Sunday, November 15, 2009

At Long Last, the Ladies



Because it's ten months overdue. Because Anne Hathaway turned 27 this week. Because Ballast, which I loved, has finally arrived on DVD, and because I'm hoping Tarra Riggs will get more work. Because so many of you have left comments and sent e-mails, wondering what ever happened to Best Actress? Because it's the month of Thanksgiving. This is my way of saying thanks, to them and to you.

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44 Comments:

Blogger Guy said...

Nick lives! And what I lovely way to return ... I have so been waiting for this.

So much to chew on here, it's hard to know what to single out. I was surprised to learn that Binoche was your pick of the year (you kept that under you hat, didn't you?), but delightfully so. Had I had almost a year to mull over my own choices, she'd certainly have made my Top 5, though Hawkins remains my unreachable number one.

As always when you write about "Elegy," I'm tempted to revisit the film to reassess whether my adverse reaction to it stemmed from a critical or a personal place -- you make it SOUND like the film I hoped to see. Meanwhile, how curious (or perhaps apt) that none of your four mentions for the film include Patricia Clarkson, who actually overcame my resistance to her vehicle to place in my Best Supporting Actress five.

As for your Oscar-race review, I couldn't agree more that what should have been a richly storied lineup turned out to be such a washout.

(I took so much flak from my readers at the time for putting down Winslet, but I'd really rather the Academy had waited for something, ANYTHING, better on her seventh go-round. I've never been a "reward the actress, not the performance" kind of guy. And it's really not going to be long before the mass "wait, she won for THAT?!" incredulity sets in.)

I'd take comfort in putting the whole sorry affair to rest and moving on, but for the fact that the 2009 race looks even more dismaying: if we're really going to have to choose between Sidibe, sub-par Streep (again) and Mulligan (whose performance I do like, but surely has richer work ahead), I may retire from the watching game.

3:03 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Yikes ... I hadn't realized how indulgently long that comment was. I beg your pardon.

3:05 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

A total treat, with the great side order of a well-deserved B for Adventureland -- isn't it disarming?

Probably because you didn't, I never got round to my own end-of-year citations, but I agree the cases for Hathaway, Binoche, Cruz all strong. I'd probably add Sandra Corveloni, whom I loved in Linha de passe, and Kathryn Worth in Unrelated (or Tilda in Julia, if I file that under 2008.)

I still contend that if they had to give Kate an Oscar this year, they at least picked the preferable performance and put it in the right category. I think you're very fair on what's good about her Hanna and not so good -- to be honest, for all the reservations I shared, I instantly figured the Oscar was hers to lose.

@Guy: We can only hope the last two slots this year go somewhere interesting, right? I actually prefer Meryl in Julie to Meryl in Doubt, which is truly "sub-par" acting in the sense that she should have been better in it. Whereas Julie, for me, is exactly par work -- not above par, not below, she's not pushing herself much, but it's as good a performance as the movie allows her to give. Still, to extend the golf analogy, I don't really think AMPAS should be in the business of "laying up"...

7:53 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Tim: Oh, I totally agree that Meryl's Julia Child is far preferable to her Sister Aloysius -- I at least had fun watching the former. (Are "Doubt" and "fun" official antonyms?)

Anyway, I'd like to think the Academy will be playful and/or adventurous with those last two spots, but I'm worried. It seems we can bank on Helen Mirren -- and I haven't seen "The Last Station" yet, but it sounds SO beige. I think the best we can hope for is Abbie Cornish -- or for Meryl to do something truly surprising in a Nancy Meyers film.

Hard times.

8:58 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Thanks, guys! I am sad to say, I wrote all of those profiles except the Binoche and the (duplicate) Hathaway back in the early summer. It's taken me five months to wrap things up, but not only have I not allowed myself to revise my selections (so they do still reflect how I felt last January), in this case I wouldn't want to. I wish Unrelated or Linha de passe had ever opened in the U.S., but sadly, it wasn't so.

