Well, as you may have noticed by now, these two posts have nothing to do with this year’s very competitive Academy Awards. If you’ve already read part one you’ll know that I’m trying my best to list my favourite performances of all time and that, for some reason, they all seem to be heart-breaking and depressing. We’ll see if I can’t change that up a bit in part two when I tackle The Actors.
As an aside: Regarding the incredibly competitive (and surprisingly solid) Academy Award nominations, I will tackle them in our next issue. The ceremony is on March 2nd and, for the first time in a long time, I am truly stumped at who might win. The good news is that I love everyone involved and no matter how things turn out it looks like the odds are good that someone who truly deserves it is going to go home with an Oscar. Also, the (slow) Hong Kong release dates are finally – and just in time – dropping some of the years biggest movies on me, so I’ll be well prepared to fill out my ballot come Oscar time.
Ok, here we go. Actors.
Jim Carrey – The Cable Guy
Routinely ignored by critics and prestigious awards and continually praised simply as a “comedian” and nothing more, Jim Carrey has been giving stellar performances for decades. Jim Carrey is tremendously talented and while he can make us laugh, he always brings much more to the table than people realize. In DUMB AND DUMBER he was pitch perfect as the oblivious Lloyd. He was great as the real life Andy Kaufman in THE MAN ON THE MOON, was uncharacteristically quiet and defeated as Joel in ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and gave maybe his most loved performance as the paranoid but loveable Truman in THE TRUMAN SHOW. The one that came closest to making MY list was his amazing multi-character portrayal in the underrated LEMONY SNICKETS: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. But, in the end, my absolute favourite Jim Carrey performance is his hilarious (but oh so terrifying) turn as the titular Cable Guy in THE CABLE GUY. Ben Stiller’s underrated masterpiece is equal parts comedy and trippy horror movie. Jim Carrey’s performance effortlessly turns up the temperature ever so slowly until, by the end of the movie, he is a stark raving lunatic. My favourite moment of all is at the very end when Carrey, nearly dead and being wheeled away on a stretcher, leaves us with one final parting jab: a Ricky Ricardo laugh. Here’s hoping he becomes an Oscar winner (or even an Oscar nominee!) in my lifetime.
Nicholas Cage – Adaptation (2002)
What happened to Nicholas Cage? Most of my friends think of Cage as nothing more than a punchline in his own movies. In CON AIR, GHOST RIDER and much, much worse Nicholas Cage has developed a reputation for saying yes to just about whatever movie comes his way. But while he doesn’t seem to care about his resume – Nicholas Cage was once capable of real greatness. In fact, Cage used to be one of the best actors around, starring in classics such as LEAVING LAS VEGAS, RAISING ARIZONA and the movie I came here to talk about today: Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s ADAPTATION. Shining in not one, but two roles, Cage plays two very different twin brothers. On one side he portrays the films main protagonist, the sweaty, insecure Charlie Kaufman who is trying so desperately to work in a film industry that is constantly trying to compromise one’s integrity. On the other side he plays the cocky, lucky, hilarious (and fictional) sell-out Donald Kaufman who’s embrace of cliche and compromise make him phenomenally successful in the same industry that so tortures his brother. The chemistry that Cage manages to have with himself is incredible and his range is the two roles is extraordinary. Three great movies hardly makes up for dozens of bad ones – but I’m apt to forgive Nicholas Cage anyway. I could watch ADAPTATION any day and every time I do Cage’s performances aways surprises me. Even after all these years I still find myself keeping an eye on his career because you never know… he might decide to do something really great again, and be really great in it.
Ricky Gervais – The Office (UK)
What else can I say about The Office? Packed with laughs, heart and spot-on realism it is endlessly quotable and rewatchable. It is the embodiment of artistic restraint and integrity – Gervais and Merchant paired everything down to only two 6-episode seasons with a 90 minute Christmas special to tie everything together. Great actors round out a cast full of rich characters and the story arc elevated the workplace comedy to truly surprising emotional places. It really is the perfect show. Ali and I recently rewatched what we call “The American Office” and really, really love it but it just can’t hold a candle to the original. I think that comes down to a few very simple things. First, Gervais, Merchant and the BBC kept things so short, so finite and so rich and they never went back to the well. That is just not possible in the US where if there’s money to be made you wring that cloth out ’til it’s dry. Second, there is just no one like Ricky Gervais. He’s changed over the years (and almost turned into David Brent truth be told) but he was pitch perfect in The Office. It’s a cliche to say but it was truly the role he was born to play. Mixing oblivious arrogance, cringe-inducing awkwardness and a painful lack of self-awareness with enormous heart and sympathy has made Gervais’ Brent one of the most compelling characters in the history of television. The Office changed TV. It made a star out of both of its creators and it will live forever in the hearts of its fans. It is a perfect show and the world is a better place because of it.
