Great Acting is inspiring – and here are 4 award-winning performances that showcase great acting by four terrific Actresses!
Working Girl – Directed by Mike Nichols. Released in 1988.
Melanie Griffith was Oscar nominated for Best Actress – and held her own against a great cast including Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack and Kevin Spacey.
Melanie plays Tess McGill – a frustrated secretary, struggling to forge ahead in the world of big business in New York. Her latest boss is a first for her – a woman – Katerine Parker, played by Sigourney Weaver, who had a head for business.
Katherine Parker: “Ugh! What a slob.”
Tess McGill: “You were so smooth with him.”
Katherine Parker: “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior *prick*, tomorrow’s senior partner.”
Tess gets her chance to show her ability when her boss breaks her leg on a skiing holiday. McGill takes advantage of her absence to push ahead with her career. She teams up with investment broker Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) to work on a big deal.
[in the bar]
Tess McGill: I have a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?
Jack Trainer: Uh, no. No.
The film is full of great moments and one-liners, like when Joan Cusack is looking at some of Sigourney’s wardrobe in shock:
Cynthia: “Six thousand dollars? It’s not even leather!”
Kevin Spacey has a small role as well – according to IMDB, he was brought in as a last-minute replacement for another actor in the part of Bob Speck. On the day the scene was shot, Mike Nichols sent a car to Spacey’s New York apartment, with a copy of the script in the back seat. Spacey learned his lines while on the way to the shoot. Nichols was under pressure to finish the scene so he wouldn’t have to postpone his wedding to Diane Sawyer two days later.
And how about this scene that showcased Weaver’s obsession – with herself!
Tess McGill: What if he doesn’t?… pop the question?
Katherine Parker: I really don’t think that’s a variable. We’re in the same city now, I’ve indicated that I’m receptive to an offer, I’ve cleared the month of June… and I am, after all, me.
Then there is this fun scene between Griffith and Harrison Ford, having some fun with Ford’s real-life chin scar…
Tess McGill: “How did you get the scar?”
Jack Trainer: “Some guy pulled a knife in Detroit.”
Tess McGill: “Really?”
Jack Trainer: “No. No. I was nineteen and I thought it’d be cool to have a pierced ear. My girlfriend stuck the needle through and I heard this pop and fainted and hit my chin on the toilet.”
Joan Cusack also gets to showcase her innner Jersey girl, as Tess’s friend, who doesn’t share her big dreams…
Cyn: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”
Last bit of trivia: This is actually David Duchovny’s film debut – in a scene at Tess’s surprise birthday party. He was one of the guests hiding in the bathroom. He can also been seen at the engagement party later in the film.
Klute – Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Released in 1971.
Jane Fonda won the Oscar For Best Actress – for this focused and touching protrayal of a call girl who dreams of being a great Actress – and the killer she attracts.
Donald Sutherland is John Klute – his friend has disappeared in New York City. The only clue a connection with a call girl, Bree Daniels.
According to her autobiography, Jane Fonda hung out with call girls and pimps for a week before beginning this film in order to prepare for her role. When none of the pimps offered to “represent” her, she became convinced she wasn’t desirable enough to play a prostitute and urged the director to replace her with friend Faye Dunaway.
John Klute: Miss Daniels, can I ask you some questions now?
Bree Daniel: [notices Klute's surveillance gear] You bastard! Is this a shakedown, hon’? ‘Cause you picked a loser, I don’t have it.
John Klute: I’m looking for Tom Gr…
Bree Daniel: [interrupts him] Jesus, do you think I’d still be living in this kip if I was still in the line fulltime? I’d be back on Park Avenue.
John Klute: Can I ask you some questions?
Bree Daniel: Or you’ll have me thrown back in the brig, you mean.
The film highlights Jane Fonda’s ability to get under the skin of her character, making you believe she really is a prostitute who just wants to be a star…
Bree Daniel: “And for an hour… for an hour, I’m the best actress in the world, and the best fuck in the world.”
Jane Fonda’s Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech for this movie was one of the shortest in movie history: “Thank you…thank you very much members of the Academy and thank all of you who applauded. There’s a great deal to say and I’m not going to say it tonight, I would just like to really thank you very much.”
Bree Daniel: Tell me, Klute. Did we get you a little? Huh? Just a little bit? Us city folk? The sin, the glitter, the wickedness? Huh?
