Wednesday, May 23, 2018

2017: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In her second Oscar-winning performance, Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother whose daughter was brutally raped and murdered. After months of no apparent progress in the case, Mildred rents three billboards to express her displeasure toward the chief of police. Unfortunately, this police chief is both beloved by the town and dying of cancer, so the billboards make most people more angry at Mildred than at the murderer.

My only complaint about McDormand's previous win, for 1996's Fargo, was that I wasn't convinced she was in enough of the movie for hers to be considered a leading role. That is not the case this time. She is indisputably the protagonist of this movie. And she absolutely slays. Seriously, the way she delivers her lines is spot on, she has some priceless facial expressions, and she just completely embodies her character in every possible way; what more could one ask for?

Mildred presents herself as righteously enraged at the lack of justice for her daughter, but much of her anger is a mask for her pain and feelings of partial responsibility and guilt for what happened. McDormand manages to convey this to the audience so that we sympathize with her even when we can clearly see that many of her actions are rather counterproductive. She exudes such confidence that I kept expecting things to go her way, so even when she did things that I knew were a bad idea, I couldn't help feeling surprised when they didn't turn out well. Based on the trailers, I had expected her to be one of those larger-than-life, no-one-messes-with-me-because-I'm-awesome sort of characters, but she isn't. She's flawed and very human, and with all due credit to the writing, McDormand makes her that way, and I don't think anyone could have played her better.

I wish I had more to say about this performance, but that pretty much sums it up. This certainly isn't my favorite movie ever, but it's very well done, and definitely worth watching for Frances McDormand's performance alone; thus, it was a very well-deserved win.

I have to say I'm loving this trend of more middle-aged women winning Best Actress. Half of the last 10 winners have been over the age of 40, compared to just over a quarter of the first 81 winners (and three of those were Katharine Hepburn). This feels like progress to me. I hope the next step is awarding more women of color.

Monday, September 4, 2017

2016: Emma Stone for La La Land

Emma Stone plays a struggling actress who meets a struggling jazz musician, and they sing and dance and pursue their dreams together.

I watched this movie several weeks ago and have been putting off blogging about it because I knew it was going to be very difficult, but I figured I'd better do it before I forget all of my thoughts. Part of me really wishes I'd seen this movie before all the hype and ensuing backlash. I tried not to be too influenced by what people told me and what I saw on the internet, but I probably was. All I heard at first from friends was that it was my kind of movie and I would definitely love it. Then several of my family members saw it and said I would hate it. My actual reaction was somewhere in between; I thought it was fine, somewhat entertaining; not great, not terrible. But I'll try to focus on Emma Stone's performance.

One of the main reasons I knew this was going to be hard to blog about is because I love Emma Stone, and I think she's a very talented actress, but this is my least favorite performance I've seen from her. There were a few moments in the film when I thought, Ah, yes, THERE she is, but those were few and far between. Part of it isn't really her fault because I didn't think the character was very well developed, but the performance could definitely have been better. Her singing and dancing were nothing to write home about, although she sounded like the best singer in the world compared to Ryan Gosling. Hers was kind of meh, but his was just offensive. My apologies to Pierce Brosnan for thinking his singing in Mamma Mia was the worst it could get. Anyway, Stone's singing and dancing are okay, but I was under the impression that this was trying to be a throwback to old Hollywood musicals, and in my opinion it failed miserably. No one could possibly compare Ryan and Emma to Fred and Ginger except ironically. And Fred and Ginger weren't even that great at singing, but their dancing more than made up for it. That was not the case here. I might have overlooked the lack of musical talent if the love story had been executed well, but alas, even that was disappointing. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling had amazing chemistry in Crazy, Stupid Love, but somehow that all disappeared in La La Land. I did not find their love story at all believable.

Nothing against either actor, because I know they are very talented, but personally, I think both Stone and Gosling were miscast in this movie. It could have worked so much better if the leads had been two unknowns with a lot of musical talent, instead of two established stars who can barely hold a tune. Not only would this have made the musical numbers much more effective, but it would have had the added bonus of erasing the inevitability of their success. Of course Emma Stone is going to make it in Hollywood; she's Emma Stone! Random lady I've never seen before with a surprisingly great voice, on the other hand; she's probably going to succeed because it feels like a happy movie, but there's still an element of doubt. I feel like that would have made the story so much more exciting, rather than "Blah Blah Bland," as my sister refers to this movie.

