Archive | December 2009

characters: DANA IVEY

As the Hollywood heavyweights get their year-end props, it’s important to remember those awesome actors who are best known for roles that tend to not have names so much as memorable situations. And there seems to be no woman out there who can play the uptight, anally organized tiger lady like Dana Ivey. Probably her first big role was in 1985’s The Color Purple, in which she played Miss Millie, the somewhat-well-meaning, but ultimately phony, befriender of the discriminated-against black townspeople. Those scenes with Oprah Winfrey are enough to make her uneasy character one of the most powerful prototypes the Alice Walker adaptation had to offer.

And thanks to her penchant for killer uptight staredowns (see the bottom center picture above for a reference point), Ivey found work as the shrewd business type throughout the last two decades, from her role as the hard-nosed uber boss Mrs. Stone in Home Alone 2, to her role as Claire in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, to her hard-turned-soft role as Congresswoman Libby Hauser in the otherwise atrocious 2003 flick Legally Blonde 2. But perhaps her best-loved and most recognizable portrayal was as mumsy wife extraordinaire and Chinese-finger-trap wearer Margaret Alford, eventual lucky wife of Cousin It in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values.
Thanks to several television appearance on shows like Frasier, Sex and the City, and The Practice, Ivey has aged gracefully in the biz, landing several more mom-type roles in this decade (she played an aging nun in Rush Hour 3 and a leftist democrat mom in Two Weeks Notice). But perhaps her shining achievements most lie in her work on stage, having been nominated for five Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards (winning one), and just recently being installed into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2008. But I just can’t help but picture her as the big-haired and secretly big-hearted Addams cousin-in-law.

coming up: what to expect in january

2010 is coming, ladies and gents, and Journalistic Skepticism expects to start the year off with a bang. To give you a little preview and whet your appetites for some January goodness, here’s a little heads-up about what to expect in the upcoming month:

**Merylfest returns in full force with a trio of posts on her stellar year. So join Julia, Jane, and Mrs. Fox for some Streep goodness once awards season and “best of” madness dies down. Of course, mum’s the word on everything 2009 until after…

**The 2009 LCT Awards will commence when nominations are announced in January. The winners will be awarded soon thereafter, but watch for some announcements about the best of the year in entertainment, and in the meantime, check out some past winner galleries at the official Web site.

**And speaking of “best of,” the ongoing Decade Revisited of winners and nominees past will conclude next month, finishing off with the 2009 crop. Up next? 2003 gets a gander, and Jude Law, Diane Keaton, and the gang will have to defend their trophies. Also, look for the top films and top performances of the year lists to be unveiled post-awards frenzy.

**Along with the return to form, look for Best of the ’60s to return with a look at the musicals of the decade. So join heavyweights Julie Andrews and Rita Moreno for some ’60s song-singing amazingness.

**Among the columns returning with a vengeance, First Impressions will make a comeback, starting with a pair of sibling thespians, the Gyllenhaals, in their first roles.

**The Top 100 countdown continues, with January bringing us every closer to the elusive Top 25!

**And finally, once the decade that was officially comes to a close, it’s inevitable that Journalistic Skepticism’s official Best Movies of the Aughts list will take shape. Look for the countdown to begin come month’s end.

decade revisited: 2002, part 2

The Nominees: So the low-down on this crop of contenders is as follows – it’s a perfectly dandy and perfectly inoffensive fivesome.  The trio of Lord of the Rings actors are great fun in the second entry of the series, and McKellen is definitely the standout in the film (a fact I still believe to be true seven years later).  As for Hanks and Harris, the former’s take on Carl Hanratty is harmless fun (if not necessarily one of his standout roles) and the latter is a lovely fatherly role from one of the most beloved and gifted British actors of his time (plus it was his last on-screen film performance before his untimely death in October 2002).

