Thursday, July 28, 2011

Spotlight: Overlooked Performances of 2010

2010 saw some terrific performances. Some ended up with Oscar nominations, but these folks did not. Call them underrated, call them overlooked, whatever you wish. But without a doubt, these are the scene stealers of the year.

Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
I know Nicole Kidman was nominated for an Oscar for this film, but as wonderful as she is, the Academy got it all wrong. The spotlight should have gone to Dianne Wiest. I'm currently watching her in HBO's In Treatment, and am always amazed at her long, storied career as an actress. Glance at her IMDb profile - she's one of the most prolific performers in the business. So when I saw her in Rabbit Hole in which she played Kidman's mom, I was moved to tears. She grieved along with her daughter for the untimely loss of her grandson. But privately, her wounds reopened from the loss of her own son years earlier. It's a magnificent, deeply felt performance, unjustly ignored during awards time.

Pete Postlethwaite, The Town
I learned of Postlethwaite's death shortly after seeing this film and I took it harder than I expected. I admired him as an actor (In The Name of the Father is big favorite of mine), and I am in awe of his performance as mob boss Fergie. The way he sheathed those stems... Man, I was never more frightened by a florist in my life. The loss of Postlethwaite is a huge one for Hollywood but at least we have films like The Town to remind us how good he was.

Ruth Sheen, Another Year
Despite appearing in more than 50 titles, Ruth Sheen is a fresh face to me. A unusual face, for sure, but one that the camera just absolutely adores. She's breathtaking in Another Year where she plays the doting wife of Jim Broadbent (a perfectly matched couple, if I ever saw one). Not only does Sheen look the part, but she acts so effortlessly as an intelligent woman who clearly knows that she's a lucky lady. Some friends have it rough in life - with love, with money, with happiness. Sheen takes one look at her hubby in their homey, lived-in flat, and she's more than content. She just lives in bliss.

Ryan Reynolds, Buried
I've always liked Ryan Reynolds. He's not just a pretty face. His self-deprecating humor never fails to amuse me, and he has made middling films instantly watchable (The Proposal, Definitely, Maybe, The Nines). Reynolds always better than the material he is given. That is, until Buried came along. He rose to the challenge of anchoring a very difficult should-have-failed thriller about a man fighting his way out of a coffin. Not unlike Tom Hanks in Castaway, he manages to hold your attention while being the only actor on screen. That takes considerable charm and skill. Reynolds has been a star on the rise for some time now but this is the film that should put him right to the top.

Jonah Hill, Cyrus and Get Him To The Greek
Jonah Hill surprised the hell out of me this year. I was never really a fan of his. He had the same mannerisms in all of his films, essentially playing the same role over and over again. So imagine my surprise after I saw these two wildly different films this year. Get Him To The Greek was one of the funnier comedies to come out last summer and while Russell Brand was responsible for half of those laughs, Jonah Hill was just as successful as the film's hapless straight man. Pairing these unlikely guys together was a clever and inspired move. As for Cyrus, he delivered his most dramatic performance to date. He bounced off wonderfully with John C. Reilly as they navigated through a nasty territorial war to win the attention of Marisa Tomei. Hill certainly stretched this year and the results were positively enlightening.

Bill Murray, Get Low
Get Low was supposed to be a showcase for the legendary Robert Duvall, who was pitch perfect as an old coot who wants to attend his own funeral. But Get Low had an ace up its sleeve with Bill Murray, who played the funeral director. Discovering new talent is one thing, but rediscovering an old pro is just as rewarding. Murray had always been great at comedy (Quick Change, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day), but when he does his rare foray into drama, you are taken back by how moving he can be. Like in Lost in Translation, you discover his warm soul beneath those brown eyes. Get Low is Duvall's film to own but Murray gives it much needed heart.

Andy Garcia, City Island
There's nothing showy or awards-worthy about Andy Garcia's performance in City Island. It stands out for me because it has been years - and I mean years! - since I've seen how charming of an actor he can be with the right material. Sure, he had solid bit parts here and there over the years but rarely is he as genial and pleasant and wonderful as he is here. City Island is a delightful comedy about a dysfunctional Noo Yawk family and Garcia, as the frustrated actor-wannabe patriarch, made me feel right at home.

Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, Easy A
Easy A was a surprise winner of 2010. Not only was it one of the brighter comedies of the year, but it made money, was critically acclaimed and catapulted rising star Emma Stone into a hot commodity. I didn't love it, but I certainly welcomed its bite and comedic delivery. The best thing about Easy A is not the charming Stone herself but her extremely loose and liberal parents, as played with perfection by character actor stalwarts Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. These two performers are everywhere as of late and without question they light up every film they are in. Easy A is no exception. In fact, they are so effortlessly charming together that I demand the Hollywood gods to couple them in their own movie and in leading roles, no less.

Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
Greenberg is a low key charmer that features a surprisingly potent performance by newcomer Greta Gerwig. For the role of Florence, house/dog sitter and amateur singer, director Noah Baumbach plucked the virtually unknown Gerwig from obscurity and she ran away with the film. Florence is a slightly dim but big-hearted woman who catches the eye of the reclusive Roger (Ben Stiller). Gerwig is a wonderful discovery who more than holds her own against Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rhys Ifans. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Al Pacino, You Don't Know Jack
OK, I'm cheating a bit. Al Pacino won an Emmy and a Golden Globe, so his role as Jack Kevorkian is not exactly overlooked. The movie aired on cable so therefore it got a lower profile and that just gets my goat. Why are cable movies considered to be lower on the totem pole of entertainment? The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences needs to begin recognizing the great work that is produced on television. Put simply, Pacino's Kevorkian is one of the best things that he has ever done. Pacino is never consistent but when swings for the fences and hits, it's a remarkable thing to witness. The movie, as directed beautifully and delicately by Barry Levinson, is pretty great. Made for TV or not, a great film is a great film. John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Brenda Vaccaro provide terrific support but this is Pacino's film all the way. I will never think of Kevorkian the same way again. Ditto for Al Pacino.


Stevee Taylor said...

Pete Postlethwaite, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, Greta Gerwig...YES! They were so brilliant in their roles. Especially Pete, he really should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance. He was such a great actor.

Brent said...

Some great performances here! Agree that Postlewaite stands out!

Dave said...

Thanks for writing Stevee and Brent. We are in agreement in that Postlethwaite was a highlight of 2010!

Eric said...

Great selections! I agree with most of your choices, especially Ryan Reynolds and Bill Murray. I need to see You Don't Know Jack. It's a shame that it got very little coverage in the movie world.

Dave said...

@Eric - Get thee to Netflix and add to queue immediately! It's an engaging film, and for any fan of Pacino's, it's a must see.


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