone too often (which makes her sound sometimes like Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite) but she captures the essence of her character effortlessly at these moments.

Effie White surely is the kind of role awards were made for and it would have taken a lot to ruin this part – but Jennifer Hudson does not rely on the strength of the role but instead does her most to create Effie herself. Her inexperience as an actress may be noticeable a lot of times but the thing is that Jennifer Hudson still has such natural instincts for the part and the process of movie-making that it doesn’t really matter. She may be an amateur but on a very high level. A rough diamond but still a diamond.

She also gladly overcomes some obstacles that normally tend to ruin a lot of inexperienced performances – she never appears controlled or too calculated in her role, she is able to let herself completely go and let the character take over her performance. Her work during ‘It’s all over’ is especially very impressive just like her later scenes when she has to start her life anew.

I don’t mind it if a performance is dubbed but if somebody sings a part himself or herself, I gladly give a little extra bonus. And Jennifer Hudson surely deserves some extra bonus. Her rendition of ‘And I am telling you’ is simply mind-blowing and it’s so wonderful to see that she does not only try to turn these singing moments into showcases for herself but stays in character and expresses all the emotions of Effie through these songs.

So, it’s a very strong role with a lot of great moments and Jennifer Hudson gives a performance that I would easily call ‘great’. Sure, her inexperience is too obvious sometimes which is also the reason why she doesn’t get a higher ranking but I have no problem to give her this position as a testament to her overall wonderful debut.

Number 41: Marisa Tomei as Mona-Lisa Vito in "My Cousin Vinny" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Well, well…maybe not the most famous win in this category but surely the most infamous – it even comes with its own urban legend. But why was it such a big upset that Marisa Tomei received the Oscar? Sure, she did not receive any other awards attention, her competition were 3 serious British and 1 serious Australian actresses, My Cousin Vinny isn’t exactly a masterpiece – still, the Academy has more than once honored actors and actresses for scene-stealing comedy. So why was it okay for Whoopi Goldberg to win an Oscar for a purely comedic role just two years earlier but not for Marisa Tomei? I guess we will never know but what is so great is the fact that Marisa Tomei is one of the few people who actually survived the ‘Oscar curse’ – her post-Oscar career had first gone rather downhill but by now she has turned into a respected actress with two more nominations to display her talents.

Anyway, as you can see I don’t share the general attitude that her win is one of the most undeserved ever. Why should it be? Marisa Tomei is absolutely hilarious and steals the movie right from under everybody’s noses. Sure, Mona-Lisa is not actually a very complex character and one little scene in a restaurant that is supposed to show a more serious side when Vinny attacks her verbally isn’t exactly very memorable either but when it comes to making the audience laugh and creating one unforgettable comedy scene after another, you don’t need to look any further.

The character of Mona-Lisa does not really allow a deeper look or something like that – she is there to support Vinny in a case and throw around funny remarks. It’s a stereotypical performance from every angle but when Marisa Tomei delivers lines like ‘How’s your Chinese food?’ or ‘What are you? A f**king world traveler?’ it’s easy to forget about all this. There are no real emotions, the more quiet moments between her and Vinny are less than satisfying but Marisa Tomei is such a force of nature (yes) in this role that everything else seems to disappear next to her.

When you think of My Cousin Vinny, isn’t she the first aspect that comes to your head? Don’t you immediately think of ‘Imagine you’re a deer. You’re thirsty…You put your little nose in the cool water…BAM! A F**KING BULLET BLOWS OFF PART OF YOUR HEAD!’ or ‘My biological clock is ticking like this!’?

Of course Mona-Lisa was only invented by the writers to have at least one female presence in the story, to throw in some jokes and to use her for the final scenes in the court room – but Marisa Tomei never allowed the character to be reduced in any way but instead made her larger than the whole remaining cast. And speaking of the scene in the court room – could Marisa Tomei have been any more perfect here?

So, the character of Mona-Lisa is certainly among the least challenging in this category but Marisa Tomei used her talent for comedy in so many glorious ways that it’s easy to forget about this the first time she enters the screen.

Number 42: Shirley Jones as Lulu Bains in "Elmer Gantry" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

The Academy loves to honor actresses who are cast against type. It was shown again when normally saint-like Shirley Jones won the Oscar for playing a ‘five-buck hooker’ in Elmer Gantry.

Shirley plays the kind of supporting role that is actually rather small but of great importance to the structure of the movie. The appearance of her character dramatically changes the direction of the story and the lives of the main characters – Lulu Bains is the turning point of Elmer Gantry.

Elmer Gantry is going on for over an hour before Shirley Jones’s character enters for the first time. Until this moment, Elmer Gantry was able to join the wandering church of Sister Sharon and became a religious phenomenon. But while he is telling the country about God, Lulu Bains knows all about his past and his sinful life – also with her. The audience first sees her in her most famous scene when she just sits in her chair and looks at her stockings. When one of her fellow hookers asks about Gantry ‘Can he save anybody?’, Lulu gives her characteristic hysteric laugh and says ‘Can he? Anywhere, anytime. In a tent, standing up, lying down or any other way. And he’s got plenty of ways!’ Shirley Jones is so full of energy in this part that you are afraid she might bust at any moment. Her believable devil-may-care-attitude, her wonderful voice which always expresses her inner feelings so well and her little smile craft a very memorable character that is up to all the things the script asks from her. And who can forget her famous ‘And then he rammed the fear of God into me so fast I never heard my old man’s footsteps!’

