Thursday, January 05, 2012

Party Down: 208* Occasions to Celebrate

* Soon to become 210, with Viola and Rooney. Or 211, with Viola, Rooney, and Tilda. Or 210, with Viola and Tilda. Or maybe the Actors Branch was really into Bad Teacher and we just don't know it yet...

I have been deliriously working all through the holiday "break," but it is obvious that the Holy Spirit, in Its infinite wisdom, takes real, genuine vacations. To adduce only the most glaring piece of evidence, no Best Actress nominee has ever been touched with God's thumbprint and dropped into the world any earlier than January 5. That sounds like at least four days of Law & Order from the couch, if you ask me. Of course, once the gifts started coming, they were good ones: Jane Wyman (b. 1917) and Diane Keaton (b. 1946) both celebrate their anniversaries today, though one is still with us and the other, like Sidney J. Mussburger, has already Merged with the Infinite. Still, film history would genuinely look different without either of these gals, and so we honor them.

We're going to keep on honoring them, and 206 other women, and whoever else joins their club on January 24. It ain't over till New Year's Eve baby Sarah Miles sings, or does whatever Sarah Miles does. I've had this calendar posted on my webpage for a couple of years now, as one more manifestation of the ridiculous and the sublime, one more excrescence of what Jane might have called my Magnificent Obsession. You can come and leave a flower any time you like, for anyone you like, provided that on at least one occasion her peers in the business gave her a really, really gold star, or at least urged her to think she was getting one. If your favorite actress is Rita Hayworth or Jennifer Jason Leigh or Alfre Woodard or Taylor Schilling, you're just going to have to wait until she cops that first lead-category nomination. (Based on sabermetric calculations, my money is on Alfre, then Jennifer, then Rita, then Taylor.)

To maintain the festivities, I'll be dropping in on the occasional birthday girl over the year and watching a title from her filmography that I have never seen. In some cases, the thrill of anticipation is through the roof, as I will finally catch up with some Buñuel, some Lang, some Hitchcock, and some Rossellini that I keep missing—or, you know, I'll finally see Kitten with a Whip, or the Village People vehicle Can't Stop the Music, which starred Best Actress nominee Valerie Perrine (emerita of the best-ever roster in the category) and was also directed by Roberto Rossellini. Sometimes I will be in trouble, but I will strive for the best. I shot myself in the foot last year, filling so many holes in order to write career retrospectives on Annette Bening and that young'un Jennifer Lawrence that I'm only left with a few dregs... unless Jennifer puts out a new movie this year, but I haven't heard a single murmur about her doing that.

I'll come up with something. I don't know how you spend your lunch hours, but I have confirmed a surviving and accessible print of a movie I have not seen by each one of these 208 210 209 208* women, even Ida Kaminská. I'm not promising whom I'll get to, and whom I won't. You know how I tend to do on these long-haul projects. I do have a job, and that's why these parties are surprises. I already threw one at midnight for Wyman, an obvious late-night reveler if ever there was one, who is dependably affecting if just a smidge unadventurous in this 1950 version of The Glass Menagerie that few people even seem to know exists. Not a perfect movie but still, on balance, a keeper.

If there's a movie featuring one of Oscar's anointees that you think I'll like or find interesting and that you know I haven't seen, feel free to suggest it down in the Comments. (You can flip through my back pages here, in case you haven't got 182 better things to do.) I won't promise, and I'm going to be stingy with hints about my often-spontaneous plans, but I'm still eager for nudges, even if I wind up saving 'em for later. You can also comment on the reviews I do post in this same space, so I won't be eating cake and lighting sparklers by myself.

Happy 2012, actresses and actressexuals everywhere. Together, let's think of the right gift for the woman who has everything, i.e., two consecutive Academy Awards and the stamina of a Galapagos tortoise, even though most people, hearing her name, would go "Who?" We don't have a lot of time. I'm thinking candlesticks.

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Blogger Andrew K. said...

How great (for me) that this, of all films, is the Jane Wyman one you focus on. I have such a long relationship with The Glass Menagerie not just because of love for Tennessee but because we did a production of it in high school AND it was the play I wrote on for my final exams in high school and I find it sort of bizarre (but, I suppose it's not implausible) when you mention that it's rarely seen because for a period of time it used to show at LEAST once a week here - although, that was on the Learning Channel and for education purposes.

I never did like the film much, it ends up coming off to me as so flat, which is a shame because even though it's on a scale one the tamer of his plays it's also one of the most poignant. And, oh, that score. It's so distracting. For example, Gertrude's "You're not crippled" and the music is going overhead at full tilt.