I'm clearly more sanguine about the Sidibe performance than either of you (or at least more so than you, Guy), but otherwise it does seem like an odd xerox of last year's problems. I agree with Tim that Meryl in J&J was better than Meryl in Doubt. Do you think we should take up a fund and start mailing Julia DVDs to all the AMPAS members now?

9:27 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: You comment as much as you want! You're totally indulging me. If you get to indulge yourself at the same time by writing such detailed rejoinders, then that's two victories for the price of one.

9:28 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Then I'll indulge you with another, since I just remembered something else I wanted to ask.

I'm fascinated by your alternative Hanna casting of Nielsen or Farmiga -- the latter would really have clicked, I think -- but would be curious to know your thoughts on the two very real might-have-beens, Nicole Kidman and Juliette Binoche, both of whom I think might have been more aptly cast than Winslet.

Kidman would have run the danger of overplaying the froideur, but the more I think of Binoche in the part, the more I think that's the film I want to see.

10:07 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: I am so loving this newly frank and occasionally even peevish Binoche that I'm loath to see her retreat back into all that still, gorgeous opacity. Plus, when I think of "erotic unknowability" in relation to Binoche, I can't help flashing back to Damage, and seriously, who wants to do that?

Kidman... well. Okay, look, I know how people get, and I love what Kidman pulled off for a solid ten years from To Die For through Birth, but even leaving aside the better passages of Margot at the Wedding (like the book-signing and the final bus scene), I do think she's been undercutting her best abilities to do her work. I'm sure we all know what I mean. And this would have been an especially obvious problem for The Reader, which I also think might have pushed her too far into glassy remoteness, as you say, though she's certainly confounded expectations more than once, and hopefully will again. I'm just starting to feel leery of her new work, which I hate to say, but it's true.

What I'd love to feel is that this might have furnished a real crossover opportunity for a German actress, but Nina Hoss hasn't exactly been playing all that well to me in the pictures I've seen since Yella, Franka Potente doesn't seem quite right, I don't get on at all with Martina Gedeck or Alexandra Maria Lara (is she German?) and am fairly cool on Julia Jentsch (though I'm only basing that on the Effi Briest remake), and Sandra Hüller is still too young. But maybe the European readers know more names than we do?

10:38 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

...by which I mean, than I do?

10:39 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Colin Low said...

1. I love how your performance descriptions swerve among: A) an actor's line readings/emotional choices; B) the demands/limitations of the part; C) an actor's looks; and D) her ways with posture and listening. So rarely do I latch onto or think about the latter two.

2. What did you find wanting about Hathaway in Brokeback? I find that she nails the demands of each scene perfectly, especially in her physical characterisation and line readings, even while she's hemmed into parsing stereotypes like "cocky cowgirl/grown-up daughter" or "consciously neglected wife". But I blame the role more than her for the schizophrenia, although one could argue that she could have done modulated these types more closely together into a coherent character. But that last phone call, where her eyes and choked voice alone somehow not only give away the perfunctoriness of her lies, but also imply some sort of jealousy for Brokeback - yowza!

3. And in Rachel Getting Married, I blame more the way the camera/editing frames Hathaway centrally, thus making it seem like she's "overselling" her dramatic monologues, as you mention. (Can you tell I'm quite the Hathaway fanboy in these two movies, even if I like her acting nowhere else, not even in Prada?) By doing so, the movie seems complicit in standing behind Kym's own self-aggrandising perspective, whereas it usually manages to be so measured in keeping its distance (as in the longshot on Kym's wedding toast).

4. I certainly thought Streep could have done much better in Doubt, and you've described brilliantly how Actorly she misguidedly was, but in the first place I think she was miscast: the role seems to demand craggier, more gargoyle-ish features than Streep possesses. (My personal fancy, other than Cherry Jones, would have been for Imelda Staunton to port her Dolores Umbridge performance -- so wrong for what the Harry Potter story needed -- into the role of Sister Aloysius.)

11:55 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Colin Low said...

@Guy: Technically, you could've known that Binoche was his pick for quite a while now. She's been listed in his "Best Actress Side by Side" feature since around the time that this year's Oscar ceremony ended.

