Best Performances In Film By A Leading Lady

Early this morning on a walk, I started thinking about the best performances by an actress of all time. My first choice was Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz because it is the singular performance seen more times by me than any other. But let’s face it, Dorothy had that whining, shrill voice that made it hard to listen to, so while it’s one of my favorite films, did she give one of the best performances by a leading lady?

There are hundreds of solid acting performances. But I’ve noticed the BEST performances incorporate that something extra. I am wowed by the performance of an actress who does more than say her lines. For example, in one performance, she might sing (Sorry, Judy, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is magnificent, isn’t it?) or dance, play an instrument or speak a foreign language. She might embody the innocence of youth and exude the wisdom of old age in one performance. She might portray multiple personalities or switch genders. Maybe she captured the essence of a historical figure superbly. It takes a great script to allow her to impress on multiple levels. Sometimes, her personality comes forward with few words. Always, you don’t see the actress, you see the character.  Inspired by blogger ALEX RAPHAEL and his game of guessing by image, do you recognize the film and actress?

This list is subjective and in no particular order. 

ONE
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN
EIGHT
NINE
TEN
ELEVEN
TWELVE

ONE. Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria (1957)    What a spitball of moods and vivacity.

TWO. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013)   The best of her best which is saying a lot.

THREE. Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (2007)   Totally convincing.

FOUR. Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)    Her descent into madness was convincing.

FIVE. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968)  A queen with multiplicity.

SIX. Natalie Portman in The Black Swan (2010) Who else could have danced that?

SEVEN. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004) Who else could have fought/acted like that?

EIGHT. Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993) Without a word she was a fierce, complex character.

NINE. Liza Minnelli Cabaret (1972) Act, sing, dance. Exuberance defined.

TEN. Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008) beauty, ugly, cold. She did it.

ELEVEN. Meryl Streep in Sophies Choice (1982) The languages and sensitivity. A ghost.

TWELVE.  Salma Hayek in Frida Kahlo (2002) Passionate and complex. A total transformation.

 

Who is your BEST PERFORMANCE by a LEADING LADY? (not supporting. That’s coming….) 

 

The Beguiled ’71 vs The Beguiled ’17

I recommend reading Keith’s thoughts about the 2017 remake found here:

REVIEW: “The Beguiled”

The 1971 Version

Three years into the Civil War, handsome Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is discovered and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. At first, he is delighted to be surrounded by the cloistered beauty of varying ages. An African American slave, Hallie,  (blues singer Mae Mercer) who remains on the estate and assists headmistress Martha (Geraldine Page, Hondo, Sweet Bird of Youth), try to keep order among the girls who are drawn to their new guest. The girls learn French, garden, knit and embroider, and take the post to look out for Union soldiers while getting updates from Southern soldiers as they pass by the imposing wrought-iron gate that keeps the girls in like a prison.

The 1971 version was produced and directed Don Siegel (Eastwood and he worked together in five films) was based on the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The 1971 version focused on sexual taboos and sexual repression created by isolation of the war. The male is the victim and Eastwood falls into the den of the black widow and her spiders. The theme of castration is outwardly expressed.

The 2017 Version 

In this version, headmistress Martha is played by the wispy, haunted, out-of-breath Nicole Kidman.  Colin Firth is Corporal John McBurney. Kirsten Dunst is the plump, aging spinster who wants to escape her confining post as the teacher at the school and hopes John will save her.

The weakness of one version was the strength of the other so that trying to decide which was better was difficult. Sofia Coppola‘s outstanding effort was her directorship. Applauds all around for capturing the humid, suffocating setting of trees and brush and cicadas and for creating an authentic historical climate of 1863 even though she filmed it at Lousiana’s Madewood Plantation while the location was said to be in Virginia.  Fine, I’ll give that to her because the location made for an ideal stage. Sofia does well with costumes in her films and uses them to accentuate the personalities of her characters. In this case, her female cast wears white and it is appropriate as boarding school garb and innocence even though they are all a bit too starched and brand new for a timeworn, ragged estate three years into the war. The ending shot was outstanding. It was a daguerreotype, the outcome frozen and ghostly. White seemed to be a motif Coppola played with throughout the 90 minutes.