Although I'm probably being unfair, because I do remember liking a great deal of the middle before arrives (I like Gertrude and Arthur together more than Gertrude and Jane). Not that Kirk Douglas is bad there, but the film seems more enlivened before he enters.

I keep meaning to, and I vow that this year I WILL seek out Katharine Hepburn and Tony Harvey's version.

3:52 AM, January 05, 2012  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

yay! i love a good project

8:07 AM, January 05, 2012  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

This is a great project!

You might have to wait a while for Keisha Castle-Hughes (don't go near "The Nativity Story) but otherwise, I'm hoping this leads to some unexpected gems and recommendations.

Assuming you haven't seen it, my own recommendation is "Mahogany," starring the one and only Diana Ross. It's not particularly good, but there's certainly a lot to write about, and Diana displays some occasional chops amidst all of the camp melodrama. Cheesy theme tune, too.

1:55 PM, January 05, 2012  
Anonymous JStor said...

C'mon Mommie Dearest! "Tina! Bring me the axe!"

2:16 PM, January 05, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@A:EE: I am a decrepit person now, so I probably repeat myself all the time, but have I admitted before now that I wrote my senior honors thesis in college on Tennessee Williams, too? Do we already know we share this in common? I mostly wrote about Not About Nightingales, but most of the big plays showed up eventually. Glad you're such a fan even if, like a lot of fans, you probably think I could have been harder on this Glass Menagerie. I agree with you that the Lawrence/Kennedy interactions were a strong suit.

@Nathaniel: Thanks! From one project-addict to another. We'll see how I even do on this.

@Cal: Do you know? Where you're going to... Okay, in this case I will admit that we are already simpatico. Never seen Mahogany, no matter how many times Mariah has urged her fans to hie thee hither, in exactly those words.

@JStor: I'm crazy but I'm not crazy; I have totally seen Mommie Dearest. And we all know Faye doesn't like that one getting blown out of proportion, even though I think she and the film are so much more interesting than they tend to get credit for. So, I'll be tilling other fields when her date rolls around.

2:41 PM, January 05, 2012  
Anonymous The Man With No Name said...

Sounds like an exciting project but, nevertheless, it reminds me of two awful, awful things:

1) That Marilyn never won or was even nominated (Really, Oscar? Not even for Some Like It Hot? The Prince and the Showgirl? UGH!)


2) That none of these lovely ladies shares my birthday (January 2). But I do have the amazing Todd Haynes in my corner so it's all good. :)

2:45 PM, January 05, 2012  
Anonymous The Man With No Name said...

And since we're talking actresses... am I the only one who thinks Ms. Monroe also deserved a nom for All About Eve? For me, that's right up there with Jo Van Fleet in Cool Hand Luke and Christopher Walken in Pennies from Heaven as my favorite Oscar-worthy single scene performances. Of course, on my ballot she'd have to settle for runner-up since I find Celeste Holm to be just as marvelous in the very same film. But to make yourself so memorable in so little time is quite the achievement.

3:28 PM, January 05, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jennifer Lawrence is in The Hunger Games, out in March. It's pretty anticipated, according to what I've read.

12:01 AM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@TMWNN: This is getting more interesting. Based on Jan 2, my new guess is that you're Cuba Gooding, Jr. No nominee was born on October 9, either, so I feel you on that score. And I feel you even more on the Marilyn omission in 1959. I'd have happily taken "never-nominated Doris Day" over "never-nominated Marilyn Monroe," especially since Pillow Talk is so aggravating. Also wish she'd gotten a shake for The Misfits, even though I acknowledge that it's a problematic performance in several respects. Still, compared to Geraldine Page bursting at every Repressed(TM) seam in Summer and Smoke? Forget it.

@Anonymous: I was kidding about that very fact, but I guess the joke didn't come through! I don't know anything about The Hunger Games except that it opens in the spring and we are all, as a nation, expected to see it. Awfully long lead for an August 15 review, though!

12:43 AM, January 06, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord, I can't wait. Also, I'm ashamed (I think) that I have seen the Valerie Perrine vehicle of which you speak. Every. Single. Minute. The fall from "Lenny" was so far.


1:23 AM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger tim r said...

Well, those first three reviews are reason alone to have embarked on this. How do you do it? And all in the first week of January?

I'm wondering how to help with Staunton, where you have very few lead roles to choose from, so I might venture Trevor Nunn's 1996 version of Twelfth Night. She's Maria, a stereotypical Staunton role from that period. Not vouching for the movie at all (I haven't seen it in 15 years, though enjoyed at the time, and still have fond memories of Kingsley's Feste.) Don't go near Crush or Blackball, which are both pretty desperate.

