My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 2002: Salma Hayek in "Frida"

Is it possible to watch a performance with no expectations at all? Surely a lot of people will say yes and they are surely right but I know that I have never been able to do that. For me, expectations come naturally. There are so many forums, websites or blogs with reviews about Best Actress nominees that by now I have basically heard or read about everyone of them and before I watch a certain performance, I already know about the reputation it has today and how it was reviewed when it was first released. I also have my own ideas about the kind of movie the nominee stars in and if it’s a movie that allows an impressive performance and so on. Because of all this, it’s impossible for me to watch a performance without already thinking before the movie even started about how much I am probably going to like it. And strangely enough, most of the time I am right. By now, I just know what to expect of certain actors, of certain roles and of certain movies and it hardly happens anymore that I am completely surprised. Does this mean that I judge all these performances based on my expectations? Or that my expectations cloud my judgment and therefore all performances end up receiving just the grade that I expected? Certainly not – this would make this whole trip and ranking useless. Because I may have a certain expectation about every performance but not about where exactly it will end up in my ranking. I also think of myself as somebody who is not influenced by a love, respect or dislike for a certain performer. Katharine Hepburn is my favorite actress but her performances are not above criticism. I don’t care very much for Norma Shearer but her work in Marie Antoinette blew me away nonetheless. And in the end, surprises do happen – sometimes I expect to be blown away only to end up disappointed. Of course, being disappointed can still mean that it is actually a great performance – but when you expect an easy 5, a grade of 4,5 can still be disappointing. And of course, there are the other, much more pleasant surprises – when a performance that I expect to dislike completely ends up ranging from good (happens rather often) to very good (not quite so often) or even great (almost never happens). So why am I telling you all this? Well, it was very hard to watch Frida without thinking of the huge amount of dislike that has been thrown at Salma Hayek’s Oscar nominated performance during the last years – she may have been nominated for every major award for her work as the famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo but the reputation of her work has gone downhill rather fast. Nick Davis, dinasztie, Sage and Joe are all almost unanimous in their critical position to this performance and also other critics, bloggers and writers tend to share this point of view. So, my mind was pretty made up and I was prepared for the worst. So – were my expectations fulfilled? Or did this performance turn out to be one of those seldom surprises?

Frida is the kind of movie that is often described as a ‘passion project’ because Salma Hayek had been involved with it for a long time and over the years convinced producers and famous co-stars to share her vision. And Frida is certainly a curious creation – on the one hand it’s impossible to overlook the passion, the dedication and the admiration for its central character that went into the whole production. But on the other hand, the whole movie never truly seems to grasp the character of Frida Kahlo – it’s a conventional biopic that tries to tell a whole, complicated lifetime in just 2 hours and, in this way, follows the tradition of countless biopics before. But even though it still never feels like a movie about a specific artist but rather seems to tell the story of any artist whom it follows along and in this way resembles the kind of movie that makes one say during the end credits ‘Oh look, this was actually based on a true story’. Maybe the reason for this is that Frida Kahlo is more known for what she did instead of who she was but obviously it’s the task of a biopic to present the woman behind the paintings. In this aspect, Frida failed – but in its own structure it still comes out as a strangely fascinating and gripping story. Maybe it doesn’t fulfill its own goal to give insight into the life of Frida Kahlo but it still works as a general story of art, passion, politics and life, using a specific character for a general idea. And within this context, Salma Hayek’s performance works surprisingly well, even if involuntarily. Because she, too, seems not to portrays a certain character but her own idea of strength and art. Like Nicole Kidman in The Hours, Salma Hayek played a woman who is mostly known for her artistry instead of her personality. And because of this, both women did not need to either copy any well-known mannerism or create a public figures from the inside because neither the exterior nor any characteristics, moods or behaviors of Virginia Woolf or Frida Kahlo are truly known. Maybe a fake nose and a unibrow were added to add to the effect but essentially, Salma Hayek and Nicole Kidman could create their characters with a lot of artistic freedom and independence. Just like the movie Frida itself, Salma Hayek crafted a woman that never uncovers the layers of this real-life personality but rather one that seems to be a product of acting, writing and directing instead of reality. In this way, Salma Hayek may not give a truly deep or challenging characterization of Frida Kahlo but she does give a deep and satisfying characterization of the woman presented on the screen. It’s hard to say if this all makes sense and in some ways her performance is not different from that of countless other performances of real-life persons – as mentioned just now, Nicole Kidman’s work is less notable for bringing Virginia Woolf to life than for displaying a woman suffering from deep depression. Or is Faye Dunaway’s performance in Bonnie and Clyde ever measured by how well she captured the character of the real Bonnie Parker? So, Salma Hayek’s work is not unique in this aspect but it is worth noting since Frida is a straight-forward biopic while movies like The Hours or Bonnie and Clyde aim to achieve different goals. So, in a certain way, both Frida and Salma Hayek’s performance are failures because they are not able to evoke any feeling for the real-life character they present. But at the same time, they are able to succeed in a different way – crafting a strong and intriguing woman who, as written, seems only to exist in the world that Frida creates but, thanks to Salma Hayek’s charisma and dedication, is still fascinating enough to overcome all the flaws surrounding it.

