Sunday, December 14, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Ingrid Bergman

Despite being one of only 6 actors to have 3 or more Oscar wins (in addition to her Best Actress wins for Gaslight and Anastasia, she won Best Supporting Actress in 1974's Murder on the Orient Express), it seems that Ingrid Bergman is hardly mentioned as often or beloved as much as Old Hollywood Oscar favorites, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. Perhaps because Bergman didn't even receive nominations for her best known performances in Casablanca and Hitchcock's Notorious, but instead received 4 other nominations (Best Actress in 1943's For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1945's The Bells of St. Mary's, 1948's Joan of Arc, and 1978's Autumn Sonata) for films in which she gives great performances (particularly in Autumn Sonata, which she should have won), but that are almost forgotten today. But Bergman was one of our greatest movie stars and actresses and she should be mentioned more often for her contribution to film. Over at A Fistful of Films from Fisti, we looked at Bergman's two Best Actress wins for our blogger roundtable discussion Twice a Best Actress - one a turn by an actress at the height of her fame and popularity in a performance that I feel is the best of her 3 wins and the other an award for redemption, the Academy welcoming back a wronged woman.

Ingrid Bergman 

Best Actress 1944 

Ingrid Bergman Gaslight*
Claudette Colbert Since You Went Away
Bette Davis Mr. Skeffington
Greer Garson Mrs. Parkington
Barbara Stanwyck Double Indemnity

My Thoughts on Bergman as Paula Alquist Anton in Gaslight: "Bergman, showing what a movie star can bring to a part, is magnetically compelling throughout the film bringing a style of acting that sometimes is often overlooked..." (Click here for the complete write-up) B+

Best Actress 1956

Carroll Baker Baby Doll*
Ingrid Bergman Anastasia
Katharine Hepburn The Rainmaker
Nancy Kelly The Bad Seed
Deborah Kerr The King and I

My Thoughts on Bergman as Anna Koreff in Anastasia: "Overly theatrical, the film is stiff and suffocating, never able to overcome its stage-bound origins and Bergman seems to be the one most stifled by it all..." (Click here for the complete write-up) D

*My Choice for Best Actress. In 44, I can't decide between Bergman and Stanwyck. If you asked me next week I might have a different answer. But I went with Bergman only because I would've given the win to Stanwyck in 41. For 56, it's really a battle for who actually gave a performance worth rewarding. None are particularly memorable or challenging. But I went with Baker in "Baby Doll" even though I'm not that impressed with the actual performance because that image of her sleeping in a baby crib is unforgettable... 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Meryl Streep

Although Katharine Hepburn might officially have more statues, there is no question that the Academy's favorite performer is Meryl Streep. With her current three wins (Best Supporting Actress for 1979's Kramer Vs. Kramer and her two Best Actress wins for 1982's Sophie's Choice and 2011's The Iron Lady) there is little doubt that she will add a fourth (and perhaps even a fifth) eventually. Some are even predicting that the next win could come this year already for her work in the musical Into the Woods. Her current 18 nominations (Supporting nods for The Deer Hunter and Adaptation and Lead nominations for The French Lieutenant's Woman, Silkwood, Out of Africa, Ironweed, A Cry in the Dark, Postcards from the Edge, The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing, Music of the Heart, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, Julie & Julia, and last year's August: Osage County), makes her the most nominated actor in the history of the awards (and she broke that record 5 nominations ago). It seems a reasonable assumption that more nominations will continue as Streep is only 65 and works continuously. I think that her nomination total (wherever it ends up) will remain untouched by any other performer and her Oscar legacy is unquestionably secured for the history books. But of all the chances the Academy had to actually honor Streep with the win, were the performances she won for actually deserving? For Twice a Best Actress from Fisti at A Fistful of Films, we looked at the two lead performances that won her the golden guy and determined whether Streep's wins accurately account for the monumental actress she is.

Meryl Streep

Best Actress 1982

Julie Andrews Victor/Victoria
Jessica Lange Frances*
Sissy Spacek Missing
Meryl Streep Sophie's Choice
Debra Winger An Officer and a Gentleman

My thoughts on Streep as Sophie Zawistowska in Sophie's Choice: "And Streep, despite the film's fascination with her secret, trying to make her seem as mysterious as possible, never succumbs to easy answers..." (Click here to read the complete write-up.) A-

Best Actress 2011

Glenn Close Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis The Help*
Rooney Mara The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams My Week With Marilyn

My thoughts on Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady: "While her performance as Margaret Thatcher is a masterclass in technique and mimicry, the film itself does her no favors..." (Click here for the complete write-up) B

*My choices for Best Actress. I think Meryl is deserving of the win for "Sophie's Choice", but in a slight victory, I would give the win to Lange in her career-best performance. Also, I would've give the win to Meryl the very next year for 1983's "Silkwood" so she would still be a multiple winner...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fall Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

While Best Supporting Actor still remains a mystery past Simmons and Norton (having now seen Foxcatcher, I'm not so certain of Ruffalo's place among the final five. But he could still get in due to a lack of competition), Best Supporting Actress is definitely starting to take shape a little more firmly. And unlike Best Actress which seems to also have fewer viable options, this category has about 8 actresses that could all conceivably find themselves with nominations. It has always been a category to welcome newer, younger actresses (see last year's Lupita Nyong'o) alongside more seasoned actresses and this year's contenders are no different. There are some actresses looking for their first nominations and it wouldn't be the Oscars without Meryl Streep looking for a nom...

But the biggest breakout story of the year may just be an actress that has already been working for more than 25 years and in a film that was 11 years in the making. Most of the praise for Linklater's decade-spanning film has focused on Patricia Arquette's nurturing and grounded performance as Olivia, the mother of two children. The film may be called Boyhood but it's as just much about her own growth and maturity from a young, single mother trying to raise children while finishing her degree, to become a woman that has lived through hard times (her choice in men is a little questionable) and come out wiser for it all. It's even more fascinating watching Arquette age onscreen as we begin to see the progression of an actress coming into her own as a woman. And her speech towards the end of the film is perhaps the film's most poignant moment. There had been debate early in the summer about which category to place her in, but in Supporting she is guaranteed a nomination and even a possible win.

