Thursday, August 31, 2006

75 Great Performances: #8

8. Anna Magnani as Pina in Roma, Città Aperta (1945)

The scene where Pina, played to perfection by Anna Magnani, runs after her captured husband only to meet tragedy is now one of cinema's most iconic scenes. The Italian screen legend was directed by the great director Roberto Rossellini in Roma, Città Aperta to great effect. Without being the lead character, Pina becomes central to the story and its theme, and it is largely because of how well Magnani handles the emotionality of the role. This performance made her a star of Italian and international movies, giving her the status of world cinema icon. If only more actresses of today could have such range and depth as the late great Anna Magnani.


#9: Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972)

Review: The Devil Wears Prada

Has the great Meryl Streep ever not been...well, great? As the title character in the wickedly funny The Devil Wears Prada, Streep gives another masterful performance, easily making Miranda Priestly a not-entirely-soulless monster. Not many actresses could have made being a real bitch seem effortless, but then again, we're talking about the most nominated actress here. Anna Hathaway, the true lead of the film, does a fine job with it. I've been impressed with her since Brokeback Mountain, and she doesn't disappoint here. The film is great fun and has some depth, but it is still predictable and does not offer much of anything new in terms of its plot. Still, that's a minor consideration given that you're given nearly two hours of a good performance from Hathaway, fine contributions from Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt, and delicious nastiness from La Streep herself. Grade: B+

Image from IMDb

Review: My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Comic book- and superhero-themed movies are everywhere nowadays, so an interesting, unique concept is always welcome. The superpower twist to the age-old ex-girlfriend storyline was attractive enough when My Super Ex-Girlfriend was first announced, and the addition to the cast of Uma Thurman as the lead actress was icing on the cake. Did I come into the theatre expecting too much? I was expecting the film to at least be fun, but certainly not for it to be great. Still, I came out rather disappointed. The film did nothing for me, except have a few occasional laughs. Uma fit her role very well, but Luke Wilson has less than half that charisma of his brother Owen, Rainn Wilson was as boring and flat as film sidekicks/best buddies can get, and ever hilarious Anna Faris was severely underutilized. Thurman was practically the only saving grace of this lame (though sometimes amusing) superhero movie. Grade: C

Image from IMDb

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

75 Great Performances: #9

9. Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972)

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." As Tom Hanks's character in You've Got Mail claims, you can expect a man to be able to quote from one of the most revered films in cinematic history (particularly by men), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. The film is chockfull of interesting, even incendiary sequences, conversations, and characters. But of the latter facet of the epic, none is more forceful and imprinting as Don Vito Corleone, played to subtle, raspy-voiced perfection by the late great Marlon Brando. It speaks highly of Brando's skill that despite (or precisely because of) Corleone's placid manner, he is able to dominate the mental and oral landscape of anyone who sees the film. He is easily the most impersonated of the characters. Corleone had to have the balance of power and tranquility, a quiet authority that can be respected tremendously. In the hands of a less introspective actor, that balance would not have been achieved. But Brando nails the performance with the gravitas of a silent, thunder-less storm. In a rich history of characters played over his years in cinema, Corleone may not be his best acting showcase as far as skills go, but it is essential Brando and definitely the most realized and unforgettable.

#10: Uma Thurman as The Bride in Kill Bill (2003-2004)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

