Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Best Actresses of 2005 - (Year End Round-up, Pt. 3)

The Best Performances of 2005 – The Gals!

This has been a rough year for the gals. Often found carrying the weight of an entire film on their slim shoulders – theirs might not have been “The Must See” films of the year, but they were the great performances of the year.

From the Lead Actress to the Best Supporting Actress, we applaud the talents of the following ladies. And it’s high time that people start applauding the supporting players. Ever since the Academy was founded in 1927, they were seemingly an afterthought. Once they started giving out Oscars in 1929, the only Awards for actors or actresses were for Lead performance. As if the incredibly talented character actors of the Golden Era were mere furniture to maneuver around in order to get to their keylight.

The problem of course is what constitutes a supporting performance? Back in the day it was often the domain of the aforementioned character actors who created so many memorable “background” characters. But as with most important questions in life, is it merely a matter of size? Well, yes. Technically. But as such famous Supporting Oscar winners as Geena Davis and Timothy Hutton can tell you – their roles were the leads on paper. Conversely, Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Neal and Maximillian Schell won awards in the Lead category that some might have labeled supporting!

Before it gets all too confusing, let’s remember that for the most part studios decide the final category and with rare exceptions the voters stick to them. So if a studio thinks that an actor or actress has a better shot at winning the supporting Oscar, then that is where they will place them. Jake Gyllenhaal, say hello to your fellow Best Supporting Actor nominees. Including the brilliant ten minutes that William Hurt chalked up for his remarkable turn in “A History of Violence.” Oh, quit bickering that you were one of the leads in “Brokeback Mountain”, don’t you get it! This way, you and Heath might both win, which means more press, more interest at the box office, and more money for the studios. After all, those gay cowboy films aren’t going to fund themselves, you power bottom bitch. And just be thankful that nowadays you’d receive an actual Oscar statuette.

Case in point. That’s Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to be nominated and the first to win an Oscar for her great supporting performance as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind”. Perhaps she looks so glum because she just realized that she ain’t getting to take home the big Oscar statue, just the hideous plaque seen on the table above. See, it’s got a little half of an Oscar on it. Ain’t it nice? No? We don’t think so either. Years later, by 1943 to be exact, they did away with the plaques and finally started to award the players with real statuettes. How kind. It only took you sixteen years. Bitches. And speaking of bitches, back to the ladies!

Among the year's best, were:

Fionnula Flanagan for what could have been a caricature of the sun-baked suburban retiree in “Transamerica.” Fionnula is too accomplished a pro to let a little thing like a sit-com style character hold her back. She delivered the comic goods, and when the moment called for it – the emotional whollop.

Gong Li as one of the two good things about “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Rob Marshall’s over the top and jumbled mess of a film managed to showcase the talents of three great Asian actresses. But only Michelle Yeoh as the kindly Mameha and especially the stunning Gong Li as the wicked bitch of the east, Hatsumomo managed to emerge unscathed. And in Gong Li’s case, she soared above the dim sum of it's flabby parts.

Taryn Manning as Nola, the hooker with a head for gold in “Hustle & Flow.” From the moment she sauntered around the beat up pimpmobile in towering platforms, she sold us on her swagger and bite. Only later, did she reveal an equally powerful heart to match her strut.

And speaking of whores, Kelly Reilly as Maureen, the small town gal who goes to London to learn to strip for the soldiers on leave during London’s Blitz in “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” This is the kind of role that Ann Dvorak would have owned back in the thirties, and it is no small praise from us to say that Miss Reilly managed to earn our tears.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The CGI, The Leadfoot Direction and The Lack of Magic.” Cutting a metaphorical and literal swathe thru the brack and mire of this horribly overblown film, the great Tilda once again emerges triumphant. In this case over the corpse of a dead Christ figure dressed up as “The Lion King.”

Brava to the ladies mentioned above! We applaud their work and will remember their talented turns. The following five actresses are our choice for the Best Supporting Actresses of the year.