That Jessica Chastain is mentioned again for Oscar consideration is no surprise, she's been nominated twice before (Best Supporting Actress for 2011's The Help and Best Actress for 2012's Zero Dark Thirty). Nor is it a surprise that the actress will once again be competing with herself for a nomination from multiple performances in the same year. Her breakthrough year in 2011 consisted of 5 different films (I still say her best work that year was in Take Shelter) and this year, again, she has work in 4 different films to contend, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Miss Julie (which is receiving a week-qualifying run), Interstellar, and the film that is most likely to bring about a nomination, A Most Violent Year. There's been controversy about the fact that Chastain has been prohibited from campaigning for J.C. Chandor's 80s-set film until December, due to her contract for Nolan's Interstellar, but it is really the only performance that has an actual chance to bring her another nomination and the publicity just may help her in scoring the nomination for Chandor's film. The Academy seems to be a fan or her work. It seems like a safe bet to see her name among the 5 nominees.

Even though Keira Knightley has been nominated once before for an Oscar (Best Actress for 2005's Pride and Prejudice), I was beginning to think the Academy wasn't quite as enamored with her work as I thought, after passing over her Oscar-worthy performances in A Dangerous Method and Anna Karenina. But it seems that she may once again be in their favor again this year for her work in The Imitation Game. Knightley is having a fantastic year as well with her amazing work in the musical Begin Again (which should hopefully bring her a Golden Globe nomination) and her strong comedic performance in the indie comedy Laggies. Her work in both will be a strong case to bring her one of those nominations that represents a good year for an actor. And the Oscar-bait, period-set, biopic about the man that cracked the Enigma code to defeat the Germans in WWII, seems like just the sort of film the Academy gravitates toward. It seems like a reasonable assumption that Knightley, as the only woman in the film apart of the code breaking team, will finally score her second nomination this year.

Since her Golden Globe-nominated breakout in 2010's Easy A, Emma Stone has been a big, young star. The Academy, always quick to acknowledge stars of the moment, seems to recognize when it's someone's "time" and right now seems right for Stone for her work in Birdman, a film that has the potential to score multiple nominations. In my Year In Advance predictions, I assumed that a nomination would be coming her way this year. I just got the category and film wrong. Her work in Birdman is strong (I've previously written about it over at The Film Experience) and her first nomination seems like a done deal.

There are a couple of actresses looking to fill that final 5th spot. Laura Dern hasn't received a nomination since her Best Actress nomination for Rambling Rose over 20 years ago and she's a strong competitor for her role in Wild. And her appearance in the successful The Fault in Our Stars this summer could also booster her visibility. The late-breaking Martin Luther King, Jr film Selma just showed this past week at the AFI Festival and its performance from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King could be a threat to break into the race. But I think the last nomination will come from a film that still hasn't been seen but has had Oscar buzz surrounding it before cameras even starting rolling, the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's fairy tale musical Into the Woods. Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick as Cinderella (in an actual supporting role) could find her way here, but you can never bet against Oscar's favorite actress Meryl Streep. In what would be her 19th nomination, Streep is a reliable mainstay and her role as the Witch (which at one point was considered lead, but moved to supporting), previously played by Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Williams, and Donna Murphy on stage, has always been a favorite from the show. To not include Streep among the eventual Oscar nominees, even sit unseen, seems like a mistake.  

My Predictions
Patricia Arquette Boyhood
Jessica Chastain A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley The Imitation Game
Emma Stone Birdman
Meryl Streep Into the Woods

My Favorite Best Supporting Actress Performances (I've what I've seen so far)
Julianne Moore Maps to the Stars
Rene Russo Nightcrawler
Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer
Uma Thurman Nymphomaniac Vol I
Marisa Tomei Love Is Strange

Twice a Best Actress: Elizabeth Taylor

There's no mistaking the fact that Elizabeth Taylor was an amazing movie star. The husbands (totaling 7, but 8 actual marriages - she and Burton apparently liked it so much, they married twice!), the jewels (her extensive jewelry collection included an extravagant diamond named after her - the Taylor-Burton diamond), the drama (her turbulent life was made for scandal) - she was the very definition of a glamorous star. So it's easy to overlook sometimes that Elizabeth Taylor was also an amazing actress as well. She was nominated for Best Actress five times by the Academy (from 1957-1960 she was consecutively nominated four years in a row) and the two film that won her the award (BUtterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) are this week's subject of Twice a Best Actress from Fisti over at A Fistful of Films.  What's great about her two wins is that the first represents Taylor: The Star and the second acknowledges Taylor: The Actress. Even if that first win wasn't necessarily for a good movie (and other factors weighed heavily on the eventual victory) it's a reflection of how she could still command the screen in whatever she was in, a movie star by every sense of the word. And an accomplished  actress as well, as the second win confirmed. Read all about our take on La Liz here.