Ewan McGregor – Moulin Rouge
Ali and I were talking about Ewan McGregor the other day and I told her that, like Jim Carrey, McGregor had never won or even been nominated for an Academy Award. “Not even for Moulin Rouge!?” She replied. I googled it to be sure. Nicole Kidman got a nod but not McGregor. “Nicole Kidman!” She said incredulously. “But he’s the one you fall in love with, not her!” I could not have said it better myself. Moulin Rouge was one of the first movies Ali and I went to when we were dating. I wanted to see Pearl Harbour, which I had already seen (yikes), but she dragged me to Moulin Rouge instead. In hindsight, I honestly don’t know why I was so reluctant to see it. I suppose I wasn’t a huge fan of Kidman and didn’t know who McGregor was at the time, but it was a Baz Luhrman movie and I was a huge fan of both Romeo and Juliet and Strictly Ballroom – that alone would have made me first in line to see it today. But what can I say? I was young. I was stupid. 20 minutes into it, when he suddenly belts out Your Song to a smitten Satine I was completely in love with Ewan McGregor. Love!? Above all things I believe in love. Love is a many splendored thing! All you need is love! McGregor’s performance as the tragically naive Christian hit me like a ton of bricks. I get a little choked up every time I see that movie – there are so many great parts: “Because she doesn’t love you! Him… she doesn’t love him…” The finale of the film gets me every time – beginning with “Thank you for curing me of my ridiculous obsession with love!” all the way to heart wrenching goodbye of “I can’t go on without you though” (I’m tearing up as I type this) the movie is just plain moving. I love singing. I love love. I love Scottish people. What can I say? When it comes to Ewan McGregor I’m firmly in the Louis C.K. camp.
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
I wrote at length about Breaking Bad in our last issue so I’ll try not to retread that same ground. Because of the nature of TV – especially modern TV with its high production value and its ability and determination to tell a long story well – Bryan Cranston was able to do something truly extraordinary with Walter White. There is a tremendous arc to that character. He begins Season 1: Episode 1 a bland, beaten down defeated high school teacher who, when faced with the end of his life, finds he has nothing to show for it. Cranston presents this initial Walter White with so much nuance – the brilliant chemist, the loving father and the unfulfilled potential is all just a husk, a peeling shell of a man that could have been. He is the embodiment of impotence – all dressed in bland khaki and with a moustache that Cranston worked hard to make as anaemic as possible. And then, throughout the series, Walter White takes one small step at a time into another world. His choices wake him up. He finds he is stronger than he would have thought. He finds he is good at something – really good at it. He builds himself an empire. He tests his strength and finds himself to be strong. For a time he even beats his cancer. He creates Heisenberg, a terrifying overlord who becomes infamous. He transforms himself into a new man. But the beauty of Breaking Bad, and the beauty of Cranston’s performance is much more complex, much more interesting. There are times when Walter reaches for Heisenberg and he’s not there. There are times when a weak Walter shows through the cracks in Heisenberg’s armour. By the end of the series, when everything is crumbling around him and Walter White and Heisenberg have finally become one small man once more, Cranston is able to reveal the true transformation of Walter White. At the end of all things, alone with the tools that brought him back to life, Walter has finally joined his two lives into one – a tragic union between his despair and his accomplishment.
Tom Hanks – Big
Well this one was a toss up. I knew from the outset that it would be Tom Hanks – I just love the guy and each of his performances has made a real impact on me – but I had a hard time deciding which one to settle on. I was really close to choosing his solo act in CAST AWAY, or the goofy charm of TURNER AND HOOCH, but in the end I chose a performance that I think represents everything I love about Tom Hanks. BIG is funny, and its sad, and its the first real step up into the big leagues for Hanks as an actor. There’s so many little things about BIG that make the performance a stand-out for me. Some of the first things that spring to mind are small, like the way Hanks pedals his bike at the end just like a kid would, or the way he looks when he’s left alone in the scary New York City apartment for the first time. BIG is like blending of all the great Tom Hanks performances into one – he has the quiet looks where he purses his lips together in that signature Tom Hanks way. He gets to be exasperated Tom Hanks, with the pitching of his voice in that certain way that current Hanks almost never does anymore. And it has real drama and pathos matching anything that he would latter bring to the tablem equalling even those big league works that would go on to give him so much awards recognition down the line. BIG was Tom Hanks’ first Academy Award nomination. BIG was one of the first Tom Hanks movies I ever saw. BIG is a special achievement because the movie seems light – when you suggest it to people they think of it as a comedy, or as a light family romp. But watch it again and you’re struck by how sad it is, how good it is, how much it rings true. BIG has a great message about what being a good man is all about and about how much childlike enthusiasm can transform the bleak landscape of adult cynicism. Its a love story. Its a love letter to childhood. And its my favourite Tom Hanks performance – by a nose.