Amy Adams, for her impeccable timing and highly detailed work as the chatty pregnant small town wife in “Junebug.” We have no idea what Miss Adams was thinking throughout the acting process, but her enviable ingenuity demonstrated a great comedienne inside this little known actress. Hopefully, a career breakthrough performance that will afford her greater roles.

Taraji P. Henson as Shug in “Hustle & Flow.” Hidden behind the small bent frame and enormously soulful eyes of this bedraggled creature, lay an incredibly gorgeous soul that soared on the wings of rap music no less. Watching Shug come into her own as a character, and Miss Henson as an actress with the pivotal recording session central scene brought tears of joy to her eyes and ours.

Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee in “Capote.” This year seems to abound with the quiet performances that creep up under your theatre seat and yanked you down forcibly to lay down the final blow. Catherine Keener once again proves her incredible versatility by quietly etching the brainy charms of the famed writer pal of Truman Capote who lent her support in his time of need, only to be cast aside in the monumental wake of his ego. Watching Miss Keener apply her talents to this pillar of strength and will power was like taking a master class in acting.

Sissy Spacek as Alice Aimes, the Mid-western model of a dutiful wife and mother in “North Country.” Characters such as Alice Aimes are the ones we think actresses are the least interested in. A lesser actress would have faded into the folds of her worn apron, but the legendary Sissy who holds six Oscar nominations and one statuette is still a force to be reckoned with. One look into her piercing eyes and you know the complete story of this woman. A pillar of strength without realizing it herself, when her daughter suffers indignities in the workplace her soul may cry out for her – but her misguided sense of propriety forbids from her acting upon it.

Michelle Williams as Alma, the stalwart wife of a closeted cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain.” Playing mousy can land you the applause, but living up to and exceeding our expectations can also win you awards, Miss Williams. And we would applaud any that come your way for this devastating turn.

And as for the Lead Actress category, for awhile there we admit we were panicking. The best roles in the best films of the year were seemingly all going to men. But thankfully, by years end we had a banner crop of lovely and talented ladies to applaud.

Starting out the year, and owning a good portion of it was the double punch courtesy of Joan Allen as the bedraggled “widow” binging on booze and cutting loose in the mid-luster comedy “The Upside of Anger”. Paired with her technically stunning lead turn in Sally Potter’s rhyming verse-a-thon examination of middle aged sexual angst – “Yes” – Joan Allen shot back up to our most admired list.

Juliette Binoche as the wife and mother seemingly being stalked in the very fine Caché.” Her ability and inability to handle the stress of an unseen menace haunting her husband’s life led to some of the years best scenes.

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, as the divorcee looking back on her troubled marriage in our beloved François Ozon’s5 x 2.” One of the most frank and brutal depictions of the mental cruelties we are capable of inflicting upon our loved ones. A ballsy and brave performance that earned applause in Europe, and was shamefully ignored stateside. Bad, Americans, bad!

Dame Judi Dench as the titular and tittie loving “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” Pulling up her sleeves, and jumping into the period comedy fray, Dame Judi once again proves her impeccable timing and infinite talent can soar above any middling screenplay.

Vera Farmiga, the L.A. critics pick for Best Actress as the cocaine addicted working class mother in Down to the Bone.” A spare and sometimes devastating look into the blue collar world of drug addiction. The luminous Miss Farmiga is on the brink of becoming one of our favorite actresses with her shattering portrayal.

From “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” - Julianne Moore as the real life mother of a near countless brood, who stemmed her children’s poverty blues by raking in the legendary mid-20th century advertising sweepstakes craze wins and kept her family together with her quiet determination and limitless resolve. Another feather in Julianne’s 1950s housewife lexicon cap that shows her limitless range and power as an actress.

