Saturday, 18 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 27 and 28

Thanks for all those who've been voting so far in the Essential Performances of the 90s Tournament, we're almost through with the first round of games. Soon we'll be on to round 2 and I'm calling all you bloggers to help me defend the advancing performances (info HERE). The bracket is updated twice a day (HERE). If you've missed the chance to vote on any games, the open polls are HERE.

If you're only now hearing about this tournament you can read about the rules and background HERE.
And, if you're interested in spreading the word the banner is HERE.

GAME TWENTY SEVEN: Frances McDormand in Fargo VS Denzel Washington in Malcolm X
Moderator: Nick of Cinema Romantico

Seed 5: Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996) as Marge Gunderson
We so often yearn for change in our characters, for them to start one way, learn some sort of variation of a valuable lesson and end the proceedings changed for the better. But in The Coen Brothers’ humble little Minnesotan opera Fargo, Frances McDormand did the most amazing thing. Well, winning the Oscar was amazing, sure, but in playing the pregnant police chief of Brainerd, Minnesota, Margie Gunderson, she exudes a folksy wisdom that is neither ironic or trite. It’s not even heartfelt so much as it is simply HER, indicative of her values, manner and unfailing attitude to believe in the best in people. Yes, even if those people are liars, crooks and killers. To go through what she goes through in the shape she goes through would shatter the positive belief system of any mere mortal. Not Margie. That scene in the squad car, post-woodchipper, Peter Stormare's vacant stare in back, still resonates. After everything, she still genuinely can't believe another human being could be so despicable. She hasn't changed, she's maintained her sense of self.

Seed 12: Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (1992) as Malcolm X
Late in Spike Lee's breathtaking biopic, Denzel Washington's Malcolm X visits his long-ago numbers running mentor West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo) to find him no more than a broken-down cripple. It's not that Archie's appearance is jarring (though it is) or that Malcolm's desire to help his former friend turned enemy is humbling (though it is) but that in this moment Malcolm comes across NOTHING like the Malcolm he once was. This is to say that in over three hours Washington convincingly metamorphosed from Malcolm “Detroit Red” Little, small-time hustler and thief, to Malcolm Little, Inmate #229843, to Brother Malcolm of the Nation of Islam to, of course, Malcolm X, incendiary activist. The transitions are never awkward. Every scene comes across in its own way as a unique part of his unique evolution. He’s a rabble-rouser who finds a means to channel his anger, aiming to give back to the world from which he took so much as a shockingly wayward youth. And in the last horrible second when Washington bravely allows that smile, you know he's done all he could.

GAME TWENTY EIGHT: Russell Crowe in The Insider VS Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves
Moderator: Courtney of Big Thoughts from a Small Mind

Seed 4: Russell Crowe in The Insider (1999) as Jeffrey Wigand
When you say the name Russell Crow, most people immediately think of a strong moody figure. This is partly due to his roles in such films as Gladiator, Romper Stomper and L.A. Confidential. However, it is not his strength, but rather his vulnerability that makes his performance in Michael Mann’s The Insider so riveting. As Jeffery Wigand, a former tobacco company employee and whistleblower, Crowe is simply electrifying. The Insider is a film that is predominantly about journalistic integrity. It examines how 60 minutes had a moment of weakness when they succumbed to corporate pressure and decided not to air an interview that would have had a negative impact on the tobacco industry. Russell Crowe literally steals the film from both Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. When thinking back on The Insider, it is not the internal bickering behind the scenes at 60 minutes that holds our attention, but the plight of Wigand. Crowe portrays Wigand as a man who is not only betrayed by the company he worked for, but also by the media who was supposed to help him tell his story. At the end of the day Wigand and his family are the ones who stand the most to lose. As the pawn in everyone’s game, you can really see the toll it takes on Wigand. Crowe has never looked more vulnerable than he does in this film. This is the performance where you truly believe Russell Crowe could play the average Joe; a guy who only wants to live his daily life and provide for his family.

Seed 13: Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves (1996) as Bess McNeil
It is rare to find a feature film debut as raw and as moving as the performance Emily Watson gives in Breaking the Waves. In the Lars von Trier film that blends religious belief and human sexuality unlike any film has ever done before, Watson plays the sweet-natured Bess. Though viewed by some as being “not quite right in the head”, Bess is filled with a strong sense of faith and her unwavering love for Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), her new husband who works on a big oil rig. When Jan is injured on the job, Bess is consumed by guilt as she thinks the accident was a result of her praying to God to send her husband home early. Paralyzed, Jan encourages Bess to not only seek out men to sleep with, but to provide him with all the details from each encounter. This request not only tests Bess’ faith, but Watson’s commitment as an actress. The character of Bess is an extremely challenging role that very few actresses could deliver well. This is evident in the scenes where Watson must convey Bess’ frequent two-way conversations with God. She must navigate back and forth between Bess’ childlike innocence and the deep authoritative voice of God. In lesser hands these moments would come off as “weird” or “gimmicky”, but Watson is completely convincing. It is very easy to forget you are watching an actress playing a role when watching the film. Watson is simply phenomenal in the role. Even as she takes Bess down a dark and heartbreaking path, she manages to keep the question of faith in relation to marriage and sex in the forefront of the viewers mind. It is truly one of the rawest and most beautiful female performances ever captured on film.


I suspect these two match-ups may be particularly difficult. Are they? Or do you have your picks at the ready?

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