The character of Frida demands an actress to find the right tone for her work from the first moment on she is on-screen – because Frida Kahlo is presented as a fully-developed person right away and a false step at these early moments could easily ruin the whole performance that follows. Thankfully, Salma Hayek disappearance into the 18-year old Frida Kahlo is a completely spellbinding introduction, mainly because she was able to display her youthful spirit without any exaggerated mannerism or make-up. Salma Hayek still looks like Salma Hayek but somehow her smile, her way of talking and behaving turns her into a believable young woman who meets her boyfriend for a quick sexual encounter in a closet and then needs the help of her bigger sister to get him out of the house unnoticed. In these first scenes, she successfully unfolds the character in small and big steps and finds a constant stream in which she develops her further – she already shows her as a passionate, unconventional, intelligent woman who possesses the kind of ‘free spirit’ that a character like this in a movie like this always displays. But fortunately, she handled the clichés of her character with visible ease. She can sneak into an auditorium to watch Diego Rivera paint a nude woman or talk about politics with her boyfriend and suddenly admire some gold that another man is carrying without turning into the kind of ‘free spirit’ that can be found in so many other movies – an unconventional woman who uses every second of her life to be different, to exaggerate her emotions and while talking jump from one topic to the other, constantly trying to surprise everyone around her, often to cover the obligatory sadness inside her with a joyful appearance. Instead, Salma Hayek’s Frida appears like a truly honest creation, a woman who always means what she says and says what she thinks, a real multitasker who is always handling various different topics in her mind without losing the connection to one them and who can be an object of affection, of lust, a comrade, an artist and a political figure all at once. In the bus scene, Salma Hayek effectively showed that Frida may be shifting her focus to another topic for a short moment but this does not mean that her mind is not still fully focused on the political conversation she is having at the same time. Also later in the movie, Salma Hayek often believable demonstrated that Frida is always aware and always reflecting, combining this thoughtful spirit effectively with her emotional side. And also for this emotional side, Salma Hayek avoided the usual clichés and mannerisms that accompany such a part – Frida is an artist! She is Mexican! She has affairs! She talks about politics! She has a wild marriage! This alone would usually generate the most exotic, wild and unpredictable acting choices. But apparently Salma Hayek understood her character better than that and played her with a combination of pig-headedness, sensitivity, emotiveness and clear focus on both her own acting choices and Frida’s intentions. And this clear focus on her own work while portraying a sort of rebellious woman made her performance much richer and more satisfying than first expected. Maybe Frida does not allow Salma Hayek to go really deep into the mind and soul of this woman since it tells a very straightforward story that mostly stays on the surface as it presents the various events that happened to her instead of showing who she was but somehow Salma Hayek was able to find her own depth and her own core by never dropping any of Frida’s characteristics and constantly showing her emotional and intellectual growth despite the fact that she actually never changed during her lifetime.