Elizabeth Taylor

Best Actress 1960

Greer Garson Sunrise at Campobello
Deborah Kerr The Sundowners
Shirley MacLaine The Apartment*
Melina Mercouri Never on Sunday
Elizabeth Taylor BUtterfield 8

My take on Taylor as Gloria Wandrous in BUtterfield 8: "It's only because of the star-wattage of Taylor that the film is even watchable..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) C+

Best Actress 1966

Anouk Aimée A Man and a Woman
Ida Kaminsky The Shop on Main Street
Lynn Redgrave Georgy Girl
Vanessa Redgrave Morgan!
Elizabeth Taylor Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?*

My take on Taylor as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: "And Taylor in those early scenes with Burton, bickering and impersonating Bette Davis, seems more casually effortless than she's ever appeared - biting into the role with as much gusto as Martha does into cold, leftover chicken legs..." (Click here to read the complete write-up.) A-

*My Choice for Best Actress winner

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Bette Davis

Bette Davis has a complex history with the Academy. But unlike her Oscar rival, Katharine Hepburn, who never showed up any of the times she won and generally seemed uninterested in them, Davis was very vocal about how much the award meant to her. She even claimed that she was the one that gave the statue its nickname of Oscar, naming the little bald gold man for her then husband's middle name. (The Academy denies that her story is true.) She was the first performer to garner 10 acting nominations (only Streep, Nicholson, and Hepburn have surpassed her in nominations) and unofficially has 11 nominations thanks to her write-in vote in 1934. Unlike most stars that claim it's an honor just to be nominated, Davis made it known that winning was very important to her. She was disappointed that Luise Rainer beat her by a year to become the first actor to win two awards and even more disappointed that she wasn't able to become the first to win three. Despite amazing work in Now, Voyager, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and perhaps her most famous role in All About Eve (a best actress lineup so impressive that not only was Davis unable to win that year, but Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond lost as well) somehow that elusive third Oscar never came. And of the two she did one, she didn't feel she deserved one of them. We're looking closely at those films that won her the award, Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938), for this week's edition of our blogger roundtable discussion of Twice a Best Actress from Fisti at A Fistful of Films. Make sure to read everyone's take on her work here. And let us know your thoughts on this Hollywood legend.

Bette Davis

Best Actress 1935

Elisabeth Bergner Escape Me Never
Claudette Colbert Private Worlds
Bette Davis Dangerous
Katharine Hepburn Alice Adams*
Miriam Hopkins Becky Sharp
Merle Oberon The Dark Angel

My thoughts on Davis as Joyce Heath in Dangerous: "...the film continually lets Davis down as it allows her to indulge in her worst theatrical instincts..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) C-

Best Actress 1938

Fay Bainter White Banners
Bette Davis Jezebel*
Wendy Hiller Pygmalion
Norma Shearer Marie Antoinette
Margaret Sullavan Three Comrades

My thoughts on Davis as Julie Marsden in Jezebel: "I was immediately impressed by how modern Davis is in it, using subtlety and stillness..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) B+

*My Choice for Best Actress winner, however I haven't seen Norma Shearer in "Marie Antoinette" which I'm told is a worthy winner. And I just want to mention Fay Bainter who became the first person to receive 2 acting nominations in the same year, winning supporting for her work as Julie's Aunt Belle in "Jezebel".

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Early Fall Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

With only two more months to go before the end of the year and only a handful of films still to be screened, the Best Supporting Actor category is still very much anyone's game. But as exciting as that seems, in theory, I found myself struggling to even fill out my own picks of favorite performances from this year. Certainly there must be some great performance that I'm overlooking. But for now, what people have decided as our options for the 5 slots aren't really inspiring much excitement in me...

One thing we know for sure, J.K. Simmons will be nominated (and possibly win) for Whiplash. Playing a hot-headed jazz instructor with a short-fuse, character actor Simmons is a foul-mouthed spitfire. I had such anxiety watching this film as if I was being yelled at and ridiculed by him personally. Although I was never taken with the character and don't feel Simmons gets to play much in this other than to be a gigantic screaming asshole, which he more than delivers. But it's just the type of showy turn from a respected actor that the Academy couldn't possibly overlook. I loved the actual film (and especially Miles Teller's performance) and won't begrudge Simmons his moment, but I did want more from him and never found his insults (especially his endless homophobic slurs) as shockingly funny as it seemed others did. The film was already a hit at Sundance and is it continues to open in more locations, I think the support for Simmons will geo even more.  

It's also a pretty safe bet to include two-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton for his performance as difficult theatre actor, Mike Shiner, in Birdman. Norton, playing on his own reputation as a prickly performer that clashes with his directors, is absolutely hilarious in the role. As the ultimate serious actor, Norton completely commits to the role, not afraid to show the pettiness of Shiner, relishing in how unlikable he can be. But then in quieter moments, (his rooftop scenes with Emma Stone crackle with silent, pulsating energy) he gets to show a gentler side that save the character from being a one-dimensional jerk. Norton hasn't been nominated in over 15 years (and not in this category since his film debut in 1996), but Birdman is already a hit with critics and has potential to hit big with the Academy. It seems that a nomination for Norton is definitely secure.

This summer when Richard Linklater's 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood was released, it seemed that the early Oscar buzz for an acting nomination was only on Patricia Arquette. But as the months have passed, former nominee Ethan Hawke (nominated in 2001 in this category for Training Day) began his slow burn and his name started coming up as often in regards to awards talk. And now he's already gained an acting nomination from the Gotham Independent Film Awards for his work as Mason, Sr. Hawke has steadily built a strong reputation within the film community over the years, even branching out from acting and garnering 2 screenplay nominations for his work on the two beloved Before Sunrise sequels. Even the people who didn't necessarily love the movie still admired the commitment it took to complete. Honoring Hawke here could be seen as a way of honoring the movie itself and his 12 year dedication to his performance.

After Foxcatcher finally made its debut at Cannes this past May, proving that the delay was worth it, the debate began on how Steve Carell and Channing Tatum would be campaigned for Oscars. It seems that, for now, both men will go lead. But there was no question that Oscar-nominee, Mark Ruffalo, playing real-life murder victim and Olympic wrestler David Schultz, would always be in the supporting category. And it looks like Ruffalo is most likely scoring his second Oscar nominations for his work in the film. However, if things start to shift and Carell feels he could win in Supporting, Ruffalo's chances of a nomination get a little bit tougher. Ruffalo has had some other well-received, high-profile work this year in Begin Again and an Emmy nomination for HBO's The Normal Heart. A nomination could be seen as reward for a successful year, which could also weigh heavily on receiving the nom.

