Thursday, January 03, 2008

Without These Guys, Who Would We Stare At?

Whether its pretentious or not, I've always loved the characters at the fringes of a movie. Leading actors get all the acclaim, and quite honestly, its been quite some time since the Academy got it right when it comes to supporting roles (as character actors like Richard Jenkins, Paddy Considine and Ray Winstone are continually left out in the cold while delivering outstanding performance after outstanding performance). As mentioned in a previous post, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones both turned in stellar work this year, so leaving their names off the following list seems adequate. They've already gotten their shout-outs here (and PLENTY of other places). What's left are mentions of a few actors and actresses who grabbed the limelight in mostly star-populated efforts. For whatever reason, these guys acted their hearts out in films that were either DOA at the box office, hardly seen or under appreciated. There's always Netflix.

In no order:

Sienna Miller

Ok, so beauty before age. But don't let this woman's looks alter your perception of her. She can throw down with the best of them, and in the Steve Buscemi directed Interview, she proves she can also hold a film for 90 minutes through dialogue and intelligence. More like a 3 act play with 2 settings, Miller plays a young pop icon who agrees to an interview by journalist Steve Buscemi. What begins as a meeting of two wildly varying personalities soon morphs into a bitter, psychological war. The film holds together pretty well, and whether Miller is seducing Buscemi or throwing him out, one believes every ounce of her portrayal.

Imogen Poots

As the teenage sister left to fend for her brother and herself in 28 Weeks Later, she manages a fierce performance in a role that could've gone south in a hurry. How many chances does an actress get to make her mark in the movie-going world when her on-screen com padres are brain-eating zombies? Not much, but British actress Poots makes it work. And she has some of the most haunting eyes I've seen on film on year.

Luisa Williams

As the unnamed female with a bomb strapped to her back in Julia Loktev's brilliant debut feature, Day Night Day Night, Williams is in virtually every scene of the film. And its her conviction that sells the plot. There are scenes of such tension in this film, that certain noises in the soundtrack will make you gasp. And as an actress in Times Square, playing a role when no one around you except the director carrying the camera knows you're making a movie, her performance is even more stunning for its naturalism and subtlety. This is a commanding performance, brave and raw.

Leslie Mann

Comedy is hard enough to do, especially when its a comedy made by a group of guys about, basically, a guy finally growing up. Leslie Mann (right) certainly carves out a smart, humorous place in Judd Apatow's mostly male affair Knocked Up, and her comedic timing is perfect. If you saw her cameo as the drunk girl who gives Steve Carell a ride home in The 40 Year Old Virgin, then her wry gig in this latest film should come as a surprise. Still, she gives a performance that upstages just about everyone else in the film and establishes her as an actress who not only can score the laughs, but just might sting you a little when things get serious.

Terence Howard

While Richard Gere certainly had a remarkable year, Terence Howard didn't do too bad either. As the cameraman and friend to Gere's muckracking journalist in Richard Shepherd's criminally under appreciated The Hunting Party, Howard continues his tear of creating electric on-screen personas. Able to veer from lazy to frenetic with panache, Howard's performance in this comedy-drama-political satire is spot-on.

Carice Van Houten

Even after being covered by a vat of human shit, stripped naked several times and one scene of pubic hair dying, actress Carice Van Houten manages to pull out of Paul Verhoeven's World War 2 thriller Black Book with finesse and grace. Not only does she carry herself like a true classic screen actress, but Houten has the emotional temperance to make her role as a German double agent highly accessible and believable.

Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider

In Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, the screen time goes to Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, but it's this trio of supporting actors that lends the film its elegant, expansive mood. As the film continually breaks away from the main storyline to document their various longueurs and subsidiary narratives, each actor brings an authentic view of outlaw life into clarity. And its their shoot-out in an upstairs room that gives the film one of its most jarring and shocking gun fights that feels highly authentic in how messy and quick the whole things ends.

Alicia Keyes

Yes, you read that right. While director Joe Carnahan's amphetamine-fueled shoot em up Smokin Aces is crass, vulgar, bottom-feeder action fare, singer Alicia Keyes actually made me a care a little about someone in the carnage, and that's always a good thing. Here's to hoping we see more of her in films.

Stephen Graham

As a skinhead in Shane Meadows' This Is England, Graham touches on something very realistic and frightening. Sure, its easy to make a skinhead terrifying and frightening (ask Edward Norton, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth), but in This Is England, actor Graham actually gives meaning to the motives and anger beneath the surface. He keeps it just below the surface for a majority of the movie, until it comes lashing out in violent ways, but up until that point, its a performance that revels in genuine interaction between the film's younger characters. One could easily see how this skinhead promoted from point A to B in his beliefs, which is all the more terrifying.

Zineb Oukach

While a majority of Gavin Hood's Rendition deals with the bland predicament of a cute American family dealing with secret imprisonment due to the father's mistaken Islamic nationality, the real juice of the film was given short shrift. As the female daughter of the police inspector investigating a terrorist bombing, Zineb Oukach added an increasingly interesting storyline that melded with the main narrative in unsuspecting ways. Too bad she was given so little screen-time. I could've done with more of her and less of Jake Gyleenhaal confronting his nationalist fears.

Charlize Theron

Ok, so allow me one big time name, ok? She deserves it. As the small-town police detective fighting female prejudices in Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah, Theron turns in another remarkable performance where she shrinks into character and obliterates all vain outward appearances. This is a strong performance and yet another example of Theron shedding her vanity for a role that doesn't play up her beauty, instead showcasing her brains and intuition. Just watch how her body language plays during a scene as fellow male detectives make fun of her. She doesn't react in any predictable manner, instead letting her presence do the actingfor her.


Chris Gaubatz said...

What a transformation for Leslie Mann, going from '40 Year Old Virgin' party chic to 'Knocked-Up' soccer mom. I was so impressed with her in 'Knocked-up'. Good list JB...dude here.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Baker said...

Moviezzz, I'm so glad you searched out and found Day Night Day Night. I can't scream to the rooftops any higher about this film. Brilliant from first frame to last.

Yes, "Factory Girl" was godawful, but Sienna is decent in it. I first remember her from "Layer Cake" where she stood out as the exception to just another pretty face without any acting chops.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.