Month: May 2014

The Deer Hunter (1978)

 

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The Deer Hunter depicts the impact of the Vietnam war on on the lives of people in an industrial town.

The only things that I have to say about The Deer Hunter is: What a movie! I was quite scared of watching this one since I’m not a fan of war films in general, if you remember, but at the end of the day there’s no denying this film is pure brilliance. Fantastic. Actually, the brilliance of war films is the primary reason why I don’t like to watch them – they just make me feel damn depressed. The same can be said here, but it would be foolish of me to deny that I was blown away by this one. Never have I seen such an emotionally powerful film in a while, and I really think this one is going to stay with me for a while, pretty much like other classics like The Godfather and Schindler’s List.

The best aspect of The Deer Hunter is easily the direction by Michael Cimino. There’s just so much detail in the whole movie that makes it so special, from the cinematography, to the three-dimensional characters, to the story – everything is sufficiently developed. Furthermore, the editing is very well done, and despite the 3 hour runtime, the film doesn’t drag. Actually, approximately one hour is dedicated to each portion of the story, the first being before the war, the second being in Vietnam and the third being about the aftermath of the war. I can understand where some of the comments about the film being boring is coming from, because the first hour is very slow, but I didn’t mind at all. It introduced the characters to us, and in a way the wedding was the final celebration before the three characters go to Vietnam. I thought it was magnificently done; sure, the dance sequence did feel like forever but you can always sense that beneath the happiness and celebrations, there is this underlying tension, anxiety and sadness among the characters, especially through Nick (Christopher Walken), the most sensitive of the lot. The sense of foreboding doom was palpable throughout, despite the laughter and goofing around. The second portion is the one that probably got Cimino the Oscar; the iconic russian roulette scene is probably scarier than any horror films that I’ve seen in my entire life. The tension, the suspense and the evident loss of humanity among the “players” just make the entire sequence nerve-wracking and frightening. Of course, the inaccuracy of the part has often been criticised but its message is still as relevant as ever. War dehumanizes people, and even if you escape unscathed, the psychological scars will always remain. You don’t see any of the actual battle scenes, but I feel that the russian roulette itself really shows how one’s survivor in the war is still ultimately a game of chance. It was also effectively used to depict the psychological effect the war has on soldiers, especially when you see Walken’s character is still “stuck” in the game.  

Emotionally powerful would be the best way to describe this whole film. Yes, these two words have been used to described many films but you really have to see the movie for yourself to understand what I mean. It’s just one of the most saddening films I’ve ever watched, maybe not on Schindler’s List level, but enough to make me feel like wrapping myself in a blanket and thanking God for how blessed I am to not be a part of that history. 

The actors are all top-notch. Robert De Niro was at his prime as an actor (and looks) during this era, and his performance is just fantastic. I cannot describe how intense his entire performance is, and surprisingly enough, his work is actually more subtle than you think. He appears to be the most silent and strongest of the entire group, and yet you can really see through his eyes how the whole thing has scarred him. A lot of his emotional scenes are fantastically handled as well, especially the final one when he is trying to reconnect with Nick. The one that will really stay with you is Christopher Walken’s Nick. Right from the start you can see that he is the most quiet and introspective of the bunch, and to see his subsequent descend into madness and guilt is just…super depressing, albeit brilliantly. The performance is just amazing, one of the most deserving supporting actor winners I’ve seen in a while.  Meryl Streep was really great in her tiny part as well, giving a moving and beautiful performance that was rewarded with her first Oscar nomination. To be honest, I didn’t really love her performance as much as people did because the part is a bit thin, and she does get overshadowed by the film at times. She was waaaaaaay (like MILES) more deserving than Dyan Cannon though, in my opinion. 

At the end of the day, The Deer Hunter is simply one of the best films that I’ve watched so far. Maybe you can argue that the russian roulette metaphor is manipulative trick, but I guess you can say that I was “manipulated” into buying its message. A masterpiece. 5/5. 

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Performance of the week: Diane Keaton in Looking For Mr Goodbar (1977)

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I know this may make no sense to some, especially after how I’ve been rambling on and on about how I love Meryl Streep, Glenn Close , Sissy Spacek etc but I love Diane Keaton. Yes to many she’s not on the same level as those I’ve mentioned, and yet she still has her entire league of fans, including the newer generation of stars like Emma Stone and Natalie Portman. Sure, she may not be the most beautiful or versatile, and she tends to use the same mannerisms over and over again in her roles but there’s something that draws me to her performances – she acts from her heart. It can be hard to see, especially if you are fixated on her acting style and mannerisms, but it’s really there. I’ll be lying if I said that I wasn’t moved by the train station scene in Reds, or when she is talking about how lucky she is to be able to love in Marvin’s Room (or when she’s talking about her ex boyfriend/date), or basically her entire performance in Annie Hall (refer to previous post). It’s really this truthful acting that sets her performances apart from one another for me, and not see her as “playing herself” over and over again. Sure, her neurotic mannerisms and voice can grate on the nerves of some, especially in her performances today since she’s pretty much committing what I call career suicide, but for the most part it works for me and the rest of her fans.

