Thursday, June 29, 2006

75 Great Performances: 30-26

30. Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005)

In Brokeback Mountain, both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal say little, though Ledger's Ennis del Mar has always been considered the more inaccessible, Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist the more adventurous. Gyllenhaal masterfully blends a sort of innocence with the intense pain of a heartbroken lover to come up with what was the true best supporting (or co-lead) performance of last year. Key scenes are when he breaks down in his truck after an abruptly ended meeting with Ennis, and during the heated encounted with Ennis near the end of the film, but even in the simplest of situations, Gyllenhaal shows how good an actor he has become.

29. Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne in Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Easily one of the more underrated films, Dolores Claiborne also had one of the most overlooked brilliant performances of the 90s: that of Kathy Bates as the title character. With her daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Dolores brings us the story of her life. She was mostly subjected to abuse, primarily from her husband Joe (recent Oscar nominee David Strathairn in a truly anger-inspiring role), in other ways also from her employer Vera (Judy Parfitt), but she managed to live through it all with the utmost dignity and strength of character. Kathy Bates has shown us how nasty scary she can be (#47), and here she shows us how vulnerable she can be. Bates is nothing short of brilliant in showing us Dolores's raw strength and fortitude and love for her daughter, and her resilience in going through the struggles of her life. Truly Bates's best work and one of the best performances sadly overlooked.


28. Ji-Hyun Jun as ? in Yeopgijeogin geunyeo / My Sassy Girl (2001)

In the original cut of the film, the title character of the wonderful Korean film (one of my all-time favorite films) My Sassy Girl goes unnamed for the whole movie. Instead of it being a handicap, it increases the intrigue that one builds over beautiful Ji-Hyun Jun's character. But even without that device, the character would have still been fully realized, thanks to Ji-Hyun's amazing talent. She is highly regarded in Korea (she won a major acting award for this film), but is unfortunately less known outside her country despite her skills. In this film, she manages to make a fragile, flawed character who puts a facade of crudeness and violent impetuousity all too human and deserving of respect and love and compassion. She handles key emotional scenes extremely well. And of course it doesn't hurt that she has one of the most beautiful faces to have graced international cinema. Anyone who has seen this film won't be able to help falling for Ji-Hyun's charisma and sheer talent.

27. Nicole Kidman as Grace Margaret Mulligan in Dogville (2004)

It has been said by many that Nicole Kidman's best performances have been in small, independent films, such as Birth and The Others. It isn't difficult to agree, with such an open, honest performance as the one she gave in the Lars von Trier masterpiece Dogville. This is also one of her more subtle performances, where she is able to make Grace such a well-realized character despite her lack of words. The film ends in a way that does not sit well with everyone, but it did with me, for I wanted Grace to get what she so deserved, regardless of the way by which it is delivered. That's a testament to Kidman's masterful portrayal of the character, something that Manderlay's Grace Bryce Dallas Howard valiantly tried to give justice to.

Image from Hollywoodjesus

26. Gary Oldman as Dracula in Dracula (1992)

In a role that should have gotten him at least a nomination, Gary Oldman shows that no one can play sinister, seductively cunning villain better than he could. His legendary vampire in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula is easily one of the 90s most memorable performances, ranging from proud (as the Count before and after his fall from grace) to grotesque (with the old visage at the dark mansion), but always superb. Former Draculas (e.g., Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee) have left their marks and were inarguably skilled at portraying the character, but Oldman breathed life into the undead icon in ways that the others had not been able to do. Oldman makes Dracula a creature to fear, despise, and ultimately feel sympathy for, for Oldman shows us that even creatures of the damnation can love.

