Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Doris Day Has Personality Video

My tribute to Hollywood's Golden Girl (literally, as Doris Day was the #1 Box Office star for four years in the early 1960's, and didn't do too much worse a lot of other years) is up over here at YouTube (choose the "Watch in High Quality" option for best results).

Spending the last couple of weeks piecing together my video salute to the talented and lovely Ms. Day allowed me the opportunity to review a lot of this versatile performer's work. Some musings:

Day was a true pro. Watching the woeful 1954 outing Lucky Me, damned if Doris doesn’t seem intent on doing her best, regardless of the sub-standard material. She comes across as cheerful and skillful doing material most performers could be forgiven for looking depressed trying to put over. However, Day keeps strutting her stuff as if she's the lead in South Pacific (as she should have been, but that’s another story), putting her musical numbers over with verve and providing the film with its sole grace note.

Day’s abilities as an actress often come under fire, especially in the lightweight sex comedies that eventually killed off much of the reputation she’d built as a solid screen performer during the first ten years of her movie career. However, I often find her occasional mugging in comic roles appealing and amusing- her wit’s fairly quick most of the time, and she knows how to gets her laughs. In her best (non-sex) comedies (Teacher’s Pet, It Happened to Jane, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and The Thrill of it All come to mind) the mugging’s at a minimum, and Day’s just about perfect.

Day’s singing brooks no criticism. Listening to her (backed by Harry James) in Young Man With A Horn singing “With a Song in My Heart” would make those angels we have heard on high jealous. In this area of her career Day rarely, if ever, hit a false note.

Day and Rock Hudson had at least as much fun working together as any other great screen team- looking for upbeat clips to use in the video, nearly every scene I watched featuring Day and Hudson found them glowing and laughing at each other to a fare-thee-well. Even when Day and Hudson’s characters are bickering away, the chemistry’s still there, making an audience believe Day could somehow end up happily ever after with the charming, womanizing cads Hudson plays in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.

At her best, Day makes George Michael’s claim that anyone could make the sun shine brighter than her seem sacrilegious. She’s still going strong at 84 and has received a Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Golden Globes and, more recently, a richly deserved Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, but the Academy Awards and the Kennedy Center have neglected to bestow similar honors on Day. Get with it, people.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Supporting Actress Pros and Cons

Brooke from The Performance Review is asking bloggers both near and far to name their top five favorite and least-favorite Supporting Actress Oscar winners.

My top five favorite wins (in order of preference):

1) Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind- It may not be the greatest work to win a Supporting Actress Oscar, but I once called Malone’s Marylee Hadley my favorite supporting performance, and I haven’t seen anyone who’s changed my opinion.

2) Rita Moreno in West Side Story- Moreno knocks it out of the park; her work as Anita is not close to perfection, it’s beyond it.

3) Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost- I can forgive any missteps in Whoopi’s career just for the scene wherein Oda Mae makes it clear she really doesn’t want to give away that money. She’s hilarious all-around, too.

4) Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower- Additional proof that work in a comedy can be as Oscar-worthy as any other kind of acting. The film’s not great, but Hawn is on-the-mark in sensational fashion.

5) Sandy Dennis in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?- I don’t know what the hell Dennis thinks she’s doing, but I can’t keep my eyes off her (very entertaining, and frequently inspired) neurotic ticking. An unmatched performance, whether one views Dennis' work in a good or bad sense.

My least-favorite (from worst to bad. Coming up with this list was tricky, as after the first couple choices, there’s not a lot of Supporting Actress Oscar performances I dislike):

1) Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain- It’s an awesome performance all right, but not in a good way. If only the concept behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was real, so I could erase this one from memory. I’m convinced an evil, untalented twin locked Renee in a closet and took her place just before Mountain commenced filming, as I refuse to believe this is the same girl we all fell in love with in Jerry Maguire.