Charlize Theron as the heroine to working women faced with sexual harassment in the workplace for daring to have a uterus in a man’s world. Hopefully beating those Oscar curse whispers, by showing that yes indeed kids, Charlize is a real actress who is capable of more than playing “scary dykes.” A solid and nuanced turn in the underappreciated “North Country.”

And finally, here are our five nominees for the Best Actress of the Year!

Patricia Clarkson as the Hollywood trophy wife with some big surprises under her cool terraced swimming pool exterior in the sharply written “The Dying Gaul.” While the movie itself teetered on too many contrivances, it almost succeeded on the strength of Miss Clarkson’s near miraculous ability to sell any character. Here she was blessed by writer / director Craig Lucas’ keen ability to provide complex female characters, a role almost tailor made for Patricia’s particular brand of edgy humor and brassy resolve. We are merely counting the days until the Academy relents and throws this incredibly talented lady an Oscar for something! Hopefully it will be before she’s carted off to the Actor’s Retirement Home.

Felicity Huffman as Bree, the tranny out to discover her own “Transamerica.” We have always recognized Mrs. Macy’s range and talent, and here she puts it to the test with her larger than life portrayal of a woman discovering she is a father of a coke snorting amateur gay porn twink. Practically the story of our lives, but with less controversy. Felicity achieves the near impossible, managing not to be upstaged by a prosthetic penis. People, give her an award for that alone!

Liv Ullmann for her return to Ingmar Bergman’s cold rural landscapes in the sublime “Saraband.” Repeating her role of thirty years hence, she is the backbone of this devastating family drama by remaining the outsider whose eyes witness the deterioration of her former husband’s secluded world. While Liv has always been an actress of the first caliber, here she takes the quietest route to the most emotionally devastating work of the year. Brava and Skål!

Naomi Watts for pulling out all the stops in acting opposite a giant monkey in Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong.” While the Academy finally noticed her talent with a nomination for “21 Grams”, Miss Watts proved yet again her giant sized talent by venturing forth into the purest form of acting. Imagination.

Reese Witherspoon for her wonderfully rich and humane work as the legendary June Carter Cash, opposite Joaquin Phoenix’s Man in Black in “Walk the Line.” Finally redeeming herself for years of amateur sit-com drivel, the talented Miss Witherspoon once again proves to be the actress we hoped she was way back when she charmed us with her fine work in “The Man in the Moon”, “Freeway” and “Election.” Her June Carter is the backbone to the film as well as the spiritual foundation to the tumultuous life of the legendary rebel of country music. A perfectly modulated and impeccably honest performance that left us in tears and beaming with pride at Reese’s return to our hearts.

And lest we forget the kids, our nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Young Actress.

Dakota Fanning for “War of the Worlds.” While we can acknowledge that this pint sized dynamo frequently leaves us itching to pull a JonBenet Ramsey in her basement, we have to admit the little bitch can deliver the goods.

Georgie Henley for “The Chronicles of Narnia: Blah, Blah, Blah.” While her co-star Tilda Swinton stole the show as the bitchy White Witch, this Lilliputian Eleanora Duse managed to capture the only humanity in the center of the hyped up snoozefest.

While Q’Orianka Kilcher may seem a tad long in the tooth to be up against the tots, she was all of fourteen when she began work as the revisionist Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s very fine “The New World.” The complete honesty of her portrayal was matched by her vivid screen presence that melted our cold black hearts.

So, who would win our own statuette for the year’s best? By recognizing the varied roles and differing acting styles, we have to award the actresses that not only lived up to their expectations but soared above them. For their fine work, we would honor these three lovely lasses.

Outstanding Young Actress - Q’Orianka Kilcher for “The New World”, Best Supporting Actress - Amy Adams in “Junebug” and for Best Actress - Reese Witherspoon for “Walk the Line.” Three great performances in a surprisingly strong year-end finish for actresses. Now, if we could just convince these bitches to call us, we could recommend some fantastic gowns for them to wear come Oscar night. Lord knows, little Miss Tennessee needs all the fashion help she can find! Bless you all!


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