October 31, 2013

Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actress
How fitting and pleasantly ironic it is that the legendary Katharine Hepburn's first Academy Award-winning performance was for the role of a naïve ingénue hungry to make it big as...an actress. There is a moment in the film when Eva, drunk at a party, tells theatre producer Louis Easton, "I'm the greatest actress in the world, and I'm gonna go out and get greater, and greater, and greater..." She causes a ruckus, and when her mentor Hedges tells her she's making a fool of herself, she exclaims affirmatively, "You're talking to the greatest actress in the world and I'm gonna prove it to you!" Again, very fitting and ironic. As I watched Morning Glory, I couldn't help but be in a state of bedazzlement--and how could you not? Because here, right in front of my eyes, was the very first Oscar-nominated (and winning) performance by a young and beautiful actress who, quite like Eva, was set to become the greatest actress in the world. 

October 30, 2013

Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry Viii

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor
The Private Life of Henry VIII was a weird film for me. I wasn't sure what to make of it. Apparently it was a hugely successful film during the time of its release, and the very first British film to be nominated for Best Picture (not to take away from Cavalcade's British glory, but the Best Picture winner was made through Fox while Private Life was through London Films), which is crazy to think that it took AMPAS six years to become entranced by British pictures, seeing as they're such anglophiles nowadays. At the heart of The Private Life of Henry VIII is Charles Laughton, who looks spot on as King Henry VIII, but like the film I'm not so sure what to make of his performance either.

October 29, 2013

Diana Wynyard, Cavalcade

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In retrospect, Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade and Irene Dunne in Cimarron share a lot of similarities. Both were nominated for Best Actress and were likely only nominated because AMPAs liked their respective films a lot. Both actresses' vehicles are pretty dull and terrible, ranking pretty high up there among the all-time worst Best Picture winners, and both have an inconsistent presence in their films, with Dunne appearing more heavily in the latter half and Wynyard appearing more in the first half. Finally, they both give performances that, for lack of a better word, suck.

October 27, 2013

Jackie Cooper, The Champ

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I've said it before and I'll say it again--I'm not a big fan of child performances. Often times they feel so contrived and it's hard for me to get over the fact that someone so young could possibly possess the ability to create a performance on their own, much less understand the nuances, subtleties, or emotions that come with a character's story arc. So due to my biases and general disinterest, I opted to skip out on watching Jackie Cooper in his Oscar nominated turn in Skippy, but I wouldn't be able to avoid him for long as we would finally meet while I was checking out Wallace Beery in The Champ. Cooper famously wrote in his autobiography that he disliked Beery, saying "there was no warmth to the man" and that he was "a big disappointment", attributing Beery's mistreatment of him to jealousy. And who could blame Beery if he was in fact jealous of Cooper? The 45 year old is absolutely outstripped and upstaged by a boy whose age hadn't even reached double digits yet--and the imbalance between the two performances is embarrassing.

October 17, 2013

Marie Dressler, Emma

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And so Marie Dressler returns to the Academy Awards, coming back a second year in a row with a role that is essentially a warmer version of the sassy curmudgeon she played in Min & Bill mixed with Jane Wyman's insufferably devoted nanny from The Blue Veil. As I've watched these Best Actress nominees in chronological order, it's become vividly obvious just what kinds of roles could snag you a nomination back in those days, and it's starting to feel like the movies are blending in with one another. If you're a mother who suffers (Chatterton in Madame X, Chatterton in Sarah and Son, Hayes in Sin of Madelon Claudet, Swanson in The Trespasser), you get a nomination. If you're a motherly figure who takes care of/likes children, (Wyman in The Blue Veil, Dressler in Min & Bill, Dressler here) you get a nomination. I was ready to ho-hum Emma and Dressler, but I ended up being pleasantly entertained.

October 14, 2013

Wallace Beery, The Champ

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor

Wallace Beery will forever be in the annals of Oscar history for being "tied" with Fredric March for Best Actor, the first and only tie the category has seen in its 85 year history. The strange thing is Beery isn't the true winner--he actually had one less vote than March, but for some reason 81 years ago the Academy had a rule that stated having 1 less vote than a winner meant that you too were a winner. And with that, Beery got an Oscar, even though he ought to have been a runner-up, which is rather contextually ironic given that he'd won for playing a drunken loser and former champion in a movie called The Champ. With March's excellent turn, you'd think that Beery's performance would be just as great, no?

October 7, 2013

Lynn Fontanne, The Guardsman

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Alfred Lunt and wife Lynn Fontanne famously turned down lucrative film contracts following The Guardsman's release, and one can't help but wonder what they could have contributed to cinema had they decided to take up Hollywood's offer. We may never be able to have witnessed Fontanne and Lunt on stage, but at least we have their sole cinematic offering, and to have garnered Oscar nods in what would be your only film is an impressive accomplishment. Add in the fact that both husband and wife are theatre legends, and what you've got is a viewer with pretty high expectations. The general chemistry between the couple in The Guardsman is undeniable--it was a joy watching the two of them claw at each other through their dry and sarcastic remarks. Ultimately, the film ends up being more Lunt's show than Fontanne's (whether we like it or not), but the moments in which Lunt fumbles with his crazed overacting, Fontanne balances out with a pleasant portrayal of the sly and deceitful yin to Lunt's yang.

October 5, 2013

Alfred Lunt, The Guardsman

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The opening scene of The Guardsman features The Actor and The Actress performing the last few moments of Elizabeth The Queen, the real-life Broadway hit in which Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt starred. This scene, included as a funny little life-meets-work homage, is also highly theatrical (they are acting on stage after all) and essentially gives the viewer a hint of what we're about to witness for the next hour and a half: high drama, high exaggeration, and acting that can be seen and heard from way up in the rafters. It's the context of this theatricality that makes it tough for me to determine how much I enjoyed Lunt's performance--just how much of it is excessively overdone on accident and how much of it is on purpose?