The Essential Performances of the 90s Showdown
Our friend Andrew Kendall of Encore’s World… has painstakingly planned and vetted 64 of the greatest performances of the 1990’s out of a possible 200, this difficult task eventually proving fruitful, presenting us with a showdown where you can vote for the better performance out of two that are paired. Thirty-two performances begin this showdown, but there can only be one winner.
FULL BRACKET HERE
Andrew has chosen me as one of his henchmen, the others being Jose Solis of Movies Kick Ass and Nick Prigge of Cinema Romantico. I pretty much tried to rig and troll the list while the three of them brought the bracket some quality. Other bloggers suggested their bests, like Amir Soltani of Amiresque, Courtney Small of Big Thoughts from a Small Mind, Craig Bloomfield of Dark Eye Socket, Ruth Maramis of FlixChatter and Ryan McNeil of The Matinee, Alex of Film Forager, Andy from The Film Emporium, and Jessica of The Velvet Café.
Andreas Stoehr of Pussy Goes Grr, Michael Cusumano of Serious Film and Yojimbo of Let’s Not Talk About Movies have also stepped in to do what I’ll be doing every other day or so – talk about two of the performances that are pitted against each other.
I already submitted some of my write-ups, the first one between the surprisingly restrained Nicolas Cage and the classical touches of Irene Jacob, both performances being in the moment, the actors enveloping each moment with intense emotion. I’m trying not to be biased between the two. You have until Tuesday to vote between the two of them, since every showdown is given three days to fight against each other. The clue to the next showdown that I’ll be moderating is in the picture below. Which one is it? I’ll link you when it’s up.
Now go to Andrew’s site and vote! And comment!
HMWYBS: Raise the Red Lantern
Raise the Red Lantern is my first Zhang Yimou and first Gong Li, the latter’s talent discussed with exclamation so much that it makes me feel like I missed out, although there are many beauties who have come to grace cinema after her. Nonetheless there can’t be a better first impression than watching her play Songlian, determined to dig her own grave despite her mother’s warnings. She behaves as stiffly and as nervous as a wall in one minute and trying to shout those same walls down during the next. I’m used to more Western narratives where a woman, whose only companion is her husband and perhaps a lover, becomes unhinged in isolation. But this movie complicates that dynamic by making Songlian one of four mistresses to an early 20th century Chinese aristocrat Master Chen (Ma Jingwu), whose attitudes to each other are less cooperative and more competitive, adding to her isolation, a crippling yet universal feeling for many of literature’s heroines. But while we’re sympathizing with her and want her to succeed and play her wifely role perfectly, we’re also frustrated by her introversion the growing viciousness that her servants (especially Lin Kong as her servant Yan’er) begin to notice.
I love how the mistresses are depicted, Songlian, the dowager one, the ‘nice’ one (Cao Cuifen) and Meishan (He Caifei), the holdout who still introduces herself as an opera singer. She always uses lipstick and light make up and her chamber reflects her former occupation, looking like a stage as Songlian remarks. It’s has the most personality compared to the golden warmth of the first two mistresses’ chambers. It’s one of the last times that the two women will be positioned as equals, both having the same stakes at the game, both deferring a chance to be in their Master’s company to the ‘nice’ mistress through one’s schemes and the other’s indulgence.
But I noticed that there’s more to Songlian’s off-white chamber when her frenemy the third mistress visits. Plastered on the walls are scrolls as large as Meishan’s masks, a reminder of her off-screen past as a university student – funnily enough that Meishan looks up to her because of the former’s unfinished education. I’m starting to grow into the shot above as my best because of the inadvertent double effect that these scrolls put attention to themselves as well as recede to walls of the same colour, as well as reflecting the restrained nature of both her studies and as a mistress-in-waiting. Even the red lanterns don’t even make the place look more colourful. Yimou’s camera prefers to push the camera back, making these women as secondary to the room as the room’s motifs. She finally lets Meishan into her chamber not as a competitor but as a confidante but there’s so much going on with the body language and blocking to reinforce the borders between them, as Meishan furthers herself into Songlian’s quarters there’s still some reluctance, with her arms crossed and the latter with a demure pose, not looking at her visitor directly.