#s 35-31
#s 40-36
#s 45-41
#s 50-46
Introduction and #s 75-51

Monday, June 26, 2006

75 Great Performances: 35-31

35. Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Willem Dafoe's eyes and lips make him look naturally scary, lending strength to his darker roles, such as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin (Spider-Man) and Max Schreck (Shadow of the Vampire). More than a decade before either film, Dafoe used his unique looks to assume the persona of the man Himself, Jesus Christ. The film itself is controversially unusual, and casting Dafoe in the role of an all-too-human Jesus would not have worked had Martin Scorsese's overlooked artwork The Last Temptation of Christ presented the same Jesus that everyone had gotten used to. But here Jesus is callous, fragile, and temperamental. The typical blue-eyed Jesuses of the Lenten TV specials would have been out-of-place in such a re-telling. Dafoe easily owned the role.

Image from IMDb

34. Bill Murray as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day (1993)

One of the best and most memorable comedies also produced what I believe is comic genius Bill Murray's best performance (yes, I have seen Lost in Translation, but not Rushmore). His Phil Connors in Groundhog Day is as nasty and acerbic as Murray could get, but it is also one of the more deserving of sympathy. What would you do if you were fated to spend the rest of your life in one day? All at the same time Murray, in his greatness, manages to make the whole experience seem maddening, exciting, promising, bittersweet, and ultimately, hopeful.

Image from IMDb

33. Robin Williams as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Robin Williams's second appearance on this list (he's also #37) is for one of the funniest, most memorable, and most imitated performances in recent cinema: the title role in Mrs. Doubtfire. Williams is brilliant as the burly English nanny, and it is when under those pounds of prosthetics and makeup that he achieves the most, but even as Daniel Hillard, he is nothing short of a great actor. When he pleads for the right to keep seeing his children, your heart reaches out to him, so much so that the shock over what lengths he's willing to go is far outweighed by the justification (and the sheer enjoyability of it).

Image from IMDb

32. Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie (1982)

Of course, before Robin Williams donned the suit and the mask to become a woman, the incomparable Dustin Hoffman already did it in Tootsie, and to equally hilarious and unforgettable results. How great was Hoffman? He doesn't look particularly feminine, and not as much makeup was used on him as on Williams, but he makes us believe that Dorothy Michaels is a real woman. You can very seldom go wrong with Hoffman, who gives such a quirky gravitas to any role that you can't feel that he has ever fallen short of giving his characters life.

Image from IMDb

31. Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

"Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?" In the creepy, claustrophobic Davis-Crawford dream team-up What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the luminous screen legend Bette Davis is the nastiest and most bitter that she's ever been. She's a good enough actress that she can pull off practically any role, but she is arguably at her best when downright scary. Baby Jane Hudson's egomaniacal desperation makes Swanson's Norma Desmond (#38) seem a lesson in contentment. Garbed in clothes reminiscent of her faded child-star days and singing "I've Written a Letter to Daddy," serving her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) a rat in a tray for food... Few roles are as deliciously grotesque as Baby Jane, and absolutely no one could have done it better than Bette Davis.

#s 40-36
#s 45-41

#s 50-46
Introduction and #s 75-51

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

75 Great Performances: 40-36

40. Robert De Niro as Leonard Lowe in Awakenings (1990)

Robert De Niro is easily ne of Hollywood's best and most respected actors, having turned in a score of unforgettable performances. His greatest, in my opinion, is one for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Its a performance that draws you in, makes you feel the pain of the character, and causes you to lose and rekindle hope in equal measure. Robin Williams is a strong, capable co-lead, but Awakenings is undoubtedly De Niro's film, with his silent strength and perseverance.

39. Malcolm McDowell as Alexander 'Alex' de Large in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

One of cinema's most iconic, most brazenly shocking characters, Alex de Large led his droogs to orgies of ultra-violence in arguably one of the most disturbingly surreal films you can ever see. It's no horror film (a point that can be argued), but Malcolm McDowell's de Large in A Clockwork Orange is a pretty frightening character, regardless of the mental (or moral) state that he's in. The experiments themselves (and their results) are disturbing, but in the hands of a less capable and daring actor than McDowell, the film would not have been as good or memorable.

38. Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950)

A number of cinema's most memorable quotes ("I am big. It's the pictures that got small," "All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my closeup," etc.) come from the great dame of movies about faded stars, that vampiric Norma Desmond of Sunset Blvd., played to delicious perfection by Gloria Swanson. The way she stares at and slinks toward the camera, her illusions of grandeur, her self-importance and self-pity...Swanson, being herself something of a faded actress, was able to capture every important flicker in the spirit of Norma Desmond, creating one of the most memorable characters of all time.

37. Robin Williams as Genie in Aladdin (1992)

Who would forget Robin Williams's larger-than-life voice-acting for Genie in Aladdin? It is easily one of the most distinct voice-over performances in the history of animation. In this role, Williams was unrestrained, allowing him to give Genie more than just a voice: the animated character was given life. Countless actors have lent their voices to animated characters, but none of their performances have proved as iconic as Williams's Genie, a role that deservedly earned the great comic a special Golden Globe.

36. Linda Blair as Regan McNeill in The Exorcist (1973)

Still arguably the most frightening horror movie of all time, The Exorcist gripped its audience in terror in the year of its release, and it has barely lost its effect on moviegoers. The film brought to fore the general fear of evil, demonic possession and the precarious state of faith, shocking everyone with graphic imagery and dialogue. At the center of it all was Pazuzu's possession of the child Regan McNeill, played by then unknown Linda Blair. Though the voice of Pazuzu wasn't Blair's (Oscar-winner Mercedes McCambridge is credited for it), the body still was, and though it can be argued that the role of Pazuzu-dominated Regan is a composite of many performances, it is still essentially Blair. We cannot take away from her the sheer impact of a role that has spawned countless other cinematic head-turning, vomit-spewing demon-spawn.

#s 45-41
#s 50-46
Introduction and #s 75-51

Monday, June 19, 2006

75 Great Performances: 45-41

45. Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce (1945)

Steely-eyed, strong women fit Joan Crawford and contemporary Bette Davis perfectly, and it is in Mildred Pierce that Crawford masterfully assumes the role of unconditionally loving mother to a hellspawn (Ann Blyth's Veda). Crawford is one of the few actresses who can express so much with the way their eyes move, but given lines like, "I'd've rather cut off my hand!" (when she slapped daughter Veda), she is able to make the role her own and one of the most interesting characters in film-noir with so much more than her glare. She is at once a martyr and a woman of conviction, without going over the top in either persona.

Image from IMDb

44. Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950)

It figures that one of cinema's most popular quotes ("Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!) should come from the great dame Bette Davis, one of the best and most acclaimed actresses of the 20th century. Never are Davis's characters the weak sort, even when fiercely, unconditionally in love (e.g., in Jezebel). In the Oscar triumph All About Eve, Davis plays the strong, no-nonsense stage actress Margo Channing delightfully, never missing a step, as if the role was made for no one else but her. That's a point that isn't easy to argue. Davis always owns her roles, and Margo Channing is definitive Bette Davis.

Image from IMDb

43. Giulietta Masina as Cabiria in Le Notti di Cabiria (1957)

One of the most well-known and respected Italian actresses, Giulietta Masina has a knack for playing the most naive, heart-wrenching characters to great results. It would not be easy to pick a more innocent and tragic Masina character than her prostitute Cabiria in Le Notti di Cabiria (though of course, her Gelsomina in La Strada was also quite tragic). One's heart can't help but reach out to Cabiria as she struggles through her life, and it goes beyond just Masina's naturally child-like face and expressions. Masina is a truly gifted, unassuming actress the likes of which we should have more of in current cinema.

Image from IMDb

42. Emma Thompson as Karen in Love Actually (2003)

You're probably thinking, "What the heck?" Thompson has such a short role in the delightful ensemble film Love Actually that it would be easy to look over her performance. But what a performance it is. Didn't you feel your heart and gut twist when Karen broke down after discovering her husband's (Alan Rickman) secret? Thompson was absolutely wonderful in this short scene. Much has been said (and deservedly so) of the scene in Brokeback Mountain where Michelle Williams's Alma discovers Ennis's secret relationship, but before that, there was Karen, whose heartbreak Emma Thompson handled flawlessly.