Again, I want to emphasize that I did not hate this movie, and I still love Emma Stone. I just think the movie as a whole, and the leading performances in particular, could have been so much better. I probably would have enjoyed the movie more if I'd watched it before it got a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations though. That's just absurd.

Not sure who's going to win for 2017, but hopefully I'll have more positive things to say about that performance. In the meantime, I am very slowly reading and watching the Best Adapted Screenplay winners, so check out that blog if you're curious.

Friday, July 1, 2016


As I watched these, I was also ranking the performances based on how much I thought they deserved the Oscar, which was extremely difficult, but I did my best. I'll be adding each year's winner after I watch it. I tried to rank the performance, not the movie or the actress, but I'm not sure how well I succeeded. Here goes (from worst to best):

91. Mary Pickford for Coquette (1928/1929) Think Lina Lamont in The Dueling Cavalier. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch Singin' in the Rain, but don't bother with this movie.

90. Katharine Hepburn for Morning Glory (1932/1933) Katharine Hepburn before she figured out how to act. Definitely cringe-worthy rather than Oscar-worthy.

89. Bette Davis for Dangerous (1935) Rumor has it that she won to make up for not being nominated the previous year. I think that must be true because this performance is all over the place. Not anywhere near Davis's finest performance.

88. Joan Fontaine for Suspicion (1941) Apparently all you have to do to win an Oscar is look vaguely worried for an hour and a half.

87. Glenda Jackson for Women in Love (1970) This movie is incredibly bizarre and uncomfortable, and Jackson isn't even that important in it. She does some mildly amusing strange dancing, but that's about all.

86. Diane Keaton for Annie Hall (1977) Well, la-di-da, la-di-da, la la. Iconic, but can you quote any of her other lines? This is Woody Allen's film. No one else, not even the title character, gets to shine.

85. Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo (1955) There are a few intriguing aspects of this performance, but it's mostly over-the-top and unrealistic.

84. Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) A couple of decent scenes and one mildly impressive phone call in an interminable movie should not a Best Actress Winner make. Yet it did. And I had to sit through one of the worst Best Picture Winners again. So not worth it.

83. Marie Dressler for Min and Bill (1930/1931) Overall, the performance isn't bad, but she hardly has anything to work with. There's just enough to see her potential and how much it's being wasted, but personally I don't think unfulfilled potential should be the basis of an Oscar win.

82. Bette Davis for Jezebel (1938) Better than her other win, but still far from her best work. If you want to see a Southern belle defying societal restrictions, watch Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind. If you want to see a really good Bette Davis performance, watch All About Eve.

81. Simone Signoret for Room at the Top (1959) Her performance is probably the best aspect of the movie, but that's not saying much.

80. Luise Rainer for The Good Earth (1937) Luise Rainer playing a poor peasant trying to make the most out of life? Yes, absolutely, well done. A German person playing a Chinese person? No. Just no.

79. Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) Maybe if it was someone else I would have ranked this performance slightly higher, but Maggie Smith is better than this and I expected more.

78. Geraldine Page for The Trip to Bountiful (1985) This isn't a bad performance, but nothing really happens in the movie so she didn't have much to do.

77. Emma Stone for La La Land (2016) Emma Stone is great, but this performance is not. Her epic lip sync battle with Jimmy Fallon was more Oscar-worthy than this.

76. Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love (1998) This movie is better than people think, and Paltrow's a better actress than she's given credit for, but I don't feel like she really does that much here. She has some great moments, but not enough to deserve the Oscar.

75. Loretta Young for The Farmer's Daughter (1947) She's really good in the political storyline, and her Swedish accent isn't terrible. If only the performance didn't rely so heavily on her non-existent chemistry with her co-star.

74. Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class (1973) She clearly had fun with the role, and the performance is definitely better than her other win, but there's still not that much to it.

73. Patricia Neal for Hud (1963) If this had won Best Supporting Actress, it probably would be near the top of that list. It's just that she's not in very much of the movie and you kind of forget about her when she's not there, which makes it hard to imagine how anyone thought of this as a leading role.

72. Elizabeth Taylor for BUtterfield 8 (1960) This was one of the hardest performances to rank because it's kind of terrible, but it's also hilarious and I kind of love that it won. So I stuck it here.

71. Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) I love J-Law, but this performance just doesn't stand out, in either the film or her body of work. She should have won for Winter's Bone.