Revisions: It’s too hard for me to give up on Gandalf in this situation (and, for that matter the hilarious and well-crafted Gimli) in The Two Towers so the two of them would remain.  The other three, though admirable, would likely be replaced by some current personal favorites such as Nicholas Hoult for About a Boy, Chris Cooper for Adaptation, and Dennis Quaid for Far from Heaven (definitely the shining star of the movie).  As far as the win goes, I think I may just have to agree with Oscar on this one and award the awesomely bizarre performance from Cooper.

The Nominees: Here’s my take on my choices from 2002 – these five ladies can still hold up now, but there are some obvious weak spots, especially considering the other 2002 fare that I’ve seen and fallen in love with since. The good: Zeta-Jones is still phenomenal in Chicago, one of the best musical performances to date.  Morton has only gotten better in her later films, so choosing her was know one-time fluke (plus I thought her take in Minority Report was highly underrated).  And Smith is hard-pressed to ever not be fantastic.  So, maybe my choice of Watson was a little silly, but Harry Potter fever was rampant, and I simply couldn’t help it.  And as far as Griffiths goes, I always enjoy her in everything she does (thank you very much, Muriel’s Wedding).

Revisions: It seems the ladies that would remain would be Zeta-Jones and Morton, whose performance stand up best to the test of time.  For the other three slots?  I would opt for some other great unsung performances of the year (and one critically lauded one) – Julianne Moore for The Hours, Michelle Pfeiffer for White Oleander, and Meryl Streep for Adaptation.  And sorry Catherine, but I think I might be compelled to offer the award for Streep.  It just happens to be one of my favorite screen performances.

best films: #59: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

All right, so I may be heightening my nerd factor big time by putting two Star Wars movies in such close proximity to one another, but it’s just a very difficult decision to rank movie such as this (for further difficulties, see choosing among the Lord of the Rings films). But I have to say that, bottom line, The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the trilogy. Now, I wasn’t always a believer in this middle entry. In fact, when I went to the 1997 re-releases in theaters and saw the movies for the first time, I of course was so enthralled with Yoda and those damn Ewoks to even notice the genius of the second flick. But as time has passed, I’ve definitely turned to the dark side, so to speak, and opted for Empire. It easily has the strongest character arcs and development, it gives us a meaty storyline from velvet-voiced Lando Calrissian who basically oozes cool, and it focuses on the relationships between the villains and between the villains and their nemeses. And who can slam “The Imperial March,” one of the best and most undeniably awesome themes in filmdom. I’d say it’s right up there with the Wicked Witch of the West theme for best villain entrance music.

Standout Performance: I’m sort of partial to Harrison Ford as a general rule, but I hesitate to say that my favorite character in Empire is probably the ongoing sexual tension between he and Carrie Fisher, who becomes more and more pure comic gold as she gets older.

link rundown: december 25, 2009

It’s Christmastime folks, and in honor of the big guy coming to town and whatnot, I present to you some more of the best of the best in the blogosphere. Prepare yourselves for Christmas wishes from some of my favorite writers out there — we’ve got neckwear, we’ve got Tony-winning plays, we’ve got sugar cookie frenzy, and we’ve even got a little critical analysis of some recent cinema releases. Take a gander stat!

**A Play a Day breaks down recent Tony Award winner for Best Play, God of Carnage, and shows much love for scribe Yasmina Reza…
**At Ag Buzz, Steph describes the best of the best for holiday homespun goodness…
**Sara at Eco-Vintage Weddings tells of the benefits of a bow-tie affair…
**Jose continues his review of Avatar (with a wee bit o’ spoilers) at Movies Kick Ass
**Costume drama The Young Victoria gets the critical treatment over at A Life in Equinox
**And Bailey once again provides her musical expertise at Space to Be Human

decade revisited: 2002, part 1

The Nominees: As the years press on, the regret factor seems to be ebbing. This year’s crop of Best Picture nominees are still ones that find themselves in my viewing rotation. Though the best of the Harry Potter movies came post-Chamber of Secrets, it’s still a fun, if flawed, movie. And of course, there’s no harm, no foul on the Lord of the Rings choice. As for the rest, Catch Me If You Can‘s presence has a lot to do with my having recently seen it at the time (though I still think it’s a pretty great flick). Chicago is still one of the best musicals I’ve seen (though I know it’s suffered some backlash since its dominance at the Oscars that year). And The Rookie is one that I’ll stand by no matter how sentimental it is (a great performance from Dennis Quaid).