11:59 AM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Mmm, Hüller in ten years time... Now that might have been something. I always love your recasting ideas (Gillian Anderson in Changeling = genius) and think the Valkyrie rapaciousness of Nielsen is just as intriguing a notion as Vera (who I'd happily watch doing almost anything right now). Pity the latter plumped for Boy in the Striped PJs instead, eh? Agree with you that Jentsch or Hoss would have seemed strange.

But I'm with Guy on Binoche. Can see the Damage danger but what's to say she couldn't have been erotic and knowable? That is, I wouldn't want Malle/Kieslowski Binoche doing it, but Haneke/Hou/Assayas Binoche (which is really her whole thing these days) might have been fascinating. She could have desanctified Hanna and brought a bit more defensiveness/bitterness to the trial scenes, at the very least.

Whereas Nicole... everything you said. She'd have Human Stained the s**t out of it. What do we want her doing, now, exactly? I'm intrigued to know what you guys would genuinely like to see her in. Maybe a more classical bad-mother part, advancing from Margot? Arkadina-in-Seagull-ish? I think a character who's brittle and actressy might suit her nicely... if she can persuade Kristin to take a year off or something. And just... stop, with the... (you know).

12:23 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Guy said...

Well, Kristin already has Arkadina, so Nicole must look elsewhere!

Admittedly I'm a bigger Kidman apologist than most (at least, until Nathaniel joins us), I don't think she's THAT off-course. (Full disclosure: I found much to love in "Australia," and her work in it.)

I'm not sure, however, that brittle is necessarily the way forward for her, unless she's allowed to go big and sort-of-vampy with it -- a bit like Annette Bening, but with more life behind the eyes.

More than that, however, I wouldn't mind seeing HER do a latter-day Binoche: a bit earthier, more contemporary, more unkempt, more human. You'll probably think I'm out of my mind, but I think if she was given a looser, more jangly character piece -- something along the lines of "An Unmarried Woman" or even "The Upside of Anger" -- she could win you guys back.

1:03 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin, and thanks for taking the time to write so much:

1) thank you!

2) it comes down an awful lot to casting, because Brokeback's decision to cast the guys so young somehow pushed the producers to cast women who are even younger, and in some of the Linda Cardellini and Anne Hathaway scenes, I just start getting Bugsy Malone jitters. I certainly feel a bit of the charge you get from Hathaway's final phone call, but even a slightly older, more experienced-looking woman would have implicitly punched up that scene. I don't think she's bad in the movie at all, but she does seem a little "typed" and out of her depth, at least at the time, though I applaud the early scene of her interest in difficult material.

3) Great points about these scenes; I'll happily meet you in the middle. In fact, Lee's decision to shoot her so centrally at the end of BBM may be part of my problem with that perf, too, so you're actually helping me crystallize my reactions to two roles at once.

4) We can't even get started on all the people I'd have liked to see in Doubt, even though Meryl Streep would certainly be on that list. Let's work on recasting the director and then start talking actresses.

1:14 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Good points on Binoche. Maybe I have a tough time imagining her as persuasively German, though she was certainly a more credible Serb (Croatian?) in Breaking and Entering than I would have guessed. And since she certainly knows how to work the hell out of a reaction shot, the scenes where Kross reads to her would surely have been fascinating, although Winslet's work in those same scenes is often pretty strong, too.

@Guy: I actually thought Kidman was fine in Australia, if not quite the bee's knees. She herself has been too hard on that performance, and I love how much she's willing to commit to farce. Both of her upcoming starring vehicles, Rabbit Hole and The Danish Girl, seem like difficult obstacle courses, but they do seem like steps in the right direction, and I'm definitely curious to see her in them... and there's no gainsaying her taste in directors. In general, I love your idea of an earthier, hippier, even a slightly crass Nicole, if she can get a part like that doesn't overly fetishize itself as such. Since her work in The Portrait of a Lady is still her most underappreciated great performance (and perhaps her greatest perf anyway), and since Jane Campion is such a genius at relaxing her actors out of their usual habits so as to push them down the road of fearless creativity, I'd love it if she pulled Nicole's name back out of her filofax.

1:21 PM, November 15, 2009  
Anonymous Jeff said...

