Performances I learned about
What I actually found in common with the ‘best’ performances I’ve seen in movies since my earlier, iffier list in July is that these actors who play their characters as either scary or scared. I thought that was gonna make my list repetitive but it’s a pretty general conflict within a character anyway. Also, as much I loved a few performances released this year, this list mainly focus on my self-education (Although I didn’t major nor specialize, I took film classes in college, I’m not one of those) about films from the beginning of ever (but really 1947) up to the past year, for which I make a space to include an FYC or two for performances this year. again, I also wanna be a contrarian and ‘instructive’ – the more obscure and diverse a performance is, the better.
Stellan Skarsgard, Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
The film complements Emily Watson’s well-praised debut performance as Bess McNeil with Skarsgard, who makes the pest performance of a ‘crippld’ man since Jimmy Stewart. He finds the balance of sincerity and good intention despite the manipulative nature of what he says, and this the centre of the misogyny that other bloggers have accused von Trier about in this film. Thing is, he airs his requests to Bess with neither overt meanness nor longing. His disability is also reflected before and after it literally sets him in the film’s plot. Let me explain. Skarsgard’s performance makes his character, Jan Nyman, very jaded and justly so. He treats the Bess’ Calvinist enclave with disgust but as an outsider, is aware that he cannot change it, letting everyone else do the moralizing. He tries to give Bess the redemption he deserves and doesn’t oversell it, showing us his awareness of the reality of his loss.
Liv Ullman, Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978)
It’s a hard task stealing the show from Ingrid Bergman, and we almost think it wouldn’t happen with the woman’s piano skills. Eventually this film becomes Ullman’s, playing Bergman’s daughter. I thought she was in her twenties when she took on this role, and her braids and glasses might have had something to do with that. But Ullmann in her forties captures the youthful vulnerability of someone well, half her age. A character who hasn’t learned how to be an adult because of her mother’s tampering and image of superiority. What follows is an unforgettable primal scream, revealing that anything a mother can do to love her child might be engendering the opposite message. The film ends with her trying to get her mother back, but in just as repetitive as she’s learned. Never had a peace-offering been so poisonous, as Ullmann carefully hides a rage that we can still see.
Ryan Reynolds, Buried (Rodrigo Cortes, 2010)
The success of this film has been partly attributed to Reynolds’ comic timing, which yes, adds a flexibility to the role in a horror/thriller film. Other critics have also talked about how he conveys Paul Conroy’s lack of intelligence, but lack of sunlight and mobility, I can assume, with take away 1 or 61 of anyone’s IQ points. However, he also exhibits a physicality, a difficult attribute to convey in a claustrophobic film.We follow his every little move, like trying to get a signal from a Blackberry set in Arabic or working flashlights. He also bring is the emotional heft the film needs, outstandingly connecting with the offscreen characters. And yes, I admit, a reason Reynolds is on this list is because he renders the best reading of the sentence ‘You stupid fucking cunt!’ in the history of cinema.
Any Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Supporting actress schmupporting actress – Amy Ryan takes the reins in this movie. Ryan’s character is faced by many hurdles, the missing daughter who probably hasn’t been fed by her captors (really the latter is fine), the good cops and the bad cops who are convinced she’s involved in the crime despite her unbreakable shell. She’s also intelligent enough to add levels of moral judgment about her character, saying things that she believes is right but making the words clear enough to question her. She gets the ending she wants and becomes a scary form of human being impervious to change even in times of almost complete disaster. I try my best not to be one of those bloggers who have grievances when it comes to the choices the Academy makes, and who am I to judge Tilda Swinton’s performance that I’ve yet to see. Nonetheless, Team Amy.
Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
Blankness hasn’t been this scary in a woman or in any character until this film arrived. We might also wanna thank Polanski in this aspect of her performance, but she looks capably fashionable even as she’s as we say mentally breaking through the seams. That and the raving beauty is humble enough to look plain in comparison the her sister (Yvonne Furneaux). Not only do we see the rabbit head inside her purse and the unkept conditions of her and her sister’s apartment after the latter’s vacation do the vacuous stares make sense. Her bravery’s also commendable as she takes on the dream rape scenes, as she approaches them not with tears but with defenselessness and startled reactions, conveying how her character struggles against her body. She portrays a young woman with grievances against societal pressures about her sister’s boyfriend and her own oblivious boyfriend, but sadly didn’t learn how to scream out.
Deborah Kerr, Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
I considered it a personal achievement to have finished watching the film the past year, since Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh puts heart in what could be a cold, detached and stern female protagonist in Black Narcissus. Powell and Pressburger are known for their magical Technicolor visuals in their films, but the most delightful image it has is watching Kerr light up when she reminisces, romanticizing the decaying past that she was happy and content with. There’s also a bit of pain in her eyes as the film transforms her from context a to b, with the knowledge that her life in the British Isles won’t be the same. She’s not, however, necessarily a helpless young female, as she considers herself a mother and leader to the other nuns in the Indian mission, specifically looking out for Sister Ruth, sincerely caring about hers and everyone else’s health. And she’s got a little sense of humour as well, brought on by Mr. Dean.
Tatsuya Nakadai, Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)
Hey look, another double role! But really the titular Kagemusha gets invaded by his alter ego, Shingen Takeda, the medieval Japanese war lord whose life is surprisingly more precarious than the lower class man who’s supposed to impersonate him. Nakadai evinces the haunted feeling of being followed by the ghost – only appearing once in a dream – of a supposedly great man, who’s also chagrined by the warlord’s son. He somehow convinces us of a closer connection between the two disparate characters, of the integrity that has to be preserved in the old ways that oppress Kagemusha. When the thief becomes the warlord, he doesn’t put a dumb show. He even shows warmth while bonding with the warlord’s grandson. The actor perfectly captures the composed, arrogant ways of a noble man and the dishevelled thief who he was in the film’s beginning and end.
Joan Allen, The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)
Ang Lee’s more subtle than other directors who have made films about the suburbs. It is then a gift to have Joan Allen’s as Elena in his film to keep the trajectory from quietness to histrionics more interesting, like the different movements of mood within a real person within two days’ time. To a pastor, she talks about her daughter Wendy’s (Christina Ricci) freedom with such adult control. Her performance has many great moments, like the what-the-eff moment when she smells a different ‘aftershave’ from Elena’s husband Ben (Kevin Kline) as she tries hard to calm herself and the absolute fury as she throws her husband’s car keys to Allison Janney, vindictively including themselves to a ‘key party’ – look it up, kids. This movie reintroduced and made me love someone revered as ‘the greatest American actress after Meryl.’
Johnny Depp, Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 2000)
When you start talking about a film, writing ‘Remember when Johnny Depp was still good?’ It’s totally ok to do that. Anyway, Depp, obviously a superstar by the early 90’s, in this film is given not one but two supporting roles as Bon Bon and Lieutenant Victor, and arguably Victor is two roles in itself, the compassionate stud of Reinaldo Arenas’ (Javier Bardem) fantasy and the homophobic oppressor in the film’s reality. The two bit parts are symbolic of the opinion of homosexuality in Cuba – either as a counter-revolutionary sore or an underground movement to be preserved. Depp uses subservience and camp, and embracing his characters as mirror images of the conflict within Arenas himself as well as the latter’s conflicts against authority. I also couldn’t recognize who Bon Bon was until I took a good look at her for 13 seconds, a feat in itself for an actor who’s in costume for more than half his career.
Christian Bale , Laurel Canyon (Lisa Cholodenko, 2002)
I’m probably the only monstrous human beings who see flaws within Christian Bale’s acting, the way he gets angry and yells like a hound and all. He does that here in this movie too, mind you. It’s refreshing nonetheless, that he spends 99% of the film being his most ordinary. That, however, doesn’t mean he’s not interesting as we watch him effortlessly confess his desires to make love to his coworker/extramarital love interest with sadness and other emotions and nuances I can’t put into words. He approaches lust and therefore sin with such gentleness and no violence, creating a character contemplating the sorrow of limitations. One of the film’s plots cover his character temporarily staying with his music producer of a mother (Frances McDormand) and her rocker boyfriend-of-the-year (Alessandro Nivola), giving us the impression that he’s always had to be the adult in whatever household he’s in, and it consistently shows.