Revisions: Despite my lasting like, we’ll say, of all five of these choices, I’d keep only Chicago and Two Towers. In the others’ places, I’d insert Adaptation, Minority Report, and Spirited Away. And as for the winner, it’d be a hard-fought battle between Lord of the Rings and Spirited Away that I think the latter Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece would win.

The Nominees: As mentioned earlier, first thing’s first, though a dead-ringer for Mr. Potter, Daniel Radcliffe delivers some pretty uneven performances in the film series, a fact I didn’t truly recognize until after the fact. Now that that’s taken care of, on to the other nominees: pre-crazy Tom Cruise gives what is probably his last good performance in a great movie, Viggo Mortensen takes the helm of the Lord of the Rings franchise successfully, Dennis Quaid delivers a personal favorite performance (and yes, I’ve seen Far From Heaven), and Leonardo DiCaprio gives a funny, enjoyable performance as fibber Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can.

Revisions: For the most part, this group is still a pretty upstanding one. Looking back, I’d probably be keen on keeping DiCaprio, Mortensen, and Quaid in the group, with some adjustments to include Hugh Grant for About a Boy and Adrien Brody for The Pianist. And the win is kind of up in the air. I’m still inclined to give it to DiCaprio, but I think both Brody and Quaid have enough merit to steal it away.

The Nominees: This one was a tricky one. As a general rule, the Lead Actress category in 2002 was fairly scant (something that repeated itself twofold three years later). But it seems I opted for a mixture of awards-bait (Zellweger, Kidman, and Streep) and box office queens (Vardalos and Witherspoon), although it’s interesting to see the falls from grace that have happened since for almost every one of these ladies other than Streep. Kidman’s prestige cred has been called into question for the remainder of the decade, major Zellweger backlash has ensued since Cold Mountain, Vardalos disappeared into obscurity, and Witherspoon (with the exception of her 2005 Oscar win) can’t seem to pay people to see her movies. Ho-hum.

Revisions: The Hours ladies and Miss Zellweger would probably be able to stay on board, as all three performances are notable highlights of their respective filmographies. As far as the other two spots, Witherspoon and Vardalos were harmless fun, but they’d probably be bumped for Frank Potente in The Bourne Identity and Alison Lohmann in White Oleander. Winner? Zellweger would face some competition from Kidman, though I’m one of the few who thoroughly enjoyed her portrayal of Roxie Hart, and still do.

best films: #60: YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000)

Yes, I’ve harped on and on about You Can Count on Me on this blog (for some retrospective love, check out my year 2000 rehash), but there’s no denying its brilliance. And to top it off, it seems it was not appreciated in its time, making it all the more frustrating and perfect at the same time. But thanks to Julia Roberts‘ career-best performance in Erin Brockovich and Gladiator, it got almost completely overshadowed, awards-wise. Where to start? The amazing performances from Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo are probably a good place. Add to that an amazing script from Kenneth Lonergan (why does this man not work more often?) and a great, simplistic backdrop (small town in the Catskills), and you’ve got a quintessential family drama. So even though Roberts delivered an arguably great performance, I can’t really see how she managed to outshine Linney in easily her career-best. Plus the flick gifted us with the breakthrough performance of underrated actor Ruffalo. Well done all around.

Standout Performance: Linney’s got this one in the bag here as Sammy Prescott, the single mom and bank clerk whose small-town boredom leads to inter-office romance and household drama. Definitely one of the best performances of the decade.

then and now: CAST of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

It may come as a surprise that my somewhat unorthodox choice of favorite Woody Allen movie is not 1977’s Annie Hall. Nope, it just so happens that 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters is one of my all-time favorites. I can’t help but love the pushover eldest Hannah, the artsy and indecisive middle daughter Lee, and the sometimes high on cocaine aspiring actress and writer Holly. And to give you a glimpse of the early and recent work of its great cast, I’ve devoted a Then and Now column to Holly, Lee, Elliot, April, Mickey, and, of course, Hannah.

