Nicole Kidman

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.

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Nicole Kidman in Dogville (2003)

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*possible spoilers*

I have to confess that I was slightly afraid of watching Dogville, mainly because I wasn’t entirely sure whether Lars von Trier’s style was really my kind of thing. Breaking The Waves was a bit too much for me, despite Emily Watson’s tremendous performance. He’s clearly a director who loves to explore the idea of human nature and is willing to go all out to push his actors to emotional extremes – sometimes a bit too much. That being said, I was glad that I was proven wrong: Dogville is a terrific, thought-provoking film about the ugly and evil side of human beings, even children. Yes, it is painful to watch at times but I have to confess (and here’s an ugly side of my nature) that the ending was…well, highly satisfying. Yes, I know that’s a twisted thing to say but after everything the lead has gone through, I really hated the entire bunch of them, especially Tom (Paul Bettany). Some may take issue with the minimalist set with only a few furnitures and a white backdrop, but surprisingly enough it didn’t distract me, and in fact it helped me focus on the actors and the story even more. The actors were all terrific, contributing gradually to the sinister atmosphere of the film.

And then there’s Nicole Kidman, whom many people say give her best performance ever in this film. I am this close to agreeing, but then I would have to re-watch The Others/Rabbit Hole to decide again. Although people nowadays seem to be more concerned with, well, the amount of botox she has done to her face, I have always considered her as one of my favourite actresses. She has this poetic, graceful presence in her movies that remind me of stars like Greer Garson, except that she also makes fearless, original (and sometimes shocking) acting choices in her performances that sometimes pay off and sometimes don’t (Grace of Monacco/Stepford Wives…?). Even though I wouldn’t have given her the win myself, I won’t deny that her nowadays-criticised Oscar-winning performance in The Hours also had a kind of devastating effect on me (how can the scene where she kisses her sister not get you!?). During this period, she was pretty much at the peak of her career (and beauty, omg), having established herself as a talented actress with her Oscar win. Still, I think Dogville is a little to unusual for the Academy, which is why she wasn’t nominated here. Besides, she would probably have had a really tough time beating Charlize Theron for Monster if she was really nominated here.

Nicole Kidman plays Grace, the fugitive who is hiding in the seemingly simple town of Dogville. In the first half of the film, she effectively portrays the fish-out-of-water feeling the character has. The way she walks around awkwardly offering her help in her nice fur coat, and the constant feeling that she is like some alien in the town are all captured in her eyes and face. Technically, she doesn’t do much “acting” here, and yet her presence is always so warm and reassuring (like Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story). You can sense how naive and over-idealistic this character is, and how she genuinely wants to help out. This kind of acting style has always been Kidman’s forte, and perhaps also what draws me to her performances: the ability to convey all sorts of emotions with a single glance, a single teardrop, without huge dramatic mannerisms and gestures. Yes, I can understand why some people may find it stilted but it’s emotional power works wonderfully for me.  Grace always remains a figure of mystery, and we don’t know anything about her or why she was on the run until the end of the film. In a sense, Kidman’s beauty and unique presence really helped in bringing out this aspect of the character.

When things start to fall apart for Grace, it also becomes increasingly uncomfortable for us as the viewers. The fact that the people are gradually becoming assholes is one thing; what makes it even more disturbing is how Kidman portrays Grace idealism and views crumbling apart. I mean, if the character is a strong one who knew how to fight back it would have been slightly more tolerable, but over here she has over-trusted everyone around her, and watching her trust getting betrayed is just devastating. The “figurines smashing” scene is easily one of the best in the performance: watching her trying to hold back her tears, but failing miserably is just pure unpleasant.

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When things really start to go downhill however, Kidman is just heartbreaking. She doesn’t go all Hathaway-in-Les-Mis (sorry fans) with the ugly cry faces and tears, but we can from her body language how emotionally and physically exhausted she was. When she motionlessly lays down in the bed after being raped by the men, or when she has to drag that stupid chain around her neck like a prisoner, ir’s clear that Grace has become a shell of her former self. There is no hope, no pride, and also no anger or sadness whatsoever – just pure emptiness.

