Tag Archives: Dane DeHaan

Top 10 Breakthrough Performances of 2012

2012 saw a number of bonafide A-list movie stars emerge. Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, and Jeremy Renner all parlayed smaller success into box office hits. But what about those who started their big-screen journeys this year? Here is my list of the ten actors who entered onto my radar in the biggest ways this year. This list is of course subjective, since it depends in part on what movies I have and have not seen in previous years, as in most cases these performances are not actually acting debuts. These are just actors who I had not been familiar with prior to 2012.

1. Dane DeHaan, Chronicle/Lawless/Lincoln

DeHaan was far and away the big discovery of the year for me. I kept going to see movies without realizing he was in them, but he always impressed me. My first exposure to him was Chronicle, where he was convincing and darkly charismatic as a the young anti-hero who accidentally develops supernatural abilities. Then, he stole his scenes as the lovable Cricket in Lawless. His best work is actually yet to be released, though; he is one of the best parts of the impressive The Place Beyond the Pines, which I caught at TIFF. (The movie will get a theatrical release in March of this year.) DeHaan will also star alongside Daniel Radcliffe in the beat drama Kill Your Darlings, and it was recently announced that he’ll play Harry Osbourne in Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot sequel. There are definitely big things on the horizon for this guy.

2. Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas was filled to the brim with Hollywood A-listers, but it was actually this young Korean star who stole the film for many people. Bae has had a prosperous acting career already, having starred in Korean cult favourites like The Host and Chan-wook Park’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, but for those (like myself) who are less familiar with contemporary Korean cinema, she was a new face in Cloud Atlas. As a futuristic clone of sorts, Bae evoked the perfect combination of naivite, fear, and rebellion, making for one of the film’s most emotionally resonant storylines.

3. Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

There was a time when child acting largely consisted of charming lisps and mugging for the camera. But recent performers like Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are), Elle Fanning (Phoebe in Wonderland), and Bailee Madison (Brothers) seem to have upped the expectations. And now, Wallis (who was six when Beasts was filmed) offers a shockingly natural and emotional performance. Her maturity here is astounding. Just think of what she could be capable of in a few more years.

4. Samantha Barks, Les Miserables

Like Cloud Atlas, Les Mis had a star-studded cast offering a string of powerhouse performances. But along with Eddie Redmayne (who was a new face for some, but who I quite enjoyed in last year’s My Week With Marilyn) this young brit more than held her own in the role of Eponine. Barks played the role in the London production of Les Mis and was cast as a result of that, and her experience is certainly apparent. Along with havinga a great voice, Bark’s Eponine is an utterly compelling character, and she slays “On My Own”.

5. Skylar Astin, Pitch Perfect

We all love Anna Kendrick, so it’s no surprise that she was lots of fun in the silly but well-meaning Pitch Perfect. But Astin, who played the main love interest, was a very pleasant surprise. As part of the original Broadway cast of Spring Awakening (who wasn’t in that production?) it makes sense that he has the vocal chops for the musical numbers. But he also brought a quirky charisma that gave the film a little more bite than it might have had otherwise. Astin’s performance was charming thanks in part to his saucer-like puppydog eyes, but also largely because of some strong comedic timing and a down-to-earth charm that few performances in simple teen comedies can master.

6. John Magaro, Not Fade Away/Liberal Arts

Speaking of offbeat, we have this guy. He had no small feat as the lead in David Chase’s Not Fade Away, playing a rockstar-in-training, going toe-to-toe with James Gandolfini, and also having to embody the ’60s cool that the film celebrates. And for the most part, he did a really solid job. His Bob Dylan-esque vibe served him well, and he even made a convincing frontman in the band that he and his buddies start. I liked Magaro even more in a supporting role in Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, though, where he plays a depressed, David Foster Wallace-worshipping college student. He won’t be the easiest to cast, but the guy is memorable in the right role.

7. Alicia Vikander, Anna Karenina

Swedish-born Vikander played a naive but fiesty young woman in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, and she brought a slightly ethereal style that suited the film quite well. Her tenuous romance with the character played by Domhnall Gleeson (who is also good, but is disqualified from this list, since I’ve seen him in Never Let Me Go and the Harry Potter films) is charming, and more complex than one might originally think. Between this and A Royal Affair (which I have not seen), she seems to be finding her footing as a costume drama ingenue.

