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Entries in Elia Kazan (7)


Directing an Actor to a Nomination - The Stats

by Ben Miller 

Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) is the third actor Spike Lee has a directed to a nomination after Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing) and Denzel Washington (Malcolm X)

With the upcoming Academy Awards celebrating their 91st year, the Oscars have plenty of history to obsess over.  One of the less-discussed pieces of history is which directors have the most pull with the Academy's acting branch. Today's topic: directors who have guided multiple actors and actresses to nominations and/or wins. 

With this season's nominations, directors Bradley Cooper (3), Yorgos Lanthimos (3), Peter Farrelly (2), and Marielle Heller (2) all join a group of directors who've guided multiple actors to Oscar nominations. In this season's crop of films Vice's Adam McKay (4), Roma's Alfonso Cuaron (3), If Beale Street's Barry Jenkins (3), BlacKkKlansman's Spike Lee (3), Bohemian Rhapsody's Bryan Singer (2) and At Eternity's Gate's Julian Schnabel (2) all add to their previous tallies since each had previously directed either one or two actors to a nomination.

In the 91 year history of the Academy Awards, 1757 performances were directed to an Oscar nomination.  I tracked every single one of them to come up with these numbers. More notes after the jump...

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Podcast: Smackdown Reflections and Film Critics on Acting

Nathaniel talks to Sheila O'Malley, one of the best film critics on acting, as they reflect on recent Smackdown adventures, the chaos of acting careers, and the problems with "best" designations.

Index (43 minutes)
00:01 Acting training, Geraldine Page, and critics who "get" acting
06:45 Glenn Close and Robert Redford Reveries in The Natural
14:00 The quality of acting fields & self-selecting "Oscar movies"
20:45 Romancing the Stone and the "realm of fantasy" versus the "gritty" farm wife movies. Why do some movies hold up so well over time?
27:00 Peggy Ashcroft and Lindsay Crouse. Plus: making out with Ed Harris.
33:00 The rumors about Swing Shift and Jonathan Demme's original cut. Did we lose a masterpiece?
40:18 Sheila's connection to Gena Rowland's Honorary Oscar.

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes. Continue the conversations in the comments, won't you?  

P.S. Read more about Sheila's Gena Rowlands tribute here.

a conversation with Sheila O'Malley


The Furniture: Decorating Madness in A Streetcar Named Desire

"The Furniture" is our weekly series on Production Design. Here's Daniel Walber...

The 70th Tony Awards are in just a few days. I certainly can't be trusted with predictions, but I’ll make one guess. The award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play probably won’t be split three ways. That sort of near-impossible result has only occurred once, all the way back in 1948. The 2nd Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play was shared by Judith Anderson, Katharine Cornell, and Jessica Tandy. Tandy won for the original broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Of course, she didn’t get to be in the movie and so we will leave her behind. Elia Kazan’s film of Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece premiered less than two years after its Broadway run ended. Its success was that instant. It won four Oscars, though all but one was for acting. That fourth prize, of course, was for production design. [More...]

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A Year with Kate: The Sea of Grass (1947)

Episode 23 of 52: In which Tracy and Hepburn make a Western because why not?

A lone figure looks out over a vast, unending prairie. A wagon traverses rocky desert trails. Virgin land, a justice-seeking posse, a citified lawyer who brings civilization riding on his pinstriped coat tails. The Western dominated American film for over half a century with images like these. It stands to reason that two American stars and a director on his way to becoming a (controversial) American legend himself would take aim at the genre. The Sea of Grass, the resulting collaboration between Elia Kazan and the Tracy/Hepburn team, is an epic story covering multiple generations in the New Mexico Territory. It’s a Western, but not struck from the same heroic mould that John Ford was making them in Monument Valley. The Sea of Grass is meaner, more melodramatic, and ultimately a maverick mess of a movie.

The Sea of Grass comes so close to being a great film.  Spencer Tracy plays Col. Jim Brewton, a rancher who’s spent his life herding cattle on the millions of acres of untouched prairie that spread across New Mexico. He marries a St. Louis girl named Lutie (Kate Hepburn), who loves him but can’t love his untamed wildlands (not a euphemism). She tries to bring the people to the prairie, or her husband home to bed, but she can’t tame nature or the Colonel. These are familiar archetypes to anyone who’s watched more than two Westerns: the Lone Hero and the Prairie Wife. He is the champion of the settlers, she is his pure-hearted moral compass. Right? Well sure, up until the part where Jim causes the death of a few farmers, and Lutie runs away to sleep with the Judge (Melvyn Douglas) and bear his illegitimate son. And that’s just in the first hour. Suffice it to say, John Ford would not approve.

Cowboys and cynics after the jump...

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Tennessee 100: Baby Doll

Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr here, with a last-minute postscript to Tennessee Williams Week.

Sweaty, conflicted sexuality? Check. A seedy, decaying southern setting? Check. Characters who alternate wildly between decadent hedonism and harrowing descents into madness? Yes, we're in pure Tennessee Williams country with Elia Kazan's Baby Doll, starring Carroll Baker as the titular 19-year-old minx. She's married to Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden), the hot-tempered owner of a local cotton gin, and together they live in a rural mansion called Tiger Tail that, like their respective families, has seen better days.

