Friday, August 31, 2007

Is This Desire?

Yes, it is. PJ Harvey, recently voted Best Musician on the Planet on my own personal and completely un-rigged Diebold machine, will be releasing her next album on September 25. This is a beautiful thing for her—uh huh, her—to be doing, and not only because a new PJ Harvey album is always a beautiful thing (albeit "beautiful" in an adventurous, ragged, occasionally guignol way). Due to her exquisite and clearly deliberate timing, the album will drop exactly two weeks before the birthday that we share. And just to prove that Peej really got her codex out and decided to send me a super-cryptic message of love—though not that cryptic—track #9 on her tenth album, as in October 9, is called "The Piano." Right back atcha, Peej!!! You're a true friend, and I can't wait to hear the tunes. (If you need an appetizer to hold you over for the next 3½ weeks till White Chalk arrives, and you've already watched Miss Teen USA South Carolina too many times to keep laughing at it, take a look at PJ and Björk, her co-mistress in sonic trailblazing and impossible cool, laying their own claim to "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction".)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What I'm Looking Forward To

Can you tell I bought my Entertainment Weekly Fall Movie Preview? Here is a running list of movies I am looking forward to in Fall/Winter 2007, ordered from the most to the least anticipated. I've dropped in some real-world prospects and milestones along the way, just for the sake of easy comparison. For example, I'd just as soon show up to an average day of work as see John Cusack wear large spectacles in Grace Is Gone, but I'd rather see that movie than contract a common cold. Or, to take a more felicitous example, I'm even more excited to see No Country for Old Men than to find out if it gets any Oscar nominations, though not quite as excited as I'd be to sit and gab about Frances for a coupla hours with Jessica Lange. You dig? I know we put things a little differently here around Nick's Flick Picks, but that's why you keep coming back. I mean, I know it's not because of the stunning frequency of the posts or the thrill of the white-on-black color palette.

Questions? Quibbles? Your own priorities to share? Let me know in the Comments section. I'll be linking this list from my blog template and revising it as my desires are shaped by trailers, moods, festival reports, reviews, and things I would never even know if I didn't read Nathaniel's blog.

