Friday, 17 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 21 and 22

The bracket continues to be updated HERE, and thus far only two lower seeded performers have advanced - Homayon Ershadi for Taste of Cherry (advancing over Kate Winslet in Titanic) and Daniel Day Lewis in In the Name of the Father (advancing over Cate Blanchett in The Talented Mr. Ripley.) Curiously, both ladies have other performances in the bracket which are currently winning.

Round 2 begins next week, so I hope you've decided which performance you'll be willing to help me defend when it does (information HERE.)

If you're now catching up on the project information on the rules and preliminaries are HERE
If you haven't voted as yet (and why not) all open games are HERE.
And, if you're interested in spreading the word the banner is HERE.

These two polls close on Monday morning.

GAME TWENTY ONE: Tom Cruise in Magnolia VS Anjelica Huston in The Grifters
Moderator: Craig of dark eye socket

Seed 3: Tom Cruise in Magnolia (1999) as Frank T.J. Mackey
Tom Cruise may have searched and destroyed, and respected cocks and tamed cunts, until he was blue in the face in Magnolia, but four small words cruelly defined his “master of the muffin” Frank T.J. Mackey: “I’m quietly judging you”. Mid-film, in an interview with female reporter Gwenovier (April Grace), he plays up his role as a spoiled and infamous infotainment megastar to a tee. Gwenovier cuts deep with her questions regarding his elusive family situation. When she presses for a particularly tricky response, he sits silent for what feels like an age; then utters those four words. This comes after some playful yet tense interaction wherein Gwenovier, defiantly immune to his charms until this point, appears to crack; in coy fashion she mentions one of his (deliberately?) undone shirt buttons. Knowingly, like a hunter having ensnared his ‘prey’, he acknowledges her mention and teasingly buttons up. It’s a queasy scene, played perfectly by Cruise and Grace, and points to Mackey’s ability to be snakily duplicitous. Mackey is perhaps Cruise’s best screen creation to date: an arrogant and spite-filled showman spouting invective to all-male crowds on how to “make that lady ‘friend’ your sex-starved servant.” Cruise expresses every one of Frank’s manipulative actions with oily hubris. Early on in the film, when we first see him on stage, he’s lit in stark silhouette, his arms positioned in a robotically phallic stance; he immaturely presents himself to appear like an evangelistic man-god. But really he’s just a spoiled boy with daddy issues. That Cruise makes him intricately complex, troubled and, saddest of all, trapped in a self-imposed emotional coma, is concrete proof that he’s often more than capable to burrow well below his surface action-star persona to convey raging heartfelt depth in a performance.

Seed 14: Anjelica Huston in The Grifters (1990) as Lilly Dillon
Dressed in sharp blood-red or off-white suits, and with a tight peroxide perm that barely moves, Huston’s long-time matriarch of con Lilly Dillon trembles from adrenaline or nerves in Stephen Frears’ 1991 The Grifters. Huston is magnetic, ferocious and daring; it’s arguably her best and most complex performance. With an impersonal poise and rigid posture, Lilly enters The Grifters’ unforgiving world as a woman who’s constantly evading detection; her appearance pre-altered before the events of its narrative unfold. The cheap yet still glamorous get-up she wears is like a front for the crooks and a disguise for the cops. Lilly’s a mother in name, but not in nature. Her feelings for and about her son Roy (John Cusack), maternal or, particularly, otherwise leave a lot to be desired, shall we say? In the world of pulp-noir Lilly could be a direct descendant of Gloria Grahame’s Debby Marsh in The Big Heat: both got burned by the men in their lives; both got their revenge. Only Lilly’s left with a survivor’s internal scars, deeper and more searing than the reminder on her hand. Watching Lilly ceaselessly stalk and fret her way from one tricky engagement to another – phone booth to hotel, racetrack to apartment – induces a nerve-shredding restlessness; her anxiety is infectious. Huston motors the movie and takes us along for the ride, turning us into unwilling accomplices. Huston successfully manages to transfer both Lilly’s minute mannerisms (twitchy chain-smoking, deceptively vacant glare, her “Los Ang Gleez”) and her grandest, fiercest altercations through a veil of life-eroding, nervy apprehension. It’s not a good idea to be caught up in Lilly’s world, but watching it unfurl from afar is a vicarious thrill. Huston’s tremendous performance ensures we’re right there anyway. She plays if it as if it were a soul-stripping game of poker.

GAME TWENTY TWO: Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise VS Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting
Moderator: Paolo of Okinawa Assault Incident; Paraphrased Kulchar

Seed 6: Susan Sarandon in
Thelma and Louise (1991) as Louise Sawyer
Susan Sarandon might have had earlier stints in Rocky Horror and Atlantic City, but her Oscar-nominated role in Thelma and Louise marked the beginning of her decade. The rest of the 90’s would show off her taste for the crazy side as well as her sex appeal. I forgot to say the perfunctory things about how she and co-star Geena Davis play off each other well, being the sane one, the realist mother, the slightly uptight one who isn’t comfortable in her own skin and the one delighted when her best friend Thelma (Davis) surprises her, the latter bringing out her frazzled yet happy side. But she shines in scenes that focus just on her. There’s that group bathroom scene in a truck stop of a dive bar, keeping her traditional feminine mask of decency, even showing a bit of fear. That scene is a hint that she was less ladylike before, a past that won’t be fully revealed. As expected, she’s also great with lines, knowing which sentence to stress while confronting Thelma’s rapist or how to show the right amount of panic when realizing the situation she and best friend are in. What happens to her and Thelma forces her to decide what to do next. And despite the irrational parts of her plan we can feel that determinism, whether she’s so up close to the camera that we can see her eyes or when her back is to the audience. It’s almost electric.

Seed 11: Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting (1997) as Will Hunting
In the early stages of the blogathon’s planning, I vetted for Matt Damon’s performance in Good Will Hunting. He wrote the screenplay after all, playing the protagonist…Will Hunting, at a time when he can still pass as boyish without acting readily vulnerable or inquisitively involved. He can pull off the conceit that Will is both a custodian and an all-around genius who’s afraid of knowledge and his potential instead of embracing it, living within a worldview where upward mobility is in every character’s agenda, a way of thinking that he believes that he’s too smart for. He questions the world around him as a mechanism, Damon dancing with the intellect that he has. But he never seems smug and he only explodes eighty minutes into the movie. But despite going on the offensive to hide how guarded he is, he’s not always that combative. Like every other person he’s very warm towards his inner circle, disregarding IQ or class differences between them. It’s also a very altruistic performance of a character who knows that he can occasionally be invisible. He watches his co-stars Ben Affleck and Robin Williams dominate scenes while his eyes do all the work, amused yet absorbing his surroundings without overusing his expressiveness. But when he’s needed, he can step up, carrying himself with such articulation while with a Masshole accent. Mostly he speaks in a low, calm manner that makes way for great transitions between admiration, cynicism, humour and irreverence, and that’s just in one scene.

Two performances making their steely characters human in one poll. Two performers holding their films down (with their names in the titles) in the second. Who wins?


Squasher88 said...

Umm, it's CATE BLANCHETT in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

thanks shane sleep deprivation, obviously.

Paolo said...

Although you guys gotta admit that that would have been a god alternate universe.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

paolo it would. although i'd need to see cate replace kate in contagion for it to be the real ripley reunion it should have been.