Shirley Jones’s whole performance is based on her chemistry with Burt Lancaster and her believability in a tricky role – and she succeeds in both. Lulu Bains is a character that changes very important characteristics in only a few moments and is constantly working on her own agenda and Shirley Jones was able to capture this while never losing the lightness of her own personality. Another great moment for her is the scene when she is meeting Elmer again – he is full of panic about this woman which could destroy his life while Lulu, again, gives her hysteric laugh.

The most challenging scene comes when she and Elmer are meeting in her apartment. Here, Shirley Jones shows a very impressive range of emotions. First, she wants to trick Elmer into kissing her to blackmail him later but then, all of a sudden, she discovers that she still has honest feelings for this man who treated her so miserably years ago. But when she finds out that he is already in love with another woman, she again finds her hate for him and goes through with her plan. It’s a key moment in the characterization of Lulu which could have gone horribly wrong but Shirley Jones made it all believable.

It’s a great, scene-stealing performance that provides the best moments of the movie.

Number 43: Penélope Cruz as Maria Elena in "Vicky Christina Barcelona" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Penélope Cruz must have been very happy when the Academy realized that Kate Winslet was a leading actress in The Reader and so made way for her to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the temperamental, hysteric and passionate Maria Elena in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Penélope Cruz’s performance is one of those that saves a rather boring and lifeless movie with an enormous amount of energy and scene-stealing. It takes a great deal of time before Penélope Cruz enters the movie for the first time and her screen-time is surprisingly limited – but she still the saving grace of the story, creating an unpredictable and wild character who is undoubtedly the highpoint of this movie.

Before Maria Elena enters the story of Vicky Christina Barcelona, her character has been mentioned quite a few times already and evoked all kind of expectations – Maria Elena is supposed to be wild and a little bit dangerous, even violent and all other kinds of characteristics that in a movie like this would be called ‘passionate’. And Penélope Cruz manages to match all these expectations – but her Maria Elena is also more. There is something magnetic about her, she’s the kind of woman people would love to be around.

Penélope Cruz’s Maria Elena is not only temperamental and unpredictable – she is also honest and likeable.  The biggest achievement of Penélope Cruz is that she did not turn Maria Elena into some kind of diva – when she is looking at Christina’s photos and tells her that they are wonderful, you just believe her because you know she is serious. At the beginning, Maria Elena may look at Christina with an expression that says that this young, naive girl from America isn’t even worth a fight but later she finds a way to communicate with her.

Maria Elena is not a very well written character – she’s there to point out the obvious, to make the other characters re-think their own actions and thoughts but she is never really given the chance to become her own person. So Penélope Cruz deserves some extra points for making her such a force of nature on the screen and brining the whole movie to another level whenever she appears.

It’s a very realistic performance of a certain type of woman that Penélope Cruz brings to live beautifully.

7/12/2011

Number 44: Beatrice Straight as Louise Schumacher in "Network" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Beatrice Straight’s win as Best Supporting Actress is surely among the most famous Oscar wins ever – because she holds the honor of having given the shortest performance ever to win the award.

Technically, there are three scenes that feature Beatrice Straight – but we can skip her second scene right away because all you see is the back of her head while she is watching TV. In her first scene, Beatrice Straight also might not do anything remarkable – but watch closer! She gets out of bed and finds that Howard Beale, a friend of her husband, has left their house at night and wakes her husband up to tell him. It’s not much of a scene but in this short moment Beatrice Straight gives a lot of impressions that will be very important in her final scene – she obviously loves her husband (expressed only by Beatrice Straight’s way of delivering one sentence to him – a remarkable achievement), she’s elegant and intelligent, she’s not involved in her husband’s work too deeply but she is also not an outsider.

But in the end, it all comes down to her big ‘money-scene’ when her husband confesses his affair to her and she begins her monologue about love and betrayal, about her desperation and finally her acceptance. She basically expresses all the reactions that should come in weeks and weeks in only a couple of minutes. ‘Then get out! Go anywhere you want, go to a hotel, go live with her, but don’t come back. Because after 25 years of building a home and raising a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I’m damned if I’m gonna stand here and have you tell me you’re in love with somebody else. Because this isn’t some convention weekend with your secretary or some broad that you picked up after three belts of booze, this is your great winter romance, isn’t it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years. Is that what’s left for me? She gets the winter passion and I get the dotage. What am I supposed to do, am I supposed to sit home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I’m your wife, damn it! And it you can’t  work up a winter passion for me than the least I require is respect and allegiance! I hurt, don’t you understand that? I hurt badly!’

I have often complained about characters that lack depth, show no development or are simply pushed too much aside – well, on the one hand Beatrice Straight would be the best example for all this. Her character only exists to mourn the end of her marriage in a scene that even could have been left on the floor of the editing room and nobody would have noticed. But even though – how can one deny all the brilliance that went into this characterization? Her suffering wife is much more touching than that of Jennifer Connelly despite the fact that there are worlds between the lengths of their roles. In one short scene, Beatrice Straight displays almost all human emotions, going from one extreme to the other, shouting and crying, suffering silently and smiling. All the lack of character and depth prevent her from going up further in this ranking but she definitely used her big scene to perfection.

