Friday, January 16, 2015

Twice a Best Actress Bloggers Roundtable: Katharine Hepburn, Part II


Well, we've reached the end of Twice a Best Actress.  It feels surreal, but this project has drawn to a close and what better way to end things than to review the legendary Katharine Hepburn's final two wins.

Before we do that, I want to give my thanks once again to the incredible panel who gave of their time and sometimes money in order to see and review all of these performances, and for that I am extremely grateful.  This was quite the undertaking.  There were 28 performances to see, some hard to get a hold of, and not all that rewarding to watch, and yet these awesome bloggers plugged along and gave it their all, and for that I thank them VERY much!

It wouldn't have been the same without these guys:

Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Sati from Cinematic Corner



Andrew:
After the death of her onscreen and offscreen partner Spencer Tracy and winning her second Best Actress Oscar for their last film together as condolence from the Academy, it would've made sense for the grieving Hepburn to take some time off to reflect and heal from the pain of her recent loss. But the independent iconoclast Hepburn expressed her grief in the only way the actress knew how - by throwing herself into her work, channeling her pain to give one of her greatest performances and certainly the best of her eventual four wins as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter. As the manipulative, sharp-tongued queen, Hepburn has never been more ferocious on film. Savoring every expertly crafted word of dialogue (and, boy, are there some choice lines to pick from: "Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It's 1183 and we're barbarians!" or "I'd hang you from the nipples, but you'd shock the children." or "I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice!" Pretty much all of them...), Hepburn lets the words ruminate, knowing precisely which ones to luxuriate in and which ones to spit out like poisoned arrows. Nor has the actress, whose tomboyish looks never exactly made her a traditional sex symbol, been so sensuous and seductive before. Playing against Peter O'Toole's Henry, the duo's crackling chemistry comes alive as they bicker, trying to see who can hurt the other the deepest with their biting words. With an undercurrent of sexual heat, one such fight even leads Hepburn to taunt him with supposed sexual dalliances with his father as she basically air-humps a bed. It's almost shocking to see Hepburn so completely free, giving a performance that she probably wouldn't have been capable of only a few years before. The sorrow she felt at the loss of Tracy unlocked a hidden depth, exposing new tools at her disposal and Hepburn wisely allowed the change to affect and challenge her. And the Academy certainly took notice, having just awarded her Best Actress the year before, they decided to honor her yet again with back-to-back wins and an unprecedented third Best Actress Oscar. Since they couldn't decide on whether to reward the veteran for her astonishing surprise or the newcomer making her own mark in her film debut (Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl), there was a tie for the first (and only) time in the category's history. But with both actresses giving two historic performances, who can fault them for wanting to award both?
My Grade:  B+ 

Drew:
I’ve often said that I wished that Streisand had won this on her own and that I found the tie ridiculous, even though I know that the only reason Streisand won was because she was invited to be a member of AMPAS before voting and so she voted for herself, and so if rules had been adhered to properly, this would be Kate’s and Kate’s alone.  Still, Hepburn, while an icon for sure, didn’t need another Oscar.

The sad part is that her tie here, and the point where I become tiresome of her Oscar wins, is the one moment where, in all honesty, she deserved to win.

Well, she didn’t deserve to win, because Streisand and Woodward are better than she is, but it is a deserving win, which is to say that she’s utterly incredible in the role.