The shots that came close to being the best are exteriors. Songlian is outside her quarters, giving her the freedom to navigate the palace in open air but she again recedes, making her insignificant compared to the palace’s grand scale as well as its many, conniving inhabitants. But this new knowledge has a price, giving her more access to the family’s ghosts. The ‘nice’ mistress tells her not to go to the locked chamber. Of course the household likes to keep their oppression from reach but she goes back when her friend Meishan is dragged there through her own drunken fault.
Because of an injustice the house seems as if it has its own spirit, or that Songlian makes it seem that way to keep her victim alive. In the household light means power and most of the time the Master and the men have this, the lanterns symbolizing the Master’s company and the favour tipping towards a certain mistress. But sometimes the women get this power like the shot below where the women can scare the men off, being unable to kill off or rid of a subversive mistress.
Her freedom is eventually negated in the end when she regresses into her childlike self with school girl outfit, walking back and forth in her own hallway like Minotaur, barred from the Master and the household’s company as they fear the destruction she might cause to the society that’s been equally cruel to her. It was kind of frustrating to get this shot, as Yimou kept cutting these static shots too fast and with slightly different angles. It had this effect where the lanterns criss crossed together. There’s probably something more to these shots that I can’t articulate but I eventually embraced its beauty.
- Coming Soon to “Hit Me…” (thefilmexperience.net)
All Costner, All the Time.
1960’s Louisiana District Attorney Garrison (Kevin Costner) gives one of his teammates the good old American finger and talk down. In a restaurant nonetheless, talking about issues of national gravity.
Atticus has a daughter, but what if he also has a wife (Sissy Spacek) and son? Director Oliver Stone calls JFK his The Godfather but I just brought up another comparison. Also, if this was a de Palma film, I’d be rolling my fucking eyes.
Saturday nights mean that channels compete for my attention and get me away from finishing things I need done. One channel had Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, but nonetheless I chose a movie equally regarded as having a clown car of actors, JFK, which I caught at around the 25 minute mark. I’m probably not wrong in speculating about its reputation as ‘prestige Oscar bait,’ a label that seems weird for a film that gives a legitimate voice for what others consider a ‘tin foil hat’ way of thinking.
It’s one of those movies that make parts of me wish I was older, because the flourishes of colour between red and white should have only been experienced in theatres. But watching it at home is adequate I guess. I’ll probably have to watch Silence of the Lambs again, but unlike that film, this one is purely visual from start to finish. These switches symbolize Garrison’s awakening about the logical gaps within the Warren Commission’s report about the titular president’s assassination. The film uses different film stocks and resolutions, sometimes switching quickly from black and white to show when and where the different parts of the story happen. It’s like watching Bertolucci, as if light had its own weight.
He’s committing to the lion’s share of the research even if he has a growing and diverse team, discovering a plot involving Cubans, CIA agents covering as businessmen (Tommy Lee Jones arguably turns the clock back on gay people two decades at the most) and meddling generals.
The middle section holds a lot of the film’s flaws as it gives a few weak cast members their five minutes to shine and no, I’m not talking about John Candy, who acts as if he’s in a noir, which this movie arguably could be. But it breaks my heart to say that I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Lemmon here, that Kevin Bacon tries too hard in a bit part that Brad Pitt would have, pardon the tacky pun, executed effortlessly, that Donald Sutherland can’t pull off everything in his ‘Black Ops’ soliloquy or that Joe Pesci, despite on a good subtle start, seems to ruin all but one movie that he’s in with his overacting.
Despite of that, the movie has its victories despite the cynicism and nihilism that my generation’s attitudes have that goes against the Kennedys, violence and the film’s Arcadian view of 1963 America that the film mostly succeeds to push. That we have Southern characters who aren’t prejudiced against gays and other ‘minority groups.’ ‘That Garrison and his wife reconcile after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Hey, it happens.
He has a rough start, sometimes going out-of-order. But Garrison eventually begins his arguments, showing the Zapruder tape (a chilling reenactment by and with Stone), the flaws and inaccuracies within the magic bullet theory (I’m pretty sure that, just like the rest of my generation, that I’ve seen the “Seinfeld” parody before the real thing) and Lee Harvey Oswald’s (Gary Oldman playing a regular person) time line and quoting Thoreau like demagogues do until we realize that this movie just made us listen to Kevin Costner for thirty straight minutes. I don’t mind, it’s relentless in a good way. Costner doesn’t change his tone for that half hour, only breaking down at the last few minutes. He instead lets the facts speak for themselves, thus giving a generous and altruistic performance. I’ve never loved him as an actor, but this last scene made me believe that the marquee should have his name back.
