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A few months back, I wrapped up my Best Performances of the Decade series. But while that list included a lot of familiar names and acclaimed performances, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the performances that not everyone has seen. This list contains no Oscar or Golden Globe nominated roles, and I’ve limited myself to performances that received little or no awards attention and were relatively overlooked by audiences (as much as I think that Jim Carrey, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rebecca Hall should’ve been nominated for Oscars, they did receive a considerable awards attention elsewhere for the roles in question, which disqualified them from the list). Here are ten unfairly under-recognized performances from the past decade, in alphabetical order.
Daniel Bruhl – Good Bye Lenin!
Inglourious Basterds may have introduced German actor Daniel Bruhl to a wider North American audience, but it’s 2003′s Good
Bye Lenin! that really showcases his skills. Bruhl’s charismatic performance carries the film, and he nails the sense of whimsy that permeates every scene. Heartbreaking at times and hilarious at others, Bruhl’s performance shows enough genuine charm to cross all language barriers.
Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote
Clifton Collins Jr. is a solid character actor who has lately been favouring tiny roles in big studio films (Star Trek, Brothers). But if there’s one film that proves why he should get bigger roles, it’s Capote. Playing one of the two murderers that Truman Capote investigated for In Cold Blood, Collins makes his character Perry disarmingly and chillingly sympathetic. Collins is every bit as good as lead Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the scenes that they share together are breathtakingly intimate.
Abbie Cornish – Bright Star
Abbie Cornish’s performance as Fanny Brawne, the young love interest of poet John Keats, is just as beautiful as the cinematography in Bright Star. She revels in Fanny’s feisty modernity, but also reflects the melancholy of her restrained life. As Fanny’s relationship with Keats evolves, so does Cornish’s performance – ranging from star-struck to distraught over the course of the film. It truly is a breath of fresh air.
Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
A favourite performance among his fans, Robert Downey Jr.’s work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proves why so many people love him. He’s hilarious, bumbling, and sexy as our protagonist and snarky narrator. Always a scene-stealer, Downey is the epitome of charisma here.
Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild
Previously best known for his work in the teen sex romp The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch stunned audiences with his raw performance in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Into the Wild. Playing a young man who gives up his material possessions and sets out for the Alaskan wilderness, Hirsch is often the only person on screen throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. Hirsch takes what could have been a purely preachy character and injects a sense of vulnerability that makes his optimism admirable. He’s entirely charismatic and compelling.
Jared Leto – Requiem for a Dream
Ellen Burstyn received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but the unsung MVP of the film is Jared Leto. Leto’s strangely iconic turn as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life coupled with his foray into emo music has made him something of a critical punching bag, but he proves what an amazing actor he can be here. Much like the film itself, Leto’s performance as Harry is dark and harrowing. It easily could have become caricature, but his performance as a drug-addled optimist cuts right to the bone.
Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose
As one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, it’s surprising to see how often Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Ballad and Jack and Rose is overlooked. It may not be as “big” as some of the other performances that he gave in the past decade, but Lewis’ work here is just as good as anything else he’s done. Playing a quietly desperate, confused man, Lewis’ performance is heartbreaking and unforgettable.
Guy Pearce – Factory Girl
Always a chameleon, Guy Pearce’s turn as the legendary Andy Warhol is uncanny. To me, the entire film is underrated, but Pearce’s performance is certainly the highlight of Factory Girl. The character is often downright unlikeable, and Pearce’s snarky screen presence is striking.
Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels
Sam Rockwell is an actor who is just starting to get the recognition that he deserves, and it’s easy to see why with a film like Snow Angels. David Gordon Green’s story of small-town tragedy is disturbingly beautiful, and Rockwell is stunning as a recovering-alcoholic-turned-evangelist. The film’s bombastic final moments are only amplified by the quiet, desperate journey that Rocwell’s performance takes us on.
Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me
You Can Count on Me is a film that I recently caught up with, and while it provided my favourite Laura Linney performance to date, the real stand-out for me was Mark Ruffalo. His character is an insufferable screw-up, yet rather than making him a downbeat loser, Ruffalo revels in his messiness and makes him a purely charming, memorable guy. There are no big “cinematic” moments in the film, but this allows Ruffalo to give an all-around great performance, rather than relying on select scenes to stand out.
