Friday, May 08, 2009

Leading Men, a Few Months Late

I know you all thought I had a) fallen back into my coma, and b) long ago abandoned any hope of finishing the Best of 2008 feature. Maybe by now you're bored of the idea that I'm in fact awake and still, in slow accretions, working toward the finish line on these Honorees. Thankfully, I've been in the middle of revising a scholarly article that turns heavily on performance description, which has reignited by impulses to sing the praises of more recent turns by consummate actors. And the work by my eight—yes, eight—Best Actor choices was so exemplary that there was no way I was whittling them down more than that, or forcing myself to be succinct in my praise. "Too much of a good thing" is rarely an expression for which I have any use.

Forgive me for not being ready with the 2007 equivalents, which I had steadily been doing for my last couple announcements, but you know what happens if I keep thinking of reasons to postpone. If you must know, were I ready to write up my Best Actors of 2007, they'd have the names Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire), Jones (In the Valley of Elah), Mühe (The Lives of Others), and Pinsent (Away from Her). Hopefully, I'll still get to them.

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Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I love reading your write-ups of performances, because they always reveal something I didn't see in the performance or deepen my understanding of the performance.

I also love how you bring up the point of Heath Ledger's performance not being called hammy, because it was one that I expected to receive that criticism. But, it wasn't hammy for all of the reasons you state.

Eight very awesome write-ups of four performances I loved (Penn, Rourke, Kingsley and Ledger), two performances I liked but really need to re-evaluate after that write-up (Brolin, Philippe) and two more performances I have yet to see.

An extra yay! for the Honourable Mention of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt. It's not a performance I loved, but there's quite literally one shot late on in the film where he's cornered by Sister Aloysius, and a believable kaleidoscope of emotions just got caught in one look. It was a moment that ranked upon some of the best of the year, so I'm sad the rest of his performance didn't match quite up to that level, even though it was quite great. In that moment, however, I finally got him as an actor.

2:49 AM, May 08, 2009  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

A great set of eight. I like every one.

I was especially surprised with Philippe after Breach but after Stop-Loss I saw something really dark in him that I like. Also Brolin was excellent, and probably had the most difficult role of the year.

Gordon Pinsent? He was fine at first but eventually he got completely overwrought and annoying. I'll be interested to read the write-up when it comes.


11:34 AM, May 08, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brooke: Thanks! Glad to hear this feedback, and I think I know the exact moment you're talking about with Hoffman. I agree that it isn't a constantly effective performance, but his best moments, for me, were the best moments that anyone in the film achieved.

@Cal: I know I am a bigger fan of Pinsent's work than almost anyone else I know is, so it's one reason I'll want to top up that feature once I finish with this one. Glad you're so persuaded by Brolin and Phillippe, too. I agree that Breach was a harbinger of good things to come for RP, but Stop-Loss still seemed like a huge step forward for me. Sort of Breach is Prada and Stop-Loss is Rachel, if you get what I mean.

1:40 PM, May 08, 2009  
Blogger Catherine said...

There's still two of your nominees I haven't seen (that'd be Philippe and Kingsley), but I'm afraid to say the one perf I'm dying to watch right this second is Rourke. Reading your wonderful summary of The Wrestler made me want to rush out and find a copy on dvd, just so I can rewatch, and sob.

2:18 PM, May 08, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

you write so beautifully! JEALOUS i am.

I can't really get behind Hoffman (but then, when I can I outside of Magnolia and Capote) because I was just maddened by the dour repetition -- I know that's a character choice but I need performances to be entertaining as well as emotionally authentic -- but otherwise love the list. I'm especially intrigued by teh Phillipe writeup because it's the one performance that didn't register to me either as a particularly great or inadequate one. I shall have to revisit.

4:57 PM, May 08, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

This all rocks. Even when I'm pretty blah on a couple of the films (W and Stop-Loss) I'm totally with you on the merits of those performances, and they're good enough to make me want to go back. (Both are so strong and memorable they actually added to my frustration with what was going wrong around them.) I happen to think Phillippe is a total blast rocking his Malkovich in Cruel Intentions, incidentally, but I'd hardly argue it was close to this breakthrough.

The work that needs defending most vigorously here is Kingsley's, since I know so many folks who disliked Elegy basically because of him, and I can't understand it. Did they really think he was better in The Wackness? I loved the fact that he's completely deconstructing the Roth archetype/ego while also embodying it so precisely and convincingly. World-class acting, without a doubt.

Wouldn't be the man to disagree with you on Penn, Rourke, or Ledger -- would anyone? -- and it's nice to see the superb Bégaudeau running them close: very easy to underrate how much acting skill is actually needed to "play yourself".

Even before seeing Synecdoche (next week!) it's an awesome field you've gathered, though I would totally have the sly and mesmerising Langella in here too, I'm afraid.

7:43 PM, May 08, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

Wonderful. It's such a pleasure to have you back that I won't sully the mood by saying what I really think of Kingsley. I kid, I kid. (Only slightly.)

The inclusion that really has me cheering here is Begaudeau, not just because he made my own personal 5-strong ballot (together with Penn, Rourke, Michael Fassbender and Mathieu Amalric), but because so few seem to understand what a genuinely resourceful and witty PERFORMANCE it is. As if "playing yourself" isn't the hardest brief an actor could get.

I'm surprised not to see Fassbender in the mix at all, but as you say, it was a deep field this year.

8:15 AM, May 09, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:16 AM, May 09, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

PS. If memory serves, Lionsgate and Brolin's people tried to go the Comedy/Musical route, but the HFPA nixed the classification -- I guess because "W." wasn't the laugh riot that "La Vie en Rose" was.

So blame the Foreign Press. That's always fun.

8:23 AM, May 09, 2009  

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