Wednesday, June 16, 2010

1985 Best Actress Rankings

5. Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God - 2 1/2 Stars

Agnes of God is a deeply flawed adaptation of the stage play. At a convent, a dead newborn is found, wrapped in bloody sheets, in the bedroom wastebasket of a young fragile, unearthly novice Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly). Anne Bancroft is solid in the role of the controlling Mother Superior who wants Agnes left alone when a psychiatrist played by Jane Fonda wants to get to the truth as to what happen.

4. Meryl Streep, Out of Africa - 3 Stars

Eh, another 80's Streep borefest. I can barely make it through a full viewing of Out of Africa. While it has a beautiful score and imagery, it's story is incredibly dull. Streep plays Baroness Karen Blixen who despairing that she would be single forever, married her lover's brother, moved out to Kenya in East Africa, ran a coffee plantation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and later, when the plantation was bankrupt and the dream was finshed, wrote books about her experiences under the name Isak Dinesan. Sounds more exciting than it actually is. Streep is technically solid but again I feel nothing for her character.

3. Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams - 4 Stars

Like Angela Bassett as Tina Turner, Jessica Lange passes the lip synch test in Sweet Dreams. She captures the sassy, spunky, bawdy spirit of the great country singer Patsy Cline. Lange looks no more like Patsy Cline than I do, and her lip-scynchs to Cline's work is rather hit-and-miss, but she gives a truly memorable performance. As the film opens Patsy is bored and ready to leave a failed marriage. She meets up with lady-killer Charlie Dick (played by Ed Harris) and their torrid romance begins. As their love affair takes off, so does Patsy's career. Sweet Dreams is a slow-moving, but well made little film. Lange carries the story, sinking her acting chops into a loud, showy role, quite different from most of her other work.

2. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple - 5 Stars

Whoopi Goldberg gives one of the best film debut performances in the history of cinema as Celie in The Color Purple. Goldberg is fabulous as the tortured Celie, an unattractive woman given away by her incestuous father to an abusive Danny Glover, who she only knows as "Mister". She perfectly plays a human being, someone in need of love and someone who deserves it. The films' most poignant and heartbreaking moment comes when Goldberg and her sister, Nettie, are separated, maybe forever. Goldberg has a difficult job to do, enlisting our sympathy for a woman who is rarely allowed to speak, to dream, to interact with the lives around her. And she does it brilliantly.

1. Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful - 5 Stars

After 7 previous nominations and losses, the 8th time was the charm for Geraldine Page when she won the Oscar for playing Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful. Carrie Watts is living the twilight of her life trapped in an apartment in 1940's Houston, Texas with a controlling daughter-in-law and a hen-pecked son. Her fondest wish -- just once before she dies -- is to revisit Bountiful, the small Texas town of her youth which she still refers to as "home." The movie almost unfolds as a Broadway play. It may seem depressing at first, but that's the gift that Geraldine has in portraying the emotions of an aging Southern mother who yearns to return to the small town she left in Texas many many years before. For whatever reason, this film hits an emotional chord with me because Geraldine Page reminds me so much of my maternal grandmother. Her character could be our grandmother, our mother, and we come to love this eccentric character as though she were family. Page is so masterful and in every frame of this monumental film, that we tend to forget that she is even acting. Thank God this film was made when it was and that the voters saw fit to honor her at that time because she would pass away just a year and a half after winning the Oscar.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Second Thought...

When reviewing the 1987 Best Actress nominees I was absolutely torn between Holly Hunter and Sally Kirkland. They were both brilliant and couldn't be more different. I ultimately went with Kirkland but it kept bothering me for several days. I think Hunter's Jane captured my heart and my conscience was telling me I should follow it. So I will be swapping Kirkland and Hunter in my rankings. Again they were both terrific. But I think Hunter's character simply won me over. That and Broadcast News was by far a better film than Anna.

Friday, June 11, 2010

1991 Best Actress Rankings

5. Bette Midler, For The Boys - 2 Stars

For the Boys gives us the story of Dixie Leonard (Midler), a rough and tough singer with a naughty sense of humor, and Eddie Sparks (James Caan), a secretly sexist comic. When the two meet on a World War II USO tour, it's loathing at first sight--but their audiences adore the combination. Trouble is, you can't imagine why. Both Midler and Caan are expert performers, but they have remarkably little on-screen chemistry, and although they score points individually they never quite seem to be working in tandem. To make matters worse, while the dialogue is often witty, the plot is leaden, and it promptly goes off into a host of predictable directions as it drags its characters from World War II to Vietnam in order to make a series of well-intended but extremely obvious and over-worked comments about changing times and the wastefulness of war.

