Friday, 18 February 2011

Encore Awards: Actors

It’s been an unusually good year for the leading men. I look at the Academy’s list of nominees, and even though one in particular sticks out oddly– it’s not a terrible performance. I could easily flip-flop between my actual list of nominees and the six finalists and still be satisfied with whatever top 5 I come up with. This was actually the category that gave me the most indecision in choosing nominees; never has a list of nominees felt so arbitrary, even the winner is debatable. Last year Ben Whishaw in Bright Star was an indisputable winner, but I’d be willing to give any of these five gentlemen a gold star. So, in the face of the generally bland showing of 2010 films it’s nice to see such good male performances.
(Click on the photos of the gents for full-reviews of featured film)
Stephen Dorff in Somewhere (as Johnny Marco)

Coppola is so interested in getting that listless tedium of real life down Dorff is forced to play the part through expressions and not dialogue, and he succeeds impeccably. Coppola’s lucky that he has the sort of open face that’s able to convey the blandest of emotions without making them seem hackneyed, so all those somewhat injudicious close-ups work incredibly well. He doesn’t make Johnny into two irreconcilable characters – the father and the actor – they’re one and the same, both of them hopeless cases so when that emotional breakthrough (breakdown?) comes towards the end it’s not completely unexpected, and not at all forced but it’s still profound and moving. (Highlight: Breakdown)

Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole (as Howie)*
As the narrative of unfolds, you realise that Howie seems bland around Becca, not because the character is substandard or because Eckhart is not trying hard enough; it’s because Eckhart’s Howie is aware of how tenuous a grip on life his wife has, he’s just making the decision to be silent about it, which is why those looks he steals her way in the first half hour become so important. He’s just as tightly wound, and has even more trouble opening up to those around him because no one expects it of him. That’s why that argument with Becca comes off as more soliloquy than conversation, he has a whole lot of pent up rage inside. That adage of still waters running deep couldn’t be more significant. (Highlight: Walking the Dog)

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (as Mark Zuckerberg)
There are times where’s he’s just a bit excessive with the physical tics, but the moments where he succeeds most are the deposition scenes where he’s able to merge the potentially arcane reasons beneath Mark’s ostensibly reckless behaviour against the somewhat wiser and still very gauche sensibilities of his present day sense. He just might get off with playing up the eccentricities of the character in earnest, because since it’s a real person he has a smokescreen to hide behind but he ultimately wins because he decides to carve Mark’s most piercing moments around more than just those tics, while managing not to let the inevitable vulnerability within become too much of an absolution of his less attractive qualities. (Highlight: “Does that answer your condescending question?”)

Colin Firth in The King’s Speech (as King George VI)
Because of the manner in which Seidler opts to establish Bertie’s idiosyncrasies Colin is obliged to characterise Bertie by the relationship he has with those around him. The rapport between he and Rush emerges as most obvious, but three significant moments of his play out opposite other performers. It’s easy to play the psychological motives behind his stutter trite, and Hooper and Seidler are lucky that Colin doesn’t play them as such. You can trace the moment he shuts down opposite his father, or note the self-deprecating way he speaks to his brother or the ways he opens up – or conversely closes up opposite his Queen. He’s anomalous in the way he keeps his emotions close to his chest, but reveals them under pressure – and Firth ensures that the transition between the two is natural. (Highlight: Either A Story for his Girls or A Bedroom Conversation with his Wife)

Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine (as Dean)
Gosling has a natural ambiguity to him that makes him all wrong for the palpable villainy of his role in All Good Things but perfect for the role of Dean here. Unlike Williams the narrative isn’t as interested in his back-story, so it’s up to him to create that impression of a real person with underlying issues – and not just in the more obvious scenes. Thus, the ambiguity ends up working – excellently – to his advantage as he manages to avoid any propensity for playing the character like a villain, instead finding the most sincere emotions in a man who’s sort of drifting through life, but who we don’t loathe. (Highlight: Pleading his case at the film’s end)