The 2017 film felt like a lot of short stories I’ve read over the years and loved. The ghost stories of George Eliot, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Virginia Woolf come to mind. Sin is insinuated rather than fleshed out and laid on the table. (sorry) You’d get more of that from the 1971 version. While I appreciated the camera angles from Eastwood’s perspective and the manual pull in and out of the lens from Dan Spiegel, the occasional harpsichord felt like you were in a Vincent Price film. Not that that’s bad, just dated. However, the acting was much better in the 1971 version especially the “hussy” Carol played by Jo Ann Harris.

The biggest contrast between both versions was the matchup between Miss Martha the headmistress and Corporal McBurney. The 1971 version is better because of Geraldine Page. The motivating events propelled her performance to a higher, memorable plateau while validating the decisions of the others. I felt Sofia’s screenplay softened and blurred the characters. Since this is a film about relationships, Coppola’s characters paled by comparison. If you took Sophia’s directing and inserted the 1971 cast into her Southern setting, you’d have an outstanding film. As it is, I’d rate the 2017 version as a 3.5 and the 1971 version a 4. 

IMO: Welcome to My World

There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve cast myself into the tundra, face first into the arctic blast, alone, as I now live inside my head, writing and editing this second novel. On one hand, that’s how much I miss blogging. Denying myself the fun of sharing thoughts about films, culture, books, and camera angles from my side of the world. Who knew your cheery comments and fun conversations would come to mean so much?

The maudlin side of me put aside, like a stashed cigarette secretly smoked, I have secretly read your posts but haven’t commented, but you all seem fine and well.

Das Buch:   Weimar Germany and the depravity of Berlin. The cabarets, the darkness of sin, drugs, and Bessie Smith. Poor George Hero, my anti-hero bordering on an unreliable narrator, has had a rough time of it since WWI.  I’ve been listening to Philip Glass while I write, and I am glad to report this first part of the novel is completed because Philip Glass wears on my nerves and depresses me, but he seems perfect for putting me in the right mood to represent the dark. In contrast, as if emerging from a cave at noon, the next part of the novel takes place in good ‘ole sunny Arizona. Sally is the feisty young copper cutie, a dancer, who dreams of becoming a Ziegfield girl and star on the Hollywood stage.  She will need her chutzpah to survive the invasive force of her mother. She is cast as an extra in a western. She is determined to become indispensable and befriends Zane Grey and Gary Cooper.  She has a needy friendship with Kay the Hopi Indian, who is a chameleon, sometimes seen as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as Apache, and sometimes she hears the whispers of her mother and sisters wanting her to remember the Hopi way. Meanwhile, she is the recipient of the elaborate gold-plated pistol, hollowed and filled, with the means by which she can free herself from her past, present and have a say about any sort of future. To what extreme will George reclaim the pistol from Kay?

As teacher:  After 18 years, I am counting down the final eight so I can retire. I know it’s a sin to wish your life away–just the working part of it. It’s hard not to this time of year. Spring is the time the drama begins. The school year is drawing to a close. State testing has students restless and apathetic.  Juniors are applying to colleges and seniors have emotionally left high school and await graduation. Teachers are tired and resigned what they are trying to sell in the classroom no one is buying. Teachers compete with students’ cell phones, the prom, sport team demands, and being a cast member in the musical. Is it any wonder they don’t care about John F. Kennedy’s involvement in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights? Gee, if I can’t get them interested in the volatile sixties, this last month of school could be tortuous.

Meanwhile, teachers are grumbling because the new superintendent has shaken things up. The master schedule’s modifications include removing classes with lower sizes to make it equitable across the board. (If one teacher has class sizes of 30 and another only 12, is that fair?)  That means cutting out the advanced and elective classes. Personally, this means all the classes I love teaching have been taken away from me. The gems like AP US History, AP World History, and a big sting, my Holocaust Studies/Recent World History class. Gems because teaching college level courses are the perfect fit for me. I have been struggling with my pride over it. Be a team player. You are a cog in the wheel. Get over yourself. Readjust your attitude. It still hurts, though.

