As I’ve said before, Andrew’s 90’s Showdown was a baby that was meticulously conceived and prepared by its multiple fathers. We sent a list – I tried rigging the polls by sending in as many obscure performances as possible, as any douche-y movie lover should. But alas, that didn’t work.
Then we compared each other’s lists from where we had to rank names. I was tired when I got to the actors so I ranked them – they were easier enough. The women, whom I dived into first, were a more daunting task for me so I wrote down if I liked or disliked their performances. I have no idea if this is a scientific method or not – maybe I get juiced up or tired by the time I got to certain parts of the list. The exercise helped me judge as soberly as possible, hoping Andrew despite some of my choices not making it. But instead of letting those words rot in a word file somewhere only to be deleted, I’m posting what I wrote and polished it as much as I can.
But before we get to that here’s Andreas’ own list. His is better, but I’ll still post mine even though I’ve made lists like this before. This will be in series form because I don’t want to tl;dr you, as much as I resent the latter concept. And I can give you three days worth of material for a day’s ‘work.’ Starting from the performances I can only write now but in short form. Sadface.
Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic (1997): She can emit sexuality from behind Sandra Bullock’s puffy wholesomeness. She could do it. Are you going to be worried about The Paperboy now?
Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart (1999): A performance list without Meryl? A list with Meryl but with this instead of Madison? Affirmative action? Her performance here proves that she can step on kittens and get away with it.
Mina Mohammad Khani in Ayneh (1997): Iran needs a star system. We can start with the cast of A Separation then any actress Jafar Panahi has worked with.
Claire Danes in Romeo + Juliet (1996): Probably the weakest of the cast, yelling just as much as DiCaprio, but she brings Angela Chase’s self-awareness here. She’s also given us the greatest rendition of the ‘What’s in a name’ soliloquy. Besides, she’s better than Norma Shearer – Disclaimer: I like Shearer but not as a Juliet.
Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures (1994): She has one of the best cries in Hollywood but if this performance was included the bracket would have had too much of her.
Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 (1991): Really? No one backed me up on this? Is this world coming to an end?
Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions (1999): As devilish as she can be. More effective than Glenn Close if I dare say again.
And here are performances that I got to talk more lengthily about.
Natalie Portman in Leon and Beautiful Girls (1994 and 1996): I’m no going to pretend that I’m her biggest fan now. She got away with stuff that Chloe Moretz is being punished for. But still, her early performances showed potential. As Mathilda she tells a hotel receptionist that she’s Leon’s (Jean Reno) lover. As Marty she makes a deal with an older neighbour without making herself look too seductive. That control of showing maturity at such a young age is always surprising.
Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking (1995): Sarandon’s Sister Helen Prejean is an altruistically calming influence to a film dominated by Sean Penn’s energy. She absorbs information about Matthew Poncelet (Penn), her rebuttals acknowledging his prejudices as alien concepts without condemning him. She’s therefore the audience stand in, not judging Matthew even though we could be. She figured in a low place in my earlier lists, having not seen this movie since high school but expressing so much in one line brought her higher.
Catherine Keener in Living in Oblivion (1995): Her character, Nicole embodies of different ways to deal with sadness and wrathful misandry, whether she tolerates Chad Palomino (James LeGros) or joyfully eviscerates him. On the opposite side of that spectrum is Keener dressed as a bride, a metaphor fitting for indie perfection, an appointment that does seem unusual yet fully convincing if you think about it.
More tomorrow, starting with someone who undoes a cover-up.
Things aren’t as solid as they seem, pardon the expression, in James Cameron‘s Aliens, although we’ve been taught that lesson in the first film, Alien. In Ridley Scott’s masterpiece we get the breakdown of facades, each crew member suspecting each other of harboring the alien inside of them. When he finally get to see the alien that everyone is afraid of, it doesn’t look as gooey with its shiny exoskeleton.
Running opposite to the impervious behemoth of the spaceship in the original film, Cameron takes this lesson further by making the inanimate featured in the film more flexible, as if they have a life of their own. We see this in the beginning, when Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) pod thing docks into this Metropolis like port, although there’s something fluid about the pipes, or the way that mechanic arm moves as it frees Ripley from her pod. The colony planet’s suspicious too. Would you set up a colony where rock formations look like arms? Even if I was the CEO of a greedy, careless, callous company, I’d say EFF NOO!
My ‘best shot,’ or the one that captivates me the most, is the one above when the new, militaristic crew enters the colony’s gates. Metal and wires jut out of the ceiling like tentacles. You’d expect a cheap scare to come out after, that’s how eerie this place looks. This animistic structure that this depopulated colony has become foreshadows the gooey tentacles insulating the underground levels for alien egg-laying purposes. Or when the aliens are actually crawling in the ceiling on top of the soldiers. You’d think that Cameron had a termite problem while writing this script in the 80’s. Did he?
An inanimate yet uncanny object of note is also Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan’s (Carrie Hehn) decapitated doll head, her most prized possession. A series of attacks and escapes leads Newt and the team to some water-filled sewage area where one of the aliens kidnap her. Since she can’t holler out her ‘final’ ‘Help me, Ripley!’ in her British accent, here’s the doll doing it for her. That doll and her fake eyelashes is the second greatest actor in the history of cinema.