FINALISTS: Leonardo DiCaprio brings that same sort of intensity that has defined his recent performances to his Teddy in Shutter Island, but it’s more than an exercise in something he’s already done. For one, he must carry the entire film on his shoulders and he succeeds even when the narrative gets too pulpy; James Franco in Howl; even if you ignore the fact that this is James Frecheville debut, his performance in Animal Kingdom is still something special. Unlike his supporting cast, he must establish his characters through the most tacit of inclinations – and he delivers from that opening scene; this time around with Fuqua Ethan Hawke examines a different side of his range in Brooklyn’s Finest; in the same way that Hamilton avoids the temptation to make Night Catches Us the stereotypical racial drama Anthony Mackie does not give in to the possibility of turning Marcus into a formulaic “angry young man” – he grounds his character in a firm sensitivity that becomes one of the film’s strongest suits; Ewan McGregor doesn’t come off as particularly mysterious but he manages to be something in The Ghost Writer. It’s his film, and though he carries it on his shoulders he does so unobtrusively knowing when to recede for the supporting players to shine but always ready to take control again.

SEMI-FINALISTS: Collin Farrell eschews his most obvious calling cards in Ondine deciding to establish Syracuse with a steady reticence that feels like under acting but isn’t really. He’s not the film’s main enigma, but he manages to be even more mysterious by playing his emotions so close to his chest and still never being disingenuous; I’d give James Franco an A for effort in 127 Hours, simply because you know that he’s doing the best possible job he can with what he’s effort – and you know that he’s relishing it. Sometime he falls victims to Boyle’s own intent to evade the harsher tones of his character but ultimately it’s his performance – and little else – that’s able to evince any semblance of emotion from the stony narrative; Aaron Johnson needs to establish that certainty of charisma in Nowhere Boy without “playing” John Lennon, and he does it with startling adeptness – at least from where I sit. He’s still rough around the edges as a performer, but he (and Taylor-Wood) use that newness to his advantages making Lennon a fine example of someone trapped by his surroundings, but not melodramatically so; Kodi Smith-McPhee is even better in Let Me In than he was in The Road. He’s not the one playing the “old” character, but he imbues Owen with all the emotional complexities that you’d expect from an older thespian and delivers on the facial expressions when Reeves roots the film in the visuals and no dialouge; sometimes you get the feeling that someone else could have done the title role in Baumbach’s Greenberg better, but that doesn’t mean that Ben Stiller isn’t doing good work. He’s slightly unsubtle as we first meet the character, but the rapport he strikes between Gerwig and (especially) Ifans reveal a warmer side to him as an actor (and the character) that’s surprising and impressive; Mark Walhberg in The Fighter

Who’s your best actor of 2010?
*I already want to rejudge and give Dorff the gold and perhaps allow Firth or Eisenberg to slide into silver. There ALL so good!


Amir said...

someone in the world noticed how good aaron eckhart is in that film.
Gosling is still my top of the year (in any category) but i'm glad to see Eckhart here.
it's such a controlled performance and he, like kidman, never overplays the greif.

Brandon said...

Hardly any love for Mark!!

Such an underrated performance, and Oscar really made an injustice but not including him in the mix...

Alex in Movieland said...

I think your love for Rabbit Hole is blinding your judgment a bit :D Nicole, Dianne and NOW Aaron also?? :) he seemed fine to me, but not that much of a demanding character or a standing out performance.
It's like my love for Toy Story 3 that makes me want it to win Adapted Screenplay more than TSN :D

Franco's 127 Hours and Ryan G are best here, imo.

TomS said...

Andrew, count me among those who loved Eckhart (see review Feb. 13) and dumbfounded by his lack of recognition.

But, Firth is one for the ages...and my personal fave.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Eckhart was rather good in Rabbit Hole, a strong performance from an actor I like. Don't know that I'd give 'im the Gold, though. Of these, I'd go with Eisenberg and Firth for the top two. Much as I love Gosling and this performance, sometimes the performance is a little *too* calculated for me. If only I had seen Somewhere... But this is a category I had trouble with myself, and as you say, I keep second-guessing myself because "they're ALL so good!" They are!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

amir i've always LIKED eckhart, but this performance makes me love him now. as you say, he never overplays it.

brandon it's such a good year for men, though. i feel bad mark wasn't included higher, but he was good.

alex i didn't even see rabbit hole taking the three categories until it did. but come on! they're GREAT!

tom well, firth is a worthy choice.

walter oddly, i find michelle's performance much more calculated (though, i love her too).