What is also so impressive is the fact that the audience doesn’t know anything about her – her first scene surely went unnoticed by most people and a wandering husband isn’t anything new to the cinema. So why should the audience care for this unknown character when Faye Dunaway is so deliciously crazy in her role? But then all of a sudden, you see the wife’s face on the screen. All her hurt feelings, her desperation, her anger are shown in one second and you don’t even need any dialogue to know what is happening at this moment. From one moment to the other, the perspective completely changes and suddenly the wife, that nameless wife, has a face, she has emotions, she has a life, she is a real person. Her breakdown symbolizes all the breakdowns of cheated wives, she makes her monologue to something monumental.

Basically, Beatrice Straight is the only real human being in Network. All others seem like egoistic, rating-obsessed maniacs who don’t care for anyone or anything. Louise Schumacher shows us that there are also other people in this world, people with feelings, people who hurt.

It’s basically a very thankless part but Beatrice Straight turned it into gold and gave probably much more than was ever intended for this part.

Number 45: Dianne Wiest as Holly in "Hannah and her Sisters" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

I used to dislike this performance for a very long time and never got all the praise it received – but this time, I am more on the pro-side and will admit that Dianne Wiest gives a great and memorable performance in Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sister (but I will forever stand by my opinion that Barbara Hershey was the true stand-out in the cast and should have won that Oscar).

In the part of Holly, a neurotic wanna-be actress with some drug problems in her past, Dianne Wiest gets a chance to display all her qualities for being neurotic, a little crazy, unusual. All these tics combined with her talent for comedy and drama work very well and create maybe not the most interesting character in the movie but one who constantly develops new shades and characteristics.

Dianne Wiest’s Holly is pretty much an extremely unhappy character, something she likes to blame others for even though the truth is that she owes a lot of her unhappiness to herself. She doesn’t get ahead as an actress, the man she likes dates her friend, nobody seems to see her as a serious person but rather as a never-ending cause of trouble and problems. So it’s actually nice to see how Dianne Wiest lets Holly slowly find new self-respect and a new meaning in life – at the end of Hannah and her Sister, all characters have changed but no other change came as unexpected and at the same time gladly welcomed as that of Holly.

Dianne Wiest’s talent for comedy and drama works in great harmony with Woody Allen’s script and work as a director – she constantly finds some surprising ways to make the viewer laugh even in a serious situation while she can quickly bring a certain sadness and hopelessness into more funny moments. Her most memorable moment is easily her date with Woody Allen ('The room is alive with constant vibration!’ or ‘I love songs about extra-terrestrial live, don’t you?’ and ‘I was so bored!!!’ or the way she is always moving while sitting in the restaurant) but she also works very well with Mia Farrow and Barbara Hershey. During their dinner in a restaurant, it becomes clear how extremely difficult Holly is but at the same time it’s obvious that she never acts with the intention to hurt or harm anybody – she simply doesn’t know any better.

Holly’s little self-esteem is also shown when she tells Hannah about an audition for a Broadway musical and lets one remark from her confuse her completely. All these moments are a nice contrasts to later moments when she dares to ask Mickey if he would like to read her script and when she begins to get her life together. Everything that was so annoying and difficult about Holly in the beginning suddenly becomes rather charming and captivating. And her final scene with Woody Allen is, of course, absolutely delightful (and I think that every actress who has to kiss Woody Allen and makes it look voluntarily deserves some kind of award…).

So, it took me some time to really appreciate this performance (but I still probably don’t appreciate it nearly as much as her countless fans) but by now I truly enjoy her work and respect her for all the details and thoughts that went into this performance and made it look completely fresh and original.

Number 46: Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

After her first nominated performance in Mrs. Brown, Judi Dench was back at the Academy Awards the next year with another turn as an English monarch – and this time she was able to take the Oscar home.

In Shakespeare in Love, Judi Dench famously gives one of the shortest performances ever to win the Oscar – as the legendary monarch Elizabeth I, she has only three short appearances. But, as the saying goes, there are no small parts – and Judi Dench proved that even only a couple of minutes on the screen can be turned into cinema gold.

Judi Dench is one of those British actresses that can command the screen with the greatest ease, make everything look both natural and impressive and can do more with one look than others with tons of dialogue. Especially in the small role of Elizabeth I, all these qualities are a big advantage for her. Not a single second is there a doubt that Elizabeth I is indeed one of the most powerful monarchs in the world. And also not a single second is there a doubt that this woman is much, much, much more than visible in the few moments on the screen.

Judi Dench’s appearance in Shakespeare in Love benefits from the fact that her three scenes are strategically very well placed – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. This way, her presence, even though never of importance in all the scenes without her, is never completely forgotten.
While her first scene is rather meaningless it still establishes the character of Elizabeth I and helps Judi Dench to build the foundation on which her later scenes are based. Her second scene only strengthens the impressions the audience has gotten earlier – that this woman possess strength and power like nobody else. With only a few looks, she is able to command a room full of people and make Viola look like the biggest fool. Judi Dench wonderful line delivery helps her to achieve maximum results in this scene. And who can forget her delivery of the line ‘She’s been plugged since I saw her last and not by you. Takes a woman to know it’?