Mia Farrow as Hannah
In a 1964 episode of the TV series Peyton Place
And in the 2008 film Be Kind Rewind

Michael Caine as Elliot
In the 1956 film A Hill in Korea
And in the 2010 film Inception

Dianne Wiest as Holly
In the 1978 TV movie Out of Our Father’s House
And in a 2009 episode of the TV series In Treatment

Woody Allen as Mickey
In the 1965 film What’s New Pussycat?
And in the 2006 film Scoop

Carrie Fisher as April
In the 1975 film Shampoo
And in the 2009 movie Sorority Row

decade revisited: 2001, part 2

The Nominees: Once again carried away by the onset of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings mania, 40% of the group in this category came from those films. Aside from that, I have the still award-worthy performance from Jude Law in what was, once again, a simply misunderstood movie that didn’t receive its just desserts. In typical form, I threw in a silly supporting comedic performance from Hector Elizondo and a now-completely-confusing nod to Ed Harris’ turn in A Beautiful Mind, which mostly amounted to a few scenes of angry yelling and whatnot.

Revisions: Law, Grint, and McKellen would probably remain (the latter mostly for sentimental reasons, probably), but the other two would likely be replaced by Ian Holm in Fellowship of the Ring (a performance that served as a great set of bookends to an otherwise superb fantasy film) and Jim Broadbent in Moulin Rouge!. As for the win, Grint would have a harder time in retrospect; I think I’d give the edge to either McKellen or Law at this point.

The Nominees: Yes, I understand. Sometimes my younger self made wrong, unforgivable even, choices. But chalk it up to Survivor obsession, and you just might understand what my frame of mind was. Considering the movie Colleen Haskell was nominated for in this category just recently made some mentions in my Worst of the Decade Awards, something tells me this is a sort of regrettable decision on my part. And blame my then recent love of all things Crouching Tiger for the strange decision to nominate Zhang Ziyi for Rush Hour 2.

Revisions: Seeing as though Connelly now seems to be the most redeeming quality of A Beautiful Mind, her nomination would likely stay intact. And there’s really no beating Maggie Smith in pretty much anything (including Clash of the Titans), so Professor McGonagall would stick around. As far as the other three spots, I’m going to make a couple of standard choices and one relatively obscure one just for fun: Marisa Tomei for In the Bedroom, Dakota Fanning for I am Sam, and Brooke Smith for Series 7: The Contenders. Who would win? My gut tells me it’d be between Connelly and Fanning.

best films: #61: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995)

Nothing quite does it like a fancy, shiny, costumey period piece. If its source material is penned by Jane Austen, well, you’ve generally got yourself a fairly enjoyable theatrical experience. Sense and Sensibility is no exception and is probably the best and strongest Austen adaptation you can find. (In film, that is; for the absolute best, see 1996’s TV miniseries Pride and Prejudice, which is ineligible for this list, of course.) Buoyed by a fantastic adaptation written by the star herself, Emma Thompson, who is in fine form as usual (is there no end to this woman’s entertainment value?), the movie also boasts the arguable breakthrough from Kate Winslet (who managed her very first Oscar nomination playing Marianne Dashwood in a brilliant star-making turn). Chalk the rest of its appeal up to the curmudgeonly but easy-to-love Colonel Brandon, played by Alan Rickman in his first match-up with Thompson (the second being the complicated relationship they shared in Love Actually, which also provided us with an unsung performance by the great Emma Thompson). But the primary rule of thumb for these types of films is that no one gets anywhere without some genius costume design and some very pretty countrysides, so thank frequent Academy Award magnet team Jenny Beavan and John Bright for her skill with a thread and needle.

Standout Performance: Thompson’s true starring role is as the screenwriter, and it’s clear that a star has been born in Winslet thanks to this flick from the eclectic yet basically reliable director Ang Lee. Winslet’s younger Miss Dashwood had me at the sprained ankle in the rain…