Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Who's Afraid of Best Actress 1966?

Both polls for the 1997 Best Actress race have been landslides on behalf of my own pick, Helena Bonham Carter. Which is lovely, if a mite unsuspenseful—and I'm guessing that outcome won't change too much in the polling for my latest group, the leading ladies of 1966. Liz Taylor, absent but at least out of surgery on Oscar night, had nothing to worry about in that year's race and I'm confident that she won't here, either. Feel free to prove me wrong—I know there are staunch fans of A Man and a Woman fans out there—but she's superb in Woolf, and though the other four films were all popular hits with major prizes under their belts, none of them have the enduring visibility of Taylor's vehicle.

To keep things interesting, then, I've added a third question to this round of polling, which will become a fixture whenever I delve into a long-ago year where I haven't seen as many films or performances as I have from the recent vintages. Decide my fate, reader. Chart my course. Be the wind beneath my actress-loving wings. What performance from Oscar's eligibility field would you support as my next pit-stop on the 1966 trail? Hana Brejchová's in a Czech New Wave hit and Best Foreign-Language Film nominee (and thus a generic sibling of Ida Kaminská's film and an also-ran to A Man and a Woman's Oscar win)? 1965 nominee Elizabeth Hartman in very early Coppola? Fellini and Herzog favorite Claudia Cardinale in the American west? Late starlet-period Jane Fonda? A Criterion-certified masterpiece by Carl-Theodor Dreyer or late-arriving Chabrol, or outsider icon Tuesday Weld in a proto-Heathers, or Godard muse and wife Anna Karina, or Lauren Bacall scoping out Paul Newman? The cross-cultural stars of a very early Merchant-Ivory? Maybe you prefer Frankenheimer weirdness or Tony Richardson hit-and-missness, or you feel like putting me through Shelley Winters or the stunted-camera time-capsule The Group, with its eight female leads? Which ever way you're leaning, read up on Oscar's own priority list and then let your voice be heard! And if your implicit vote is "other," arrest me with your alternative options in the Comments. (N.B. Since I've promised to provide these direction-seeking polls in all the years where I am under-versed, I've put one up for 1932, also.)

(By the way, speaking of big female ensembles, a quick plug for the 1966 John Ford doozy 7 Women, especially for you Paradise Road fans who spoke up in the '97 discussion. 7 Women, Ford's last film, presents a palpably perverse Christian mission that now has a Mongol warrior to worry about, all of which gives prim autocrat Margaret Leighton some fascinating context for her trembling-neurotic routine. Sue Lyon finally gets to play the good girl instead of the fantasy or the sexpot, and Anne Bancroft gets her Johnny Guitar on as a butch expatriate doctor willing to go a long, long way—and I don't just mean to China—for the good of civilization. And she's a Ford character, so she's not even sure she likes civilization! Pretty non-stop intensity for 87 minutes, give or take its lapses in judgment and cultural sensitivity, and a literally killer ending to boot.)

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Best Actress 1997: In Semi-Defense of Helen Hunt

I can't think of another recent Oscar winner who is held in the kind of opprobrium that Helen Hunt is for scooping the 1997 Best Actress prize. I think a lot of people would give Gwyneth Paltrow and Roberto Benigni three trophies apiece if it meant they could subtract Hunt's, and it's true that her subsequent film career hasn't done much (i.e., anything) to quell the naysayers who wondered how the Oscars had just turned into the Emmys. But I thought she was pretty terrific at the time, and I still do, even though I would have voted for another actress ahead of her. Taking Jack's Oscar away for that strange, discombobulated film would suit me just fine, but that's a different discussion for a different site. (N.B. I goofed and forgot to upload the revised version of my overall 1997 ballot, linked from the actress page, before I posted last night. Apologies to Billy Connolly and James Cameron.)

For now, read on... and don't forget to vote in the poll, halfway down the page! (Yep, there are polls for every year from 1998 to 2007, too, and for 1931-32, for those of you who missed 'em last time you visited the Best Actress Archive.)

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Best of 2007: Adventures in Nonfiction

If you're looking to be fascinated, elated, humbled, informed, and deeply, deeply unsettled by the movies—and who among us isn't?—you can skip the fiction section entirely and peruse my choices for the Best Documentaries of last year. With Lake of Fire arriving on DVD this past Tuesday, all five films are officially available to those of you with Netflix dependencies, and with the 2008 release calendar starting to extend more interesting options, you'll want to jump on these superior films before you get swept up in the avalanche of the new. That's right: you can keep counting on me and this blog to hold you back, just when you're eager to move forward. Long live 2007!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Best of 2007: Ensemble

Ever feel like you're stuck in a year that you can't get out of? I realize that it's March, for crying out loud, but I'm afraid that I am still not done celebrating the movie year we have now said goodbye to, over and over again. Perhaps early-childhood imprinting has shaped my awards-season metabolism around the late March calendar, even though the Oscars have been on their accelerated schedule for five years now. Or maybe I just have an incredibly demanding job. Either way, and perhaps because I am sitting in a faraway city attending an academic conference with two blogging buddies, and because I find conferences to be helpful reminders that we academics (especially in our home disciplines) really are In This Thing Together, I present you with the long-delayed Nick's Flick Picks Honorees for Best Ensemble. Apologies about length, but with this many delectable performances to cover, one tends to overween.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

The End of the New

Am I the last to know that New Line Cinema is officially, as of Thursday, no longer a freestanding entity? Check out A.O. Scott's eulogy at the New York Times, and think a fond thought for the studio behind the Nightmares on Elm Street, the John Waters Hairspray, The Rapture, My Own Private Idaho, Menace II Society, Blink, Se7en, Boogie Nights, Wag the Dog, Dark City, Living Out Loud, American History X, The Astronaut's Wife, Magnolia, The Cell, Bamboozled, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Birth, The New World, the musical Hairspray, and some movies about some blingy elves. Plus, via its late subdivision Fine Line Features, some production or distribution money for An Angel at My Table, Edward II, The Player, The Ballad of Little Jo, Spanking the Monkey, Short Cuts, Hoop Dreams, Once Were Warriors, Barcelona, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Double Happiness, Death and the Maiden, Crash, Gummo, The Sweet Hereafter, The Winter Guest, Passion in the Desert, Hurlyburly, Besieged, Tumbleweeds, Before Night Falls, Dancer in the Dark, The Anniversary Party, The Holy Girl, Vera Drake, Last Days, and Maria Full of Grace. That's a lot to be thankful for.

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