The Day My Credit Balance is Zero
I'm Not There - The irony being, I am SO. COMPLETELY. THERE.
Eastern Promises C+ - What happened?? A thin, clichéd crime drama
The Day I Meet Jessica Lange
Southland Tales - Looks like this one's actually happening! Huzzah!
No Country for Old Men - I prefer serious Coens to silly Lebowski Coens
Into the Wild B+ - Rangy, surprising, fully and compassionately realized
Oscar Nomination Day
There Will Be Blood - Curiosity re: PTA + fanboyishness re: DDL
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford B–
    At times quite trenchant, at others smug and overly mannered
Lady Chatterley B+ - Beautiful, intelligent, and deceptively subtle adaptation
The Savages B - Tart and terrifically acted, if a bit underdone
Oscar Day
Atonement - Buzz couldn't be better; I'm rooting for Wright & McAvoy
Youth without Youth - Who doesn't want to see a Coppola comeback?
We Own the Night A– - Classically built and confident, pungent and absorbing
Christmas Vacation
Margot at the Wedding - Shaky trailer, but Squid and the Whale impressed
Redacted - De Palma will surely make the maddest of the Iraq films
Love in the Time of Cholera - Classic epic + great, underutilized cast
Persepolis - Clever concept, great subject, offbeat aesthetic, my Sean
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead B - Flawed but nervy and ambitious
The Devil Came on Horseback B– - Urgent, with indelible images, but incomplete
Irina Palm D+ - Immature in conception, flat and tired in execution
Michael Clayton B - Depth problems, disparate perfs, but tense and solid
My Kid Could Paint That B - Clever and rich but annoyingly coy
My Birthday
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - If it isn't too Sea Inside gloopy
Sweeney Todd - Tim has frittered a lot of cred, but I'm still intrigued
The Brave One D+ - From nervy to addled to hateful to idiotic, it's all downhill
Control B– - After a stirring start, meanders too far into banal BiopicLand
Elizabeth: The Golden Age D+ - Hilariously empty histrionics, daftly edited
Gone, Baby, Gone C+ - Inspired one moment, boneheaded the next
Helvetica C - A great short, padded and mussed to feature length
Terror's Advocate C - Vague at its core but makes a strong impression
Things We Lost in the Fire B– - Limited but moving; loved Del Toro
The Average 3-Day Weekend
Juno - Strong cast, mixed but interesting festival reactions
I Am Legend - The scarier, the better; the more Cast Away-ish, the worse
Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains - A worthy topic in a strong year for docs
War/Dance - I'm a sucker for stories about Africa
Charlie Wilson's War - Tom and I don't mix, but the script has admirers
Lions for Lambs - Lots of bad vibes from this one, but I won't discount it
3:10 to Yuma C– - Dramatically shaky and a visual letdown, despite Crowe
In the Valley of Elah C– - Jones scores, but the plot's jarringly messy
Lars and the Real Girl C+ - Not rave material, but sweet and well-acted
Lust, Caution B+ - A most welcome surprise, formally shrewd and expertly acted
Rendition C– - Cramped actors, diffuse story, botched ending
The Average 2-Day Weekend
The Kite Runner - Marc Forster is hemlock to me; I'm in it for the scenery
American Gangster - I'm pulling for Denzel, but it looks so over the top
P.S. I Love You - Can Hilary act? Without a genius behind the camera?
The Orphanage - I was no Pan's fan, but I'll try again
The Golden Compass - Why, when all I hear is that they've neutered the story?
Cassandra's Dream - I'm not eager to venture back to Match Point
The Darjeeling Limited C– - Retreats from every chance at nuance or maturity
In the Shadow of the Moon C - Formally hidebound, and hardly illuminating
The Kingdom C - Deft touches engulfed within a confused, generic whole
Lake of Fire B+ - Bracing and urgent; at home with its own sprawl
Reservation Road C– - Not atrocious, but truncated and under-directed
The Average Workday
Walk Hard - Sounded great on paper, till I saw the ads; Reilly tries too hard
Grace Is Gone - The kind of good reviews that strongly imply a bad movie
The Walker - Paul Schrader seems like a nut, right? But at least he's still at it
Enchanted - The studio already admits that the movie exists to sell the toys
The Great Debaters - Hoping for that Akeelah vibe (hey, what ↑, Suzan-Lori!)
Across the Universe D+ - Hollow and disconnected, but still could've been worse
The Bubble C - Eytan Fox is now 3-for-3 with letdowns
Dan in Real Life C– - Modestly likeable but hopelessly written & directed
Sleuth D+ - Overpraised material gets a listless, roughshod rewrite
The Common Cold
Stephen King's The Mist - Liked the novella, but The Green Mile hurt bad
Beowulf - The motion-capture stuff still looks like two-dimensional taxidermy
The Average 3-Day Stomach Flu
National Treasure: Book of Secrets - I wouldn't even consider it w/o Helen
The Bucket List - No cinema for old men. I said NO!

The Average Broken Face
(i.e., And I am telling you... I'm not going...)
Bee Movie - One should not speak of the unholy
Fred Claus - One should not. speak. of the unholy
August Rush - One should not. speak. of the unholy
Martian Child - One should not. speak. of the unholy
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - Hell is here, on Earth

The Boneyard
(i.e., my eagerness has died on the vine)
Fierce People - The preview is lousy, topped with racist insensitivity
Shoot 'Em Up - The reviews confirmed my hunch that this ain't for me
Silk - Critics just wouldn't vouch for this picturesque romantic drama
Feast of Love - Sounds like another Robert Benton misfire
Trade - Sounds pretty sleazy, and the Kline Factor doesn't help
The Heartbreak Kid - I was leaving room for a miracle that ain't coming
Romance & Cigarettes - Hasn't made a peep in Chicago, which is fine by me
Funny Games - Moved to 2008, but I'll wait eagerly in line when it appears
The Jane Austen Book Club - My time was better spent reading Mansfield Park
30 Days of Night - Reviews sound Hard Candy-ish; plus, Danny Huston!
Leatherheads - Moved to 2008, at which time I'll make up my mind
Saw IV - I congratulate myself for resisting the urge
The Good Night - "Released" in name only, it would seem
Live-In Maid - Drat! Only a one-week run, during a clogged week
I Could Never Be Your Woman - Literally, I guess? Delayed again
Bordertown - MGM's no longer listing it as "Coming Soon"
Crossing Over - The push to January '08 gives off a worrisome aroma

Hope Springs Eternal for...
Savage Grace - Best Actress looks weak: give Julianne a shot!