The one thing I love most about this film is that it just isn’t what you expect it to be.  You get your hands on this, thinking it’s going to be all stale and ‘by the books’ and so ‘boringly period’ and then you get such bloodthirsty savagery from the characters, such lusting and sexualized dialog and quick-wips and pretty much everything that these movies are never supposed to be, and because of that it makes me all warm inside.  What makes all of this work is the way these actors completely throw themselves into their roles, and none more so than Hepburn.  For an actress of not only her age, but her caliber and reputation, this was a real risk, and it paid off.  She completely lets go, is looser than I think she ever was on the screen and handles the dialog and the intentions of her character with perfect, cutting audacity.  It’s a performance unlike any other she ever gave, and for that she deserved an Oscar.
My Grade:  A+

Fritz:
All hail the Queen! After two Oscars that went her way for a) being young and new and b) old and overdue for another, Katharine Hepburn finally won an Oscar she truly deserved from start to finish. Her portrayal of Queen Eleanor in The Lion in Winter is one for the ages, full of wit, anger, hate, passion and fury. She is a force to be reckoned with, exchanging amusing one-liners with Peter O’Toole (with whom she has amazing chemistry) before verbally abusing everyone around her the next moment. She shows a woman who uses the little power she has to cause as much effect as possible, not necessarily because she truly wants to achieve her goals but because she wants to feel that some power is still within her. Truly one of the highpoints in Kate’s career.
My Grade:  A+

Josh:
Hepburn won her third Best Actress Oscar for playing Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, the estranged wife of Henry II. The role came in one of the year's most awarded films, and it's right in Hepburn's wheelhouse. She gets to play a strong, cunning woman as only she could, with a spark that shines through her fiery performance. Her chemistry with Peter O'Toole just adds fuel to the flame. The two play off each other effortlessly, and they form one of the most interesting screen couples ever. Hepburn chews the scenery without losing her character to cheap theatrics, delivering a performance that reveals both Eleanor's deviousness and her love for her family. She's so reactive and so alive here, and it's arguably the last truly great performance of her career.

Did Hepburn deserve to win?

She tied with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, but I would've easily given it to Hepburn alone. Though, where was Mia Farrow?
My Grade:  A

Kevin:
Anthony Harvey's "The Lion in Winter" is a piece of work, to say the least. I can't say I fully enjoyed it due to it just being so MUCH, though I think I want to revisit it one day. It may very well become my favorite "Christmas movie." Haha! Seriously, though, the acting in this movie is astounding, especially in the leading performances from O'Toole and Hepburn.

As an aging, let-out-of-her-cage Eleanor of Aquitane, Katharine Hepburn gives a legendary performance. From that very first look at the camera, you see a seasoned pro and know you are dealing with one. To begin, her playful, sometimes hateful, banter with O'Toole's King Henry II is great. She delivers like a Best Actress winner should. This is a movie about plotting and scheming and pulling things over and then doubling back. Hepburn captures this and her character's bitterness, wit, and even evil the whole movie.

And, as in all of her roles, Hepburn has that way of changing her facial expression at the drop of a hat. She also displays her ability to let a tear stream out of one eye in one instant, then turn it into a scheming smile. "The Lion in Winter" is a movie made for good actors. It has them. It has the scheming with O'Toole, the scheming with Hopkins, as her son, the future King Richard the Lionheart, and more. Some of that gets plain dark. I found myself writing things down like, "OMG!" and "Good God!"

This is a fairly racy part for an actress of her age at the time. Some of the late scenes, especially the "I slept with your father" bit, are shocking. I understand she shared this win with Barbara Streisand. I haven't seen "Funny Girl," or any of the other nominees that year, but I feel like this one should've been Kate's alone.

The Scene That Won It: An early one with Hopkins as Richard, where she lays out her plot, then daggers a cut down her arm, blood streaming. The range of facial expressions is superb.
My Grade:  A

Sati:
That was...odd. And also the effects they had back then! Oh my God, that sword fight between these two guys in the tunnel was hysterical.

What the movie does well is that it shows things in a very ordinary kind of way - no lavish dresses, no wonderful interiors. Just a sad castle and bunch of sad people. It's like this great tragedy with father contemplating killing his children, scorned women and many tragic figures.

While I did find the movie insane and tiresome, Hepburn's performance was definitely the best thing about it. She played such a complex part - hurt and vengeful, heartbroken and cold. She was ruthless but there were still times in this movie her character couldn't stop the tears. I haven't seen other nominees but this Oscar is sure as hell more deserved than the next one. At least this is the performance that stands out in the film and comes to mind when you think of the actress.

My Grade:  B


Andrew:
Why the Academy decided to award Hepburn a record 4th Best Actress win (still the most wins than any other performer) as essentially a lifetime achievement award for her performance in the sickeningly sappy On Golden Pond still remains a mystery to me. She had received plenty of recognition over the years having already worked on many classic films for over 50 years, garnered more nominations than any other actor at the time, and it's not like she'd never won before - she had 3 Oscars already! It all just seems wildly excessive. They couldn't be bothered to give Barbara Stanwyck, Deborah Kerr, Greta Garbo, Thelma Ritter, and countless others at least one, but by all means let's give Katharine Hepburn 4! There's no denying that Hepburn was one of the greats, but of the films she won for, she really only deserved that win for Lion in Winter. But I guess since the Academy was feeling sentimental about giving Henry Fonda his first ever win for this film, they just decided to ride the nostalgia train and give it to Hepburn as well. It would be hard to begrudge her if the performance had actually warranted it, but the role is essentially supporting and so poorly written that when I watch her in it I feel more sorry than anything else. Visibly older, Hepburn seems determined to show that she's still got it, but ends up going much broader than is necessary. Overplaying every line and emotion, she basically becomes a caricature of herself and of feisty old ladies everywhere. It doesn't help that she's basically there as referee so the Fonda's can publicly work out their family issues for the entire world to see. And I haven't even mentioned the kooky things she has to do, like flip the bird or do a spirited solo dance in the woods or constantly refer to Henry Fonda as an Ol' Poop. And how many times does she have to mention those damn loons (sorry, the LOOOOOONNS!). Unfortunately, this is how most people now remember her. The film almost single-handedly erasing all memories of Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, and other early greats to an entire generation. It seems fitting that this is the only time that Hepburn and Meryl Streep competed against one another, a passing of the torch as Streep would go on to break Hepburn's nomination tally and will certainly one day beat her trophy number. But the real winner that year should've been Diane Keaton in Warren Beatty's Reds. Then we would've included Keaton in this Twice a Best Actress roundtable instead of having to remember Hepburn's silly Oscar swan song.
My Grade:  D

Drew:
I don’t hate this movie, but let’s be honest here, it’s nothing more than a nicely composed Lifetime movie, and even at that, it isn’t always that wonderfully composed.  Still, this generically sweet film is anchored by two lead performances that play off one another splendidly.  These are two extremely natural performances (most likely because all they had to do was play old people, and they were really old) and their chemistry was beautiful.

That said, Oscars are not for people who do nothing but play themselves on screen (oh wait, tell that to George Clooney and Matthew McConaughey), and so I see no reason for these two actors to have snagged Oscars for this, much less so Hepburn, who really has so serious arc here.  She is basically a prop for Fonda to mumble and mope around.

At least they were better than Jane, who was just awful.

In a year that gave us a tremendous tour-de-force from Diane Keaton, Hepburn’s swan song Oscar win leaves a saccharine taste in my mouth.
My Grade:  C

Fritz:
Sentimentality surely played an important part in this Oscar decision but it’s impossible to deny that Kate did everything with the part of Ethel and even more. Her chemistry with Henry Fonda is simply out-of-this-world – rarely has any other couple on the screen ever given this same feeling of intimacy and friendship that makes us able to believe that they truly spent their whole life together. She is a voice of reason who tries her best to bring her family together while enjoying her time with her husband whose age is beginning to affect him in very serious ways. She is truly funny and charming and dramatic and while she has been better in her life, I let sentimentality influence myself here, too.
My Grade:  A-

Josh:
Hepburn won her fourth Best Actress Oscar for playing Ethel Thayer, a woman in her twilight years who spends the summer at Golden Pond with her husband. The frailty in her physical performance is obvious, given Hepburn's condition, and it really adds another dynamic to her work. Ethel has been with her husband for years, and the mileage shows, with Hepburn's natural energy on screen only slightly diminished. Still, she makes Ethel more than just the loving wife and mother. The pep and warmth of her performance are completely engaging, and it's hard not to love her in such a role. It might be a role that Oscar voters could embrace, but she's very good in the film. Hepburn only appeared in two other theatrical releases after this, unfortunately. This was a fine way for her to go out.

