Thursday, February 02, 2012

Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 6

This is gonna be tough, people...

Born February 5–February 11:
Click here for the full list of entries

Feb 5: Laura Linney (48)
New Review: The Laramie Project (2002)
Laura's Best Work: At the unambiguous center of a sprawling story and ensemble in Jindabyne, negotiating an entire cutlery set of conflicts, internal and external, tacit and confessed.
I've Also Seen: Cornering the market on Wholesome But Concerned in Lorenzo's Oil; still apple-cheeked as the president's mistress in Dave; the freshest-faced of all urban arrivées in Tales of the City; dressed down by Joe Mantegna as his son's schoolteacher in the unbeatable Searching for Bobby Fischer; in danger of seeming uninteresting in Primal Fear; still shaking some stiffness out of her limbs in The Truman Show (my review); a revelation, note-perfect in dramatic and comedic registers we hadn't seen yet, in the glorious You Can Count on Me (my review), though the Julliard polish comes back a bit in The House of Mirth; winning an Emmy for one of her few performances I just didn't buy, as a hard-to-love mother in Wild Iris; surely asking her agent to dream bigger after The Mothman Prophecies; swanning onto Frasier like a Platonic distillation of its demographic, and winning another Emmy; listing sharply the other way as a gal without mercy in Mystic River, without much time to pull that off; sweet and sad in Love, Actually; well cast but along for a very bumpy second-feature ride in P.S.; having hit a stride where she's interesting even in under-written roles, like the wife in Kinsey; better than that, even, in The Squid and the Whale, though perhaps assigned too many of these recovery missions; taking the check but not without showing us a character in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (my review); gutsy, funny, and functional in a smallish role in Breach; gloriously disheveled, tugged between impulses toward honesty and knee-jerk prevarication, in The Savages. Nothing since, but she's mostly been doing Broadway work and cable TV.
Where To Go Next: Among the features I haven't seen, I'm most compelled by the undisguised oddity of Mark Ruffalo's debut feature Sympathy for Delicious, though before I track that down, I'll want to put in the time on Linney's Emmy-winning performance in the TV miniseries John Adams and her subsequent awards-magnet role in Showtime's The Big C.

Feb 8: Edith Evans (124; died 1976)
New Review: The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
Edith's Best Work: Her nomination for The Whisperers (performance review) is easily one of the category's high-water marks for its decade, and a haunting rendering of poverty, madness, and old-age loneliness.
I've Also Seen: Skeptical of Hepburn's resolve in The Nun's Story; fruity and rather generously nominated in Tom Jones; crusty and even more generously nominated in The Chalk Garden.
Where To Go Next: Almost certainly Look Back in Anger, which got boxed out this time by domestic you-said-you'd-wait-for-me issues that I was happy to honor. The Queen of Spades could also be a great, atmospheric divertissement, especially having just checked out Dickinson's and Walbrook's collaboration on Gaslight.

Feb 8: Lana Turner (91; died 1995)
New Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Lana's Best Work: The Hunter/Sirk remake of Imitation of Life makes equally good use of her gifts and her limitations as an actress. Being unforgettable can be just as rewarding as being brilliant, I should think.
I've Also Seen: Practically a distillation of whiteness as one of the three leads in Ziegfeld Girl, as a sympathetic girl who makes all the wrong choices; surprisingly appealing in the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with its thematically resonant switcheroo of making Turner the society lady and Ingrid Bergman the randy girl; doing her best but perhaps a bit over-awed by unworthy material and schematic revelations in Peyton Place.
Where To Go Next: Unquestionably Vincente Minnelli's Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful. Whether Turner's good in it or not, and I hear she is, Gloria Grahame is lighting up the supporting cast, so at least one blinding-white blonde will be worth writing home about.

Feb 9: Janet Suzman (72)
New Review: ???
Janet's Best Work: She has an interesting, remote quality in Nicholas and Alexandra, but I'm not sure the performance fully pans out, mostly because the film doesn't.
I've Also Seen: Though she's been a leading figure in South African theater and an esteemed interpreter of Shakespeare for years, the only other effort I've seen is her off-camera coaxing of John Kani's moving performance as the director of Othello. Technically I saw her as Cusack's mother in Max, but few films have made less of a lasting impression on me.