And don't just take my word for it: ModFab, QTA, and Nathaniel have their own viewing itineraries mapped out for the upcoming Season. (None of us has the money to vacation in the Hamptons, so for us, this is The Season.)


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Supporting Actress Sundays: 1971

Nothing like a Tuesday post to tell you what happened on Sunday, but is anyone else having that sensation of end-of-summer time delay? If you read this blog, you probably also read StinkyLulu's religiously enough that you already know that the 1971 Supporting Actress Smackdown played out this weekend, distinguished from past Smackdowns by the large flock of participants (nine!) and by the huge divergences of opinion about almost every performance. It's a pretty fascinating roster, partly because, in an increasingly rare Oscar move, all of the turns are legitimately supporting ones; partly because the films are such a gaggle of oddities, blending very strong elements with very weak ones (except for Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things about Me?, which is almost entirely terrible); and partly because the turns themselves often blend strong and weak elements in unusual and difficult combinations. Just like last month, when my preferred candidate (and, in that case, Oscar's) got a pretty bad drubbing from the rest of the group, I once again backed the losing horse in the Smackdown derby: Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge, a film so lacerating in its anatomy of misogyny (and occasionally over-proud of its immersion in such misogyny) that it badly needs and greatly benefits from Ann-Margret's soft, discomfiting sincerity as one of the women that Jack Nicholson all but annihilates over the course of the film.

My pals Stinky and Queering the Apparatus both raised articulate objections to Ann-Margret's work, but because the visual and tonal atmosphere of Carnal Knowledge verges so heavily on the sterile and abstract, I admired the inertia of Ann-Margret's performance, its unironic woundedness, her simultaneously dim and pointed pauses, and the sad way in which her voice and face and body hover away from the script instead of getting drawn into its angular shapes and severe rhythms. In a strange paradox, I think she's the least talented and resourceful of the nominated actresses (also to include Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, double Tony-winner Margaret Leighton, and the indomitable Barbara Harris), but, save for Harris, she does the ablest job of fighting for her character and shifting the ground of the movie, quite against the efforts of her director. Most of the directors of these films were greater hindrances than helps to their actors, but whereas Peter Bogdanovich turns the credible, interesting women in The Last Picture Show's script into glassy, symptomatic figures of Womanhood, and Burstyn and Leachman find no way out of his oppressive and reductive aesthetic, Ann-Margret inherits a glassy and symptomatic script and creates a real woman inside it—palpably real in her anomie and neglect, and her barely adolescent despair inside a ripely adult body—and she complicates rather than adhering to or betraying the style or flow of the piece. (And to Stinky's objections that Ann-Margret forgets that Bobbie is supposed to be fun, I'd counter that it's Nicholson and Garfunkel who keep insisting that she's "fun," but surely their myopic and cruel perspectives are not to be trusted, at least not necessarily.)

I'd seen Carnal Knowledge once before and found its atmosphere so noxious and its aesthetic so highfalutin in relation to its subject that I forgot how impressed I was with Ann-Margret, and I probably underestimated the film a little bit, too. I still wouldn't recommend it, exactly, although Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and a late-arriving Rita Moreno are all quite good, and I wouldn't recommend any of the other films, either, except insofar as Oscar found five performances that are truly worth arguing over in this field, and all of them relate to their films (often redeeming whole chapters of their films) in curious and memorable ways, even when they don't always work out. Go read the post and the long necklace of Comments that have since been added, and keep chiming in... and come back for 1990 next month, when I suspect I will once again fall into a critical minority on at least two counts. But we'll cross that crazy grifter and that happy medium when we get to them.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

To Sean on His 47th Birthday

It's 2:30am in Chicago, which means it's barely after midnight in California, so it's officially Sean's birthday, but don't wake him; he needs his, um, sleep. The new movie he directed opens in a month, so unless he's down in Venezuela or in the Middle East somewhere, making a slight show of himself but also sticking with his political convictions and using his money to achieve something real, let's assume he's making editing tucks or getting the press junket going for Into the Wild. I loved the book, and I like the trailer, so even though none of Sean's other directing projects has really jelled for me, I'm hopeful about this one.