@Nick

"Brokeback's decision to cast the guys so young somehow pushed the producers to cast women who are even younger . . ."

I'm not sure what you mean here. In Proulx's story, Ennis and Jack are each 19 when they meet, and Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were 25 and 23 respectively during filming. Do you think they should have cast those roles even older?

2:57 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Not necessarily, but then you've got the same actors playing these guys as decades pass, and they do often come across as actors in their mid-20s trying to connect with the perspective of being in their 40s. Meanwhile, Hathaway and Cardellini figure most prominently in the middle-age scenes (only so, in the latter case), which means they don't have Ledger's and Gyllenhaal's advantage of getting lots of meaty, intense scenes in a more "appropriate" age range before they move into the tougher waters of the second half of the movie. I'd have loved to see an older actress in both parts, but that would only have made Ledger's and Gyllenhaal's attempts to age with their characters seem stranger. I've also never been convinced that the whole movie wouldn't have benefited from the Iris approach of having different, carefully matched actors as the older and younger versions of everybody, especially since the whole story pivots so heavily on the unbridgeable disconnect of the fleeting past and the heavy present.

(You never know what's going to happen on the web. This is now a thread on Nicole Kidman and Brokeback Mountain. Suit up, Jeanne Balibar fans! I know you're out there!)

3:38 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Heh, we're basically forcing you into articulating thoughts about popular blogosphere films/actors that you've kept to yourself all this while. And what thoughts! While you have written more extensively about Brokeback elsewhere (and everyone else more so), I have never thought to question its premise, that each character gets played by one actor, as you do here. I somehow happened to take it into my head that since the roles (esp the leads) span lifetimes, and it's easier for young actors to play old than vice versa, it makes sense to cast younger actors. (No doubt I was influenced too by Orson Welles' brilliance at a similar gambit in Kane, and by the acclaim that followed Ledger even though I was not impressed by his perf, and am not even now.)

I guess the difficulty with the split-casting option is determining when exactly along the timeline to switch to the older actors, since Brokeback's editing already flails to close some of the seams between its episodic scenes. The Iris approach to casting seems to work better in a flashback narrative, where there is a clear delineation between Past and Present (I haven't seen Iris, though, so maybe there's a way I don't know). But even dangling the possibility of letting older actors into these roles forces me to wonder: what would Paul Newman, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, etc. have done with those final scenes?

9:19 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin: I don't want to get held too fast to this position, since I've debated the idea of whether BBM would have benefited from splitting the casting of older and younger actors, more than I've decided that it would have been the better option. There's certainly a lot to be said for the continuity of a single face and persona through great emotional change. And as for your examples, it's important to realize that the Brokeback guys never age quite that much. I certainly think Heath Ledger could have aged plausibly into, say, Russell Crowe. And since the whole film seems to cleave rather profoundly into That Summer on Brokeback vs. Everything Else That Ever Happened To Us, I think I know where I'd make the switch. I don't know who I'd have cast as an older Jake, but I'm going to put this idea down before someone comes blazing with all the reasons why this is heresy. I'll already have the Kidman fans furious by the morning, and there are only so many wars I can fight at one time.

10:30 PM, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Brook Brooks said...

What a great sight to come upon after finishing up all my uni work for the year!

I find myself agreeing with all your points while disagreeing with your overal assessment of the performances. I think Streep's performance works exactly because of the reasons you say it doesn't; I read Sister Aloysius as an obvious woman, somebody who can't hide the subtleties. And so, as Streep shuttles between the character's beats, it seemed natural for the character.

I also think those long, arduous scenes were some of the best acting Streep has done this year, seeing all the machinations behind her character's motivations was brilliant.

I have less to say about why I enjoy (of sorts) Kate Winslet in The Reader. I think she gives a much angrier performance than the picture deserves, and she doesn't bow down to the picture's apparent efforts to sanctify her. I completely agree about her non-verbal parts being the best aspects of her performance; if only more of the film was dedicated to the courtroom scenes and not the weirdly edited prison scenes.