Actually, if there is a year to prove Keaton’s range as an actress, it will be 1977. Besides giving one of my favourite Oscar winning performances of all time as the free spirited and lovely Annie Hall, she did a 180 degree turn in the same year itself as Theresa Dunn in Looking For Mr Goodbar, a lonely school teacher who cruises nightclubs in order to fill her empty life. Many people think that she won for this role instead of Annie Hall, because this is a darker, more complex character in a dramatic film. Well if you read my previous post you know I obviously disagree, but that being said, this performance is pretty great and has its merits as well. Keaton was nominated for a golden globe (drama) for this role but she lost to Jane Fonda in Julia. She did win the comedy one for Annie Hall though, tying with Marsha Mason for The Goodbye Girl (if I’m not wrong). Anyway 1977 was her year, and I really don’t think she was going to lose the Oscar. Her performance as Annie Hall was iconic and deserving, and she was further helped by this performance.

Looking For Mr Goodbar is a pretty forgotten film, but I think it’s truly great. It’s easy to see why it isn’t that popular; it’s a very controversial subject matter, and people were likely to have been turned off by the lead character’s behavior. The ending was disturbing as hell, considering that it is based on a true story. Anyway, the film may be shocking but I think it is a very saddening and disturbing portrait of lonely people and the night life. Some of the camerawork and editing are pretty interesting as well, especially when Keaton’s character is hallucinating/imagining things. Tuesday Weld was nominated for best supporting actress and I think she was truly great, although Vanessa Redgrave really deserved the win that year imo.

Theresa Dunn is a very, very complicated character to play and the performance can easily be misunderstood by some. When I first read about the character, 2 words came into my mind: Jane Fonda. I don’t know why, I could seriously imagine Jane Fonda in the part, bringing her nervousness and nailing the emotional moments. However, as I watched the film and got to mull over it, Keaton’s casting really made sense to me. It might seem odd at first, since she isn’t the most beautiful and sexy, but I think that’s the point of it. They needed an actress who could appear friendly and warm at the surface to play a loving teacher of deaf children, but was at the dame time not afraid to simultaneously bare her flaws and dark side on screen (“It was an abortion, Michael!”). She wasn’t supposed to be beautiful, she was supposed to be this ordinary looking woman you never expect to sleep around with strangers. Seeing Keaton bare everything emotionally and physically was certainly strange and shocking, and that was the point of it.

Easily, the most praiseworthy aspect of this performance is how Keaton balances the double life of this character. There are a lot of layers to this woman, and she reveals them one by one. As usual, she brings her trademark insecurities and neurotic mannerisms into her performance here, but instead of making us fall in love with her like in Annie Hall, she makes us feel that this woman is so…pathetic, and frankly disgusting. I know this might sound strange, but Keaton’s acting here is pretty brutal. When actors play pathetic characters they usually try to win over the sympathy of the audience with tears but when you watch Keaton as Theresa you just want to shake your head and go “Woman. Stop this stupidity and craziness. It’s gross.” Watching her apartment slowly get infested with cockroaches, or when she over sleeps because she was doing drugs the night before is just plain unpleasant.

Diane used her usual insecurities to show how this woman’s scoliosis has impacted her self-esteem ever since she was a young child. In a brilliant monologue to a professor she was having an affair with, she shows how the pain of the operation on her spine has left her disfigured emotionally and physically, leaving her to not understand what she has done to make God mad at her. Instead of crying and wailing, she made the choice of being strangely catatonic and “numb” in this scene, and it just works because it shows that this woman is so damaged to the point that she is almost “indifferent” towards her pain. As she said herself afterwards, “I’d rather be seduced than comforted”. To her, the pain and damage is already done, and the sleeping around and sex is basically her way of “recovery”. I have read some online comments about how they felt that Diane was very uncomfortable in her performance, and somehow this affected the effectiveness of her performance because they felt that her “sexiness” was very forced. While I won’t deny that this is certainly not a typical role of hers to play, and Keaton herself has remarked that this role was very difficult for her, I genuinely think that that is the point of it. Like I said, this woman merely needed the sex to “repair” her damaged self-esteem. She wasn’t like Catherine Tramell, who could flash her vagina at a whole lot of men like it was no big issue. The best scene that exemplified this would be when she was confronted by James (William Atherton) in her apartment. What James saw and said to her pretty much represented our point of view: “This is not you.” I think Keaton’s reaction here caused some misunderstanding, because some people felt that she was a bit unnatural. She responded in this almost childishly defensive tone, saying that this WAS her and started asking James whether he ever had a woman or not while attempting to seduce him on the bed (“I want you HERE!”). Many people felt that her sexiness and weird, “seductive” poses are off, but isn’t that EXACTLY the point? This woman is NOT a temptress, she’s just this sad and broken down thing living among dirty dishes and cockroaches. She thinks that her encounters with men are a way of reaffirming herself as an attractive woman when in reality they are just using her for free, easy sex. Like I said, when you see her you just want to shake your head and say, “No. Just no.”

As mentioned earlier, Keaton balances the double life of the character very well. The “daytime” Theresa is the Diane Keaton we are more used to watching. She works as a teacher for deaf children, and although her charm is not on the Annie Hall level, she brings her usual luminous and warm self to the screen. Just watching her being especially tender and kind to her students makes everything about the character clear. This is the life that she really wants, and the life that she gets the most meaning out of. To give love to the disabled and those in need, instead of her senseless lovemaking at night. You can say that sex is like a drug to her; she needs it badly, even if it’s something that she doesn’t want.