Her best moments are in the end, when her character basically solves all the problems (not necessarily to the happiness of all) and brings everything to an end. And again she shows her talents for filling every bit of dialogue with life and energy when she says ‘But I know something of a woman in a man’s profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that.’

Judi Dench took a true supporting role and used it to steal every scene she is in.

7/09/2011

Number 47: Wendy Hiller as Pat Cooper in "Separate Tables" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Wendy Hiller’s win for Best Supporting Actress is another proof that, sometimes, the Academy likes to honour performances that are completely unspectacular and simple at the first look – there’s no big emotional outburst, no children to chose between, no horrible death to mourn. Instead, Wendy Hiller beautifully showed how powerful subtlety can be.

Wendy Hiller plays Pat Cooper, the owner of a little hotel at the English shore who finds herself in love triangle with Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth.

What’s so beautiful about this performance is how wonderful it looks when Wendy Hiller simply does some normal work: the way she walks around the hotel, checking if everything is alright, always being nice to the guests – in a few scenes, Wendy Hiller turns Pat Cooper into a symbol of efficiency.

Wendy Hiller is also one of those actresses who can look totally plain in one scene and then lovely in the next one. When she sees Burt Lancaster you can watch how she suddenly lightens up despite trying to hide her feelings from the other guest. Her work with her dialogue is just wonderful when she meets him later secretly. She looks at him with so much love and passion despite keeping up a proper façade. The way she flirts with him and says about his proposal of marriage ‘Most women would feel rather odd about it especially when they hear it once rather late at night and the man has had a few drinks’ is a great moment.

But then his ex-wife, Rita Hayworth checks in at the hotel and wants him back, too. Pat seems to see her defeat already, telling John: ‘I always knew in my heart that you were still in love with her.’ Pat Cooper is a woman who doesn’t want to show her feelings and finds herself very quick in a difficult conflict: she has to be nice to her rival who is, after all, a guest in her own house and in whom she sees the pain and the sorrow over John while she also has to take care of the other problems in the house (especially concerning a delicate incident with Major Pollack) and during all this she also has to try to find a way how to organize her own feelings. When one of the guests tells her that she in an ‘alone-type’, Pat replies ‘I’m very glad you think so perhaps even gladder than you realize.’

Wendy Hiller plays Pat as the kind of woman everyone comes to with their problems because they know that if anyone is able to help them, it’s her– even John, who is after all her fiancé, later comes to her and wants to get some advice about his ex-wife. And Pat, being the woman she is, sees that he and his ex-wife are still meant for each other and helps them to see it, too – with the same efficiency she uses to run her house.

It’s a performance that shows how much can often be hidden underneath what may seem simple at first.

Number 48: Anne Revere as Mrs. Araminity Brown in "National Velvet" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Anne Revere is the specialist when it comes to playing understanding and supportive mothers. There is something about her that makes her appear so wise and so warm at the same time and she always adds an enormous amount of grace and dignity to her roles. And while her other two nominated performances in The Song of Bernadette and Gentleman’s Agreement may have had more dramatic opportunities, her role as Elizabeth Taylor’s understanding mother showed her intelligence and her warmth at its most captivating.

Is there anyone who wouldn’t want Donald Crisp and Anne Revere as his/her parents? These two actors are able to basically steal the show from Elizabeth Taylor and her horse and add a completely new and unexpected dimension to the story.

Anne Revere played Mrs. Brown is a very quiet, no-nonsense and strong-faced woman. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but despite this, Anne Revere is still able to make her one of the most warm and caring women in the world. Somehow you don’t want to miss a word she’s saying, you don’t want to miss a second of her on-screen time. She guides all the other characters through their own storylines without ever making her own appearance too dominant. There is something transcendent about her as you can always sense the love behind her strong face.

The fact that Mrs. Brown has her own backstory – she became the first woman to swim the English channel – does not really matter in flow of the story apart from the importance of her prize money but you don’t have a hard time to believe that Mrs. Brown used to have her own life before she became a wife and mother.

Mrs. Brown also her own philosophy – she believes that there is a time for everything and that, once something is over, you should let it go. While this is all debatable, Anne Revere delivers her lines with so strength and decisiveness that you will believe every word she says. Especially in the scene in the attic, Anne Revere shines as one of the most admirable mother characters ever put on the screen.

All the honesty that Anne Revere put into this character also makes one of her final scenes so strong. When Velvet returns from the race and asks her mother if they were in the best in the world, Mrs. Brown answers with yes – and you just know that she would never say it if it wasn’t true.

Anne Revere certainly took what was probably supposed to be a plot device for a story around rising star Elizabeth Taylor and filled it with life and intelligence. Of course, the nature of the role did not give her any true challenged but she beautifully created her own challenges. Sometimes she may take her character’s strength a bit too far, though – her face sometimes appears to be almost unconcerned with the happenings around her and the constant wise words Mrs. Brown is asked to say by the screenplay make her sometimes appear like a fortune-cookie and you have to wonder if there is ever a moment when Mrs. Brown does not appear saint-like. Anne Revere’s maybe sometimes too dignified acting in some moments unfortunately underlines the problems of the character but overall, it’s still a beautiful and touching portrayal of one of the most admirable mothers ever put on the screen.

