Week two is here! Are you as excited as I am? I have been waiting all week to get into this one, and I'm already anticipating next week as well.
Yup, this is Twice a Best Actress, where I'm accompanied by five amazing bloggers who have graciously devoted their time to watching and analyzing the actresses who have been crowned Best Actress by Oscar two times (or more, in the case of a certain Hepburn). Last Friday we discussed Kate the Great's first two Oscar wins, so if you haven't seen that discussion yet, check it out here.
So, this week we're talking about child star turned beloved adult actress, Jodie Foster. This was an interesting discussion, mostly because the uniformity of the feelings towards this actress and these two particular performances is pretty much torn in half by a certain blogger (cough me cough).
But, before we dig in, meet our panel:
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Fritz from Fritz and the Oscars
Josh from The Cinematic Spectacle
Kevin from Speaks in Movie Lines
Sati from Cinematic Corner
You would think that after acting since the age of 3 in television and film, earning an Oscar nomination before she was old enough to drive (for her role as a child prostitute in Taxi Driver), and then returning to the profession after graduating from Yale would be enough to prove that Jodie Foster was already an accomplished actress. But with her first Oscar win at the age of 26 for her role as Sarah Tobias, a young waitress in a small town that becomes a victim of gang-rape in The Accused, Foster was proving that she had what it took to graduate from being a child star to just plain star. And Foster tackles the adult subject matter with the skill of a seasoned professional, never backing away from showing the hurt, humiliation, and anger that Sarah feels in the aftermath of the incident. But as the film immediately opens with Sarah fleeing the scene of the crime, we never get to know the character as a person before she's already labeled "rape victim". She becomes a symbol of crime and injustice before we've gotten a chance to know her. Foster works to flesh out Sarah for us as the film progresses (a brief, heart-breaking phone conversation with her mother in which she fails to obtain the comfort she seeks effectively gives us back-story into Sarah's upbringing and character), and we slowly begin to piece together a complete portrait of this woman. Not afraid to show her many flaws, Foster's Sarah is far from a saint. But whatever failings she has, she's still deserving of fairness and justice. If only the film would get out of her way more, allowing Foster more opportunities to show the emotional turmoil, giving a reality and humanity to the crime, instead of being more interested in the judicial procedures and ethical dilemmas. Foster's strong work elevates the film and proved that she was capable of being more than just a child actor, but I would've given the award that year to an actress that on her 5th nomination (without a win) had nothing to prove: Glenn Close and her masterful performance as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.
My Grade: B
Well, I’m about to become very unpopular, but I have to speak my honest opinion. I kind of hate this performance. Jodie Foster, for me, is like the female equivalent of Tom Hanks with regards to Oscar. She has two of them for performances that I find vastly inferior to those she was up against and quite frankly almost insulting in their obviousness (well, her second win isn’t as obvious, but still inferior). Like Hanks despicable win for Philadelphia, Foster also won her first Oscar for an extremely Oscar gimmicky role (here she plays a rape victim) that was the flashy performance in a film that actually contained an even better performance (McGillis was this film’s Washington) that was entirely ignored due to the flash on the screen next to it.
Yes, this was a brave performance, but the way that the brave was handled (or maybe it was all in the dreadful scripting) was just so over-the-top and so aggressive and so obvious! I understand why she won. It was pretty much one of those situations where a child star turns into an adult on the screen for many in a performance where she whores it up, screams a lot and gets degraded. It was deglam with that added layer of unjust treatment, and those kinds of theatrics make AMPAS wet their panties. She was a previous nominee, which also helped, and she had a lot of clout in the industry. Still, she was a train wreck. She emoted like a crazy person and pretty much just embodied a cliché. Even in moments when she could have toned it down for the sake of building any sort of layer, she kept her persona at the highest octane and became this very loud, borderline unbearable presence.
Again, I really do wonder if the scripting was to blame, but I saw no layers in Sarah Tobias, and when you consider that she was up against the likes of Meryl Streep, in one of the greatest performances ever put to screen, Glenn Close, in probably the closest she’s ever come to an Oscar, and Sigourney Weaver, who had won the Globe and was a double nominee that night, it becomes a damn shame that Oscar went for quantity over quality, and by quantity I’m obviously talking about the amount of times Foster gyrated for attention.