Samantha Morton – Control
Michael Angarno – Snow Angels
Ryan Gosling –The United States of Leland
Keri Russell – Waitress
Jason Bateman – Juno
Benicio Del Toro – Thing We Lost in the Fire
10. Astro Coast – Surfer Blood
At ten songs and a total of forty minutes, Astro Coast is breezy and concise. It may be easy to play the “Spot the Influences” game with Surfer Blood, but that hardly matters when the album is so inherently listenable.
9. Transference – Spoon
After the candy-coated blast of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon return with a grittier, grounded batch of songs here. “Written in Reverse” shows a surprisingly intense facet to Brit Daniel’s usually off-handed singing style, and the whole album feels refreshingly innovative for a band with such a signature sound.
8. Together – The New Pornographers
Thirteen years into their career, The New Pornographers give us a diverse, mesmerizing batch of songs on their fifth full-length disc, Together. The highlight of the disc is Neko Case’s showcase piece, the fierce pop gem “Crash Years”, but each song is gripping in its own right.
7. Teen Dream – Beach House
As the title promises, the third album from this Baltimore duo is downright dreamy. Victoria Legrand’s voice floats beautifully over the album’s ten tracks, and Teen Dream is perfect for just about any mood.
6. High Violet – The National
Like its wonderful predecessor, Boxer, High Violet as a whole is a grower. But it doesn’t take more than one listen to appreciate the beauty of songs like “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Conversation 16″. Matt Beninger is just as bummed out as ever, thankfully.
5. Gorilla Manor – Local Natives
This L.A. quintet’s debut disc is a blend of many different styles, but their multi-layered harmonies most closely echo the folk of Fleet Foxes. “Shape Shifter” shimmers while “Sun Hands” is a foot-stomper, but the whole album is gorgeous.
4. Contra – Vampire Weekend
Returning after the success of their debut album couldn’t have been easy, but Vampire Weekend’s second effort is just as good, in my opinion. “Holiday” and “Cousins” are pop gems, and Contra maintains and expands upon their world music influence.
3. I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling
At the ripe old age of 20, Laura Marling is writing some of the most beautiful, haunting folk tunes of recent memory. Ryan Adams is a fan of her (and the feeling is mutual), and the raw honesty of songs like “I Speak Because I Can” and “Rambling Man” recall Adams’ own gutting masterpiece, Heartbreaker.
2. Brothers – The Black Keys
Back with their sixth album, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney top themselves with this smart, tight set of songs. They’re up to their usual ferocity, but the album still feels entirely fresh thanks to the strength of songs like “Next Girl” and ” She’s Long Gone”
1. Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons
Not receiving a North American release until 2010, Sigh No More is the breakthrough debut of the year so far. “Little Lion Man”, the band’s unlikely hit, is propulsive, and the rest of the album is full of heartfelt sing-a-longs, too. It begs for many, many repeat listenings.
Despite what the title of The Black Keys sixth full-length album may suggest, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are not siblings (and, unlike another popular duo, The White Stripes, they’re not pretending to be). But there’s such easiness in their collaboration at this point that one could easily think otherwise.
While other recent musical duos like Japandroids and The Kills bask in the jangly limits of guitar and drums, The Black Keys seem to take pride in doing as much with one song as two people can physically do. They’ve always played as one unit – with Auerbach on vocals and guitar, and Carney on drums – but Brothers is their most cohesive effort to date.
As a whole, Brothers slants more towards slow-burning blues than to the psychedelic rock of early singles like “Set You Free”. Auerbach and Carney have clearly settled into a groove, and it’s one that suits them well. “She’s Long Gone” is blistering and loping, with Auerbach wailing about a girl who’s gone “like Moses through the corn”. “Next Girl”, a sludgy stomper about past mistakes, combines the perfect amount of sludge, soul, and guitar solos to make for one of The Black Keys’ best songs yet.
The album also explores the different influences that can be found in the band’s music. “Never Gonna Give You Up” fully realises their retro inspirations with the addition of horns and a motown beat, while “Ten Cent Pistol” plays on swampy southern rock.
