Thursday Movie Picks – Oscar Winners Edition: Best Actor and Best Actress

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Oscar Winners Edition: Best Actor and Best Actress

Ok since there’s no rules as to which time period to pick from, I selected one classic and one contemporary actor and actress who I think are worthy winners. For the fun of it, I also picked one actor + actress who I don’t think deserve to win on the year they’re nominated.

In any case, here are my picks:

FAVE BEST ACTRESS WINNERS

Vivien Leigh – Gone With the Wind (1939)

Scarlett O’Hara is not exactly an easy woman to love, she’s practically an anti-heroine which in and of itself is quite revolutionary. Vivien Leigh was primarily a stage actress and was in a few plays with her second husband Laurence Olivier. She’s perhaps one of the first classic actress I’ve seen growing up… I must have been in my pre-teen when I first saw Gone With the Wind, and I’m still in awe of her performance to this day. To think that she almost didn’t get the role as producer David O. Selznick considered her to be ‘too British’ at one time. I can’t imagine another actress in the role.

Helen Mirren – The Queen (2006)

Ok so I pick another British actress, I didn’t exactly plan for that. I wanted to include someone from the 2000s and the one I thought of right away is the Dame’s performance as Queen Elizabeth I. Of course by now there have been another great memorable performance of the Queen in her later years (Olivia Colman in The Crown), but I think Helen Mirren’s portrayal is still an iconic one. Her physical transformation with the wig and glasses, complete with her facial expression and slightly downturned mouth, voice delivery, everything is just spot on. Even the Queen’s OCD behavior was accounted for based on Mirren’s research. Per IMDb trivia, Mirren was so convincing that by the end of production, crew members who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs.

___

Least Fave Best Actress Winner

Gwyneth Paltrow – Shakespeare In Love (1998)

I still think it’s practically scandalous that Paltrow won over Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. I mean, generally speaking Blanchett can run circles around Paltrow all day long, but I’ve seen both films and in no universe did Paltrow gave a better performance in their respective films.


FAVE BEST ACTOR WINNERS

Gregory Peck – To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Is it a surprise I picked this gentleman? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you’d know I was obsessed with Mr. Peck a few years ago and have blogged about him repeatedly. This was actually his fourth Oscar nominations following The Keys of the Kingdom (1945), The Yearling (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), and Twelve O’Clock High (1949). I’ve seen them all and they’re all terrific Oscar-worthy performances, but I think Atticus Finch so tailor-made for him that he practically become the character and be forever be known for that role. It’s no surprise The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century and Peck’s performance certainly helped cement that in history.

Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)

When I first saw this film years ago, I was so blown away by Foxx’s performance. I think this was the first time I saw him in a lead role and man, did he kill it. He was so dedicated to the role that he attended classes at the Braille Institute, and he also had to wear eye prosthetics to make him look authentically blind for the entire shoot. I can’t imagine having to endure something like that, AND have to act at the same time.  Plus the musically-gifted actor also played the piano himself, though it was Ray Charles’ voice that was heard in the film. His win marked the first actor to win Best Actor in a music/musical movie since Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964)

Least Fave Best Actor Winner

Roberto Benigni – Life Is Beautiful (1997)

I loved the film but honestly I didn’t think Benigni’s performance was Oscar-worthy. Especially given he was nominated alongside Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Edward Norton in American History X. His Oscar speech was a hoot though irritating at the same time. In any case, his win marked only the second time that an actor had directed himself in an Oscar-winning performance, the first was Laurence Olivier for Hamlet (1948).


So which Best Actor and/or Actress winners are your favorite?

April 2016 Blindspot: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

StreetcarNamedDesire

It’s been ages since I wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire, not sure why I’ve put it off. I feel like I have watched it as one day I actually watched a bunch of clips from this film on youtube. There’s of course the famous scene where Brando yelled ‘Stellaaaaaaa…!’ that’s been parodied many times over, but I definitely need to see it to understand the significance of this steamy Southern classic.

Based on a hit play by Tennessee Williams, it’s one of those rare films that happen to be directed by the same person who did the original Broadway production, Elia Kazan. It’s interesting to see Vivien Leigh as yet another Southern belle, as I’ve only seen her in Gone With The Wind (1939), but really, the appeal of this film for me is Marlon Brando, whose brutish performance is the quintessential sexy bad boy.