My Grade: F
Former child stars often seem to have to do something ‚radical‘ to leave their old image behind. In the case of Jodie Foster this was probably not necessary since her child performance in Taxi Driver was already radical enough. But The Accused nonetheless helped to put her back on the map and made her transition to respected character actress complete. And it’s certainly no surprise that the Academy noticed her – playing a rape victim who seeks justice not only against the actual rapists but also the people who watched and cheered as it happened, Jodie Foster gets to deliver a whole range of human emotions and she also benefits from the movie’s unusual but welcome point-of-view: it doesn’t portray it’s central character in a likeable light but instead constantly presents a woman whom many might accuse of ‘having asked for it’ and who ‘wanted it’. To be honest, The Accused is not a good movie – it feels like a poorly done TV movie of the week and it single-handedly shows us why the 80s were just an awful decade for everything from shoes to hair but it can be applauded for creating Sarah Tobias the way it does. She is provocative, she is flirty, she clearly likes to turn the men on in the backroom of some cheap bar – but she clearly is not ‘asking for it’ and The Accused harrowingly shows the moment when suddenly all gets out of control. Yes, Jodie Foster is certainly handed a real show-case here: she gets the audience’s sympathy for what is happening to her without ever asking for it, she never sweetens the part up for the sake getting everyone on her side since the facts are more than enough and she not only gets to recount the rape in a long monologue but also plays the scene in a terrifying flashback. And she truly nails the part’s unapologetic behavior, her right to be angry, to be provocative without being condemned for it – and Jodie Foster is a good match for this because she one of those rare intelligent actresses who can play characters who are less smart and educated. But there is also more to it: for every great moment on the screen, Jodie Foster can be strangely forced and over-the-top in others (especially when she confronts her lawyer in her apartment or in the hospital after her car-crash). It seems that she sometimes felt the need to over-emphasize every emotional aspect of Sarah’s journey even if she was much more effective in her more subtle moments. It’s ultimately a performance with ups and downs, a powerful piece of work that might not be without faults but still haunts the viewers.
My Grade: B-
Foster won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing Sarah Tobias, a young woman who is gang raped in a bar and must deal with a difficult trial afterwards. A role like this can go either way, but Foster manages to convey Sarah's transition from a damaged, powerless victim to a strong, determined survivor. Of course, we root for her during the trial, though Foster has to sell the emotional arc of the character. Granted, the role screams Oscar, yet Foster is so compelling in the scenes where she relives the details of being violated. She maintains Sarah's dignity while embracing her vulnerability, and that makes it a very strong performance.
Did Foster deserve to win?
I'm fine with Foster winning. She fully delivered on her first leading adult role, and she deserved some recognition, like a young Katharine Hepburn did for Morning Glory. That said, Meryl Streep's impressive performance in A Cry in the Dark was equally deserving, if not more so.
My Grade: A
After watching Jodie Foster's two Oscar winners, "The Accused," which I had not seen, and "The Silence of the Lambs" (for the 20th time), it dawned on me that Foster is an actress who capitalized on her own bravery. Simply put, she took on challenging roles and was rewarded for it, greatly. The question is: Did she deserve them both?
Jodie Foster's work in "The Accused" is like watching a 26-year-old Derek Jeter (we'll miss ya, #2) play in a little league game. It is an absolutely laughably bad movie. Poorly written, poorly acted, boringly straight-forward in its direction, except for that one scene, which is expert-level. You know. The one. Jodie Foster, from a technical standpoint, is literally the only thing good about this movie. I suppose the topical, ripped-from-the-headlines aspect is a good thing about this movie as well. It reminded me of the attitudes we still hold in this country about and towards rape and rapists. I had a conversation with my wife a few days before viewing this movie about a seminar she attended at UT-Knoxville last week. The speaker was a language expert, who alluded to the fact that when we speak of rape, we often passively say that "a woman was raped" instead of "a man raped a woman." Interesting to say the least, but I digress.
As Sarah Tobias, Foster is really playing against type, which was probably the first thing Academy voters noticed. She, even then and especially now, is neither weak nor dumb. She is not a "low-class bimbo" and playing that took guts and pure ability. That she played this character and nailed it speaks volumes about her range. She has this intensity and sincerity in her face. Her mouth, her speech is so controlled. Her New England accent is spot on without being showy. Her ability to display anger, frustration, humiliation all at once is incredible in this movie.
I have a hard time believing this was the best female performance of 1988 though. It is good but not Oscar level, in my opinion. I guess they couldn't give it to Streep on account of the "dingo ate my baby" scenario.
Jokes aside, Foster's bravery to play this character, to do that scene, to be so great in such a sub-par movie is obviously what got to the Academy. The message of "The Accused" is important, even now. The execution leaves much to be desired.
The Scene That Won It: You know. The one.
