Sunday, 12 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 7 and 8

Another two battles are ready in this the first round of the Essential Performance of the 90s Tournament. Have you been voting?

(Previous battles are still up for you to make your picks on: Jodie Foster is eviscerating Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins is winning Reese Witherspoon by a bit HERE, Julianne Moore is throttling Woody Harrelson whilst Irene Jacob and Nicolas Cage are going neck and neck HERE, and Annettte Bening seems on the road to beating Sean Penn while Helena Bonham Carter and Jeff Bridges seem about evenly matched HERE. The first two polls close on Tuesday, the latter on Wednesday.) 

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 for games #7 and #8 - the polls for these will close on Wednesday night.

GAME SEVEN: Kate Winslet in Titanic VS Homayon Ershadi in Taste of Cherry
Moderator: Amir of Amiresque

Seed 7: Kate Winslet in Titanic (1997) as Rose DeWitt Bukater
I have to admit that when I sat down to watch Titanic again for this tournament, I had intended on skipping certain parts of the film and mostly paying attention to Kate Winslet’s performance. I’d seen it so many times in the past, after all. But when I popped it in the DVD player, as it happens every time, I was glued to my seat. The three hours flew by. This is essentially Kate Winslet’s biggest challenge in Titanic: to find her place within Cameron’s vision and to fit into – and not get drowned by – the spectacle that surrounds her. She doesn’t go over the top trying to outmatch its magnitude, but isn’t caught sinking with the ship either. Winslet has given superior performances before this (Heavenly Creatures) and after (Eternal Sunshine, Revolutionary Road) but this is an essential performance in her canon not only because it will, forever, remain her most well-known portrayal, but because she exhibits a fiery cadence that I’ve always found to be her best quality. It’s almost as if the unruly young girl from Heavenly Creatures still exists inside her, but she knows when to contain and when to unleash her. Despite Winslet's apparent maturity, this is still admittedly a better showcase for her promising talent than her abilities as a seasoned actress, but she gives us every reason to love her as much as Jack loves Rose.

Seed 10: Homayon Ershadi in Taste of Cherry (1997) as Mr Badii 
“You can sympathize, understand, show compassion; but feel my pain? No.” says Mr. Badi’i (Ershadi) at one point in Taste of Cherry. It’s an interesting assertion from a man who is on the verge of suicide, but it’s astonishing how incorrect he is in claiming that. Mr. Badi’i might be unaware but Ershadi knows very well that his brutally authentic portrayal of this solitary man stabs the audience right in the chest. Taste of Cherry offers no expositions as to why its central character is so intent on taking his own life so Ershadi has quite a mountain to climb to gain any sympathy from the audience. But somewhere between all of Kiarostami’s philosophizing about the beauties of the world and the shock value of making a film so openly about suicide in a Muslim society, there’s a gutsy performance full of heart and passion. Ershadi has limited means at his disposal but he transcends the words in the script. He treats the character with grace and precision, allowing the audience to connect to a film that might otherwise have felt too academic. That this is his first time in front of the camera makes the performance all the more impressive.

GAME EIGHT: Joe Pesci in Goodfellas VS Joan Allen in The Crucible
Moderator: Andreas of Pussy Goes Grrr

Seed 2: Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (1990) as Tommy DeVito

"Funny how?" demands Joe Pesci. "I mean, what's funny about it?" With a glare and a few pointed words Pesci transforms what was just – seconds earlier – a random scene of a few mobsters boozing and joking around into an iconic game of verbal chicken. His entire performance in GoodFellas operates like that: not so much "scene-stealing" as it is scene-driving, forcing scenes to pivot around his mood swings. As Tommy DeVito, Pesci is utterly unpredictable, and he switches instantly from good-humored to homicidal if he believes his balls have been busted. With his high-pitched voice, compact stature, and squirrelly energy he could not be more ideal for the role of Tommy, playing him as a Cagney-esque tough guy whose Napoleon complex has replaced his moral compass. Yet he's not just a raging killer. The performance has a lightness to it, and Tommy often seems like a reliable friend, a useful ally, and (dare I say) a funny guy. (Hell, when he thinks he's about to become a made man, his giddiness even crosses the line into "cute.") Pesci nails this duality, making it clear that Tommy is unable to discern between horseplay and cold-blooded murder. All he can see is his own rigid, idiosyncratic code of honor. It's a performance so ferocious and effective that when Scorsese brings Pesci back onscreen for an encore right before the closing credits, firing shot after shot into the camera it only serves to solidify his place in film history.

Seed 15: Joan Allen in The Crucible (1996) as Abigail Proctor
Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder may be the nominal stars of The Crucible, but Joan Allen is its moral center. She's easy to overlook, both because her acting is so understated and because she's playing a supportive wife, which is so often code for "waste of an actress." But of course this particular wife is Elizabeth Proctor, as written by Arthur Miller. Forced to negotiate between her puritan values, love for her husband John and an out-of-control justice system, she's about as dramatically meaty as female roles get. Allen plays her as a rock: resilient, steadfast but still demure. During the Proctors' spats, Day-Lewis howls and moans as only he can, but Allen retains a quiet grace and hard-set jaw. Much of the performance resides in her eyes, often gazing somewhere just past the camera, maintaining their intense focus even when she seems on the verge of fainting. Those eyes house Elizabeth's frustration, her fear of death and damnation, and in the end, her mild triumph—despite her visible fatigue, she glows as John is carted off without making a false confession. "He have his goodness now," she rasps. "God forbid I take it from him." It's Allen's low-volume "I'll never be hungry again!" moment, and it becomes the capstone to her master class in restraint.

Debutantes, gangster, suicidal men, longsuffering women. Who wins? Vote for your favourite (and spread the word).

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