Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wasn't She Lovely?

She also seemed committed and serious when she worked, and a majority of the time, she worked on tough stuff with interesting people. She suggested good humor, but not frivolity, especially not about acting. And every story I've ever read about her personality and habits and extensions of friendship offstage and offscreen has been a beauty. My favorite is about her sending The Hours to Meryl Streep because she thought Meryl would enjoy seeing herself pop up as a cameo character; friends who send books are always good friends. Speaking of books, when her mother wrote about her in her 1990 autobiography, even as she confessed to her own lapses and wavering availability as a mother, she glowed in a believable way about Natasha's goodness, and about watching her talent as an actress emerge.

I always worry that this is meaningless if not verging on the tasteless or presumptuous, but nonetheless, my thoughts are with the Redgraves and Richardsons and with the Neesons and all of their friends.

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How Stupid Were My Chocolates

Head over to Mike's house for our latest three-way installment in the Best Pictures from the Outside In series, archived here and here. You won't be surprised that we get a little more into John Ford than Bubba Gump, but as always, we had a great time with our conversation, and the comment thread has already been rich and provocative.

As an extra Saturn-ring of cinephile context, Nathaniel returned to the hit factory of 1994 and put himself back in touch with his love for Pulp Fiction, Queen Margot, Heavenly Creatures, and two Nick's Flick Picks favorites, Bullets over Broadway and Vanya on 42nd Street. My 1994 retrospective page is here, but I mostly tipped to the other half of our BP dossier and got caught up on 1941. Best Picture-wise, I'd break things down this way:

1. Citizen Kane: Innovative in technique, articulate with form, juicy in narrative, acted like gangbusters, contentious among the power caste... what could be better? What more do I really need to say? A+

2. The Maltese Falcon: Never a favorite but it's grown on me tremendously, especially as the profound amorality of the narrative and the marked perversity of Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy, to say nothing of the rogue's gallery surrounding them, have become clearer to me. The direction remains pretty cold and some plot turns can feel formulaic, but most others feel heroically unromantic and excitingly twisty, and Sydney Greenstreet is a dream of a villain. A–

3. How Green Was My Valley: Well, you know now what I think of this one. B+

4. The Little Foxes: Can be a bit overbearingly acted and staged, and Teresa Wright botches a pivotal role, but the muscle and ambition of the piece are fantastic. It's a bold thesis about what cinema can do for stage works, arranging characters along concrete sightlines and in complex formations of power and visibility, and Marshall and Collinge are superb. B+

5. Here Comes Mr. Jordan: Undistinguished in style but scripted, paced, acted, and shot with warmth, pizzazz, and improving notes of melancholy. The kind of movie you can share and enjoy with just about anybody, I'd guess. Goofy and endearing without being too screwball for some tastes. Full review here. B+

6. Sergeant York: More than a little hokum in the story and staging and in Gary Cooper's performance, but there's also plenty of meat in both, and Hawks injects enough humor and unexpected, inventive angles that the movie is less of a sell-out than I'd feared. B–

7. Hold Back the Dawn: Another Wilder-Brackett script characterized more by conceits and genre interrogations than by a truly layered or engaging story, and Mitchell Leisen struggles to get the story out from underneath the weight of the "moody" photography and the Boyer narration. But it's more interesting the second time around, and Paulette Goddard's quite good. C+

8. Blossoms in the Dust: Beautiful color photography and MGM frippery ornamenting this standard-issue biopic of a plucky and pretty moral crusader, this time Greer Garson serving the cause of American orphans and illegitimates. C+

9. One Foot in Heaven: How to be a narcissistic minister while imagining yourself to be a caretaker-provider in service of your family and the lord. Adequately acted by Fredric March and Martha Scott (she's better here than in Our Town), but a pretty gratuitous film. The opposite of memorable, and not the least bit advancing of the art or of the audience. C–

10. Suspicion: Hitchcock adrift, without a solid beginning or a coherent ending, and only indifferently managing the long bout of marital alienation in the middle. Props to the glass of milk and to the seriocomic approach to the idea that you never really know who your partner is. But Fontaine's even milkier than the drink that the oddly clunky Grant is serving her, and the whole thing is stranded between lazy executions and nervous bouts of ostentatious formalism. C–

And here's the cherry on top, even if it forces us to keep engaging with the frustrating Suspicion: if you're wondering what I think of the leading ladies of 1941, after such a long absence from this feature, here's your chance to find out... and here 's your chance to vote your own conscience!

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