The Vikings and Nationals Baseball: Strangely, I’ve taken a break from watching movies. I’m binging on the television series by the History Channel via Amazon called The Vikings. Man, I love it. When I come home from work, after watering the flowers, one or two episodes with a beer or glass of wine is a great way to relax before starting supper. I’m on series three. I like the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) the best because rarely in films or television do you see the importance of the role of the monk in history, in this case, by preserving the scrolls of Roman England. I’ve been to Ireland and have seen The Book of Kells and love the artistry of the monks’ calligraphy. The character Athelstan straddles the conflict between pagan/Christian religion. Michael Hirst who wrote the series includes Old English and Scandinavian languages when the two worlds collide; it’s delicious to hear the languages spoken.

The culture of the Vikings is complicated. The legends and mythologies have fascinated many for years.

http://www.history.com/shows/vikings/pages/vikings-historians-view

When I’m not watching The Vikings, I am watching the Nationals play baseball. We are off to a great start this year by leading the NL East with 10 wins and 5 losses (.667). My favorite players are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. They bat 3, 4 respectively, and the two are hitting powerhouses. Like Lennon and McCartney, their competitiveness inspires the other to do better. Go Nats!

Books: I’m reading Paula McClain’The Paris Wife. It’s about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their time in Paris during the 1920s. Ernest is trying to become an author and I can’t help but pretend we two are trying to accomplish the same goal. Except he doesn’t have to go and teach teenagers every day. He gets to sit in a Paris cafe and drink all day long while he writes. It didn’t go so well for him in the end, did it? Who knew my students would save me in the end? Ha!

Okay, bye again. Back to the novel.

Love & Friendship,

Cindy

IMO: Bodily Fluids are Funny

Mike was a student  athlete of mine. His father was a pilot and encouraged his son to obtain his own pilot’s license. During his four years of high school, Mike racked up his hours in the sky. I admired him for tackling the challenge in addition to being the star of two sports teams and maintaining a high grade point average. A couple years after his graduation, he reappeared as my student at the community college where I worked as an adjunct instructor.. Pleased to see him and pleased to hear he was becoming a cop, it was summer in Illinois, hot and muggy, and I asked him if he flew, and he happily informed me he had his license and flew regularly.

“Ms. Bruchman, you should let me take you flying.”

I arranged to meet him after lunch at the regional airport. Along the way, I stopped for a bite to eat–onion rings with horseradish sauce. At one, he proudly opened the door to the cockpit, and I climbed into the small space about the size of the interior of my car. It was loud and hot in there, as we ascended and zoomed around the valley, the corn fields in tight rows, the Illinois River serpentine, and my smile constant.

“So, Mike, what did you have to do to get your license?”

With a mischievous smile, he dipped his wing to the left and leveled. Then he did the same with the right. “And I had to do this one, too,” and that’s when he dropped the plane. He steadied it and laughed at my expression, but I had the last laugh.

     Oh, no! I looked for a paper bag. A plastic bag. A container of some kind. “Mike, I’m going to be sick. Please, what do I do?”

“Okay, I’ll take you back. Hold on!” The sweat dripped and my stomach flipped. I projectile-vomited the onion rings in horseradish sauce over the windshield of the cockpit and down the front of my peach colored dress. We had to sit in it for fifteen minutes while he returned to the airport and requested to land.

When the propellers came to a stop, and he had turned off the switches, Mike rushed around and opened the door for me. He looked at me and the chunks that speckled the interior and said gently, “Go home and rest; I’ll clean it up.” I was so embarrassed I couldn’t say anything. I had to walk through the hangar past a gauntlet of people who pretended to ignore me. When I got to my car, I couldn’t stop laughing. A decade passed, and I ran into Mike at a local bar who gave me a bear hug, and we shared a beer and had a good laugh.

*****

What’s my one memorable Thanksgiving? The one where my grown children and their kids had gathered at my house and in the span of six hours, five of us were struck with the flu. People were racing to every toilet and retching in the bathtubs. It was quite the sight and strikes me funny now, the sounds of people puking and the bodily fluids flushed and cleaned away.

*****

A flamboyant friend, Lisa, was in the middle of sharing a crazy story in her small office one morning. A deranged man suddenly stumbled into her office trying to find a bathroom. He had shat himself; and she pointed, shocked, to her bathroom. He locked the door and painted the walls. Authorities were called, the poor man escorted away, and Lisa retched uncontrollably and begged me, crying, to clean it up. It was a long morning. She still owes me, fifteen years later.

