' Cinema Romantico: Billy Crudup - A Complete Career Breakdown

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Billy Crudup - A Complete Career Breakdown

Q: I wonder, Cinema Romantico, who is the best actor working today?

A: The correct answer is Billy Crudup.

Q: Billy Crudup? Are you unfamiliar with Al Pacino?

A: Unfair! Completely unfair! Michael Jordan is better than Dwyane Wade, too.

Q: Sean Penn?

A: You're still not getting it.

Q: Johnny Depp?

A: This is not-

Q: Daniel Day Lewis?

A: All right! Fine! Billy Crudup is my favorite actor! Are you happy?!

Q: Denzel Washington?

A: That's it. Q&A is over.


Yesterday I noted that our best working actress has never earned an Oscar though she has been nominated (after this morning) five times. Crudup, however, hasn't earned even a single nomination. Tragic? Quite. Jack Nicholson so much as feeds a pidgeon anywhere near a camera and he gets an Oscar nod but Crudup turns in some of the absolute finest work of the past decade and most people still don't even know who he is.

Crudup isn't merely an actor, he is an inhabitor. He inhabits each role he plays. I urge you to seek out his work, any of his work. You don't have to start with any one film in particular - start anywhere you'd like. The list below is a guide to help you.


Sleepers – When I first saw this I was totally unfamiliar with Billy Crudup. Essentially he just sits in a courtroom while far more famous actors talk a lot. But he reacts to their talking very well.

Inventing the Abbots – I’ll be honest. I’ve seen this but when I saw it I, again, was totally unfamiliar with him. I don’t even remember him being in it but IMDB.COM tells me he was. But I’m sure he was very good.

Grind – I excitedly got this one off netflix after reading somewhere that it was like a Bruce Springsteen song come to life. I was hoping to find something like “Racing in the Street”, or perhaps "Stolen Car", but instead it was more like “Linda Let Me Be the One”.

Without Limits – In one of his best performances he plays legendary American long distance runner Steve Prefontaine. As I’ve stated before there is a fine line between acting and impersonating. He does impersonate Prefontaine’s unique running style to utter perfection (the race scenes combine actual footage of Prefontaine and footage of Crudup as Prefontaine and you can in no way whatsoever tell the difference) but he also makes the famous runner come alive and feel like a real person with real emotions and real problems. He perfectly captures what was utmost confidence and often came off as cockiness. Awesome work and one of the best biopic performances (and movies) ever.

The Hi-Lo Country – In a film about some of the last “real cowboys” Woody Harrelson goes big-gestured and over-the-top while Crudup has to play it straight. He does and holds the film together………for the most part.

Jesus’ Son – This is sort of like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" lite. I don't really like that movie and I didn't really like this one, either. But Crudup is still pretty good.

Waking the Dead – In this one Crudup plays an aspiring politician who falls in love with an idealist/activist played by Jennifer Connelly. Then, interestingly, it transforms into a ghost story. It’s nowhere near perfect – some of the subplots miss – but the two leads are great and the romance angle is very well done. Very underseen but definitely worth a look.

Almost Famous – This was my true introduction to Crudup (and the best film of the year that was 2000). He plays Russell Hammond, guitarist of the fictional band Stillwater, who befriends a young rock journalist. You’ve probably all seen this and so you know what I know – namely, he’s awesome. Interestingly, the part was originally intended for Brad Pitt but I don’t think that would have worked. There would have been too much of that “Gleam-In-Brad-Pitt’s-Eye”. It would have been Brad Pitt PLAYING Russell Hammond whereas it ended up with Billy Crudup BEING Russell Hammond.

World Traveler – This was writer/director Bart Freundlich’s (“The Myth of Fingeprints” - of which I'm a fervent admirer, as we already know) second film and a huge disappointment to me. Crudup’s performance, however, does not disappoint. There comes a moment when he’s riding a ferris wheel at some carnival and you don’t even think about hokey it is unless you stop and remove yourself from the movie and tell yourself, “Riding a ferris wheel at some carnival is so hokey”. And that’s when you realize, damn, this Billy Crudup can act.

Charlotte Gray – This one is notable for the fact he goes head-to-head with Cate Blanchett, whom Premiere Magazine recently dubbed our best working actress. And, quite frankly, despite the porous material he emerges as Bird to Blanchett’s Magic.

Big Fish – In a movie filled with eccentric characters (it’s a Tim Burton movie, after all) Crudup plays the straight man. And despite the fact his transformation is somewhere beyond inevitable, you still find yourself believing it entirely when it happens. And that’s when you realize, damn, this Billy Crudup can act.

Stage Beauty – As one of the last of the males who specialized in playing women onstage during Elizabethan times Crudup gives perhaps his finest performance. This was a character ripe for overacting or broad comedy but Crudup finds the nuances. He is totally convincing as both a man and as a man specifically being a woman. The movie itself has a few weak spots but I still recommend it to the highest degree. This is acting, readers, of the highest order.

Trust the Man – He is back with Freundlich again and although Crudup is the only cast member to save face he has got to get out of this relationship with Freundlich before it kills him.

Mission Impossible III – Uh…………can I use my Get Out Of Jail Free card now?

The Good Shepherd – As a British special agent he injects some life into the very, very, very slow proceedings. Unfortunately, he only appears for about nine-and-a-half minutes in this eight hour movie (at least I'm pretty sure it was eight hours).

(Dedication will be released this year, though I'm not sure of the exact release date. It sounds extremely promising. Here's to hoping Billy rebounds after a rough 2006. I'm positive he will.)

3 comments:

Joshua said...

Based on this list it seems very understandable that Crudup has neither an Oscar nom nor much fame. Almost none of these movies sound very interesting. I like to watch good actors at their work, but if the movie as whole isn't also good it is a bit of a waste.

Joel Siegel said...

"Mission Impossible III" is a roller-coaster of action, suspense, and thrills. No matter what level your thrill-meter is set on when you enter, when you leave the theater, it will be set on Impossibly-High! I give it four and a half stars. ...who's this William Crud-up you mention?

Anonymous said...

Except for Trust the Man and The Good Shepherd, I've seen every movie on the list. I agree with your comments. Billy Crudup is also my favorite actor. Female fans will be pleased to know that Dedication, a romantic comedy with Billy and Mandy Moore, has found a distributor at Sundance. Can't wait.