Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Fifties for 2012: Best Actor

Regular readers—the ones who remember when I was a semi-regular writer—know that every September I publish lists of my favorite movie-making achievements from the first 50 U.S. commercial releases I've seen in the calendar year.  I somehow always hit this milestone in late August or early September, as was true this year, though the ongoing Big Year at work means I'm a few weeks late actually posting my lists.  In many ways, this hasn't mattered: of the next seven U.S. releases I've seen since hitting the big "50" mark, only the hilariously and charismatically acted Think Like a Man would have made a dent in these rosters. As for the others, Alps, Bachelorette, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Cabin in the Woods, The Five-Year Engagement, and Snow White and the Huntsman, whatever their relative strengths (and they all have some), would have whiffed even if I had seen them in time. You can see the 50 movies eligible for consideration here, with Bullhead as the cutoff point.

So, before the bread goes totally stale, and before it gets too awkward to exclude early-autumn highlights like the beautifully played Hello I Must Be Going, the richly conceived Looper, and the impeccably constructed How to Survive a Plague, here begins this year's midway honor roll...

Best Actor
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum for 21 Jump Street, for impeccable and uproarious chemistry even while carving out distinctive personas, winking at the past while wholly delivering in the now;

Tommy Lee Jones for Hope Springs, for his 101 variations on ornery reticence, many flavored with humor, desire, or embarrassment, and just barely signaling a will to improve;

Clarke Peters for Red Hook Summer, for conveying Enoch's decency and his indecency with fresh approaches, across Spike Lee's vertiginous range of heightened and quiet styles;

Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, for hewing to a wormy, clammy core of inarticulate longing and self-reviling discomfort even when he showboats, and for the first processing; and

Channing Tatum for Magic Mike, for emanating a total ease in his body and his relationships but a gnawing unease in his circumstances, all in a relaxed, Soderberghian key.

Honorable mentions are led by Michael Fuith in Michael and then rounded out by Adam Scott in Friends with Kids, Anders Danielsen Lie in Oslo, August 31st, Lucas Pittaway in The Snowtown Murders, and Liam Neeson in The Grey.

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Anonymous BVR said...

WOOHOO!!! Glad to see your back blogging, Nick! Looking forward to the rest of your choices.

10:32 PM, September 29, 2012  
Anonymous goran said...

Channing for Magic Mike? Seriously?

Loved watching him (loooved watching him). But in terms of depth, naturalism and plausible scene-to-scene character evolution - I swear he was even outdone by the likes of Alex Pettyfer. And I didn't find anything about his performance 'relaxed' outside of a couple of the dance sequences. I could tell he was aiming for 'relaxed' but it all came off as very much self-conscious, narcissistic and strained to me.

If I did my own rankings I'd even go so far as to consider ranking him among the worst of the year. Except - I'm not sure if I mentioned - I loooved watching him. I'd even want him to headline the sequel, by all means.

All that said - what a joy it is to read your opinion on all of these performances. Can't wait for the rest of the Fifties.

I was also wondering what you thought of Michael the film. I feel very weird saying this but I did find it transfixing and rather underrated.

1:05 AM, September 30, 2012  
Blogger James T said...

Sorry for the poor comment but I have like zero caffeine in my blood right now so I can't do anything better..

Thank you!!!

3:23 AM, September 30, 2012  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

I won't lie -- waking up to this was, if not quite equivalent to Christmas, at least equivalent to some holiday where small but precious gifts are given. Bigger than Labour Day. Lovely to have you back.

And though we haven't been simpatico on quite a few movies recently, I'm delighted by the degree to which I agree with this list. Mine would also include the Tatum double-shot (though I'd leave out Hill, since I think he's actually lagging behind Tatum's comic energy for most of the film, though he's getting ever more endearing), and Jones and Phoenix are pretty much essential, I should think.

We diverge on Clarke Peters only because I haven't seen it. From your list, therefore, I'd round my five out with Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master. I'm curious: is he not in your honourable mentions because you don't think the performance is up there, or because you're buying him as a supporting presence?

Missing by a whisker: Paul Rudd in Wanderlust, while I'd also add Matthias Schoenaerts in Bullhead, Neil Maskell in Kill List and Daniel Henshall in Snowtown to the honourable mentions.

Strange how few foreign-language turns seem to feature this year, no?

4:41 AM, September 30, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Yay! Totally on board with Tatum and Jones. I'd add my love for the passages in Magic Mike where Tatum gets to turn on the charm and simulate a practiced goofball (and at times, be forced to recalibrate when faced with an unexpected situation). So I agree with Goran on the substance but not the take on Tatum's performance, which I feel is deliberately performative in ways I highly appreciated.

That aside, your Tatum/Hill double shot makes me wonder if you'd have done the same with last year's New/Cullen situation (I personally favored the demands on and execution of one actor more).

7:29 AM, September 30, 2012  
Blogger Lev Lewis said...