The humans, in turn, become more machine-like. A close-up of Ripley that make her seem uncanny, Bishop who actually is uncanny, the muscular body types of the soldiers – speaking of which, it’s strange seeing guns, installed binoculars and exposed skin on these soldiers at the same time. On that shot above, Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) isn’t ‘fully covered’ as soldiers would be in other movies about planets in outer space. And of course, the forklift Transformers-like machine that Ripley hops into that is really useful for her in one of the film’s most gratifying scenes.
Apocryphal information: my first Weaver film is not the Alien movies. Maybe it was Dave but it was most likely her turn as Lady Claudia Hoffman in that Hallmark movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Do you guys know what I’m talking about? This TV movie was awesome. It also had “Dawson’s Creek’s” Monica Keena as our Snow White Liliana Hoffman and Sam Neill is the oblivious father. It’s strange seeing Keena as the good girl and Weaver as the bad woman, but that TV movie cemented Weaver as an icy villain/anti-hero in other movies where I’ll watch her. Also, one of the ‘dwarves’ was a tall guy with a scar who’s also hot.
Digression! I remembered my introduction to Weaver because of the first scene, where she is Snow White. The frost covers her pod and everything. I’m not the only one who sees this, Vasquez points that out too, using the comparison to point out how ladylike she in comparison to the soldiers. I’m not sure if and how the metaphor sticks, since the original story is about a young woman’s blossoming sexuality and Freudian issues avant la lettre. Here instead, Ripley has both lost her status as a mother and is an exile. The mother alien is thus her evil mother/stepmother?
Lastly, Newt reminds me of the screaming child in The Bad and the Beautiful, both of whom remind me of young Cossette. I won’t be making more allusions.
This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers’ Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.
- Daily Dialogue — May 11, 2011 (gointothestory.com)
This movie to me is epic poetry in cinematic form. No, not ‘epic’ in the Lawrence of Arabia definition, nor the Scott Pilgrim definition. It’s ‘epic’ in a way that it has a heroine and that it portrays an action that changes both the heroine and the nation she belongs to. Director James Cameron’s last films, Titanic and Avatar, shows main events both real and fictional. A ship sinks. A tree is toppled. Yet Cameron chooses a daunting historical event and can extract so much human drama and detail from those deceivingly simplest of plots. It’s what Milton would have done with a camera.
Even the voices screaming out of the ocean and the icicles building in the hair of the dead floating haunts by every viewing of the film. As with the epic and the poem, Titanic captivates its viewer its images. The pre-Raphaelite references when we see both women floating inside the ship, of our heroine Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) waiting for rescue, of the red-headed Winslet’s casting itself, of Jack sinking down or when we see the elder Rose (Gloria Stuart) walking in the end of the film. Or images reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch when the remaning working class passengers try to hold on to the ship as it sinks. Or Fritz Laing’s flood scenes in Metropolis. There are also images that Cameron can call his own, as the ship becomes a soulless leviathan china float on the water, luxury deemed insignificant while facing harsh nature.
I suppose arguments against Titanic‘s epic style can be derived from the romance in the main plot, shrinking the thousands of stories into one or two. That Rose and Jack Dawson (Leonardo di Caprio) are conveniently there when the iceberg strikes. Or that, on a Tolstoyan tradition, supporting characters either die or disappear in order of importance. But I watched this every three months or so for the past two years, at a time of my life when I view mortality seriously. The film’s third act is its strongest, when my attention goes to the priest saying prayers, or the people who speak different languages stuck in the third class levels who are unable to get out to safety, or anyone else falling to their deaths. Cameron dedicates a lot of time to distract us from the main romance and does his best to allow us to contemplate each person’s death without making them inhumanly excessive.
Another problem with this film belonging to the epic genre is that is doesn’t allow gray areas for the characters. Rose Dewitt-Bukater (Kate Winslet), this film’s Scarlett O’Hara, always hates her gilded cage, is always decided on who she likes and dislikes. The film then strikes a clear line, the people she likes are always good like Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) or Mr. Andrews (Victor Garber) and the ones she dislikes always treat her terribly, like her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and her fiancée Cal (the underrated Billy Zane). The ship’s sinking also delineates those lines, the characters acting consistently to which side they’re on and making mostly new heroes and some villains out of the bit players. With the exception of Jack, but her love-hate feelings towards him are really feelings of love repressed because of class differences.
Repeated viewings also make me honour diCaprio’s performance. When I saw it in its original theatrical release, I saw him as an annoyingly boisterous boy. But now I can see how altruistic his character is. His career is full of characters who would go places no one would dare to, often acting as our tour guide. It makes sense that the same actor who would climb a water tower in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and the actor mentoring the audience through the dream worlds of Inception is the same actor who can make a safer thrill ride out of a sinking ship. Jack assuring Rose everything’s all right, even making jokes while he’s freezing on the ocean. The elder Rose tells a younger generation that she doesn’t even have a picture of Jack, because it was unnecessary, at the time thinking that their future was for them to live together.
What also, to my opinion, makes the film more poignant than Avatar is that this is about the small victories that characters try to claim in times of defeat, that the survivors will still dwarf compared to the mankind’s failed infrastructure. Despite the little love story, the film doesn’t try to lie to us, not trying to convince us that they’ll fully regain their romance. That in reality, a lover’s sacrifice is a bit painful for both parties.
This movie won Best Picture between 1995 and 2001, arguably the Academy’s most misguided era. Nonetheless, the horde of mostly girls and some boys who will watch this movie, can quote it, will drop whatever they’re doing to rewatch the movie, and can even remember the names of Jack’s friends. There are also other, slightly more ‘observant’ minds who see the humanity in this film will say that it still holds up.