As with any of my blindspot reviews, there are definitely spoilers so if you haven’t seen the film yet, proceed with caution.

First Impressions

Well, what can I say… my first impression had more to do with Marlon Brando. Can you blame me? I mean look. at. him.

tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o1_500tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o3_500 From the first moment he came on to the screen when he saw his sister in-law Blanche at his house, Brando’s definitely got a magnetic presence like nobody’s business.


The trivia section of this movie on IMDb is filled with interesting tidbits. So apparently fitted t-shirts could not be bought at the time, so Brando’s apparel had to be washed several times and then the back stitched up, to appear tightly over the actor’s chest.

Err, what was I talking about again?

Ok so obviously there’s SO much more to the movie than Brando’s immense sex appeal, though obviously this role cemented his sex-symbol status.

A classic story adapted beautifully on the big screen

I could see why there are still countless stage adaptations of Williams’ classic story all over the world. Even though time has changed and to a certain degree, gender roles and social norms have evolved, the very core of the human condition still remains. Stories that deals with obsession, distorted reality, fears of aging, etc. are still relevant today and will always remain so. The film version underwent a major change in terms of the homosexuality of Blanche’s late husband, due to the Production Code demands that the film toned it down. The same with the depiction of rape, though it’s implied that Stanley did rape Blanche with the scene of smashed mirror and a firehose spurting onto the street.

StreetcarNamedDesire_mirror

It was a clever way Kazan dealt with the strict Code, and also when Stella was in bed the morning after Stanley hit her. She had a big, gleeful grin on her face that indicated they had um, a very satisfying make-up sex.

Kazan’s big screen adaptation not only look beautiful in black and white, but it has an atmospheric and moody feel to it. I read that he worked closely with the production designer to create the authentically sordid look and literally had the walls around Brando and Leigh closed in on them during filming to create a claustrophobic tension within the space. Well that worked because that constricted feeling practically ricochets off the screen and into my living room!

Blanche and Stanley are such an interesting pair to watch on screen because there’s all this nervous energy around them. They’re attracted as well as repulsed by each other at the same time, at times they couldn’t even reconcile the two, which creates such interesting dynamic.


Kazan doesn’t immediately expose that Blanche’s dark past and the fact that she’s got mental issues, but it’s more of a steady buildup that escalates to the boiling point. The more her brutish brother in-law relentlessly torments her, the more she goes off the rails.

I’m constantly torn in how I feel for the characters as well, which is what a good movie should. A good character is not simple, one-dimensional and how we feel about a character could (and perhaps should) change as the movie progresses. Well, I initially feels sorry for Blanche but also exasperated by her, even if she couldn’t control it. As with Stanley, what starts out as a carnal attraction to this brooding, hunky man (as any full-blooded woman would) quickly changes to disgust and repulsion. I literally want to strangle him many times as I watch the movie, especially his treatment of his pregnant wife!

StreetcarNamedDesire_Brando_Hunter

Performance wise, the film definitely belonged to Leigh and Brando. The British actress played yet another American Southern belle but in a completely different role. Leigh definitely got to display her vulnerability even more, especially towards the end when Blanche’s gone completely mental. It’s interesting that she had played the character in the London production under her husband Laurence Olivier’s direction. Per IMDb, she later said that Olivier’s direction of that production influenced her performance in the film more than Elia Kazan’s in this film.

Brando has had many memorable roles in his illustrious career, but no doubt this is one of the earlier ones he’s most remembered for. His intensity is second to none, there’s few actors who are as explosive on screen in terms of presence and charisma as Brando.

Kim Hunter was pretty memorable as Stella, but I think every cast member was practically outshone by the two leads. So was Karl Malden as Blanche’s potential suitor. I think both were believable in the roles, it just didn’t leave a lasting impression to me. I guess it has less to do with their performances, but more about the strength of the two leads. I wish Brando had won Best Actor as well, but then again I hadn’t seen the other male performers of that year.

StreetcarNamedDesire_KarlMalden

Does it live up to the hype?

The film won four Oscars out of twelve nominations and also rank #47 in AFI Top 100 Films. Elia Kazan was certainly one of those stellar directors who have won acclaimed in film AND on broadway, winning multiple Oscars as well as Tony awards. I’m always astonished when a story could work as well on stage as on screen.

