Saturday, 11 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 3 and 4

This morning's match-ups between Jodie Foster / Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins / Reese Witherspoon are still open HERE, and will be until Tuesday morning. We're opening more polls and moving down the bracket for two more games.

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

Now, onto games 3 and 4. These polls will close on Tuesday night.

GAME THREE: Julianne Moore Safe VS Woody Harrelson in The People vs Larry Flynt
Moderator: Craig of dark eye socket

Seed 5: Julianne Moore in Safe (1995) as Carol White
For Safe to work it needs a performer willing to embody the film’s enigmatic tone. Conveying the natural, sterile atmosphere of the film depends on having the right actress to play its figurehead - Carol White, a suburban Californian “homemaker” suffering from ‘20th Century Disease’, or, in other words, an allergy to just about every single thing in her life. Moore innately understands that to show the effects of an elusive condition, a fear of the world that may indeed be psychosomatic; she needs to fade into the film, not overwhelm it. And, almost indiscernible at the very edges of the frame, she becomes the blankest of surfaces allowing the film to enfold her, freeze her in place. It’s not the kind of role which allows for showy moments but Moore takes risks in her approach. Full access to Carol isn’t easily granted through what she does. The familiar, archetypal housewife of movie tradition evaporates. By playing an indistinct protagonist Moore dares us to distance ourselves from Carol by remaining largely inert, quietly battling her environment at the extremities of the screen. What she gives us of this unfortunate woman is a timid presence, a blur; we have to look hard to find the person right in front of us. Carol pinned in position in her living room, in her car, in public and in her own mind, remains an unidentifiable figure. Moore inherently ‘gets’ Safe. She understands Carol from the outside in. And in the process gives one of the best film performances of the last twenty years.

Seed 12: Woody Harrelson in The People vs Larry Flynt (1996) as Larry Flynt

More so than as a Boston bartender, a white man who couldn’t jump, a guy who accepts an Indecent Proposal, a Natural Born Killer or a bowling Kingpin, Woody Harrelson excelled in The People vs. Larry Flynt. He’s the type of actor with the right cracked spirit and gumption to fight screen battles as notorious Hustler creator and entrepreneurial free-speech crusader Larry Flynt, a role for which Harrelson bagged his first Oscar nomination. (He really should’ve won; scan the competition and tell me he wasn’t best in show that year). He sits high and mightily pissed off as Flynt, so clearly relishing the grand gestures, chewing on snappy dialogue (sounding gloriously like a submerged Jimmy Stewart in later scenes) and saucy interludes. His cocksure star person is subsumed into his performance just enough to let you know what a good time he was having. It’s a performance with a lot more fury and a lot less dither and fuss than the majority of such ‘big’, look-at-me-Oscar-voter turns. It’s not Flynt mimicry, nor is it noticeably overly methodical. Harrelson is pained, scrappy and all the time kicking against censorship with fervour; always an awkward and insouciant bastard, but someone who you want to vie for as well as take umbrage with. Under him the role becomes more than an opinionated firebrand in a wheelchair wearing handmade stars and stripes nappies. He’s more than a man shouting audacious statements to a rapt audience in a courtroom. It’s a bolshie performance, a lived-in performance and, most of all, an immensely joyous performance. As the man says himself in the film: “You don’t wanna quit me, I’m your dream client: I’m the most fun, I’m rich, and I’m always in trouble.

GAME FOUR: Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas VS Irène Jacob in Three Colors: Red
Moderator: Paolo of Okinawa Assault Incident; Paraphrased Kulchar

Seed 4: Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas (1995) as Ben Sanderson
Our introduction of Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas feels suspect – everything around him feels normal but he seems to be in a haze, looking pale and wearing faded suits. While looking at this some of us might wonder whether it’s the make-up and the costumes doing the acting. We’re also wondering why Elisabeth Shue’s character, a prostitute chose not to fall in love with any of her johns except for this lump of mess. But although initially a doubter of his performance merit I began to realise the shades of the performance given. I will say that there are always two conflicting yet complementary sides to this performance. He has fun on the surface, dancing in the aisles of liquor stores or delivering or even singing his unmemorable lines in a crafty way. But all the while it’s a respectful stance on alcoholism as a mind and body-warping disease instead of a frivolous sideshow act. He masterfully invites us within that headspace, a state that some of us might be familiar with. He injects aspects of his character’s old self, witty, compassionate and loving but garbled within his destructive new self. There’s even significant restraint in this performance. In a scene that might otherwise belong in a Youtube video showcasing the actor’s many freak-outs within his oeuvre, he just bursts out once but we also see his sorrow. He’s a drunk, not stumbling, waiting until the last minute to show his desperation or weakness. Even that final scene is a vivid picture of a man fighting to stay alive even if his body can barely function therewith earning our admiration.

Seed 13: Irène Jacob in Three Colors: Red (1994) as Valentine
Irene Jacob is probably the only contemporary actress whose beauty and talent can hold a candle to the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn, which is a shame that her career has yet to show the same kind of longevity. Her face is one end of the choreographed contradictions within Krysztof Kieslowski’s deconstructed fictional worlds. Yes, she has that youthfulness and vulnerability of a gamine, a face that delights instead of smoulders. I’m not just blinded by her beauty. In one of the most respectful portrayals of fashion models in movies, Jacob plays Valentine in Three Colours: Red, Irene Jacob is asked to convey emotions as quickly as a snapshot. Jacob also finds as much time as she can on screen to make Valentine relaxed but her completely animated face is her one of her strengths here. A favourite moment of mine is her first encounter with the owner of a dog she just has run over. Every second of the movie she makes sure that she’s involved and can catch the aura of her surroundings, both old and unfamiliar. She’s guiding herself into her new circumstances instead of being obliviously hit by its surprises and in the same way is guiding the audience too. She makes potentially mundane events into ones of dread, discovery or joy. Her work might even make this the standout among the trilogy especially because despite Valentine’s growing weariness, Jacob is able to harbour the liveliness she used to have. Because of these qualities I can watch her all day long.


Moore vs Harrelson, Cage vs Jacob. Where are your votes going?

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