Thursday, April 16, 2009

ANATOMY OF A MOVIE SCENE



I was talking to a friend about great movie looks -- as in expressions, like the one on Jeff Daniels's face in Speed as he discovered the bomb that was about to introduce him to his Maker -- and we digressed into the even richer conversational terrain of awesome movie reactions, which led to an evaluation of Oscar clips (some of the most effective ones feature incredibly moving reactions as opposed to actions). I was sorely disappointed this year that the Academy dumped the Oscar clips in favor of having previous winners in each category introduce the nominees.

While I am not downplaying the coup that it was to get the likes of Sophia Loren, Robert DeNiro and Goldie Hawn (who, as a friend of mine accurately observed, looks like she's being held together by string) on the Oscar stage, do I really need to hear Shirley MacLaine read seemingly scripted praise about Anne Hathaway, an actress she probably never met in a movie she may or may not have seen? I would have preferred a snippet from Anne's character's train wreck toast during the rehearsal dinner scene or from her confrontation with Debra Winger. What about reinstating the Oscar clips and having the former winners present together without the awkward speeches.

After all, those acting clips are what the Oscars are all about. My Oscar-obsessed friends and I have as much fun predicting them as we do the nominees. Sometimes they inspire me to change my predictions at the last minute (as was the case with My Left Foot's Daniel Day-Lewis in 1990 and Pollock's Marcia Gay Harden in 2001), and they've no doubt inspired less Oscar-season obsessed viewers to go out and see the films.

My all-time top two clips are Glenn Close shedding a single tear in the denouement of Dangerous Liaisons and Toni Collette's wordless reaction to Hayley Joel Osment's revelation about her deceased mother in The Sixth Sense. I remember being devastated in 1989 when Glenn lost to The Accused's Jodie Foster, as Glenn's ferocious performance remains one of the most indelible in my mind. Toni Collette's loss to Girl, Interrupted's Angelina Jolie affected me less because at the time I was one of the few people who hadn't seen The Sixth Sense and was not yet privy to The Big Secret.

But watching the scene again, 10 years later with 10 more years of experience, it actually brought me to tears, for reasons both personal (anyone who has had a fractured relationship with a parent will relate) and technical. If you are unconvinced of Toni Collette's thespian prowess, check out 3:45 to 4:15 (then rent The Hours, About A Boy, Emma, Velvet Goldmine and Clockwatchers). It's 30 seconds of flawless acting, a true master class. Her reaction to Hayley, who played her son, is so raw and so authentic, without a hint of actressy fussiness. I'm so glad she's finally out of the supporting ghetto with her leading role in the Showtime series United States Of Tara. Move over, Kate and Cate. Toni belongs in the holy triumvirate of great thirtysomething actresses and I suspect -- I hope -- that she's about to take her place.

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