Monday, 13 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 11 and 12

Time for two more polls in the Essential Performances Showdown where you help me find the best performance of the 90s. The first two polls will be closing tomorrow, so get your votes in if you haven't already. All open games are HERE, and there are some surprises afoot- so click away.

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

These following polls will close on Thursday night.

(Note: It seems I may be confusing some of you when I write moderator at the beginning of the battles, so let me explain. I didn't write all these blurbs, so I invited some great bloggers to help me defend the, - see rules above - each pair of performances gets a blogger to defend them. Hence the term moderator.)

GAME ELEVEN: Edward Norton in American History X VS Alicia Silverstone in Clueless
Moderator: Nick of Cinema Romantico

Seed 5: Edward Norton in American History X (1998) as Eric Vinyard

No actor of my generation has more willingly and skillfully gone Method than Edward Norton, and Norton has never more ably and bravely dived into a role the way he did as a neo-Nazi skinhead in the unsettling American History X. Admittedly the film has issues with the narrative, specifically in the way it makes critical character developments emerge in such simplistic and on the nose ways. Even so, Norton embodies each side of the character, as it flashes forward and back, entirely. He is so frightening as a speechifying hate-filled hurricane and yet so reasonable in his arguments he makes it to plain to see how anyone of a weak mind could so easily be swayed. On the flip side, he earns a strange amount of sympathy as someone who comes around to see the error of his ways while also rightfully awaiting his inevitable comeuppance. Above all, though, he conveys how an impressionable person faced with an unthinkable situation, such as a parent's death, can quickly slip off the rails and grasp onto the wrong thing out of desperation.

Seed 12: Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (1995) as Cher Horowitz
Sometimes the more distance you get from a one-shot great performance, the clearer it becomes that the actress or actor was, in fact, lucky enough to play part skewing quite closely to their own personality. In the case of Alicia Silverstone's work as the memorably named Cher Horowitz in Clueless, however, the more distance I get from it the more brilliant I think she was because it seems to me the character does not resemble anything suggesting her real life personality. Rich, vain and superficial, Silverstone nonetheless earns empathy by brilliantly embodying a vapid charm. You would not have sat at her lunch table at Bronson Alcott High, yet just like the cool girls of the past of your own life you wish you did. Eventually, of course, the ideology of the clique she commands is turned upside down. It's never easy to go from spoiled to saint and, yet, Silverstone pulls off the trick by still being the same person - just a person that has now learned valuable lessons and taken them to her coquettish heart. Can you really find the meaning of life in a Beverly Hills shopping spree? She convinced me.

GAME TWELVE: Emma Thompson in Howards End VS Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter
Moderator: Andrew (Me)

Seed 4: Emma Thompson in Howards End (1992) as Margaret Schlegel
Margaret Schlegel is out one afternoon helping an ailing new neighbour buy some Christmas gifts for her family. She realises that one of the gift’s for her and as instructed crosses off her name from the list with an incidental giggle and a childish burst of happiness. This is an innocuous moment within the tale of Howards End and even so it tells you much about who Margaret Schlegel is, and how Emma characterises her. The eldest of three siblings she has become the de facto moral centre of the family (and significantly, the film, too). She’s also a feminist, advocates for voting rights, reads much and believes in helping the less fortunate. But, within this – and this is a key thing – Margaret is woman who overflows with thoughtful irreverence. I say key because as winsomely light as Howards End might feel there are serious issues afoot and because Forster’s novel is so thematically rich it could easily feel lesson-like but Emma is consistently ensuring (via those irreverent beats) that Margaret is a lived-in woman and not a concept. So, that when the film begins its third acts and she loses a bit of her jollity the audience has already been won over by her, and we’re rooting for her to find it again. When the dying Ruth Wilcox gives Margaret a house her family is baffled. She hasn’t known her for long, but we know what Ruth is seeing. Emma so deftly carves this smart, funny, sweet, charming, bashful woman in mere seconds and in the same way Margaret wins over Ruth in record time, Emma wins us over in mere minutes.

Seed 13: Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter (1997) as Mitchell Stevens
There’s a monologue which Holm’s Mitchell has in the second half of the film where he remembers a time when his daughter (now a drug addict) almost died. It’s a scene I’ve seen mentioned in at least half a dozen reviews of The Sweet Hereafter, but the fact that it emerges as such a obvious indication of the accolades Holm deserves for this performance does not make it less accurate. Holm *gets* the need for key emotive moments with facial expressions in a way that highlights how his character – and his portrayal of it – is essential to the fabric of the film. It works because of its delicacy. The quiet sadness which overwhelms The Sweet Hereafter is reinforced by Ian Holm’s similarly devastating but unobtrusive performance. In many ways, as the lawyer entering this town which has suffered the crippling loss of so many children, Holm’s Mitchell is a mere denizen. But, the persistent way he pursues this class action suit to bring justice (?) to the parents becomes so clearly an indication of his own grief, and his attempts to combat them. In his first scene as he comes apart on the phone to his daughter we wonder where the performance could go from there – Holm, expertly, ensures that it only gets better.

Two polls close tomorrow, have you gotten your votes in? Which of these four performances are you backing?

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