Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Favorite All-Time Film Performances...#93

93. Margaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz (Director: Victor Fleming, 1939)
“I’ll get you, my pretty…and your little dog too!” Imagine. You are five or six, sitting down in your living room and your parents have popped in a movie into the VCR (yes, imagine this is the early 90s). The movie is called The Wizard of Oz. You have never heard of it. After reeling from the excitement of seeing the movie go from the sepia tones to a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors, the Wicked Witch of the West has made her entrance. Oh what an entrance she makes! You realize that she’s vaguely familiar (doesn’t she look like Miss Gulch from the beginning of the movie?). And after hurling some nasty vitriol at Dorothy, our beloved heroine, she goes and really pisses everyone off. She went after Toto.

Let’s call it out like it is. I have never seen Margaret Hamilton in any other film or television show she made. Having read her history online, I can see that she did get a lot of work all through her life. That said if your only lasting impression in your lifetime is a character that will outlast you, a character that still leaves us with chills down our backs (AFI ranked the Wicked Witch of West at #4 on the All-Time Villains list) and a character that has been the subject of books and a musical; that is an impressive feat. It's only fitting that I was able to get to this performance the same day that we celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the film's release. And really, if you had suffered severe burns because the fire effects came out too early, would you have returned a month later, back on the job? That just proves how much of a badass Hamilton was.

Top 25 Actors

Taking a break from the 100 Favorite Film Performances to respond to Nathaniel R.'s challenge at FilmExperience.

In no order...

River Phoenix, Sean Penn, Peter O'Toole, Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman

Tommy Lee Jones, Edward James Olmos, Peter Sarsgaard, Gene Wilder, Jeff Daniels

Clive Owen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman, Ewan McGregor, Brad Pitt

Jack Lemmon, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges, Delroy Lindo, Tom Hanks

Jude Law, Jack Nicholson, Gael Garcia Bernal, Daniel Day-Lewis, Chris Cooper

Friday, August 21, 2009

Favorite All-Time Film Performances...#94

94. Thelma Ritter, All About Eve (Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)
Birdie took no shit from anyone. Even though she was only Margo Channing’s dresser/maid, she would always call her out on her bullshit. So it comes as no surprise that Birdie was the first to figure out what Eve was trying to pull off by befriending the celebrated actress (“what a story…everything but the bloodhound snapping at her rear end”). When Margo finally asks her why she doesn’t like Eve, Birdie tells her that Eve seems to be “studying” her. At first dismissive, Margo realizes that Birdie may be on to something, when Eve mentions that she called Bill pretending to be Margo. Clearly, Birdie is a maid that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Thelma Ritter may always be remembered for this role, but it’s deserved. Mankiewicz expressly wrote the part for Ritter, fully knowing what she would bring to the role. Ritter was not the first to play the sarcastic employee of a diva, but she is the one that is most remembered (and all in 11 minutes). She pretty much set up the ruler by which all “maid performances” are measured. Though only her seventh film role, Ritter established her reputation as a consummate character actress with this performances. The only complaint is that she’s barely in the film (an extended cameo, even?) and we never get any closure on her character. And while she might not been a winner with the Academy (a record six losses in the supporting actress category), she will always be one with us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favorite All-Time Film Performances...#95

95 (TIE). Madeline Kahn and Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon (Director Peter Bogdanovich, 1973)
Okay, so I cheated, slightly. It’s going to happen a lot when I want to combine two performances in one slot. Deal. Moving on, Paper Moon is a bit of a hodgepodge. It’s a Great Depression-era film, yet it has plenty of hilarious moments, due in great part to both Madeline Kahn and Tatum O’Neal. The former plays a stripper and the latter plays a young con artist. Addie (O’Neal) refuses to leave Moses’ (Ryan O’Neal, Tatum’s ne’er-do-well father) side until he gives her the $200 that was meant for her. Miss Trixie Delight (Kahn, see, even her character name inspires an immediate chuckle) gets all the attention from Moses when he picks her up (until Addie has something to say about it).

Kahn and O’Neal not only elicit lots of laughs within their performances, they also have moments of sincere emotions. O’Neal gets a lot of mileage from the final scenes of the film (“You still owe me $200”), while Kahn has her incredible monologue, on the hill with O’Neal, that ends with one of the funniest lines of all-time (and she’s delivered a few choice ones in her other films, especially her work with Mel Brooks). Both ladies were nominated for Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards and even though O’Neal was the one that took home the trophy (arguably a leading role and clearly only in this category because of her age, not screen time) both performances are too excellent to leave the other unrecognized. And yes, I know Bogdanovich had to do a lot of work to get that performance out of Tatum O’Neal, so props to him as well.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Favorite All-Time Film Performances...#97

97. Stockard Channing, Grease (Director: Randal Kleiser, 1978)
And this is where I stress that I’m honoring my favorite performances of all time, not necessarily the best performances of all time. Rizzo is by far, the most interesting character in this musical turned movie. She starts the film as the cliché role of bad girl, but we are left rooting for her by the film’s end. It’s the film’s ballad, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” that gives the possibly pregnant Rizzo her finest number (and Channing nails it). Of course, there’s also the pure “Mean Girl” delight she has in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” performance in the first act of the film.

Sure Stockard Channing was 34 (!) when she played the 18-year-old Rizzo, but damn if she didn’t seem perfect for the role. The character, of course, lends itself to be someone who has more experience then everyone else in the film. It’s no wonder she snarls, “cause he sounds like a drag” during “Summer Nights.” She’s had more than enough of her share of guys. Plus credit where credit is due…Rizzo’s hickeys in the film? Channing let Jeff Conway (Kenickie) go to town instead of using makeup. That’s suffering for your art.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Favorite All-Time Film Performances...#98

98. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie (Director: Sydney Pollack, 1982)
This should not have worked. Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who cross-dresses to get a job on a daytime soap opera. It even sounds ridiculous typing that out. But in the tradition of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, it totally works.
Hoffman is known for his dramatic chops (see his Oscar wins for Kramer vs Kramer and Rain Man), but more than anything, it’s Hoffman as the comedian that really doesn’t get a lot of love. He manages to steal the show in most of his comedic films; you can tell he’s having a ball not only here, but also in Hook and in Meet the Fockers, two movies that are, by no means, great. Hoffman might never top this performance, but at the very least it was a wonderful to witness Dorothy Michaels in all her glory.