(I do wish Vera Farmiga had been cast in this. She did such a good Kate Winslet-Lite in the otherwise horrible (truly, truly horrible) The Vintner's Luck. And any mention of Lena Olin is a great mention. Gosh, she's great in this movie, isn't she?)

Raising up a defence of Jolie is very hard, so I'm not even going to try. I just wish she was nominated for A Mighty Heart the previous year.

I agree with all of your personal picks, but none so more than Penelope Cruz. Your writeup of her performance is beautiful, and the film in my opinion relies on her being great than it does on Ben Kingsley.

And, on another note, I wonder if Jeon do-Yeon's career and country best performance made it your way that year? (Or at any point, really.)

12:41 AM, November 16, 2009  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

The main reason I am posting anything is - per your request - to speak up for the sublime Balibar, though I have nothing to add to your typically detailed, astute and evocative assessment on why precisely she is sublime.

In the meantime, I do feel like Sally Hawkins was robbed of yet another win - but I am much more comfortable with the award she deserves ending up in the hands of a revitalised, beguiling Binoche (who would've been a Top 3 pick for me anyway, along with Hathaway) instead of a limp, unimaginative, surely-this-is-self-parody Winslet.

On that note, while your assessment of Winslet as Hanna (and April for that matter) is pretty fair, I don't think you're harsh enough re: her Teutonic accent (also, her voice shifts from 65 to 35 and back several times furing that prison scene) and the fact that behind Hanna's strained chill and thoroughly transparent unknowability, busting to get out is a Kate Winslet that is embarrassingly desperate not only for an Oscar but the love of every viewer in the cinema along with adjoining theatres. She embraces that clammy-jittery-eyed sacrificial-lamb look way too many times (hell - once is way too many times, and she goes well into double digits), particularly in the courtroom and prison scenes.

2:34 AM, November 16, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

there's so much to respond to here i weep that i wasn't around yesterday.

but for the moment i would like to say that I'm with Guy in that, had I had more time to think about it (and this is why i hate the December glut so much annually) Juliette Binoche would have made my lineup.

she was a runner up and I look back and I'm like *shakes head* "nathaniel, nathaniel"

more later...

2:26 PM, November 16, 2009  
Blogger Colin Low said...

(Um, a technicality: I presume you didn't intend to leave no way of accessing your '08 Honorees from your main site? It isn't on either the 2008 page or your homepage. If it's hidden in a link elsewhere, it seems to require more acrobatic feats to discover than a visitor less familiar to your site would want to attempt.)

9:46 PM, November 16, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brook: Thanks, for all of the above, even the registered disagreements. I enjoy Streep and Winslet enough on some levels that three stars weren't completely out of the question. To me, they're the kinds of performances that have nagging flaws while you're watching that only get worse (for me) on reflection, but I do find them reasonably compelling in the moment. One could even say the same for the best spurts in Changeling, though it's a stretch. I absolutely wish she'd been nommed for A Mighty Heart, though.

@Goran: Very high praise, from you! Thanks, thanks, and great to hear a Bronx cheer for Jeanne Balibar. You make a vivid case for Winslet's problems in The Reader.

@Nathaniel: We all want to hear you say more about all of this! Come back soon, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean!

@Colin: Thanks for being such a super-sleuth! I took the link down during the summer, when it had become just too embarrassing that I still wasn't finished. But now, I only have three categories left, so I oughta just go ahead and finish, don't you suppose?

10:52 PM, November 16, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brook: I meant to add that Secret Sunshine never opened in the US, somehow, but I found a library in my region that has a pressing of the international DVD, so I'm eager to see it soon. One of my 20 unseen titles from Tim's fantastic list that I'm now gunning to catch up on.

10:55 PM, November 16, 2009  
Anonymous Jim T said...

Nick, thank you so much! Great analysis! I disagree on a couple of things but that's beside the point. Very interesting stuff. :)

You are one more person that loves Elegy. I guess I have to see it.

I also want to say that you and I are perhaps the only people (besides the Academy) that really like Dench in Iris. How was that performance able to be perceived as not great is beyond me. Then again, I believe the same thing about Winslet in Little Children and I know you disagree so...

