Category Archives: Best Actress

The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion’s The Piano is one of my favorite movies of all time. I regretted not having reviewed this for the LAMBs in the Director’s Chair with her and Kathryn Bigelow a couple of months ago. The movie won Oscars for Best Actress, Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay. Watching the film again made me marvel at the subtle poetry displayed onscreen.

Ada McGrath (Hunter) is a mute that has not spoken since she was six years old. She is set to be married to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill) who she had never seen. She has to move across the sea to New Zealand with her daughter, Flora (Anna Paquin) in tow. The boat she is traveling in is packed with crates of clothes, household items and her cherished piano.

When the ladies arrive on the beach, they have to wait for Mr. Stewart to come and take them to their new home. They had to camp out on the beach overnight until Stewart came with a party of Māori tribe members with his guide, George Baines (Harvey Keitel). Stewart learns right then and there that Ada is mute and only her daughter could interpret the words that she says in sign language.

Stewart wants to take everything on the beach, except for the piano because it would have been too much of a burden to carry. Ada insists on taking the piano with them. It is her only prized possession. It is her way of communicating what she is feeling to the world. Eventually, she realizes that she has to leave the piano behind for the time being.

The marriage is not joyous. There is not love there at all. Ada does not show any affection to Stewart. It really bothers him. When Stewart leaves for a quick trip, Ada and Flora come knocking on the door of Baines to ask to go get the piano. In exchange for getting her piano back into her possession, Baines asks her to teach him how to play. The catch is that he doesn’t want to play, he wants to see Ada plays. Their lessons become increasingly awkward as Baines slowly seduces her.

This movie is beautiful to watch. It’s very moody with the blue wash, the torrential rain and the wonderful score by Michael Nyman. The acting in this movie make it what it is. You think that you are not going to like the love story that is happening, but you are strangely drawn to it. The piano plays a major part of why I love this movie. I have this theory that when a person plays a piano, they win an Oscar. Think about it. Adrien Brody is The Pianist, Jaime Foxx in Ray, Ellen Bustryn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Geoffrey Rush in Shine, the list goes on.

The one thing that bothers me about this movie is the Sam Neill character. I know that he is supposed to be the other guy, but I wish I could have how did he fall in love with Ada to make him do some of the things he did in the movie.

Judgment: A beautiful movie to watch and marvel.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Hours (2002)

Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more. It’s contrast.

— Virginia Woolf

The adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s book, The Hours garnered nine Oscar nominations in 2002 and it was won for Nicole Kidman as Best Actress for playing Virginia Woolf I haven’t seen this movie in years. I turned to it when it was on cable and watched it. I didn’t much care for it, because it was so dreary and depressing that I wanted to kill myself after watching it.  I shouldn’t have been as harsh as I been, but it is not an enjoyable film to sit through.

Three seemingly separate stories from three different twenty-four hour periods that are woven together in this movie. It tells the day in 1923 of English writer, Virginia Woolf (Kidman) who is inspired to write the manuscript for her début novel, Mrs. Dalloway. It tells the story about a woman named Clarissa who is hosting a party, but she feels constrained by society’s rules that she is unhappy.

Virginia is subjected to live in countryside because of her history of mental illness and her attempts to kill herself. This worries Virginia’s husband, Leonard (Stephen Dillane) to no end that he has to change his life for her. When a visit from her sister, Vanessa (Miranda Richardson) shows her what she should do to her heroine in the end of her novel.

A depressed pregnant housewife in 1951 Los Angles reads Mrs. Dalloway, Sarah Brown (Julianne Moore) as her only mission is bake a cake for her husband, Dan (John C. Reilly) for his birthday. She feels that she living someone else’s life and not her own. She tries to hide it from her son, Richie (Jack Rovello) who wants to help his mommy out with the cake. The only break in her mundane day was when her neighbor, Kitty (Toni Collette) comes by the hospital to her some upsetting news. Sarah’s only escape is the book as a key to a better life.

