Photo: Franck Fife/ AFP/ Getty Images
From the exhibit Joan Miró: Birth of the World, on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art through June 15, the painting Hirondelle Amour (1933) features all the hallmarks of the master Surrealist, and is a boisterous blend of color and abstraction. (Also fascinating is how the work manages to evoke that of his contemporary and colleague Pablo Picasso, whom Miró often clashed with.) “For me, a painting must give off sparks,” Miró once said. “It must dazzle like the beauty of a woman or a poem.” Or, one may add, a symphony.
Leading Ladies: A Queen, a housekeeper, a forger, a long-suffering wife – and a rock star thrown in for good measure. Such are the characters depicted by the actresses singled out for lead roles at this Sunday’s Academy Awards presentation. And what a diverse group of performances they represent. Though one may quibble (and I will) about a couple of the nominees, there’s no doubt that in their own way each left their mark on this year’s Oscars in ways big and small.
Perhaps the biggest revelation for me was Melissa McCarthy playing the real-life part of writer Lee Israel in the film adaptation of her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (The title comes from a sign-off often used by Dorothy Parker, one of the literary luminaries whose letters Israel forged for profit.) Known for her comedic roles, McCarthy plumbs the depths of pathos in this astonishing performance, aided by her also remarkable co-star Richard Grant. (It should be noted that the misfits-come-together theme is reminiscent of last year’s Shape of Water, in the relationship between the characters played by Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins.) McCarthy, in the performance of a lifetime, pulls the curtain on a deeply unlikable woman – eventually convicted for her crimes – as someone whose desperation ultimately sprung from the creative vacuum that economic circumstances had placed her in. The scene toward the end of the film, where she explains what propelled her transgressions, is one of the finest I’ve seen in recent memory.
Olivia Colman, as the royally messy British Queen Anne in the jaunty romp, The Favourite, is notable for being able to keep her performance from veering off into camp, though coming close to it on occasion. Supported by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in key roles, Colman presents the monarch, who ruled England from 1707-1714, as a daffy, spoiled, but ultimately sympathetic figure. The screenplay’s questionable historical bona fides allow the actress to roam free in her idiosyncratic interpretation of a sovereign whose personal life still remains somewhat of a mystery to this day.
Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, the salt of the earth at the heart of Alfonso Cuaron’s transcendent Roma, presents a quandary – and an unusual quibble alert. Her performance, if it can be called such, is so organic that I would hesitate to call it acting. Unlike her famous fellow nominees, her anonymity allows a total immersion in what is not so much a role but a life experience. Aparicio, who was studying to be a teacher when Cuaron offered her the role after a casting call, says that she would like to continue acting after her breakout performance. I’ll predict that she’ll find it difficult to match the perfection with which she helped elevate Roma to masterpiece status.
I generally love myself some Lady Gaga, but I’m afraid I wasn’t head over heels about her stint as Ally in the latest iteration of A Star is Born. I refer to acting-wise; her musical scenes were fantastic and carried all the charisma and talent that have made her the superstar she is. But her co-star, Bradley Cooper, had far more emotional resonance it seems to me, and she comes up a bit short with this foray into the thespian arts. We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds in this department, but for now she has bested her counterpart from a previous generation, Madonna, with an Oscar nomination!
As for the expected winner this year, Glenn Close, what can one say? It’s about time, after six nominations, that this treasure of American film, stage (and television) adds the Big One to her extensive CV. In The Wife, she provides an absolutely masterful exhibit of steely control over seething tension and such is her magnetism that you really can’t take your eyes off her in any scene.
In the end, no quibbles about the fact that it’s been an especially satisfying year of excellence for women in film.
Two images by photographer Alan Burles, winner of this year’s Leica/Street Photography International photographer of the year award. The British-born Burles, who began his career as an advertising art director at Saatchi & Saatchi, says of his prize-winning work, “I love ideas, I love humour, I love photos that are what I call ‘never ending photos.’ They reward you every time you look at them.”
Along the highways and byways of rural America, some fortunate drivers are encountering eye-catching billboards (one is shown above) designed with the midterm elections in mind and sure to provoke thoughtful reflection. Described as possibly the country’s most ambitious public-art project, they form part of the “50 State Initiative,” a crowdfunded project sponsored by the New York-based For Freedoms organization, and are intended to encourage “civic participation,” according to For Freedom’s co-founder Eric Gottesman.
“It’s not just voting, it’s about using our voices to speak up about the things we feel strongly about,” Gottesman recently told The Guardian newspaper, which reports that more than 200 institutions and 400 artists will be hosting, talks, projects, and exhibits related to political art in partnership with For Freedoms. The more than 50 billboards created for the endeavor (whose locations include Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) will remain up through the month of November.
Says Gottesman: “Often the response to the billboards is a question: ‘What does this mean?’” We say: ‘What do you think it means? We don’t know, help us figure out what this means together.’”
And, of course, being a part of the conversation is one of the essential foundations of a shared democracy. (So VOTE!)