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.
That’s an image from a good, colourful montage, close-ups of objects that the partygoers in Waiting… use to party. Or a more condoning montage than that in Requiem for a Dream. They’re just as colourful as the decorations and wallpaper in the restaurant where all these partygoers all work.
There’s two major story arcs. The first is with Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the restaurant’s token studs, who has to train a younger kid named Mitch (John Francis Daley). He lets Mitch in on a game where the men show each other their genitals and call the loser a fag, which surprisingly isn’t offensive. He also shows Mitch different types of customers, women who love male waiter and will give them good tips, pervert frat boys and a bitchy lady (that’s the character’s name on the credits) who has a Pavlovian masochism to keep going to a restaurant with ‘terrible food.’ How small is this town? Typically, the movie almost made me not wanna eat in a restaurant, with all the terrible things they do to the food. But the crew’s gonna be there all day and night so that’s a Pyrrhic victory.
The second is Dean (Justin Long), a guy who had all the good grades in high school but is a member of the lost generation and hasn’t finished his diploma or degree yet. His mother tells him about Chett Miller, another guy he has gone to high school who has finished a degree in electrical engineering, and Dean’s still working his job as a waiter. And I can so relate to this stuff. This new ruins Dean’s day – this is the unique way he’s emasculated even if every other guy in the restaurant get emasculated if he hasn’t been already. There’s good news. Manager Dan (David Koechner) offers him to become an assistant manager – with that he’s ambivalent about. But then Chett Miller is Chekov’s gun within a movie that portrays a 24 hour span and will show everything that can happen to someone in a dead-end job.
The film has an impressive supporting cast that includes Dane Cook, Anna Faris and Wendie Malick who are typecast but their work is subtle for a sexually explicit script. The actors who play waiters are typically good-looking, Anna Faris’ ironically named Serena having to wear trashy blue eyeliner so that the audience can distinguish her as Amy’s (Kaitlin Doubleday) spunkier version. In general I call it redeemable and good enough for a ‘bad’ movie night.
- Take Three: Anna Faris (filmexperience.blogspot.com)
Post Halloween Post in a Box
I’ll spill my thoughts about the themes of Buried after Blackberry joke number 1. Three bars on a Blackberry lasts two hours? I can make my Nokia my slave with four bars and it will survive a whole day. 2. The fact that it took Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) to remember how to change the settings in a Blackberry either shows how agitated he is or that he’s poor and stupid. 3. If his kidnapper is so upset about his family’s death-by-bombing, he should be buying things other than a Blackberry and glow sticks. 4. The movie photographs Reynolds in a way that we both see the brawny adult that he is now and the buck-tooth kid he was in middle school. 5. Happy All Saints Day! End snark.
Buried‘s plot and character background unfold in slow bursts the same way that our protagonist learns and reveals information, while said information is further frustrated by the darkness that envelops him in the first few minutes and threatens throughout the rest of the film. He’s inside a wooden coffin. He finds a Blackberry set in Arabic. He tells the people he’s talking to that his name is Paul Conroy, his wife’s name is Linda (Samantha Mathis‘ voice), he’s a contracted truck driver for a fictional CRT, stationed in Baqaba, Iraq. He’s still stuck in a box.
The doodly title sequence in this film reminds me of the doodly title sequences in Almodovar films. Same graphic designer? This is the first Spanish comparison I will make in this post.
The second comparison is that like many Spanish films and Spanish horror/thriller films I’ve seen so far, Buried is also about an individual bravely challenging an undeserving authority figure yet is reliant and powerless against it. In his phone conversations, he yells and swears at his wife’s relative or friend. He calls his kidnapper a terrorist. The most interesting conversations he has is with a man from the state department. He accuses the man on the other side of the phone that the latter doesn’t care about him and makes many demands like asking to name one of the people the latter has rescued. Some have argued that Paul is a very entitled person, reminding the man from the State department that he’s an American citizen and of the urgency of his situation. He also expects his rescue to be quick, an expectation that goes hand in hand with an assumption that the department has more, better and quicker information and staff than he has. The man from the state department, in return, reminds Paul the irony that he’s also an individual with a different context and sets of information he has, just like everyone else Paul has talked to. The authority figures seem as limited in resources and capabilities, just like Paul.
The reason I bring this up is because the film touches on both claustrophobia and being buried alive, the subject inherently asking us the audience how would we behave in Paul’s situation. For some reason, already knowing the existence of this movie and the Tarantino-directed CSI episode, that I might be calmer, even more trusting than Paul. I know that freaking out and swearing at the outsourced customer service on the other side of a hotline isn’t gonna do me any good. I’m one of those people who will submissively take every passive aggressive comments or ‘we are doing everything we can to help your situation.’ It always takes me aback when somebody barks at people or does so consistently for two hours. However, I’ve never been stuck in a box.
Anyone’s opinion on the movie depends on what kind of ending they’ll like or accept in a film, whether he or she want realism or tragedy or relief. I’ll return to individualism and irony in the film’s final revelation, that the state department ends up finding someone else also buried alive whose name happens to be the one they give to Paul. His entity as an individual has been his fighting chance for others to rescue him, but the Iraqi leading the department to a ‘burial’ site has led them to the wrong American, despite his intentions. Both Paul, despite his cries for help, and the state department remember that there are others like him.
- Ryan Reynolds: “I Don’t Know if I Can Watch Myself In This Film” (bettyconfidential.com)