Feb 10: Laura Dern (45)
New Review: ???
Laura's Best Work: As the shape-shifting imago at the wormhole center of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, naïve and uncertain and scared and debased
I've Also Seen: Gobbling ice cream cones in the background of the climax of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, prompting famous advice from director Martin Scorsese; as Rocky's blind and beautifully sympathetic girlfriend in Mask (Favorite Films entry); an archetype of small-town innocence, but not uncurious, in Blue Velvet; screaming "SAILOR!!!" with a notable itch in her crotch in Wild at Heart (my review); taking her memorable spin on the confused, buoyant carnality of the titular figure in Rambling Rose; mouth agape and up to her elbows in dino-shit in Jurassic Park; knocking around the background of Eastwood's A Perfect World, not at all concerned that that interesting movie isn't about her; boldly sour, comically refusing of anyone's sympathy in Citizen Ruth; inspiring the coming-out heard 'round the airport terminal, and 'round the world, on Ellen; an absolute joy as the encouraging, perpetually tipsy aunt in Dr. T & the Women (my review); whisked on as a sop to "old" times in Jurassic Park III (my review); having a lot to say about "finding your bliss" in a barely-lit sequence of Searching for Debra Winger, possibly shot on Rosanna's phone; perfectly plausible as the U.S. poet laureate with ideas of her own on one episode of The West Wing; briefly giving a bored audience something to be happy about in I Am Sam and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; blowing the roof off of spousal bitterness in We Don't Live Here Anymore; a compressed pleasure as half of a lesbian couple trying to have children in Don Roos' dishy Happy Endings; meeting current collaborator Mike White on his awkward directorial outing Year of the Dog; and really doing a favor to Friend Courteney Cox on the latter's short-film directorial debut, The Monday Before Thanksgiving.

Feb 11: Kim Stanley (87; died 2001)
New Review: ???
Kim's Best Work: Spindly, scary, and less overtly hysterical than I had expected in Séance on a Wet Afternoon and all the more unnerving for that, especially as the piece winds toward its discomfiting ending.
I've Also Seen: Irreducibly strange in her first film The Goddess, as though she's puzzled by the camera and it's intimidated by her; lending spare but effective voice-over to To Kill a Mockingbird; unforgettably proud of her non-conforming daughter but then instrumental in her destruction in Frances (my review); as odd and as powerful as ever with Jessica Lange (again), Tommy Lee Jones, and Rip Torn in a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that was made for Showtime, I think, but easily trumps the Taylor-Newman-Ives version, particularly in the acting department.

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Blogger Dave said...

With Linney, I'm helplessly curious to know what you'd make of Driving Lessons, just because I found the whole thing so horrendous; and alarmingly, Laura might be the worst thing about it - shrill and manic, though no one around her is in any position to help at all. But I also wouldn't recommend anyone put themselves through it, so a (relatively) more palatable option might be Man of the Year or The City of Your Final Destination. If there was the time, I'd push hard for a glimpse of The Big C - an imperfect show, but she kills it - but you have enough on your plate this week alone!

I'd be hugely unsurprised if The Postman Always Rings Twice is the one on the docket for Lana, and I'd definitely be eager to read your take on such a prominent cinematic 'moment', particularly since I've never quite understood the love for it. She's not really an actress I've chased up, but I found her much stronger in The Bad and the Beautiful.

Again with the television, but if I was interested about The Big C, I'd be downright mesmerised to know your thoughts on Dern in Enlightened, one of the most difficult, peculiar but brilliant series I've ever seen. Otherwise, I can only recommend her brief but memorable part in Everything Must Go, which fires up a mostly lame film. Rebecca Hall is good too, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if she joins this club in the next few years.

This is going to be a very exciting week.

1:36 PM, February 02, 2012  
Anonymous Laika said...

Wow - three of my all time favourites in one week...