John Klute: Ah – that’s so pathetic.
Bree Daniel: Fuck off!
This turns into a terrific thriller – but at the core is great acting and mood…
Breaking The Waves – Directed by Lars Von Trier – released in 1996
Emily Watson was Oscar nominated for Best Actress – for her portrayal of Bess, a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the man she loves. Warning: this isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is BRILLIANT!
Here is how IMDB describes the film: “Drama set in a repressed, deeply religious community in the north of Scotland, where a naive young woman named Bess McNeil meets and falls in love with Danish oil-rig worker Jan.
Bess and Jan are deeply in love but, when Jan returns to his rig, Bess prays to God that he returns for good.
Jan does return, his neck broken in an accident aboard the rig. Because of his condition, Jan and Bess are now unable to enjoy a sexual relationship and Jan urges Bess to take another lover and tell him the details. As Bess becomes more and more deviant in her sexual behavior, the more she comes to believe that her actions are guided by God and are helping Jan recover.
Bess McNeill: “I don’t make love with them, I make love with Jan and I save him from dying.”
Emily Watson gives one of the most honest, uncompromising performances as a woman who believes she will heal her husband – and makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to do so.
Kudos To Lars Von Trier!
This is a controversial movie, part of Von Trier’s obsession with women who make sacrifices for a greater good – see “Dancer In The Dark” and from last year, “Melancholia”. He is a brilliant director, and the ending of the film is amazing…
And finally, one of the great films of the last twenty years!
Fargo – Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen – released in 1996
And talk about memorable performances – Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Police Officer Marge Gunderson…no nonsense Marge, in the darkly black comedy that is “Fargo”…
William H. Macy is terrific as Jerry, who works in his father-in-law’s car dealership and has gotten himself in financial problems. So, he stupidly and tragically hires two men to kidnap his wife for ransom to be paid by her wealthy father. It goes from bad to worse in a hurry…and McDormand is on the case…
Marge Gunderson: “OK, so we got a trooper pulls someone over, we got a shooting, these folks drive by, there’s a high-speed pursuit, ends here and then this execution-type deal.”
Things get stranger when Marge goes to see Jerry at his car dealership – a visit he DOES NOT APPRECIATE:
Jerry Lundegaard: I told ya. We haven’t had any vehicles go missing.
Marge Gunderson: Okay! But are ya sure? ‘Cause I mean, how do you know? Do you do a count, or what kind of a routine do you have here?
Jerry Lundegaard: [growing uncomfortable with this questioning] Ma’am, I answered your question!
Marge Gunderson: [long pause] I’m sorry, sir?
Jerry Lundegaard: Ma’am, I answered your question. I answered the darned… I’m cooperatin’ here!
Marge Gunderson: Sir, you have no call to get snippy with me, I’m just doing my job here.
Jerry Lundegaard: I’m… I’m not arguing here! I’m cooperating. So there’s no need to… we’re doin’ all we can here.
Marge Gunderson: Sir, could I talk to Mr. Gustafson?
[Jerry gives her a glassy-eyed look, knowing full well that Gustafson is dead]
Marge Gunderson: Mr. Lundegaard?
Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are the incompetent kidnappers – and are hilarious in their own darkly comic way…and there is a great running gag about Steve Buscemi’s looks, which are always described as…well, here’s how they put it…
Officer Olson: “What’d this guy look like, anyway?”
Mr. Mohra: “Oh, he was a little guy… Kinda funny lookin’.”
Officer Olson: “Uh-huh. In what way?”
Mr. Mohra: “Oh, just in a general kinda way.”
McDormand is pitch perfect with her dialect and tone – plus the nice touch of having her always hungry due to her pregnancy, and wide-eyes wonderment to go along with her cop smarts…
Marge Gunderson: “Oh for Pete’s sake, he’s fleeing the interview! He’s fleeing the interview!”
Great trivia, courtesy of IMDB: Even though there is an opening title card saying so, the film is not actually “Based on a true story”. The Coens later admitted that they added that disclaimer so the viewer would be more willing to suspend disbelief in the story. (An urban legend even says that people have gone to search Minnesota for the briefcase of money.)
While the specific crimes in the movie didn’t happen, the plot has elements of two well-known Minnesota crimes. A GREAT GREAT FILM.
Marge Gunderson: “You betcha!”
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