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Entries in Best Actress (210)

Thursday
May222014

Throwback Thursday FYC: Diahann Carroll in Claudine (1974)

The Film Experience time travels so consistently between the now, the future, the distant past and the recent past that Throwback Thursday, that grand internet tradition, hasn't meant much. But then I chanced upon this old FYC and a lightbulb appeared reflecting off my bald head "Throwback Thursday... The Oscar Campaigns"

Diahann Carroll in Claudine (1974)

click to enlarge

Diahann, deglamming to play a welfare mother in Harlem as MANY of the critical blurbs highlights, lost the Oscar to Ellen Burstyn in one of the all time greatest Best Actress rosters. The blurbs are interesting time capsules, both in the tell tale signs of 'this is still what people like for "bests" and in uniquely "holy hell" ways. Consider this provocative bit from the Gannett Syndicate:

...the first three dimensional portrait of a black woman."

I'm sure that Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson, both nominated two years prior would not approve! But it just goes to show you how deeply entrenched the problems were (and sadly still are) for actresses of color in terms of which films get made and what kind of roles are offered. The movies have made some progress, yes, but that we're still fighting this fight when we've got actresses as gifted as Viola, Lupita, Audra McDonaldAnikaAdepero, Kimberly Elise, and Emeyatzy Corinealdi available to us is, shall we say, maddening. 

Have you seen Claudine? Unfortunately it's on "very long wait" status at Netflix. (sigh)

Wednesday
May212014

Cannes Monologue: Certified Copy

Andrew with another Cannes-themed monologue… 

At 50 Juliette Binoche remains one of the cinema’s finest actors – excellent in multiple languages. Though her time in Godzilla (now playing) is short, we can look forward to much more in Words and Pictures and Cannes entry Clouds of Sils Maris, the latter written specifically for her. Can Olivier Assayas film capture as many of her finest assetts as her Cannes winning turn in Certified Copy (2010)?

 

Certified Copy, my favourite of the decade (thus far), is remembered most often for its cerebral nature, a puzzle we must solve. Yes, much of it is rumination on theory but it's theory with passion and feeling. For all of its technical and intellectual merit, it’s also a love letter to Binoche from writer/director Abbas Kiarostami. 

Given it’s musings on what’s real and what’s a copy, Elle (Binoche’s character) might not quite qualify as a “real” woman - her name literally translates as “She” – as much as a platform for Kiarostami and Binoche to examine temperaments, hers change at the drop of hat, and ideas. The film makes you work but is all the more rewarding for it. Late in the movie, Elle and James head to quaint restaurant. They are no longer an affable writer and beleaguered fan they were at first but a beleaguered married couple.

She heads to the bathroom to put on lipstick and a pair of earrings. When she returns he doesn’t notice, too annoyed with the subpar wine. She tries to quell his moodiness. [More...]

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Tuesday
May132014

Cannes Monologue: Secrets and Lies

Andrew with a Cannes edition of our monologue series...

The 2014 Cannes Film Festival begins tomorrow and The Film Experience is doing its part to keep things Cannes focused with our list of favourite Palme D’Or winners, Diana’s upcoming coverage on the ground, and more. To continue the party let's turn to the Palme D'Or winner that topped my own team ballot, Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies (1996).

Brenda Blethyn plays Cynthia Purley, a woman who spends much of her time jabbering away (often incoherently). Like Anne Baxter, featured last week, it’s Brenda’s domination of her scenes that fool you into considering her scenes are more monologue-driven than they actually are.

[18 year-old spoilers follow...]

Secrets and Lies has a fine ensemble but it's impossible to look away from Brenda Blethyn's fantastic turn even when you want to - Cynthia can be draining, even overwhelming and exhausting to watch. Cynthia's arc is composed from a string of breakdown scenes wherein she's reacting to family secrets and issues and they are all pitched perfectly. The one which is most significant comes midway through the film when she meets the daughter she gave up for adoption some decades ago when she was a teenager.

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Friday
Apr252014

Will Renée Zellweger Ever Achieve 'Comeback' Status

We welcome back Matthew Eng (who has been studying abroad) with a response of sorts to yesterday's Smackdown just in time for the Zeéeeee's 45th birthday today.

Renée Zellweger at an Armani show in October last yearWhat is there left to say about Renée Zellweger that hasn’t already been said by nearly every snarky film blogger since the Oscar win that ignited an entire anti-actress fatwa? Of course, you can’t really blame those who vehemently turned against Renée based solely on the performance that won her what has to be—give or take Crash—the most-maligned win of the Aughts. But surely there were other forces at work here that contributed to Zellweger’s descent from perennial A-list awards darling (an astounding three Globes in three years) to seemingly-unemployable former ingenue.

Is it the implied greediness for awards, signaled not by the type of overly-gleeful, wild-eyed, “wanting it too much” acceptance speeches that have been catnip for the Hathahaters, but rather by a clear preference for shameless Oscar vehicles that initially worked in her favor (ChicagoCold Mountain) before the vehicles themselves soon revealed their own inadequacy and consequently watched their awards chances (and hers) all but fizzle out (Cinderella ManMrs. Potter)?

Or is it something else...?

