October 31, 2014

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca

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Inside Oscar points out that Joan Fontaine was selected for the plum role of the second Mrs. de Winter because of her "vulnerability", and quotes a columnist as saying that if Fontaine "did not have an inferiority complex she would not be starring in Rebecca". Look up Fontaine's name and you'll find a ton of hoopla over her legendary feud with sister Olivia de Havilland--you'll read about how de Havilland allegedly bullied Fontaine when they were little (example: throwing her down and fracturing her collarbone), how Joan got Olivia's hand-me-downs, how their mother favored Olivia, how Joan wasn't allowed to use the family name for her movie career because her sister had already claimed it--and it's one of those situations where it's vividly clear that an actor's prior real-life experiences had direct influence on their work. Never before have I seen an inferiority complex used as such an asset.

October 30, 2014

Laurence Olivier, Rebecca

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For a second year in a row Laurence Olivier got a Best Actor nomination for playing a brooding crank. I had heard rumblings here and there on the internet about how he delivers an impressive performance, and so I was curious to see what he had to offer here outside of what I had already seen in Wuthering Heights, especially since Rebecca seemed like it'd be a picture that more favors its female characters.

October 25, 2014

Bette Davis, The Letter

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Watching Bette Davis strut out onto her veranda, gun in hand, shooting viciously at a man who has scorned her love, her face stone-cold with loathing and eaten by the dark of the night...what more could a person who obsesses over actress possibly ask for? After having watched the 1929 version of The Letter, my anticipation was high for this one, because of all the major Hollywood stars at the time, Davis' brand of explosive treachery made the most sense for a character as dangerous and cunning as Leslie Crosbie, one of the most exciting female characters I've seen from the pre-code era. So I turned on the film and watched, and waited for Davis to allow the spirit of Jeanne Eagels to live on through her.

October 24, 2014

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress
I first watched The Philadelphia Story a few years ago for a college film course, and at the time I hadn’t seen many screwball comedies nor was I very familiar with Katharine Hepburn’s work. Once the film was over I had no idea what to make of her performance. It was so…Katharine Hepburn-like. It was such a marriage of the qualities we typically associate with Kate—sophistication, wealth, haughtiness…not to mention the heavy Mid-Atlantic accent that is so rigorously unique and hers, that which reverberates so vividly in this film. I thought her to be very unusual; compared to her contemporaries, it’s obvious that she’s a much more idiosyncratic presence onscreen, and it just felt to me as if I was watching her be herself for an hour-and-a-half. I liked it, but I was a little underwhelmed; I expected more from a performance that is so revered and so heavily considered as one of Kate's greatest. Flash-forward to present day; I am older and (as I'd like to think) a bit more refined in my taste, and this time around while watching Kate, I saw the performance in a much different light.

October 20, 2014

James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor
Sometimes actors put out several top-notch, heavily acclaimed performances and will consistently lose the Oscar until finally, one year, everything falls into place and they achieve their moment of golden glory for a performance that doesn't hold up to the excellence of their prior work. Or sometimes actors get recognized for one amazing performance, lose the Oscar for that year, and are handed one the next year. The latter is the story of James Stewart, who, after earning much praise from critics and yours truly for his fine work in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and who would go on to have a storied career filled with many other iconic performances, somehow managed to nab his only Best Actor Oscar for...The Philadelphia Story, a film that doesn't revolve around his character, a film that's much more strongly associated with his female costar, and a film in which there's arguably no male lead. It's kind of screwy how our beloved Academy Awards go about their business.

October 19, 2014

Martha Scott, Our Town

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If movies are influenced by the time in which they are made, then I'd say that Our Town is a perfect example of the Production Code era. Because in what other time period could a somewhat strange and somewhat drab stage play about the lives of citizens in a tiny New Hampshire town in 1901 possibly have been a success at the box office? If Inside Oscar is to be believed, the race for Best Picture that year was actually between Rebecca, The Grapes of Wrath, and Our Town...further reinforcing the notion that good-clean fun was especially valued during that time. I point this out because I feel that Martha Scott's bid for the Best Actress statue that year is one of those instances where an actress got the nomination not necessarily because she was excellent, but because the film had done well and was held to a high enough regard that her name was pushed into the race. Scott's is not the kind of performance that has enough weight to hold its own in sheer merit; in fact, it's very much the kind of performance that slips through the cracks.