- Actor: Kevin Costner (americanthings.wordpress.com)
Shot: Beauty and the Beast
I don’t get my movies in reputable places, so when I got my copy of Beauty and the Beast and started watching it, I thought it was colourful, suspiciously colourful. The film tells its prologue through a series of stained glass-like representations, my best shot is that of the haggard woman turning into a beautiful fairy. There’s something both pre-Raphaelite about her even if she also anachronistically looks like a 20-year old version of a “Powerpuff Girl,” her flared sleeves suggest a sweeping action just like the cartoons that would come a decade later.
This prologue is also the reverse Snow White, where young people who live by themselves have to be suspicious of old haggard women because they can kill or turn their victims into a half-bulldog, half-lion. The transfiguring women also bring objects that are physical manifestations of sexuality. While the stepmother’s apple overwhelms the daughter who’s too young, the rose can mean many things, reminding him that beauty, just like the rose, can be gradually destroyed by time, or by its own frailty. The haggard woman tires to offer the rose to the prince in exchange of shelter, as a way of saying that beauty can be used as currency and whatever else that implies. And of course, the stained glass medium, normally used for Christian imagery, is now depicting a fairy tale.
I don’t know why I assumed that the colours in this film would be duller. Maybe because the colours feel penciled in. I’d assume that watching this movie for the third time is what it’s like to see the Sistine Chapel after it’s been cleaned off of centuries worth of grime. It’s like seeing something as crisp as it would have been twenty years ago.
This is my second favourite shot. Instead of Belle’s mustard dress, I keep seeing blue throughout this movie. This shot also conveys the palace’s large space. It’s strange to see Belle and Beast within the vast palace, but when not when Gaston is looking for him. As if the couple is overwhelmed or understand that space while Gaston waltzes in without any decency. Speaking of which, I would like to congratulate Disney for being ahead of their time, since this movie’s villain comes from one of the most reviled groups of people for the past decade – juiceheads!
Since I like pictures, here’s a Busby Berkeley-esque musical interlude, the most uptight one getting to sing a few verses.
Gaston’s lynch mob for the Beast, looking Fantasia and all.
And Angela Lansbury. This post is part of Nathaniel R’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ series.
Image Erudition: Thelma and Louise
I first saw Thelma and Louise in its entirety on AMC. Rape scenes should make the most of us uncomfortable, but what makes this one so unsettling is how its choereographed and lit. Medium close-up of Thelma (Geena Davis), medium close-up of salivating skeevy rapist Harlan, close-up of Thelma’s bum, close-up of feet as the two go on an unconsented paso doble, all of them back-lit. The third thing on the list got to my nerves because we’re watching the light fabric of her dress caressing her body, if you know what I mean. I haven’t watched the channel in a long time, but it has a glare-y finish than other channels, this scene is bright and for that matter the desert scenes are more arid. The second time I watched this was in CTV, and this time there’s less lighting in that scene and I notice the lighthing elsewhere.
Oh, and that Thelma’s body is depicted in the same objectified way when she makes love to a hitchhiker JD (Brad Pitt). Both men exploit her. I’m not sure how aware director Ridley Scott is of the similarities between the two scenes.
Jonathan Rosenbaum talked about the unpredictable verve that Davis and Susan Sarandon being in their nuanced performances, which matches the film’s electric unpredictability. The average shot length of the film is slightly more than six seconds and we can actually hear the dialogue, so the film is THAT set up. But the film produces a documentary tone with the cars and trucks along the road, like when the titular Thelma and Louise (Sarandon) make a pit stop while escaping the crime scene. On the interstate, their conversations with JD get interrupted by the trucks honking while they’re passing by.
Speaking of their first pit stop, there’s a lot of abject in this movie. Salivating men, vomit, the women’s faces bloodied or with stained make-up or dirty since they haven’t had a proper shower in forever, Thelma’s husband stepping on his pizza. Which also reminds me of their two transformations. One, that Thelma goes from being the one who has to hand over the money and dependence to Louise to being the gun-brandishing store robber. Two, that they came from dress-and-headscarf wearing Southern belles to women you’ve avoid if you happen to walk in to a Lynrd Skynrd concert, not that the latter is a bad thing, mind you.
I also noticed while screen capping the movie that the characters spend a lot of time talking on the phone, the women mostly talking to men (Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen). Unfortunately the women don’t hang up on time.
