Time for more Reader Questions. Thanks for asking them. Only six this time and they're nearly all actressy (next week something differentd) but the answers are lengthy.
TROY: A performance by an actress in television -- either episodic, movie, or miniseries -- that could stand alongside the best of the best work of Oscar-winning divas.
NATHANIEL: This is an unfair question since the reason people have such affection for television performances from the miraculously good ones to the just competents ones is that the actor in question has had literally hours and hours of time to develop that character and the viewer has had hours, months and sometimes even years in which to fall in love with the role itself (and sometimes the actor, too). Different mediums, agendas, ways of becoming iconic. Apples / Oranges. But of TV-centric actresses that repeatedly deliver A grade awards-quality work no matter the show or character they're working with (an important distinction) my vote for the best television actresses ever are Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco... Claire Danes for the bronze should she add a third performance as impressive as Angela Chase and Carrie Mathison to her series-ography (wait what do you call a television resume?).
Three final notes on this TV actress question. Movies no longer really have an equivalent to the kind of broad near slapstick comedy that TV often specializes in but literally no one makes me laugh harder than Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal / 30 Rock / Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and I have a rage stroke every time I remember that she's Emmy-less. Three recent singular TV performances I think of all the time for hitting every possible pleasure spot in terms of delivering both great actressing and nuanced TV characterizations without ever starting to feel stale (the danger of long term work) are Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights, and Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks from Mad Men.
Finally, though I know it's not a popular opinion critically speaking (even though the show is historically very popular) I absolutely proclaim Sarah Jessica Parker a true genius for her work on Sex & the City. Gee-nee-us. Like Meg Ryan / Julia Roberts / Sandra Bullock / Goldie Hawn at their peaks rom-com perfection but for the small screen. 'Your girl is lovely, Hubble Sarah.'
BENJI: What is your favorite silent movie/star+performance?
NATHANIEL: Maria Falconetti is unforgettable in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) which I'd also call the best of the silents. But... Best is different than Favorite. And that masterpiece has a kind of fetishized suffering, like a Von Trier without the childish pranking, that you really have to be in the right mood for. So the truer answer to your question is Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (1929). That's my favorite silent ever (which is saying a lot because I love so many of the ones I've seen) and I also think she's great in Diary of a Lost Girl... though that movie isn't quite at her level the way her best known film is. I love all the usual stars (Gish, Garbo, Valentino) but it's Brooks that does it for me the most.
Laika: Hollywood is calling. They NEED YOUR ADVICE. They are making an Avengers -style superhero-teamup film about the divas of musical theatre, but they are having difficulty casting key roles: Liza Minnelli. Carol Channing. Elaine Stritch. Ethel Merman. BARBRA. Some people are pushing to cast Blake Lively as Bernadette Peters! Who could they cast as these inimitable women?!
Only the originals will do. So think Expendables instead but with the budget and the quality of a Marvel Studios film like The Avengers. I've mocked up a dream cast list but perhaps you have different ideas?
Half of the budget is for the lawyers because trying to decide who gets top billing would be A NIGHTMARE. Maybe you can try to decide who gets top billing in the comments, but I fear the wrath of all of them if I place them in order.
TD: Least favorite performances by favorite actors?
NATHANIEL: This topic probably deserves a whole big post but then we'd have to dwell in disappointment and who needs that? So let's just throw a quick list out there. Let's start with a few actors that are actressy according to Nathaniel (i.e. great / obsession worthy). I don't really get what Fassbender in Dangerous Method or Jude in Contagion were going for or I do but I don't like it. Jeff Bridges has been phoning it in since the Oscar win which is a shame. Okay enough men. The women.
Hathaway is bad in Eyesore in Wonderland (but, then, who isn't? I mean, besides HBC). Streep is terrible in The Manchurian Candidate, overplaying everything. Chastain in Miss Julie, same thing. Too much too much. Modulate girl, you're so good at that in other films. I didn't understand what the hell was going on with La Pfeiffer in Up Close and Personal, did you? In regards to my idol, I praised her at the time as an obsessed fan, but I must accept in retrospect that her double 1999 star turn in The Deep End of the Ocean and The Story of Us (which I always think of together) are, like Streep's in Doubt, a strange mix of irritatingly off key and really great. Whenever that happens I wonder if the star is distracted by something we'll never know about on set or at home or in their heads... or if it's director or production problems that have worked their way into the editing bay.
Julianne Moore? Hmmm. Well, actually take a look at this image.
I meant to share this chart a few months ago when I first looked at it. This is a table of the biggest box office hits of Julianne Moore's career. Looking at it I suddenly realized why non-fans have sometimes had bizarre notions about the level of her talent. If all someone had seen was a handful of these and that handful didn't include both The Hours & Boogie Nights the casual moviegoer may have regarded either as flukes and been reasonably been misled into thinking that she wasn't that special and not understood the fuss. Not that she's bad in these movies but Julianne is a Kidman in the way that her best work is almost always in the most complicated and weirdest movies. i.e. the ones people have to be convinced to see either by nominations for awards or critics never shutting up about them. I've only thought Julianne was actively bad a few times. Let us never speak of Freedomland or Evolution or that scene in Laws of Attraction where she eats junk food again. Don't Speak!
BRIAN: How do you feel about the word pretentious when used by film critics?
NATHANIEL: I hate it. Charitably it only means 'I don't like this person's ambitions,' whatever they may be. Uncharitably it can mean "I didn't understand this movie." It's as useless as the word "unforgettable" in film reviews. Real talk, film critics: We know you JUST walked out of that movie and are writing this for publication deadline tonight or tomorrow. Half the movies in existence are unforgettable for at least a good half hour after watching them. Save that word for a few months later at least so that it means something.
DANIEL: Did the work of Hilary Swank in The Homesman make you appreciate her more as an actress, or is she still hand in hand with Renée Zelwegger in your nemesis path? In terms of career which do you prefer ? Love from Brazil...
NATHANIEL: Big love right back at Brazil. The site has always had a big following in Brazil -- not sure why that is apart from Brazilians being awesome.
I made kind of a big deal about these two as my nemeses (I know some people think it's childish but it's like an internal barometer corrector since I'm The Man Who Loved Actresses Too Much.) but I don't deny their gifts. There are actresses I think are far less talented than either Hilary or Renee that are famous but they don't annoy me as much, largely I think because they don't appear in the type of films I am otherwise drawn to. I was actually a huge fan of Renée's from Jerry Maguire (1996) through Bridget Jones (2001) but irreconciliable differences; we had a brutal divorce soon thereafter.
I've never been a "fan" of Swank but I think she's just great in Boys Don't Cry (I have eyes) and she really is very good in The Homesman (2014), which I'd easily call her second best. Even in scenes that don't directly address it, unlike that touching faux-piano scene which does, she just comes across as ineffably sad but determined to march on. I think she could have made a real run for a nomination if the reviews had been better and if it had been a more straightforward film about her character rather than the shapeshifter movie that it was.
Please chime in on my responses or with your own in the comments.