But what to make of the 5th position? Right now everyone from Tyler Perry in Gone Girl to Robert Duvall in The Judge (I'm very surprised people are still holding on to that one considering how poorly received the film was critically and financially) to Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice (he has the best chance of a nomination from the movie, but it's not the contender I think we initially thought it was) to Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson from the unseen Selma have all been mentioned. But I have a hunch that the 5th nominee, like in the Best Actor line-up, will come from Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. But with all the names that could potentially breakout (Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, Finn Wittrock), my feeling is that Japanese pop star Miyavi playing an officer in the POW camp that Jack O'Connell is held prisoner and the main antagonist of the hero has the kind of baity part that wins awards attention.

My Predictions
Ethan Hawke Boyhood
Miyavi Unbroken
Edward Norton Birdman
Mark Ruffalo Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons Whiplash

My Favorite Best Supporting Actor Performances (of what I've seen so far)
Ben Mendelsohn Starred Up
Bill Nighy Pride
Edward Norton Birdman
Christophe Paou Strangers by the Lake
Sam Rockwell Laggies

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Hilary Swank

Although Luise Rainer said that she doesn't believe in the Oscar curse, I wonder if Hilary Swank feels the same way. After winning the awards twice for the only times she was nominated, she hasn't exactly been able to parlay that success into a thriving career, despite her attempts. And just in the 10 years since she last won, it doesn't seem that anyone looks back very fondly on her, especially because she won over the still Oscar-less Annette Bening both times. As much as I would like to live in a world where The Bening has an Oscar, I don't think she should have won either of the times she was up against Swank. And people seem to forget how amazing Swank was in Boys Don't Cry (which is streaming on Netflix). Million Dollar  Baby on the other hand...that' a different story. But you can read all about it during this week's edition of Twice a Best Actress hosted by Fisti over at A Fistful of Films.

Hilary Swank

Best Actress 1999

Annette Bening American Beauty
Janet McTeer Tumbleweeds
Julianne Moore The End of the Affair
Meryl Streep Music of the Heart
Hilary Swank Boys Don't Cry*

My Thoughts on Swank as Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry: "...but what makes Swank's Brandon transcend mere artifice is the heart and humanity she brings." (Click here to read the complete write-up.) A

Best Actress 2004

Annette Bening Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton Vera Drake
Hilary Swank Million Dollar Baby
Kate Winslet Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind*

My thoughts on Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby: "But despite the perfect casting, her work as Maggie, all toothy gumption and aw-shucks determination, seems like a miscalculation with the way the character is written..." (Click here for the complete write-up) C

*My Choice for Best Actress winner

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Early Fall Predictions: Best Actress

Doesn't it seem like every year brings the same story about the Best Actress category? Mainly, the lack of major contenders and a category that almost every year seems to be deemed "weak". I'm sorry to say that after Cate Blanchett's impassioned speech about more leading roles for woman (they do make money! The world is round, people!), that it doesn't seem like the studios were paying attention. Well, compared to the many Best Actor hopefuls that get mentioned (and have a possibility of getting in), the Actresses don't ever seem to get the same attention. There's already been some great performances from some talented women this year, but they seem to be pretty much ignored as we head into Oscar movie season. And sadly I don't have any inspired choices of who will emerge as the final 5 nominees. In fact, my choices for who I will believe will make it in pretty much aligns with what everyone else seems to agree. Let's just hope we have some shake-ups as the season progresses otherwise it's gonna be a long, predictable couple of months.

Let's first start off with the two sure things. One a four time nominee that has never won before and the other a previous winner that hasn't had the most stellar career post-win.

In a just world, Julianne Moore would by all accounts already be a two-time winner (for Boogie Nights and Far From Heaven), but the Academy passed her over in favor of others all the previous times she was nominated. And she hasn't even received a nomination (despite some traction for her work in The Kids Are All Right and A Single Man) since her double nominations of 2002, showing signs that perhaps the Academy had cooled in their affection for her. But after winning the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her go-for-broke performance in the messy/whackadoo Maps to the Stars (which will now receive a Oscar-qualifying run, but is way too out-there for be a serious contender), the buzz on Moore began. Then, almost out of nowhere, she became the front-runner for not only a nomination, but to win the whole damn thing with her film that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Still Alice. Moore plays a linguistics professors that finds she's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Word out of the festival was stellar and it may be too soon to get our hopes up of finally being able to say Academy Award winner Julianne Moore, but a nomination seems pretty secured.

Let the 2014 Reesurgence begin! After winning the Best Actress Oscar for 2005's Walk the Line, Reese Witherspoon's career, littered with well-meaning prestige films that didn't pan out and just plain awful romantic comedies (let us never speak of This Means War ever again), hasn't exactly inspired audiences, let alone the Academy. But starting with a small turn in last year's Mud, Witherspoon seems to be getting her footing again and with this fall's Wild (which she also produced), Witherspoon's journey to become a respected actress again seems to have come full circle. Playing Cheryl Strayed, the real-life woman that walked the Pacific Crest Trail (and wrote the book that the film is based on) to find herself. Witherspoon is said to give an amazing performance having already gained acclaim when the film showed in Toronto. And the film's director, Jean-Marc Vallée, certainly knows a thing or two about reviving the career of a floundering star, he directed last year's Dallas Buyers Club with Matthew McConaughey which won the actor the Best Actor Oscar and solidified the great McConaissance.

After reading the best-selling novel Gone Girl, I knew that whoever took on the part of Amy Dunne in the film adaptation would be sure to get some awards attention - the role is too juicy not to. Director David Fincher, after passing on bigger name stars, went with the relatively unknown Rosamund Pike, and, sure enough, Pike's star has risen and Oscar talk has begun. Pike, who has excelled in other films in supporting roles (her work as a not-as-dumb-as-she-seems blonde in An Education is a subtle delight), but I was lukewarm to her actual performance and to the film in general. But the film is already a huge hit and has inspired countless internet articles debating the notion of the "cool girl" and whether or not the film is misogynist. People are going to be talking about it for a long time and I think it'll be too big for the Academy not to include her in the Best Actress category.

