Friday, January 12, 2007

THE BEST AND WORST BEST ACTRESSES

Oscar season is upon us, and no one I know of dissects the annual ritual with as much equals parts statistician’s detachment, critical evaluation and unabashed fan excitement as the eponymous proprietor of Edward Copeland on Film. And much like he did with last year’s survey of the best Best Picture winners, Edward’s got another survey afoot and he wants to hear from you: Who would you pick as the best and worst Best Actress winners in Oscar History? Edward’s going to be unveiling the winners (and losers) of the survey on Tuesday, January 23. That means that you have until midnight, January 19, to submit your votes and have them included in the final tally. Send your picks via e-mail to copesurvey@yahoo.com and do it soon. Edward says the survey submissions are picking up, but time is a-wastin’! And Edward would like to remind you that this survey, like last year's, in on the honor system-- you can only vote for performances you've actually seen.

I finally got my own picks sent away to E.C. a few days ago, and even though Edward has vowed to highlight comments from all the entrants, just as he did last year, I decided to make my picks public, all the better to order to invite as much hateful commentary, derision and threats as possible. So here they are, the Best (in descending order, from best to less-than-best-but-still-damn-good) and the Worst (starting from the basement and working our way up toward sunlight, only not quite making it).

THE BEST

1) Patricia Neal (Hud) Smoldering, brash, and tough— Neal brought out all her reserves of carnality, as well as a homespun resilience and battered wisdom, as Alma, the housekeeper who stirs the brutal passions of Newman's amoral rancher antihero. This is a performance that perfectly encapsulates the actress’s talent as well as our perception of her.

2) Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday) Speaking of summations, if Audrey Hepburn never made another movie after this one, she’d still be the Audrey Hepburn we know and love based on the luminescence she displays in this completely disarming performance.

3) Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress) A beautiful, painful reflection of the savagery of betrayal and humiliation. De Havilland finds reserves of intelligence and sensitivity in this role that others might also have discovered, but she uses her own history, particularly the reverberations of her character from Gone With the Wind, to inform those feelings with her own warmth—she’s peculiar and not just a little pathetic, but she’s never a mouse we want to see trampled, or one who deserves it.

4) Frances McDormand (Fargo) Good-humored, empathetic, yet never the condescending joke her detractors have sometimes claimed.

5) Sally Field (Norma Rae) An honest-to-God excellent performance, though sometimes one that took her character’s stridency too much as a road map. Halle Berry should have looked at this performance for guidance, then packed it in.

THE WORST

5) Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) Her Oscar moment onstage was sweet and everything, even if I felt I had to eventually look away (even so, she was nowhere near Sally Field territory). But on screen I’ve never seen an actress so far out of her league. Almost everything she did rang false, especially that big character scene with the Snickers bar. Watching Monster’s Ball I felt a level of embarrassment for an actor, regardless of gender, the likes of which I’ve never experienced.

4) Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets) I used to like Helen Hunt, but it was this performance that made me start thinking of her a smug, closed-off actress, rotating in her own little universe. The joys of Dr. T and the Women did nothing to dispel that perception.

3) Holly Hunter (The Piano) And speaking of smug… Here’s a performance that embodied every element of the director’s concept—detachment, insularity, rage and, of course, victimization as secular sainthood (and de facto rationalization for perpetrating the previously stated qualities)—and that’s NOT a good thing.

2) Sally Field (Places in the Heart) A performance, and a movie, that was as soggy as yesterday’s oats, and as predictable in its taste.

1) Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) Over Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style or Kim Stanley in Séance On A Wet Afternoon? Please! This performance isn’t half as charming as it’s been drummed into everyone my age to believe. Andrews seemed to me like Captain Bligh with bloomers and a umbrella when I was a kid, and her icy, imperious persona as an actress (which is never quite masked by the doily of cheerfulness she drapes over herself) has done nothing to help me warm up to her as an adult.
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Will this year’s winner be on one of these lists next year? Will someone else take a place in our heart in this monstrous ball alongside Halle Berry and Sally Field? Will anyone remember who won Best Actress 2006 by this time next year?

Commence hurling ripe tomatoes now!

9 comments:

Brian said...

Dennis--
Hard to disagree with those best/worst choices (except Julie Andrews-- blasphemer! (: Besides, it led to her wonderful Oscar acceptance speech, where she thanked Jack Warner for *not* casting her in My Fair Lady). I would add to the worst list Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld, Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and Nicole Kidman in the ghastly, overrated The Hours (your description of The Piano could equally apply to this film). But why stop with actresses? It's not like men haven't stunk up the screen. I know it's outside the purview of the blog link, but here are some lousy, awarded male performances:

-- Victor McLaglen in The Informer
--Ernest Borgnine in Marty
--Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur
--Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump
-- Kevin Spacey in American Beauty
--Geoffrey Rush in Shine
--Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful
--Sean Penn in Mystic River

Finally, can we all agree that the wost 'best picture' winner ever is the wretched, wretched, wretched Oliver??

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

My only argument with Patricia Neal is it's really just a supporting performance.

Brian said...

Oh, and since we're talking about actresses-- how about a belated moment of silence for Yvonne de Carlo? She never won an academy award, but she did have the good fortune to debut the great stephen sondheim song "I'm Still Here," in Follies, which manages to weave together movies, theater and American history with more wit, skill and pathos than many "prestige pictures" do (I'm looking at you, Robert Zemekis). All that, and the Munsters, too!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Brian: I can't remember for sure what my pick in Edward Copeland's Worst Best Picture Winner survey from last year was, but I suspect it might have been Around the World in 80 Days. It's been too long (say, around 36 years) since I've seen Oliver! to really say what I think of it now. And I have no great love for Crash, that's for sure.

TLRHB: Yeah, you're right about the size of Neal's role. But I couldn't think of anyone I liked more who actually won the Best Actress prize, so there she be.

Appropo of nothing, have you seen Children of Men? The Mrs. and I found our way to it yesterday, and I'm going to go back and read Matt Z.S. and Jim E. on it now that I've seen it-- I get the impression their takes on the film might be somewhat different than mine. I hope to write about it soon.

Gena Rowlands said...

Nix Audrey Hepburn (forever, in everything) and substitute Liz Taylor in Virginia Wolf or Fonda in Klute.

It certainly is depressing to look at that list, though. The best performances by female actors are seriously AWOL when it comes to the Oscars. Not a suprise, I guess.

blaaagh said...

I quite agree on both Sally Field performances! Kinda iffy on your choice of Halle Berry...but I'm surprised most of all by your Helen Hunt choice, since I found that performance not only likeable but brilliantly detailed and moving. H'mm...one of those rare cases where we have a very different response, I guess. Still, what an enjoyable subject!

..And, since I haven't seen MARY POPPINS since it was first released, I can't argue for Julie Andrews's performance very effectively!

blaaagh said...

Oh--I forgot to say that Patricia Neal is the one I most agree with: I had never seen this movie until a few months ago, and I was blown away by the film, and particularly by her complex, sensual, funny performance. I felt, after I'd seen it, as if I'd just seen one of the greatest performances ever.

blaaagh said...

Oh, and no, I don't agree at all that Neal's is a supporting performance.

Campaspe said...

I love Patricia Neal in Hud, and leaving her off my list was hard to do. Neal, along with Simone Signoret in Room at the Top, were the two omissions that gave me the hardest time.

I hope that Luise Rainer doesn't make the Worst Actress list. She just turned 96, and I wrote a lengthy appreciation of her last year. Despite the fact that "Ziegfeld" is most definitely a supporting role, I feel very protective of Luise.