Why should the gross parts of being human bring about a laugh? Perverse!

IMO: Turning 100

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Today was the annual visit for students of mine who are members of Interact Club (Rotary International) to head over to our local nursing home and deliver presents to residents who would otherwise have no family members visiting or likely receive gifts on Christmas.

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We receive the wishlist for fifteen patients, take an afternoon to buy them sweatpants, blankets, books, chocolates, art supplies and wrap them on the last day of school before winter break. Our club members respond warmly to the vis-à-vis exchange. Every year, for me, there is a resident who stands out and makes me think about life and the secret behind having a good one. I know it will happen; it’s divine intervention. The revelation has me thinking of George Bailey from the iconic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the life imitating art moment affects me.    

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Mr. Bouffard recently turned 100. He is well liked by the nurses and staff because he is a cheery man.

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Over the summer, he was honored by the mayor and honor guard for serving in WWII. A book was written chronicling his time, and what his band of brothers did. It sits along with his dog tags in a cupboard. All will be donated to the local historical society when he passes.

Armand had me imagining him at age twenty-five. His life was ahead of him; each decade brought challenges, joys, and tragedy. Think of the experiences one gathers up over a lifetime. Here was a man with wisdom. What could he share? This man with ancient skin, a crinkled face, and watery eyes? He, a fragile shell who was once a soldier, a son, a husband, and a father? Now at age 100, he is alone, yet he still smiles. Days go by slowly, but the weeks fly by, and the years even faster. Such is life.

I have a cynical attitude about reaching 100. I look at Armand and wonder how he still smiles? After all, he is alone and not in his home. Who is left to share his life? Not his spouse. No children. No friends. How could anyone want to live to be 100?

What you have is yourself.

Armand gave himself for 100 years. He took chances and loved. He took chances and failed. He did what he was supposed to and a little of what he shouldn’t. At 100, he crossed the line, broke the ribbon, and won the game of life. I would like to believe for what mistakes he made he owned and apologized. If he didn’t, I hope he forgave himself for being human.

Armand Bouffard’s secret? He is proud of himself. He is attended to by compassionate caregivers who do their best to make sure he is comfortable in his final days. He sucks on candy, scoots around in his wheelchair, and says hello to everyone who passes by. He owns nothing but his smile, and it gives me courage. If I make it to 100, I want to feel proud that I caused more joy than pain. I want to wear Armand’s smile like a medal on my chest.

Happy Holidays!

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IMO: Film Scores

When I select “film scores” on Pandora, I try to guess the film and the composer while I write, grade papers, or blog. Do you play that game? John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith utilized full, melodramatic orchestras with a signature sound that echoed in your head long after the film was over. Just playing the main song links the film to history. High-handed manipulation? You bet.  How many mediocre story lines are elevated because the musical score became a character itself, going along with the ride, telling you how to feel at every turn, alerting you to upcoming doom? Star Wars IV is a prime example.

Before those two heavy-weights, excluding musicals, classic films such as Gone with the Wind (Max Steineror The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein) had their signature sound but there was enough intermittent silence to allow the actors to speak. The score was saved for the opening, transitions, and the end. This was expected and pleasing.

In my opinion, there has been a shift away from full orchestral compositions in the last, say, 20 years. Now more than ever contemporary songs fill in as background music to the events. Second, dramatic films are increasingly not using much music at all. The effect is a stark and unsettling as the silence fills the space. Third, instead of full orchestras, now we hear more lighter chamber music such as string quartets, duets or singular instruments. Fourth, urban-mechanical grindings and hammering simulate apocalyptic or the robotic presence. All of these changes have intruded the orchestra.

To claim one style is superior than the other is subjective. I can tell you my favorite all-around composer who did all styles was James Horner. However, my favorite scores of all time do not belong to Horner, they belong to Leonard Bernstein, Alexandre Desplat, Philip Glass, and Rachel Portman. 

I miss the full orchestrations and the effort to sweep me off my feet. I enjoy it when the music and I attend the story. I also think it’s best to stick to one style instead of including part orchestration, part contemporary song tunes. My least favorite style is when there’s very little music at all.

Who’s your favorite composer? Your favorite score? Here’s mine by Rachel Portman. It’s breathtaking.

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