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« Steven Soderbergh's Comeback | Main | Interview: That Neon-Loving Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn »
Wednesday
Jul062016

Visual Index: Working Girl's Best Shot(s)

Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Working Girl (1988)
Director: Mike Nichols
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus

I wasn't fair to Working Girl in 1988. When it won the reader poll easily for coverage here on Best Shot, the old grudge flared up again. 'Why do people love this movie so much?' I thought. You see the Oscar race is often distorting. In 1988 Working Girl was a last minute disrupter with its Christmas bow, and I never forgave it for costing Bull Durham, Running on Empty, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit major nominations and prizes. There's no proof of course that it did -- but I believed it wholeheartedly.

But watching the film again, away from that distorting horse race, I could enjoy it fully without name-checking those films I held more dear. There's so much to enjoy all told. "It plays," as they say. It plays beautifully. Now don't get me wrong. I still wouldn't have nominated it for six Oscars. Six! But let's not return to the grudge and let's enjoy this mainstream bullseye and the cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, one of the cinema's greatest DPs. He's 80 now and still doesn't have an Oscar. He should be near the very top of Oscar's list for an Honorary.

See Nathaniel's 3 favorite shots and other Best Shot choices 'round the web after the jump...

Bronze Medal: And this is where I lose all of you. I don't totally love Sigourney Weaver's broad comedy in this movie as alpha businesswoman Katharine Parker. At least not in the way you're supposed to. My heart belongs to the unexpected sidebar wackiness of Joan Cusack (one of my favorite Oscar nomination morning surprises ever). But I totally love this image which sums up the central dynamic of Tess as underdog and underling to the intimidating Katharine who dominates every scene in which she appears. Even this one that she's not in. It's a perfect production design moment that these Warhol knockoffs remind us that in her own way, Katharine is just as much of a poseur as Tess... and maybe her taste level isn't much different either, deep down. 

 

Silver Medal: Look at that soft light, imbueing this scene with such palpable but non-carnal romanticism. Then consider that this is not a date but a late night business meeting that's all about numbers. It's a beautifully subtle rendering of the growing romance between Tess (Oscar-nominated Melanie Griffith) and Jack (Harrison Ford in maximum charm mode) and also the growing romance between Tess and her dream profession. Too few movies outside of biopics really sell the joy of chosen professions and personal fulfillment of work. But this one does - that's a saving grace since it's called Working Girl.

Gold Medal "Best Shot": It's not every movie that aces those non-story cliche montages where you see a character moping about pre-climax when all hope seems lost. But the best word I can use to describe this particular shot from Ballhaus is "soulful". It's true that it's not EXCITING per se, but it's just what the film needs. And soulful describes the movie, too, which is why it's endured. It'd be a pretty standard romantic/workplace comedy, were it not for the soul that the actors and the filmmaking team are always bringing to cliches and predictable arcs. I honor this shot for its simple composition and melancholy beauty but that's not all. The shot also empathetically takes us right back to the film's perfect opening sequence ("Let the River Run" is a great Oscar winner for Best Song) aboard the Staten Island Ferry reminding us of Tess's humble origins and how far she's come. But the look on her face and the dusk light, reminds us how easily she could fall back to old routines, and right back to where she started.

OTHER BEST SHOT CHOICES

Click on any of these 6 additional images to be taken to the corresponding 7 articles from these fine movie lovers. If you'd like to join us, next Tuesday's film is the flirtatious and funny classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) now streaming on Netflix. Pick a shot, publish it, and we'll link up.

 

Peggy Sue's Working Girl Tweets

What fascinating characters they are...
-Film Actually


And this is why I don't want an office job...
-Allison Tooey 

Tess is clearly trying her best to imitate her boss... 
- Sorta That Guy 


The difference between Katherine and Tess is razor-thin, and hinges on one thing and one thing only: Tess's status as underdog...
-Dancin' Dan on Film

You can see why Working Girl was a hit in its day – its emotional arc satisfies like a machine built to crank out warm fuzzies...
-Film Mix Tape

The idealist in me sees this final shot before the credits and rejoices... 
-Jeff Marshall

 

What's next? Check out the full July schedule

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Reader Comments (32)

That's a beautiful shot. Ballhaus and Mike Nichols knew their stuff.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

It is an interesting choice for Hit Me With Your Best Shot. But I guess it is staged to get the maximum out of the material - classical, non-groundbreaking but witty.

