Friday, January 8, 2016

1996: Frances McDormand for Fargo

I don't want to say too much about the plot of this movie in case anyone's reading this who hasn't seen it, since you kind of just have to watch it unfold. Without giving too much away, McDormand plays Marge Gunderson, a police officer from Brainerd, MN in charge of investigating a vicious crime.

This is a very strange but fascinating film, as Coen brothers films tend to be (although you may recall that I didn't think much of their Best Picture Winning film), and I personally think that Frances McDormand is hands down the best aspect of it. Hers is definitely the best character, and she is absolutely perfect for the role. My favorite thing about her performance is the way she delivers her lines. She possesses the incredible talent of making moderately funny lines hilarious, and lines that were already hilarious even more so. In addition to using her voice well, she also has some priceless facial expressions when reacting to what other people are saying, so she's very funny even when she isn't speaking. I pretty much laugh at everything she does, except of course for her few serious moments, which are also incredibly well done. It's rare that the Academy recognizes comedic performances, but this one is so good that they kind of had to.

My one complaint is that she is not in nearly enough of this movie. She doesn't even show up until over 30 minutes into it, and it's not a very long movie. Then even after her character is introduced we have to keep going back to William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, both of whom also do a very good job but neither of whom is anywhere near as fun to watch as Frances McDormand is. I kind of feel like her role is right on the leading/supporting border, and I'd be tempted to say her Oscar was for the wrong category if she didn't just completely dominate the movie the way she does. The first half hour, when you think the movie's all about Macy and Buscemi, turns into merely the setup to introduce us to McDormand. So though I feel like the movie would have been better if she'd been in every scene, what she does with the limited screen time she has is more than enough to establish hers as a leading role.

McDormand is in a lot of Coen brothers films, probably helped by the fact that she's married to one of them. This makes her the first, and so far only, person to win a Best Actress Oscar for a role directed by her spouse. Though it seems pretty obvious that she got this role because of her relationship with the director, I don't think they could have found a better Marge Gunderson if they'd tried.

Although this is McDormand's only nomination in this category, she's been nominated three times for Best Supporting Actress: for 1988's Mississippi Burning, 2000's Almost Famous, and 2005's North Country.

Next up: Helen Hunt

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