So Stuck in the 90′s…
While ruffling through old…stuff I guess, Nathaniel R found issues of his old zine. He re-listed what he thought the greatest performances of that decade are.
Best Supporting Actor
– Joe Pesci, Goodfellas, (199o)
Hey look, it’s Joe Pesci with feelings!
– Ted Levine, Silence of the the Lambs, (1991)
You know what, this performance is a little bit campy, but scary and will offend generations to come.
– Anthony Hopkins, Dracula (1992)
Scarier here than as Hannibal Lecter.
– Leonardo di Caprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
He’s proven what he can do at such a young age.
– Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction (1994)
Put cool, hilarious and scary into one gunman.
– Vincent Cassel, La Haine (1995)
Great as the funny, deluded guy from the Paris ghetto.
– Steve Buscemi, Fargo (1996)
Makes the audience realize how crazy these kidnapping plans go.
– Timothy Spall, Secrets and Lies (1996)
This family man role puts him on different emotional fields.
– Robert Forster, Jackie Brown (1997)
You wouldn’t think of him as Pam Grier’s best leading man, but there he is.
– Brendan Fraser, Gods and Monsters (1998)
Remember when this guy did actual acting?
Best Supporting Actress
– ETA: Lorraine Bracco, Goodfellas (1990)
Can’t believe I forgot about this innocent turned crazy-emotional performance
– Jessica Lange, Cape Fear (1991)
Smoldering sexuality comes easy with this lady.
– Angela Bassett, Malcolm X (1992)
The only woman who could play Malcolm X’s wife and in one or two incidents, his formidable opponent.
– Winona Ryder, The Age of Innocence (1993)
As May Archer, a woman who sounds so nice saying the most manipulative things.
– Melanie Lynskey, Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Gotta give Ms. Lynskey a hand for how brave she tackled her sexually blossoming character.
– Sharon Stone, Casino (1995)
Goes all out as Ginger, the boss’ damaged wife.
– Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard III (1995)
The best in show in a film of great women, she gives her one speaking scene as Queen Anne great complexity.
– Bridget Fonda, Jackie Brown (1997)
Exudes confidence as the surfer girl, Melanie.
– Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights (1997)
That scene outside the courthouse.
– Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Slithers his way into Clarice Starling’s sympathies, and ours too.
– Denzel Washington, Malcolm X (1992)
Great range from anger to spiritual enlightenment.
– Colm Feore, Thirty-Three Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993)
Feore helps us learn about this fascinating man.
– Bruce Willis, Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Out of the performances in this list, his is the most visceral.
– Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade (1996)
He makes interesting choices in this role.
– Samuel L. Jackson, One Eight Seven (1997)
Again, scarier than Jules when he teaches us about the ‘philanges.’
– Johnny Depp, Donnie Brasco (1997)
One of the greatest performances within the performance.
– Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski (1998)
Boring answer, but he plays a stoner awake.
– Dylan Baker, Happiness (1998)
Such a sympathetic portrayal that you won’t even believe the truth about him.
– Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Great as a love-to-hate shape shifter.
ETA: Italics represent Oscar winners.
- Flashback: Best of the 90s. (Pt 1) (filmexperience.blogspot.com)
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
While introducing Riki-Oh, the Story of Ricky, Edgar Wright reads from a list of keywords that includes the different ways Ricky could do damage to the bad guys’ bodies. Foot on leg, head bashed in, head ripped off. I know they don’t even try to make the blood look real but it was still oh-so-disgusting.
‘He does one thing in the end and we ask “Why didn’t he just do that in the first place?”‘ I guess he just had to make sure that it wasn’t an empty gesture. But yeah, there’s many ways he could have escaped the prison or at least a room where he’s in. Don’t life the damn ceiling, that guy just broke the brick wall over there! But no, he has to do it the hard way. He has to be the hero, he has to hurt himself, he has to be shirtless all the time, he has to break flutes, he gets buried alive, he has to soak himself in the rain and do karate moves for dramatic effect. I do give him props for not getting grossed out while touching maimed body parts. And his acting is more tolerable if you’re hearing the dialogue in Chinese.
When the film looks back at Ricky’s childhood, his uncle asks, ‘You are no longer a boy, do you still have your superhuman strength.’ Because his uncle knows smooth segues like that. Knowing that, we understand how he can heal quickly when he gets cuts on his face.
Also, horrendous Asian haircuts. I also don’t understand why the gang leaders need licenses to ridiculous outfits and hairdos.
