Friday, January 19, 2007

 

My best choices, my worst choices


Now as the last day for ballots has arrived, I thought I'd go ahead and share who received my votes in both categories. First, my top 5 for the best best actresses.

THE BEST

1. Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind)
The top spot has never been a contest for me — in fact Leigh's strongest competitor is herself, but Blanche DuBois' frailty is no match for Scarlett O'Hara's determination and gumption. It's really quite a tribute to Leigh to think that the British actress brought two of the most legendary Southern characters to life so vividly on screen and her performance as Scarlett is what makes Gone With the Wind so watchable, despite its length.

2. Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire)
I know — I should really spread the wealth but if the same person gave the two best Oscar-winning best actress performances of all time, it's not any fairer to penalize her for it, especially when the contrast between Scarlett and Blanche couldn't be any deeper. It's no wonder Blanche is no match for Stanley — but Leigh and Brando were certainly a match made in cinematic heaven. Granted, it's hard not to watch A Streetcar Named Desire these days without thinking about the great Simpsons episode "A Streetcar Named Marge," but Leigh's descent into madness is still powerful, even if she doesn't fly around the screen on wires.

3. Maggie Smith (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)

What could easily have been a caricature in someone else's hands, is a masterwork in Dame Maggie's. Jean Brodie is not a conventional monster, but I doubt seriously that many people have failed to meet her type in their lives, whether they were in the education field or not. Brodie is completely confident in her own world view and feels compelled to instill it in as many impressionable people as she can — even when she starts to see the damage it can do. The movie itself is a mixed bag, but it's another case where a central performance is so strong that it raises what could be a mediocre movie to a higher level — and that's precisely what Maggie Smith does here.

4. Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner's Daughter)

As good as Jamie Foxx was in Ray, the fact that he didn't do the singing always bothered me and I'm sure that Sissy Spacek's phenomenal work here helped lead me to that prejudice. Spacek's work as Loretta Lynn is amazing on so many levels — as a believable teenager, a great singer, a struggling businesswoman and a barely coping mother and wife. Spacek doesn't hit a false note in the entire film, helped ably by co-star Tommy Lee Jones as her somewhat undependable husband whom she loves anyway. Often, bios of real-life artists, be they painters, writers or musicians, always seem to fall flat on some level but Coal Miner's Daughter is a true exception and Spacek's performance is the biggest reason for its success.

5. Faye Dunaway (Network)
Dunaway's work as Diana Christensen has popped up on several worst ballots and the movie Network, one of my all-time favorites which grows more prescient with each passing year, still draws many detractors. Not from this critic though, who thinks Dunaway's manic work as a driven TV exec with a myriad of psychological flaws still stands the test of time and truly makes me sad for what little memorable work Dunaway has done since this. Still, I love Dunaway here, who manages to make Diana a satiric target and a human being at the same time, not an easy task for anyone to pull off.

THE WORST


1. Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8)
And the winner for best performance by an off-screen tracheotomy goes to ELIZABETH TAYLOR in BUTTERFIELD 8. To Taylor's credit, even she has admitted embarrassment about this laughable film and her sympathy win for playing "the slut of all time." She's been quoted as saying she felt the studio forced her into the part to capitalize on the scandal involving her affair and marriage with Eddie Fisher and the breakup of his marriage to Debbie Reynolds. She got a deserved Oscar six years later for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but that doesn't make this win any less of one of the Academy's all-time blunders.




2. Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets)
Once upon a time, I liked Helen Hunt, but that all seems like a hazy memory now. I was never a fan of Mad About You, so that wasn't it. Did I like her on St. Elsewhere? Who can remember now? The fact remains that her cold turn in As Good As It Gets with its wandering accent flipped the switch for good and I haven't liked her since. Watching her try to emote this year in the dreadful Bobby drove home the case. A lot of people have asked what her Oscar-winning character could have found to love in Jack Nicholson's frightened misanthrope with OCD. I think the better question to ask is what the hell did he see in her?