4. Laura Dern, Rambling Rose- 4 Stars

Gorgeous, touching film about a Southern family in the 1930s whose lives are disrupted by the arrival of Rose (Laura Dern), a so-called "loose" woman with a real heart of gold. Dern is perfectly cast in the delightful title role, and her real-life mother Diane Ladd is brilliant as the matriarch of the conservative clan who does everything in her power to make sure the ignorant and self-righteous men around her don't harm the charming and "rambling" girl. Dern makes the difficult title role her own by making her character's weakness and vulnerabilities also her strengths and virtues.

3. Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise- 5 Stars

Sarandon is at the top of her game and plays the crusty, worldly wise, vulnerable Louise with tenderness and understanding. Davis and Sarandon share a great bond on the film. Thelma and Louise are great friends, but completely different characters in their own right. With Sarandon, I got the feeling that she was the one that had the 'balls' out of the two, making her best friend realize that they should stand for no crap anymore. She also has a past to overcome, and the two of them are drawn together by the events that happen on the run. Sarandon and Davis create an on screen duo that is one of the best in film history.

2. Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise- 5 Stars

I have never seen Geena Davis better. Her unique style is melded very well into a naive woman who never had a chance to express herself, but goes hog wild and seems a natural at it when the time comes. Davis plays a ditsy sort of character, who is naive, but becomes an individual once again, after the men in her life have been nothing but tragedy after tragedy. I gave Davis the edge because I think her character showed more growth from beginning to end.

1. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs- 5 Stars

Silence of the Lambs' is the story of a young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who is summoned to help find one serial killer called `Buffalo Bill.' by interviewing another. Foster's performance is absolutely brilliant. While Anthony Hopkins receives most of the (well-deserved) praise for his chilling portrayal of incarcerated serial killer `Hannibal ‘the Cannibal' Lector', it is Foster's performance that holds the movie together. The fear she shows just behind her eyes makes Clarice's outward courage all the more interesting and vulnerable. This is the perfect way to play the part because it explains Lector's interest in Clarice. Her only bargaining chip in getting Lector's help is to let him `feed' on her innermost secrets and fears in exchange for his brilliant insights into the psychotic mind. It's an intense commanding performance without any false notes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

1984 Best Actress rankings

5. Vanessa Redgrave, The Bostonians - 2 1/2 Stars

This is a Merchant/Ivory film. Even his best reviewed ones like The Remains of the Day and Howards End fell flat for me so certainly The Bostonians, not considered one of his better efforts, fell really really flat! Redgrave gives a decent performance, nothing remarkable at all, but acceptable.

4. Sally Field, Places in the Heart- 3 Stars

The Academy really really liked Sally Field this year. I didn't. Edna Spaulding (Field), who has led a relatively sheltered life until tragedy suddenly strikes and uproots her entire family life as she has known it. This is 1 of 3 movies about a woman trying to save her farm nominated in this year's category! I just thought Field was "acting" a lot. I don't think she became her character.

3. Sissy Spacek, The River - 3 stars

Tom and Mae Garvey (Mel Gibson, Sissy Spacek) are the owners of a small eastern Tennessee farm that has been in the Garvey family for generations. It is the early 1980s, when the staggering U.S. economy threatens the welfare of the American family farm. The Garveys' struggles are compounded by the fact that their property is in a flood plain, and by the enmity of Tom's rival Joe Wade (Scott Glenn), who is a wealthy and powerful foe. Spacek is a lot more subtle in this role than Field and I found her to be a lot more believable in the role of farmer's wife.

2. Jessica Lange, Country - 3 1/2 Stars

Of the 3 farm movies I liked Country the best. The film deals wit the trials and tribulations of a rural family as they struggle to hold onto their farm during the trying economic times experienced by family farms in 1980s. Gil Ivy (Sam Shepherd) and his wife Jewell (Lange) have worked Jewell's family farm for years, and her father Otis (Wilford Brimley)doesn't want to see his family farm lost to foreclosure. However, low crop prices, pending loans and a tornado all put pressure on the struggling family as they face hardship and the prospect of losing their home and livelihood. Lange is from Minnesota and I think she connected with the small life rural farmer role the best of the 3 ladies. It's a sensitive performance and one of her most underrated.