70. Julie Christie for Darling (1965) I think I'm probably unnecessarily hard on this performance because I didn't really understand the movie and I didn't think she should have beat Julie Andrews for The Sound of Music. She had some good scenes, I think, but I'm not sure because I was confused most of the time.

69. Jane Fonda for Coming Home (1978) This performance is mostly pretty good, but it pales in comparison to Jon Voight's, and her character kind of fades from importance in the second half of the movie.

68. Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets (1997) To be fair, I don't think the character could have been played much better, but she's almost completely overshadowed by Jack Nicholson, who steals every scene.

67. Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line (2005) This performance isn't as bad as people say it is. It's actually quite good, but this is definitely more of a Joaquin Phoenix film, and if only one of them could have won an Oscar, it should have unquestionably been him.

66. Jessica Lange for Blue Sky (1994) There's a little too much over-acting, particularly toward the beginning of the film, but the performance definitely improves as the story progresses.

65. Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) I have moved this one so many times; I have no idea how to rank it! I love Kate, I love this movie, but I know too much. She's not acting; she's watching the love of her life give his last performance. If I didn't know anything about her and had watched this for the first time during this project, I probably would have ranked it higher. But I would also be a completely different person. Anyway, I love this performance, but I'm not convinced that it deserved an Oscar, and I had to put it somewhere.

64. Ingrid Bergman for Anastasia (1956) She's surprisingly convincing in the role, and it's not a bad movie. The problem is I've seen way better performances from her, and I've also seen a way more enjoyable version of Anastasia.

63. Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette (1943) She's pretty much perfect for the role and does a great job for most of it. Sadly this movie kept dragging on and on until I got sick of everything in it, including her performance.

62. Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle (1940) This is some of the best dramatic acting I've seen from Ginger Rogers, but I much prefer her in comedies.

61. Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve (1957) This performance is intriguing and unusual, especially for the time period in which it was made. It's not quite believable, but it's close.

60. Greer Garson for Mrs. Miniver (1942) There's nothing bad about this performance; it's just not very exciting. She has a couple of really good scenes. I wanted more.

59. Sophia Loren for Two Women (1961) I think I was too disturbed by this movie to rank the performance any higher than this. My two main complaints are that she was way too young for the role, and that I think the film relies a little too heavily on the shock factor. Spoiler alert: I'm pretty sure she won the Oscar for the gang rape scene.

58. Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) A very believable performance including an unusually realistic mother-son dynamic. Her singing could have been better though.

57. Cher for Moonstruck (1987) One of the few rom com performances to win, so it's a fun change of pace. Her performance isn't that outstanding, and other aspects of the movie are much better, but I still kind of love that she won.

56. Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking (1995) This is a fascinating portrayal of a moral dilemma that Sarandon pulls off remarkably well. However, much as it pains me to admit it, Sean Penn kind of steals the movie.

55. Nicole Kidman for The Hours (2002) I'm not sure how or why this happened, but I'm pretty okay with it. I go into that a lot more in the post, so click the link if you're curious.

54. Kate Winslet for The Reader (2008) It's an intriguing performance that shows some promise, but it leaves me unsatisfied, and there's too much nudity. To quote myself, "I would have preferred to see more acting and less of her."

53. Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce (1945) She makes Mildred a lot more sympathetic and relatable than she could have been, but I think some of the supporting performances are better than hers.
52. Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954) Grace Kelly plays against type, mostly successfully. A couple of scenes could have been better.

51. Janet Gaynor for 7th Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise (1927/1928) This win is almost impossible to compare with the others. It was the first year, so nobody really knew what the Oscars would become. Also no one else ever won this award for a performance in a silent film, let alone for 3 different performances at once. She's very good in all of them, although they're not without flaws, so I tried to keep her near the middle.

50. Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night (1934) This performance basically set the stage for generations of rom com actresses. An argument can be made that the "woman in a romantic comedy" trope has since been improved upon, but without this performance, those might not exist.

49. Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich (2000) On the whole, it's an effective portrayal of an unconventional strong, independent woman. She could have been more convincing in the romantic parts. Or they could have just cut those out.

48. Norma Shearer for The Divorcee (1929/1930) Fascinating pre-code talkie in which Shearer very effectively plays against type. A bit of overacting - and how good other performances are - prevented me from ranking it higher.

47. Faye Dunaway for Network (1976) Satire is difficult to pull off, and for the most part Dunaway does a very good job. In the beginning the performance is a bit lacking, but it picks up a lot of steam by the end.

46. Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God (1986) Kind of the opposite of Faye Dunaway's: in the beginning it's a terrific performance, but it loses some of its heart by the end.

45. Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (1968) It was a good decision to let her re-create her Broadway role, since I don't think the film would be nearly as good with anyone else. It's certainly not the best movie ever, but I don't think that's entirely her fault.

44. Shirley MacLaine for Terms of Endearment (1983) Her character's totally misguided and obnoxious, but man, does she sell it!

43. Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009) She very effectively embodies her character, but she's kind of upstaged by Quinton Aaron and the kid who plays her biological son.

42. Sally Field for Places in the Heart (1984) A strong performance in a beautiful movie, but I think the whole ensemble deserved to be recognized rather than just Field. Hers is by no means the strongest performance here.

41. Liza Minnelli for Cabaret (1972) Fabulous singing, near-flawless embodiment of the character, for the most part. There are a few aspects that could have been better, and she's definitely upstaged by Joel Grey.

40. Katharine Hepburn for On Golden Pond (1981) So fun to watch! The movie focuses more on Henry Fonda, so she doesn't have a whole lot to do, but what she does is delightful.

39. Jessica Tandy for Driving Miss Daisy (1989) Honestly, I think I would have ranked this higher if Morgan Freeman had also won an Oscar. It's the way the two of them play off each other that makes this movie, and I don't think she deserved more recognition than him.

38. Emma Thompson for Howards End (1992) Emma Thompson is so wonderful. This isn't her best performance ever, but it's up there.

37. Halle Berry for Monster's Ball (2001) This movie wasn't nearly as good as I wanted it to be, yet her performance was somehow way better than the whole.

36. Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (2013) A believable portrayal of a complex mental illness, but the movie itself is kind of forgettable, and Blanchett's given much better performances.

35. Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011) It seems like it would be a daunting task to make Margaret Thatcher seem accessible, but Meryl Streep was more than up to it. I mean, it's far from her best performance, but this was better than I was expecting it to be based on what I'd heard.

34. Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday (1953) Audrey Hepburn before she was Audrey Hepburn. Immediately before, since this launched her to instant stardom. With good reason: she certainly had talent. I like her better in some of her later roles, but this is nevertheless extremely impressive.

33. Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday (1950) This gets a lot of hate for beating some iconic performances, but actually watch it before you knock it. I think it's one of the best comedic performances I've ever seen.

32. Jane Fonda for Klute (1971) Equally convincingly strong as vulnerable, Fonda's embodiment of her character is near perfect. I just wish there was more about her and less about Donald Sutherland's character.

31. Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby (2004) I hate this movie so much, but I love the performances. I'm not convinced hers is the best, but it's very impressive.

30. Sally Field for Norma Rae (1979) How well this movie works depends almost exclusively on how the title character is played, and for the most part, Field absolutely nails it.

29. Frances McDormand for Fargo (1996) She's so perfect for this role! If she was in more of the movie, I probably would have ranked this higher, but I feel like it almost belongs in the supporting category, which dropped it down a bit in my estimation.

28. Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose (2007) She successfully faces the challenge of embodying a complex character through several very different stages of life. It's unclear how much the makeup helps, but even so, I'm impressed.

27. Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) She nails every aspect of this emotionally demanding role.

26. Helen Hayes for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931/1932) This heartbreaking movie very effectively demonstrates Hayes's incredible acting skills, making it utterly unsurprising that she was the first woman to win the EGOT.

25. Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own (1946) This performance is actually very similar to Helen Hayes's. I was slightly more intrigued by de Havilland's, so I ranked her slightly higher.

24. Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) I was already sold on her naive-but-determined manner, but watching Loretta Lynn interviews in the DVD extras clinched it for me. Spacek captured her so well!

23. Jodie Foster for The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Okay, so I know everyone associates this movie with Anthony Hopkins, but Foster's performance is probably better than you remember it.

22. Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010) This movie is so weird, but the role seems pretty demanding, and she nails it.

21. Julianne Moore for Still Alice (2014) Since Alzheimer's involves losing your sense of self, it's unclear how Moore manages to maintain such consistency, but it's beautiful. She makes the movie even more heartbreaking than it should be, if that's even possible.
20. Helen Mirren for The Queen (2006) I never question that she's actually the Queen of England, yet I somehow also relate to her? How does Mirren do this?