7/07/2011

Number 49: Fay Bainter as Aunt Belle Massey in "Jezebel" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

In 1938, Fay Bainter became the first person ever to be nominated for a supporting and a leading Oscar in the same year – in the leading category she was nominated for White Banners while her turn as Bette Davis’s aunt in Jezebel secured her a supporting nod. While Bette Davis herself won the leading statuette, Fay Bainter took home the supporting Oscar.

One has to view Jezebel very carefully to catch the performance by Fay Bainter. Not because her role is so small, it’s actually very big, but just because Bette Davis totally commands the screen and the whole movie is made as a vehicle for her. Unlike Gone with the Wind where all the characters are allowed to shine, Jezebel totally concentrates on the leading lady and barely lets the other actors have a chance to stept into the foreground. Because of that it makes me very happy that the Academy was able to see the second outstanding female performance of the movie: Fay Bainter as Julie’s worried and suffering, but loving aunt.

The character is introduced even before Bette Davis first enters the screen. At a party in Julie’s house, Aunt Belle has to explain her guests that Julie isn’t here yet. While she tries to be amused about the whole affair, she later tells one man with a quiet but upset voice ‘That child isn’t here yet. You’re her guardian, you have to speak to her! It’s outrages of her!’ In this first scene, Fay Bainter makes it clear that the character of Julie is Aunt Belle’s biggest and constant worry – her whole life circles around her niece, trying to make her behave in a more appropriate way since Julie is a very selfish woman who only wants things her way.

Basically, either being worried about Julie or happy about Julie or advising Julie is all that Aunt Belle aka Fay Bainter has to do in Jezebel (She says herself ‘I guess I love her most when she’s her meanest’) but she does it so hauntingly that it’s easy to see why the Academy honored her. Fay Bainter is a wonderful natural actress with a face made for close-ups (unfortunately, Bette Davis gets all those). She is also born for dramatic roles because her sad, worried face is simply unforgettable. When Julie disgraces herself at the Olympus Ball wearing a red dress, she watches her with that sad face and it’s clear how much she would like to help Julie but is not able to. And when Press leaves Julie, Aunt Belle tells her: ‘Julie, call him back! Don’t let him go! Julie, you’re a fool!’

It’s an essential supporting role as Fay Bainter never steps out of the shadows of Bette Davis but still finds enough opportunities to shine herself. Another wonderful moment is when she sees Press again and he brings his wife. While Bette Davis shows her shock more often, Fay Bainter has to hide her character’s feelings and says to Press’s wife with a shacking voice ‘My dear, Press’s wife would naturally be welcome here. But you are for your own sake.’

Bay Bainter never steals the movie but creates a very strong presence in Jezebel without ever really stepping out of the background which is truly a grand achievement.

Number 50: Goldie Hawn as Toni Simmons in "Cactus Flower" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Goldie Hawn took home her only Oscar for her film debut as Toni Simmons, the ‘dumb blonde’ fiancé of Walther Matthau in the charming comedy Cactus Flower. Oh wait, actually, she is not truly his fiancé but his mistress because he is married. Oh wait, that’s not true – this is actually a lie he told her because he thinks that this way Toni will never want to get married herself. But then, one night, Toni can’t stand it anymore – the idea of not being able to have this man all for herself is too much for her and she decides to kill herself. What in reality should be the start to a very serious drama is here only the opening act for a romantic comedy of errors – who cares that she wanted to kill herself? Is she maybe mentally unstable? Who cares?

Okay, a movie like Cactus Flower should not be analyzed too deeply. Well, in the end, Julian thinks that marrying Toni would be the best solution, especially since he actually loves her by now – but, of course, new problems arise. Toni does not want to break up a family and wants to meet his wife. Enter Ingrid Bergman as Julian’s lonely secretary…

Okay, I think this should be enough plot details for now. As you can see, the movie has a lot of possibilities for entertainment and it’s also clear that Goldie Hawn’s role is much more a co-lead than a supporting performance. Anyway, what about her actual performance? Well, everyone who has ever seen a performance by her knows that she has a wonderful talent for comedy and this is also visible in every frame of Cactus Flower. Her Toni is certainly not dumb, only a little naïve and maybe even too good for this world – she would never believe that Julian would actually lie to her, she believes in honesty and loyalty. Goldie Hawn thankfully never exaggerated any of her acting to get some laughs – instead, she is almost subtle and very quiet in her part, staying true to the character by presenting her as an unwilling victim of lying and cheating. She focuses on Toni’s desire to make everything right and that way constantly unknowingly only making more trouble for Julian. In some ways, she seems to be a plot device that allows Walther Matthau to go from one new desperate situation to the next but Goldie Hawn knows how to avoid being pushed in the background.

It’s a very natural performance without any ‘big scenes’ but she flows beautifully along with the main storyline. Her big eyes and her short hair help her to make a lasting impression and it’s especially impressive that Goldie Hawn even manages to hold her own against an actress like Ingrid Bergman – she actually upstages her whenever they are together. When Toni finally learns the truth and small tears come out of her big eyes, it’s an unexpected and very heartbreaking moment.

It would be very easy for the audience to laugh about Toni because she is so clueless but you never do that because Goldie makes such a sweet-hearted person that can’t help but love her. Overall, it’s a funny, totally charming and believable performance.

