Thursday, January 12, 2012

Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 2

Still trying to figure out the best way to collate comments on these Birthday Party reviews, and also to keep you posted about who's next up for her tribute. Let's try this.

Born January 10–January 14:
Click here for the full list of entries

Jan 12: Luise Rainer (102)
New Review: The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937)
Luise's Best Work: She has very strong sequences in The Good Earth, even though Anna May Wong should have had the part. The studio had to decline Wong because, according to the Hays Code, her casting would have implied "miscegenation" with Paul Muni, the white star playing her "Chinese" husband!
I've Also Seen: Generously Oscared and NYFCC'd in The Great Ziegfeld (my review; Best Pictures from the Outside In); trapped inside already-familiar mannerisms in The Great Waltz
Where to Go Next: No one seems too fond of Big City or Toy Wife from the 1930s; I'm more curious about Luise's small comeback, half a century later, in the Hungarian director Károly Makk's The Gambler, based on the Dostoyevsky story, and starring Michael Gambon, Polly Walker, Jodhi May, Dominic West, and the recently deceased John Wood.

Jan 14: Faye Dunaway (71)
New Review: Barfly (1987)
Faye's Best Work: How many actors of either gender can claim three classics as bulletproof, and as bullet-riddled, as Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, and Network (my Favorite Films entry), scoring Oscar nominations for all three?
I've Also Seen: Saucy and smart in the original Thomas Crown Affair; somehow holding that dress up in The Towering Inferno; interesting and laudably bold in Mommie Dearest; The Handmaid's Tale; quickly seen but great for atmosphere in James Gray's strong sophomore feature The Yards, where she's almost upstaged by her glasses; and, though I don't remember her in it, The Rules of Attraction
Where to Go Next: Even with some of Faye's 70s catalog still to peruse (Little Big Man, The Three Musketeers, Three Days of the Condor, The Eyes of Laura Mars, even the turgid-sounding Puzzle of a Downfall Child and Voyage of the Damned), the only real competition Barfly had as the Dunaway title I'm most eager to catch up with is Arizona Dream, her collaboration with director Emir Kusturica and co-star Johnny Depp—and, from what I hear, a film and a performance of which she's very proud. Eventually, I'll want to poke around more of her 90s character work, too, in Drunks, which sounds like Barfly Redux, and in the Spacey-directed Albino Alligator, which is set in a bar. (Is a healthy liquor budget built into her contract?)

Jan 14: Emily Watson (45)
New Review: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)
Emily's Best Work: Breaking the Waves is the obvious and correct answer, but where were all her nominations and gongs for being so flinty and credible in Gosford Park, while Maggie Smith just did her Thing?
I've Also Seen: Interesting as George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss (my review); wasted in The Boxer (my review); deservingly nominated for Hilary and Jackie; a standout in Cradle Will Rock; rewardingly un-typecast in Punch-Drunk Love and Red Dragon; a voice in Corpse Bride; exemplary in The Proposition; understanding an odd project beautifully in Synecdoche, New York, my favorite film of 2008 (my review)
Where to Go Next: Reader recommendations poured in for The Luzhin Defense, Separate Lies, Wah-Wah, and Cemetery Junction, any of which I'd be up for, as I would be for the peculiar-sounding but slightly too Giamatti-heavy Cold Souls. I'm most upset with myself, though, for missing the weeklong Chicago runs of two recent Watson tours-de-force: Within the Whirlwind, a buried awards play that screened as part of the Polish Film Festival at Facets, and Oranges and Sunshine, for which she scored a modicum of awards heat. Emily's also currently up for SAG and Golden Globe awards for the serial-killer TV drama Appropriate Adult, in which I gather she has the Clarice Starling role, more or less. I would iTunes that so fast...

I'll look in the comments for your responses to this week's reviews and for recommendations of further viewing—or suggested re-viewing, if you think I've gone wrong somewhere!

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Blogger Andrew K. said...

Where was Emily Watson's Gosford Park love? Where Kristin Scott Thomas'?!

Anyhow, does that mean you didn't see Emily in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers? I can't remember the movie very well, but I do recall liking it a bit and wishing it was a feature film. From what I remember the performances were generally good.

4:39 PM, January 12, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Huzzah for everything you've said under "Faye's Best Work". The only contender (heh) I can think of would be Marlon Brando, who has On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Godfather under his belt, though only the last of these is comparably bullet-riddled. Or, I'd add, even comparably bulletproof! (What a humdinger of a triple career peak Dunaway had, even if the rest was spotty.)

I not only don't remember Dunaway in The Rules of Attraction (she was in it??), I can barely remember any of the movie, except a repetitive video-on-rewind gimmick through a thick, druggy haze of misanthropy.

I also love that amid Faye's list, you have nothing to say only about The Handmaid's Tale.

5:32 PM, January 12, 2012  
Anonymous JStor said...

Emily Watson was the best thing by far in Cemetery Junction but I don't even know if that got a US release. Even if it did, I can't imagine you reviewing it given your Gervais-bashing at last year's Globes.

Can't wait for Faye, though. That triple-crown is a joy to watch (but esp. Network.

5:40 PM, January 12, 2012  
Blogger Dave said...

Finally somewhere I feel confident enough to chime in! First, I have to say that I'm loving this series - as always, you write thoroughly engaging and enjoyable reviews without skimping on the critical detail. The Heroes for Sale one was a particular treat. Even better still that it promises so many pieces throughout the year!

There's a couple of Watson performances I'd recommend: Julian Fellowes' Separate Lies is a ridiculously melodramatic film that indulges Tom Wilkinson's chewiest tendencies, but I recall Watson trying some interesting layers and putting up an irascible fight against a narrative shimmying away from her. Plus it's a hoot. And in Wah-Wah, she doesn't let an American accent and a load of snooty looks get in the way of providing the most vibrant and interesting characterization in the film.