What joy to have you back. Can't argue with Chan, Phoenix and Tommy (or Peters for that matter, I just haven't seen it). Based upon your eligible films I'd try and find space for the Kill List men, MccConaughey in Killer Joe, Patrick Wang in In the Family and Fassy in Prometheus (though I recall you being cool on him in that). Can't wait for more!

12:56 PM, September 30, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@BVR: Thanks for the welcome back!

@Goran: I liked Michael the film in exactly the same way. As for Tatum, I guess we just saw him differently, but I thought he found the right blend of perking up and playing cool around Cody Horn, and gave the right frantic edge to being "relaxed" in the bank-loan scene, but elsewhere seemed genuinely relaxed and open to everything going on in the script. But as you know, I like divergences of opinion!

@Guy: I do think Hoffman is a supporting player in The Master, though I'm not sure he'll make that list, either. I liked some things the performance wasn't but couldn't get too excited about what it was. Strong but not my favorite, and not that well-served by the script in certain ways. Schoenaerts and Rudd would fall right outside by listed runners-up. Maskell's a great call and should probably be in my runners-up. Henshall I'm putting in Supporting, but I know that's a blurry call, too.

@Colin: We've got the same read on Tatum, as you'll see above. I was planning on a double-cite for Cullen and New last year, though the disproportionate emphasis on Cullen over New in a lot of the reviews and press have made me a bit protective of New. Is that who you liked better? I found a lot more in his performance on second viewing, especially.

@Lev: I liked the ensemble in Killer Joe more than any one person in it, I think. I liked Wang through a lot of In the Family but got a little weary of his approach by the end; that long deposition sequence was hard on almost everybody in the movie, but especially him. (Then again, he wrote and directed it too, so...)

1:25 PM, September 30, 2012  
Blogger Lev Lewis said...

Funny, that deposition is a large reason why I find the film so accomplished. I actually just finished a grant for a new film I'm working on and cited that scene as a reference for what can be accomplished with meager means. Would love to know your objections to it, though. I really liked the film, though I admit Wang's character is pushed a little too far into sainthood.

4:56 PM, September 30, 2012  
Blogger John T said...

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano (or the actressexuals hoping each year we'll for the great return of their beloved Debra Winger/Kathleen Turner/Jane Fonda/insert your favorite underused actor here to a role that's worthy), I've been hoping for your return. What a delight to have you back and discussing such a wide spread of performances, and I have to say I'm in your corner about the Tatum squared-the guy has charisma and wicked timing, and I'm pretty excited to see how he handles the bevy of opportunities about to come his way.

P.S. I've also returned to blogging-three months and going strong!

10:15 PM, October 01, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

@Nick: I appreciated New a lot more than Cullen, just on a scene-by-scene basis, for similar reasons to what we're citing for Tatum here. His character puts it on himself to appear on top of situations, when the script (and burgeoning relationship) is readied to drag things out from under his feet. The scene where he grapples with Cullen's door trying to get yet another last word in was a gem. Plus, his line readings and drug/alcoholic hazes were more varied and interesting than Cullen's. (Not to bash Cullen here, of course, since his performance was also detailed and wondrous. I just thought New's role was more demanding.)

11:20 AM, October 03, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin: I probably agree with all of that. Though Cullen's ability to stay so interesting and sympathetic while being so immobilized and self-effacing in so many ways was also really impressive. In any case, that sense of New's character being more agitated than he admits - and even the stray signs that he might be a really debatable person - made him the headline in my second viewing. It sounds blunt to say it, and I intend no disrespect at all to the lovely Cullen or his work, but I do think we saw yet another iteration of the media giving more credit to the straight actor playing a gay man than the gay actor playing a gay man.

11:27 AM, October 03, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

To be fair, I've seen too few gay actors get a shot at playing viewpoint protagonists to fully get behind that sentiment (in Weekend's case, at least), since I think acting evaluations tend to skew more favorably towards those. Though I agree the evidence points that way in general.

And you're right about Cullen, of course; I suspect the two would have taken two separate spots in my top five (if I made such things), and for reasons distinct enough that I wouldn't have been comfortable lumping them together.

1:05 PM, October 03, 2012  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

Nick -- so glad to read that last comment. It's terrible that that always happens. Both actors are quite wonderful in WEEKEND and both really have much more difficult parts than it first appears. But everyone always assumes the gay man playing the gay man has it easy. I swear Ian McKellen would've won for GODS AND MONSTERS if he were a straight actor and that Rupert Everett and not Gregg Kinnear would've been nominated in 1997.

9:27 PM, October 03, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin and @Nathaniel: Agreeing with both of you. There is more than one thing going on here, esp re: viewpoint-protagonist issue, but one of the big things going on is an old and exasperating trend. Probably lame on my part to think in terms of a shared nod.

10:24 PM, October 03, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:31 PM, October 03, 2012  
Blogger Colin Low said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:34 PM, October 03, 2012  

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