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3. Katharine Hepburn

17 Sep

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn
THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, BRINGING UP BABY, THE LION IN WINTER, ON GOLDEN POND, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

The golden age of Hollywood produced a lot of female stars with indelible, larger-than-life personas, but not many of them were as bracingly defiant as that of Katharine Hepburn. With her broad mid-Atlantic accent, patrician bone structure, and insistence on engaging in outré behavior like playing sports and wearing trousers in public, Hepburn made haughtiness look good. She was such a compelling presence that being a legitimately great actress almost seems like icing on the cake, but she was obviously that as well. She won an unprecedented four Oscars as Best Actress, the first in 1933 and the last in 1981. Over the span of that long career, you can see her transform from a spunky misfit in Alice Adams and Sylvia Scarlett, to a consummate screwball comedienne in Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, to an arch authority figure in Suddenly, Last Summer and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, but through it all she remained powerfully, singularly herself.

4. Barbara Stanwyck

17 Sep

Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck
DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE LADY EVE, MEET JOHN DOE, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, BABY FACE

To call Barbara Stanwyck a versatile performer would be an understatement. In a career that spanned over sixty years, she not only played a variety of types in a variety of tones and genres; she often played the definitive version of those types. Has there ever been a more seductively malevolent femme fatale than her Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity? A more pitiful weepie heroine than Stella Dallas? How about a screwball con woman even half as lightning-fast and razor-sharp as Jean Harrington from The Lady Eve? Stanwyck could play tough, tender, smart, and sexy, sometimes all in the same scene. Her talent for shifting personas on a dime is on special display in 1933’s Baby Face, where she played a manipulative maneater with such electrifying skill that it actually helped usher in the Hays code. The idea of woman trying to “have it all” wasn’t really a thing in Stanwyck’s day, but she came as close to being it all as any actress – or any woman, really – could hope to.

6. Julianne Moore

16 Sep

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore
BOOGIE NIGHTS, SAFE, FAR FROM HEAVEN, STILL ALICE, MAGNOLIA, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, SHORT CUTS, THE HOURS

Julianne Moore’s greatest strength might be her ability to calibrate. She seems like a live wire constantly buzzing with some sort of overwhelming emotion, and some of her best performances have been in showy roles that call for a lot of shouting or crying or general carrying-on. Whether getting into a screaming match with no pants on (Short Cuts), breaking down in the middle of a pharmacy (Magnolia), or moving through a series of paroxysms of panic and disease (Safe), Moore can go to the most extreme emotional places in her work without ever feeling false or dissolving into empty histrionics. The only thing more satisfying than watching her let it all go is watching her barely contain it. Her comparatively restrained performances in films like The Hours, Far From Heaven, and Vanya on 42nd Street are just as compelling because you can still sense the feelings violently churning just under the surface.

8. Ellen Burstyn

15 Sep

Ellen Burstyn

Ellen Burstyn
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE EXORCIST, ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW

A product of the Actor’s Studio, Ellen Burstyn has played over 150 incredibly varied roles, and brought her fearlessly emotional mastery of her craft to some of the best films of the past fifty years. She got her first Oscar nomination in 1972 for The Last Picture Show, a film for which she reportedly gave such an impressive audition that director Peter Bogdanovich told her she could have her pick of the three older female roles. She chose the role of disillusioned housewife Lois Farrow, and her career subsequently caught fire. She’s  brought her unique iteration of Method acting – intense, often somewhat anxious, sometimes just this side of eruption, but always grounded and sympathetic – to characters like the tortured mother in The Exorcist, an aspiring singer struggling to define herself outside of marriage in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and a spiraling drug addict in Requiem For a Dream, among many others.

Dances with Films 2016: Creedmoria, by Rita Cannon

2 Jun

CREEDMORIA

Alicia Slimmer’s coming-of-age comedy Creedmoria was inspired by her actual experiences growing up in Queens in the 1980s and it definitely feels like a film based on someone’s memories, for better and for worse. It has an emotional urgency and a clever eye for detail that keeps its formulaic plot from dragging too much, but it also has a disjointed quality that starts out intriguing, but eventually hobbles its own attempt at a triumphant ending.

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Rita’s Top Ten of 2015

20 Feb

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10. Magic Mike XXL

Despite its hip-hop heavy soundtrack and preponderance of naked male butts, the real charms of Magic Mike XXL are the same ones you’d find in a Hollywood musical from fifty or sixty years ago: great dancing, eye-catching spectacle, and charismatic performers sharing dynamic chemistry. Directed by Gregory Jacobs but shot and edited by Steven Soderbergh, XXL leaves behind the sometimes dour tone of its predecessor in favor of a feather-light, essentially conflict-free romp that celebrates the joys of sex, friendship, and artistic expression in equal measure. It’s also a visual marvel – if you want to see a compelling argument for the advantages of digital cinematography, pay attention to the gorgeous sequence set in a predominantly black strip club. Soderbergh makes dark-skinned actors performing in low light look stunning in a way that traditional film simply couldn’t.

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New to Home Video 10/20/15

20 Oct

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Review

Dino Sore, by Rita Cannon

11 Jun

jurassic2

Jurassic World is a lot more slick and cynical than its predecessors, and it wants you to know that it knows that. The first 30 minutes of the film is full of winking references to how the world, and specifically popular entertainment and blockbuster movies, have changed since the first Jurassic Park film. “No one’s impressed by dinosaurs anymore,” says Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a middle manager at the current incarnation of the park, which features more dinosaurs, more immersive attractions, and a whole lot more strategically placed Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s locations. That sentiment is echoed by a number of other park employees, including Jake Johnson as a smart alecky control room staffer who wears a t-shirt from the original park that cost him hundreds of dollars on eBay. The only person loudly proclaiming that regular dinosaurs are still cool is Owen (Chris Pratt), an ex-military raptor expert who’s managed to raise a handful of the scary creatures from birth, and now functions as the alpha male of their group.

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Dances with Films Review: Fools, by Rita Cannon

31 May

Fools

Benjamin Meyer’s feature debut Fools is a deeply felt, delicate little portrait of two very troubled people who should absolutely be in therapy, but instead choose to weave their discrete threads of dysfunction into a weird tapestry of lies and denial. It has a profound level of sympathy for its characters that’s mostly admirable, even it occasionally strains credulity and lapses into cutesy inconsequence; but even the script’s weakest moments are buoyed by two excellent lead performances.
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Tracing the Steps, by Rita Cannon

27 May

mariestory

Everyone knows the story: In the 19th century, a young girl is both blind and deaf. She grows up a prisoner of her own disability, unable to communicate, lashing out violently whenever she’s upset or afraid (which is often). Luckily, a kind teacher hears of the girl’s troubles and is determined to reach her. She teaches the girl sign language by signing into her hand, and after months of arduous work, even teaches her to speak. The story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan has become an inspiration to millions, but Jean-Pierre Améris’ film Marie’s Story isn’t about them. It’s about Marie Huertin and her teacher Sister Sainte-Marguerite. Huertin was born five years after Keller in Vertou, France, and had a remarkably similar journey from isolation to connection with the outside world. For American audiences, it’s basically impossible not to view Marie’s Story as a French version of The Miracle Worker. While viewers in Huertin’s homeland may not encounter such a stumbling block (the film is simply called Marie Huertin over there, suggesting greater familiarity her story) it will strike many as a retread, and a rather uninspired one at that.

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