Lastly, in 2001 is a modern of “Mrs. Dalloway”, Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) who is helping plan the party of her longtime friend who is stricken with full-blown AIDS, Richard (Ed Harris) who is receiving the Carruther’s prize for his poetry. Clarissa is running around trying to make Richard comfortable when he is slowing losing his mind as his body deteriorates. Clarissa’s girlfriend, Sally (Alison Janney) tried to lend a hand for the preparation, but Clarissa wants to do everything herself. Trying to please Richard could drive a wedge between Sally, Clarissa’s daughter, Julia (Claire Danes) or Richard’s ex-boyfriend, Louis (Jeff Daniels).

As I said before, this movie is dark and dreary about living an authentic life when you are given the role that you have to play. I understand that the movie tried to have that “ah-ha moment”, but I feel like it wasn’t earned in that respect. Almost everybody dwells on death, depression, mental illness, heartbreak, regret that when they have a change of heart seems cheap.

Seeing this movie again, I understand that it was Oscar baity when the serious drama, having a real person in the movie, setting it in different time periods. The characters were not that interesting to me. They seemed flat. The dialogue that they were saying was beautiful, but it felt out of place for me.

I cannot understand why Nicole Kidman won the Oscar for this. I cannot be because of the fake nose, matronly clothes and floppy hats. I cannot be just that scene in the train station alone. It has to be all encompassing. I think Julianne got shafted because they seemed like similar roles. They are polar opposites. Cathy wanted to be a part of the American dream, while Sarah wants to escape it. Meryl was doing her thing. She was solid in the movie. I didn’t like Clarissa.

Judgment: The movie is like looking at a beautiful. Think about it.

Rating: ***

Annie Hall (1977)

Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.

— Alvy Singer

I was psyched Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall was coming IFC that I set a reminder to watch it. Being familiar with Allen’s movies, I would have expected some random dialogue and meandering situations. That’s correct for the most part, but this film is so much more. This #132 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for five Oscars and it won four including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is about a pessimistic comic, Alvy Singer (Allen) recounting the relationship he had between himself and an aspiring singer, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Alvy’s problem is that his paranoid man that has delusions of grandeur. He treats the people around him like shit, because he is the only sane person, even though he has been seeing an analyst for most of his life.

Alvy and Annie meet when Alvy’s actor friend from Hollywood, Rob (Tony Roberts) introduces them during a spirited match of tennis. They bond over their eccentricities, the mundane of life and seeing analysts.

Whenever there is a conflict with Annie or their families, Alvy turns to the camera to offer his commentary about the situations. He deconstructs every flaw about a person and blows it out of proposition.

As they go deeper into their relationship, Annie feels that Alvy tries to mold her into something that she is not like forcing adult education courses upon her, taking her to an obscure foreign language movie or the condescending tone in his voice whenever they are waxing philosophic.

The relationship starts to wane that they are not having sex. They are going into a funk and they have to decide if they should stay together or break apart.

This movie was charming from start to finish. I love it when Alvy and Annie were having drinks on the roof of her building. They pontificate about some random topic and a bunch of subtitles pop showing the audience what they are really thinking. It reminded me of a particular scene in (500) Days of Summer.

The only flaw about the movie was the sequences in Los Angeles. It rang false to me. It was like a stereotypical take on Los Angeles that you have seen repeatedly. The hippies eating alfalfa spouts and drinking wheat grass or whatever.

Judgment: This is a great ode to relationships.

Rating: ****1/2

The Blind Side (2009)

You threaten my son, you threaten me.

— Leigh Ann Tuohy

It was not my intention to see The Blind Side, because everyone knows how much I can’t stand Hollywood inspirational movie coming out during the holidays to tug at your heartstrings. Recently, Sandra Bullock has been getting some serious critical acclaim for her lead performance. Against my nature, I decided to watch what the fuss what all about.