Number 51: Olympia Dukakis as Rose Castorini in "Moonstruck" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Olympia Dukakis took home an expected Oscar for her work as Rose Castorini, the suffering wife of a wandering husband and the supportive mother of a confused daughter in the romantic comedy Moonstruck.

Suffering wife AND supportive mother? OSCAR!!! Yes, there is no denying that this role is practically an engraved invitation to an Academy Award but if Olympia Dukakis took a challenging role and delivered – then why not?

Mostly, Moonstruck is about Cher and how her character has to decide between two brothers but Olympia Dukakis is easily the most valuable player in the ensemble – she’s the story’s emotional heart and creates a multidimensional, touching character. She brings a beautiful quiet dignity to her part, especially when she gives her sad, silent sigh. Her strongest scenes are in the restaurant when she meets another man and later when she tells this man in front of her house ‘I can’ ask you in because I’m married. Because I know who I am.’

Olympia Dukakis also has strong chemistry with Cher even though both actresses mostly follow their own story-lines. While Cher delivers the laughs and the romance, Olympia Dukakis presents the other side of love – a love that needs fighting, a love that may be lost already. There is nothing new and exciting about her relationship with her husband who fears that his life may be over already and got a mistress to cover these worries. Olympia Dukakis’s strongest scene is at the end, when she finally confronts him and tells him ‘I want you to stop seeing her’. Her tears, her assurance that she loves him and that his life is worth something, her ability to support her husband even at a moment like this – it’s all done magnificently.

Just like Rose is the centre of her family, Olympia Dukakis somehow became the centre of Moonstruck with her wonderful ability to combine comedy and drama and her strong screen presence.

Number 52: Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracket in "L.A., Confidential" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Usually considered a rather poor choice for the win, Kim Basinger has always been a winner that I would not put in the Top 10 but that I still appreciate a lot nonetheless.

In L.A., Confidential, Kim Basinger played Lynn Bracket, a high-class call-girl with the obligatory heart of gold. In this part, she is almost the only female character in this man-driven story and the sexual tension and emotional sensitivity she brings to her role are a welcome change from other scenes of violence and murder. Most of all, Kim Basinger profits a lot from fitting so beautifully into the time and place the story is set – her unique beauty and her intriguing voice seem to come right out of the 40s.

Kim Basinger is a limited actress, I don’t want to deny that. But sometimes, these limits work perfectly in a certain part – like Lynn Bracket. The fact that she isn’t the most expressive or dynamic actress only helped to increase the mystery that surrounds this character. Right from her first scene at the shop when she wishes Russell Crowe a Merry Christmas and later tells him with a certain sarcasm ‘It’s nice to know you care’, she establishes a captivating presence that not only the men in the movie but also the audience feels drawn to.

Kim Basinger loses a bit of those effects when she becomes a more traditional character, basically a loyal girlfriend, but she scores high points during all the interrogation scenes opposite Russell Crowe or Guy Pierce – her way of flirting, of tempting these men is fascinating to watch and especially her chemistry with Russell Crowe provides some of the movie’s best scenes. Her sudden surprise when this man compliments her and she begins to see that there may be more to him than initially visible is done very beautifully.

Lynn Bracket is a fame fatale, a cold blond and a good-hearted woman – and Kim Basinger caught all these aspects in her performance while carefully staying in her own comfort-zone. It’s no tour-de-force but still a memorable and beautiful piece of work.

Number 53: Dorothy Malone as Marylee Hadley in "Written on the Wind" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Is it trash? Or is it art? Written on the Wind seems to escape every bit of logic and analyzing by presenting itself as something so one-of-a-kind in every aspect that it becomes almost impossible to judge it compared to ‘normal’ movies or performances.

The most celebrated aspect of this movie is easily Dorothy Malone’s Oscar-winning turn as the nymphomaniac Mary-Lee, daughter of a rich father who sleeps her way around as a way to compensate Rock Hudson’s sexual disinterest in her. I used to have this performance a little lower in my ranking but I decided to put her up some spots even though I am still not entirely sure what to think of her. Some people call this one of the greatest performances of all time – I certainly would not go so far but the thing is that in the context of Written on the Wind, Dorothy Malone is, indeed, perfect. This movie demands this kind of performance, no doubt about that. There are some kind of performances that can only work in the movie they are set in – Gloria Swanson is outstanding in Sunset Boulevard but put her performance in a movie like On the Waterfront and you will have to wonder what the hell is going on. But even though – the type of movie still does not make Dorothy Malone’s performance seem completely flawless because even in the theatrical and melodramatic world of Written on the Wind, Dorothy Malone’s over-the-top acting makes me wince or laugh more than once.

It’s clear that Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack as her alcoholic brother are a true dream-team in Written on the Wind – they perfectly understand their material while Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall deliver flat and uninteresting performances that would destroy the entire movie if the two supporting players wouldn’t constantly bring Written on the Wind back on track.