Strangely enough, despite all the admiration for Frida Kahlo that went into Frida, everything and everyone in it still keeps a visible distance from her – an involuntarily distance created by the screenplay but this distance also helped Salma Hayek to treat this character without any worship or exaggerated admiration. Instead, she always feels honest and down-to-earth in her interpretation and carried the movie this way with charisma and intriguing realism, from her moments of joy to her outbursts or grief and her relationship with Diego. This relationship is another important part of the movie – Frida may be about Frida Kahlo but most of all it puts the relationship between two headstrong and unique characters in its centre. And both Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina are able to keep the tension and electricity between their two characters for the whole movie, from this first meeting right up to the scene in which he proposes to her again. In this first meeting, Salma Hayek defined their relationship right away when Frida refuses to go up to him to show him her pictures and instead insists that he comes down to her – it may be out of necessity because her legs still suffer from her accident but Salma Hayek also combined this moment with Frida’s typical insistence and headstrong personality while also finding moments of nervousness and uncertainty over her art. The romance and marriage that follows this moment is never perfect but somehow feels right, thanks to Salma Hayek who is able to be the driving force of this relationship and always gives it reason. Even when the movie begins to shift at some parts and focuses more on the character of Diego, Salma Hayek still keeps control over all proceedings and dominates the story without feeling officious in any way. When Selma Hayek displays happiness, she also gives a positive light to this relationship and when she tells her husband in the night how much he hurt her or on the street that he was never a husband to her, she finds some truly wonderful moments that highlight and define her whole performance and the complicated love between Frida and Diego.

Of course, there are moments when the flat structure of the screenplay and the movie also brings Salma Hayek down – but she also adds some misfires herself, too. Sometimes she feels too much like an actress going through the emotions that she is asked to go through instead of truly turning her character into an honest creation. But even if she doesn’t handle some of these moments with more than the competence of a dedicated performer – this competence is still more than enough to both carry the movie and help Salma Hayek to go through the various emotions and living situations of her character. And with this, she serves both this character and the movie and single-handedly defines the tone and feeling of every scene. She can be truly heartbreaking when her boyfriend breaks up with her after her accident, exciting when she is dancing at a party, believably angry and disappointed when she smells the perfume of another woman on her husband and compelling when she talks about her political views. Maybe it is easy to accuse Salma Hayek of not going very deep – mainly because these accusations are correct. Her whole performance feels more like a presentation than a characterization but it’s still a gripping one and needed a lot of confidence and charisma to make it work. And even if her performance exists mostly on the surface, she still makes it feel that Frida is a much deeper character than the movie allows – it’s maybe not a deep characterization of Frida Kahlo but it feels like a deep characterization of the woman that is presented on the screen. Maybe this review sounds a little bit too enthusiastic – as I mentioned, Salma Hayek does not always overcome the limitations of the movie or her own talent and despite the wide range of emotions and events her character goes through, the role often feels too one-dimensional in many aspects. But still, Salma Hayek was a surprise – a more than pleasant surprise. Maybe I am alone with this opinion but to expect the worst and discover something truly engaging and worthwhile does not happen very often during the journey through all Best Actress nominees – I hope to be surprised more often like this in the future. But for now, Salma Hayek’s performance in which dedication, passion and focus triumph over one-dimensionality and thin writing receives


YOUR Best Actress of 1963

Here are the results of the poll:

1. Patricia Neal - Hud (40 votes)

2. Leslie Caron - The L-Shaped Room (14 votes)

3. Natalie Wood - Love with the Proper Stranger (11 votes)

4. Rachel Roberts - This Sporting Life (6 vote)

5. Shirley MacLaine - Irma La Douce (4 votes)

Thanks to everyone for voting!

Best Actress 2002: Diane Lane in "Unfaithful"