19. Jodie Foster for The Accused (1988) Emotional yet perfectly controlled, my one complaint is there was no explanation for her out-of-place accent.

18. Brie Larson for Room (2015) Perfect chemistry with the actor who played her son, and expert handling of conflicted emotions. Her performance is so good that I'm genuinely angry that the movie didn't win Best Picture, but she couldn't have done it without that kid.

17. Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter (1968) Hepburn had 4 wins in this category, and this is the only one that even comes close to demonstrating what she was capable of. And she didn't even win it outright!

16. Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) She's amazing in this, but I think she's better in Gone with the Wind.

15. Elizabeth Taylor for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) I don't really like her character, but she makes her utterly believable. No mean feat, considering how bizarre she is.

14. Holly Hunter for The Piano (1993) This performance is unlike any other on the list. She shows essentially no emotion except when she's playing her instrument. Without this choice, the movie would have been completely different, and probably not nearly as effective.

13. Louise Fletcher for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) This stands out in so many ways. One of the few villain performances to win the award, one of the most iconically chilling performances of all time, pretty much the only thing Louise Fletcher is known for...basically, this Oscar was thoroughly deserved.

12. Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins (1964) We all knew this had to be high on my list. Julie Andrews gets her sweet revenge for being overlooked in My Fair Lady, becomes a movie star overnight, and leaves us with one of the most beautiful, beloved performances of all time. So much win.

11. Susan Hayward for I Want to Live! (1958) I put this higher than I think most people would simply because I wasn't expecting much and it shocked me.

10. Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) Another one that I didn't have high expectations for that then blew me away. It's not the most exciting performance, but it feels very genuine.

9. Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda (1948) For this film to work at all, Wyman's character needed to be sympathetic and realistic, and she pulls both off splendidly. You never question that she can't hear, or that the townspeople are absolutely wrong about her.

8. Kathy Bates for Misery (1990) I'm used to Kathy Bates being sassy and likeable, so I'm thoroughly impressed with how utterly terrifying she manages to become in this movie. I will never think of her the same way again.

7. Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight (1944) This is one of my favorite movies, almost exclusively because of Bergman's performance. I can't even begin to describe how good she is in a way that would remotely do it justice.

6. Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress (1949) I don't want to give her sole credit for this movie, but at the same time I think it could have easily been pretty terrible if her role had been approached in a typical fashion. She brings something indescribable to it that thoroughly earned her the Oscar.

5. Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker (1962) She could have so easily been upstaged by Patty Duke, but she wasn't. I found that extraordinary.

4. Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry (1999) This is an extremely emotionally demanding role, and she is 100% convincing.

3. Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind (1939) FOUR HOURS. Vivien Leigh completely and perfectly embodies this rich, complex, flawed, layered character for FOUR FREAKING HOURS' worth of movie.

2. Meryl Streep for Sophie's Choice (1982) The best performance from the best film actress of our time. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it's not. I was convinced nothing could top this, until I got to 2003.

1. Charlize Theron for Monster (2003) Charlize Theron is utterly unrecognizable in this movie, and not just because of the makeup. It legitimately freaks me out how amazingly she embodies this character. If a better performance exists, I'm not sure I want to see it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

2015: Brie Larson for Room

In this profoundly disturbing film, Brie Larson portrays a woman who was abducted as a teenager and has been confined to a small shed ever since. Her 5-year-old son, Jack, was born in this shed and has never left it, and thus believes that nothing is real outside of this small space, which they refer to as Room. She doesn't want to confuse him by attempting to explain the truth, but then she begins to realize that if she's ever going to escape from Room, she's going to need Jack's help.

My immediate reaction upon watching this movie is shock, and not just because of the subject matter. I cannot even fathom how anyone could have considered Spotlight to be a better movie than Room. This was absolutely more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar. Both films told interesting stories, but this had a much better execution in so many ways. However, before I go too far off on a tangent, I'm going to bring this back to Larson's performance; after all, that's why I'm here.