Basically, Dorothy Malone’s acting is this typical melodramatic acting from the 50s – like Susan Hayward, she constantly moves her body, constantly moves her head up or down, emphasizes every human emotions to the maximum. Dorothy Malone is not there to be realistic but become a vessel for Douglas Sirk’s sexual visions – and she clearly succeeds here. The porn-music that plays every time her character appears is maybe a bit too much, but hey…

So, Dorothy Malone has a juice, scene-stealing part, lots of screen-time and even a showy dramatic scene in the end – basically everything you need but, as I said, her acting style, even though meant for her movie, is not entirely for me. Her famous ‘mambo of death’, her confrontation with her brother when she tells him about a possible affair between his wife and his best friend or simply her delivery of a line like ‘Remind me to send you some of my towels. I believe you’re still wet behind the ears’ are so deliciously over-the-top that Dorothy Malone basically took the road to ‘bad’ but went so far that she came back to ‘brilliant’ – if ever a performance deserved the credit ‘so bad it’s good’, it’s probably this one. And in this case, I mean it as a compliment.

But other scenes, like the face she makes when her brother gets wounded after a fight with Mitch, the scene at the lake or her final scene in the court-room lack that camp-style that usually surrounds her work and therefore leave her totally on her own – and here she sometimes misses the ability to go from bad back to good.

So, it’s a performance that is impossibly hard to judge since it combines excellence with mediocrity like no other in this category but in the end, I can’t help but love her for what she doing here.

Number 54: Shelley Winters as Mrs. Petronella Van Daan in "The Diary of Anne Frank" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

I used to give this performance a better spot in my ranking and I also like it when the Academy recognizes un-showy performances that don’t seem tailor-made to win awards – but at the same time I just don’t like it too much when I have to ‘look for an Oscar-winning performance’, meaning that I would probably never even notice Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank if she had not won an Oscar for it. So, she’s maybe stuck with a very thin part that pales compared to almost every other one in the movie but Shelley Winters still made a large impression in this talented ensemble.

She played Mrs. Van Daan, the mother of Peter and one of the Jews hiding from the Nazis. Compared to the almost saint-like, perfect parents of Anne (played by Joseph Schildkraut and Gusti Huber who both should have been the nominees for this movie), the parents of Peter are more ‘realistic’ – they fight, they argue, they aren’t easy to be around with constantly. And this is also the aspect from which the movie gains a lot of its power – it shows how difficult it is for all these people to spend day after day after day locked together. More than anything, The Diary of Anne Frank shows the clash of different characters in an extreme situation. All this would make it very easy for the audience to dislike the Van Daans but Shelley Winters was able to combine the annoying aspects of her role with two others that are always sure to get the sympathy of the audience – the suffering wife and mother. It’s clear that she worries about her son just as much as Mrs. Frank worries for her daughters only Mrs. Van Daan also has her selfish husband, who often treats her like dirt, to care of. It’s mostly these scenes that show Shelley Winters handle Mrs. Van Daan’s life with her husband that are her biggest success – she is immensely moving when her husband wants to sell her precious coat to get some cigarettes for himself or when she has to defend herself in front of Mrs. Frank that she always gives her husband a little more to eat than everyone else. And this also lead to her best scene when Mr. Van Daan is caught stealing food in the middle of the night and Mrs. Frank wants to throw him out – Shelley Winter’s plead to let them stay is very moving and probably one of the most powerful moments of the movie.

Overall, Shelley Winters’s character is not only the opposite of Mrs. Frank but she also uses the opposite acting style than Gusti Huber – while Gusti Huber is mostly very subtle and not showing the worries that torture her character, Shelley Winters always shows the fears of Mrs. Van Daan. This way, she gets some very effective close-up that show her fear of death, of the Nazis, of being finally caught.

Among the ensemble of The Diary of Anne Frank, Shelley Winters does not really stand out but she is a powerful part of it.

7/06/2011

Number 55: Alice Brady as Mrs. Molly O’Leary in "In Old Chicago" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

After having lost the first Supporting Actress Oscar ever given to Gale Sondergaard, Alice Brady was back the next year and won for her portrayal of Mrs. O’Leary, the woman whose cow caused the big fire of Chicago. While My Man Godfrey the year before showed us Alice Brady’s wonderful talents for comedy, In Old Chicago allowed her to display a very captivating combination of comedy and drama.

Particularly right at the beginning when her husband dies during their journey to Chicago. Alice Brady is very moving at the funeral, when she tells her husband ‘Goodbye, Pat. Someday I’ll be sending the priest. To speak the proper words.’ Mrs. O’Leary now has to take care of her three sons by herself and soon she is the best wash-woman in Chicago.

Right in these early scenes, Alice Brady finds the foundation for the whole character of Mrs. O’Leary – she is a no-nonsense woman (whose most famous remark is a disapproving ‘Mmh’) who seems to be stern and tough but clearly loves her children and has a good sense of humor when she finds the situation fit for it. All this makes Alice Brady instantly loveable and she takes a simple part in what is basically an early version of those disaster movies from the 70s and creates a very strong, impressive and dominating character. She runs the gamut of emotions with a lot of poise and ease – she can make you laugh by drinking a large glass of beer just as easily as she can break your heart when she tries to escape the fire and loses the picture of her dead husband. Her voice can be as high as that of Butterfly McQueen in Gone with the Wind and as deep as that of the ents in The Lord of the Rings – and she uses both registers with great effect.