I had a heavy bias walking into this movie. The ultra-giving white person helps the disadvantaged black youth achieve greatness thought some kind of sport. It has been seen time and time again.

I’m not a big sports fan to begin with, but I put my feelings aside to watch the true story of Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), a disadvantaged black youth that is crashing on the couch of a friend since his mother, Denise (Adriane Lenox) is strung out a crack. Mr. Hamilton (Omar Dorsey) wants to get his own son, Steven (Paul Amandi) into a good school with Big Mike in tow. With his lack of motivation for schoolwork and his limited intelligence, the Wingate Christian School Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon) wants to give Big Mike a chance to succeed at something.

Mrs. Hamilton doesn’t want Big Mike to be sleeping on the couch anymore. With no place to go, he befriends the Tuohy family riding in their brand new Lexus SUV when he is walking in the freezing rain. Compassion in Leigh Ann Tuohy’s heart, they decide to take him into their huge mansion during the Thanksgiving holiday.

After that one night, Leigh Ann brings Mike back to his old neighborhood where he learns that his mother is evicted from her home. Now with no home to go to, he ends up staying with the Tuohys on a permanent basis. Leigh Ann learns that Michael has “protective instincts” that if his grades could improve than he could compete in football. He has the right build to be left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side.

By the end credits, I fought so hard to hate this movie, but there was a certain charm about this movie. The actions of Michael on the football field when he tackled opponents was hilarious as well as the performance by Jae Head as Sean Junior.

I am not saying that this movie is best movie of the year. It’s not horrible either. It’s right in the middle for me. As far, Sandra Bullock’s performance, I can see why she is getting some attention, but I’m getting an Erin Brockovich: Part Deux vibe again. Put on a blonde wig, have skintight clothing and talk in some crazy Memphis accent aka act like a slut and you will get some Oscar attention. Do actresses have to demean themselves so they could get a shred of credibility in Tinseltown? Something needs to be done about that.

Judgment: Another average inspirational holiday movie that is supposed to make you adopt a big black boy.

Rating: ***

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all. No… not the artful postures of love, not playful and poetical games of love for the amusement of an evening, but love that… over-throws life. Unbiddable, ungovernable – like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love – like there has never been in a play.

— Viola de Lesseps

During my senior year, my high school put on a disastrous modernized retelling on Romeo and Juliet. Around the same time, Shakespeare in Love just opened in theaters and it was an assignment to watch the movie for some extra credit. At first, I didn’t know that it was supposed to be a comedy. That aspect of the film went completely over my head. When I owned the movie on video, I paid attention to the comedy and I loved it. I still do.

This movie fictionally retells the life of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) when he was exiled from his former life circa 1593. Times in his new home, London, are not faring so well. The plague rages across the land. Any public forums are closed including the theaters, which is not good for writers like Will or actors or the theater owners like Mr. Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush).

Henslowe owes a lot of money to Mr. Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson), who is like an investor for new plays in England. Will has to take small acting jobs when he can and other professional actors have to travel to other lands to perform.

Henslowe wants Will to write a new play that could be successful to pay off his debts. There is a problem. Will has no inspirations, no muse to let the words flow. He thought he had a muse with a loose woman, Rosaline (Sandra Reinton), but not.

With the advice of the country’s number playwright at time, Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) plants the idea of Romeo and Juliet to Will. Henslowe has auditions for the men who will plays all the parts. At the time, women were not allowed by law to be on the stage.

One privileged woman, Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) dreamed about being an actor. She is helped by her nurse (Imelda Staunton) to masquerade as a man, Thomas Kent, to audition to be in William Shakespeare’s new play. Will is taken by Thomas Kent that he wants him as his Romeo.

Their love blossoms at a chance encounter at a party at the de Lessep’s, but there is a wrench in the plan with Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) attends to make Viola his bride and bring her to the New World. Having only two weeks together, Viola and William begin a forbidden love affair that mirror the greatest love story ever told.