I also still assume that, one day, he will call. I still mean every word of this. I saw The Assassination of Richard Nixon in the theater. I even saw All the King's Men in the theater. I make my students watch The Thin Red Line. I watched the Meta-Free-Phor-All with Stephen Colbert and Robert Pinsky, and I don't even get Comedy Central. I can be sweet. I can be lowdown. Please advise, etc.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes

No one works as hard as Gary Tooze, the DVD Beaver, to let the world know about imminent DVD releases, and to help us sort between the wheat and the chaff, down to the finest little decibel of audio quality and the slenderest little margin of image cropping. I'm not as exacting a DVD shopper as Gary, and I wouldn't even begin to know how to be as comprehensive as he is, but so much pure gold has been dropping on the market lately, with even more looming on the horizon, that I felt I needed to say something.

For all of you Barbara Stanwyck fans, or for anyone who wanted to believe my raves about Executive Suite but had no way of verifying them for yourself, Warner Home Video is dropping The Barbara Stanwyck Collection at the end of October. That's a while away—ask any academic, or any student, and we'll scream at you that the beginning of fall is still an eon from now—but it's never too soon to gear up for Barbara. I haven't seen any of the other films in the collection, but Robert Wise's thrillingly tense and sensationally acted boardroom thriller (that's not an oxymoron, if it sounds like one) doesn't pull any punches. Barbara helps, Fredric March is efficiently insidious, June Allyson comes vividly if briefly to life, and Nina Foch actresses at every possible edge, without once making a show of herself. Exquisite.

Even though I dislike their new logo and redesigned packaging (who picked Rancid Mustard for the color on the spines?), I must admit that the Criterion Collection has been exceeding even their own high standards of late. They've honored my three favorite Japanese directors already this summer, with deluxe editions of Mizoguchi's Sanshô the Bailiff (my rhapsodic review here), Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine, and a box-set of Hiroshi Teshigara masterpieces, so I can finally stop cruising used DVD stores in pursuit of the out-of-print Milestone imprint of Woman in the Dunes, one of the greatest films of all time. (Am I supposed to insert a personal qualifier here?) As if this all weren't enough, coming soon from Criterion are Mala Noche, the highly elusive debut of Gus Van Sant, and a director-approved re-release of Days of Heaven (original review and quick tribute after seeing the restoration in 35mm).

Auteur delights, or at least they delighted me: David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, which scared the bejesus out of me in cinemas all three times I paid to see it, arrives with even more scarifying footage on August 14th; and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (reviewed here) gets the 2-disc treatment it always deserved on October 23rd, as do several other Kubrick titles.

My two favorite films of 2007 so far, Ray Lawrence's unnerving and trenchant Jindabyne and Robinson Devor's courageously and compellingly cryptic Zoo, will both reach wider American audiences on DVD than they ever enjoyed in theaters; Zoo arrives on Sep. 16 and Jindabyne on Oct. 2.

On the other end of the historical spectrum, the archivists and the deep-pocketed among you will be ecstatic to hear that those unbeatable compilations of early-cinema rareties and esoterica, Treasures from American Film Archives and More Treasures from American Film Archives, shall be followed in October by the National Film Preservation Foundation's Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934. The thematic rubric is new for this series (the other collections are purposefully and wonderfully eclectic), but there's still plenty of variety included in this new package, despite its pointed and fascinating emphasis on politics. I'll study up on How They Rob Men in Chicago, in case history ever repeats itself, but I'll be even more excited for Cecil B. DeMille's The Godless Girl, the entire disc devoted to female suffrage and "The New Woman," and virtually every other snippet, sideshow, epic, and episode. Here are the full contents, and here's where you can pre-order at the greatest savings (though Amazon has a prettier page). The NFPF has already announced that they'll be hosting another theme party for next year's Treasures IV set, which will be devoted to the American Avant-Garde between 1945-85. (On that same page, you can watch selected clips from the first two anthologies; select Disc 1 to see a full minute of Watson & Webber's mindblowing The Fall of the House of Usher, and try to figure out how two amateurs made this in 1928!)