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Micthell, 2010)
I’ve already talked about how Nicole Kidman as Becca Corbett does everything in this film except dance and stab. I also remember about her performance is that she could have brought down her character’s meanness, and in a way she does. What she offers is a defence mechanism and even a wry intelligence to the conventional ways of sorrow, and instead her Becca is looking for an alternative, learning how to suffer and cope on her own, allowing herself to feel other emotions to heal. Like when she goes back to Manhattan and try to get her job back at Sotheby’s, even if we just see her we sense how big she feels with the city and with the happiness she’s had and missed. Or allowing herself to be close to Jason Willette (Miles Teller), treating him so close like a son or nephew, letting us feel the waters she’s treading.
The Fighter‘s first sequence places the camera behind Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), as his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) throws fake punches behind him. They play fight as Dicky welcomes a documentary crew to his hood at Lowell, Massachusetts. You see the brothers, the crew, the neighbors yet the neighborhood feels uninhabited and thus, artificial. The rest of the film feels that way, the small city, both depicted with interior and exterior space, feels sunny bot not vibrant. The camera then zooms out with the same speedy feel as director David O. Russell’s earlier work Three Kings or the opposite yet reminiscent of, dare I blaspheme, a shot in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Lowell, Massachusetts, where everyone wears a size too small except for Dicky, who, despite revealing musculature later in the film, has an emaciated face floating above ratty oversize t-shirts, and for a while, Micky, better dressed than his brother, who tries to hide that he’s getting fat for lack of exercise. When they’re physically in shape, Micky and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) would have their enviable three percent body fat sticking out on top of their boxing shorts or cutoff jeans.
The movie also makes Micky look short (in reality Wahlberg is 5’9″), since no one that jacked could weigh 145 pounds. I’m not saying that the clothing nor the physicality does all the characterization – I’ll have a lot to say later about those aspects of the movie. I just like those details within the costume or mise-en-scene popping up once in a while.
I’ve previously said that I can’t relate to trashy characters. How many times do I have to say that I hung out with a bad crowd in high school or work with the working class now before it sounds like I’m appropriating something that isn’t mine culturally? I don’t feel comfortable in saying that I can relate to the characters and the situations they get into. It has already thrown and turned off some audiences against the film. But I feel like I can relate to these characters.
The playacting violence that for some reason is associated with both fun and survivalist thinking more than performed working-class masculinity. Their gestures. Dysfunctional families and in-laws. Women who are tough and foul-mouthed. Trouble with the law. Characters who are oblivious to the self-serving nature of their actions. I especially like scene when Dicky realizes that he’s hours late to train his brother. Of course he’s late. I can assume, consuming drugs in his level, that if he starts a session at 8 o’ clock, he’ll be lucky to realize that he had to get out.
Or like mother Alice (Melissa Leo) booking Micky into one badly matched HBO fight after losing another, not realizing she’s hurting and exploiting a son who may not wanna continue into this career. Expecting different results. O. Russell shows how poverty can induce insanity without harshly labeling these characters as insane. If any of us does the latter, then that’s our fault.
Harsh verbal and physical confrontations. Terrible ideas of trying to unsuccessfully scam people out of their money. Any of these things can be a subject for one movie. And it all feels real coming from these actors.
Like movies with trashy characters, we see a substantial amount of physical antics, bad decisions and yelling here, but none of those three things take the forefront in the film. Or at least we aren’t welcomed into the storm, as the film’s continues that with the family explaining which of their members are Eklunds and which are Wards, treating this fact of their lives matter-of-factly and without shame. And then two bar fights happen, one between Micky and another guy and another between two women. O. Russell knows how to stir the pot at the right time.
Another instance showing the character of the Eklund-Wards is when they’re watching a documentary about Dicky’s crack addiction – they’re bravely confronting the reality of their situations. The only time they’re hesitant about the material is when Alice tells Dicky’s son to stay upstairs or when Dicky, now in jail, unplugs the big TV set to stop the schadenfreude from the other inmates. If anything they’re prouder to watch this than to watch the first rounds of Micky’s fights. While that doc is playing on HBO, Micky’s college dropout girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), instead of avoiding ‘white trash,’ knocks at his door and slowly, like a human being, reaches for his hand.
It also helps that Charlene has the best lines of the film and steals the show. From contending with pretentious film patrons on a better side of town while on a date with Micky as well as confronting his family members, she sure knows how to stand her ground. A scene with her in the lions’ den of Micky’s sisters and another when Dicky makes an impromptu visit to her house make her an integral part of the best ensemble acting this year. Even in a scene when Alice tries to explain to her why he’s not sitting on a stool. Yes, that was Alice’s moment but it says a lot about her character that they have made peace that way.
There are negative effects and connotations to the film’s ‘team effort’ feel. From the first sound of the film – hearing Dicky’s voice as he talks both about his career and his brother’s, the audience knows that this isn’t Micky’s film. Charlene and Alice dissuade Micky from giving up, which would be encouraged even by a different peer group within the town. Micky’s dependence towards other characters shows how weakly written his character is, and that can be said about the rest of the characters too. The script then, despite its wonderful cadence, serves to be a impressionistic work on characters grinding against each other’s nerves. The characters then, have to have these fights and verbal exchanges a hundred times to grow as human beings.
So is this movie trying to say that what happens about the characters are more important within the characters? And it is true that it takes a long time for people to grow, and that evolution gets slowed down by poverty, lack of education and drugs. Although those things allow perseverance.
I didn’t have those questions while watching the movie. If you sat in the same theatre as me, you’d think I was watching the best movie ever. 4/5 rating because of the arguably shabby script, but it created characters I’ll love and cherish until another charismatic ‘hillbilly’ comes along.
Laurel Canyon, the perfect boring couple, Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale) talk at each other and sometimes lie to each other. Sam has to move back to the titular Laurel Canyon to practice psychiatry in a great hospital there, and Alex comes with to finish her dissertation. temporary bunking with Sam’s mother Jane (Frances McDormand) and her lover Ian (Alessandro Nivola), the environment proves to hinder work and shake up relationships.
Hey! Catherine Hardwicke and Wally Pfister helped make this movie.
It’s funny that 60% of the major players in this film are British but make for more convincing Californians than Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska. And that bale and Nivola could have changed roles but the American Nivola does fit the hairy-chested, childlike Chris Martin-eqsue role better.
Alex is such a complex character that Cholodenko has to justify the script’s choices within and around her. When she gets invited to join Jane’s group, Jane explains that she can judge Jane’s work because common sense drives popular music, thus anyone can judge it. When Sam pours his heart out to Sara, it follows with a scene when Alex misunderstands everything he’s been saying to her. A question is often followed by an answer, thankfully those answers aren’t too expository.
And oh Lord, Kate Beckinsale. I’ll always love her for her deadpan fierceness, if that exists, in The Last Days of Disco. Her MUBI profile doesn’t show how derided she is after The Aviator. As the soft-spoken Alex, her retreat with Sam lets her go through a sexual awakening at the same time as Sam, but hers is more intense, later on explaining that she’s never experienced fucking up. Within the film, she goes from routine lovemaking to romantic desire. It’s sad that they didn’t go through the full experience together. And she smokes a joint like a true beginner. I miss this girl.
Would it be fair to say that Cholodenko almost perfectly encapsulates the white experience? She doesn’t have the Holofcener/Fey guilt thing, but Cholodenko puts the straight-laced and the wild ones within the same square inch, or in this case, the same family. Most of the movie shows Sam and Jane treat each other passive aggressively until the big explosive scene in the denouement, which air some raw emotions out.
And again, time to download me some Mercury Rev.