Having been around for a while, these Akron natives boast audible evolution here. Auerbach now seems to favour an introspective, crisp singing style, rather than the crackling wail he unleashed in the past. This added maturity is refreshing, but a couple of additional up-tempo rockers wouldn’t hurt Brothers at all. Near the end of the disc, things get a touch too mellow to maintain the level of interest of the opening five tracks.
The songs on Brothers are more easily digestible than those on The Black Keys’ previous album, 2008′s great Attack and Release, with only one song clocking in at over five minutes. The band is clearly on the rise (Brothers debuted at #3 on the Billboard Chart, making it the band’s most successful sales week ever), and the songs here make it easy to see why. But it’s refreshing to see the band grow without sacrificing the root of their back-to-basics appeal in a time where selling out and cashing in is virtually expected in alternative music.
It’s been a crazy couple of days for movie trailers, giving us the first look at five of my most anticipated films of the year (I didn’t get a chance to talk about the Howl trailer, but it certainly looks intriguing). Now we’re getting a glimpse at Ben Affleck’s directorial follow-up to 2007′s Gone Baby Gone (a film that I loved), entitled The Town.
It looks quite similiar to Gone Baby Gone, with the mean streets of Boston of full display. Rebecca Hall is a fantastic actress and looks great here, but I’m not sure if I’m buying Blake Lively as the tough gal from the wrong side of the tracks (and she’ll have a hell of a time living up to Amy Ryan’s similar-looking performance). It’s nice to see Jon Hamm stepping out of the 60′s, though.
Like the trailer for Gone Baby Gone, this paints The Town as a very conventional crime film, but I’m hoping (as was the case with Gone Baby Gone) that this trailer simply isn’t doing the film justice. If we can get some of the moral introspection and fine acting that we got in Affleck’s previous work, The Town could turn out to be one of the best films of the year.
In today’s second Zach Galifianakis movie trailer premiere, we get a first look at Todd Phillips’ Due Date.
With two naturally hilarious leads, Due Date does looks suitably funny. A few moments in the trailer made me laugh (“Hand me that dog, I will rip it in half”), but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Galifianakis seems to be playing a nearly identical character to Alan in The Hangover (Phillips’ previous directorial effort), and it sort of looks like that film, but with a dog instead of a baby. It looks funny, and I will automatically watch it because Robert Downey Jr. is in it, but it all feels a bit too familiar.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar), It’s Kind of a Funny Story stars Kier Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, and Zach Galifianakis. It’s based on a young adult novel of the same name written by Ned Vizzini, but despite thoroughly enjoying the book and being a huge fan of Half Nelson, my excitement level for the movie adaptation had been surprisingly tepid. But from the looks of this trailer, I’m pretty excited now.
It looks like it keeps the spirit of the book, and Zach Galifianakis looks like he turns in a really solid, surprsingly heartwarming performance. The movie looks like a fun little indie. And I’ve always thought that Broken Social Scene’s “7/4 Shoreline” and Ida Maria’s “Oh My God” would fit really well in the right movie/trailer.
It’s time for some self-congratulatory celebration, because Times Like Those is officially one year old!
I started the blog on a whim back on July 10, 2009, and amazingly, I’ve managed to continue posting fairly frequently. With 118 posts to show for the past year, I can’t help but feel a bit proud that I’ve managed to keep it going.
And what could be a better birthday present for a blog that worships Ryan Adams than this news from the man’s own Facebook page?:
“Hey there. I’ve been computer-less in NYC for a few weeks recording. It was great. I made 25 songs but I only like 2 of them- only 2 of them will be good enough so I am going to go on another journey to find some more. I am working very very hard and doing my best. LOVE LOVE LOVE ya’ll and I send you invisible snacks, fuzzy hugs and rocknroll fruit loop dreamsocknroll fruit loop dreams…. XX t… XX theDRA”
“p.s. for everyone that has been asking… I am thinking about doing some solo shows later this year, much later-Me+acoustic or possibly half like that & half w/ the insanely badassed new band I have assembled out here in Cali-I dunno yet tho-still findin my balance in every way post Meniere’s. I am kind of itching to play though. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for asking/ keepin the faith : )”
And in further celebration, I’m going to drop all attempt that intelligent or artful critique (psh…like there’s ever been any of that on this blog). Instead, here are a few gratuitous photos of some Times Like Those favourites, inspired by my blatantly hypocritical previous article about male actors and superhero movies.