1:43 PM, November 17, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I've only seen three of your nominees, but I like them all (particularly Hathaway and Cruz, I wasn't as taken by Red Balloon as others). My five nominees would have been Cruz, Faris, Hathaway, Hawkins and Leo with the statue going to Cruz. Achingly beautiful that one was. Although, at the time, I went with Hawkins.

7:29 PM, November 17, 2009  
Blogger Stephen said...

Great list - we agree on a winner! My own looked like this:

1. Juliette Binoche
2. Michelle Williams
3. Anne Hathaway
4. Sally Hawkins
5. Julianne Moore

10:55 PM, November 17, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

re: Kidman. I'll take her doing anything. i don't care. if i'm an apologist so be it but i firmly believe that the great actors HAVE TO do the stuff that's not right for them from time to time because they're great because they push the limits of their own abilities.

I've never seen The Human Stain and I'm perfectly content in having missed it ;) but i want Kidman to do whatever she wants to do if it means I occasionally get another BIRTH or a MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, you know? And like Guy, I did think parts of her Australia performance worked really well. And I wonder some times how razor thin the line is between a performance that seems "off" and a great one.

and I'm with Brook Brooks on Winslet. I don't get the anger people feel about that performance but i do get the anger in the performance. I think the turn works beautifully for about 2/3rds of the movie. No, it's not perfect and no, it's not Winslet's best but I honestly think the whole Oscar situation attaches itself to perceptions of the performances just as much as it attaches itself to perceptions about why actors take roles in holocaust films? does that make sense?

I think her worst performance is in TITANIC and people sure don't seem angry about her work in that film... probably because they don't think she was making it in order to win the Oscar.

blah blah blah.

I agree it's not a patch on her best work (Holy Smoke, Eternal Sunshine, Iris, Sense & Sensibility... and maybe in that order if you ask me)

11:13 PM, November 17, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Jim: Thanks for the compliments, and I have to say, I love a commenter who expresses dissent and is still so cordial and peppy about it. I'm absolutely in agreement with you that Dench didn't get enough credit for Iris. To me, it's like Joan Allen in The Contender. These are so much better than "default nominees," but people tend to treat them that way, if only because the media heat surrounded so many other performances in the category during those years. (No competing with Roberts/Linney/Burstyn or Berry/Kidman/Spacek, it seems.)

Elegy isn't as good as the performances, but I did find it very moving, even beyond the performances. Coixet is not what I would call a born filmmaker, but the movie made me not care.

@Glenn: And speaking of! Glad to hear such a hearty endorsement of Cruz.

@Stephen: And of Binoche, too! I know it's strange that I'm not more of a partisan for Moore in Savage Grace since I loved the movie so much (and lots of people prefer her to the vehicle). In a way, I appreciate that she seemed to recognize it was a director's piece more than an acting vehicle, and that she's as mannered as the lighting, the dialogue, and the edits. I don't see a great performance here, but it's a great addition to the whole idiom the movie is shooting for.

Unless you meant Moore in Blindness? I should have asked. I actually think she's quite good in that.

@Nathaniel: I also feel like a lot of the anti-Kate-in-The Reader vitriol goes way over the top, although Goran's critique above is a great example of an absolute dismissal that seems totally fair, even if I like the perf more than he does (and less than you do).

As for Kidman.... you know we're talking about the Botox, right? Or the surgery? Or both? Whatever it is that's going on? I have a huge affinity for this woman and her work, but I have a hard time seeing that she "has" to do this, and it's just getting so intrusive, not least within the performances. Still, as I said, I thought her work in Australia was actually quite fun in the early passages, and fine overall. I do think she's got another solid run in her somewhere, if she wants it, and if it doesn't quite equal her highest heights, who cares. As you have said many times, that peak period (if it was her peak period) is more than enough to justify any career entirely by itself.

12:08 AM, November 18, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I should mention that I've only seen two Coixet films and the first, My Life Without Me, I rated a D- so Elegy's A- sure was a surprise!

5:37 AM, November 18, 2009  
Blogger Stephen said...

