Friday, June 11, 2010

"The Man That Got Away". The Project That Didn't.

<--- Mrs. Best Actress and Mr. Best Actor, 1954.
But OOPS. Marlon Brando won but Judy didn't.

Judy Garland breaks my heart every time she warbles a note. Someone once ridiculed me in college for this. "It's an old school gay cliché," He said. "You weren't born in the 1940s for goddsakes." But, reader, I firmly believe it's a sign of weak (or dull) character when people only care about the culture and entertainment that's happening in their own lifetime. The best people always transcend space and time, allowing whatever will speak to them to speak to them, no matter the country of origin, decade or even century. I mean if kabuki theater, Gregorian chants, 90s sitcoms or silent film divas are your things, obsess on them please. Life is too short to let cultural experience be completely defined by the day's studio heads, record executives or marketing gurus... not to mention peer pressure. Enjoy what you enjoy.

So anyway, this morning I must bow down to Nick who completed his Best Actress Project by screening Judy's A Star is Born (1954). Though I don't recommend YOU save it for your last one (just save it until later this month when the newly restored edition of the film arrives for home viewing). It's an accidentally perfect closing film because it is...great
  1. contains phenomenal actressing
  2. actually about the movie industry
  3. Oscar obsessed. Oscar Night is a big plot point
TRIVIA BUFFS: Come to think, regarding #4, has anyone who ever pretended to win an Oscar in a movie, won one? I can't think of a single example. Maybe it's a curse? But then only two cases spring immediately to mind Matt Dillon in In & Out (1997) and Judy in A Star is Born. Are there more? Have I forgotten something obvious?

Anyway. You must see Nick "Faye" Davis's 'Morning After' staged photo as well and please comment there to encourage him to expand all of this into a print book. Here's what I had to say.
I would buy a copy of the book every time I met another actressexual and give it as a 'Hello New Friend' gift. And I would buy a copy for every 5 star actress that I also think is 5 star and ship it to her management.
And I'd keep 4 copies for myself: One signed by you; One for note taking; One to keep in pristine condition; And the final one to use as bludgeoning device should I ever meet an Academy member who doesn't take their voting in this category seriously.
And I meant it! (Well maybe not the first paragraph. That might get expensive in my line of work.)

But back to Judy. In his article, Nick says what will surely be fighting words to some
Garland is beyond being the best of her group, which is hardly a shabby one. She's one Blanche DuBois away from being the strongest nominee of her decade.
I wholeheartedly agree that she's the best of the '54 crop and I'd rank them like so: Garland, Wyman, Hepburn, Dandridge, Kelly... yes, the winner being my least favorite is not an uncommon trend. And Kelly was better in Rear Window (same year) anyway.

But Nick's provocative statement got me thinking about the 50s performances that I still haven't seen and the ones I'd rank as very best. From what I've seen so far, my 5 favorites from the decade are (in alpha order).
  • Bette Davis, All About Eve (50)
  • Judy Garland, A Star is Born (54)
  • Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday (50)
  • Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire (51)
  • Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo (55)
  • Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard (50)
Oops, that's 6! But who to leave out? I already had to part with the Woodwardian amazement that is The Three Faces of Eve. What is your list like for the 1950s? And if you haven't seen many -- you gotta start somewhere and maybe it isn't in the 50s -- which performances are you most curious about based on what you've heard and read over the years you've been actress-curious?


Alison Flynn said...

Judy Garland an old school gay cliché? I don't think so.

Anyone who isn't touched the minute they hear Judy open her mouth and sing is not paying attention.

Going back now to read the whole article on this wonderful talent but I had to respond to that particular quote. :)

Yonatan said...

One has to mention California Suite (1978) in which Maggie Smith portrays an actress nominated for an Oscar. We see her (in her suite) before the ceremony and after losing the award.

Smith won her second Oscar for the movie.

par3182 said...

six is perfectly acceptable number for a list spanning an entire decade

does it have to be lead performances? if not, please make room for jean hagen and thelma ritter


par -- oh yes jean hagen. DIVINE.

alison -- hey, i didn't say it ;)

yonatan -- oh yeah, duh! good call.

OtherRobert said...

Let's see: I'm straight and consider myself a Judy Garland fan. She had a great voice and a wonderful screen presence. It doesn't hurt that she was beautiful, too.

I know this is the performance everyone goes wow about, but I think my favorite of her performances is Meet Me In St. Louis. That's as much her doing a bang-up job as it is the music she's allowed to dominate. I cannot imagine anyone else selling "The Trolley Song" and getting away with it on screen at that time. It would have been too cloying or too forced coming from someone else.

