Oscars

Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment (1983)

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Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine won her oscar for playing Aurora Greenway in James L. Brooks’ best picture winner Terms of Endearment. This is her fifth acting nomination and I don’t think her win is considered a surprise – she’s a veteran actress who is widely respected and I’m pretty sure she was considered overdue. The fact that she is in the best picture is also to her advantage, I guess.

Terms of Endearment is a good movie, but I’m not that sure whether it is deserving of its best picture Oscar. I am also not entirely sure if James L. Brooks deserved his directing award. I can’t really judge cause I haven’t seen the competition, though I can say I prefer this film slightly more than Tender Mercies. Jack Nicholson won his Oscar for, well, playing himself. I personally felt his character was the weak link of the story (such contrived writing urgh) and I also felt like Nicholson wasn’t really putting that much effort in his performance either. I’d rather he had won for his role in Reds 2 years earlier.

Out of the 2 leading ladies, MacLaine has the lighter storyline and, I suspect, lesser screentime. That being said, I always found her the more interesting character as compared to Winger’s Emma. Aurora is one wacky and eccentric lady who is full of insecurities and neurotic tics, but MacLaine is always truthful in her portrayal, making Aurora entertaining and sympathetic at the same time. She’s scenery chewing a lot here (as she always does) but it just works – I mean, when she screams “GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!!” at the Nurses it could have failed so badly but MacLaine nailed it, making it one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

Beneath all the weirdness of the character, MacLaine allows us to see a vulnerable side of Aurora, mainly through her love for her daughter Emma. Despite her abrasive and straightforward personality, she deeply cares for Emma and I love the scenes where she advises her, and when they share their troubles together. MacLaine is so motherly here in her nagging and chiding, and the excellent chemistry between the 2 actresses is also one of the best aspects of the film.

The Nicolson scenes are my least favourite parts of the film, but I’d admit that Nicolson and MacLaine have great chemistry. I also like how she used the opportunity to create an arc for Aurora, transforming her from a neurotic, insecure widow to a woman who learns to fall in love again, all while learning to be a new grandmother at the same time.

She doesn’t have the melodramatic storyline like Winger but MacLaine’s portrayal of Aurora is colourful, entertaining and moving, making her the best aspect of the film. 4.5/5.

Debra Winger

Although I prefer MacLaine’s performance because of how unique it is, I think Winger holds her own as Aurora’s free spirited, cheerful daughter who is forced to grow up due to her rocky marriage. Winger excels in portraying Emma’s transformation from an immature and naive young lady to a hardened Mother struggling to deal with her cheating husband and troubled children.

Emma is a highly sympathetic character that is typically played for tears, especially since she gets the cancer storyline. I liked how Winger gives her a spunky edge to flavour things up a little, and some of her wisecracks are pretty funny.

Her farewell scene is also fantastically played and I loved how she managed to convey so much emotions within a few seconds without saying a word. But, as mentioned earlier, I have always felt that the best parts of the performance come from her excellent chemistry with MacLaine – it is truly heartwarming to see the 2 women confide in each other during their ups and downs.

Somehow I was less interested in Emma than Aurora – she’s certainly very sympathetic, especially when watching her deal with her struggling marriage and illness. But at the same time, I felt like Aurora had a bit more mystery to her, especially when one tries to understand her eccentricity and insecurities beneath that loud and colourful facade. Emma’s storyline is a bit more straightforward, but I think Winger does a great job nonetheless. 4.5/5.

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Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983)

Robert Duvall won his only Oscar to date for playing Mac Sledge, a washed-up country singer in Tender Mercies.

Tender Mercies is an okay film that I wasn’t particularly passionate or crazy about. Honestly, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but I just wasn’t super engaged by it either. It is very quiet, and has this rustic, dreary mood that fits the story perfectly. I guess one way of describing it would be that it’s like a good old-fashioned country song. There are emotional moments, and it’s easy to watch but I’d be lying if I said it is going to stay with me in the long run. The best picture nod is fine but I didn’t think the direction was anything out of the ordinary, except for one (sortof) suspenseful scene which made me wonder if Mac had gone off drinking in the night. The actors were great in general though.