Nick -

You were right: I meant Moore in Savage Grace. I admire the performance for the same reasons you do, but I guess I just responded to it more. I though her vocal and physical control were impressive throughout, and totally in service of Kalin's mannered/stylized approach.

I'm with you, though, that it's not a "great" performance, but I wasn't bowled over by many of the leading ladies last year (although I feel bad that there's no room for Cruz, Janssen, or Leo - I haven't seen Ballast yet, though).

I never saw Blindness, since the book is one of my favorites and once the mixed reviews started pouring in I lost interest. But I love Moore, and if the performance is worth watching, I'll have to buckle down and watch it.

1:55 PM, November 18, 2009  
Anonymous Donovan said...

Awesome read. The wait was worth it! So glad you picked Anne Hathaway over Kate Winslet's god-awful performance in "The Reader." For shame Academy, for shame.

2:28 PM, November 18, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree about Balibar, although there is always something weirdly fetishistic about the way Rivette directs his actresses. And I suppose Balzac wrote the character as a cipher as well.

Casting a German actress as Hannah Schmitz wouldn't have made much sense in an English language version of the Reader. As it is, the glossy Hollywood version including a legitimate Hollywood star is probably the most fitting treatment for Schlink's superficial, inappropriately sentimental approach to the subject. If they had cast a German though, the sensual and subtle Heike Makatsch would have been a good fit, she really should have a bigger career. Another good choice could have been Bibiana Beglau or maybe Jule Böwe, who are both primarily known for their stage work. Lara is indeed German (of Romanian descent) and also an awful, awful actress. As is Julia Jentsch. I hope you don't judge Martina Gedeck, who is usually terrific, simply on her performance in the dismal, simplistic Life of Others (or the even worse Baader-Meinhof Complex). She deserves better. Nina Hoss is only ever decent in Petzold's films. So there you go. Binoche may have been the best choice, at least she would have avoided the condescension Winslet brought to the role.

3:35 PM, November 18, 2009  
Blogger Cal said...

Wow. I can't believe how long it took me to read this. The football match on in the background is over already.

I'm sad to say that I've only seen two of your top five. Ballast, Duchess, and Balloon all landed here well into 2009 when I was in my post-Oscar 'done with 2009' mood. As for Hathaway and Cruz I really liked Hathaway's performance but probably not as much as you. I found parts of it repetitive but I love how she can go from being a bratty princess to wounded and worldly and she demonstrated the many different facets of a difficult character well.

Cruz is a bit of an out-there pick. I loved Kingsley and admire the film a great deal so I may give the film another whirl in the near-future to see if what I got from Elegy can be attributed more to her. I felt that 2008 was such a depressing year for Actresses (not a good one for films either) and I only really loved three (Kathryn Worth, Tilda Swinton, and Sally Hawkins). Totally with Tim on Worth, she was immense.

4:15 PM, November 18, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Stephen: I almost skipped Blindness too, and it's certainly limited in profound ways that one wishes it weren't. I actually felt that it helped to have read the book, because the memory of the sheer terror and filth of life inside the quarantine complex and then outside in the streets are so memorable that I wound up tacitly supplying those affects to the movie, even when I'm not sure the filmmaking really did its full job. What I like about the Moore performance is how unusually off-the-cuff it is: she seems like a genuinely genial person, and the performance in no way aspires to make a heroic icon or even a metaphorical figure out of the character. Moore plays her as the woman who just happens to be the one who can see, which is refreshing and honest, and works against the film's annoying awareness of its own arthouse "profundity."

@Donovan: Thanks so much for saying that, and thanks for waiting and for reading in the first place!

@Anonymous: Wonderful! I hadn't hard of almost any of these actresses, but I'll seek them out. I agree that Lara is just disastrous, and without seeing Sophie Scholl, I'm tentative about slagging off Jentsch. I didn't mention Juliane Köhler, whose erotic abandon has often seemed so intimidating and unpredictable: I think of her playing Ewa Braun in Downfall with that kind of decadent, carnivorous grin, and that gleam in her eye. She might have been formidable, though I admit, there's no particular reason to go with a German actress in a production this obviously Anglophile.... though then again, an actress who fails to read as "German" really does hurt it, and David Kross's performance is certainly assisted, at least in my experience of it, by how possible it is to take him for granted as German. (I disliked Gedeck as well in The Good Shepherd, but I'll take your word for it that she's much better than her recent, high-profile vehicles have let on.)