Nathaniel: I agree with you about Weaver's performance. I think she's fine, but it's not quite the exuberant, eye-catching performance that would have made the movie. I did feel for Weaver when she didn't win the Oscar - she had two nominations that year, and had won two Golden Globes, and was the only nominee who had also got Globe recognition, so she was the runaway favourite. But I would have given the Oscar to Joan Cusack (and it's so great that the Academy noninated her).

As for 'Let the River Run': it's one of my favourite Original Song winners, and it is used brilliantly in the film. Indeed, the film's opening sequence contains a number of great shots - so all credit to Nichols and Ballhaus for how they film this New York story.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I'm so glad that you have come around!

I love this movie with all my heart. Love it. Works for me and as an actressexual fest and as a time capsule (the hairdos, the shoulder-pads) although somehow the subject matter is even more significant now than it was in the 80s. We're all Tess, fighting not to get crushed by the 1%.

P.S. First time I visited NY, I took the ferry and listened Let the River Run on my walk-man. I'm THAT corny.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

'working girl' provides the best quote for when you're feeling good about yourself :

"...and i am, after all, me"

and also when you're not:

"sometimes i sing and dance around the house in my underwear; doesn't make me madonna, never will"

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Oh, yes! Joan Cusack's nod was somehow a miracle. Totally deserved. There should always be a slot reserved for true scene-stealers in the supporting categories.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

par -- The Madonna quote was Joan's Oscar clip.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I really luv luv the song Let the River Runs!! It really lifts you up!! Griffith has never been better! but 1988 is a TOUGH year for best actresses!! Its sad that she never get a plum juicy role after WG

I disagreed that Weaver is serviceable here, IMO, she shld have really won the best sup Oscar!!! She NAILED that bitch role! Period. Its a shame she never get nom again (hope it will change soon).....

Geena's win is a HUGE upset considering her role borders on irritating....

I agreed Joan Cusack's nom is such a joy

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I love this movie so much - and I particularly love Melanie Griffith - one can make fun of her now 'till the cows come home, but back then she was a knockout, acting-wise and look-wise.
Love those gigantic 80s glasses on her!
Love her 80s hair in all its hideousness!
Love the chemistry she has with Harrison Ford.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I love Working Girl. It's totally The Devil Wears Prada of the '80s.
Sigourney Weaver DESERVES to win the Oscar for this role. So charismatic and evil.
Melanie Griffith was so promising. Now seems like a total waste.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Really wanted to contribute but was having computer issues:

https://www.facebook.com/jeffmarshallmovieblogger/posts/253536471692026:0

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

I loved this film at the time and agree completely with Craver that WG was TDWP of it's day.

I like the range of shots here, and I'm glad that Nathaniel chose one from the ferry - lots of great shots of commuters that created the vibe of the film.

My other favourite is that shot of Sigourney Weaver casually trying on her ski boots while chatting to Tess. (Sorta that Guy) It's a great scene that gives us the comic potential of the clunky boots while wearing 80's business attire. (a great juxtaposition)
As well, skiing is a sport that opens up the class divide between Tess & Katherine.
Mike Nichols at his subtle and incisive best.
I still wish that Weaver had won the Oscar.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I'm glad your attitude has evolved about Working Girl. It occupies a special place in my heart. It's the first movie that I can remember looking at the ad in the paper and wanting to know more about the actresses. It was one of the first movies I bought for myself when I decided to start collecting supporting actress movies - a hobby that, unfortunately, didn't last long.
And it's the one that I watched a dozen times because, as you say, it just really plays.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I loved this movie and saw it three times in the theater because, at that time, I WAS Tess. One of my fav scenes is when Tess picks up Katherine at the heliport and is tossed the huge stuffed gorilla. Ode to Weaver's role as Dian Fossey and a bit of an Easter egg for fans of Sigourney.

Best line--"...head for business, bod for sin"

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Pam -- totally. i remember laughing hard at that because i had read somewhere that the Academy members were inundated with gifts that year from the studios and someone was complained about a giant stuffed gorilla they'd received. haha.

July 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I also love this movie but I do not get the love for Griffith. She's...fine? I just find her whole mumble-mouthed presence to be underwhelming. Sure, there is something about her that makes you want to root for her, but that's good casting, not necessarily a Great Performance.