After winning an acting award at Sundance for her performance in Like Crazy, big things were expected for new "It" girl, Felicity Jones. But critics and awards committees weren't exactly crazy for the film and it ended up being pretty much a non-starter. Jones has worked steadily since but hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. However with this fall's The Theory of Everything, opposite Best Actor hopeful Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, Jones plays Hawking's first wife Jane, who met Hawking during university and stuck by him throughout his illness. The film is actually based on the memoir that Jane wrote, making her side of the story just as compelling as the well-known genius's and the Academy has always had a soft spot for the long-suffering wife role. Most of the early praise seems to be for Redmayne's physical transformation, but Jones seems like a safe bet for a nom alongside him for her steadfast performance.

The fifth spot seems to be a bit up in the air. There's two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain for her work in the 80's set mob thriller A Most Violent Year. She could easily make the fifth spot as she also has the indie drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby which has admirers and the sure-to-be-big Nolan blockbuster Interstellar out at the same time to raise her profile. Her best shot seems to be AMVY, but votes may split over her other films. Another outside possibility is Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard in Belgium's Best Foreign Language Film entry Two Days, One Night, which she is (once again) brilliant in. But for some reason, the Academy seems reluctant to give the actress a second nomination and this film may be too small and too foreign to make an impact.

So I'm giving the fifth spot to an Academy favorite (she's already received 5 prior nominations without a win), with a film that people have already seemed to have lost faith in, sight unseen. But I still feel that Amy Adams in Tim Burton's Big Eyes, as the real-life painter of creepy/kitschy children with crazy huge peepers, could still make her way in. People are saying the film must not be very good since it's completed and hasn't been viewed at any film festivals, but with Harvey Weinstein behind it, I think he'll be pushing Adams big time in Dec. Adams is clearly liked by the Academy, so for now I'm still giving her the nom. Although a win doesn't seem as likely as it once did, since it seems that Julianne Moore may have come in to take over her overdue-for-a-win story arc...we shall see.

My Predictions
Amy Adams Big Eyes
Felicity Jones The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore Still Alice
Rosamund Pike Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon Wild

My Favorite Best Actress Performances (of what I've seen so far this year)
Marion Cotillard The Immigrant
Marion Cotillard Two Days, One Night
Scarlett Johansson Under the Skin
Gugu Mbatha-Raw Belle
Mia Wasikowska Tracks

Friday, October 24, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda is a lot like Sally Field for me. Like Field, I really adore Fonda and will watch her in just about anything (once I caught the beginning of Monster-In-Law on television and watched the entire film from beginning to end. It didn't even occur to me to change the station at all). Fonda's Best Actress wins seem to also mirror Field's as well in that her first win was much deserved and the second, well, not so much...(I also love that Field and Fonda are real-life friends and made a pact to stop having plastic surgery. According to Fonda, Field has kept the pact, but she has not.) This week we took a look at the performances that won Fonda both her Oscars (Klute and Coming Home) for our weekly blogger roundtable Twice a Best Actress from Fisti at A Fistful of Films. Please read the panels thoughts here and make sure to share your thoughts on Fonda.

Jane Fonda

Best Actress 1971

Julie Christie McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Jane Fonda Klute*
Glenda Jackson Sunday Bloody Sunday
Vanessa Redgrave Mary, Queen of Scots
Janet Suzman Nicholas and Alexandra

My thoughts on Fonda as Bree Daniels in Klute: "And Fonda, the epitome of the 70's liberated woman, has never been more naturalistic, open, and spontaneous on screen..." (Click here to read the complete write-up.) B+

Best Actress 1978

Ingrid Bergman Autumn Sonata*
Ellen Burstyn Same Time, Next Year
Jill Clayburgh An Unmarried Woman
Jane Fonda Coming Home
Geraldine Page Interiors

My thoughts on Fonda as Sally Hyde in Coming Home: "She is too sedate throughout, without enough passion for the love story it's trying to be and not politically volatile enough to be the message movie she desperately wants it to be..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) C-

*My Choices for Best Actress winner

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Luise Rainer

This week for the Twice a Best Actress blogger roundtable (hosted by Fisti at A Fistful of Films), we looked at a woman that's more remembered as an Oscar footnote rather than the accomplished actress she was (it probably doesn't help that she won over more celebrated actresses like Lombard, Garbo, Stanwyck, and Dunne). After winning her two Best Actress Oscars, Luise Rainer virtually disappeared from Hollywood, the pressure being too much for her to live up to and the studio's inability to know what to do with her talent. But Luise Rainer was the first actor (male or female) to win multiple Oscars and the first to win back-to-back awards (and the only Actress to do so until Katharine Hepburn 30 years later in 67 and 68). She had only 7 more films released after the film that brought her second win, The Good Earth, and only 2 were made after 1938. But although Luise Rainer's time as a Hollywood star was brief, she herself is still breaking records. At 104 years old, Rainer is still alive and still the oldest living Oscar winner in history. She has also placed the highest in our roundtable thus far. So celebrate her work by reading what we all thought of her performances in The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth

Luise Rainer
Best Actress 1936

Irene Dunne Theodora Goes Wild
Gladys George Valiant is the Word for Carrie
Carole Lombard My Man Godfrey*
Luise Rainer The Great Ziegfeld
Norma Shearer Romeo and Juliet

My Thoughts on Rainer as Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld: "Rainer is a fluttery diversion, enjoyable when she's on screen, but quickly forgotten whenever she's not..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) C-

Best Actress 1937

Irene Dunne The Awful Truth
Greta Garbo Camille*
Janet Gaynor A Star Is Born
Luise Rainer The Good Earth
Barbara Stanwyck Stella Dallas

My Thoughts on Rainer as O-Lan in The Good Earth: "Rainer gives a quiet and effective performance, disappearing into herself as she plays a meek yet determined woman..." (Click here for the complete write-up) B-

*My Choices for Best Actress winner. Can we just take a second to admire that line-up in 1937? It was hard to choose a winner, but I ultimately went with Garbo

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Early Fall Predictions: Best Actor

Now that we are actually in Oscar Movie Season (the leaves are changing and adult dramas are back in the theaters again - rejoice!), I thought it would be a good time to reevaluate my predictions. That sidebar with my year in advance predictions was starting to look a little dated. (Sorry, Chadwick Boseman. I thought you were great in Get On Up - probably the best part of the entire movie - but a Best Actor nomination just is not going to happen.) And now that we've had the main film festivals (Toronto, Telluride, Venice, and New York) it seems that most of the major players have been viewed, with the top men fighting their way to the 5 spots in Best Actor.