@Cal: I watched Unrelated with Tim when I was in London last fall, and I thought both the film and Kathryn Worth's performance were absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, the film never materialized over here in the U.S., not even in a very limited run, so I didn't make her eligible for the list, though she'd almost certainly have bumped somebody.

5:41 PM, November 18, 2009  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

re: Contemporary German actresses - I used to be lukewarm towards Jentsch but she was excellent in The Edukators and quite warm in the otherwise exhausting I Served the King of England.

Also I'd like to second Anonymous' defence of Gedeck. She was so soggy in an unbearably soggy role in The Lives of Others, I didn't even recognize her as the sexy, natural, eerily clever actress from Summer '04, which is actually a German '06 film and an excellent, unfortunately neglected one.

I don't know that either of them would have been quite right as Hanna though. To be honest, I didn't even find Winslet miscast so much as misdirected.

Some of the people around these blogs already know very well how much faith I put into Kidman as a thespian (pre- and particularly post-botox) so I won't mention how I feel about the prospect of her in the role. (But just for the record, her hollow, frozen-headed shifting from squeak to squeak throughout "Australia"? That didn't bother you?)

I do believe Binoche's powers are limitless and therefore Hanna, like any woman, would've been well within her formidable grasp. Would Kristin Scott Thomas be to obvious an alternate choice?

6:12 PM, November 18, 2009  
Blogger John Gray jgsheffield@hotmail.com said...

interesting comprehensive blog....couldnt find your review on fish tank though!

2:16 PM, November 19, 2009  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Having now watched Elegy, I gotta ask why you think the movie is that much inferior to the performances, since I think it does a commanding job of following the actors' choices and never paring any of the characters down to simplistic motivations -- the most jarring elements being the absurd cut-ins to David's flashes of "imagination".

And I agree with Brook: Elegy relies a lot more on Cruz's performance than Kingsley's, without implying any demoted appreciation of the latter's achievements. But Kingsley could have done the same performance with a less thoughtful co-star and even his performance would have died on the vine as a result. Cruz does an astounding job of guiding Consuela away from charges of naivete or heedlessness, either of which would have sunk the whole enterprise.

(Full disclosure: This is my first cinematic encounter with a May-December romance, my first Isabel Coixet film, and only the second Penelope Cruz performance I've seen after Vicky Cristina Barcelona. So none of these players have had much opportunity to disappoint or bore me.)

11:42 PM, November 20, 2009  
Anonymous mrripley said...

Strange no one has mentioned kate in rev rd,I found her performance in that far more believable nad satisfying than The Reader

the breakfast scene and last phone call alone scream oscar to me.

I just thought she had not done her homework for the reader like she was cast quickly,i felt it was one time when she did not "get" who hanna was,There was so much good work left on the cutting troom floor which would have made more sense of hanna.

I am also in agreement that the academy is too often giving oscars to the right actress wrong role see kidman in 2002.

2:56 AM, November 22, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Call me eagle-eyed, but what's happened to the Disgrace grade? I know you too well to believe a D could possibly have improved itself all the way up to a B+. Did you mean to put La danse in up there?

4:27 AM, November 28, 2009  
Anonymous Guy said...

Make that two eagle-eyed readers ... I couldn't help noticing either.

As much as the re-grading would please me, I suspect it must be an error?

6:44 AM, November 28, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Having seen the movie yesterday, I think I will be pitching camp in some mild-mannered placatory spot halfway between you. I was mainly... indifferent.

Impressed that you took the time to revisit your other bugbear A Serious Man, to the tune of only a slight bump upwards. I went back too and cooled on it a little, but not enough to regrade...

10:14 AM, November 28, 2009  
Blogger JKlorfein said...

Love the Famke Janssen love you've shown in the "runner-ups" category.

6:54 PM, November 30, 2009  

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