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Entries in Best Actress (375)

Friday
Jun242016

Olivia @ 100: The Heiress

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Tim...

Olivia de Havilland is more than a living link to the Golden Age of Hollywood, more than a gorgeous movie star, more than a two-time Oscar winner. She's one of the most significant figures in the history of the American film industry: the woman who broke the back of the studio contract system when she successfully sued Warner Bros. for career independence in 1943. As Hollywood's first independent movie star since the silent era, de Havilland was suddenly in a position to make all of her own creative decisions, leading to a string of challenging dramatic roles that didn't simply trade on her good looks and holy innocent persona.

Both of de Havilland's Oscar wins came about thanks to this period of chasing her own projects, and the second of these performances, in 1949's The Heiress, is a particularly fine example of the movie star as Serious Actress. Based on a play adapted from a Henry James novel, The Heiress tells a straightforward enough melodrama: in 1840s New York, a woman with an annual income of $10,000 from her mother's will and another $30,000 to come when her father passes. A painfully shy, relatively homely women crawling up in years, she falls for the first man who pays her any attention, and he of course turns out to be a craven gold-digger. When her father threatens her with disinheritance the cad leaves, giving her plenty of years to grow good and bitter.

What enlivens this material is, in large part, the exemplary casting of the four main characters: de Havilland as the naïve heiress, Ralph Richardson as her father, Montgomery Clift as her shiftless lover, and Miriam Hopkins as her spinster aunt, unhelpfully projecting her own romantic visions onto the young lady. That's a lot of acting power, and having such great scene partners helped to raise de Havilland's own game, allowing her to have more complicated, and much darker, reactions that most of what she'd been able to achieve in the years prior to that.

She's great at playing a wallflower, in the second film in two years (following The Snake Pit) where she de-glammed herself for Art and Oscars. De Havilland can only look so ugly, even with the hair and make-up department raising her hairline almost to the top of her head, but the actress sells herself as a plain, awkward frump by constantly shrinking herself inwards, hunching down, delivering all of her lines a little bit too quietly and with nervous pauses. But she's even better in the last third of the movie, when she's playing the cold fury of a scorned romantic: there's a deep revulsion burned into her eyes and voice, giving the material its necessarily outraged finale. Without her fury, The Heiress is a handsome soap opera; with her, it becomes a dark tragedy.

For a performer who'll always forever be linked with the fairytale saint Melanie from Gone with the Wind, the haggard look on de Havilland's face and the raw pain in her voice are uniquely shocking and potent. It's as self-effacing as any star turn in the 1940s, and it's an achievement that could only come about in the brave new era of self-directed acting careers that de Havilland herself helped to create.

Previously: The Dark Mirror (1946), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and It's Love I'm After (1937)

Friday
Jun242016

Jessica's Long Journey to that Triple Crown

With only three performances remaining in Broadway's Long Day's Journey Into Night which closes this Sunday, here's Eric to talk Jessica Lange's long and awards-full career.

Jessica Lange recently became the 22nd actor to complete the official Triple Crown of Acting (performers who have won competitive Oscar, Tony, and Emmy Awards - full list prior to Jessica).  It’s an exciting moment in time, as winning the big three isn’t easy. 

Ten of her Triple Crown peers are still alive and all working to one degree or another:  Rita Moreno, Jeremy Irons, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith, Al Pacino, Geoffrey Rush, Ellen Burstyn, Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, and Frances McDormand.  All of these actors have had decades-long success and still get enough offers for splashy roles that it’s not inconceivable that almost any of them could win another late-career major award.

As it stands, of all the 22 current Triple Crown winners, nobody has amassed more than six total competitive awards across the three fields of film, television, and theater.  The folks with six are Ingrid Bergman (3 Oscars, 2 Emmys; 1 Tony); Shirley Booth (1 Oscar, 2 Emmys, 3 Tonys); Maggie Smith (2 Oscars, 3 Emmys, 1 Tony); Helen Mirren (1 Oscar, 4 Emmys, 1 Tony), and now Jessica Lange (2 Oscars, 3 Emmys, 1 Tony like Dame Maggie).  At this point, Mirren and Lange, only three years apart (they’re 70 and 67, respectively) would break this (granted silly) awards record if they were to win one more of the Big Three prizes.   

Now, on to Jessica's own 'Long Journey' to this triumph...

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Thursday
Jun232016

Happy Birthday, Frances McDormand

Kieran, here. There are certain actors whose absence would create a huge void in cinema. It’s not always the movie stars, despite their merits. It’s often the character actors. The beautiful, interesting, wholly human faces that populate our films, only semi-regularly leaping forward to truly headline a vehicle, but still remaining a vital part of the movies we love. Few actors working today embody this more fully than the wondrously versatile, endlessly watchable Frances McDormand whose entry into the world we celebrate today.

What’s your favorite Frances McDormand performance? Okay...that’s a rhetorical question. We all know what it is. But her filmography is diverse and fascinating to explore, who what's your #2?

Frances McDormand’s 5 Best Movie Performances

 5. Burn After Reading (2008)
Broad, but undeniably funny and completely understanding the tone of the vehicle. Mileage varies in terms of McDormand’s many outings with the Coen Brothers, but it’s almost never uninteresting... 

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Monday
Jun202016

Olivia @ 100: The Dark Mirror

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Jason...

I'm proud of my fellow Film Experience members Dan and Josh for keeping their focus on the films so far in this series, but it seems kind of impossible to talk about Olivia de Havilland's 1946 thriller The Dark Mirror, which has her playing good and evil twins, without diving into the gossipy froth of her legendary lifetime rivalry with sister Joan Fontaine. The Dark Mirror sits somewhere between an exorcism and a single-gloved slap-fight - Fight Club via Film Noir. It offered Olivia the chance to play versions of both her and her sister's popular images, exaggerated and unloosed upon one another.