41. Peter Sellers as G/C Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

"Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!"-Dr. Strangelove
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."-President Muffley
Two different quotes, two different characters, but same great actor. Before Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers made playing multiple characters in one movie a hilarious novelty, the incomparable Peter Sellers showed his uncanny comedic talent in the political comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, my favorite Stanley Kubrick film and one of the funniest movies ever. In a jewel of a film, Sellers manages to steal the show as a fumbling Group Captain, an all-too-serious President, and a German mad scientist. In each role, he is achingly funny, but for different reasons. It takes a truly astounding actor to be able to achieve what he had in this film.

Image from IMDb

#s 50-46
Introduction and #s 75-51

Sunday, June 18, 2006

75 Great Performances: 50-46

50. Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953)

Though this isn't what I (and I'm sure many others) consider the definitive Audrey Hepburn performance (that one has a much higher ranking in this list), it's her first major role. And she won an Oscar for it. Before all the modern runaway princess movies, there was Roman Holiday, a delightful trip to Rome with always admirable actor Gregory Peck and always charming Audrey. Though she displays here a commendable range of emotions, she is best when in her stupor (immediately after leaving her residence) and while enjoying her momentary freedom with Peck. Watching this movie will convince you (if other things haven't yet) that there is and has been no brighter, more luminous, more sincere, more real star in Hollywood than the great Audrey Hepburn.

Image from IMDb

49. Naomi Watts as Cristina Peck in 21 Grams (2003)

In a world where de-glamming yourself physically can often win you accolades left and right, there are certain performances whose de-glamming is more emotional or spiritual than physical, and these are the roles that truly show a greatness that deserves high praise. In my film awards of 2003, I had named Charlize Theron the Best Actress. But now, in retrospect, I believe that Naomi Watts should have won that award and the Oscar for her raw, searing performance in 21 Grams. She still looks amazing, but the hauntedness in her eyes, and the crucial scene where she breaks down, and the small changes in her expressions all show the depth of emotion that Watts had invested into this performance. It easily pays off, as she gives what I think is one of the best performances in recent film history.

Image from IMDb

48. Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Not necessarily a better performance than Watts' (#49), but it definitely can be argued that this one is more memorable. Kate Winslet is always charming and vulnerable despite some hidden strength (see Sense and Sensibility, or Finding Neverland), but nowhere does she show that better than in the amazing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Like one reviewer had said, Winslet's Clementine is the type of girl you'd easily fall in love with and would never want to let go, whatever the circumstances. Clementine is whimsical, a fairy with as many colors in her personality as she has in her hair. If more girls were like her, the world would be much more interesting. And if there were more actresses like Kate Winslet, we wouldn't need great stories (which this film has) to see a movie.

Image from IMDb

47. Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)

"I'm your number one fan." In 1990, Kathy Bates played to great effect every celebrity's nightmare: the psychotic fan. Bates deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Misery, the adaptation of a Stephen King novel. She is undeniably chilling and terrifying, keeping Paul Sheldon (James Caan) captive on a bed and wielding a sledgehammer in arguably the most memorable way in cinematic history. In these times when fame is such an easy thing to get, it would be nice to set loose an Annie Wilkes who'll show all the wannabes what it really means to have a fan.

Image from OutNow

46. Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The great actor Ian McKellen is fantastic in all three Lord of the Rings films, but it is with the more vulnerable and unsure Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that he shows the greatest range (though as I'm writing this, memories of his awesome performance in Return of the King are giving me second thoughts). Even McKellen himself has said that he prefers the role of Gandalf the Grey to that of Gandalf the White, the all-powerful version of Middle-Earth's mightiest wizard. He should have easily won the Oscar for his performance, showing depth and power of emotion despite the prosthetics, but like Alec Guinness before him (as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars), it was probably too fantastical a role for the Academy to take seriously. In both cinema and literature, there is probably no more iconic wizard than Gandalf (ok, maybe there's Harry Potter...), and McKellen was able to give him life.