For Janet Suzman, Peter Greenaway's 'The Draughtsman's Contract' seems the big omission, and I think she's the most intriguing performer in it by a long shot - her performance has the remoteness of her work in 'N&A', but this time the whole film hinges on it.

Edith Evans is in Tony Richardson's 'Look Back in Anger', although I seem to remember you dislike the play, and she's almost unrecognisable. I know a lot of people rate her Lady Bracknell, but for me she is just Too Much. Mnd you, everything after 'The Whisperers' is going to be a disappointment.

Lana Turner - It's got to be 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', right? The only movie where she really makes sense as a Star.

1:41 PM, February 02, 2012  
Anonymous Laika said...

I've just realised my comment made it look as though my three favourites were Evans, Suzman and... Turner, which would be quite the juxtaposition. Actually, I was referring to the Lauras and Suzman.

@Dave - gah! 'The Bad and the Beautiful'! I'd forgotten. Good call.

1:50 PM, February 02, 2012  
Anonymous JStor said...

I wish you could review Englightened as it's probably the best that Dern has ever been. (And yes, that includes Inland Empire, and I was shocked to discover that too.) Still, whatever you do, you'll certainly have an avid reader in me.

1:59 PM, February 02, 2012  
Blogger Tim said...

This is going to be an amazing week.

I, for one, do love Turner, though I guess I haven't seen enough of her work to qualify as a fan. Postman, though, is such an obvious recommendation that I bet you didn't even need our help to get there.

I'm not so familiar with most of the others this week (Linney, obviously, but you've seen much more of her work than I have - and you're going to go with David Gale, aren't you? Poor bastard), though as one of the wee number of Dern movies I have seen that you haven't, I would urge you towards Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, which is sort of like a smarter, nastier This Is Spinal Tap.

And is the one gap in your Kim Stanley education really The Right Stuff? A great movie, though "a Kim Stanley vehicle" is pretty far down on the list of reasons why.

2:14 PM, February 02, 2012  
Blogger CCW said...

I highly recommend Dern's work in Smooth Talk, a coming of age tale that's kind of an 1980s precursor to films like thirteen and Blue Car. Like Evan Rachel Wood and Agnes Bruckner, Dern's mixture of emotional power and subtlety (at such a young age) is quite impressive.

2:51 PM, February 02, 2012  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Out of the Linney films you haven't seen, I'd recommend The Nanny Diaries which is far from a good film but she is remarkably fun and manages to give it some level of dignity and The City of Your Final Destination which is also far from a good film, and she's not exactly good in it, but nobody is. It's a sad approximation of what the Merchant-Ivory brand is now doing; listless, polished and hopelessly inert.

As for the other amazing Laura, I can't recommend Englightened enough. It's her best performance, I think, and that's a very tall order. As for films, Novocaine is a nice curio and Lonely Hearts is a truly bizarre, barely released film that nobody involved is going to be remembered for. I saw it the other night and I can't even remember any of it.

3:53 PM, February 02, 2012  
Blogger James T said...

I know I'm crazy but Linney's performance in The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the one that imporessed me the most.

And, having seen Blue Velvet recently, I think you undersell Durn's performance. I saw a character there. Not an archetype.

4:59 PM, February 02, 2012  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Laura Dern's presence in Little Fockers was the only thing keeping that movie from "vile unwatchability" (to borrow a phrase). She was funny and captivating in a small role that absolutely made the best of the script's lazy, unimaginative humor.

6:05 PM, February 02, 2012  
Anonymous The Man With No Name said...

In regards to Turner, I'm actually torn between The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Bad and the Beautiful; mainly because choosing the latter would give everyone (okay, me) a chance to hear your thoughts on Gloria Grahame's Hagen-pipping, Oscar-winning performance - not to mention every other aspect of that loopy Minelli film.

However, if we're talking best work I'd probably go with the former, too. Though I think Turner's hilarious melodramatics in that hydroplane scene in Bad... would've justified a nomination in and of itself. Keep your eye on the mink. ;)

6:26 PM, February 02, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

So much responding to do!