Tan said...

Oh yeah, Davis and Leigh!

adelutza said...

I would add to the best Of 50's actress list Danielle Darrieux, for all the Max Ophüls films she was in, but specially for Madame de....

Alison Flynn said...

LOL, Nat, I knew that. :)

@adelutza - yes to Danielle Darrieux for Madame de...
That movie is sublime.

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Nathaniel: Thanks for this! I figured you'd get hooked by that claim about the 50s nominees, and believe me, when I vault Judy ahead of the whole 1950 crowd based on one viewing, that really meant something!

Eleanor Parker in Caged, Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story, and Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer would all be contenders for my honor roll in the decade.

And I second Adelutza on Darrieux, even if she wasn't an Oscar nominee. I've dreamed of giving her the imaginary '54 Oscar for years, which posed my only regret at having to revise my site features in Judy's wake. Still love you, Danielle!

Anonymous said...

I had like a huge comment, but stupid wordpress.

Anyway, I was saying that the stigma for Judy fans has diminished now because my (hetero film geek) peers consider her as a classic film icon moreso than a gay icon.

And I like what you like. Plus Joanne Woodward, see it. Plus Carroll Baker in Baby Doll, which apparently I'm alone for that one.

Volvagia said...

'50s females, no category division?

1. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard.
2. Thelma Ritter, Rear Window
3. Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame
4. Bette Davis, All About Eve
5. Mercedes McCambridge, Johnny Guitar

(If it has to be "Lead" take out Ritter and McCambridge, replace with Grace Kelly, Rear Window and Masayuki Mori, Rashomon)

Billy Held An Oscar said...

Whitney Houston in 'The Bodyguard'. The character, Rachel Marron, won for 'Queen of the Night'.

Why I remember this truly disturbs me.

Michael said...

The Swanson, Leigh, Garland, Holliday, Davis line-up is tough to argue with (I have to see Rose Tattoo) save for the fact that it leaves off my absolute no-contest #1 for the 50's: Guilietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria.

I forced I'd guess I'd trade out Holliday for Masina. Then you could easily change the group to best female performance EVER and it would hold up pretty damn well.

Jeff D. said...

Cate Blanchett is win an Oscar playing an Oscar winner (Katharine Hepburn). I would be curious to know what your friend Nick thinks is the Best Best Actress race.

Terence said...

Vivien Leigh was my favorite of the decade but Bette Davis is a close second.

I actually wrote about A Streetcar named desire the other day

Haven't seen A Star is Born but I figure I should get around to that lol

Jeff D. said...

Sorry...I should proofread my comments. It should say Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner.


@Jeff D -- i believe Nick is on record saying the 1974 race is the best across the board (maybe he'll pop back in with a link)

@Michael i've seen several Fellini's but not that one. I should get to. I will also take all these Danielle Dareaux statements seriously

@Billy HEE. thanks. I shall add it in.


okinawa thanks for sharing that. it's good to hear. For so long this stupid stigma attached to her made me SO ANGRY. It even allowed Frank Sinatra to steal her rightful title "The World's Greatest Entertainer" I guess Michael Jackson fans also tried to steal the title for him but it always did and always will belong to Judy G. The amount she could conjure up with just her voice and no props, effects, costumes or ANYTHING. The voice itself was enough.

Michael said...

A few others worth mentioning:

- Shelly Winters hysterical suppressed sexuality in Night of the Hunter has stayed with me.

- Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man. I'm not the only one who loves her, right? Her short-fuse Mary Kate, is the centerpiece of this sentimental favorite.

- I'm firmly in the camp that thinks Kim Novak's performance in Vertigo is greatness.

Jason Adams said...

Just seeing that hint of Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession in those stupid "I'm blind, but fashionable!" glasses makes me angry all over again. God I just hate her.

Alex said...

I can't quite make up my mind as to which Tennesse Williams performance I prefer. Liegh in Streetcar or Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. They're both enthralling, yet so different, and definitely both on my top 5. I think Bette Davis tops my list, with Gloria Swanson, Judy Garland, and Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday) finding their way in there somewhere. But, wait...that's 6.

John T said...

Nat-you're also forgetting Janet in the original A Star is Born-she won an Oscar in the film but lost to Luise Rainer in real life (though she used her real life Oscar, which I always thought was cool).

I can't think of any where they actually won onscreen and won in real life.

John T said...

Also, Downey got nominated for presenting an Oscar to Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder, but again, no win.

