20 March 2010

My Favourite Actors: Dianne Wiest

Even before I was a teenager and way before I became a film snob there was an actress that appeared in a few of my favourite films. Dianne Wiest has won two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress, has appeared in a handful of Woody Allen films, and has recently had a successful turn on one of HBO's most critically successful series.

Dianne Wiest is a wonderful actress and has played a wide range of characters, though she may be most well known for playing the best friend (like in Woody Allen's September) or the mother (like in Edward Scissorhands).

While those are definitely two performances that I love, they
are not amongst my favourites. Here, without much deliberation, are my top five favourite Dianne Wiest performances.

5. Gina, In Treatment (2008 - present)
While she may be most well known for her film r
oles, Dianne Wiest has had a successful stage career and is no stranger to television. In 1997 she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress on a Dramatic Series for her role on Road to Avonlea. On In Treatment she plays Gina, former mentor and therapist to main character Paul, played by Gabriel Byrne. She is the reason I started watching the series and it is her episodes that are my favourite. For a series that depends so much on character and dialogue, Dianne Wiest is captivating and thankfully Gabriel Byrne is a worthy adversary on screen.

4. Louise Keeley, The Birdcage (1996)
The Birdcage is a great film to watch because of Dianne Wiest. It may be remembered for Robin Williams' performance, but the highlight of the time is watching Dianne Wiest act against one of the best comedic actors (Robin Williams) and one of the best dramatic actors (Gene Hackman). In a film where most of the performances are over the top, Dianne Wiest balances the cast with her role as the conservative Republican wife wanting to break away from her husband's ideals.

3. Helen Buckman, Parenthood (1988)
Released during the heyday of Steve Martin's film career, Parenthood is a terrific film with a wonderful ensemble cast. H
elen is a divorced mother of two whose children seem to despise her. She is very insecure at the beginning of the film, and this comes across very well. Her daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) is still a teenager and her boyfriend (Keanu Reeves) eventually moves into their home. Some of the most touching and hilarious scenes in the whole film involve Helen and her two kids. She plays the role of an overwhelmed mother with a beautiful mix of intensity and ease. Dianne Wiest was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1989 for the film, losing to Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot).

2. Helen Sinclar, Bullets over Broadway (1994)
Dianne Wiest completely stole the film away from John Cusack. Her performance as the aging actress Helen Sinclair is brilliant in its controlled intensity. Her character is a diva
and an alcoholic, too old to play the temptress and too vain to play the mother, and Dianne Wiest made her into a three-dimensional character. Helen Sinclair, as a character, is over-the-top and dramatic, but Dianne Wiest is such a wonderful actress that Helen becomes a fully realized character so that we are able to see her insecurities and her fears. Bullets over Broadway also features great performances by Chazz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly (who were also nominated for Academy Awards), but the film is definitely anchored by Dianne Wiest's inspired performance.

1. Holly, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Yes, Hannah and Her Sist
ers is my favourite film, and Woody Allen is my favourite director, so it should be expected that Dianne Wiest's Oscar-winning performance as Hannah's (Mia Farrow) sister Holly would be my favourite! In a film that also features Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, and Barbara Hershey, you must credit Dianne Wiest for being able to stand out amongst such talented actors. Holly undergoes a significant transformation through the course of the film and Dianne Wiest makes her storyline believable. There is no vanity in her performance and I found myself drawn to her performance the very first time I saw the film. It is a special role in a special film.

A few other performances worth watching:
Radio Days (1987)
Practical Magic (1998)
Synecdoche, New York (2008)

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