This creaky house, considered haunted by the locals, plays a role similar to that of the cramped tenement in Kazan's adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. It helps define the film visually with its labyrinthine corridors, piled high with the detritus of the past, and it's the perfect setting for the psychosexual slapstick antics of Baby Doll and her would-be seducer, Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach). Vacarro—a Sicilian interloper who's new to the area—suspects Archie Lee of burning down his cotton gin, and he's willing to resort to some hanky-panky in order to secure proof.

So begins an absurd, twisted battle of the wills, in which the line between economic and sexual success gets blurred to the point of invisibility. Read the full post.

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Best Shot: "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Hit Me With Your Best Shot continues with A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). This week's film was chosen in light of the Tennessee Williams Centennial, the great writer's 100th anniversary is this weekend. If this is your first "best shot," partipicants are asked to watch a film, and select its best shot (or their favorite, natch) and post it, with or without an accompanying essay.

Stanley: Yknow there are some men that are took in by this Hollywood glamour stuff and some men that just aren't.
Blanche: I'm sure you belong in the second category.
Stanley: That's right.
Blanche: I cannot imagine any witch of a woman casting a spell over you.
Stanley: That's right.

Elia Kazan's masterful adaptation of Tennessee Williams happens to be, by a significant margin, the best film version of any of his work. It moves more elegantly around Hollywood's censorship of then risque material than the other biggies that followed (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and Sweet Birth of Youth) and it's managed to be more definitive than any film version of the other play vying for most immortal Tennesse Williams Creation (The Glass Menagerie). The 1951 film will forever be revered, and justifiably so, for providing an irreducibly perfect 'moment in time' look at the shifting of Hollywood acting; the friction between pre-50s artifice in Vivien Leigh and Blanche DuBois and post-50s "realness" in Brando's "Method" Stanley is still absolutely sensational 60 years on. As are both approaches to acting, I might add as a fine point (provided the actor is a skilled one). Too often we view all sweeping artistic shifts as progress when they are more often than not, merely lateral aesthetic shifts, opening up new pleasures but not truly replacing the old ones. Time marches on; we explore new things.

In the understandably immortal hoopla surrounding two of the greatest screen performances of all time, we often lose sight of other pleasures. A Streetcar Named Desire has many of them from Tennessee William's indestructable poetry to Elia Kazan's assured guiding hand to the Oscar-winning art direction and the expressive shadowy lighting from Harry Stradling Sr. Stradling manages effects that are both harsh and ethereal, both ugly and beautiful, but not always in the combinations you'd expect them to be and sometimes both at ones. His camera and lights perfectly bridge all of the performances, moods and characters.

But the way he lights Stella (an inspired Kim Hunter) has always fascinated me. In her scenes with Blanche, the shadows often obscure one or the other of her faces and in those scenes which highlight the mad desire for Stanley her eyes are often obscured, with only tiny sparks of light flashing and reflecting from them.

Stella: Isn't he wonderful looking?

Blanche: What you're talking about is desire, just brutal Desire. The name of that rattletrap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one old narrow street and down another.
Stella: Haven't you ever ridden on that streetcar?

Stella seems unknowable, feral, as dangerous in her own singlemindedness as Blanche is in her self-deception and Stanley is in his brutality. Her eyes have an animalistic defiant glint but it's not just her irises; this is one of the horniest performances ever captured on film.

This shot in particular is just fascinating, pulling the central triangular drama into sharp (deep) focus.

My pick for best shot.

The sisters have been having a serious chat. The previous night's tumult involving poker, flirtations, drunken messiness, abuse, "Stelllllaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!" and an obvious offscreen fuck-a-thon between Mr & Mrs Kowalski have disrupted their bond. If they're not quite seeing eye to eye the sisters are beginning to really listen to each other until they hear Stanley's return. We see his shadow first on the left side as then his body as the women immediately stop talking.  For the next agonizing few seconds, they seem absolutely frozen with indecision, though there's a curious sapphic charge to Blanche's silenced pawing pleas. There's another "Stella", Stanley's foolproof siren call, from the background and then Stella, ever so slightly turns his way, catching the light, his light if you want to get figurative though not literal.

She's lost to Blanche and herself again. Though Stella ends the movie an hour and some minutes later swearing Stanley off forever, our guess is she hops right back on that rattletrap streetcar named Desire once the credits roll. She's up one old narrow street and down another with Stanley as her violent conductor.

The Kindness of Strangers
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Next Wednesday
Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) in celebration of the release of a stunning debut novel "What You See In The Dark" by Manuel Muñoz which brushes up against this movie in interesting ways. Coming soon: an interview with the author and a book giveaway. But about BEST SHOT: It's impossible that everyone will love the shower scene best, right? Why don't you join us and try to pinpoint your favorite image? Next Wednesday at 10 PM right here... and at your place if you participate.