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Okay, I apologize for the overexcitement that has invaded this blog in the last twenty minutes. But HOW had I only semi-heard about this project before now:
Okay, so I’m thinking, “that’s kind of exciting, because Andrew Dominik directed The Assassination of Jesse James. The plot sounds kind of okay, I guess…” But it gets better. OH, IT GETS BETTER:
Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, and Sam Rockwell reunited in a movie with Andrew Dominik directing? And you want also to cast Javier Bardem, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Mendelsohn, and Richard Jenkins? Oh, yes, sure I suppose that would be fine, too. (!!!!!!)
Between this and J. Edgar, I’m already kind of pumped for 2012.
This list is clearly skewed young, but here are ten actors (plus a few honourable mentions and rising stars) that I love watching onscreen. Feel free to discuss my choices or share you own lists in the comments!
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Essential Filmography: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Tropic Thunder (2008), Chaplin (1992), Zodiac (2007)
Underappreciated Work: Wonderboys (2000)
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Essential Filmography: Capote (2005), Magnolia (1999), Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Underappreciated Work: Almost Famous (2000)
3. Daniel Day-Lewis
Essential Filmography: There Will Be Blood (2007), My Left Foot (1989), Gangs of New York (2002)
Underappreciated Work: The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
4. Ryan Gosling
Essential Filmography: Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), The Believer (2001)
Underappreciated Work: The United States of Leland (2003)
5. Casey Affleck
Essential Filmography: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Underappreciated Work: Lonesome Jim (2006)
6. Leonardo DiCaprio
Essential Filmography: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1992), The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2002), Titanic (1997)
Underappreciated Work: Romeo + Juliet (1996)
7. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Essential Filmography: Mysterious Skin (2004), 500 Days of Summer (2009), Brick (2006)
Underappreciated Work: The Lookout (2007)
8. Ethan Hawke
Essential Filmography: Before Sunrise (1995), Dead Poets Society (1989), Training Day (2001)
Underappreciated Work: Reality Bites (1995)
9. Joaquin Phoenix
Essential Filmography: Walk the Line (2005), Gladiator (2000), Two Lovers (2009)
Underappreciated Work: Signs (2002)
10. Colin Firth
Essential Filmography: A Single Man (2009), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Underappreciated Work: Girl With a Pearl Earring(2003)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking)
Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon)
Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass)
Benicio Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire)
Edward Norton (The Score)
Guy Pearce (Memento)
Sam Rockwell (Snow Angels)
5 Promising Newcomers
Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk)
Ben Whishaw (Bright Star)
Sam Riley (Control)
Michael Angarano (Snow Angels)
Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma)
Here’s the second part of my “Favourite Performances of the Decade” feature. You can check out the first part of the series here, and be sure to stay tuned for the next three parts, which will be revealed over the next few months.
Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild (2007)
In Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a young man so disillusioned with society that he sets off alone on a journey to Alaska. Though McCandless meets a few kind strangers along the way (most notably, a lonely old man played by Hal Holbrook), the film is essentially Hirsch’s. Luckily, he seems to have no trouble filling three hours with his understatedly charismatic, honest performance. Whether McCandless is marvelling at the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness, or struggling to survive in the face of its backlash, Hirsch’s performances never seems forced. In fact, I found it indefinably inspiring. As the audience, we follow the arc of emotions that McCandless goes through, and Hirsch is a good companion to have along for the ride. His performance is joy, innocence, heartbreak, and courage all rolled into one. Into the Wild is long and kind of slow-moving, but it’s ultimately very rewarding to watch, and a lot of this is because of Hirsch’s wonderful performance.
Jim Carrey – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
As much as I love Jim Carrey’s style of comedy (I’m picky about broad, physical humour, but Jim Carrey’s always makes me laugh.), my favourite performance of his came in Michel Gondry’s 2004 breakthrough, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Here, he plays Joel, a lonely, low-key man who finds love in the quirky Clementine (played by Kate Winslet). But don’t let the floppy hair and glum demeanour fool you. Carrey’s Joel isn’t just some middle-aged guy who’s still wallowing in teen angst. Carrey brings more dimensions to his performance. I totally related to Joel, and while a lot of the credit goes to the brilliant writing of Charlie Kaufman, Carrey’s performance also played a huge part. Even when the film takes a bizarre turn and explores the world of purposeful memory loss, Carrey still brings a lot of heart, and his presence keeps the film grounded.
Ellen Page – Juno (2007)
Page’s portrayal of the sixteen-year-old mom-to-be in Juno is just as sassy as everyone says, but while Juno seems self-assured, we learn that a lot of her bravado is covering up insecurities. Vaguely questionable relationships with the man about to adopt her child (played brilliantly by Jason Bateman) and dealing with the judgement that she faces as a pregnant teen clearly begin to wear Juno down. Page’s performance feels perfect as she plays a girl who is slowly stripped of her defence mechanisms (sarcasm, mainly), and is only left with real life to deal with. The way that Page reacts to teenage experiences that are both typical and unusual was so believable, and just a joy to watch. Her performance is the reason that so many different types of people loved this movie, and it’s probably the most authentic portrayal of a teenage girl that I’ve seen on film.
Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Not since Jon Favreau called the same girl’s answering machine six consecutive times in Swingers have we witnessed such an epic display of loserdom on screen. But while Favreau’s performance was played for laughs, the 2 hours and 40 minutes we spend with Casey Affleck’s bumbling Bob Ford is far from comedic. The movie itself is a complex character study of the two men in a battle of wits (Robert Ford and Jesse James, who is played by Brad Pitt), and their never-ending quest to be one step ahead of the other. At one point, James muses to Ford, “I’m not sure if you want to be like me, or to be me.” That sentiment kind of sets the tone for Affleck’s entire performance, which twists and evolves beautifully throughout the film. I found Affleck’s performance unexpectedly moving, in a way. This is best shown in the last half hour or so of the film, after Bob has killed Jesse and has to return to the real world – only to find that they don’t want him, either. He’s annoying and egotistical, yet Affleck’s amazing performance made me pity and even sympathize with this bizarre character.
Leonardo DiCapprio – The Departed (2006)
In Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film, DiCapprio plays Billy Costigan, a conflicted young man working as an undercover investigator for the Boston police. When he’s assigned to get in with gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) he soon finds himself in over his head. One of the things that I liked most about The Departed is that they had two characters on either side of the law, who are crossing into each other’s turf for their work (a very clean-cut Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, who is a Costello’s rat in the SIU), and they flip our expectations early on in the film, when we find out who is working for who. DiCapprio is so convincing as a man with a questionable family history (which is the entire reason that he was chosen to be the mole), but who is essentially good, and strives to do the right thing. The conflict that Costigan feels is played so well, and the entire process that he goes through is really amplified by DiCapprio’s great work.
With its overly thorough title, runtime of 160 minutes, and slow pace, it’s not surprising (though it is definitely infuriating) that 2007′s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did not receive the studio backing or box office success that it deserved. Luckily, the film has gained a strong legion of fans, and many people have found the film through good old-fashioned word of mouth. Casey Affleck’s Oscar nomination for the film has probably also helped the film gain the notoriety that it deserves.
In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Brad Pitt stars as Jesse James, the charismatic bandit who robs trains while also raising a family. Casey Affleck is Robert “Bob” Ford, a young man who idolized Jesse as a child, and forces his way into Jesse’s ragtag group of outlaws. Jesse is fascinated by Bob, but never seems to truly trust or accept him. Jesse’s group slowly begins to turn on each other, and as the paranoia sets in, Bob and his brother make a plot to bring Jesse down. (Spoiler: they succeed.) It’s a seemingly simple story drawn out, but without the long set up to the inevitable assassination, there would not be the same kind of tension, and the audience would not have as clear of an idea about why things played out like they did. I found that the film rarely dragged, and every scene in the movie worked to add layers to this slowly twisting story.
One might expect a film about Jesse James to be action-packed and exciting, but this truly is a character study of two troubled, fascinating men squaring off in a mental battle. Both Bob and Jesse are always trying to think two steps ahead of the other at all times. That being said, the film is punctuated with a few violent outbursts, and they really work to underscore the desperation and volatility of James and Ford’s lives, rather that desensitize the audience with endless killings.
The ensemble cast is great, and even the small roles are played by reliable actors, such as Sam Rockwell and Paul Schneider. As for the stars, Brad Pitt is also quite good as the infamous Jesse James. James’ natural charisma and proto-celebrity status doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch for Pitt, but it’s the other side of Jesse that Pitt is unexpectedly good at. More than once, Jesse lets out a twisted, malicious laugh at someone else’s expense (usually Bob’s). Pitt’s Jesse cackles so desperately that every other character on screen joins in out of sheer fear.
But the real revelation here is Casey Affleck. Robert Ford is a sulky dweeb, yet thanks largely to Affleck’s performance, we sympathize with him throughout the entire movie. Affleck seems to embody the conflict that Robert Ford felt perfectly. Affleck is especially good in the last half hour of the film, where Ford has to come to terms with what he’s done. Even after killing a murderer, Ford is still shunned by the public. The act that he thought would bring him glory, and make him part of the Jesse James legacy, has only caused more trouble for him. Affleck’s biting performance exudes the dejection and weariness that Bob feels, unable to ever truly triumph.
The Assassination of Jesse James has a strong, quiet sense of both artistry and entertainment. There are many breathtaking shots, and it’s clear that a lot of care and time went into making this film. I was especially impressed by the director Andrew Dominik’s ability to take a simple, static shot, like Bob and his brother sitting in a wheat field, and turn it into a dynamic scene. The cinematography here is top-notch, and that too is used effectively to move the film along. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford would be worth watching for Casey Affleck’s stirring performance alone, but the languid, stark beauty of the film elevates it beyond being merely “good”.