Franco Marciano said...

I haven't seen Judy Holliday's performance in "Born Yesterday" yet, but the list you compiled is fabulous.

I have to say, I'm actress-curious about Kim Stanley's performance in "Seance on a Wet Afternoon". It's on my "must watch" list.

Anonymous said...

I see Judy and Frank as apples and oranges. I like Judy more, but I can't scientifically say which is "The World's Greatest Entertainer." I do have issues about Frank Sinatra but they're more about the gossip side of him. My TA also has a 'joke' about him that I shouldn't post here because it's crass and probably libelous.

And since Tomas plugged his blog (good read), I'll plug mine on the same 50's performance.

joe burns said...

Bette Davis in All About Eve, Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, and Susan Hayward in I Want To Live!. I'm also a big fan of Woodward and I really like Anna Magnani. I also love Grace Kelly's performance in The Country Girl, yes I said it! Maybe she shouldn't have won over Judy, but I thought she was great.

billybil said...

A challenge to you and all your readers - is there any film actress who rivals Garland at breaking your "heart every time she warbles a note"? I sincerely believe, for me, there isn't anyone who quite has the same vulnerable fragility. Gena Rowlands gets close in A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE but she still doesn't quite do it for me the same way Garland does. And don't say Liza - she can get close too - STERILE CUCKOO is something to see - but still not vulnerable enough.

Laika said...

The consensus 'best-of-fifties-nominees' - Davis, Swanson, Holliday, Leigh, Garland - is pretty tough to argue with.

But that's five from three years. Looking for an 'alternate' list, I'd go for Baxter in 'All About Eve' and the 59 Hepburns -'Suddenly Last Summer' and 'The Nun's Story'. Then after Dandridge for 'Carmen Jones' and Hepburn for 'Sabrina', the whole decade starts to look pretty thin. I haven't seen Anna Magnani in 'The Rose Tattoo' or Joanne Woodward in 'The Three Faces of Eve', and I'm sure they put a different complexion on things, but there are whole fields here that seem uninspired even by bad-oscar-year standards. I mean, what's up with that '56 field? A straight-up choice between Carroll Baker and Deborah Kerr's brittlest performance isn't a good sign of health. I wish they'd all voted for Nancy Kelly's twelve shades of hysteria in protest.

kent said...

My top four would definitely be Davis, Garland, Leigh and Swanson. The last spot would be a tough choice between Elizabeth Taylor in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and Kim Novak in VERTIGO.


Laika -- Magnani is a powerhouse. Just wait. Woodwards is a more technical accomplishment but she's always strong. I might even prefer her in RACHEL, RACHEl which is such a fascinating opaque performance in some ways.

Kent -- oh, Novak in VERTIGO. love her in that. maybe my top ten.

Unknown said...

It's been a long time since I've seen it, but I could have sworn that Diane Keaton won an Oscar within the film Annie Hall, even though it wasn't actually on screen.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked - actually, disgusted -
that I'm the first to mention
the brilliant Shirley Booth for
"Come Back, Little Sheba." She
was sensational in this. Truly,
one of the greatest performances
by any female in any decade.

billybil said...

It is tough - on my first pass I came up with 11:
Bette Davis All About Eve
Anne Baxter All About Eve
Gloria Swanson Sunset Blvd
Vivien Leigh Streetcar
Shelly Winters Place in the Sun
Mildred Dunnock Death of a Salesman
Shirley Booth Sheba (although it's been a really long time since I've seen this)
Jean Hagen Singin in Rain
Gloria Grahame Bad & Beautiful
Judy Garland Star is Born
Elizabeth Taylor Cat...

I guess my 5 would be kinda boring because it's like everyone else's:
Shirley Booth

Gosh - I'm not much for subtlety, am I?

I guess when you're really great, you're really great (and believe me it KILLS me not to put Taylor in the top 5)

Gosh I'd forgotten what a nice run Eleanor Parker had for a few years in the 50's - 3 nominations. She's 88 now. According to IMDB the only major award she ever won was the Volpi Cup in 1950 at the Venice Film Festival for CAGED.

And Lee Grant - I think she's really fun to watch on screen. She's 83 now - I wonder how she's doing... She was in Mulholland Dr., of course, but evidently she did something called GOING SHOPPING in 2005. Did anyone see it?

cal roth said...