2) Helen Hayes in Airport- Somewhere in Heaven, Hayes is thanking Renee for achieving the impossible by being even worse in Mountain than she was in Airport. Give Hayes credit, though: in her autobiography she states she kept far, far away from the movie, until she was on a cruise wherein some (supposed) friends tried to force her to finally watch the 1970 blockbuster onboard. Hayes told them she had to go back to her cabin and throw up instead. Smart lady.

3) Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath- She has some touching scenes that helped her nab the Big One, but her Ma Joad largely consists of a lot of cloying, one-dimensional acting.

4) Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse- The Supporting Actress category’s list of winners got off to a fairly undistinguished start, as Sondergaard also does a lot of showy one-note acting as the adverse villainess, Faith Paleologus.

5) Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara- I can remember her name, but her performance escapes me, as I don’t recall anything about her work in Sayonara, while all four of her co-nominees gave distinctive, impressive performances- love Umeki in Flower Drum Song, though.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Emmanuelle Devos Engages A Christmas Tale

For Stinkylulu’s 3rd Annual Supporting Actress Blogathon, I'll single out the lovely, wise work of beautiful Emmanuelle Devos in A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noel). I didn’t find Arnaud Desplechin’s lengthy comedy/drama detailing the joys and sorrows facing the Vuillards as engrossing as many critics, but as Faunia, the girlfriend of Henri, the family’s troubled, outcast son, Devos made me sit up straight wondering “Wow, who is this incredible lady?” as I tried to place that glorious face from other films. I couldn’t, and watching the bemused, statuesque beauty magnetically hold my attention despite all the dramatic fireworks surrounding Faunia reminded me of the first time I viewed Sophia Loren in El Cid, and understood exactly what the term “star quality” meant on the big screen. It doesn’t hurt that, along with her relaxed-yet-stunning presence on film, the enchanting Devos appears to be ageless- while watching the film I placed her as a twenty-something newcomer to film. Reviewing Devos' career accomplishments, I found she’s been acting in movies for over twenty years, establishing herself as a major force in French cinema, winning several international film awards in the process, including a Cesar Award for her work in 2001's Sur mes levres.

I can understand the accolades- in this Tale, Devos gives an exquisitely understated performance, radiating a warmth onscreen that serves as a perfect, calming counterpoint to the irascible Henri’s frequent outbursts during their holiday visit at the Vuillard’s. There’s a great moment when Henri acts up at the family’s dining room table and gets throttled by his brother-in-law for his obnoxious behavior, and Devos does a wonderful, unexpected thing in the mist of this family turmoil- she starts laughing in a quiet, gentle manner. The obvious response would be to express shock and dismay at Henri’s plight, but Devos' reaction really grabs the audience's attention, allowing them to comprehend Faunia as a perceptive, intelligent woman who understands Henri and accepts his unruly behavior as part of their relationship- Faunia knows Henri has his knockout punch coming, but she alone has the sense to see the humor in the situation, while Henri’s family is mortified by his ill temper.

She has two more sequences that stand out as highlights- in the first Faunia shops with Junon, the Vuillard’s matriarch. Junon happens to be played by Catherine Deneuve, and watching these two goddesses casually interact makes one dizzy from the remarkable onscreen presence conveyed by these elegant women. Later, there’s an extremely touching moment wherein Paull (Emile Berling), Junon’s introverted, sensitive grandson, is dismayed to hear Faunia’s leaving to spend time with her own family. Paull watches as Faunia prepares to leave; however, before reaching the front door she turns, then gives the infatuated boy a penetrating look. Asking if Paull has a pen, Faunia returns to the youth and takes his purple felt-tipped marker, then draws a small heart near his palm, before she finally departs with Henri. The Vuillards may have seen the last of Faunia (who can tell where her relationship with the unpredictable Henri is headed?), but the viewer senses Paull will never forget this graceful, captivating woman. Neither will anyone who watches A Christmas Tale.