I have never seen the stage adaptation, but my impression of the film was that it was sexy, gritty, but deeply unsettling to the point that by the end I was just quite revolted by the whole thing. None of the characters are likable except for Stella, Blanche DuBois’ devoted younger sister. I think that was the point though. This wasn’t going to be a cheerful movie with a happy ending and there’s also very little humor to give you relief from all that tension.

StreetcarNamedDesire_Stella

I’m glad I’ve finally watched this film from start to finish. It’s one that won’t easily escape from one’s memory. I have to say though, compared to other classics like say, Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or Roman Holiday, I’m not sure this is something I’m keen on watching again. It’s just not a pleasant film overall, and I don’t find it to be an emotionally-gratifying film either as it’s hard to care for any of the characters. That said, it’s definitely essential viewing for cinephiles. The story is such an intriguing character study that is chock full of riveting-but-inherently-imperfect relationships.

Final Thoughts:

The film ending is apparently different from the stage version. In the film, Stella no longer trusts her husband and she took her baby and leaves. We hear Stanley yelling ‘Stellaaaa….’ again as he did in the most famous scene in the film. I read that in the stage version, Stella chooses to be with Stanley as her sister is escorted to a mental institution. I’m not sure which version I prefer, I think it’s riskier to have an ending that isn’t tied neatly with a big red bow, though not necessarily better.

Regardless of the different ending, there are certainly plenty of thought provoking themes to grapple with. Delusion, denial, forbidden passion, and tragic irony… Williams’ timeless play has all the ingredients for an engrossing story, and Elia Kazan certainly had what it takes to do it justice… both on stage AND on screen.

4halfReels


Check out my full 2016 lineup by clicking the graphic below

Blindspot2016


Have you seen A Streetcar Named Desire? I’d love to hear what you think!

Gone with the Wind tribute – my five favorite scenes

IMDb is featuring Gone with the Wind‘s 70th anniversary edition today, complete with the lush Rhett/Scarlett bright red background. I already owned the 4-disc collector’s edition, but seeing the comprehensive anniversary set on the Warner Video site is enough to make me want to get another one!

Thanks to my late mother, I was exposed to this movie when I was a wee girl, probably around 12 or 13. Barely spoke any English, she pretty much had to interpret the gist of the story to me. But a movie like Gone with the Wind, with its rich history and cultural significance — not to mention the intricate love story — isn’t an easy movie to grasp for a teenybopper, save for the gorgeous scenery (by that I also mean Rhett Butler) and pretty costumes. Thus, it was later in college when I sort of discern what the movie was all about.

Here are some of my favorite scenes from this quintessential Hollywood epic that shall always remain timeless:

The library scene

The first of many whiny moments of Scarlett & Ashley. I reckon Scarlett never had a thing for bad boys, as the second Rhett rose up from the sofa, my heart went pit-a-pat. Gable epitomized the ‘charming bad boy’ to a tee, and he did it with such nonchalant grace that’s so swoon-worthy. Their relentless banters are one of the most delightful battle-of-the-sexes scenarios ever captured in cinema. (Sorry I couldn’t find a clip that can be embedded)

If God is my witness

The most iconic scene of the entire movie involving the non-human star of the movie that is Tara. It’d be scandalous to omit this from any GWTW favorite list. Sure it’s arguably cliched and emotionally-manipulative, but darn it, when that score came on and she stood against that breathtaking sunset framed by the giant oak tree, I always get goose-bumps!

You need kissing badly

The audacity of seducing — and proposing — a woman on her husband’s funeral is shocking even by today’s standard. But Rhett is so darn suave and charming, I almost wished I had been as fortunate as Scarlett to be on the receiving end of this tantalizing encounter.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn

There’s little wonder why this quote was voted as the #1 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100), as well as the #2 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere magazine in 2007. But the line that precedes it is equally great:

Scarlett: No! I only know that I love you.
Rhett Butler: That’s your misfortune. [Rhett turns to walk down the stairs]

Even before he said the “I don’t give a damn” line, we know he’s made up his mind.

Melanie & Ashley reunited after the war

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the exact scene of Melanie running after Ashley and Scarlet’s expression as the two blissfully embraced and kissed. But it’s such a heart-wrenching yet sweet scene of what Scarlet is always jealous of Melanie for.


I probably don’t do this movie justice by listing only five scenes, so if you have other faves you’d like to share, let’s hear it!