Robert Duvall is an actor whom I haven’t seen much of, although I do think he is really talented based on the few films of his I’ve seen. He kinda reminds me of Sissy Spacek with his naturalistic style of acting and his chameleonic abilities that allows him to make his performances entirely different from one another without being too mannered.

It’s amazing how quiet this performance is – or rather, it is amazing that the Academy recognised such a quiet performance. Duvall internalizes a lot of his emotions but he manages to create many layers and in turn make Mac Sledge a real and sympathetic human being. He rarely goes over-the-top except for a couple of scenes where he raises his voice by just a little, but he manages to convey a wide range of emotions and conflicts. I especially liked how he shows Mac’s desire to return to singing and composing despite his claims that he has already retired. I could always sense Mac’s disappointment and frustration when he’s told that he has “lost it”. Mac also has a somewhat rocky past with his ex-wife and daughter, and you could always sense his sadness and desire to reconnect with his daughter. Duvall does a lot of subtle acting here with his eyes and voice, and miraculously it works.

His chemistry with Tess Harper’s Rosa Lee is also surprisingly great, despite them marrying only at the 13 minutes mark. They have a very quiet but sweet relationship and it is always clear that they are each other’s emotional support. His final monologue to Rosa about the unpredictability of life and why he doesn’t place too much trust in happiness is especially amazing – his lines (imo) are pretty dramatic but he plays it in a low-key manner that is rich with weariness, resignation and yet also a forward-looking optimism.

Robert Duvall’s performance here is a brilliant case of subtle acting that I wish the Academy would recognise more. I think its strength lies in how there is never a false note and how he lets his eyes and voice do the acting, creating a moving performance. 4.5/5.

p.s. I’m going to start exploring weirder films for future posts. Looking into David Lynch,

Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956)

I feel sorry for Kirk Douglas for several reasons. One of them is having to deal with Melissa Leo, but the other is due to the fact that he is a talented actor whom imo, should at least have one acting Oscar today. I guess this feeling also stems from my immense dislike of Yul Brynner’s win – one of my least favourite best actor winners – but my point is, Douglas has grown to become one of my favourite actors as I watch more and more of his films. I actually think he is better actor than his son even though some people will start this lengthy debate about whose acting style is better (classical vs modern blablabla). To me, it’s not just his well-known emotional intensity that captivates me as a viewer. He has this specificity in his acting choices that makes his characterizations memorable and sharp, and when combined with his emotional intensity, it’s really like watching fireworks.

I was completely mesmerised by Douglas’ performance as Vincent Van Gogh. He captures the painter’s turbulent brilliance, and his desperate desire to capture life through his paintings. Douglas portrays how Van Gogh was slowly consumed by his need to understand life and people, and how he would eventually be consumed by his own demons. His mental deterioration is ugly to watch, and in true Douglas fashion, the intense ugliness of it is disturbing and sad.

There are so many facets in Douglas’ performance that makes it stand out. Van Gogh’s selfishness, social awkwardness and bluntness can be off-putting (like the way he forced himself onto his cousin), but Douglas manages to penetrate his psyche and allow us to understand what drives the man to do what he does. Or more accurately, he allows us to understand that what goes through Van Gogh’s mind cannot be understood, even to Van Gogh himself, and this ultimately led to his tragic demise. Despite his lack of likability, Van Gogh is an extremely sympathetic and heartbreaking figure thanks to Douglas’ portrayal – I will never forget that monologue about his fear of loneliness.

This is a brilliant portrayal of a tortured artist that left me feeling as exhausted as Douglas (probably) did. Great, great work. 5/5.

P.S. Watched Alien: Covenant and thought it was utterly mediocre. Wanted to write a post about it but honestly, I can’t bring myself to cause I found it so predictable, lacking in suspense and forgettable. 2/5.