3. Jessica Lange (Blue Sky)
I never quite realized what a love it-or-hate it performance Lange gave here until I started to see people I respect say they considered this one of the best winning performances of all time and my head went to scratching. I thought Blue Sky was bad and Lange was worse. Granted, 1994's two best female performances weren't nominated (one being Jennifer Jason Leigh for Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle, the other being Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, which was ruled ineligible). Still, the other four actresses who did make the cut were all more deserving of the prize than Lange's histrionics in Blue Sky.

4. Loretta Young (The Farmer's Daughter)
Lately, Comedy Central has been showing Trading Places a lot and I keep running into the scene on the train where everyone is operating under an assumed identity and Jamie Lee Curtis is claiming to be Inga from Sweden, which really is just as convincing a Swedish character as the one Young won an Oscar for in The Farmer's Daughter. Granted Young didn't face the strongest of fields, but that's no excuse for this silly trifle to have prevailed (I'd have gone with Joan Crawford in Possessed myself).




5. Nicole Kidman (The Hours)
There are so many reasons why Nicole Kidman shouldn't have won for The Hours. There was the fact that her role had less screen time than Julianne Moore's, which got stuck in supporting. There was the insufferable way she spent two years using every personal crisis she could muster to try to nab the award. (Hell, at least Liz actually got her throat cut.) There was the fact that her competitors were much better. Finally though, it boils down to the fact that her cold performance conveyed less emotion than the piece of putty stuck on her face.


Labels: ,


Comments:
I am so glad you picked Maggie, too! That movie is very, very dear to my heart. And we both panned Loretta, too.

I really do predict Elizabeth Taylor is going to walk off with the Butterfield 8 booby prize.
 
My problem with granting any distinction to GWTW is its racism. It's overpowering, and the romance, sets and acting just can't make up for it.

That said, Leigh's perfomances in GWTW and Streetcar are linked, as Streetcar can easily be interpreted, character for character and virtually line for line as a metaphor for reconstruction--so we have Leigh first as a defiant Scarlet in the Civil War and Leigh then as a delusional broken Blanche in Streetcar.
 
i have never completely understood what was so bad about Taylor in Butterfield 8 --i mean, by no means would I have nominated her but there are so many people more worthy of derision.
 
As the only person to rank Nicole Kidman at the top of my list -- yes yes, I may have skewed a bit TOO contemporary and also played a bit of favoritism -- I guess I should defend myself.

Mighty Nicole's performance in The Hours continually gets a bad rap, and it amazes me. Many argue its a supporting role and, if you base your arguemnt on screen time alone, you might be right. But what elevates the turn is that the role is the heart of the film. Woolf opens and closes the film, providing the bookends the film relies on.

Deep down I'm willing to admit the honor was at least partial based on her snub the previous year in which she lost for a much superior performance. However I don't think it diminishes the honor much.
 
We can agree and disagree about a couple of picks. I'm a big fan of Helen Hunt from her days on "Mad About You." She was one of the best actresses ever to work in TV comedy. But, although I liked "As Good As It Gets," I wasn't taken with her performance. There's something distant and detatched about it. Loretta Young was also a good "worst" pick. I very much liked Nicole Kidman's performance in "The Hours," so much better than Streep. But, Julianne Moore continues to be very fine in almost everything she does. When I saw "Blue Skies," I turned to my friend and said, Jessica Lange just one the Oscar. It is a great performance by a great actress. Lange knows how to tell us so much about the character by doing so little. "Frances," "Country," "Sweet Dreams" are just some of her beautiful performances. We just have to forget "King Kong."

I really enjoy the site. Some enjoyable views.
 
Well, there's something to be said for proof-reading. Of course, I meant Jessica Lange just WON the Oscar. And I should have put that in quotes.

Other then that, I splled reel gud.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader