Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Talented Ms. Blanchett

Remember that period in the late 90s and early 00s where Cate Blanchett appeared in nearly every film released within the calendar year.  The Aussie appeared in no less than twenty feature films between the years 1997 and 2003, arguably her biggest peak of ubiquity.  Within that period she received countless praise, her first Academy award nomination (she currently has five career nominations with one win to record for those interested in taking tally), built a body of work that was built around an endless degree of shapeshifting, navigating films from small to gargantuan, from period to contemporary, amassing a career that seemed early on poised to threaten the great Meryl Streep on terms of versatility and degrees of difficulty; yes the poison of being called a "technical" actress has haunted both.  Recently, Blanchett has had a vastly smaller appearance on screens (in the last two years, Joe Wright's Hanna and last winter's The Hobbit were the only films), taking sabbatical on stage and, assuming, enjoying ones down time.  Things seem ripe to change in the near future, as Blanchett appears to entering another wave of ubiquity, starting off this week with the release of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, which has been earning strong early reviews for her riff on a modern Blanche Dubois.  The awards machine already seems to have kicked off in her favor, a sight familiar to the actress.  She also has roles in George Clooney's WWII fall release The Monuments Men, a return trip to Galadriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Australian drama The Turning due later this year.  That's not all, 2014 looks majorly packed as well with vocal work in How to Train Your Dragon 2, the Middle Earth finale The Hobbit: There & Back Again, two Terrence Malick projects, one entitled Knight of Cups and the other untitled, which might just be the same movie for all we know, and the leading role in Todd Haynes' Carol.  All this plus a film in the works by David Mamet and the 2015 re-telling of Cinderella, where Blanchett will play the Evil Stepmother.  Whew!!!!!!  Fasten your seat belts.

Here's my ten favorite Cate Blanchett performances:

10) Lena Brandt, The Good German (2006)
Steven Soderbergh's evocatively shot 2006 thriller is not a particularly strong movie.  Despite the beautiful black and white photography and the cleverly sculpted a la Ingrid Bergman-performance by Blanchett, there's little to take away from film with it's pedestrian plot and egregious miscasting --> Tobey Maguire.  Blanchett, however, creates a lovely homage to the classic screen stars of 1940s, rendering a playful presence and a spot-on German accent to boot.

9) Magdalena Gilkeson, The Missing (2003)
Again, Ron Howard's feminist western film is mostly forgettable with the exception of Blanchett's stalwart performance as a frontier woman trying to get her daughter back from a kidnapping while being forced to join alliances with her deadbeat father, played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Howard doesn't really have the guts to go through the film all the way through, but Blanchett is strong fighter and electric presence throughout.  A spot-on oater accent as well.

8) Annabelle Wilson, The Gift (2000)
Sam Raimi's strange crime drama centered around a Southern psychic puts Blanchett front and center, never for a second letting anyone take the film away from her.  It's a strong and gritty role of immense personality.  Southern accent, check.

7) Veronica Guerin, Veronica Guerin (2003)
In playing the real-life Irish journalist who was mysteriously killed, Blanchett brought a bristling humanity to a so-so docudrama.

6) Sheba Hart, Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Notes is Judi Dench's film, through and through- handily so that it seems that Blanchett isn't particularly trying in the manner we would, at this point in her career, have expected her to have.  However, one second glance, her Sheba, a high school teacher who makes a terrible mistake and falls prey to Dench's dubious tricks, is a definitive portrait of a woman at her weakest and most downtrodden.  It's far from Blanchett's most accomplished portraits, but refreshing in its tarted up desperation.

5) Meredith Logue, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
For a character that at first appears so incidental, incidental to the point that was utterly invented by the filmmakers and seemingly haphazardly thrust to book-end the film, Blanchett sneaks in so many notes and hidden clues to her limited screen time as a clumsy American heiress traveling abroad, such to the point, she nearly steals the entire movie away.

4) Elizabeth I, Elizabeth (1998)
Ridiculous sequel aside, respect must eternally be paid to Blanchett's breakout and wondrously calibrated take on Queen Elizabeth.  Some of the facts may be thrown to the wind for narrative poetics, but her performance is regal and beautiful, such that it earned her first Oscar nomination and a career full of attentive devotees.

3) Cate & Shelly, Coffee & Cigarettes (2004)
Blanchett has never been as playfully bent, loose or funny than in Jim Jarmusch's black and white vignette film Coffee and Cigarettes, playing a loose variation of herself as well as her tawdry cousin her hold her famous fabulosity with such contempt.

2) Katherine Hepburn, The Aviator (2004)
Blanchett won her first Academy Award for playing screen legend Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes biopic.  The mimicry was spot-on, what with that voice, that athletic sprint, and imposing authority-- but that's only half the trick up Blanchett's sleeve.  She manages to transcend mere mimicry and embody a living, breathing human by dressing down her legend.

1) Jude, I'm Not There (2007)
Talk about mimicry-- three years after channeling the hard to maneuver act of Hepburn, she took on Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' looney and sublime not-quite biography film.  Not just Dylan, but iconic Dylan.  The mimicry again was in perfect symmetry, but the art is the poetry behind the surface gestures.  Her greatest far.

What are your favorites?

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