Introduction and #s 75-51

Thursday, June 15, 2006

75 Great Performances

I enjoy watching films in general, but I particularly love movies that are character-driven and where the actors are given the opportunity to show their range of acting. Even if the movie isn't particularly good as a whole, the Hepburns and Streeps and Blanchetts and De Niros often give astounding performances that can make the film seem much better than it actually is. As a tribute to these great actors and their unforgettable performances, I've made my list of 75 great film performances.

Some notes:
1) This is my personal list, so while I would greatly appreciate comments on my choices, I don't want to be attacked for what appears on this list. That would be a sign of sheer immaturity on your part if you do it.
2) Of the 75, I'll list #s 75-51 now, then give #s 50-1 individually (or by groups of 5) with my notes.
3) Some of the greats (e.g., Katharine Hepburn) will be conspicuously missing. In Hepburn's case, I've watched only a few of her films, and none of those are her definitive performances. If I happen to watch one before finishing my whole list, I'll find a way to give her the honor she undoubtedly deserves.
4) By "Great," I don't necessarily mean that these are in the order of quality (i.e., depth, substance) of acting. Some high-ranking performances have such rankings because they are iconic or simply unforgettable.

Anyway, here are #s 75-51:

75. Dustin Hoffman as Capt. James S. Hook in Hook (1991)
74. Glenn Close as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987)
73. Audrey Tautou as Amélie in Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001)
Toshirô Mifune as Kikuchiyo in Shichinin no Samurai (1954)
Mike Myers as Austin Powers/Dr. Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Sissy Spacek as Carrie White in Carrie (1976)
Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980)
68. Meg Ryan as Sally Albright in
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
67. Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward in
Pretty Woman (1990)
66. Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in
Aliens (1986)
65. Al Pacino as Lt. Col. Frank Slade in
Scent of a Woman (1992)
64. Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin in
Chaplin (1992)
63. Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in
Clueless (1995)
62. Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
61. Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan Jessup in
A Few Good Men (1992)
60. Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in
The Aviator (2004)
59. Nicole Kidman as Satine in
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
58. Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow in
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
57. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in
Monster (2003)
56. Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in
Forrest Gump (1994)
55. Kevin Spacey as Roger 'Verbal' Kint in
The Usual Suspects (1995)
54. Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear in
The Sixth Sense (1999)
53. Natalie Portman as Mathilda in
Leon (1994)
52. Helen Mirren as Mrs. Wilson in
Gosford Park (2001)
51. Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins in
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Review: The Omen

The Omen remake, beautifully shot and adequately scored (though a far cry from the Jerry Goldsmith original), would have worked better as a film if 1) they had picked a better child actor to portray Damien, and 2) there had been less of the "jolters" that stupid American horror films are known for. The original Damien, Harvey Stephens, looked more subtly sinister, not having to frown and narrow his eyes (and not even having to say anything). Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, 2006's anti-Christ, awkwardly fumbles over getting the right expression of petulant evil (he never does) and has an annoying saccharine voice that rivals Jake Lloyd's. I felt some pity for Stephens when he had to be killed, but with Fitzpatrick...I was inwardly telling Robert Thorn to get on with it and end the world's misery, anti-Christ or no. The original film did not have any of the shockers that make viewers jump out of their seats, relying instead on Goldsmith's diabolical soundtrack ("Ave Satani," anyone?) to convey a sense of evil and dread. Why did director John Moore have to assume the modern formula of "more shocks, more scares?" Save that for teen-scream movies.

The other principal actors do a fine job in their respective roles, with Mia Farrow being particularly good as the nanny from hell, Mrs. Baylock. I just wish we could have seen more of her in her hysterical, maniacal glory. Grade: C+