It appears that two actors that are almost guaranteed nominations are a couple of Brits in a couple of baity biopics. Eddie Redmayne, who is already a Tony award winner and gained a little awards traction (or at least talk) a couple years ago when he played Marius in the Oscar-winning Les Misérables, seems to have taken the early frontrunner status for his transformative work as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Playing the real-life physicist allows him to not only tackle the mimicry of a well-known figure but he also physically challenges himself as he shows the progression Hawking's body underwent as his disease left him almost entirely paralyzed. It's the sort of performance that Oscar will find hard to ignore and could bring a possible win.

Taking on another important British figure, although one not as well known, the internet's favorite actor (that bears a striking resemblance to a certain aquatic creature), Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the genius that successfully cracked the Enigma code, a huge step in the Allies winning WWII. But if that wasn't baity enough, Turing was later put to trial for his homosexuality, persecuted by the country that once celebrated him as a savior. Cumberbatch has been the next big thing for awhile. Although things didn't pan out for a nomination last year for the virtually forgotten The Fifth Estate, that there was talk at all for him just shows that people are eager to see him nominated. (His recent Emmy win for the beloved Sherlock certainly helps as well.) And with strong reviews for his performance, it seems he'll be making his way to a first nomination.

Another strong possibility is something of a comeback story. Michael Keaton, whose recent career hasn't exactly been as strong as it was back in his heyday of the late 80's and early 90's (Sorry, I never saw Need for Speed or the Robocop remake), seems to have found a role that could bring the veteran his first nomination. Starring in Oscar-nominated writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu's first foray into comedy (but it's a dark comedy), Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor once known for playing a superhero now trying to mount a career-comeback on Broadway. Much has already been said about the parallels between the character and the former Batman's story (in fact, that's been most of what the early press has been about). But word is Keaton hits it out of the park with a nomination almost sure to follow.

Steve Carell may be best known as a comedian, but it seems that his against-type performance in Foxcatcher, in which the star wore a prosthetic nose (well, it worked for Nicole Kidman) and plays the real-life millionaire and murderer John du Pont, might just find his way to an Oscar nomination. That is if he doesn't lose his spot to his costar Channing Tatum said to give the performance of his career in the film. Both have had strong praise and buzz since the film debuted at Cannes back in May, but for now I'm giving the edge to Carell to secure a spot on the list. Both actors are stepping outside their comfort zone, but seeing funny man Carell play a chilling killer seems like the sort of game-changing performance the Academy would recognize.

For my fifth choice, I'm gonna go out on limb here with a film that has yet to be screened at festivals, with a relative unknown actor that's a little younger than Oscar is used to honoring. But after seeing Jack O'Connell in Starred Up this year, he has definitely emerged as a charismatic and talented actor, that seems capable of great things. With his performance in the Angelina Jolie-helmed Unbroken, playing an actual person (Louis Zamperini), who was a Olympian, WWII soldier, survived not only a plane crash but a raft stranded at sea for 47 days and a Japanese POW camp, I just have a hunch that it's a performance that will be too big to ignore. And the other names being tossed around right now (Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice is too weird, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner seems too stuffy, Ralph Fiennes in Grand Budapest Hotel seems so long ago, and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl is, they don't stand out the way O'Connell does. I think we're looking at an interesting year with some surprises and right now it's looking like a Best Actor category made up entirely of first time nominees.

My Predictions
Steve Carell Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton Birdman
Jack O'Connell Unbroken
Eddie Redmayne The Theory of Everything

My Favorite Best Actor Performances (of what I've seen so far this year)
Ralph Fiennes Grand Budapest Hotel
John Lithgow Love Is Strange
Alfred Molina Love Is Strange
Jack O'Connell Starred Up
Miles Teller Whiplash

Friday, October 10, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Sally Field

I adore Sally Field. So I was very excited for this week's edition of Twice a Best Actress from Fisti over at A Fistful of Films in which we looked at the actress' award-winning performances. Despite my love of Sally (and Oscar), I have somehow not seen either of her wins before this past week. I wish I could say that I was a fan of both...but you'll just have to see what I and my fellow panelists had to say here. After her two wins, it seemed like the Academy was done honoring Field. Passing over such great work in Steel Magnolias (Oh, my god! That scene in the cemetery) and her hilarious work in Soapdish (okay, an nomination was never gonna happen. But she's so good in it!), so I was pleased when she managed a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2012 (almost 30 years after her last nom) for her work as Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg's film. Hopefully it won't be her last...

Sally Field
Best Actress 1979

Jill Clayburgh Starting Over
Sally Field Norma Rae
Jane Fonda The China Syndrome
Marsha Mason Chapter Two
Bette Midler The Rose*

My Thoughts on Field as Norma Rae Webster in, well, Norma Rae: "Field, who possess an authentic likability that lends any character she plays an instant appeal, digs deep into the hardscrabble background of Norma Rae..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) B

Best Actress 1984

Judy Davis A Passage to India*
Sally Field Places in the Heart
Jessica Lange Country
Vanessa Redgrave The Bostonians
Sissy Spacek The River

My Thoughts on Field as Edna Spalding in Places in the Heart: "We never really learn anything about Edna except her kindness and determination, but the work relies too heavily on our established connection to Field as an actress..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) D

*My choice for Best Actress winner. Although I do enjoy Field in Norma Rae, I'd give the win to Midler that year. In 84, the choices are all so lackluster that I'd reluctantly give it to Davis in the only film that is even remotely remembered (mainly because of the novel).