 

Anouk Aimée in A Man and a Woman (1966)

How much of chance did Anouk Aimée have in winning the Oscar back then? I was somewhat surprised to learn that she won a couple of awards, including the Golden Globe. That being said, I don’t think she had much of a chance in beating Elizabeth Taylor tour-de-force turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The reason why I was surprised at the number of awards picked up by this performance is simply because of how quiet the role is. First of all, A Man and a Woman is truly a beautiful film that deserved its foreign language picture win. I would even go ahead and say that it is my personal pick for best director that year. Claude Lelouch created a unique and original film that excels despite the simple premise. The editing is highly effective, especially in the flashback scenes and the score is beautiful – I will never forget that entire wordless boat sequence. That being said, I don’t think it is for everyone. If you cannot get into the really unique mood it is trying to create, chances are you will be bored out of your mind.

A Man and a Woman is really not so much of an actor’s movie. Its main focus is its portrayal of different stages of a relationship, and it does so in a captivating manner. As such, the characters end up a little thin, being nothing more than instruments to portray the various stages. We get a little backstory here and there – Anouk Aimée plays Anne Gauthier, a grieving widow who meets a widower Jean (played wonderfully by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and falls in love with him. You don’t really know much about Anne other than what you see – she’s a beautiful, reserved and elegant woman who doesn’t speak much and gradually opens up to Jean. Aimée does a lot of wonderful acting with the eyes here – you can see the longing, the hesitation, the sadness and the love in there despite how few lines she has.

It’s not that Anouk Aimée is giving a bad performance – on the contrary, she gives a well-done performance that fits the movie perfectly. She conveys the emotions naturally and has a mysterious presence that is captivating to watch. However, the thinness of the role just limits how much she can do as an actress. I felt like I was watching different states of a woman falling in love rather than a character per se. The movie finds its emotional substance in its overall style rather than its actors, who are merely pieces of a puzzle here. Still, it’s nice, fine work. 3.5/5.

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.

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.

Trevor Howard and Mary Ure in Sons and Lovers (1960)

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Trevor Howard received a best actor nod for playing Walter Moreal in Sons and Lovers…which I don’t get the placement of this nomination. While I am not particular about screentime, Walter is clearly a supporting character in this story. I’ll give Howard this though – he does have presence and leaves a fairly strong impression throughout the film.

Sons and Lovers is not bad, but if you have read the book, you will know that this is a highly condensed version of D. H. Lawrence’s story. I felt that the transitions between the key events of the story were a little jumpy, but I was engaged throughout the whole movie. I will say without hesitation that the cast is the film’s greatest asset. They really made the characters jump to life from the book, and I personally would have nominated Dean Stockwell for his terrific performance as the true lead of the film. Wendy Hiller is also great as always, and she too would have deserved to be nominated. The acting is just great all-around, with Heather Sears being the weak link (because I can’t stand Miriam as a character, not her acting, which is good).

Despite his fairly limited appearances in the film, Howard makes the most out of his role. It’s actually amazing how he manages to squeeze in the various facades of the character and make them gel together – a violent alcoholic, a bitter husband, a lonely man and a father who wants to reconnect with his son. It’s a true testament to Howard’s ability as an actor in making the characterisation work so well. My only qualm is that he was mainly overshadowed by the stories of the other characters, and his main role is to react to the events around him. Still, a strong performance that should have been nominated in supporting instead. 3.5/5.

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Mary Ure was nominated for best supporting actress for her performance as Clara Dawes, losing out to Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry.

Mary Ure gives the kind of supporting performance I love – despite the fairly limited screentime, she also makes the most out of her character. Clara Dawes is a suffragette and an unhappy woman separated from her husband. Ure was known for being a strong dramatic stage actress, and it can be seen in this performance. She’s never theatrical, but she also has this strong presence that commands the screen whenever she is on. It also helps that she plays the most interesting character in the film – despite being a self-proclaimed free lover, we can sense Clara’s desire for stability and love. There’s a great deal of mystery, intelligence, vulnerability and complexity in this performance that’s never fully explained, but Ure’s performance draws you in like a magnet.

There’s a great deal that can be analysed here – from her stiff posture (not her performance) to her line readings that always suggest an underlying bitterness, I love how much Ure did with how little she had. In a way, the same can be said for Howard’s performance, except that Ure has the benefit of a more complex and mysterious character. I really admired and enjoyed this performance. 4.5/5.