' Cinema Romantico: The 1st Annual Prigge's (Top 5 Performances of 2005)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The 1st Annual Prigge's (Top 5 Performances of 2005)

Ah, yes, it's that time of year - Awards Season. Naturally, the Cinema Romantico blog has no choice but to get in on the action. The beauty of Awards Season is that it lends itself so well to what this jolly old blog likes best - a heightened and often times outrageous sense of drama. And now that my 2005 movie viewing is complete (or as complete as it can be at this point) it's time to get to the good stuff in the form my first annual end of year awards - The Prigge's, if you will. Most people will tune in to the Academy Awards come early March for their dose of awards but astute movie fans will, of course, look no further than this blog. Not to over-embellish but The Prigge's are essential with Hollywood insiders (though they would never admit it). The Oscars are normally about glitz and glamour. The Prigge's are about getting it right. Thus, without further adieu, it's time to reveal the 5 finest cinematic performances of the year that was 2005.

1. Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line". Each year it seems there is usually one performance given that towers above the rest. Last year it was Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby", the year before it was Johnny Depp in "Pirates of Caribbean". This year the giver that performance is undeniably Reese Witherspoon. As written the role could have been trite and one-dimensional. But she does not allow that to happen. She is layered, nuanced, and true. An example: early on as June Carter rushes to the stage she becomes entangled in Johnny Cash's microphone chord, delaying her entrance and introducing future husband and wife. This is the stuff of schmaltzy romantic comedies. But Witherspoon sells it. Damn, does she sell it. She keeps her cool, tosses some one-liners to the host waiting for her onstage, and deals with the situation. She elevates what could have been a simple meet cute. And that's what elevates her performance. The question isn't should she win the Oscar - it's how pissed will I be if she doesn't?

2. Joaquin Phoenix "Walk the Line". There's a fine line between impersonating and acting. Impersonating would be Jim Carrey as Andy Kauffman in "Man in the Moon". Acting would be Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line". Anyone can do an impersonation (well, not anyone as is evidenced by me). I mean, Darroll Hammond on Saturday Night Live can impersonate anyone but you don't see him going into movies to take a stab at acting. It's like this - you don't want to think to yourself, "Hey, that's Joaquin Phoenix doing Johnny Cash". You want to think, "Hey, that's Johnny Cash". That's what I thought while watching this. When he stumbles on stage, drunk and hopped on God-knows-what and passes out right there in front of his audience, you shake your head and wonder why Johnny (not Joaquin) has to go and do something like that. But the most important aspect of Phoenix's performance is his ability to make his descent into drugs and madness gradual (and he doesn't get a whole lot of help from the script in this aspect). He makes sure it doesn't just happen at the snap of the finger. The guy we see early at the bar having a nice, quiet talk with June is different from the guy we see blowing his stack later at a Christmas dinner. So few characters in films anymore seem to change from beginning to end as a person would in real life. Credit Johnny Cash for that - whoops, I mean Joaquin.

3. Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain". This performance is of the "where the hell did that come from"? variety. Quite frankly, I didn't know Ledger had it in him. This is the best thing in a movie that seems to be getting more attention then it merits. Ledger's Ennis Del Mar is a man consumed by what he feels with nary a clue how he's supposed to show how he feels. Everything in him is pent-up. He speaks in grunts and short, tight sentences and barely manages a facial expression. A key scene comes late when Ledger is pulled onto the dance floor at a bar by his then-girlfriend. He clearly wants no part of this and not simply because of homosexual tendencies. He plays it quite consciously as a man who can't communicate with anyone regardless of gender. To me that was the point of the movie and it seemed Ledger was the only one capable of conveying it.

4. Rachel McAdams, "Wedding Crashers" & "Red Eye". Most people probably left "Wedding Crashers" thinking two things - 1.) "I loved Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson" and 2.) "Rachel McAdams was in that"? But I left thinking - 1.) "I loved Rachel McAdams" and 2.) "Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that"? Oh, come on, I knew they were in it. Their hi-jinks and by-play were amusing, I guess, but that's not what drew my attention. Amidst all the chaos, and stuck with the ancient role of The Main Character's Girlfriend, Rachel McAdams somehow displayed a talent few actresses of her age have displayed in quite some time. She was a revelation. Every mannerism, every line reading rang true. When Owen Wilson's identity was finally revealed (as it had to be), she genuinely seemed hurt and confused. This is not easy in a film such as this. In fact, one might argue it's even more difficult to pull it off in a film like this then in an actual drama. Later in the summer she also appeared in the completely inplausible "Red Eye" but again came out far better than the movie itself. Normally movies of this sort sink from plot holes and over-acting but she put the whole production on her back and carried it to the finish line. If I have one wish for the gods of cinema in 2006, it would be to hurry up and get this girl a real role.

5. Claire Danes, "Shopgirl". Critics have been coming out of the woodwork recently to state Danes wasn't getting as much attention for this performance because the role was too "light". What kind of profane nonsense is this? What is "light" about being lonely and lost and alienated? Should she also have been on death row, or suffering from some unknown disease? Would that have made it "heavy"? Should she have moonlighted as an anti-death penalty activist? Would that have added the necessary "weight"? What Danes did was take a normal person - the type of person that exists in thousands of cities across the globe - and make that person not only come vividly to life but also make that person heroic. You watch Claire Danes in "Shopgirl" and see yourself up on the screen. That's not easy. And that's not "light".

1 comment:

Rory Larry said...

Terrence Howard was phenomenal in Hustle and Flow, best single performance of the year of either sex.

Ciaran Hinds was a personal favorite of mine from Munich.

Heath Ledger was indeed amazing in Brokeback Mountain, but I knew he had it in him, so I wasn't as suprised as you.

Joaquin and Reese were both pretty damn good.

Rachel McAdams was not very good in any of the three films she was in for 2005. I actually longed for her performance in The Notebook.

Claire Danes, eh I could have taken her or left her as far as Shopgirl is concerned.