Sunday, 19 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 29 and 30

Tonight I shall post the final two games and the first round of this Essential Performances Tournament shall be over. There have been a number of difficult battles to choose from, but I’ll readily submit the two below as the toughest for me. All four represent some of my favourite performances of the decade. Good luck choosing a favourite.

Meanwhile, the bracket is being updated daily (HERE) and reminding all you bloggers/voters to help me roll off round 2 beginning later this week by helping me write on the qualified performances (info HERE). If you haven’t voted as yet all the open games are HERE and if you’re now joining us the background for this project is HERE.

These two polls close on Wednesday morning.

GAME TWENTY NINE: Holly Hunter in The Piano VS River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho
Moderator: Jose of Movies Kick Ass

Seed 3: Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993) as Ada McGrath

The Piano is essentially the story of a single mother, living in a conservative society, who marries a man she doesn’t love; and has an affair. How on earth then, can the experience of the movie itself feel so non-mundane? Capturing the essence of creation, dreams and the unbeatable power of womanhood, Jane Campion found the perfect vessel for her iconic character in the extraordinary Holly Hunter. It’s practically impossible to discuss this performance without pointing out how easily it could’ve turned into awards-fodder (period piece! mute! violent breakdown! sex! nudity! cheating spouse! near-death experience! corsets!) or how easy it would be to assume that just any actress could’ve done what Hunter does. There is always a constant ferocity in her eyes, and all clich├ęs aside, she does speak through her pupils. She embodies “woman” like few actresses ever have, becoming a mother, single woman, a representation of 19th century repression, a version of Hester Prynne, a blooming sexual creature, a victim of mindless lust, a victim of violence, sinner, saint...the power of The Piano is that it always moves you to what feels like a different plane of thought, only to throw you back towards earth, as you, like Ada, swim upwards towards freedom.

Seed 14: River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho as Mike
Like all actors who die young, River Phoenix has that “forever beautiful” thing going for him and there is no better testament to his beauty than his work as Mike in Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. Taking on the role with the ferocity of a wild animal and captured by the camera with the delicacy of a pre-Raphaelite angel, Phoenix captures our hearts (among other body parts) making us re-evaluate our notions of what hustling is all about. To judge the movie only by its plot (as everyone did in the early 90s) would be to pay a disservice to a gay romance that packs a harsher punch than Brokeback Mountain. Unlike Ang Lee’s forced pastoral, there is a tenderness and melancholy to van Sant’s movie that does transcend the barriers of sexual orientation. The most beautiful thing in the movie might just be the final scene which inspires us to think that Phoenix lived on after the credits rolled; tortured angel right till the very end.

GAME THIRTY: Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking VS Nicole Kidman in To Die For
Moderator: Yojimbo of Let's Not Talk About Movies

Seed 6: Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking (1995) as Matthew Poncelet
Penn has never shied away from a challenge. He’ll play heroes and villains, out-and-out bastards that invite an audience’s hatred, and many shades in-between. This one was a significant challenge, though, one brought about masterfully and somewhat unselfishly. Tim Robbins’ heart-felt film about the relationship between Sister Helen Prejean and death-row inmate Mathew Poncelet is a position film—it’s strictly anti-death penalty. It challenges an audience’s loyalties and tests their mettle and ideologies by considering the plight of a convicted murderer under the constant threat of death. At the first Penn’s Poncelet is a cocky prick, denying any responsibility for the rape and murder he’s been convicted of. Sister Prejean’s battle is two-fold: trying to way-lay the lethal injection in Poncelet’s future, and way-lay the eternal damnation she foresees for Poncelet if he does not admit complicity in the crime, and by so doing, seek the path to forgiveness. Penn uses a full arsenal of tricks for the mercurial Poncelet, the various poses he presents—the obliviousness, the seductive bravado, the evasiveness—all masks for a man too young to know himself, or anyone else. Those walls, those masks, prevent him from showing his true self, and creates a wariness that prevents him from seeing the sincerity and truth in others. His own dishonesty within assumes dishonesty without. It is a tough performance for an actor to pull off, the moral equivalent of a drunk trying to pass as sober, and Penn’s subtle slide for his character from guarded poser to naked truth evokes empathy for the sheep in wolf’s clothing, achieving Robbins’ goal of subverting revenge fantasies and showing the tragedy of the taking of a human life…any human life.

Seed 11: Nicole Kidman in To Die For (1995) as Suzanne Stone-Maretto

It was a break-out performance for Kidman. Since becoming Mrs. Tom Cruise, she had been cast in her husband’s movies in parts that limited her range and cast her merely as a coquette. She was good at it, certainly, but her youth played against her. She was “the girlfriend,” that personality-less mainstay of Hollywood youth movies, and more often than not, a victim in need of rescuing. Not Suzanne Stone. She has goals, keeps her eyes on the prize, and without conscienceless pursues them by any means necessary. Kidman’s Suzanne is the media construct of a person who’s famous for being famous, and lives by the creed “any publicity is good publicity” and were she to have made it into the 21st Century would certainly have had her own reality show. But, what she’s living is not reality. It’s her fantasy. Small town girl makes good, first by marrying into money, then achieving fame on her own, discarding what she doesn’t need, breaking the past rungs of the ladder to success as she makes her way up. She is the hero of her own story (the villain in everyone else’s), spinning it as her own mind spins, and her video-taped monologue selling her life story is her mania in a cathode-ray tube, trapped in a box of her own design, ultimately a victim of fame and her own pursuit of it.

Did you have as hard a time choosing which performance is your favourite? Been enjoying the tournament so far?


Nick Prigge said...

Yeesh. How do you pick between Penn and Kidman? I picked Sean. So I'd like to offer my utmost apologies to Nicole.

Paolo said...

I'm equally indecisive about the Holly versus River match, both doing sexual 'deviance' their own nuanced ways.

Brittani Burnham said...

Man, choosing between Holly and River is killing me here. I wish they weren't against eachother so I could pick both!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nick and that battle seems destined to go down to the last minute. it's SO close.

paolo, brittani i know i'm the one who seeded them but i HATE that i have to choose between river and holly. :( both of them so excellent.