She also has a great chemistry with all the actors playing her sons, making the O’Learys a believable family (as Mrs. O’Leary puts it ‘The O’Learys against the world!’). This is neither a very complex character nor a deep characterization but Alice Brady still constructed a very original and charming character in which she is able to take everything that could make Mrs. O’Leary an unlikable person (like her stubbornness) and uses it for the opposite. She is a breath of fresh air in In Old Chicago and constantly able to put a lot comedy into her work.

Her later dramatic work during the Great Fire is also very impressive but unfortunately she is also given what must be one of the worst moments in any movie ever nominated for Best Picture – the final monologue in which Mrs. O’Leary talks about how her family will go on after she basically burned down the entire city. It’s a scene that is almost shocking in its weirdness and Alice Brady also visible struggled to get though it.

But this final moment is not enough to destroy what is an overall great and captivating performance!

Number 56: Mary Streenburghen as Lynda Dummar in "Melvin and Howard" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

The fact that Mary Steenburghen is an Oscar-winner seems to be rather forgotten today but in 1980, she swept the Supporting Actress awards for her performance as Lynda Dummar, the charming, quirky and a bit odd wife of Melvin, an eternal loser who constantly lets every bit of money he gets slip through his fingers.

Melvin and Howard is a very interesting but also strange movie – it’s the kind of movie that seems to have no real point and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers but it also provides some nice entertainment and some very unique characters. One of them is Lynda – she sometimes seems to be a bit slow but she is not stupid, maybe a bit naïve but at the same time she clearly knows what she wants. She doesn’t possess a true heart of gold – maybe silver because she is a very honest, open and good-hearted person but she will not tolerate any kind of behavior she can’t accept.

Mary Steenburghen is an interesting case for me. She is very lively and charming in Melvin and Howard and occasionally a true comedic gem but she also feels very static, lifeless and inconsistent at others. The problem is that Melvin and Howard, even though it tells a chronological story, feels very ‘jumpy’ without any real plot or character development and Mary Steenburghen seems to be a bit lost sometimes. Melvin and Howard is the kind of movie in which a lot happens while you feel that nothing happens at all – and this is the case with Mary Steenburghen’s performance, too.

It would be best to say this – when the script denies her any possibilities, Mary Steenburghen is still interesting to watch as the constructs the character of Lynda. When the script offers her any possibilities, she is golden. Her scenes in the strip clubs, where she works because she loves to dance, are hilarious and, of course, who can forget her most famous moments when she does a tap dance at a game show in TV? Her dance, her joy when she wins, her jumping around and screaming is simply unforgettable.

These comedic scenes are mixed with various dramatic moments like losing the custody of her child or leaving Melvin (for what feels like the 1000th times) after he again spent all their money on things they don’t need. Her little conversation with him before she leaves in which she tells him of her dreams of being a French interpreter is almost heartbreaking.

It’s a very original performance and if Mary Steenburghen had been given a stronger character in a stronger movie, she might really have been outstanding. So, she had to settle for a little less but still gives a great, memorable performance.

7/04/2011

Number 57: Gale Sondergaard as Faith Paleologus in "Anthony Adverse" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Few Oscar-winning performances are so deliciously entertaining and so shockingly empty at the same time as Gale Sondergaard’s turn as Faith Paleologus, an evil-minded, manipulating and gold-digging maid in the overblown epic Anthony Adverse.

It seems, that with her performance, Gale Sondergaard wanted to prove that she had the best teeth in Hollywood, giving us a big, cat-like but not to be trusted grin at every possible situation. From the way the character is presented and played by Gale Sondergaard, there can be little doubt that Faith is up to no good – she does not murder anyone but her small eyes, her evil grin, her way of speaking her lines make sure that even a blind person sees the evil in her. It’s a performance that is never over-the-top but it isn’t subtle either – Gale Sondergaard seems to enjoy herself very much and she also makes it very easy for the audience to enjoy her work. Her deep voice, that wide grin, her expressive eyes all create a very intriguing character – Faith never appears like a maid, rather like a queen, a woman who commands instead of taking commands. Sometimes it all seems rather confusing and the most confusing aspect is certainly why anyone would have this woman in the house but there is something magnetic about her that seems to explain the reason.

One thing has to be said: Gale Sondergaard, together with Claude Rains, is easily the best thing about the movie. Neither the story of Anthony Adverse nor the other actors provide any entertainment. Frederic March seems rather uncomfortable in a role he seems to know he’s miscast in while Olivia de Havilland seems still to try to find herself as an actress. No, Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard easily stand out and make you wish that the movie was only about them. But maybe, too much of them would ruin the effect of their appearances. In fact, Gale Sondergaard has very little screen time in this two and a half hour-movie – maybe fifteen minutes and only one of her scenes lasts longer than two minutes. This is also the reason why her performance is so empty despite being so delicious – apart from giving evil grins and trying to get ahead socially, there is not much to do for Gale Sondergaard. Like Anjelica Huston she steals the show but has the advantage of not having to do very much for it since nobody else seems to want to steal it.

But Gale Sondergaard certainly brought life to her part and every scene she appears in. Her wonderful chemistry with Claude Rains and Frederic March turns all their scenes into gold. It’s easy to see that Gale Sondergaard was the physical role-model for the evil witch from Disney’s Snow White

So, Gale Sondergaard definitely played the evil bitch to perfection but the emptiness of the part and the limits of the performance prevent her from receiving a better position. Still, a wickedly entertaining performance.