Friday, October 3, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Jodie Foster

Week 2 of the Twice a Best Actress Blogger Roundtable from Fisti at A Fistful of Films takes on former child star/director/respected actress Jodie Foster. I've been a fan of the actress since I was young and saw her for the first time in Maverick (Shut up! She's good in it!). Foster has a total of 4 career Oscar nominations and has been working so long in the entertainment industry that she's already received the Cecil B DeMille award (considered a lifetime achievement award) at the Golden Globes when she was only 50. Concentrating more on working behind the camera in recent years, the past couple of times she's stepped in front as an actress haven't exactly been her best work. (Seriously, if someone can explain what she was going for in Elysium, I'd love to know. She was on a completely different planet, literally.) So it's nice to look back on her two wins and remember what a great actress Jodie Foster can be. (Both her Best Actress winning performances are streaming now on Netflix Instant Watch, so make sure to watch the performances now and leave comments!)

Jodie Foster
Best Actress 1988

Glenn Close Dangerous Liaisons*
Jodie Foster The Accused
Melanie Griffith Working Girl
Meryl Streep A Cry in the Dark
Sigourney Weaver Gorillas in the Mist

My Thoughts on Foster as Sarah Tobias in The Accused: "Foster tackles the adult subject matter with the skill of a seasoned professional, never backing away from showing the hurt, humiliation, and anger that Sarah feels in the aftermath of the incident..." (Click here for the complete write-up) B

Best Actress 1991

Geena Davis Thelma & Louise
Laura Dern Rambling Rose
Jodie Foster The Silence of the Lambs*
Bette Midler For the Boys
Susan Sarandon Thelma & Louise

My Thoughts on Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs: "Foster excels in showing Clarice's conflict of emotions, her psychological pull to a perceptive man who is essentially a monster..." (Click here for the complete write-up) B+

*My choice for Best Actress winner

Friday, September 26, 2014

Twice a Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn (Part 1)

After taking on the Actors that received two Best Actor Oscars in Twice a Best Actor this past summer, we are back! This time diving into my favorite subject, Actresses. Namely the Actresses that are two-time Best Actress winners in, you guessed it, Twice a Best Actress. Fisti over at A Fistful of Films is the host of this series, so please head on over to read all about what our collective opinions are on this week's first entry, Katharine Hepburn. Well, at least her first two wins anyway. (She might just pop up here again, you know, since she's Quadruple a Best Actress and all.) Hepburn's first two wins aren't necessarily viewed very favorably, so make sure you see how our thoughts differ!

Katharine Hepburn
Best Actress 1933

Katharine Hepburn Morning Glory
May Robson Lady for a Day
Diana Wynyard Cavalcade

My Thoughts on Hepburn as Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory: "Often criticized for playing variations of herself, Kate really does seem to be making choices and creating an actual character different from herself..." (Click here for the complete write-up) C+

Best Actress 1967

Anne Bancroft The Graduate*
Faye Dunaway Bonnie and Clyde
Edith Evans The Whisperers
Audrey Hepburn Wait Until Dark
Katharine Hepburn Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

My Thoughts on Hepburn as Christina Drayton in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: "Preachy, dull, and laughably dated, nothing is asked of Kate other than to be a stand-in for pro-interracial marriage..." (Click here for the complete write-up) C-

*My choice for Best Actress winner (I haven't seen Hepburn's fellow nominees' performances in 1933 so can't make a decision.) 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The 10 Best Voice-Over Performances of All-Time

Over at The Film Experience, we had another of our monthly Team Experience Polls in which this month we chose the 10 Best Voice-Over Performances in film. Although animated movies are the first thing that come to mind, it was open to all vocal performances in which the actors themselves do not appear on screen. We also ruled out the use of stop-motion performances in which the actor actually performs the entire performance on green screen to be turned into a CGI creation later (otherwise Andy Serkis as Gollum would've certainly made my list). Six out of the ten performances I chose made their way to the final list which you can read here.

Creating remarkable performances with only the use of their voice, these 10 actors prove that even without the full use of their bodies and image, they can can still create complete characters using only a single element of their actorly tools. The voice is a powerful instrument that was the original method of storytelling, so it's only right to highlight 10 cinematic performances that carry on that oral tradition.

Honorable Mentions (I could've probably created an entire other list with any of these actors): Paige O'Hara Beauty and the Beast, Eartha Kitt The Emperor's New Groove, Christine Cavanaugh Babe, Jennifer Cody The Princess and the Frog, Jeremy Irons The Lion King, Minnie Driver Tarzan, Brad Bird The Incredibles, George Sanders Shere Khan, Jimmy MacDonald Cinderella, Douglas Rain 2001: A Space Odyssey

10. Alec Baldwin as the Narrator in The Royal Tenenbaums

"All memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure and disaster."

Before we became more familiar with the deadpan comedic delivery of Baldwin, thanks to his weekly adventures as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, we got a taste when he played the brilliantly droll narrator for Wes Anderson’s film about a family of eccentrics. Everything in an Anderson film is a carefully calculated creation and Baldwin’s voice – deep, soothing, with just the right amount of sarcasm coming through- is equally precise, providing the perfect narration for Anderson’s curio.

9. Geraldine Page as Madame Medusa in The Rescuers

"Adopted? What makes you think anyone would want a homely little girl like you?"

Madame Medusa never really gets the same sort of attention that bigger Disney villainesses like Cruella De Vil and Maleficent receive. And originally, the studio had even toyed with the idea of bringing back Cruella as the baddie in The Rescuers. Luckily they decided to create a new evil creation otherwise we would’ve missed out on the unforgettable voice work of Oscar-winning actress Geraldine Page. Marrying beautifully with Milt Kahl’s animation (her look apparently based on his ex-wife), Page would even act out the entire performance in the recording studio. But what sets her voice work apart from the other evil women mentioned is her unique delivery – totally unexpected choices and vocal variations. My sisters and I still quote her distinct line readings years after watching the film.
8. Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in her

"I want to learn everything about everything. I want to eat it all up. I want to discover myself."

