Month: February 2017

Congratulations Emma!

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I cannot describe how happy I was when I learned that Emma won the Oscar. Not that it was a big surprise or anything, but just watching her collect her award on stage and delivering that moving speech made me extremely happy from within.

Yes, people are shocked at how someone like Emma Stone can win over legends like Meryl Streep and Isabelle Huppert. Admittedly, I don’t think she is a great actress, though certainly a good one. I have had a crush on her since Zombieland, and I have been following her career closely since, always wondering if she’s going to get nominated for The Help, or Irrational Man, or some other movie. And I was just so damn happy when she was nominated for Birdman (which I thought she was great in), because there’s something inexplicably satisfying about watching your celeb crush slowly succeed and shine.

Look, I know it’s not the most popular win. Given the current state of the world, it’s understandable how the role of a “white actress chasing her dreams” may come across as frivolous and empty. The internet has already been quick to label it as one of the most “undeserving wins, along with Jennifer Lawrence” (Erm, Mary Pickford?). I also haven’t seen Portman, Negga and Streep to properly judge how deserving Stone is. But the fact that I have been singing “Audition (Fools who dream)”for the past few weeks since I watched La La Land says a lot about the impact Stone’s performance has on me. And it’s not as though I disagree with the critics: it is a cliche character that is paper thin and not even remotely original. But I strongly felt the love, passion and heart that Emma put into the performance, as if she was reflecting her own Hollywood journey into the film. And that down-to-earth charm that Stone is known for as a celebrity just works wonders here, making Mia a lovable character.

I also loved the humility in her speech, especially when she acknowledged that she still has a lot to learn and grow as an artist. And watching the standing ovation she received pretty much sums up what I feel about Emma: you cannot hate her, whether you agree with her win or not. And objectively speaking, I still stand by my decision that it’s a great performance and a worthy winner.

Anyway, I apologise for the somewhat incoherant rant but all in all, congrats Emma! May your career continue to grow after this.

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Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Caey Affleck won the Bafta, Golden Globe and a bunch of other awards for his performance as Lee Chandler, a grieving man in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. I honestly have no idea who’s winning best actor this coming Sunday, but if I were to make a guess, I would give Denzel Washington the edge over Affleck.

I am indifferent towards Manchester by the Sea. I find the film pretty manipulative, despite its attempts to be a heavy, “realistic” drama. The tone shifts between realistic and quirky, especially Lucas Hedges’ scenes. I think the film’s atmosphere is pretty good, but I’m just not buying some parts, especially Lee’s backstory. Not that it’s totally unbelievable, I just felt as if Lonergan was trying to ramp up the tragic aspect so much that it becomes a bit contrived.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, the depressed, grieving janitor who takes in his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) following his brother’s death. One thing that surprised me was how quiet Affleck’s performance is, which made me wonder what drew the awards’ attention to it. Other than a few bar fights and a particularly well-acted suicide scene, the performance is actually really non-flashy.

Like the movie, I really don’t know what to feel about this performance either. I love quiet performances, and I certainly appreciate the Academy for recognising it, but this felt a bit…I don’t know, one-note to me? I get that Lee is grieving, I get that Lee isn’t much of a talker, I get that he is haunted by his past…but that’s honestly all I got out of it. There’s also his relationship development with Patrick, which I find to be the strongest part of the performance as we get to see a development from his initial frustration at being Pat’s guardian.

I suppose it is a performance that needs to be appreciated over time, but there is another problem, which is that I didn’t feel really compelled to watch the movie again. And it was at this point where I realised how little I cared about Lee and his troubles. I will give Affleck the credit of having a strong presence and actually carrying the movie. I just didn’t think it was as powerful a portrayal of grief as people said. Yes, grief can be portrayed in a quiet and powerful manner but it just felt flat to me here (Refer to Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom) 3/5.

Nicole Kidman in The Hours (2002)

Nicole Kidman won her only Oscar to date for playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours. Watching this movie again reminded me of how much I love her as an actress – it has been a while since I’ve seen a film of hers, and I guess I should get about to watching Lion.

I will always defend The Hours, even though this time round its flaws are definitely more apparent. The dialogue can be rather stilted at times, especially in Meryl Streep’s portion,which is probably the weakest part of the entire film. Yet despite its problems, it has always been one of my favourite films because of how deeply I connect to its emotional core. The score is absolutely amazing, and the performances are incredible, especially Julianne Moore (I might write a separate post on her performance). As someone who has been through dark periods in my life, I am amazed at how much the movie actually calls out to me at times.

Some people consider Nicole Kidman’s Oscar win category fraud because of how limited her screentime is. However, I’ve always considered her the true lead of the film because of the strong presence she has. It could be a directing effect, but I believe that Kidman adds layers of mystery and complexity to Virginia Woolf, making her influence over the other 2 characters strongly felt.

I couldn’t disagree more about the comments about her being one-note, which is admittedly also an initial reaction I had to her performance. While Virginia Woolf is clearly depressed throughout the film, I find that Kidman makes her a strangely charismatic and compelling character. Listening to her narrate Mrs Dalloway, or just performing simple actions like rolling her own cigarette somehow makes me all the more fascinated in Woolf. I like that Kidman doesn’t choose the mimicry route in this performance, but instead creates an inner life force for Woolf. Although she can be seen as “stale” and “boring” on the surface, there is a very intense energy radiating from her.

Naturally, the depression aspect is the strongest component of her performance. I like how she builds it up gradually, starting with her nervousness and insecurities around her servants, to her breakdown at the train station. Navigating through some tricky and stilted dialogue, Kidman amazingly manages to convey Woolf’s confusion over her own depression, as well as her desperation to be free from something she isn’t even aware of. I know that scene is often regarded as her “Oscar moment”, however I thought her parting kiss to her sister was an equally amazing moment. I could feel the desperate cry for help through that one kiss, and while I’m not someone who’s crazy about crying scenes, those tears had a profoundly heartbreaking effect.

I know some people have said that Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton would have done a better job –  yes, I believe that there’s some truth to this on a technical front. I know it is not a perfect performance technically – the mumbling can grate on people’s nerves (not mine), and some actions may come off as calculated and unnatural. But having said all that, I strongly believe that Kidman brought something unique to the part herself, something that can’t be emulated by other actresses. A hated and in my opinion, unfairly maligned win, but you know what? I love it. I love how carefully and sensitively Kidman treated the subject matter. 5/5.