Finally, apologies for burying the lead, but if you've got a multiregion player—or even if you don't, because here's a reason to buy one—Chantal Akerman's legendary feminist opus Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which has never appeared in any home format anywhere in the world, is now available as part of a French-Belgian DVD package called The Chantal Akerman Collection. "A woman in trouble" if ever there were one, Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig, of Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel and Buñuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) is a Belgian housewife like countless others, preparing breakfast and cleaning her kitchen, and devoting her morning to countless other errands around the apartment...except that Akerman makes us feel the scale of these semi-mindless occupations, their essential fusion of tedium and fascination, by capturing these household tasks in huge 35mm and with unrelenting attention for almost four hours. Three days in the life of Jeanne Dielman, in what would feel like three years in the life of the audience if Seyrig weren't so subtly and unpredictably entrancing, and if Akerman's political platform weren't so fully realized within clear, confident, brilliant aesthetics. And I haven't even said anything about the gentleman caller. Or the ———... because I don't want to spoil them.

See Jeanne Dielman... on a big screen if you ever get any opportunity in your whole life to do so; it makes sense, despite the intense frustration, that Akerman has withheld her legendary masterpiece for so long, because the hugeness of her images in relation to their subject is deeply essential to the project. Still, not everyone is going to have that big-screen opportunity, and those of us who have certainly want to revisit Jeanne Dielman... and figure out how Akerman, Seyrig, cinematographer Babette Mangolte, and editor Patricia Canino pulled it off. If I know you love Todd Haynes' Safe, and by his own admission, that film, like so many others, is impossible without this one. I refer you again to my personal list of the greatest films ever made, and I insist (insist!) that, Treasures III and other anthologies aside, The Chantal Akerman Collection, which also includes the deliriously great Rendez-vous d'Anna and three other titles, is the DVD release of the year.

(Image from Jeanne Dielman c/o this Finnish-language bio of Chantal Akerman)

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Best Actress Update: 5 More Down, 70 to Go

The theme this time is: Great Ladies of History

Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc (1948) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(Lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda)
I have been consciously postponing Joan of Arc for a while now; you can smell the elephantiasis and the box-office desperation from a mile away. Joan of Arc is the sort of movie that was made so that it could be promoted, and somehow, even though Bergman won a Tony onstage in this role, her casting in the film seems calibrated more toward PR than dramatic plausibility. Her first scenes are uniquely uncomfortable, with the 5'10", 33-year-old actress failing to seem much like a willowy, agonized teenager living under her father's thumb and runneled with sublime ecstasy and terror after hearing her "voices." Happily, Bergman's performance becomes more emotionally credible and more technically proficient the nearer we get to Joan's imprisonment and martyrdom, even though the movie gets stodgier and more pedestrian. Falconetti's shadow threatens at all points to swat her off the screen, and she has a hard time raising a sword with authority, but the solidity of her face and her persona, which sometimes leads to flat-footed performances (see The Bells of St. Mary's), somehow redeem Joan of Arc from being overly wispy and sentimental about its heroine. I found myself rooting for the performance even when it wasn't working; she's missing three stars by a hair.

Lynn Fontanne in The Guardsman (1932) ★ ★ ★ ★
(Lost to Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet)
A stretch for the "Great Ladies of History" theme, since Fontanne's impersonation of Queen Elizabeth I (playing the same Maxwell Anderson script, in fact, that generated Bette Davis' turn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) is limited to the first scene of this unusual comedy. It's a tribute to Fontanne's talent, and consonant with her legendary status in the theater, and crucial to the plot to boot, that Fontanne is so succinctly fascinating in this one scene: look at how strangely but expressively she slumps on her throne at the close. But from there, as the curtain comes down on Elizabeth the Queen, The Guardsman really takes off, as Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, married superstars of the 20th-century stage, play married superstars of the 20th-century stage who love to trade barbs about who's the better performer. She's stunned by his chauvinistic assumption of his own superiority; he's horrified to be thought of as anything less than genius, and also nervous about his wife's wandering eye. From there follows a series of farcical impersonations, uncertain realizations, and some remarkably tart pre-Code innuendo. The plot, however light, is too much fun to spoil, but to whatever extent The Guardsman draws us into a comparative evaluation of these performers, Fontanne trumps her clever but hammy hubby. Her remarkable spectrum of acerbic laughs and wry interjections, complemented by inspired gestures and smart, sexy line deliveries, keep this dated material remarkably fresh. She still acts like a doyenne of the stage, with little sense of interacting specifically with a camera, but she's not "stagy," exactly, and though she never played another film role, one surmises that she could have done great things with Kay Francis' part in the same year's majestically saucy Trouble in Paradise, or with lots of Irene Dunne or Jean Arthur-type roles in future years. A foreigner to the screen, not 100% at home, but delightful nonetheless.