1. Judy Davis, A Passage to India - 3 1/2 Stars

Woah a movie not about a farm! The plot of A Passage to India revolves around a young English woman, Adela Quested played by Davis, who travels to India to meet up with her fiancé. On the trip she is accompanied by her fiancé's mother, Mrs. Moore. After arriving in India, Miss Quested claims to have been raped during an outing to some caverns (a local tourist attraction) by a young native Indian doctor, Dr. Aziz Ahmed. The film continues on with the outraged colonial reaction, the racial tensions between Europeans and Indians, and Ahmed's trial, where the justice system seems to revolve around the concept of "guilty until proved innocent". The main theme of the movie is in fact racism and its consequent injustices. Dr. Ahmed is educated and behaves in quite a European manner, yet the colonial response is outrage that an Indian should have molested a British girl, and a "rush to judgment" ensues with the Europeans assuming guilt even before his trial begins.

Davis portrayal of Adela is extremely realistic and you feel her emotions with such power. It is a strangely curious yet confusing portrayal. And with all the farm ladies cancelling each other out Davis is my winner.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Overall Best Actress rankings (so far)

1. Jessica Lange, Frances
2. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
3. Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment
4. Holly Hunter, Broadcast News
5. Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
6. Sally Kirkland, Anna
7. Geena Davis, Thelma and Louise
8. Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise
9. Stockard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation
10. Holly Hunter, The Piano
11. Marsha Mason, Only When I Laugh
12. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
13. Shirley Maclaine, Terms of Endearment
14. Meryl Streep, Silkwood
15. Melanie Griffith, Working Girl
16. Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction
17.Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
18. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do With It?
19. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
20. Diane Keaton, Reds
21. Jane Alexander, Testament
22. Cher, Moonstruck
23. Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman
24. Debra Winger, Shadowlands
25. Jodie Foster, The Accused
26. Susan Sarandon, Atlantic City
27. Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
28. Laura Dern, Rambling Rose
29. Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist
30. Judy Davis, A Passage to India
31. Jessica Lange, Country
32. Meryl Streep, A Cry in the Dark
33. Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria
34. Katherine Hepburn, On Golden Pond
35. Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day
36. Julie Walters, Educating Rita
37. Sissy Spacek, Missing
38. Sissy Spacek, The River
39. Meryl Streep, Ironweed
40. Sally Field, Places in the Heart
41. Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
42. Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God
43. Vanessa Redgrave, The Bostonians
44. Meryl Streep, The French Lieutenant's Woman
45. Bette Midler, For the Boys

Don't be too sad or mad if one of your favorites you feel is being slighted. I am actually starting out with some of the stronger categories first. Don't worry. I will be handing out plenty of 2 and even 1 stars once I get to the dreck they nominated in 2005, 1994, and 1984 and other years as well!

1993 Best Actress Rankings

5. Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Days - 3 stars

There are some critically acclaimed films that I disagree with here and there. But there's only about 3-5 I just can't sit through. They are Out of Africa, The English Patient, and The Remains of the Day. For whatever reason I could not get through either of these films on a first viewing and quite frankly even after multiple viewings. I just could not get into them. Are they boring? Well maybe to some. I won't go that far as I know many people like them. I did give The Remains of the Day another try and while I still found it painfully dry I could appreciate the performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Thompson gives a subtle and thoughtful performance as Miss Kenton.

4. Debra Winger, Shadowlands- 4 stars

Man that Winger knows how to get me to cry! I teared up at different points in all 3 of her nominated performances. That to me is a sign of an actress who realizes how important it is to strike a bond with her audience. Where I was bored with The Remains of the Day I was incredibly moved by Shadowlands which also stars Anthony Hopkins. Winger projects a quiet empathy in creating Joy Gresham, a woman who has fallen in love with author C.S. Lewis through his writings. Like in Terms of Endearment, illness strikes Winger and it makes for some incredibly sad scenes at the end. Her scene with Hopkins in the rain where she tells him "the pain then is part of the happiness later" is incredibly well done and moving. Starting here with Winger, any of the above women in this category easily tops anyone in the 1992 and 1994 Best Actress fields.

3. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It?- 4 1/2 stars

I usually am turned off in biopics when an actor portrays a singer and lip synchs. But Bassett is so fiery and convincing as Tina Turner it's easy to overlook that one fact. Bassett's performances of the songs are so much in synch - not just lip-synch, but physically, and with personality and soul -- that it always seems as if we're watching Tina at work. Bassett has so many incredibly scenes especially the scene where she goes to a motel after being beaten by her husband and begs them to take her in. Compare this performance with similiar and rather pedestrian performances that WON Oscars like Jamie Foxx and Reese Witherspoon and you realize how great it truly is.

2. Holly Hunter, The Piano- 5 stars

The Piano is as haunting a movie as your gonna see. The performances are as original as the characters. Hunter's Ada is pale and grim at first, although she is capable of warming. It is interesting to note that all of Hunter's piano playing in the film is actually Hunter herself performing in front of us. You can visually and aurally feel the mood of Hunter's character through the music she plays. She does more with her facial expressions than twenty actors can with a thousand words. Her stature, her presence, her determination are so intense. One could feel sorry for her in places. She has been ripped from her world for reasons we cannot fathom. She has been deemed expendable. When she arrives she expects to be treated properly. Holly Hunter's outstanding performance conveys impressively a woman's ability to express herself without words.

1. Stockard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation- 5 stars

This was a tough one. I really love Hunter, Winger, and Bassett. But I also felt Stockard Channing was phenomenal as Ouisa Kittredge. Ouisa discovers a new side to her own self in front of our eyes as she is charmed by a mysterious young man played by Will Smith who has entered their wealthy upper west side lifestyle. It is a performance of guts and beauty. Through Ouisa Kittridge it teaches us how mundane our everyday events are, that we all need something drastic to happen to bring us out of sleepy everyday into a fun, exciting, new being. What sealed the deal for me was Channing's ending dinner table scene where she says her piece to her husband and walks down the street a liberated women.

1982 Best Actress Rankings

5. Sissy Spacek, Missing - 3 Stars

Spacek gives an effective performance as a frustrated wife trying to cut through a bureaucratic mess and find her missing husband in Missing. Spacek is perfectly serviceable in this role but she is playing second fiddle to Jack Lemmon all the way here.

4. Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria - 3 Stars

Julie Andrews plays a woman playing a man playing a woman. This isn't your typical Julie Andrews movie that's for sure. It's a complicated challenge. And Andrews pulls it off quite effectively. The only skepticism I have about this movie is seeing her as a man. She's so feminine (in her mannerisms, voice, appearance, etc.) that it's almost impossible to think that she's a man. I also found the supporting performances by Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren, and Alex Karras to have been more interesting and hilarous!

3. Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman - 4 Stars

Talk about taking a thankless role and earning a Best Actress nomination out of it. How many actresses do we see in the "girlfriend" role these days that leave no impression whatsoever? Certainly not a big enough impression to earn a Best Actress nomination out of it. But Winger did just that. She wasn't the main character like Richard Gere was. She didn't have the lines and intensity that Louis Gossett Jr had. Or the sympathetic doomed fate of David Keith. Yet we are attracted to Winger's Paula. She makes us care for her. She is the local factory girl who longs for a better life. She meets Zach Mayo and would like to marry him, but she refuses to do what the other local girls are willing to do -- get pregnant or fake pregnancy to trap a future officer. Winger and Gere have tremendous chemistry and you can't help but feel good at the cheesy ending.

2. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice - 4 1/2 Stars

What more can we said about Meryl's performance here? It's been called by some the greatest performance by an actress ever on film. Perhaps. It's certainly great. It's not even my favorite this category but I can understand why it's so praised. It's technically perfect. Streep plays the Brooklyn scenes with an enchanting Polish-American accent and she plays the flashbacks in subtitled German and Polish. There is hardly an emotion that Streep doesn't touch in this movie, and yet we're never aware of her straining. And she has never looked more attractive on film. The climax of the movie is very devastating and wonderfully actred by Streep. The film itself I did not really enjoy. I thought Kevin Kline was just awful. The movie was pretty slow moving and certainly dragged at points.

1. Jessica Lange, Frances - 5 Stars

What? No Meryl at the top spot? Well much has been made of the Streep vs Lange 1982 race. It really is one of the best 1-2 performances in a Best Actress category. They also couldn't be more different. Jessica Lange plays Frances Farmer in an electrifying performance that is so driven and that contains so many different facets of a complex personality. She is just as good when she portrays Farmer as an uncertain teenager as she is when she plays her much later, snarling at a hairdresser and screaming at her mother. All of those contradictions were inside Farmer and to see Lange act it all out is quite something to behold. I could not take my eyes off her.