Someone said that Keaton’s character was suffering from borderline personality disorder, and it kind of makes sense considering how it could have stemmed from the woman’s past. Besides the great contrast in her day and night life, she injects her usual Keaton mannerisms and neurotic tics to this character, like in the scene she was imagining herself being arrested for drug possessions, or when she was pretending to punch the hanging ornaments in her apartment. It just makes the character seem a bit “off” and, once again, pathetic.

I guess a valid criticism would be that her some of her line readings can be a bit stiff, but the way I read it was really because the character was just trying waaaay to hard to be something she was not. It’s easy to see why Diane won the Oscar for Annie Hall in 1977 instead of this role. Of course, she was TOTALLY deserving for her performance in that part, but I think it’s also because of the fact that this character is a bit hard to interpret and weird, which is why some people could have misunderstood it. Well, that’s what I’m assuming anyway, and of course, I won’t deny that the Academy don’t usually go for controversial roles like this.

All in all, this is a great performance by a great actress I’m very fond of. It really shows the talent that Diane Keaton had, and it’s highly recommended for people who want to find out more of her other works other than Annie Hall. It just makes me sad about why she is appearing in crap like Smother and The Big Wedding, although I must admit that I kinda wanna watch And So It Goes LOL,

My favourite best actress winners (that I’ve seen)

Well, this is a topic that has been on my mind for quite a while, and I really had to express my thoughts here. I was just thinking about all the movies that I’ve watched, and all the performances that I’ve seen (more actresses, admittedly) and I just felt this need to compile my favourites together. That being said, I’m going to focus specifically on best actress winners for this post, because including other favourite nominees (Glenn Close) and even non-nominated performances is too much of a headache.

All of the performances below are 5 stars performances for me, so much so that it is impossible to judge how one is better than another. At the end of the day, this “ranking” is based on a very subjective factor – my own personal love and preferences. It’s just impossible to say how Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice is better or worse than, say, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, and I refuse to say one is better than another just because one is a devastating dramatic performance while the other is a comedic performance. So it’s really just a feeling of how much I love one more than another, and frankly it is my ranking and I am supposed to be subjective :p.

So without further ado…

*Disclaimer: Screenshots are not by me, I found them on Google images*

10) Patricia Neal as Alma Brown in Hud


Honestly, the only fault with this performance is that it is more of a supporting one, but does that diminish the strength of her performance? No! I consider this performance subtle acting at its finest. Mind you, she doesn’t have a single crying or breakdown scene, and yet you can feel the complex emotions burning off this woman, despite her limited screen time (in terms of screen time, she’s one of the shortest best actress winner). I will never forget her conversations with Paul Newman’s Hud, especially when she was talking about her lousy ex-husband – simply amazing. She describes her past in such a matter of fact, humorous and cynical way but yet you can see the sadness, disappointment, fear and distrust of men (“No thanks. I’ve done my time with one cold-blooded bastard, I’m not looking for another”). Not to mention her obvious attraction towards Hud and her intense chemistry with Newman. You could see that she was drawn to him, but she was too afraid to make it happen due to her past experience, and that she was at the same time too proud to admit it. Patricia Neal had a terrible life before and after this win, and somehow I feel that she managed to channel some of her pain and misery into this part. It’s realistic, natural, saddening and human. The briefness of the part makes it even more effective, leaving you to wonder what is going to happen to this woman after she boards the bus.



9) Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret


I consider Cabaret a masterpiece, and one of the finest musical adaptations ever made (even more than Chicago). And a large part of it has to do with Minnelli’s amazing performance as Sally Bowles. She’s like a darker, musical version of Holly Golightly. She’s carefree, bohemian and yet there’s a lot of sadness and pain in this character. And that singing – fantastic. Each song is sung in such a way that it tells you the tiny bits and pieces of Sally’s story and personality, and Minnelli does a magnificent job in doing so. She could have made it a “Look! Liza Minnelli can sing!” performance but instead she brilliantly portrays every layer of the character through her acting and singing. The final abortion scene is devastating work, and has always stayed with me (“one of my whims?”). No wonder people say that this is the role that allowed her to step out of her mother’s shadows.

8) Elizabeth Taylor as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


Even though I’ve watched this movie three times, I’ve never cared about it as much as the whole world does. It’s a highly respectable, very well-directed and well-written film, but there’s something about it that I just can’t connect to. Well, except for one aspect. Deglam roles have always been declared as pure Oscar baiting, but when it’s done with pure brutal honesty, it’s like fireworks. Fabulous Elizabeth Taylor is certainly an unlikely choice for this role, but she shed all the glamour that is typically associated with her and attacked the part with this no holds barred approach, making an indelible performance out of it. Martha is vulgar, crude, crass and anything that is associated with coarseness. However, while she could be making me laugh with her coarse mockery and rude bickering with George, she is at the end of the day a sad human being, full of pain and sorrows herself, and this can be seen every time her “child” is discussed. Her monologues always burns through the screen with sadness, and she is easily my favourite out of the already very talented cast.

7) Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose


Unlike most people, I don’t fall head over heels in love with “technical” performances, where the performer builds up the mannerisms, accents and all external things about the character aka I don’t find myself going crazy over Daniel Day-Lewis’ performances like most do. It’s not that I think they are bad; on the contrary, they are extremely impressive and incredible when done right, and yes it is super difficult to handle – one wrong step and it seems like pure parody. It’s just my own preference for quiet, soulful performances that overshadows my love for these performances, but I have the highest amount of respect for the dedication these actors bring to the screen, especially when they fully portray the emotional aspects of the characters as well (and are not just doing it for pure Oscar baiting). And this brings me to Marion Cotillard’s performance as Edith Piaf. Marion also adopts a no holds barred approach, theatrical approach to this character and yet it all seems so natural. To play this role subtly would be weird, since Piaf was a very vocal and expressive person who does not suppress her thoughts and emotions. Simply put, I was blown away by her work, even though I’m not a fan of the film. Every tiny detail, from Piaf’s love life, to her love for music, to her struggle with addiction and her difficult diva behavior is portrayed immaculately on the screen. Cotillard had a huge character arc to cover – from Piaf’s rise to fame, to her later struggles with illnesses and addiction – and she does it to perfection, maintaining a truthfulness to her character (it could have felt like many different characters) while building up the external detail. Amazing work.

6) Charlize Theron as Alieen Wuornos in Monster


Another “technical” performance done right. I daresay that Charlize Theron is an underrated actress, and her performance in Young Adult would easily have been my vote for best actress in 2011 (she wasn’t even nominated). Her loud and forceful acting style may be a turn-off to some, but when it’s done right it’s mind blowing. I know this sounds crazy, but she in a way reminds me of Faye Dunaway, another brilliant one whose career didn’t really go anywhere after her Oscar win. Some may dislike their “overacting” but to me, it makes their performance unique and distinctly their own, instead of the usual “perfectly delivered” roles. I just love it. Beneath the makeup, the weird posture and walking, Charlize went into the mind of this frightening woman and portrayed a side of her that no one could have seen – the human side. Yes, the woman is psycho monster but she’s also a lonely, pitiful and pathetic human being. Theron could make me feel sorry for this character when she’s being insulted during a job interview, or when she’s forced to kill an innocent man. That devastating “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” seriously gives me the chills. And who can forget the tender moment she shared with Selby in the skating rink…brilliant.

5) Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter


I’ve discussed this performance in great detail here so I’m going to keep this one brief. Out of the three “real life person” performances, I love Spacek’s the most. It’s the least technical, showy and mannered, but it’s the one I connect to the most.  I know I have said this before, but Sissy Spacek has always been one of my favourite actresses – she is proficient on the technical level, and superb in finding the human side of her characters, even in weird ones like Carrie White. And she does her best work here as well.

4) Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind


Coming from an era where actors do not even attempt to understand their characters and cover up their inabilities to emote with mannerisms such as “bulging eyes” and “waving their hands all over the place”, there’s really a reason why Vivien Leigh’s performance as this manipulative Southern Belle is considered groundbreaking then and now. Just do a google search of “greatest best actress winners” and you’ll see how widely remembered this performance is till today. Although the entire internet community, critics and bloggers call this the greatest female performance of all time, I’m clearly less enthusiastic since she is my number 4 (most people have both her works at top 2). That being said, I have the highest respect for Vivien Leigh’s work here. She may be a theatrical actress but there’s something else to her performance – she’s not fake. She doesn’t cover up her work with empty, meaningless gestures and mannerisms. You can see in her eyes (look at the photo I’ve used, come on) how perfectly she understands and approaches the character, justifying every “exaggerated” gesture and line reading. So what if she is theatrical? As Scarlett would say, “Fiddle dee dee!” Scarlett O’Hara was one fake, manipulative woman who will go all out to put on a melodramatic show of “acting coy and cute” to get what she wants (and people still act like that in real life, just look around your workplace/school). We don’t realise it, but it’s really because of Leigh’s performance that we understand the character so well. She shows how Scarlett has changed, becoming independent, hardened and greedy, while still maintaining her inner spoilt and bitchy self. Her complex relationships with Rhett Butler and even Melanie Hamiltion (Friends? Enemies? Frenemies?) are all also perfectly realized by Leigh. Such a complex and layered characterization is unique for its day, and I would say it still is. She doesn’t make Scarlett the ideal, romantic movie heroine you root for – she goes all out to show you her strengths and weaknesses, like her tenacity combined with her selfishness, her manipulative nature combined with her loyalty to those she cares for. And yet, it is this unselfish, daring portrayal that makes her performance the most universally loved one of all time.

3) Meryl Streep as Sophie Zawistowska in Sophie’s Choice


I contemplated long and hard about this one, and wondered whether I really loved the performance or I am including it for the sake of it. Besides Vivien Leigh’s 2 performances, another performance that is guaranteed to appear on those “greatest best actress winners” list is Meryl Streep’s performance here. Having rewatched Sophie’s Choice, I have to say yes, I love it. When I was young, I used to think that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress of all time. However, as I started to expose myself to different acting styles of different performers, I can really understand where the criticism is coming from. In some of her lesser works (not saying which now), you can sense how every mannerism, every gesture, every accent and every tear drop is a result of careful rehearsal and deliberation, and the emotional intensity just doesn’t match up. That being said, even if I try to resist the performances and accents of this extremely talented woman, I just can’t. To some, Meryl’s performances are very external, but I always feel that the mannerisms and accents are her way of being truthful to the character. Like she herself said, “How could I play that part and talk like me?” She tries to identify the character’s inner voice and emotions through the mannerisms, and for the most part she succeeds. The prime example would be her performance here. Most people are impressed by Meryl’s accent and tears, but it is the subtle, burning pain in her eyes as she recounts her past that always gets to me. And the choice scene – if that doesn’t affect you even in the slightest, I don’t know what will. It’s not the accent that I’m impressed by – it’s Meryl’s devastation in this part.