If Laurence Olivier calls an actress ‚The next Grace Kelly‘, then the actress in question must truly be a unique combination of charm, grace (no pun intended) and talent. And if that actress in question is only 13 years old, then it’s clear that she must possess a very special aura and appeal to let one of the greatest and most respected actors of the 20th century become such an instant admirer. Yes, Diane Lane was surely off to a great start. After her film debut opposite Olivier in A Little Romance, she was one of the main young stars destined to become an instant hit with critics and audiences alike. But careers very seldom go as planned and while Diane Lane did create a sensation very early in her life, she gradually began to disappear and basically became ‘another actress’, doing steady work, sometimes a success, sometimes a failure, but never truly putting her back in the spotlight. And so it’s both surprising and wonderful that of all possible movie roles, it was the one of a cheating housewife in a standard erotic thriller that brought her the long-awaited critical attention and resulted in her first Oscar nomination. After all, nominations for those kinds of roles aren’t the easiest to get, especially if the movie itself is met with mostly mixed or even negative reviews. Of course, being the standout in a rather weak movie can also help a performer to gain attention – Meryl Streep has been receiving Oscar nominations this way more than once by now. But Meryl Streep is…well, Meryl Streep – awards attention for her almost always begins even before the movie is finished. For other actresses, Oscar nominations don’t come so easy. So, Diane Lane had the advantage of being the most praised aspect of a panned erotic thriller which was also her biggest disadvantage since Academy members are not truly known for awarding actresses for these kinds of roles in these kinds of movies. So, it would not help Diane Lane to just be the best thing in an average movie – instead, she had to carry herself to a higher level of excellence, not only standing out but becoming the main reason why Unfaithful succeeded despites its weaknesses and providing it with more than just a standard repertoire of lust, guilt and tears but a believable and authentic presentation of a woman torn apart by her own actions, desires, wishes and regrets. Did she succeed? Well, the critics certainly thought so. When the New York Film Critics gave 5 accolades to Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven but then ignored the most praised aspect of this film – Julianne Moore’s central performance as a woman dealing with the dissolution of her perfect life – in favor of Diane Lane, it became clear that her work hit a nerve. In the end, she was not able to overcome Nicole Kidman’s even bigger success story the same year and, looking back on it, was not truly able to turn her Oscar nomination into a career revival but Unfaithful did, 31 years after the begin of her acting career on a small stage in New York, turn her into an Academy Award nominated actress and finally created a full circle to the upcoming and exciting young actress of the early 80s.

As mentioned a couple of time by now, Unfaithful is neither a great movie nor a good movie. It strings together various clichés that this genre has seen countless times before it suddenly drops the eroticism and exchanges it with crime – but its biggest problem is the simple fact that, for a movie with such problems around almost every corner, it takes itself far too seriously. There are many moments in Unfaithful that make me roll my eyes – basically every time Oliver Martinez or Richard Gere appear on the screen – and while all these flaws prevent Unfaithful from becoming a great film it still remains strangely watchable – thanks to Diane Lane who truly sank her teeth into a role that could have easily come across as a thin stereotype but turned into a strangely fascinating character study thanks to her earthy and honest portrayal. But even though, Unfaithful never truly feels like a ‘one woman show’ despite the fact that it clearly is. This is thanks to Diane Lane’s haunting restraint in a role that usually would have invited a lot of actresses to a collection of scene-stealing and scenery-chewing tricks – something that might have seemed like the most logical and maybe even only solution since the part of Connie is not necessarily better written than anything else in Unfaithful – but Diane Lane somehow discovered potential in a role that lacks it on paper and took the opportunity to carry the story and give reason to a character that was written without any.

But even with all this early praise, it has to be stated that Diane Lane only succeeds in parts – because she cannot always overcome the limitations that are put upon her by her own movie. Connie Sumner may be the central character of Unfaithful but she never truly develops her own point of view or seems responsible for her own actions. She is a movie character that makes the structure of the screenplay palpable at every moment and she always seems to act in a certain way because the screenplay asks her to – nothing she does appears at it if came by her own decision. Of course, every movie character develops and acts in a way the screenplay wants him or her to but Unfaithful never feels like a genuine story but always poorly constructed and obviously designed to move the plot in a certain direction. Diane Lane was not fully able to overcome these obstacles and fails to craft Connie as an independent creation who is driven by her own instincts and wishes. But where she does succeed is by giving Connie an inner life nonetheless – an inner life that is not only dominated by her lust for Paul but also by her own intelligence. It’s probably the biggest accomplishment by Diane Lane that she was able to show that Connie is not controlled by her desires but always knows what she is doing and why, no matter how much she wants to resist herself. Connie Sumner could easily have been portrayed as a purely emotional woman who is never her own master, especially considering the aforementioned structure of Unfaithful which always pushes her in any way the screenplay needs, but Diane Lane somehow managed to let Connie appear ‘smarter than she really is’ nonetheless.