All in all, ridiculousness. Not that there’s anything wrong…
Inside Out: Poison
“Poison” makes for a disjointed viewing experience, with three vignettes/plots about alternative sexuality. All three are a bit campy examples of real issues on homosexuality, but are too extreme to be considered a deterrent against queerness. The plots intertwine, surprisingly bringing the film’s audience smoothly to and from tones like absurdity, the sublime, and the erotic. Michael W. Philips suggests that the three vignettes won’t stand out on their own, and I agree with him for a bit. But then who wants to release three short films instead of just making a full length feature?
Silence of the Lambs
(not the most flattering angle ph. Orion)
Isn’t Clarice Starling is such a nice girl? There’s something about way she smiles and jokes around and has good rapport with others. No wonder Hannibal Lecter has a thing for her, just like every other leering pervert who goes to school with her.
In the scene in the Your Self storage facility outside downtown Baltimore, she asks the manager with a nervous laughter to call her friends at the FBI if the door falls down. She’s cordial yet in control. I wouldn’t even joke about getting stuck in some skeevy guy’s storage room. And as a first time viewer like I was a few months ago, I kind of was expecting the door to close. But watching the way she talks about the worst case scenario, we should have known nothing is gonna happen and she would be fine. If your definition of ‘fine’ is uncovering Benjamin Raspel’s decapitated head.
(hot damn, girl looks like Nicole from MTV Canada)
That early scene, as well as most of the earlier scenes, have such different qualities from the Clarice Starling later on who looks like she’s on the brink of tears. Jodie Foster had to give unity to the character after all. She’s a character appealing enough that Hannibal wanted to know her. I wanted to see her deal with other situations, and I was a bit frustrated but then again it’s a relatively short text – 118 minutes – in a genre film, and they can only allow certain things in there. But then, there’s always gonna her friendliness and wide-eyed constant learning and her humility when she’s not directly dealing with the case. Good enough for me.
The movie has always been a movie in parts for me, always catching the ‘transsexuals are very passive’ scene, because they could only either be passive or serial killers. And all British guys know how to put condiments on a cadaver. And all redhead chicks are both strong yet vulnerable. And all blonde guys have manginas.
While we’re in the ‘gender and sexuality’ thread of the conversation, Clarice is all we have as a representation of the female and feminine in this movie. Catherine, although with a coarser vocabulary, isn’t really Clarice’s foil because she’s just as resourceful yet vulnerable. And Ardelia isn’t a fully developed character. The boys, however, are a different case. An LGBT character is a serial killer yet Clarice’s declaration on the passivity of transsexuals isn’t invalidated. I didn’t take an Angus Reed poll or anything, but a queer man can love women as much as another can hate them. Technically Bill already has foils, but if the film had characters presented as Clarice or Bill’s foils, they wouldn’t be as effective on their own.
I first saw it in its entirety at the Toronto Digital Film Festival, a ‘horror’ film that froze me instead of jolted me, despite of the cloudy quality of the digital film . I won a poster for answering the trivia question of how many Oscars it won. I haven’t opened the poster yet, I don’t know where to put it in my room, I don’t even know where it really is. Then there was the crispier AMC’s televised run Monday night, when Miggs can smell Clarice’s ‘scent’ and Hannibal imagining Crawford imagining ‘fondling’ Clarice, and Bill ‘having’ himself so hard.
I discovered new things in this awesomeness the second time around, that ‘good bag and cheap shoes’ sounds like a hell of a fey insult and I should use it someday. Someone should tell Clarice about that ugly ass coat too. That Clarice kinda looks like Scully. That Buffalo Bill is capable of love. That apparently Anthony Hopkins and the girl who plays Catherine reunited in a really terrible Chris Rock movie that I still wanna see.
That adds to what we already know about that galvanizing moment when Lecter beats the shit out of that guard. And the poetic sequence when Clarice really finds the killer. The little Western touches within the film. That if Jodie Foster wasn’t a lesbian, I’d prescribe it to her. That Clarice is getting better at her game the same way Bill is. That you can never listen to Tom Petty the same way again. That this movie is probably a metaphor about the 90’s paying for our collective sins in the 80’s but I haven’t fully figured that out yet. That this movie’s the only Best Picture winner that encapsulates ‘grunge.’ And like Liz Lemon told her gay cousin, never help someone move a couch into a van.