2) Diane Keaton as Annie Hall in Annie Hall


What!? Scandal!!!! Outrage!!! But yes, your eyes are not kidding you, but this is my number 2. Diane Keaton has always been a favourite actress of mine (I will discuss her further in my next performance of the week post), and her performance here as Annie Hall is widely considered as iconic and one of the most deserving winners ever. Well, I don’t think people generally put it as the second most deserving ever in their own lists, but it is certainly considered a very deserved win in general. But what is it that makes us love her so much? She doesn’t carry an epic like Vivien Leigh. She doesn’t do an accent like Meryl Streep. She doesn’t have huge dramatic monologues and crying scenes like most of the other nominees do. She doesn’t wear a ton of makeup on her face. I can’t explain it, but it would be pretentious of me to say that I don’t love her performance this much because she doesn’t do those things I’ve stated. For me, this is possibly the best fit of a performer and a role that I’ve seen, maybe other than my number 1 and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Diane’s entire performance is coming from her heart, and frankly, it doesn’t even feel like she is acting at all. The role, after all, was written for her to play. Some say that she didn’t deserve it because the role was too easy and she was playing herself. Well, other than the fact that I feel the only similarities between Annie and Diane are their eccentricities and insecurities, who freaking cares? Ok, let’s turn it around the other way then. You want to see the role being “acted”? Try imagining Meryl Streep, the chameleon in this part. Do you still think the part is easy now? Can you imagine Meryl saying “la-di-da”? Sure, I know that Meryl will definitely be able to pull off a calculated, perfectly timed and perfectly pitched “la di da” that is charming and funny, but she wouldn’t be able to do what Diane did – make it look easy and effortless. In other words, Diane didn’t even have to act as Annie Hall, she BECAME Annie Hall. To take it one step further, she WAS Annie Hall. Also, while you can say that she was “playing herself”, she actually doesn’t commit the typical mistakes by such performances. Although she identified herself in this role, she didn’t lazily coast on her personality, managing to give some emotional investment in the part and even depicting Annie’s changes and development into a more independent woman without any big “revelations” or Oscary scenes. Diane admitted that she doesn’t say La Di Da in real life, and yet she still pulled it off so naturally and believably. The role only “looked” easy because Diane MADE it so. A lesser actress would have overdone the mannerisms and eccentric tics of the character. So what if Diane thought her performance was effortless and easy? It worked, because it wasn’t even acting anymore (somehow I feel that I don’t have to explain so much if it is a dramatic performance). We are looking at her performance, not her acting style after all. Ok, I know I’m super hyper and annoyingly defensive about this one, but I just get giddy with excitement when I discuss this work.

1) Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire

Somehow I don’t remember this scene from the movie, but the image captures it all.

This shouldn’t be a surprise at all, as I think this could be my fourth post mentioning this. Yes, people seem to love Scarlett slightly more, but for me it is really this one that stands out. Vivien Leigh was performing this role from a very personal place – she suffered from mental illness herself, and you can really feel it in her work here. Her performance seems to combine everything from the previous 9 performances that I’ve mentioned. Theatrical, “over acted”, yet natural. Funny, yet devastating. Smart, yet lost. And on and on and on…there is a lot to be said when you can out act Brando (well to me she did), whose performance is said to have changed acting. I could go on forever about how amazing her performance is, but at the end of the day you still have to watch it and see for yourself. Thus, for me my number one is, well, like what the boys who called out to her on Saturday nights, “Blanche…Blanche…”

And there you go, my list of ten favourite best actress winners of all time. Frankly, ten is simply not enough and I don’t know why I forced myself to narrow it down. I don’t think my list is THAT controversial, maybe except for Diane Keaton’s position and Patricia Neal, whom people usually love but not as much as I do. I admit that I’m just in this mood where I suddenly love her performance though, so she (and Liza Minnelli) is quite shakey. I always think of whether I should replace her with some others. The rest are solid though. Anyway, here are some of the other performances that I love equally, even though I failed to mention them. Like I said, ten is NOT ENOUGH.

1) Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion In Winter
2) Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels in Klute
3) Holly Hunter as Ada McGrath in The Piano

Haven’t seen quite a few too, like Hilary Swank’s Boys Don’t Cry and Ellen Burstyn’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

Well, that’s it. This list really exhausted me. I’ll probably do a Best Actor one after this

An Unmarried Woman (1978)

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An Unmarried Woman (1978) tells the story of Erica, woman living in New York who has to deal with an unexpected divorce.

This film, along with Jill Clayburgh’s performance, has a reputation for being the first of its kind, paving the way for future films and TV series of a similar genre such as Sex And The City. The idea of an independent, sexually liberated woman was probably a bit sensitive with Academy voters back then, and I guess this could have cost Claybourgh the best actress Oscar as well as the film’s best picture award.