75 Great Performances: #10

10. Uma Thurman as The Bride in Kill Bill (2003-2004)
If film audiences were made to make a list of cinema's most iconic characters, Uma Thurman's The Bride in the Quentin Tarantino bloodbath masterpiece Kill Bill would definitely make it there. Hot, wronged chick with a score to settle, and oh how masterfully and colorfully (mostly in the hues of reds) she does it! The films themselves are brilliant works of cinematic and musical art, with adrenaline-pumping fight sequences (among the best in any film I've seen), heart- and foot-thumping music, and just pure geekdom fantasies come true. Add to the mix statuesque Greek-goddess-beauty Uma Thurman in the lead role, remaining mysteriously and seductively unnamed until the second film. The Bride (Beatrix Kiddo) could have been just another butt-kicking heroine with killer moves and looks, but Thurman infuses her with such emotional strength (picture above shows a particularly fine moment for her) that she goes beyond being mere eye candy or girl power figurehead. It is a true, amazing acting showcase, one that should have gotten her at least an Oscar nomination. But hey, even if she got snubbed for the major awards, there's no doubt that Thurman will forever be remembered as the one we joined for two films in her journey to "Kill Bill."

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Review: American Dreamz

"Dreamz...with a Z."

It's almost just as silly as the Anna Faris song (" more than saying sorry...") in Just Friends, but it's hardly indicative of the tone of the whole movie. Yes, Paul Weitz's American Dreamz can be a laugh-trip (primarily courtesy of Tony Yalda as the outrageous diva Iqbal Riza), but the political themes prevent the film from sagging into merely an insignificant parody of "American Idol." It's a good film, but it's hard to encapsulate the feelings that it invokes as a whole. It's not slapstick comedy, but it's too light and fluffy to be genuine political satire. Let's just say that it's an unusual comedy film that yes, I still recommend that you watch. But if you're a fan of Hugh Grant (as much as I am), don't expect as much charm and wit here as he exhibits in his better films, like Love Actually (where he's brilliant). This isn't his film. Grade: B

Review: Kubrador

The Philippine film Kubrador has been winning international awards for both the film itself and its lead actress, Gina Pareño. It is beyond any doubt a well crafted film, with a fine ensemble and a simple, significant storyline. Pareño in particular deserves a lot of praise for her exceptional work; there is no trace of falsehood or exaggeration in her acting, which seems effortless. But the camerawork, while mostly well executed, could at times be dizzying, and the ending sequence, while strong, can leave the audience unsatisfied (as I was). Still, overall, the film and Pareño deserve every accolade, and here's hoping for more. Grade: B+

FYC: Gina Pareño - Best Actress

Monday, August 14, 2006

75 Great Performances: 15-11

15. Paul Giamatti as Miles in Sideways (2004)

I believe that it is still one of the Academy's greatest mistakes that they did not give Paul Giamatti a nomination for his role in the critical darling Sideways. In a sea of actors playing real-life people that year, Giamatti's Miles was one of the most realized and brilliantly acted, quiet and understated.

14. Annette Bening as Julia Lambert in Being Julia (2004)

That same year, Annette Bening turned in one of the best and juiciest performances of her career, only to lose (again) to Hilary Swank. What does it take to have Bening win an Oscar? Outrageously over-the-top, sexy, defiant, regal...all these words apply to Bening's Julia Lambert, stage diva, in Being Julia. No one but her could have been Julia.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004)

It would seem odd that three of the performances in my list are from the same year (and so highly ranked). Blame it on freshness of impression and, of course, sheer talent. While Giamatti's turn in Sideways was the meek, passive performance, Leonardo DiCaprio's Howard Hughes was the firecracker, the powerhouse: bold and brazen. The role of the eccentric director in The Aviator allowed DiCaprio to explore and amazingly display a wide range of emotions in a rollercoaster head trip. Having gotten a Supporting nod once for his role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, DiCaprio seems to excel in portraying mentally challenged characters. But his range and depth of acting cannot be denied, easily proving that he's so much more than a pretty face.

12. Ben Kingsley as Massoud Amir Behrani in House of Sand and Fog (2003)

In House of Sand and Fog, Ben Kingsley plays the role of an Iranian immigrant who could quickly be labeled by many as a villain. With his stern, no-nonsense attitude, he prevents Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) from getting back her house after her eviction. It is easy to have no sympathy for and instead have ire toward Behrani, for he is consistently cold, but in the last half or so of the film, it is inevitable to feel the struggles of the man. Kingsley portrays Behrani with a power and a humanity that is not often seen in many performances of recent cinema. It is easily his best performance, and definitely for me was the best of 2003.

11. Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992)

Many of the same words that I had used to describe Annette Bening's Julia Lambert can also be used for Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns: over-the-top, sexy, defiant. Add to those slinky and campy (in a good way). Diva in leather. This is arguably Pfeiffer's most memorable performance; the images of her as loopy, confused Selina and especially in leather with a whip as rebellious Catwoman have been ingrained in the minds of viewers. In the media of television and film, Pfeiffer's is the essential Catwoman, strong yet conflicted and fragile. And no one could have looked better in that costume.

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Introduction and #s 75-51

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

75 Great Performances: 20-16

20. Peter O'Toole as T.H. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Peter O'Toole, who has yet to win a competetive Oscar, is in my opinion one of Hollywood's best actors. It is unfortunate that he did not win even for playing T.H. Lawrence in one of the greatest epics, Lawrence of Arabia. O'Toole was able to infuse the character with the strength and humanity that the historical Lawrence was known to have had, and not once does he falter in making Lawrence seem fragile and powerful at the same time. A lesser actor would have fumbled, or gone overboard in the portrayal of a man in a rage of conviction, but few actors could claim to have the same elegance and magnificence as Peter O'Toole.

Image from IMDb

19. F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus (1984)

Where is F. Murray Abraham nowadays? He was amazing as the envious composer Antonio Salieri in Milos Forman's Amadeus, a role that won him an Oscar for Best Actor over co-lead Tom Hulce who played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Old, broken Salieri recounting his past or the younger vessel of rage over the unlikely genius that was Mozart, F. Murray Abraham portrays the character with a respectful dignity, gestures and expressions that make him seem a victim of circumstance. Modern epics would do much better with actors like Abraham taking the reins.

18. Ben Kingsley as Mohandas Gandhi in Gandhi (1982)

Perhaps one of the most memorable and revered biopic performances of all time, Ben Kingsley's turn as the title character in Richard Attenborough's masterpiece Gandhi easily and deservedly won him a Best Actor Oscar. It was a great boon to Kingsley that he has Indian blood and thus effortlessly looked the part, but it should not cause one to overlook how brilliantly he played the great man of peace. His Gandhi is always serene, almost ethereal, even when he is made to show sterner stuff than is expected from one of his reputation. With Kingsley, as it was with Gandhi, gentleness and strength can form a formidable combination.

17. Benicio del Toro as Jack Jordan in 21 Grams (2003)

Few recent performances can be called searing and raw, the type that makes the viewer cringe, shudder, or even sit back in terror of the emotions so powerfully conveyed on screen. While Sean Penn and Naomi Watts (#49 in this list) have this type of performance in the masterful ensemble 21 Grams, it is Benicio del Toro's Jack Jordan that is truly incendiary. In an interview, even Melissa Leo (who plays Jack's wife Marianne) says she was scared of del Toro's character. The scene where he orders his daughter to allow her brother to hit her on the other arm is a particularly haunting one, where Jack shows his fanaticism. Few performances after this have matched it for its power to stimulate the emotions that it sets out to invoke.

Image from IMDb

16. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

In his short appearance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins is easily able to steal key scenes from his costar Jodie Foster, and in the process create one of cinema's most iconic characters. Some of the most memorable quotes ("A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.") come from Lecter, a deliciously portrayed villain that is more realized than many of cinema's more blatant and less subtle 'monsters.'

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Heath Ledger is The Joker

Warner Bros. has confirmed that Heath Ledger will be playing The Joker in The Dark Knight, sequel to last year's Batman Begins. Good choice, I say. Unexpected, but original and inspired. Meanwhile, Ryan Philippe is rumored to be getting the role of Harvey Dent, who will eventually become Two-Face in the next installment.