@Everyone: I dream of seeing The Big C and Enlightened, but you're all correct in guessing that time is not my ally in this case. One day, though!

@Everyone, Pt 2: Yes, it will be Postman Always Rings Twice, which I also need to see for academic reasons this week. So, you can count on that one (though I regret that it isn't The Bad and the Beautiful).

@Dave: I have a Rupert Grint allergy, so Driving Lessons is just asking for trouble.

@Laika: Those are all movies I'm considering, though for multiple reasons, one involving a partner stipulating "You can't watch X without me," I can't commit. Stay tuned! Loved the brief interlude of thinking Janet Suzman, Lana Turner, and Edith Evans were your favorite actresses. You already strike me as a completely interesting person, but for a moment you seemed ...truly atypical. :)

@Tim: I hadn't heard of Stains till Diane Lane, and I read that she and Dern are still good friends, dating back to that project. I can't get my hands on it now, but my interest is piqued for later. Because Kate Winslet poses similar "But I've already seen so much" problems as Dern, I have Scylla & Charybdis problems with David Gale. It just might nab me!

@CCW: Such a good suggestion. I've got it on request from the public library, since it's not the easiest to find, so my final decision will hang on whoever's got it loaned out. This is not made easier by the City of Chicago's remarkable dedication to dismantling its public library system, slashing funds, and laying off staff. Thanks, Rahm! This is exactly the sort of metropolitan resource that should shoulder the burden of budget cuts. Perfect choice, everybody.

@Sam and @Patrick: Ha! You guys are both, "You should watch X because it's almost completely terrible!" You hadn't counted on my reverse-psychology shield.

@James: I don't mean archetype in a negative sense at all. She's standing in as a definite "type" as part of BV's overall conception, but I agree she also characterizes her to the degree the film really wants/needs.

@MWNN: Despite my commitment to Postman, you're making me pine even more for what might have been!

12:51 AM, February 03, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

And @JStor: See above re: Enlightened, but thanks for the sweet thought at the end. Didn't mean to personalize a response to everyone but you!

12:53 AM, February 03, 2012  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

I think Dern is terrific (if i remember correctly) in SMOOTH TALK and it's a really really early performance and i think those are particularly interesting when it comes to really bold actors like Dern. to see what was germinating early on.

8:39 PM, February 04, 2012  
Blogger James T said...

I didn't read the entire The Laramie Project review (I skipped part of the middle cause I'm sick and lazy, ok? :p) but what I read, I loved.
You're so analytical and yet so full of emotion!

Regarding the "...beneath a grand Wyoming sky" comforting assumption, I totally see why you could find it close to offensive, but I also identify with the O'Connor's/the movie's sentiment.
I find myself desperately needing the conviction that his/her/its last feeling was a satisfying one. Otherwise, oh, the anger...

I know you already know that but I'm just saying that it's not as easy for everyone to handle the thought of the worst case scenario. Especially for the family. I'm sure you already knew that too, but it's not my fault you're that wise ;)

By the way, it's depressing to realize that.. things like that are common elsewhere in the world.

4:47 PM, February 05, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

I just watched Imitation of Life, and it blew me away with that razor-sharp portrait of white-black feminine intimacies and struggles, and with fiercer parent-child deadlocks than we almost ever get to see in the movies (save, maybe, a Synecdoche NY). They made this in the FIFTIES, and we're still wrangling with The Help? What gives?

10:32 PM, February 08, 2012  
Blogger Tim said...

I haven't watched Postman in probably three years, so I can't really get much into specifics, but your essay was astounding, as deep an analysis as I think I have encountered. You're dead right that one of the best things about it is the way it treats its protagonists as pathetic figures, in the non-derogatory sense; though you're able to make more of that than I could have imagined possible.

Sorry, gushing. But it was an extraordinary piece on one of my all-time favorite noirs.

5:21 PM, February 09, 2012  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i'm sad we didn't get Laura Dern but I figure you since you're just cranking these things out.

6:46 PM, February 11, 2012  

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