Besides this, Diane Lane found an extremely appealing way to bring this largely unappealing woman to live because even if the screenplay constantly holds its tight arms around Connie without letting her feel like a natural creation, Diane Lane still appears as spontaneous, natural and real as possible. Unfaithful and Connie Sumner are not well written and Diane Lane gets various standards moments that include the hidden attraction, the fiery passion and the unavoidable guilt but she presents all these moments with a believable, natural, fresh and genuine acting style. Because when all the obstacles are mentioned and overcome, Diane Lane comes out at the top of Unfaithful with a mature and intriguing performance that is intelligent, erotic, quiet, wild and a wonderful display of an actress not only overcoming countless difficulties that are thrown in her way but also doing it without ever appearing to be trying at all – instead, she feels very ‘in the moment’ and if Unfaithful never lets Connie Sumner feel like an authentic woman, then Diane Lane’s performance surely does. It’s a constant fight of a dedicated performer against a movie that does its best to hold her back and Diane Lane may not always win her battles with a perfect score – but the final balance is certainly in her favor.

What is probably the most interesting aspect of Unfaithful is the complete randomness of the affair between Connie and Paul. It’s easy to dismiss this aspect since there are no apparent reasons for Connie’s actions and also because even her first encounter with Paul is completely by accident. Nothing in the life of Connie Sumner suggested this passionate affair with a young man and so Diane Lane had to work hard to make all of Connie’s doings believable – which she does. From her first enchantment by this man’s charm to her self-doubt while visiting him again, her hesitation when she picks up the phone and finally to her self-realization that she is willing to start an affair with him. Diane Lane impresses with a portrayal that never loses its plausibility even when the screenplay does. Unfaithful does not only often hold Diane Lane back but also delivers the message that Connie’s affair is somehow more deserving of punishment than the crime of her husband. Diane Lane does her best to show how Connie is torn apart between her loyalty to her husband and her fear of this unknown, dark side in him but her confrontation scene in which her husband is apparently seen as the more justified side is too misjudged for her to find any credibility. Still, Diane Lane constantly guides Unfaithful as its emotional and intellectual anchor – she creates the tension in Unfaithful when she finds out how much her husband actually knew about her affair, she adds an unexpected amount of sorrow and pain as she realizes that she cannot go on like this anymore and she even feels honest and touching after she learns about Paul’s fate. Diane Lane may express mostly standard emotions for a movie like this but she does so with a gripping intensity that never comes from any over-expressing but rather from a strong, internal display which allows her to not only carry Unfaithful but give it a moral dimension beneath the high-polished sex scenes. Especially her scene on the train after her first sexual encounter with Paul is often mentioned as her brightest moment as she is allowed to display a wide variety of emotions from guilt and enjoyment to self-mockery, desperation and pleasure in just a few moments but the editing is working against her as the almost never-ending display of different emotions is, even though gripping from a technical point of view, too much too sudden. Much more interesting are the intervened scenes of her first sex with Paul as she beautifully demonstrates Connie’s fear, anxiety and anger at herself and Paul for crossing this line while also showing how much Connie is enjoying this moment and lets Connie’s body shiver with a combination of lust and fear. And when she later cries in her kitchen, she does never appear like a woman training to gain any sympathy but instead like a real woman finding herself in a hopeless situation – hopeless because she lacks the power to change it.

With her performance, Diane Lane manages to draw the viewer very close to Connie’s personal experiences. She displays both a wild lust and a sense of self-doubt in all her sexual encounters with Paul and it’s almost shocking how she manages to believably portray her desire for Paul while hating herself more and more during their scene in the hallway. Despite Diane Lane’s earthiness and strong screen presence her Connie often seems almost fragile, collapsing inside from the pressure she has put upon herself. It’s a performance in which Diane Lane is allowed to run the gamut of emotions from A to Z and she does it as impressively as anybody could under the circumstances. She is hold back by her movie very often and cannot fight against being ungratefully pushed aside in the final third of the movie but she still leaves a lasting impression with a passionate, willing and uncompromising performance that receives