My Grade: B-
This is a movie that to this day is incredibly difficult to watch. The horrific rape scene is gotta be one of the worst of such nature ever filmed. Foster plays young woman named Sarah, who after a fight with her boyfriend goes out for drinks with her friend. She dances, a guy kisses her. When he starts becoming aggressive she tries to pull away but she can't. She ends up being raped by 3 different men while other cheer them on. What makes the whole movie even more horrible to sit through was the fact that it was based on real events. But you don't even have to know it was. Because we all know things like this happen. Every day, everywhere.
Foster is just mesmerizing in the role. At times she is just mad with fury, angry at the whole world, angry at her lawyer, angry at herself. Other times - and it made the rape scene so much worse to see as it was in the end of the movie - she acts like a helpless, naive girl, like waiting for her lawyer outside her office, just to say 'I'm sorry'. Foster really disappears in her character and she is so good you even ignore her horrible wig. Another thing that makes the movie stand out is the wonderful sense of female solidarity with Sarah's conflicted lawyer finally coming to her side and standing by her, hell bent on bringing Sarah justice for what happened to her.
When your co-star is Anthony Hopkins in a spine-chilling, Oscar-winning performance as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, a performance so memorable that it became instantly iconic, it's amazing that Jodie Foster as FBI agent in training, Clarice Starling, is able to make an impression at all. But the film is really her story, holding our interest even when Lecter's not on screen. Hopkins wouldn't have made such a strong impression if he didn't have Foster's equally compelling work to play against as a scene partner. It's in those moments where Lecter gets inside Clarice's head that Foster shines. So much of the film she puts up walls (all clenched jaw and tight-lipped delivery), dealing with the constant misogyny of being a strong, smart woman in a male-dominated field (she is continually being undermined as a female, being left out of important discussions because of her sex, and met with flirtations and sexual advances from men at every turn), that when Lecter delves into Clarice's past ("And what became of your lamb, Clarice?"), Foster is able to show vulnerability within the flickers of doubt. Her belief system becomes questioned and Foster excels in showing Clarice's conflict of emotions, her psychological pull to a perceptive man who is essentially a monster. Foster's natural intellect, determination, and need to keep her private life private lend a believability to Clarice as well in a way that other actresses wouldn't necessarily have brought to the character. In a year that brought a couple of cinema's other independent women to the Academy's recognition (Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise), it's hard to choose a clear winner. But because picking one over the other in that ill-fated duo just doesn't seem right, I'll stand by the decision of Foster, whose stellar work made her Clarice Starling just as memorable as Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter without even needing to bite someone's face off.
My Grade: B+
I will admit, I don’t get this win at all. I will also admit that the performance itself is far from bad. This is actually a really well done performance, and placed alongside her attention whoring first win, the balance of emotion and subtle layers created in singular scenes is really enough to win me over, at least onto considering Foster a worthy actress.
Worthy winner? No.
The reason for this is that, in my eyes, there just isn’t enough here. She has moments, and some of those moments are really something special (those reactionary moments, for instance), but the validation for a win here in a category that sports two of the finest acting performances put to screen (the greatest acting duo, period) is just not there. Clarice Starling is kind of a cypher, a device to get from point A to point B, and while she serves as the glue to hold her film together, it is really everything that is happening around her that makes the largest impact. She’s like the canvas for which the film’s real soul is painted upon. She reflects it, or serves as the medium for us to view it, but she doesn’t really provide it herself. The fact that her co-star, Anthony Hopkins, makes a larger presence and impact with only about 20 minutes of screentime is enough to prove that Foster’s contribution to the film is minimal at best.
My Grade: C
Hannibal Lecter has become such a part of pop culture that The Silence of the Lambs sometimes seems only to exist to bow to Anthony Hopkins’s delivery of words like ‘fava beans’ or ‘What did you see, Clarice?` But, of course, The Silence of the Lambs offers much more and it is thanks to Jodie Foster’s interpretation of the central part that she was never overshadowed and created a character that always serves as the audience’s guide and who not only serves the horror of the story but builds a human dimension that makes Clarice Starling one of the most fascinating heroines in movie history. She constantly balances her nervousness with strong determination, showing a woman who has to handle more than she is actually capable and who learns about her own strengths while she is working on this case. All her facial expressions and body movements perfectly suit Clarice and The Silence of the Lambs and she never turns her character into a super-hero but ultimately shows an ordinary person in the most unusual circumstances. I love her insecurity and fear opposite Anthony Hopkins at the beginning which later turns into a strange bond, her whispering voice when she faces the demons of her past and tells Dr. Lector about the lambs and her look of horror when she recognizes the man in front of her. She also makes wonderful use of her accent, emphasizing or downplaying it depending on the situation and the way she tries to get the respect of the men who are working with, above or under her. It’s a complete performance that beautifully inhabits all the aspects of The Silence of the Lambs, the horror, the psychology, the drama, the development, the human emotions and the fight for both her live as well as the chance to prove herself.