As for Watson, how about The Luzhin Defence? I know that's a huge amount of Turturro to get past, from your point of view, but that in itself could be interesting for the rest of us. Thin and chintzy in some ways, but I remember her contribution at least being quite lovely...

3:09 AM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Thanks! Having to write one thing always seems to mean I write more of another, rather than less. I'm not sure why.

You've read my mind on Staunton. Considered Luzhin for Watson but opted to go a different route. I'm delighted at how your birthday works itself out. You'll see where that one's going, right off. Perfect way to celebrate!

4:14 AM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

An interesting one for Patricia Neal is "Psyche 59," where she plays a blind person. I remember really liking the film and her in it.

4:23 AM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger tim r said...

Gaslight! Amazing.

4:54 AM, January 06, 2012  
Anonymous The Man With No Name said...

Ha ha! Sorry, Nick. Close but no cigar. I'm neither Harvey nor Cuba. But you get one more guess...

Okay, the jig is up. I'm Taye Diggs. (Kidding, of course. I should be so lucky!) Actually, I'm afraid my reason for using this moniker is a little more embarrassing than that: I simply lack the creativity to come up with another one. :P

And so this post won't be entirely counterproductive I'll throw in a recommendation. If the prospect of Magnani and Pasolini collaborating sounds like heaven to you I suggest you get your hands on a copy of Criterion's edition of Mamma Roma immediately. It's Anna at the height of her powers!

12:50 PM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger Dan Callahan said...

Just wanted to say that I haven't seen "The Little Drummer Girl" with Diane Keaton since I was a kid (I had a tape of it and watched it several times when I was deep in my Diane period). Your review of it brought it all vividly back to me, and I was on the floor laughing when you described her hairdo and clothes and then provided that helpful link of that huge 1984 coat!

Aside from the clothes, her mullet mall crimp hairdo is just too, too much. Haunting, really, And yes, she is pretty good in the last-ish scene where she freaks out. Kael loved her in it, which is why I was always trying to get into it.

4:29 PM, January 06, 2012  
Blogger Tim said...

Loving this series, of course, as I have loved just about every series you've come up with.

But in particular, I LOVE the Heroes for Sale piece, which has me more excited to see that film than pretty much any review that I think I've ever read.

Very excited to see where this takes you!

11:33 PM, January 07, 2012  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Doesn't the Mayan thing predict December 21,2012 as the day the apocalyptic goo hits the fan? If, so- with her December 20 birthday - Irene Dunne makes it just under the wire. So I'm looking forward to hearing that you finally caught up with her blissfully assured comic turn in TOGETHER AGAIN(1944).

Other recommendations:
Doris Day in STORM WARNING(1950)
{a supporting performance but a good one - and exceptionally naturalistic by prevailing Hollywood standards}
If I remember correctly, it was his admiration for her work here
that convinced Hitchcock to offer her THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

In the "How did they manage to project such authority when they were so young?" category":

Rosalind Russell "CRAIG'S WIFE"(1936)
Patricia Neal "THREE SECRETS"(1950)
The latter's not a good movie, but Neal's complex and commanding(and all of 23 when she made it).

Shirley MacLaine "SWEET CHARITY"(1969)
Marvelous - and I'd say the last performance before snark took precedence over likability in her work.

Margaret Sullavan
"No Sad Songs for Me"(1950)
Mainly courtesy of her performance,
this ranks as the gold standard for tear-jerkers. Case closed.

Natalie Wood
"This Property is Condemned"(1966)
I know this Tennessee Williams adaptation doesn't get much respect. But I'm very fond of it. Doomed romance - with the star at the pinnacle of her allure. If it were raining Natalie Wood, I'd want it to be THIS Natalie Wood.

9:04 PM, January 08, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Dan: Glad you liked the review! Wasn't sure how many people it would reach who had actually seen it. I'll have to check out Kael's write-up, which I don't think I've read.

@Tim: Thanks so much for that. I thought of you while I was watching Heroes for Sale and again while I was writing it up, so I suspect it'll be up your alley. Hope I didn't - as it were - oversell.

@CanadianKen: Thanks so much for these recommendations, especially for Doris. I need all the help with her I can get. Craig's Wife is the only one of these I have already seen. The nature of Irene Dunne is such that I have lots of titles of hers I'd like to catch up with, but I remembered your urgent championing of Together Again from back when I was plowing through 1944, and I promise it has an asterisk next to it in my little Excel file!

4:45 PM, January 09, 2012  

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