Ok, let's go.

a) Danielle Darrieux in The Earrings of Madame De... Oh God! What a performance!

b) Dorothy Dandridge was the second in that race. Come on? Jane Wyman? Jane Wyman? With sunglasses?

c) Best female performances of the decade (top 10)

1 - Giulietta Masina (Nights of Cabiria)
2 - Judy Garland (A Star is Born)
3 - Bette Davis (All About Eve)
4 - Anna Magnani (Belissima)
5 - Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard)
6 - Jeanne Moreau (Elevator to the Gallows)
7 - Eleonora Rossi Drago (Violent Summer) PEOPLE REALLY SHOULD SEE THIS ONE!
8 - Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire)
9 - Jeanne Moreau (Dangerous Liaisons)
10 - Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour)

d) Love Maureen O'Hara and Novak in Vertigo.

e) Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence is THE BEST PERFORMANCE EVER.

Glenn said...

I'd go with Bette Davis (All About Eve), Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire), Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard), Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof/Suddenly Last Summer), Shirley Maclaine (Some Came Running), Kym Novak (Vertigo)... some sort of top five out of that list.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I'd swap Magnani for Monroe in Some Like It Hot - not because Magnani isn't a goddess (she is), but because I'm yet to track down The Rose Tattoo. Otherwise that's my top 6.

Judy Holliday gets the top spot (which is a tie between her performances in Born Yesterday and It Should Happen to You).

uabt said...

While Blanchet did play an Oscar winner in The Aviator, it was not addressed in any way in the film itself. Bette Davis was nominated for playing a has-been past Oscar winner in The Star (and exhibiting one on screen). And apropos The Aviator, Hepburn played a multi Oscar winner in that silly TV movie she made with Anthony Queen – Jason Bateman's character discovers her trophies tucked away in a closet.

And cal roth's list is mighty awesome, for the choices he made AND for refreshingly not being biased toward American cinema.


@UABT & CAL -- i do like that cal's list includes the foreigners. when i was younger i was super into big hollywood 1950s productions (still crazy about that superwide screen) so those are the kind i mostly saw from the 50s. i've seen more foreign films from the 60s & 70s than i have from the 50s so i have definite holes in viewing there.

I've never even heard of VIOLENT SUMMER so i'll have to look that up.

but P.S. Vivien Leigh in 8th place for the 50s? INSANITY ;)

@BILLYBIL -- i've never seen CAGED but I really must. I always hear good things.

cal roth said...

Yes, Leigh shoulda been higher, at 5th.

Violent Summer (Estate Violenta) is great movie by a director unfortunately unkwown outside of Europe, Valerio Zurlini. He's pretty good with actresses: Claudia Cardinale landed her best performance in The Girl With a Suitcase, another electrifying love story.

If you really want to get into Zurlini's melodramatic and sexy mood, I suggest you to see this video:

It's all about a beautiful woman lying to herself (!) and Rossi Drago slam dunks the role. You won't nedd any subtitles.

That said, I have a lot of holes to fill in. Violent Summer is one of two Rossi Drago movies I've seen: the other is Antonioni's Le Amiche. Her performance in Violent Summer was so amaing that I've trying to find other movies she starred in, but I can't find. She is amazing and I really need to share this!

cal roth said...

Marvelous, I didn't know Violent Summer DVD was available in USA!


(The poster they have is wrong, it's from The Girl With a Suitcase, but it's a box, I suppose)

cal roth said...

Since I feel chatty today, I'll highlight two actress that don't get they love they deserve, because a few people really care about Asian Cinema. They're TOP 20 league.

1) Kinuyo Tanaka: I don't know much of her career, but she is the face and body of Oharu in Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece Kinuyo Tanaka. Mizoguchi is very straightforward in a John Ford way (but he's an actressexual like George Cukor) and this movie represents his most epic achievement in melodrama. It's an all-tragic Gone with The Wind, and I'd say Tanaka's passive performance is as powerful as Leigh's. Tanaka has the same energy, she is full of emotions, and rage, and anger, and love. But it's all inside. And, in Japan, a woman can't fight frontally like Scarlett.

2) Ok, you all loved Mieko Harada in Akira Kurosawa's Ran. Now try to imagine Ran focused on her, Lady Kaede as a leading role. It's Kurosawa Throne of Blood! Isuzu Yamada is haunting as the movie's Lady MacBeth, conjuring pure evil, like she is one of the spirits MacBeth has seen in the woods. It's a very tricky and difficult performance, since the movie is very stagey AND cinematographic, and she has to deliver all that grand moves and still be subtle enough when her close-up comes. But it's a stage subtleness big and small. You know, I can't describe performances like Nick, but Yamada is marvelous.