This is a love letter to the works of Shakespeare. I thought that it was ironic that at the time Marlowe was a bigger “celebrity” that he was. Shakespeare’s works are still revived today, but Marlowe is almost lost in time. The intertwining of our modern day catch phrase and the Elizabethan language is more hilarious every time I see it.

This movie was controversial when it won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan. Should it have won? In some ways, yes. The problem with Ryan is that there are too many endings. Spielberg tacked on a happy ending that doesn’t need to be there. To me, Shakespeare in Love was more heart wrenching and sweeping that Ryan. That’s just my opinion.

Judgment: Revisit this movie if you haven’t seen this movie since it won the Oscar.

Rating: ****1/2

Fargo (1996)

fargo

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.

— Marge Gunderson

Fargo is considered the greatest film that the Coen Brothers have ever made. I was ashamed that I have never seen this #124 movie of All Time on IMDb. All I knew about this movie is a pregnant sheriff, a car salesman and the wood chipper. This movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won Best Actress for Frances McDormand and the brothers for Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is apparently based on true events that happened in Minnesota in 1987. The names have been changed to protect the real life families from the prying eyes of the public.

A frazzled car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires a pair of thugs, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) with a new car and forty thousand dollars to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), because he has outstanding debt to pay off. That was his Plan B.

In a last ditch effort to avoid that is to convince his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell) to purchase some land for a parking lot to get a huge finder’s fee for his efforts.

Things start to get out of the control when Carl and Gaear follow through with the kidnapping that leads to a triple homicide on highway.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is the pregnant Brainerd police chief that investigates the highway murders. She expertly retraces what happens and bring whoever is responsible to justice.

This movie reminded me very much of No Country for Old Men, dealing with a small town living with a silent killer trying to get money back. I know that this movie was made-up and the latter was based on Cormac Macarthy’s book.

I enjoyed the monochromatic imagery of the snow blanketing the entire landscape. The story has you spinning in circles about what will happen next. It could dramatic, comedic, heartfelt and borderline creepy at times. That’s not to say that this is a masterpiece.

The accents on some of the actors slipped in and out. More of the Minnesotans with the “ya” and “you knows” were getting on my nerves. After watching that movie, I don’t understand why Frances won the Oscar. She was okay. She wasn’t spectacular in the movie to deserve the accolade. I also had problems with some plot holes. I will discuss those in the spoiler section.

Judgment: Not the Coens best movie, but it does have good things going for it.

Rating: ****

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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

million_dollar_baby

“Anybody can lose one fight, anybody can lose once, you’ll come back from this you’ll be champion of the world.”

— Scrap

It has been five years since I saw Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby in theater when it was on the shortlist to clench the Oscar for Best Picture. I thought that I might see this movie again to see if I had the same reaction I did then.

The movie won four including, Best Picture, Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Best Actress: Hilary Swank and Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman. It currently #144 of all time on IMDB. This was my top favorite film of 2004.

The movie deals with an aging trainer/manager, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) that loses his best male boxer, Big Willie (Mike Coulter) to a rival manager, Mickey Mack (Bruce MacVittie) in order for his to get a title shot.

Dunn runs the gym with a retired half-blind fighter, Scrap (Morgan Freeman). They deal with crazy characters like the scrawny featherweight, Danger (Jay Baruchel) who wants to be beat a welterweight champion of the world that retired years before. Also, there is Shawrelle (Anthony Mackie), a cocky boxer that could knock you out with a left hook, but he is unfocused.

An amateur boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) wants to be trained by Frankie, but he doesn’t train girls. She works as waitress and she is almost penniless. She struggles to support herself and her family.

After Dunn’s repeated attempts to drive her away, her stubbornness and tenacity breaks Frankie down until he takes her on.

As she begins to gain experience, she becomes overly-confident with fame and fortune that unexpected incident happens that changes her life forever.

