Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 17 and 18

The bracket has been updated and a few more performances have made it through to round 2. Head over to see the update bracket HERE and help me by defending your favourites on your blog (information HERE).

If you're not 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 Saturday night.

GAME SEVENTEEN: Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs VS Michelle Pfeiffer in The Age of Innocence
Moderator: Ruth of FlixChatter

Seed 1: Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) as Hannibal Lecter

I happened to see Silence of the Lambs in the cinema and I tell you, for a while I was so terrified of Anthony Hopkins and even the mere mention of ‘chianti’ and ‘liver’ makes me shudder. It’s no wonder his personification of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the charismatic canibal who never blinks when he speak, was ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's Villains in its compilation of the 100 Years of The Greatest Screen Heroes and Villains.. Much of the iconic mannerisms: the nasty slurping sound and the creepy way he speaks Clarice’s name to taunt the young FBI officer are all improvised by the seasoned actor. Yet it takes a special skill not to overdo the creepy-ness, it takes skill to avoid becoming caricature. Such a character could easily have the opposite effect of being comical instead of sinister but Hopkins avoid the potential dilemma. He manages to forge that delicate balance of portraying a charismatic figure that effortlessly pulls you whilst at the same time scares the living heck out of you.

Seed 16: Michelle Pfeffier in The Age of Innocence (1993) as Ellen Olenska

I believe Scorsese’s period drama showcases Pfeiffer’s best work and in a way proves that she is a serious actress who somehow, unfortunately, is not regarded as such by her peers. So perhaps that’s why the beautiful actress identify so well with Ellen Olenska, an outcast in a 19th century New York high society when she is separated from her husband. Raised by a single mother in a society where divorce was still a taboo, I immediately identify with her predicament. This is my favorite Scorsese film and though it’s not violent in the physical term, it’s definitely a vicious one in terms of matters of the heart. The conversations between Newland Archer (the sublime Daniel Day-Lewis) and Olenska are heart-wrenching, their yearning and frustration that they cannot be with each other just makes my heart bleed. Yet Olenska is not just some lovesick puppy. She is a strong woman who defies society and refuses to conceal her independence, even at the risk of being scorned by people around her. That defiance spirit is magnetic and I credit Pfeiffer’s astute performance in getting that across without being overbearring. A magnum opus from a celebrated director, and I’m glad to say the film’s stunning cinematography and costume design match the equally beautiful performances. It’s rare to see a flawed heroine depicted in such a bewitching way, but Countess Olenska is surely one of them.

GAME EIGHTEEN: Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990) VS Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (1998)
Moderator: Andrew (me)

Seed 8: Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990) as Vivian Ward

It’s incredibly simple to scoff at Pretty Woman and the performance of Julia Roberts in it. For all the ostensibly real issues at work, the crux of the film is essentially dependant on the fanciful. Robert is not an expressly comedic performer, but she tricks the audience into thinking she is giving Vivian an irresistibly bouncy lilt which manages to tread the line between feisty and dreamer. The all-too popular necklace scene – and that laugh – works so well because even though it’s all Julia it’s all Julia while concurrently being all Vivian. It’s an especially straight-forward performance, which is precisely what the film requires. There’s a propensity to disparage performances exuding with simplicity but Julia’s winsomeness becomes the key to ensuring that the entire set-up of the film (which is truly, hardly, romantic and could make for a more harrowing film) doesn’t quake under its aspirations for being feel-good. Because the film hopes to avoid contention by downplaying its more unsavoury details it depends on its performances for nuance and Roberts provides it: tender in that “shopping” scene, moving in that scene with Alexander and believable naïve yet sweet at the opera. It’s easy to imagine another performer playing “down” to the film’s conceit but Roberts gamely meets its naiveté, thereby elevating it.

Seed 9: Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (1998) as James Whale
Who better than Ian McKellen to play gay director James Whale? The idea itself feels so delightfully on-the-nose that one wonders how Gods and Monsters - a lovely, albeit narratively slim, film could possibly do significantly more with it. McKellen’s whale is dying and develops a crush on his gardener but this is not a love-story and although Whale is dying full of regret it is not an essentially sad story either. And under McKellen it’s not a sad performance. Filled with whimsy, sly winks and humour amidst the sadness is through McKellen’s deft work at the film’s centre that the delicacy of the story doesn’t become steeped in the maudlin. The highest credit to pay to McKellen is to observe the film from a distance with a shrewd eye. On its own it’s a lithe sweet morsel, but with him it becomes not just sweet but meaningful. The film noticeably loses momentum and lilt when he disappears from screen not because the scenes without him are rendered less thoughtfully but because it’s the type of lead performance which becomes inextricably linked to its film. When he rises the film does, when he devastates – so does the film. As it should be.

Cast your votes. Who goes on to round 2?


Joe Banks said...

I still watch The Age of Innocence without making my mind up fully about Madame Olenska. She could be seen as the villain of the piece, if one believes she humours Archer and is not sincere; she, for vanity or sport, makes of him an emotional toy, and I think Pfeiffer’s coolness makes that reading possible. But there are moments when she is clearly moved and is making an effort to steer him toward her. It’s that effort on her part that I watch with a kind of knowing familiarity, fully trusting in how lovely and lively Pfeiffer can be for him, but always, it seems, with an eye to her effect on him. Ellen is a complex woman, taking her cues from those around her and bent upon her own emotional survival, and Archer, drawn in and intoxicated by her, but also looking askance at how she dallies with Beaufort, is, in the end, simply too “innocent” to possess her. The moves by which she is put beyond his reach, in the name of his wife and her pregnancy, require her participation, a level of deliberate avoidance that seems to say “you are meant for May, not for me.” That ability to be, at last, free—in a way that Archer never can be—and free of Archer (as, obviously, he can’t be either) is what makes her the victor, and far from a poignant “ghost” (as we’re told she is at one point). And so there’s simply no looking her in the face in the end, and I’m proud of Scorsese and Day Lewis for delivering the ending with a mature sense of a mature man’s self-respect.

Joe Banks said...

"Don't be that person who reads and then leaves. If the world ends least you'll go out kicking and shouting. LEAVE A COMMENT!!!"

...and get stonewalled!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

joe THANK YOU for that lovely comment. the novel is so nuanced and i think the film does a fine job of mirroring that. pfeiffer really nails the complexity of ellen in a way that i don't think many appreciate.