Jun 30, 2014

Best Actor 1929-1930

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Time to play catch-up! I've avoided covering the Best Actor nominees from Oscar's first four years because 1) I was lazy, 2) the nominees were a little harder to find, and 3) my passion for the Best Actor category isn't nearly as strong as it is for Best Actress. But mostly I was lazy, and I figured before doing 1939 I'd go back and cover these bastards once and for all. That said, these profiles will be very short and sweet...because I'm lazy. I've toyed with the idea of going back and giving the ladies of 1927-1930 individual profiles but...that'll have to be another time. So here goes--I'm starting with my least anticipated year, 1929-1930!

and the nominees were: 
George Arliss, Disraeli
Wallace Beery, The Big House
Maurice Chevalier, The Big Pond
Maurice Chevalier, The Love Parade
Ronald Colman, Bulldog Drummond
Ronald Colman, Condemned

George Arliss, The Green Goddess 

(which I cannot find for the life of me. I guess when I was in Los Angeles I was too occupied trying to see Betty Compson and Jane Wyman that I didn't stop to think about any male nominees. So...I'm putting him on an indefinite delay lest there be an angel somewhere who can hook me up.)

Lawrence Tibbett, The Rogue Song

(which is presently a lost film and only exists in fragments. Oscargasms prays to the Movie Gods that someday the film will be found, but until then...RIP to what could have been.) 

Jun 24, 2014

Bette Davis, Jezebel

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It seems unfortunately inopportune that Bette Davis won her second and final Oscar for a 1938 film. Because if Of Human Bondage indicated the arrival of a star and Dangerous existed to represent the official crowning of a star, then Jezebel is really just Davis warming up for the superstar phase of her career. There were so many iconic roles and films awaiting Davis in the decades ahead and yet she would never win another statue again. On top of that, any significance made by Jezebel and Julie Marsden would forever be trumped by Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O'Hara the following year.

Jun 12, 2014

Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette

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Won: Venice Film Festival - Volpi Cup for Best Actress

People naturally compare Gone with the Wind and Jezebel due to both films being set around the Civil War period and the fact that both have queenly southern belles for heroines. However, I'd say that Marie Antoinette is just as worthy a comparison. Like Gone with the Wind, it too has a hefty running-time and monster grandiose aspirations. Further, like the other two pictures, the success of Marie Antoinette settles itself entirely on the giant wigs of leading lady Norma Shearer, whose French queen has a fabulosity that makes Scarlett O'Hara and Julie Marsden look like mere mortals. By now I've seen all of Shearer's Oscar-nominated performances and my relationship with her has been on-and-off. I tend to find her work either pretty good or terribly dull. Marie Antoinette was the last project Irving Thalberg had lined up for his wife before his death. In a figurative sense, this performance would be a bid farewell to Oscar, who had recognized Shearer more than any other actress throughout his first 12 years. I imagine that Shearer saw this role as an opportunity to not only honor her late husband, but to channel her pain by giving the performance of her life as well.

Jun 11, 2014

Margaret Sullavan, Three Comrades

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

I can't help but see a few similarities between Margaret Sullavan and fellow Best Actress nominee Fay Bainter. For starters, Sullavan too has become a largely forgotten actress. One can argue that fewer people would be watching White Banners and Three Comrades today if these pictures didn't boast Academy Award-nominated leading ladies. Further, both ladies' respective screentimes straddle a fine line between solid supporting and leading by virtue of importance to the narrative. Both ladies reached the pinnacles of their careers in 1938, each garnering enough respect from voting bodies to secure acting prizes. And lastly, like Bainter, Sullavan's got a pretty underwritten part, but here is also where the two ladies differ. Whereas Bainter was underwhelming, Sullavan is radiating; she really elevates the material, and in doing so she creates a vivid and tragic performance that illuminates an otherwise drab picture.

Jun 5, 2014

Fay Bainter, White Banners

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I recall stumbling across a Bette Davis interview where she says that even after her second Oscar win for Jezebel, good roles still weren't coming her way and that Fay Bainter was receiving much higher wages at the time than Davis was. Bainter's double Oscar nominations, the first-ever occurrence in Academy Awards history, must have been proof of her standing in Hollywood at the time. It's a remarkable feat especially given the strong divide between "lead" actors and "supporting" actors during that era--you'd never see an actor of Davis' status nominated in Supporting nor would you ever see someone like Gale Sondergaard cast in a lead role, nevermind nominated in Lead. That said, I was hoping that the relatively forgotten Bainter would impress in the pretty much forgotten White Banners. But as it turns out, White Banners ended up being rather underwhelming, and it features two trends of 1930's Hollywood cinema that I've grown increasingly tired of. The first trend is that of the convoluted plot, wherein a film tries to be a lot of things and gets disjointedly messy in the process--White Banners is not just a family melodrama but it also aims to be...a drama about the invention of the refrigerator? And the second trend is that of the lead female role being a sacrificial mother, as played by Bainter...