My Grade: A
Foster won her second Best Actress Oscar for playing Clarice Starling, an FBI cadet who hunts a serial killer with the help of a vicious psychopath. The film received several nominations, but Foster was not rewarded for merely being involved in the production. While this role feels generic, Foster does wonders with it, offering a subtle, nuanced performance. She plays most scenes with a reserve that doesn't usually strike with Oscar voters. Still, Foster's muted portrayal is engaging and feels authentic; and she delivers a brilliant performance in a genre film, no less.
Did Foster deserve to win?
Of the three nominees I've seen, she was very deserving. Though, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon were terrific in Thelma & Louise, and either would've been a great choice.
My Grade: A
"You're very frank, Clarice. I think it would be something to know you in private life." - Hannibal Lecter
Jonathan Demme is, plain and simple, one of the finest film directors ever…period. "The Silence of the Lambs" is timeless, a far-cry from "The Accused." The focus and grace in his direction is the reason actors perform so well in his films. The first thing I noted while re-watching this masterpiece for the umpteenth time is in relation to Demme's shot composition. Have you ever noticed how much detail he gives to the actor's faces in this movie? His camera is almost always right in their faces. Perfectly centered faces looking you right in the eye.
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter is still one of the best screen performances of all time. He oozes pure evil. The casting of Hopkins is one of the great calls in cinema history. His scenes with Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling are the stuff of legend. Their chemistry is unmatched even when compared to some of the best screen romances. It is so fun and creepy and astounding to watch. If that's not enough hyperbole for you, just wait.
Jodie Foster's performance in "The Silence of the Lambs" is a display of even more guts than she probably even thought was possible after what "The Accused" put her through. This is a stern, strong performance. Her accent, this time "pure West Virginia," is spot-on again. The evolution of her facial expressions in this movie is genius, on her part and the part of Demme and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. She starts out with this quiet calm, a mix of confidence and fear (her first meeting with Lecter). As the clock continues to "tick-tock, tick-tock" on the Buffalo Bill case, you see the mix of confidence and fear give way to a mix of anxiety and fear (her final meeting with Lecter in the Memphis courthouse). Fear, of course, being the ultimate winner here. The dread in this movie, even after so many viewings, is palpable.
Jodie Foster truly deserved this Oscar without a doubt. She busted her ass on this one. She was brave to do it, and do it so well. To make it even better, she had greatness surrounding her. The power of her performance as Clarice Starling is in everything around her. That's how actors win Oscars.
The Scene That Won It: The screaming lambs story told under extreme pressure in Memphis, Tennessee. Demme's close-up. Hopkins' insistence. The tears welling up.
My Grade: A+
While Hepburn did play very different roles, which we wrote on last week, you could still sense it was her, even 30 years apart. Even though Foster here is almost identical looking to the Foster in The Accused, these two couldn't be more different. It's astonishing that she managed to create such different women even though their primary characteristic - strength - remains the same.
Her Clarice Starling is one of the most iconic female performances in the history of cinema. There are so many cinematic heroines based on her. Because Foster - through her subtle, genius and nuanced work managed to do something rare - she managed to show that women while having the qualities that men would like to think make them weak - compassion, understanding, empathy - can go hand in hand with wit, intelligence and the ability to pull the gun out and shoot the bad guy. Foster is badass but she is so subtle at the same time too. She is a good character but she is never boring - she makes all those qualities we see as boring in the hands of the unskilled actor - quiet, restrained, careful - make her Clarice only more interesting and relatable. Actresses have been trying to achieve what she did here many times and they failed, most recently Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, where instead of subtle she came off robotic. That's why Foster's work is so memorable - it's a truly rare gem.
My Grade: A+
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actress).
Jodie Foster received a total of 71 points for her performance in The Accused.
Jodie Foster received a total of 99 points for her performance in The Silence of the Lambs.
This is a collective total of 170 points.
As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.
So this closes our discussion of Jodie Foster. So soon and I've already given my first F of the series (oh, wait, I think Cooper was second in discussion for Twice a Best Actor, and I gave him an F too). Next week is all about Sally Field. I wonder if I'll be nicer.
Again, a big round of applause for the awesome bloggers sharing this series with me! You guys did some awesome work, as to be expected.