In a 2015 Time magazine piece on the sisters' feud it's said that Olivia was known for playing "pretty and charming, naïve" (like Melanie in Gone With the Wind) while Joan's roles were more "moody, intuitive and emotional." (Think the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca.) Those broad descriptions fit the broad characters of Terry and Ruth Collins to a tee -- one's a suspected murderess, coarse and vulgar but forthright, while the other is noble and suffering do-gooder who seems to be allowing her sister to walk all over her and orchestrate a cover-up. But which is which (and who'll win that damn Oscar???)

To her profound credit de Havilland clearly relishes tearing into both roles and complicates the "good" and "bad" aspects of both women every chance that she gets - the real tragedy by the film's end is seeing what made the two women so unique begin to dissolve away, swap out. Early on, showing exquisite control over her body language and voice, de Havilland manages to make it clear which sister is which even beyond the aid of the oft black/white costuming.

But even more impressively as the film progresses and the sisters start playing each other she makes Ruth-by-Terry and Terry-by-Ruth their own creations, allowing each sisters' perspective on the other poke out from underneath. We can always tell who's in control... 

...until we can't. Not to spoil anything but there is a moment where the mirror cracks and the film upends our understanding of who's who and who's doing what, the violence of the moment hinging entirely on de Havilland's performance, and it's a corker. And sure, I can only conjecture, but it seems that this sort of performance-playing with public versus private personae might've been informed by being one-half of an Oscar-winning sister duo bobbing along on the top of the world. And come with the scars to prove it.

Friday
Jun172016

Top of the Lake's Silver Through-Line

As you have undoubtedly heard since it was announced on the internet about 1,000 different times over the course of about six months (as if each meeting was the official official, 'no really official this time!' news, Nicole Kidman will co-star in Top of the Lake season 2 (with Elisabeth Moss returning to her leading role) . It's her first reunion with her Portrait of a Lady director Jane Campion from back before she was fully NICOLE KIDMAN but basically getting there if you know what I mean.

What we didn't know until now is that she will be sporting Jane Campion's favorite hair color just like Holly Hunter did in Season 1 way back in 2013...

Nicole Kidman in Top of the Lake (S2)Jane Campion and Holly Hunter on the set of Top of the Lake (S1)

Can this be a thing for each season? A gorgeous Oscar winning actress suddenly sporting grey hair even though she's only in her mid 40s to mid 50s? Why should men get all the silver fox action? 

Let's pray for Top of the Lake to be renewed in perpetuity (that first season was straight up amazing) and even though they're slow with them -- once every three years? weird, but okay -- might we suggest: 

Season 3 (2019) Juliette Binoche at 55
Season 4 (2022) Gwyneth Paltrow at 49
Season 5 (2025) Cate Blanchett at 56
Season 6 (2028) Anne Hathaway at 46 
Season 7 (2031) Anna Paquin at 49 (Piano reunion!)
Season 8 (2034) Kirsten Dunst at 52 (we'll just assume she's won the Oscar by then, shut up!)
Season 9 (2037) Alicia Vikander at 49
Season 10 (2040) Elle Fanning at 42 (see: Dunst reasoning)

Sorry. I'll stop now! 

Friday
Jun172016

Emmy FYC: Best Actress, Comedy - Gillian Jacobs in "Love"

We're sharing Emmy FYCs as nomination balloting continues. Here's guest contributor Sean Donovan...

When Gillian Jacobs angrily shouts “Surprise! I’m not the cool girl!” to her semi-boyfriend Gus (Paul Rust) on Netflix’s comedy series Love, she is speaking as an actress in Hollywood just as much as she is in character as Mickey. Jacobs was introduced to most viewers as “the cool girl,” Britta in the cult hit Community, initially serving the role of a fantasy love interest: a gorgeous twenty-something with just enough problems to appear “complicated,” but not in any especially strenuous or taxing capacity for male viewers. The cool girl who’s fun at parties, has great taste in everything, and is just chill. She’s not like those other girls!

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Wednesday
Jun152016

A Post-Script Thank You for Broadway's Diversity

I'm finally seeing Hamilton tonight so allow me this theater diversion before we get back to the Emmys and summer movies!

Though the Tony Awards were celebrated for their diversity Sunday night, I knew this sort of thing would crop up afterwards. A site called The Conversation wonders if the diversity of Broadway is overstated. It's an interesting piece with valuable stats even if it seems odd to pursue that impulse in such a strong year for theatrical diversity. Leading up to the Tony Awards I saw a few other articles suggesting that Hamilton was distorting the public perspective about this as well. It's true that Shuffle Along, Hamilton, The Color Purple, and Eclipsed, all nominated popular shows featuring all black casts (and in Hamilton's case latina, black, and asian actors), happened to fall in the same season which is not entirely usual. And, as with cinema, we still have the issue of people thinking of diversity in a binary way (black & white) which is a problem.

But before we give in to negative thoughts (wayyyy too easy), let's give Broadway its due. It is far more diverse than other showbiz mediums and not just this season. Let's take Best Actress in a Play/Musical as an example. One leading actress winner in the 89 year history of the Oscars has been a woman of color - Halle Berry in Monster's Ball (2001) and three leading actress winners in the 67 year history of the Emmys (regular series awards): Viola Davis in How To Get Away with Murder (drama), Isabel Sanford for The Jeffersons (comedy) and America Ferrera in Ugly Betty (comedy).

more after the jump...

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