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