Did Hepburn deserve to win?

Not quite. More deserving were Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City or Diane Keaton in Reds.
My Grade:  B+

Kevin:
My friend Daniel and I had a conversation about me watching these last two films in this project. His reaction when I said I would be watching "On Golden Pond" cracked me up. He did a spot-on impression. Shaking a bit as he said, "The loons, Norman. The loons..." So messed up. But I honestly enjoyed parts of this movie. I say parts because I couldn't shake the made-for-TV feel it carries in the middle. I'm glad, in the end though, that it edges up a little bit and ends pretty strong.

As Ethel Thayer, old Kate really plays a great character. Sometimes a role is perfect for someone. This one is that for Hepburn. Ethel is a cheery, funny old broad. She lovingly refers repeatedly to her husband, Norman (Henry Fonda, in a truly worthy Oscar-winning turn) as an "old poop." Her observation is quite true. Being the loving wife of such a classic old curmudgeon would be a hard job, she sells it. It reminds me of my grandparents a bit, though my grandfather isn't nearly as funny. And it also gave me a glimpse of where my wife, Amanda, and I are headed in about 40 years. She already calls me a "poop" quite often.

There's not much to this role. Nothing grand, yet it works solely because it is Hepburn with Fonda in a sweet, crowd-pleasing movie. Even at 75, Kate still has that look, that smile, those eyes, the ability to stream those tears and then smile. It's a nice job of acting in a nice movie about, generally, nice people. I feel like the fact that Fonda gets the better lines, and really the better role, sort of hurts her here. I wonder if she won it just for charming so many people, or for being so old and iconic.

Again, I haven't seen any of the other nominated performances, but I have heard quite a bit about Diane Keaton in "Reds," and wonder if she maybe could've been one more Twice a Best Actress. Either way, why not honor Kate one more time? She took a good role for a woman her age and did it well.

The Scene That Won It: When Chelsea (Jane Fonda) as the daughter shows back up near the end and finds Ethel dancing, singing, chanting around, and then the conversation that follows where she delivers the best line she's given, "That old son-of-a-bitch is my husband!"
My Grade:  B

Sati:
Hepburn's character here is the complete opposite of who she played in Lion in the Winter - her Ethel is kind, sweet, loyal and happy. To the point that it is seriously annoying. Not that she is bad, it's just that this whole movie is like the equivalent of a mediocre chicken soup. Nothing really stands out apart from Henry Fonda who also won the Oscar for that, so I feel perhaps they just didn't know who to award best actress to and they handed the award to Hepburn, because why not.

I'd write more, but I'm so bored even thinking about this movie.
My Grade:  D

FINAL SCORE
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).

Katharine Hepburn received a total of 104 points for her performance in The Lion in Winter.
Katharine Hepburn received a total of 62 points for her performance in On Golden Pond.

This is a collective total of 166 points.

As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.

So this closes our discussion, period. It's all over, but not really.  I will post a collective ranking next week, with some stats, so be on the lookout!

8 comments:

  1. It's been a great run and all the contributors have made it consistently interesting.

    My take on these two:

    The Lion in Winter-The only one of her winning performances that was actually worthy of the prize. I'm not saying she only deserved one Oscar, her nominated work in Long Day's Journey Into Night and her un-nominated performance in Holiday are both worthy. She bites into Eleanor with gusto seemingly giddy at the chance to work on something to which she can give her all. It also helps that she is surrounded by award worthy co-stars all of whom seem to draw on each other to create a picture with one of the best ensembles in any film ever. She really understands her character and delivers her many scathing comments with verve but never tips into caricature. It's also to her credit that the few times Eleanor, a dragon of a person, lets her guard down you feel for her. A masterful accomplishment.