That being said, I can safely declare that I respect the film more than I really loved it. I’m obviously not a Sex And The City fan (I don’t even watch it) so I can’t really relate to the film and its story. To start with the positive, the film is a very well-written one about the love lives and divorces of these New York women, and none of the dialogue ever comes off as plastic or fake. I mean, I couldn’t care less about the 4 women gathering together to complain about their love lives, but it at least comes off as…authentic, rather than blatantly trying to make a statement. Their problems might seem trivial, since these women are fairly well-to-do and healthy,  and yet it’s not entirely unrealistic or fake because you can understand where they are coming from. Their problems pretty much highlight the superficiality of their lives and how they can’t find meaning in it, especially with their love lives. And this is all seen through Erica, a woman who was content (but not happy) over her marriage until it fell apart.

At the end of the day, I can say that the most impressive aspect of the film is Jill Clayburgh’s terrific performance, a strong addition to an already great Best Actress lineup. The movie actually deals with the aftermath of divorce very well, and I feel that it is largely because of Clayburgh’s subtle but powerful acting that delivers its impact. Right from the start, Clayburgh shows how content and satisfied she is with her life, but also hints that there is more she desires out of it (that imaginary ballet dancing scene spoke volumes about the character to me). However, this illusion crumbles when her husband wants a divorce. It never feels overly dramatic or tragic, and yet you can always sense the confusion, the hurt, the anger and sadness of the character. In fact, she only has one crying scene (well, crying scenes aren’t something that I care as excessively as some people do) and yet you can sense all these emotions burning out of her. The highlight of her performance would really be the famous scene where loser her husband confesses his affair to her. That scene would have been the perfect “Oscar Scene” for Clayburgh to show off her acting skills, to turn on the waterworks and act all hysterical. Instead, she internalizes everything and yet you can see it so clearly in her eyes; the initial shock, the disgust, the anger, the confusion and how it all culminated to, well, a vomiting scene. Clayburgh’s acting is so free of clichés, and somehow that makes it even more powerful. Her nervous, “on-the-edge” mannerisms, as well as when she starts to learn how to love again are all done extremely naturally. Most movies would have unrealistically depicted the way the divorced wife quickly loves her new partner, but this script and Clayburh showed that doing so is a lot harder than it seems because of the guilt, emotional baggage and the fear of loving and trusting another man. It’s a terrific, realistic performance that pretty much made the movie for me (she’s supposedly in every scene of the film).

At the end of the day, I’m a bit indifferent towards An Unmarried Woman as a whole (not to mention some scenes were a bit boring), but I can respect it and see why some go crazy over it. I know it’s a bit silly to judge a film just because the topic is simply not of any interest to me, but it really stood in the way of letting me fully embrace it. 3.5/5. Clayburgh’s performance is a 5/5 though.

p.s. Since, I’m discussing her performance too – Ranking of the best actress nominees (haven’t seen Burstyn)

1) Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata – 5/5 (enough said)

2) Jane Fonda in Coming Home – 5/5 (It’s a “hated” win, but I thought she was utterly terrific. Will discuss it more when I look at Coming Home)

3) Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman – 5/5

4) Geraldine Page in Interiors – 4.5/5 (More supporting, but great and haunting nonetheless)

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

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Heaven Can Wait tells the story of a man who gets wrongly “claimed” by his angel and has to be sent back to earth in the body of a wealthy millionaire, after his own body gets cremated.

I don’t really know what to make out of this film, honestly speaking. On one hand, I am all for the Academy going for unusual films like this. I’m damn serious when I say that it really irks me when people say things like “it doesn’t deserve the best picture nomination, it’s just a light-hearted comedy”, because you know, light-hearted films just aren’t worthy of recognition. I guess that’s why I love unique movies like Silver Linings Playbook (which admittedly isn’t flawless) and always feel happy that when the Academy chooses to nominate films and performances like that instead of the usual heavy war dramas and epics.

However…while Heaven Can Wait certainly isn’t a bad film, it did leave me wondering what is so special about it. Let me just start on the positive: it’s funny, easy to watch, and even towards the end it is actually quite moving.  However, everything about it feels so…basic. Like, you can say, “yes it is a very good and fun film that I can re-watch over and over again”, but 9 Oscar nominations? I guess that begs the question of how much is considered good enough for a best picture nomination? It varies from people to people, which is why some people just don’t think that comedy films are worthy of recognition. That being said, while watching a movie, I never ever let the awards and nominations influence my opinion it, which is why I disagree when people say that the movie sucked, especially considering that 2 war dramas were nominated the same year.  It is good for what it is, but I really feel that it is more of a nice popcorn flick than anything.

I guess even excellent comedies have something dynamic to offer, like interesting characters and themes. Heaven Can Wait is just so simple and feel-good that that’s pretty much all I have to say about it. There’s nothing particularly insightful, none of the characters are complex, and they don’t really need to be either. I guess back then, the film is more of a sentimental favourite, which is why it has garnered so much recognition with the help of the star-studded cast. However, I frankly feel that some of the nominations aren’t even that deserved, like the original score that I barely remembered. And the win for art decoration, in my humble opinion, is a bit silly. It could because of the fact that I watched Barry Lyndon not too long ago, but I didn’t find the interiors of the mansion (or the “plane” in the clouds) anything out of the world.