October 18, 2014

Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle

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Won: Academy Award - Best Actress
Ginger Rogers' Academy Award winning performance is one of those wins that you don't hear a whole lot about nowadays, not necessarily because it's bad per se but because the work and films of three of her competitors have held up much better in the 70+ years that have passed. Yet it's easy to see why the folks of 1940 took to Rogers so strongly at the timefor starters, it's an old-fashioned little picture which features the everyday working woman faced with issues of class (how modern!), yet it's also a melodrama that thrusts its heroine through a slew of tearjerking situations (how gutwrenching!), and if there's anything Oscar likes about his ladies, it's a de-glammed long-sufferer. But in spite of the film's out-of-date and confused attempt at purveying feminist modernity, Kitty Foyle is actually quite a charming little flick, made all the more watchable by Rogers' lovely presence.

October 17, 2014

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor
For some odd reason I've never really taken to Charlie Chaplin's films as enthusiastically as all other cinephiles. Trust me when I say that I've certainly wanted to love! his films, and if anything, I've always thought them to be perfectly fine works of comedy, but I've always only ever liked The Circus and City Lights and Modern Times. The same thing applies to Chaplin's performances in these filmsit's hard for me to be duly enthusiastic about them when you feel as though you've seen it all before, because there's only so many Tramp-in-wacky-uncompromising-physically-comedic-scenarios one can take before the novelty wears off and an otherwise great piece of work is just plain "good", or the "usual". And so with that I went into The Great Dictator, Chaplin's last (or technically first and only, believe what you want) nominated performance, knowing very well that I was going to leave being pleased at best.

October 16, 2014

Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath

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It is said that James Stewart claimed to have voted for Henry Fonda for Best Actor in 1940, and there seems to be a general consensus that Fonda was robbed a victory that year for his work in The Grapes of Wrath. These allegations of an Oscar misfire intrigued me, considering the fact that I don't ever really recall being all that interested in the character of Tom Joad while struggling to get through the novel back in sophomore high school English. In truth, I wasn't really all that interested in The Grapes of Wrath period, so I was quite tickled to find that director John Ford had managed to take a drab chore of a novel and turn it into a compelling and poignant picture. Fonda, in all his brooding, stoic glory, does a good job, but I was left more taken by the film than by him.

October 15, 2014

Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois

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As with the third recipient of the Best Actor Academy Award, Raymond Massey too was an actor whose career-defining work came from playing a famed government leader. And in reference to Massey's performance as the legendary Abraham Lincoln, the New York Times exclaimed that "you will simply think of him as Lincoln, while you think of all the rest...as members of a notable troupe who have played their roles excellently." In my opinion, that's a rather futile proclamation, considering no onenot even New York Times reviewer Frank S. Nugentcould possibly know enough of what Lincoln was like to warrant the assertion of someone just being him...it's not as if we have YouTube videos of Lincoln dating back to 1860. If anything, we can only make base judgments on all film Lincolns based on how closely the actors look like Abe, the rest being up in the air for our own imaginative figurings. But in any case, Massey certainly does look the part, and despite being in a stifling film he still turns in some solid work.

October 1, 2014

1940 - 13th Academy Awards

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and the nominees were:
Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath
Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Laurence Olivier, Rebecca
James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story
Bette Davis, The Letter
Joan Fontaine, Rebecca
Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story
Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle
Martha Scott, Our Town

And here we are! Coming into this year I have only seen one of these films, which at the time I enjoyed quite a bit. As for my beloved Best Actress category, this is the first year so far where I am actively excited for all the ladies nominated. This also makes me sad at the same time knowing that I'll be kickstarting the 1940's with my most anticipated batch of ladies and then have no other year to look forward to for the rest of the decade. Overall it's a diverse bunch of films--we've got stage plays, comedies, a biopic, a drama based on a book I was forced to read in the 10th grade and hated with all my being, and two dark gothic/noir pics perfectly suited for the month of October. Feel free to share with me your favorites out of this group as well as some guesses as to whom I'll love and not love!