However, things change when we find out about Grace’s true identity, and the power that she really possesses. I loved the scene where she walks around the town for one last time, contemplating about whether she should spare the entire town from the gangsters. There’s so much mystery about the character here, and when she made the decision to kill them all, it is never truly clear whether Grace’s personality has completely changed and that she is now a vengeful monster, or whether she is still the same and believes that what she is doing is for the betterment of the human race. Or in fact, whether this cold, cruel nature was a suppressed part of her all along.

the coldness in the eyes

The coldness in the eyes…

Still, during the town massacre, when we get to see one last glimpse of Grace’s teary eyes, it all seems to suggest that she is inherently still a good person, but one who is manipulated into thinking that she is doing the people a favour by killing htem. The lengthy debate between Grace and her father (James Caan) about whether people should be held accountable for their own nature is a bit in-your-face imo, and yet Kidman lets us have a deeper look into the inner conflict and dilemna of the character.

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Like the movie, it’s an unusual performance for sure, which I guess is why so many major awards decided to pass it over, but I also think this is one of the few performances that has allowed Kidman to establish herself as a talented character actress with range. There’s something so simple, yet so powerful and devastating about her work here. Terrific work.

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Anyway, it’s nice to end 2014 with a great performance by a great actress! A while ago, before I was doing the performance posts and the 70s best picture, I did a post stating a list of performances/movies that I want to watch/review. And it seems like I have actually watched most of them! Or at least I think I have, I’m not sure lol. While I predict that I won’t be blogging too often in the next few weeks, I thought it’d be appropriate to list down the next group of performance I intend to review/watch/re-watch. I guess I should treat this as a New Year’s resolution, but it’s more of a reminder to myself LOL. By the way, I actually only post about performances I enjoy (which is why my reviews are all so positive), so if it just so happens that I didn’t like it I’d probably skip the performance (which I have done a lot of times).

In alphabetical order, and by performer:

Actress

Anne Bancroft in The Pumpkin Eater (1964)
Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937)
Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
Barbara Stanwyck in All I Desire (1953)
Carroll Baker in Baby Doll (1956)
Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus (1947)
Deborah Kerr in The Innocents (1961)
Diane Keaton in Shoot The Moon (1982)
Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County (1957)
Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Geraldine Page in Toys in the Attic (1963)
Geraldine Page in The Beguiled (1971)
Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
Glenda Jackson in Stevie (1978)
Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939)
Joan Fontaine in The Constant Nymph (1943), if I can even find it
Joan Fontaine in Letters from an Unknown Woman (!948)
Julie Walters in Educating Rita (1983)
Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (1935)
Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year (1942)
Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond (1981)
Lee Young-ae in Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005)
Maggie Smith in Travels With My Aunt (1972)
Maggie Smith in California Suite (1978)
Maggie Smith in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1978)
Meryl Streep in Silkwood (1983)
Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985)
Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Natalie Wood in Splendor In The Grass (1961)
Nicole Kidman in To Die For (1995)
Norma Shearer in A Free Soul (1931)
Olivia De Havilland in The Dark Mirror (1946)
Olivia De Havilland in To Each His Own (1946)
Reese Witherspoon in Election (1999)
Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking (1995)
Tang Wei in Lust, Caution (2007)
Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Actor

Andy Lau in A Simple Life (2011)
Ben Kingsley in Gandhi (1982)
Edward Norton in American History X (1998)
Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Gene Hackman in Mississippi Burning (1988)
Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond (1981) – either him or Hepburn, can’t decide. Or maybe I’ll just cover both
Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail (1973)
Jack Nicholson in Ironweed (1987)
Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt (2002)
James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause (1956)
Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers (1988)
Leonardo Dicaprio in The Aviator (2004)
Leonardo Dicaprio in Blood Diamond (2007)
Laurence Oliver in Richard III (1956)
Laurence Olivier in Sleuth (1972)
Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris (1973)
Michael Caine in Alfie (1966)
Michael Caine in Sleuth (1972)
Michael Caine in Educating Rita (1983)
Paul Newman in The Hustler (1961)
Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Paul Newman in The Verdict (1982)
Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945)
Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story (1999)
Robert Donat in The 39 Steps (1935)
Robert Donat in The Citadel (1938)
Robert Donat in Goodbye, My Chips (1939)
Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983)
Ronald Colman in Bulldog Drummond (1929)
Ronald Colman in Random Harvest (1942)
Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking (1995)
Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958)
Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field (1963)
Tony Leung in Infernal Affairs (2002)
Tony Leung in Chungking Express (1994)

Erm yes, I think I’m being over-ambitious here because I can foresee that I will lose interests in some of these performances in a few months time. I’m so fickle-minded sighs. Anyway, I’m pretty sure there a few more that I’ve missed, especially for actor. This is just for my own reference in case I ever feel like watching something in the future and have no idea where to start hahaha

And that’s all everyone! Happy New Year, and may 2015 be a year filled with joy and peace, something which is much needed for the world after shitty 2014.