Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996), Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006), Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

I’ve been insanely busy for the past few months due to school, which is why I haven’t been able to catch as many films as I would like to (I’ve seen none of the films that are receiving Oscar buzz). Thankfully, I finally managed to revisit a few films on the plane last week when I flew off to Japan with my family for a short trip. These were highly popular performances that I’ve been wanting to review again for the longest time, mainly because they didn’t make much of an impact on me during the initial viewing. Generally, I really enjoyed all of them because I’m a huge fan of the actresses, but none really made me go gaga. Still, it was definitely worth rewatching all of them.

Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996)

Frances McDormand Fargo

Frances McDormand won her only Oscar to date for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo, the classic black comedy crime by the Coen brothers. I would like to begin by saying that Fargo is a masterpiece, and I really think it should have won best picture and director at the very least. The way each character’s arch was pieced together in the main narrative is simply amazing, and I was thoroughly hooked from beginning to end, even though I knew what the ending was. The film is also a perfect mix of comedy, drama and thriller, and the dialogue can truly be hilarious at times.

Frances McDormand’s performance as Marge Gunderson isn’t the most difficult one technically. Marge essentially represents the “good” in the film, and the best way to describe McDormand’s performance would be warm. She makes Marge such a kind, lovable presence in the evil world of Fargo that her appearance (which is surprisingly late into the film for a best actress winner) makes you feel reassured and happy. I mean, even her mundane interactions with her husband feels so nice to watch, even though they were just going on and on about…paintings, I think? The fact that the Coen brothers made Marge a pregnant character is also a brilliant choice as it allows McDormand to portray Marge’s maternal warmth and kindness, even when she is interacting the sleazy characters in the story.

That is not to say that Marge is a one-dimensional character. We can also see that she is a brilliant policewoman/detective with sharp instincts, and I really enjoyed the way she pieced together the clues with her partner in this matter-of-fact manner.  Another excellent aspect of this performance is the subtle humour that McDormand injects into the character. I especially loved the way she subtly throws shade at some of the characters in the story, like the two dumb hookers (“So you were having sex with the little fella then?”).

I think of this performance as one where the performer goes beyond what is written in the script and gives the character so much more personality and quirks. On paper, Marge is probably the simplest character in the story, and she could have been the most boring too, and yet McDormand makes her so much more. 4.5/5.

Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006)

Helen Mirren The Queen

Helen Mirren won her only Oscar to date for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, which I actually thought was an overall well-made film that I liked a lot more this time round. I have always been fascinated by the UK Royal Family for the wrong reasons (I find them excellent gossip material), and even though I was very young when she passed away, I actually have a fairly strong impression of Princess Diana’s legacy throughout the world.

Helen Mirren is one of my favourite actresses, and I always felt that she is a real force on screen. Granted, yes, she can be theatrical and campy (Man, I would love to watch her perform on stage one day), but to me she is always one of the highlights of her movies.

Mirren performance as Queen Elizabeth II is simply a technical achievement. She is actually a lot more restraint here than usual, but it just fits the Queen’s reserved and highly controlled persona perfectly. She is also very calculated in her acting choices, from her line deliveries to her every action (such as when she arranges the pens on the table), but to me, it is all done in a manner that is truthful to the character’s highly controlled and private personality. As mentioned in the movie, the Queen is someone who prefers to keep her feelings to herself, and Mirren perfectly captures this spirit. There is so much dignity and grace in the way Mirren carries herself as the monarch, and one can really see how she has successfully inhabited the role.

The main highlight of the performance is how Mirren manages to illustrate the Queen’s struggle between appeasing the public and the deeply rooted tradition that she is born into. Without saying much, we can see her deep concerns over her waning popularity, and also her frustrations over Tony Blair’s concern pestering. Her brief outburst at him where she lectures him about “doing things quietly and with dignity” was perfectly delivered, and I really loved how she almost mechanically puts the phone down. It’s really the small actions like this that gives the Queen so much more personality beyond the old, stuffy monarch image.

Honestly, the brief crying scene felt like it written for the sake of giving Mirren a crying scene, and yet Mirren manages to do it with such dignity and grace while still showcasing the Queen’s vulnerable side. I really loved that closeup which showed her appreciating the beautiful stag that she came across, as it really showcased her human side without any words.

I feel that this performance isn’t really that popular nowadays due to its highly quiet nature, but I think what Mirren does here is truly admirable work on a technical level. 4.5/5.

Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

nicole kidman lion.jpg

Nicole Kidman received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Sue Brierly in Lion. Lion is a well-made film that dragged a little, but I thought it was a moving story about mothers and love. Dev Patel actually gives a really good performance, although I feel like he is the lead of the film (I guess best actor was too crowded to slot him in there).

Nicole Kidman’s graceful acting style has always impressed me, and she utilises it very well here. Although the role is very limited in terms of range and screentime, there is so much warmth, love and heartbreak here that she instantly captures your attention from the moment she appears. Her big monologue scene about choosing not have children is heartbreaking and brilliant, but I actually loved her first appearance where she interacts with Saroo in the airport. She really captures Sue’s nervousness and excitement at being a mother, and I loved her little interactions with Saroo. A little OT, but I wonder if she poured in her own personal experiences with her (allegedly) estranged adopted children for this movie, because man, the way she depicted her pain as her children drifted away from her felt really real.

Overall, this is a warm and nice performance by a truly talented actress (she was truly great in Big Little Lies too by the way), and it was a nice nomination to add on to her list of accolades. 4/5.

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One comment

  1. When I first watched Fargo I could not wrap my head around why McDormand was crowned over the likes of Brenda Blethyn and Emily Watson. But recently I was on a McDormand kick and revisited clips online, and I must say that the characterization she puts into Marge is outstanding. Some day I’ll get to reviewing ’96 and I may like McDormand much more than I had initially…

    As for Mirren in The Queen – another one of those performances I never really understood. Perhaps it was too subtle for me to “understand” back when I first saw it as a teen, so I may like it more upon a revisit.

    Haven’t seen Lion – but have heard great things about Kidman!

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