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Monday
Apr212014

April Showers: The Piano

The evening waterworks continue. Here's Andrew on a particularly gloomy shower.

The Piano is a moody movie. Moody as in unpredictable and volatile, and moody as in suggesting melancholy and mystery. Even before the story really gets underway the film's atmosphere is one of unease. And it's because it's not just the story that's moody but visually, too. As Stuart Dryburgh's camera observes the rough, muddy ranches of New Zealand the harsh exteremities of the terrain seem to be not just incidental but direct representations of the similarly implacable characters.

This is but one of the numerous ways in which the Gothic influence on The Piano shines through, where landscape informs elements of plot and characters. The Piano checks off a number of the prerequisites for Gothic drama: impulsive, sometimes tyrannical men, women in distress, heightened emotion, a mysterious atmosphere, a somewhat isolated locale, stormy weather and muddy terrains. 

Of the influence of the Gothic in the film, Jane confesses...

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Tuesday
Apr152014

Seasons of Bette: The Letter (1940)

Multi-tasking again. Herewith a new episode of three recurring series: Seasons of Bette, "Introducing..." and Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which I, Nathaniel, refuse to show you Bette Davis's face. For here's a perverse truth: none of my three favorite shots of The Letter (1940) include it.

honorable mention: Leslie recounts her crime

Pt. 1 "Introducing..."
Meet Leslie Crosbee, murderess. We're only one minute into the movie when she unloads six shots purposefully nto the back of one Geoff Hammond who is attempting to escape her house. He doesn't make it beyond the foot of her steps. Her face is a frozen severe mask as she drops the gun. It's Bette Davis's most potent entrance into a movie yet.

Where the hell do you go after your protagonist makes an entrance like that? To her confession, as it turns out. William Wyler, here adapting a play by W. Somerset Maugham, is appreciated today mostly as a great actor's director, but he's so much more than that. He's not content to rest on the power of his actors alone, despite the three Oscars and multiple nominations they'd already received at this point. In one of his boldest moves, he even lets the entire cast turn their backs on us -- this movie is cold -- while Mrs Crosbee calmly recounts an attempted rape and the resultant murder in great detail. The camera (cinematography by Oscar favorite Tony Gaudio) becomes a kind of detached slave, following Bette's vocal cue and showing us now vacant rooms, steps and floorboards, as if it exists only as an empty stage for her drama. Given how rapturously and literally shady our leading lady is (oh the sinister cast shadows of film noir!) it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that she's a liar.

best shot: the equally shady widow

Pt. 2 Best Shot
The title character in this noir, is an incriminating letter written by Leslie which is in the possession of Mr Hammond's mysterious Asian wife (Gale Sondegaard in "yellow face"). The movie is casually racist, a product of its time, or at least suggestive of the casual racism of its time. Leslie's lawyer remark that Hammond's marriage to this woman, immediately makes the colonist of questionable character and thus presumed guilty of the rape Leslie has accused him of. And Leslie herself is the most verbally racist of the film's characters, grotesquely repulsed by Mrs. Hammond

Then i heard about that -- that native woman Oh, I  couldn't believe it. i wouldn't believe it. I saw her walking in the village with those hideous spangles, that chalky painted face, those eyes like a cobra's eyes. 

But fortunately for the film, this fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" in any scene in which she appears actually serves to level the playing field. That's especially true of this scene which is tricked up in every way possible with "Asian" signifiers in the scoring, decor, and "dragon lady" costuming (it's worth noting that Mrs Hammond is the only Asian in the film costumed and presented this way as if she's barely real at all but a projection of Leslie's own jealous and racist obsession with her). And in this case, doesn't one have to excuse or even applaud all the exoticism? If you're going to engage in an epic staredown with Bette Davis in which she must suddenly be cowered by you, you'd better bring it by any means necessary. Sondegaard and the cinematography do.

In a curious way, though, The Letter's most fascinating character is the man with six bullets in his back. What kind of a man could own the vengeful hearts of two such lethal women? In his own stiff way he's the perfect embodiment of film noir's powerfully confusing phobic relationship to the female gender. It loves them like no other genre while also living in perpetual fear of their power and agency.

runner up shot: Guadio & Wyler find several great uses for Bette's hands in this film. I love her fingerprints grazing her victim here.

To be Continued...
Tonight at 10 PM we'll post the visual index of all Best Shot entries for this famous noir. 
Thursday Seasons of Bette continues, back-tracking one year for Dark Victory since we fell behind.

Thursday
Apr102014

April Showers: An Education

waterworks each night at 11. Here's Andrew on Carey Mulligan's breakthrough

Carey Mulligan will be back headlining a new version of Far From the Madding Crowd later this year and it's now been five years since she won the world's attention. 2009 was the year Carey grew up from youngest Bennett sister to an actress worth following. She'd previously had slight but efficient turns in Brothers and Public Enemies, and a lovely performance opposite Susan Sarandon in the unremembered The Greatest but it was with Jenny Mellor in An Education that she made us fall in love. 

The film has only recently begun and Oxford hopeful, Jenny Mellor, is making her way home from band practice. A thunderclap in the preceding scene signals bad weather ahead and we cut to:

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