And I love that Cusak Oscar nom so, so much.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Man, I think Sigourney Weaver is the best part of this film. More than a stock "bitch," she hilariously portrays the disposition of someone who's a master of the absurd tricks and rituals late capitalism makes one conjure up -- tricks and rituals that Tess spends the rest of the film playing as an amateur. The scene where Katharine switches to fake German charm on the phone is particularly funny, and wouldn't have worked for most actresses. And she almost makes it convincing when she tries to convince Tess she didn't really try to steal her idea. She's almost absurdly conniving -- but there's a real person there.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

I LOVE that shot with the Statue of Liberty in the background. So gorgeous. I was really impressed with the movie, too, especially by how easy it was to have multiple readings of it. Lots of layers that I wasn't expecting!

Part of me really wanted to choose the shot of Harrison Ford at the wedding downing that giant fruity drink, because it is HILARIOUS, but I just couldn't do it.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

My favourite line: "Can I get you anything, Mr. Trainer? Coffee? Tea? Me?"

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Edward - I always love the next time they use the line too - "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?..." shakes head.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Lewis

I LOVE this movie and have very fond memories of how I felt leaving the cinema when I saw it in early 1989 (it opened later in Australia). It has stayed with me and reminds me so much of my life at that time, where I was, who I watched it with etc. It takes a special film to bring back those memories

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRich

DjDeeDay -- i feel the same way about Griffith. I was never a fan of her acting though I understand why people like this one -- it's easily her best performance (though i have not seen Something Wild which i always hear good things about). But really the best Actress nom was very generous. Consider who had to be left out:

SARANDON - Bull Durham (her all time best performance, I'd argue)
LAHTI - Running on Empty (heartbreaking)
PFEIFFER - Married to the Mob (funny and charming and so wildly different than what she'd previously done)
MAURA - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (perfection)

July 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A real crown pleasing movie in a every way- I'm surprise nobody picked a shot with the hot young Alec Baldwin

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

"...the hot young Alec Baldwin..."

This is the first thing (besides that gif of Harrison Ford up at the top left of my screen) to ever arouse the slightest interest from me in this movie....and I'm a card-carrying actressexual...

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Nathaniel you haven't seen Something Wild?!
are you fucking kidding me? She's fucking amazing in that movie!
Love Melanie Griffith of the 80s and early 90s.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

At least someone mentioned Alec Baldwin! That shot of him in bed all hairy and hot was the stuff of my wet dreams for a while.

July 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

Oh damn it. Work has been so busy lately I missed this one :/

July 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersati

Love this movie. Some of my favorite lines:

"$6,000! It's not even leather!"
"You...read W?"
"And call me Katharine." (So bitchy.)

July 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

My fav line:

Tess turning down the marriage proposal from her cheating yet persistent boyfren (played by a super hot & young A Baldwin!!)

U wanna another answer?? Ask another girl.........(Precious!!!)

& when Katharine was exposed and ordered to leave the office..."Get yo bony ass outta here!!!" lol

July 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

"Dim sum....I like it, Tess."

July 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

This is one of those movies that I will always watch when it's on TV.

I do love that Sigourney Weavers managed to get Oscar nominated for a comedy and for a sci-fi/action film ("Aliens"), considering both are genres that don't always get noticed for their acting.

July 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

I believe that Sigourney has the sad distinction of being the first person double nominated in one year, and didn't win either award. I'm pretty sure all of the ones before won in Supporting and not Lead too.

Love this movie, too, as it was the second of two Movie (not really) dates with the Guy Who Got Away, back in College. (The other movie was "Look Who's Talking".

Lots of great quotes, fabulous 80's style, and a witty fun sharp screenplay that crackles.

And yes, Nathaniel, you should check out "Something Wild". It kind of has ALL of the genres, even porn! No, really!

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

I thought WG was an enjoyable rom-com with very good performances from Griffith, Weaver and Cusack. But the real winner of the whole movie was the glorious soundtrack and the Oscar winning song 'Let the river run' by Carly Simon.
Did it deserve Best Picture or Director Oscar noms? Hell no. But this was the year when they awarded the 2 biggest Oscars to the god awful Rain Man.

This was the year that ALL the Best Pic nominees went to films released in December - and the outcry over films released earlier not getting a chance.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

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