Saturday, 11 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 1 and 2

So, this marks the official begin of the Essential Performances of the 90s Showdown pitting 64 of the "best" 90s performances against each other in the hopes of finding which one will reign supreme. Each game is accompanied by a blogger to remind you of just what makes these performances worthy of the tag essential.

The complete bracket is HERE.
Information on the rules is HERE.
If you're interested in spreading the word, the banner is HERE.

And, now, straight into things we go.

GAME ONE: Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs VS Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog
Moderator: Jose of Movies Kick Ass

Seed 1: Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) as Clarice Starling
Where would Sydney Bristow, Olivia Benson, Jane Tennison, Amelia Donaghy, Catherine Willows, Carrie Mathison, Kate Beckett, Olivia Dunham, Grace Hart, Veronica Mars, Dana Scully and Jordan Cavanaugh be without Clarice Starling? The rookie FBI agent who succeeds in the world of (psychotic) men, has been an obvious influence for every single female detective made since Foster played her so brilliantly in the 1991 thriller. Other than her brilliant turn in Taxi Driver, Foster has always brought something basically asexual to the way she portrays her characters (yes, even in The Accused) but in Lambs, she uses this element and transforms it into something that’s almost macabre. Interacting with the murderous Dr. Lecter - himself a fan of Renaissance art - Foster allows Clarice to blossom into a Boticelli-esque figure in front of our eyes. She becomes muse to a psychopath and finds that she is in fact attracted to his sociopathic tendencies. She is both heroine and accomplice, a romantic cherub and the angel of death...

Seed 16: Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog (1997) as Stanley Motss
That oh-so-feared-and-hated creature known as the Hollywood producer has always been an object of study in the movies. In the 90s though, their influence transcended the machinations of Tinseltown and entered the realm of politics which had just started to become the blockbuster productions they are today. In a slyly subversive move, Barry Levinson cast the eternally likable Dustin Hoffman to play a man who single handedly creates a war in order to save the reputation of a doomed political figure. That Hoffman gives himself so wilfully to Stanley Motts is testament to his capabilities as one of the few actors who can make immorality seem like “the right thing”. His performance is sincere and he never doubts that what his character is doing, is what should be done. Perhaps the creepiest part of his portrayal is that for a second or two he lets us have empathy for those who use corruption to destroy our world on a daily basis.

GAME TWO: Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day VS Reese Witherspoon in Election
Moderator: Andy of The Film Emporium

Seed 8: Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day (1993) as James Stevens
In The Remains of the Day Anthony Hopkins delivers the portrayal of a polite, serene, professional, enormously self-sacrificing man in impeccable fashion. His Stevens is irreplaceable to his employer and with his tranquil and content routine governs the staff, ensuring they are invisible to the guests and remain oblivious to the subjects surrounding the aristocratic gatherings. But his sereneness is interrupted by the arrival of a capable and feisty new housekeeper, Miss Kenton and the health decline and passing of his elderly father, recently hired as under-butler. Despite the pain evident in his eyes, and the added pressure of a mutual attraction developing between him and Kenton, he never allows these distractions to affect his composure or his ability to complete his duties. On the night of his father’s passing, although he feigns control, we can see through this veneer and it’s a true testament to Hopkins’ ability to perform in such an understated register that he still moves us. For despite the walls he puts up we feel for him when he realises the inauspicious reputation of his boss or the devastation he feels at having repressed his feeling for a potential mate. Stevens seem to exist on a plane of dignified stolidity but we look closer and find all the emotions Hopkins telegraphs so subtly. It's hard to envision anyone else pulling off such an understated and moving performance.

Seed 9: Reese Witherspoon in Election (1999) as Tracy Flick
In preparation for the role of Tracy Flick – that industrious, ambitious, Little Miss Prim – Witherspoon worked on creating a chipper Midwestern accent for Payne’s black comedy. Her words are delivered rapid fire and peppered with strident, grating intonations. Witherspoon’s Tracy has the determination, the self involvement and the charm to be school president. Or so she believes, because that charm – comprised of a – consistent energy and a cute smile – so easily becomes conniving and often scary. She is the villainess in disguise. It’s a terribly physical performance. Her Tracy always sits as tall as possible and has a unique walk – straight-legged and darting. The consistency with which she leeps her face and jaw clenched is remarkable. The performance – especially during our introduction – is buoyed by Payne’s directing choices and the work of the costume designer but the unforgettable nature of the performance ultimately rests on Witherspoon’s shoulders and she delivers with a performance which rings true displaying Tracy’s focused, driven personality.

Which performances are you supporting?


Runs Like A Gay said...

Really tough choice between Tony and Reece, but The Remains of the Day is such a perfect film I can't not vote for him.

Nick Prigge said...

Poor Dustin Hoffman. He never stood a chance.

Stanley Motss is still #1 in my heart, Dustin!