Of course, she's also in Miss Potter, but it's probably best we don't speak of that.

7:15 PM, January 12, 2012  
Anonymous goran said...

re: "in every way suggesting some nightmare gene-splice of Aline MacMahon and Gale Sondergaard"

Excuse me, where do I find this film? I'll pay good money.

Also, can someone help me track down Emily Watson's missing career? I'll pay good money.

10:11 PM, January 12, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@A:EE: You probably know that Altman himself made public that he thought Scott Thomas got shafted for that performance, and that Smith was over-rewarded at her expense. Can't remember if he said same about Watson.

@Colin: Brando's trifecta a strong parallel. A few actors could say the same, I suppose (Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc.), but trying to think of an American actress with three films as lodged in the zeitgeist as Dunaway's peaks is really, really hard. Lots of actresses, even the most major, are lucky to have one movie stay that publicly healthy.

@JStor: I don't think that did open here. Still stand by every bit of my Gervais-bashing from last year, if that's what I was doing. Dreading him Sunday, if I watch.

@Dave: Thanks for the compliment! I'm really loving watching these movies and writing real reviews, so I'm glad they have an audience. Those are Watsons I considered, especially to fill out a period in her career when she just seemed to evaporate. Rupert's facial reconstruction was so shocking to me in Separate Lies trailer, and even the title seemed to try so hard (and rather in vain), that I avoided in theaters. But I'll catch up eventually. Forgot it won NBR's debut film award in '05.

@Goran: Warner Archive has a "Luise Rainer Collection" where you can get Candlesticks, Big City, and Toy Wife all in one package, for the cost of a normal DVD. I got EC from TCM, though.

10:39 PM, January 12, 2012  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Really enjoyed your Luise Rainer piece. Entertaining, clear-eyed and penetrating. The picture's a botched souffle if ever there was one - sticking resolutely to the pan. And you've sized it up (along with Rainer's performance) to a tee. While remaining good-natured throughout.

Looked at your list of birthday girls. Here are a few performances
I'm fond of. And I know I'd love to read your views any of them:

First of all, when Dorothy Dandridge month arrives, try ISLAND IN THE SUN - an Oscar level supporting performance that nobody ever seems to talk about .

Some other worthy candidates:
Lana Turner "Ziegfeld Girl"
Samantha Eggar "The Walking Stick'
Carroll Baker "Andy Warhol's Bad"
Anne Bancroft "To Be or Not To Be'
Marion Cotillard
"A Very Long Engagement"
Teresa Wright "The Actress"
Carole Lombard"Made for Each Other"
Gene Tierney "The Razor's Edge"
Ava Gardner "Seven Days in May"

1:43 AM, January 13, 2012  
Blogger Fritz said...

Well, I just love Luise Rainer, she is the godmother of my blog and even though she may not be the best two-time-winner, she is certainly my favorite. But I agree that she is not a perfect actress and her personality does not fit every part - I loved her in The Great Waltz and Big City (besides her Oscar-winning turns) but I thought she was really...not good in Dramatic School.

2:09 AM, January 13, 2012  
Anonymous Laika said...

Faye Dunaway was only in one scene of 'Rules of Attraction', forming a kind of double act with Swoosie Kurtz. I think they're the best part of the film, very funny in little moments and expressions as they pop pills and swill drinks while remaining highly self-conscious.

On a selfish note, and looking further ahead, I'm hoping you use either Vanessa Redgrave or Sarah Miles (really far ahead!) to take a look at 'Steaming', an incredibly strange film directed by Joseph Losey from a play by Nell Dunn (Poor Cow, Up the Junction). I can't exactly recommend it (it's pretty stilted and unevenly performed), but I've never met anyone else who has seen it, its available cheap on region 2 DVD, and I'm desperate to know what someone else makes of it.

Secondary Recommendation for Sarah Miles - 'The Sailor who Fell From Grace with the Sea', which is like a sinister remix of 'Ryan's Daughter' by Wilde and Beardsley.

Loving these reviews - it's like getting a christmas present that lasts all year...

10:49 AM, January 13, 2012  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

@ Nick, I did not know that, that cheers me up immensely.

1:45 PM, January 13, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@CanadianKen: Two of these movies are on my list, two are also on my list but matched to different actresses, and two are out because I've already seen them (Engagement and Ziegfeld Girl). Keeping a tally of all the suggestions, though, so thanks!

@Fritz: Given how not well I responded to her in The Great Waltz, I will proceed with caution, but I admit to being interested in Big City, even though she herself hated it.

@Laika: Hi, there! Nice to hear from you. I wish Steaming had been out in something better than a cropped, washed-out VHS transfer back when I was writing about Redgrave (though thankfully, the article was about her 70s films). I won't have this in time for it to be my Redgrave pic, and Sarah Miles is oddly crowded with possibilities for me, but I'll be glad to hand on to these recs!

@A:EE: Glad to make your day, in a Kristin Scott Thomas way.

1:54 AM, January 14, 2012  
Blogger Janice said...

Nick, I'm not sure you need to bother with Cold Souls IF your goal is to see all of Emily's performances. I enjoyed it well enough - it's not a masterpiece by any means, but I love me some David Strathairn. I was ticked off by the fact that Emily is barely in the film, and only as "supportive, troubled wife" at that. Very dour, very little energy - basically a bit of a mope. Even War Horse makes much better use of her. I kept thinking "You cast Emily Watson, and THIS is all you can come up with for her? Really, guys? " Such a disposable part; if her character had been cut out of the movie I don't think anything would be missed. /end rant

11:37 AM, January 20, 2012  

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