In order to give a deep, thorough analysis of this performance I'd probably need to watch the movie a couple more times, but I don't think I have that in me. It's an unusual Best Actress winning performance because, while she plays one of the two main characters and is in almost every scene, she's not the main focus. The story is mostly from Jack's perspective, and Jacob Tremblay does such a good job of portraying him that it was tempting to just watch him the whole time. Seriously, I think that kid deserved an Oscar. But that's not to say that Larson didn't. If anything, the fact that the story was from his perspective makes her character more difficult to portray. We as the adult audience who live in the outside world understand what's really happened to her, but we need to be able to see her through the eyes of a small child who believes that she is the only other real person to exist. Larson pulls this off spectacularly. She puts on a brave face for her son in order to convince him that their life is normal, and she does it so well that she almost convinces us, yet there are always hints of the pain and suffering she's experienced, just below the surface. It is entirely believable that she has been enduring abuse for many years. Her incredible chemistry with Tremblay further convinces us that the two of them really have lived in Room together for his entire life. It all seems so real.

Now I'm going to get a bit spoiler-y, so if you haven't seen this movie you might want to skip this paragraph. While I was impressed with her performance at the beginning, as the situation was being established, I became even more so as the story progressed. Her increasing desperation as she develops a new escape plan becomes more and more difficult to hide from Jack, and her struggle to explain his role to him without completely freaking out is brilliantly executed. Then when they do escape, she thinks she should be happy, but finds that she is utterly overwhelmed trying to process what happened. Her entire attitude and demeanor is completely different in the second half of the movie, when she no longer has to focus on trying to escape. This shift could have easily been either too dramatic or too subtle, but she makes it very believable.

Basically, Brie Larson completely embodies this complex character. She clearly understands who this woman is and what she's gone through, and she also understands how her son sees her, and thus is able to convey both perspectives to the audience extremely effectively. To me, that's what makes this performance Oscar-worthy.

So far, this is Larson's only Oscar nomination, but she's still pretty young, and if this performance is any indication, it will almost certainly not be her last.

And now I'm finally all caught up! I've been attempting to rank these as I watched them, so I'll probably be posting that list pretty soon. I also plan to continue adding to this every year like I've done with my Best Picture blog, and I might try to tackle another Oscar category or some other movie-watching related blogging project in the near future, so stay tuned for that, loyal readers. All 3 of you. This has been a much more interesting project than watching the Best Picture Winners (I mean, that was pretty interesting, too, but I got really sick of long, depressing war epics by the end). I'm thinking maybe another acting category or a writing category next, but we'll see.

Monday, February 22, 2016

2014: Julianne Moore for Still Alice

In what is currently the most recent Best Actress winner (for the next 6 days), Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor who, at the age of 50, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

This is a truly heartbreaking story that is made even more so by Moore's incredibly believable and relatable performance. Probably the most demanding, and consequently the most impressive, aspect is the portrayal of the progression of the disease. When the film begins, she's only just started to notice symptoms, and by the end, she's barely there at all. Given that she's playing a character who is literally losing her mind, some overacting would probably be forgivable, but I didn't notice any. The progression seems very real and natural and not at all forced. Toward the beginning, there are a lot more scenes when she's struggling to find her memories, whereas later on she no longer realizes that she's forgetting things. This is brilliantly executed, and she does a fabulous job of conveying her state of mind to the audience at every moment. Julianne Moore has very convincing confused and unfocused expressions, so we can always tell when she knows what's going on versus when she's not quite sure versus when she has no clue.

Though we don't see Alice before her symptoms begin, Moore clearly understands who she is, which enables her to show us the person and not just the disease. She is losing her memories and her sense of self, but that wouldn't be nearly as tragic if she didn't seem so real. Moore manages to make her accessible to everyone while still believably struggling with a disease that most of us don't have, and that has to be what earned her the Oscar and so many other awards for this performance.

Julianne Moore received her first Oscar nomination for her supporting role in 1997's Boogie Nights. She received her first leading role nomination for 1999's The End of the Affair. She was nominated for both a leading and a supporting Oscar for 2002 films: leading for Far from Heaven, and supporting for The Hours, for which Nicole Kidman won Best Actress. She then went 12 years without a nomination before winning for Still Alice. I think pretty much everyone knew that she was going to win this one, partly in recognition for past work and partly because she did such a great job.

One thing I noticed that I must point out: this was the fifth year in a row that the Best Actress winning character had some sort of mental illness. Is this because actresses these days are particularly good at portraying mental illness, or because such roles seem more difficult and thus stand out more, or for some other reason, or just a coincidence? I don't know, but I still think it's interesting.

Next up will either be the second win in this category for Cate Blanchett or Jennifer Lawrence, or the first win for Brie Larson, Charlotte Rampling, or Saoirse Ronan. We'll find out this Sunday night!