8. Bella Heathcote, Not Fade Away

This Australian beauty actually garnered more attention for her work in Dark Shadows (which I have avoided), but I thought she was quite charismatic in Not Fade Away. She perfectly captures the ’60s vibe, and while her character initially seems one-dimensional, Heathcote does some nice things with the nuance and facets that emerge as the film goes on.

9. James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas/Hitchcock

It seems almost like cheating to call these “breakthrough”  performances. Out of everyone on this list, D’Arcy certainly has the most extensive resume. I just am not at all familiar with him, since much of his work has been in Britain. But he made his mark in two small roles for me this year. He was so convincing in the 1970s Cloud Atlas storyline that I thought for a while that his character was actually being portrayed by an elderly man. He was also understated and lovely in the storyline where he played Ben Whishaw’s lover. And while he may have gone a touch too far over the top in Hitchcock, he brought some spot-on body language to his portrayal of Anthony Perkins.

10. Cody Horn, Magic Mike

This was actually a pretty divisive performance, but I thought Horn was quite effective as the love interest in Magic Mike. Her ultra low-key style was too affected or awkward for some, but I thought she was a great fit for Soderbergh’s stipped-down filmmaking approach. She brought an unexpected vibe to the film, but I thought it was an interesting portrayal.

Honorable Mentions: It was a good year for kid performances. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman slipped into the Wes Anderson world perfectly in Moonrise Kingdom, while young Pierce Gagnon was disarmingly composed as Emily Blunt’s son in Looper. Sam Claflin edged towards Catching Fire superstardom in Snow White and the Huntsman, while Karan Soni was lovably dorky and understatedly hilarious in Safety Not Guaranteed. And in terms of complete acting rookies, Gina Carano kicked butt in Haywire, while Dwight Henry broke everyone’s heart in Beasts of the Southern Wild.


TIFF 2012: The Place Beyond the Pines

Just a few days in, and TIFF has already screened a spat of critic and movie fan favourites. From grand blockbusters like Looper and Cloud Atlas to human dramas like Argo and The Master, big stars and big directors are already pleasing crowds at the festival. And you might as well add Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, to that list. Met with generally positive response from critics, the film is likely to connect on a gut level with many viewers.

Pines made its world premiere on Friday night, and I entered the press screening early this morning with the unique experience of knowing virtually nothing about the film. And honestly, it’s best to know as little as possible about this film going into it. As such, I’ll be very vague with the plot description. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver. Bradley Cooper plays Avery, a newly minted and overqualified police officer. When Luke gets caught up in some illegal activities, the two inevitably come face to face. Their meeting then sparks a chain reaction of repercussions that affect not only them, but also their family.

At its core, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story about masculinity and the consequences of actions. And Cianfrance evokes the ache of regret beautifully. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty, and like the characters on screen, the audience is held in a constant state of tension. This is not an action-packed movie, yet there is such suspense in every character interaction. A number of figurative threads could be pulled at any time during this film and the lives of the characters would almost instantly unravel.

Cooper perhaps does the best job of conveying this unsettled tone. Much of the latter part of the film deals with Avery’s struggle to come to terms with his past decisions, and Cooper gives an aching, slow-burning performance. His character is wonderfully complex, and Cooper sinks his teeth into every nuance of the role. It’s easily his best performance to date.

Also breaking new ground here is up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. Though DeHaan does not appear until later on in the film, his character quickly becomes a key player, and DeHaan deftly navigates the epic relationship landscape that Cianfrance has constructed by this point. He’s already impressed me this year in Chronicle and Lawless, but now given a meaty dramatic role, DeHaan shines even brighter. He’s given some scenes that easily could have seemed overly laboured or difficult to believe, but DeHaan’s easy naturalness never wavers. He just sinks into the role and inhabits every corner of it.

Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises)gives another fantastic, chameleon-like performance as a man who takes Luke under his wing. His subtle humour is welcome in this heavy film, yet his character also has plenty of demons of his own. Gosling turns in yet another great, emotionally captivating performance, and Eva Mendes is surprisingly good as the woman his character peruses.

One thing that really surprised me about The Place Beyond the Pines was the scope of the film. Cianfrance has experimented with time lapses already in Blue Valentine, but while that film felt suffocating in its intimacy, Pines feels almost grand and epic in its ever-expanding story. And Cianfrance put every minute of the two and a quarter hour runtime to good use. Yes, a couple of story elements feel a bit convenient and/or melodramatic. And yes, I did find the second third of the film to be a little too conventional in its “dirty cop” tropes (though Ray Liotta is great in his very small role). But ultimately, none of that mattered. The Place Beyond the Pines packs an emotional punch the gut. This movie is about the consequences of our actions. And as characters’ past decisions start to affect innocent people, it’s hard not to get engrossed in the injustice and tragedy of it all. Simply put, The Place Beyond the Pines feels poetic without being pretentious. It might not fully satisfy those looking for a bit more violence in their studies in machismo, but the slow-burning drama makes for a far more substantial product.


Chronicle (2012)

Recently, I’ve been trying to go into movies without knowing much about them. Sure, I check Rotten Tomatoes scores and see some trailers while at the theatre, but I try to avoid plot information and trailers when I can. Such was the case with Chronicle. It was a film that wasn’t even on my radar until it started getting strong reviews, and aside from its most basic premise, I didn’t know anything about it going in. I’m not sure whether or not that helped my enjoyment of the film, but either way, I did enjoy the film a lot.

In a way, there’s not much to know about Chronicle, aside from the basics. Our protagonist is Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan), an introverted teenager who decides to start filming his entire life. One night, he goes to a party with his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and while there, they discover a mysterious crater in the ground. After investigating its contents with the senior class president candidate, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the three boys begin to develop mysterious telekinetic abilities. And, as you might be able to guess, not everything goes smoothly.

Chronicle does a really interesting job of mashing up elements of superhero movies, teen comedies, horror films, and “indie” dramas to make something pretty unique. It plays things straight (well, as much as you can in a movie about teens with superpowers), and it’s a lot of fun to see the characters react to their newfound abilities. They don’t go out and save people or defeat bad guys. They just play dumb pranks and laugh about it. Of course, things get out of hand (and the film arguably goes too far over the top in the last 20 minutes), but I like that there’s never any supervillain to defeat in Chronicle. The conflict comes from the boys’ own lack of control, their personal lives, and from the dynamics within their group.

The “found footage” style of filmmaking suits the intimate feeling of the film well. The filmmakers make the best of it, and I liked that they used other types of cameras (security cameras, a fellow student shooting video blogs) to cull “found” footage from. The lack of music in this movie is also unconventional, and the substitute soundtrack (which includes a lot of background noise and silence) proves to be quite effective. The filmmakers also play around with the editing, and while the found footage approach may not be completely necessary to this film, it’s nice to see the filmmakers use it in a logical and effective way.

But aside from the construction of the film, Chronicle is a movie that relies heavily on character development. This isn’t a “superhero movie” in the conventional sense, and there isn’t a lot of action. It’s important that the audience cares about the three main characters, and I definitely cared about all of them. Andrew, Matt, and Steve are all distinct and have their own quirks, yet it makes sense that they would bond over these extraordinary circumstances. We don’t get a lot of backstory, yet we know who they all are. The screenplay, aside from a few cheesy lines, is strong and paints these characters in a believable way.

The movie also wouldn’t work without good actors. DeHaan, who looks like a young Leonardo DiCaprio, has the most emotionally exposed character, and he does a good job of making us sympathize with Andrew, but also makes the turns that his character takes feel (mostly) believable. Jordan, who was great on Friday Night Lights, is very charismatic. Steve is a character who’s confident to the point of occasional cockiness, and Jordan does a great job of conveying that while still making Steve likeable. Russell was the weaker link in the cast, but he’s still fine.

Chronicle is only 84 minutes long, and that feels like the perfect length. It’s a really fun time at the movies, and, most importantly, it creates characters that you become invested in.