Uh…congrats on the baby, dude… I guess?
^This somehow manages to be sexy and hillarious
I like a good superhero movie as much as the next person. I really liked the first two Spider-Man and X-Men movies, and The Dark Knight even found its way into my top 10 movies of the decade list. But I feel like we’re getting a huge overkill of suited-up action capers. Now we’re even getting superhero franchise reboots within five years of each other, and a lot of Hollywood’s most promising young stars are suiting up.
The cast of X-Men: First Class is coming together nicely. James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement) is playing a young Professor Xavier, while Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds) will play his nemesis, Magneto. And just today, it was announced that Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man, About a Boy) will be taking on the role of Beast, while Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) is rumoured to be playing a young Cyclops. As much as I like all four actors, I feel like the X-Men movie franchise wore out its welcome a while ago. X-Men: The Last Stand (if only it had lived up to its title) was borderline awful, and last year’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine felt totally unnecessary.
The same goes for news of the Spider-Man reboot, which will star Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). As well, Chris Evans (who is no stranger to superhero movies) will be taking on Captain America, with An Education‘s Dominic Cooper joining the supporting cast.
But I suppose most actors try the mainstream at some point in their career, if they can. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor known for his decidedly smaller film choices, is making his way to IMAX screens with his work in Inception, and his upcoming roles in thrillers Premium Rush and Looper.
To be clear, I don’t blame any young actor for taking a role in a big-budget movie. The goal is to get your name out there and increase your paycheck, and starring in films like Boy A and Rory O’Shea Was Here for the rest of your life is hardly the best way to accomplish that. But as I see more and more of my favourite young actors sign on to these superhero romps, I can’t help but feel slightly disheartened. As great of an opportunity as a big role in a summer blockbuster can be, I feel like a lot of these actors were already on the rise. And maybe I just take my movies to seriously, but I’d much rather see talented actors in roles that push them and evoke emotion from me. Even when I see Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, which is undeniably fun, I kind of just wish that I was watching him in a different movie, instead. It’s not so much that I’m blaming the actors for taking the roles (because, really, who could resist?), it’s more that I’m getting sick of superhero/comic book adaptations.
**(Side Note: Now that I think about it, perhaps the parade of highly-coifed photos at the top of this post, while quite enjoyable, doesn’t really fit with my plea to respect acting skill over marketability… But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ditch the eye candy any time soon.)
Back in March, I posted my Ridiculously Early Predictions for the 2011 Oscars, and that post has actually become my most viewed page by a fair margin. Now that a few of the films have been released, and we’ve seen trailers for others, I have some updates to the predictions (for example, The American looks much different than I had imagined). I decided to post them here, and to add them to the original post so that more people can find them.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out my latest predictions over at my 2011 Oscar Predictions page. It will be updated frequenty with photos, commentary, and my up-to-date predictions.
Names and titles marked with an asterisk are new to my predicted line-ups as of July.
Never Let Me Go
Toy Story 3*
The Tree of Life
The Way Back*
Clint Eastwood – Hereafter
Terrence Mallick – The Tree of Life
Christopher Nolan – Inception
Julian Schnabel – Miral*
Peter Weir – The Way Back*
Javier Bardem – Biutiful*
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
Stephen Dorff – Somewhere*
Robert Duvall – Get Low
Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine
Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway – Love and Other Drugs
Diane Lane – Secretariat*
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone*
Leslie Manville – Another Year*
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale – The Fighter
Josh Brolin – True Grit
Andrew Garfield – Never Let Me Go
Ed Harris – The Way Back
Sam Rockwell – Conviction*
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech*
Elle Fanning – Somewhere
Bryce Dallas Howard – Hereafter
Julianne Moore – The Kids Are All Right
**Check out my 2011 Oscar Predictions page!**