    It was an incredibly strong year for Best Actress with all five women giving brilliant performances so I didn't find it surprising that she shared the award with Barbra Streisand in one of the most dazzling screen bows ever.

    On Golden Pond-She's fine but this is a sentimental award given to a decent performance stuck in a schmaltzy movie. Whereas Fonda actually has moments of true poignancy in his performance Kate's role is that of the stalwart wife the same as in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?. Her star power is still in full vigor and she interacts with the cast well but I wish that her part had been played by Barbara Stanwyck who actively pursued the role. She and Fonda were deep friends and had made three pictures together previously, he always said she was his favorite leading lady, so their shared history would have added another layer to the film. Then if the academy had decided to give an sentimental Oscar I wouldn't have objected since she was so deserving and had been unacknowledged. Hepburn's win is wholly undeserved, perhaps it was a case of vote splitting with all the other actresses pulling shares from the other and allowing Kate to emerge victorious, I'd favor Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City or Diane Keaton in Reds but any of the other four competing performances are better than hers.

    I've truly enjoyed the series and am sorry to see it come to its conclusion. Great work from everyone. I'll throw out a hopefully reiteration of my suggestion for Twice a Supporting Winner at some point. There are nine of them between the actors and actresses.

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    1. No fear, there will be a Twice a Supporting Winner...possibly in the summer!

      And I had no idea that Stanwyck lobbied for the role. UGH, I would have wholly endorsed that make-up win, even if the role is a bunch of nothing. Sadly, had Stanwyck landed the role, the Oscar probably would have gone to Keaton (well, she DESERVED IT) and Stanwyck would still be Oscarless.

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  2. I really need to rewatch The Lion in Winter, as I only saw the parts w/ Timothy Dalton for obvious reasons, ahah. So I feel like I've only seen Katharine Hepburn in her rom-coms but I should see her more of her dramatic stuff.

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    1. It's a really solid ensemble and film, so I recommend you check it out!

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  3. Catching up...so I still have to see The Lion In Winter but I have seen clips and it looks wicked. It is right up Hepburn's alley. The 2nd film I saw in the theatre when it came out. I remember the loons(I giggled about that nutty line and thought of Dorothy Parker saying "Katherine runs the gamut of emotions from A to B"). I remember henry Fonda looking frail and being in the water and I remember Jane Fonda's big hair. Jane Fonda stated that Katherine Hepburn helped her reach out to her dad since they were always at odds. Ms. Fonda mentioned that when she had her big scene with her dad she saw Ms. Hepburn hold her hand together in a fist and holding it up and she knew what it meant. Um...OK sure...whatever sells the movie. They gave the award to both of them because they were 2 of the old greats in a film and Henry Fonda was dying. Kate was the rock in the film and that was gangbusters through the media which I think helped win her the award. It's an OK film but it is not monumental. There were many films done in this manner at that time (Four Seasons, Ordinary People...). I would have given the award to Susan Sarandon for Atlantic City. I watched REDS and it is so humble in it's full of oneself grandeur. I dislike that film whereas my brother loves it. Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl was excellent I have to admit

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    1. I kind of love Reds even though I have this lingering feeling that I shouldn't.

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  4. Thanks man! It's been fun. :)

    I didn't rewatch The Lion in Winter beforehand, but I suspect I might bump my grade up to an A+. Hepburn is amazing in that role.

    Looking forward to that rankings post!

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    1. It was fun, I can't believe it's over (although I can't say I'm not a tad bit relieved that it is).

      I need to work on that rankings post. It may need to wait till next week...but it will come!

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