Greer Garson in Madame Curie (1943) ★ ★ ★ ★
(Lost to Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette)
In the wake of Mrs. Miniver and Random Harvest, Greer Garson was so popular that she probably could have gotten nominated for anything. Omitting her would be like holding a Best Muffin contest and leaving out Blueberry. Unfortunately, this nom, her fourth in five years (with two more to come in 1944 and 1945), travesties both the award and the actress. Like Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, Garson in Madame Curie follows a career peak with a frustrating nonentity of a performance. Though she admirably declines to coast on simple typecasting—Marie Curie, bookish and muted, permits none of the ginger amiability of her previous performances—the role, for that very reason, requires Garson to abandon everything enticing about her screen persona and leave us with a pretty drab husk of an impersonation, placeholding instead of performing. The film, directed by Random Harvest steward Meryvn LeRoy, is frankly less interested in character or audience connection than in the humility of the brilliant Curies and their long tribulations amid spartan, sometimes squalid working conditions: a safe message for a WW2 audience living on rations, but not a foundation for auspicious drama. The only memorable scenes linger because of camerawork or smart manipulations of offscreen space. Garson is an inevitability rather than an asset—the public's favorite actress playing the world's most famous female scientist—and though she doesn't crash to earth the way stiff, stodgy Walter Pidgeon does, there's almost no life to her: the last thing you expect to say about Garson onscreen.

Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(Lost to Jane Fonda in Klute)
For quite a long time into Mary, Queen of Scots, Vanessa Redgrave is an unmitigated disaster. She overdoes her usual mannerisms of the gaping smile and the twinkling eyes, making herself cloying and foolish instead of ethereal and incandescent. Her line readings often border on the laughable, when they don't stumble right into the laughable, and she's so thoroughly bested by the sharp, sexy, epicurean, and forceful Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth that Mary, Queen of Scots arrives as something of an annoying afterthought in what is putatively her own movie. What saves the performance, and the film, are the two direct confrontations between Redgrave and Jackson. Even here, Redgrave hasn't thought herself all the way through the character the way Jackson has, and she's still guilty of racing through lines and character beats that she might have handled more slowly. Still, her fury, jealousy, exhaustion, and unlikely self-beatification are tartly communicated, and her sparring with Jackson in their first, secret rendezvous in the forest describes a terrific arc from false friendship to heated rivalry to shrewd, reciprocal assessments. In a better year, Redgrave wouldn't be anywhere near this list, but she saves herself from outright embarrassment and yields some surprisingly memorable moments in this silly soap-operatizing of royal history.

Janet Suzman in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) ★ ★ ★ ★
(Lost to Jane Fonda in Klute)
Like Redgrave, Suzman transmits the impression that she is a much more interesting actor than her drab performance in this bloated film would have one believe, yet one is disinclined to make too many excuses for her Czarina Alexandra. True, in some impressive early scenes, her aloof, nearly agoraphobic take on the character strikes a welcome note of mystery in a superficial and almost comically inflated drama, the kind where Czar Nicholas (Michael Jayston) comforts his screaming child in the night with the words, "Oh, you're just dreaming about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand!" Barely half an hour into the film, however, Suzman gets stuck in the cluttered background of the film, fretting and doting over her frail heir, and enlisting unreasonably as a disciple of Rasputin (Tom Baker, one short skip away from Monty Python). Her reticence passes from interesting to unilluminating, and one ends the film knowing nothing about her, and barely caring to know.

The Pick of This Litter: No suspense here: Lynn Fontanne is the only gal in this batch who has any business appearing on a ballot. Still, hers isn't just a relative victory, compared to a weak group of peers; she's a treat and a revelation, and I happily recommend the film, right down to its joyously teasing final shot (which is all about Fontanne).

(Images © 1948 RKO Radio/Sierra Pictures, reproduced from; © 1931 MGM/© 1998 MGM Home Video, reproduced from the IMDb; © 1943 MGM Studios, reproduced from Internet Movie Poster Awards; © 1971 Universal Pictures, reproduced from the IMDb; and © 1971 Columbia Pictures, reproduced from the IMDb)

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