I still have to same feelings as I did five years ago. I still think that Maggie was get to cocky for me to root for her. The characters in this movie had too much pride with a particular thing and they have to be brought down a peg.

As in any Eastwood film, Catholicism is front and center in story. Dunn tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Katie, who we never get to see. He goes to mass everyday to harass Father Horvak (Brían F. O’Byrne) to atone for a sin that the audience doesn’t know about.

Judgment: If you haven’t seen this movie in a long time, I would suggest revisiting it.

Rating: ****1/2

The Reader (2008)


The Reader is a movie that has been nominated for four Golden Globe awards including Best Supporting Actress – Kate Winslet, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Drama Picture.

This film comes from the director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, Steven Daldry. I was skeptical that I would like this film and I was right. I hated it.

The movie centers around the illicit affair between 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) and a train conductor, Hanna (Kate Winslet) that is twice his age that lasts for the summer of 1958. Michael reads to Hanna every time that they are together, right before they make love. Until one day, when Hanna is promoted, she leaves without telling Michael goodbye.

Eight years later, Michael, as a inspiring lawyer, he witnesses a trail of six women that are accused of killing three hundred Jewish people in a church fire during the Holocaust in 1944. Michael learns that one of the defendants is Hanna. He realizes that Hanna was an SS guard.

There are some clues that leads you to Hanna’s secret shame, the decisions that both older Michael (Ralph Fiennes) and Hanna made throughout their times together. It culminates to a scene that I didn’t understand. The motive for Hanna’s last act.

I was bored to tears during this movie. The only highlights of the film were Kate and Lena Olin who plays the daughter of the lone survivor of the tragedy. The flashbacks and forwards where godawful. That’s it.

My rating: ** stars.

The Queen (2006)


After my tepid response to Peter Morgan penned, “Frost/Nixon”, I wanted to see the film that brought his name to the national stage, The Queen.

I did not want to see this movie when it came out in 2006, because I thought that it would be stuffy and overwrought with sentimental dialogue. I knew where I was when I heard of Princess Diana’s death. I was ironically watching the Spice Girls on Mtv when a ticker said that she was dead. I was shocked.

The movie takes place during the summer of 1997 when Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) was sworn in as Britain’s youngest Prime Minister ever. This dramatic turn of events dismayed Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and her husband, Prince Philip (James Cromwell).

In their first meeting together, Tony and his wife, Cherie (Helen McCrory) try to dignified towards the Queen, but she is disappointed with their lack of grace.

Most of the movie takes place when Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, who are shown in archival footage are killed in France after a high speed chase with the paparazzi and the subsequents days afterward.

It is mostly a power struggle between the progressive Tony Blair, along with the ever-changing British society and the very traditional ways of the monarchy.

The Queen does not want a big spectacle for the burial of Princess Diana of Wales. She wanted to have a private ceremony the way that the Spencer family wanted.

In the days that followed, the British people grew angry at the royal family for not making any comment about the death of Diana, no remorse, no showing of grief or respect for her life. They wanted to have the monarchy abolished. The Queen wanted to do the right thing in her mind is to not make it a spectacle.

Sensing the growing frustration, Tony Blair and Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) wanted to give the people what they want and have a public memorial service for the “People’s Princess” that Blair passively called her.

The press made Blair look like the hero and the Queen the heartless villain. Blair did not want that to happen. He tries to calm anger of the public and the venom of press, but to no avail. Eventually, Blair had to issue and ultimatum that she will give into the demands of the public. She reluctantly agrees. Her popularity comes back into fluctuation.

I loved the way that Stephen Frears interweaving the archival footage of Diana and the funeral into the film. Wonderful. The sweeping shots of the English countryside by Affonso Beato were phenomenal. Alexandre Desplat’s score sucked me right into the action. I knew what happened for the most part, but I felt the tension in the air. It was palpable.

It was a good movie that I’m glad to have to chance to see.

My rating: ***1/2 stars.

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