The same could be said for the acting nominations, although I’m a bit more forgiving in this aspect (as usual). Warren Beatty, if you recall, isn’t one of my favourite actors but surprisingly enough he was good here. He has a one-dimensional character to play, but he managed to inject his charm and charisma (unlike in Shampoo), making Joe a really likeable, funny and sweet character. And…that’s really all he is. Of course, you can argue that there is some sort of “development” in the sense that he unexpectedly fell in love with Julie Christie’s character but it isn’t anything mind-blowing. However, I think that despite the extreme simplicity of his performance, I don’t really have any huge issues with his nomination and I think that he might even have deserved it because he did carry the movie and was honestly funny at times. The same can be said for Jack Warden, who even managed to add a quiet sadness into his last scene that actually stayed with me. The one that I really didn’t get is Dyan Cannon’s nomination. She plays the neurotic, murderous and alduterous wife of the millionaire, and that’s really all she is. You know nothing about her character and her motivations, other than the fact that she simply wants her husband dead and is constantly on the edge, screaming and shrieking, accidentally dropping and breaking things etc. It’s not that she’s bad, and I get that she’s there for comic relief (although I didn’t find it particularly funny), but her character feels more like a caricature more than anything else and her performance is really just serviceable. Just look at Terri Garr in Tootsie a few years later and you get what I mean. I even think that Julie Christie would have been worthier of the nomination , even though she didn’t have the most complex character ever. Her character just feels more realized and complete, although her motivations, like when she falls in love with Beatty’s character, is a bit unbelievable. By the way, it’s interesting to notice the similarities between the two roles of these ladies and that of the two nominated Tootsie ladies, who gave better performances with better written characters.

At the end of the day, Heaven Can Wait is a nice, sentimental film that I had fun watching. My post is a bit sparse, but that’s because I really couldn’t find anything outstanding to write about. I’m not saying that it is a bad film, just nothing overly amazing or special. 3.5/5.

Performance of the week: Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

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Katharine Hepburn received her 8th Oscar nomination for playing Mrs Violet Venable in Suddenly, Last Summer. Her co-star Elizabeth Taylor was also nominated for her performance here, and they both lost to Simone Signoret for Room At The Top. 1959 was a fantastic year for best actress, imo. Ok, I haven’t watched Doris Day but the other 4 gave great performances. If I could I’d have given a tie between Signoret, who is fantastic and haunting, and Audrey Hepburn, who is sensational and soooo under appreciated for The Nun’s Story. It’s really too bad that her more iconic performances like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which I didn’t go crazy over like most people do) actually overshadowed her work here as Sister Luke. I really feel that it is this performance that displayed Audrey Hepburn’s acting talents. Anyway, I will discuss that performance in the future since this post is going to focus on the other Hepburn’s work.

Tennessee Williams was a superb playwright, and it really shows in a lot of film adaptations of his plays. Yes, I get that his stories can be deemed as stagey (they were born on stage) and over the top, with his characters spouting lines like “I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof!” or “I don’t want realism, I want magic!” However, the electrifying and sizzling atmosphere of his stories, as well as his fascinating characters, make the movies extremely entertaining and fascinating to watch. I feel like he kinda outdid himself with Suddenly, Last Summer since this story is really outrageous and extremely over the top, especially with a particular sequence involving the death of a character that requires you to stretch your imagination by quite a bit. However, I still loved the film even though this is my second time watching it and I can just watch it over and over again. It’s a crazy plot, but then again, it is a twisted film about closeted homosexuality, incestuous relationships, mental illness, cannibalism, the cruelty of the Venables and how they “devour” and make use of people. It’s such a bizarre tale that the weirdness of it just fits perfectly.

Katharine Hepburn is a fantastic actress, really one of my favourites. I loved her as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion of Winter and she was fun in The Philadelphia Story. I guess her 4 time Oscar winning status can mislead people into thinking that she’s the greatest ever, which is why a lot of people says that she is overrated. To me, however, there’s no greatest actress ever to begin with so I didn’t really mind the fact that she has the most Oscars (haven’t watched Morning Glory and Guess Who’s Coming Home To Dinner?). Yes, Hepburn uses a lot of the same mannerisms in her film but crazily enough, it works, or at least most of the time. The head tilt, the crossing of the arms, the arrogant and sarcastic way of speaking just makes her characters more fascinating. I guess some people can argue and say that they always see Katharine Hepburn and not the character, but it doesn’t matter to me because I can always see how she is in firm control of her characters and how she fits her style to the role, which is more important. And I’m going to say this over and over again: to me, it’s more than the mannerisms and accents, but how alive the character is through the actor. Not many actors do a Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep but still give outstanding performances despite their strong personalities, such as the absolutely divine Bette Davis. Ok, I’m sounding like an over-defensive fan so I’ll just stop here lol.

This performance is widely regarded as Hepburn’s worst and I don’t understand why, because this is the performance that really made me love her as an actress. When I first watched this movie, I was watching it primarily for Elizabeth Taylor because I was going through this Elizabeth Taylor mania and just watching everything she’s in (and loving all of her performances well). However, even though Taylor’s performance really impressed me then (and still does), it was Hepburn’s performance that really stuck with me. The famous “sea turtles” monologue was so chilling and frighteningly delivered that whenever I think of Katharine Hepburn, I instantly think of this monologue. I guess the reason why people dislike this performance is because of how weird Violet Venable is, and that’s why she seems so “all over the place”. In a way, her character is like a polar opposite of Taylor’s Catharine. Catharine may be losing her mind and hysterical, but she is the one who has the clearest idea of what is happening. On the other hand, Violet thinks she is in control, but is in fact cuckoo.