Scarlett Johansson's performance as the iOS system programed to have a personality and think for herself may be the most recent entry on my list, but I have no doubt that her vocal performance, in which she delivers a fully-developed, fleshed-out, and completely touching character - all with just her raspy voice - will stand the test of time. When director Spike Jonze recast the actress originally hired to voice Samantha (Oscar nominee Samantha Morton, who was deemed too cold and robotic during the editing process), he certainly made a wise decision when he chose Johansson. Her natural warmth and girlish eagerness give Samantha a purity that make the audience fall in love with her just as much as Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore does in the film.

7. Jean Shepherd as the Narrator in  A Christmas Story

"My mother was about to make another brilliant maneuver in the legendary battle of the lamp. The epic struggle which follows lives in the folklore of Cleveland Street to this very day."

Most holiday films have a tendency to be overly sentimental and sappy, which is probably why A Christmas Story with its biting humor and skewed sensibility has emerged as one of the truly great holiday classics (There's a good reason it's run 24 hours on cable in December). And that's all thanks to its creator, Jean Shepherd, (the film is based on his short stories about his own childhood) and his narration as the older Ralphy looking back on his troubled youth. Lending his voice to his own words, the story becomes even more personal and more specific in its comedy. Just don't shoot your eye out...

6. Lucille La Verne as the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

"Slave in the magic mirror, come from the farthest space, through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak! Let me see thy face. "

A life-long actress (she was doing Shakespeare at the age of 14 and made her Broadway debut in 1888), La Verne delivered her lines as the haughty and beautiful Evil Queen in Disney's first animated film with the skill and aplomb that only a seasoned stage veteran could deliver. Her rich tones and regal vocalization make the Queen memorably chilly and heartless. But what's even more impressive is that La Verne was able to show off her versatility by also supplying the voice when the Queen transforms herself into the hag to temp Snow White with the poisoned apple. Altering her queenly voice into an old crone's crackle (she took out her dentures to help give the hag an added note of authenticity), La Verne gives two great performances in the same character and set the blueprint for all future Disney villains. 

5. Kathleen Turner as Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

When a woman looks as flashy and larger-than-life as Jessica Rabbit, she needs a singular voice to match her exaggerated feminine figure. Luckily the filmmakers decided against the obvious choice of something overtly girly and breathy (like a Betty Boop or Marilyn Monroe) choosing instead the sensuously husky voice of the Oscar-nominated Turner. And a legend was born. Turner, taking inspiration from the femme fatales of the 40s like Lauren Bacall, knows how to make Jessica's lines seductive and mysterious, but what really takes it to icon status is the unexpected humor she's able to infuse into the character. Taking what could potentially be a one-note, walking sexual innuendo, Turner fleshes her out (ahem...) completely. 

4. James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in The Star Wars Trilogy

"The Force is strong with this one."

Darth Vader has been so throughly integrated into pop culture and his voice one of the most recognizable in all of film, that sometimes it's easy to take for granted just what a perfect union vocal work and image can be in shaping a legacy. The evil black gas-mask appearance of Vader needed the commanding boom that only a James Earl Jones could bring. Would we still be remembering how he shockingly told Luke Skywalker that he was his father if James Earl Jones hadn't brought as much authority as he did? Which is why it was always so disappointing to see the actor that they used behind the mask in The Return of the Jedi, stripping Vader of the power he had over us for decades. We choose to only remember him as he should be  - with the assertive bass of Jones.

3. Pat Carroll as Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid

"You'll have your looks. Your pretty face and don't underestimate the importance of body language."

Even though the part was originally offered to Bea Arthur and Elaine Stritch was cast and left production after clashing with lyricist Howard Ashman, it's impossible to imagine anyone else bringing to life Ursula in the same way that Pat Carroll was able. Making every single line her own  (her entire performance is quotable and she's given one of the best songs of any other Disney villain), Carroll makes the most of every moment and made Ursula one of the most memorable Disney characters in the process, which is no small feat when she's up against such fan favorites as Ariel and a Caribbean-accented crab. 

2. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo

"I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy"

A lot of times animated films get hijacked by an unforgettable sidekick that steals the spotlight from the main characters. But when they're as hilarious as Ellen DeGeneres voicing the forgetful Dory, the overt scene-stealing is more than welcome. And DeGeneres' work in the film is what turned Finding Nemo from a cute film about a clown fish trying to find his missing son and turned it into a run-away success, even named one of Time magazine's 100 Greatest Films of All-Time. DeGeneres' good-natured, wholesome comedy could've had the potential to be old-fashioned and square but her work is just as laugh-out-loud funny in its silliness as it was a decade ago. And she expertly handles the emotional moments as well, proving that she's just as skilled as an actress as she is a comedian. Her Dory is certainly not dumb as she seems. Now has anyone seen little Fabio around...

1. Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin

"What would you wish of me?

For better or worse, he's the reason that every animated film since has utilized big-name stars to voice its characters. (I'm looking at you, Dreamworks.) But what Williams does with the Genie is not just stunt casting to get people in seats (okay, it may have started off that way). He simply is the Genie. The character is so enmeshed with who Williams is as a performer that it may just be the comedian's best work. Free from the confines of live-action and utilizing the limitless possibilities that the medium of animation is capable of (where you only have to dream it to achieve it), his breakneck energy and rapid-fire delivery is free to explore and create.  And Williams takes full advantage of his freedom. Ad libbing for hours and shaping the entire structure of the film around his delivery, his was the first vocal performance that I remember people seriously campaigning to get an Oscar nomination. The film simply wouldn't exist without Robin Williams and you couldn't wish for a better performance.