What I loved is how Hepburn makes Violet such a grand character, like a queen. Her character is introduced by this elevator that descends from the top, and while it sounds silly, Hepburn makes it look so…majestic. She controls the first part of the film entirely, delivering her lines with this acidity and confidence, so much so that she even managed to manipulate me into thinking that what she said is the truth. There’s also that trademark arrogance of hers that fits this character so well. I mean, when she called her relatives a “family of Neanderthals”, it’s so deliciously mean and hilarious at the same time, never failing to crack me up.

However, while she displays this confidence and control, Hepburn also hints that something is a bit off about the character, something that the doctor (Montgomery Clift) notices. She tends to ramble on about something, and when questioned about it she suddenly acts all surprised. She also has this weird obsession with her son and his garden (and his carnivorous pitcher plant), and this strange sense of superiority and control over all other beings. Although this may seem bizarre to others, she doesn’t realise it and finds it perfectly normal, even thinking that her wealth is a form of power over others. Hepburn brilliantly illustrates how Violet is so comfortably lost in her own mind, making her performance so magnetic and bizarre simultaneously.

Hepburn’s performance takes a backseat when Elizabeth Taylor’s character is introduced. Yes, I can see why some say that her performance is affected (some even think she should be campaigned in supporting) because from this point onwards, Taylor takes over with a very LOUD and over the top performance as the hysterical and screaming Catharine. However, I still firmly believe that Hepburn makes the most out of her remaining scenes. As Violet and her son’s secrets slowly get exposed, we see how the initial confidence she displayed is slowly peeling away, revealing the insecurities of this woman. Her face when Catharine reveals their relationship with Sebastian (Violet’s son) actually made me feel sorry for her. You can really see how desperate and horrified Violet was. And then there is the final scene where the truth is revealed; Violet exits the same way she entered, except that you see how delusional and lost the woman really is, making it so haunting and pathetic at the same time.

All in all, Katharine Hepburn is simply mesmerizing as Mrs Violet Venable. Yes, the middle portion of the film where she disappears for a while, as well as the weirdness of the character may make her performance hard to appreciate but I absolutely loved the dazzling quality and humour of her work here. 4.5/5.

Random post: A brief tribute to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’ Hara

This post is totally random, but I was just watching a few clips of Gone With The Wind last night and I was just so blown away, especially this one.

Till today, Vivien Leigh’s performance as Scarlett O’Hara is widely regarded as the greatest performance by an actress of all time. Of course, my heart will ALWAYS give that title to her Blanche Dubois, but while I was watching this scene I was just so blown away.

“I’m not cornered. You’ll never corner me, Rhett Butler, or frighten me. You lived in dirt for so long you can’t understand anything else. And you’re jealous of something else you can’t understand. Good night.”

Just observe her expressions when he is clutching her head, and see how it transits from being fearful to cold and hateful. We don’t actually realise how naturally Vivien Leigh developed the character, so much so that despite the huge and dark changes in her personality, we have no problems believing this is the same playful, manipulative, flirtatious and fake girl at the beginning of the film. It’s a true indication of how deep she got into the mind of this character, and how masterfully layered her performance really is. I mean, a lesser actress would have turned the performance into 101 different Scarlett O’Haras because of the various changes the character undergoes, but Leigh always suggests that this is the same girl right from the beginning of the film, while portraying her changes at the same time. Amazing work by a brilliant actress.

Her chemistry with Clark Gable is beyond amazing, and the developments in their relationships are handled so magnificently. Just compare their relationship in the two clips. What was initially a playful flirtation and manipulation (2nd Clip) ends up being a tragic, hateful and loveless marriage, and yet at the same time you can always feel how much these two needed each other, despite their unwillingness to admit so.

Of course, there are some dated aspects to Gone With The Wind that may have affected some people’s (mine occasionally, admittedly) appreciation of Leigh’s performance. Some of the lines are a bit corny and her performance can be a bit theatrical, but her inhibition of this role (she was Scarlett O’ Hara) is just so amazing that we are more than willing to overlook these microscopic flaws. And let’s face it; Scarlett O’ Hara is a theatrical character, she’s fake and manipulative, and she knows damn bloody well how to manipulate men with her over-the-top tantrums.  Vivien Leigh found the right balance, making the theatrical style believable.

I know this post is totally random, and yet I think it really shows the strength of Leigh’s performance; just watching one clip on YouTube alone, and that cold “Good night“, is enough for me to write an entire post on it.

Ok ok, while I’m at it.

Best Picture 1978

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best picture 1978

 

Coming Home

The Deer Hunter *winner*

Heaven Can Wait

Midnight Express

An Unmarried Woman

Can you believe that I’ve only watched Coming Home? Ok, I watched Heaven Can Wait on HBO YEARS ago and I barely remember it. Still, I needed an excuse to watch The Deer Hunter and to re-watch Coming Home (been wanting to for a while), so why not? I’ve also read excellent stuff about Jill Claybourgh in An Unmarried Woman, so I’m kinda excited.