' Cinema Romantico: The 4th Annual Prigge's: Top 5 Performances of 2008

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The 4th Annual Prigge's: Top 5 Performances of 2008

It's a joy difficult to properly express when you sit down for a new movie and are blown away by an actor or actress you never thought had it in them to enter the realm of mesmerizing, an actor or actress who you perhaps unfairly categorized as nothing more than a Movie Star.

I think of seeing Jim Carrey in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and marveling at how the most relentless and annoying of extroverts with a taste for broad, bland comedies could somehow wind up in a most breathtaking film and make himself such an awkward introvert that I found myself at multiple points thinking, "Jesus, Jim Carrey of all frickin' people is channeling me."

I never thought much of Anne Hathaway. I cop to it. I merely figured she was a star in the making. An admittedly glamorous young woman who would turn up consistently in romantic comedies to shine and smile and win the heart of the male heartthrob playing opposite her and then turn up at the premiere in a lovely dress to smile and offer decent soundbites.

Therefore I would like to take this moment to apologize to Ms. Hathaway. If someone had approached me after seeing "Get Smart" this summer in which she co-starred with Steve Carrell and told me that when the year ends you will be saying Anne Hathaway gave the performance of the year I would have laughed and laughed in that person's face. But she proved me insanely wrong and I am the first to admit it.

Her performance may not have been quite as stunning from a technical standpoint as Amy Ryan's last year in "Gone Baby Gone" but it did resonate with me in a very profound and personal way, like Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby" or Billy Crudup in "Without Limits". I will cherish her work in "Rachel Getting Married" for as long as I live. (And the other four were pretty darn good themselves.)

1. Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married". There were three specific moments from her extraordinary turn as the ex-addict sister of the Rachel of the title that I will carry with me for the rest of my days. One, her crazed, sad, happy, sorta' psychotic laugh when she gives her toast. Two, the way she dances by herself after the post wedding bash wherein you can see her entire fricking life flashing through her and she is doing everything she can to just beat it back. Three, the way she says "daddy" at the end. It's a single second of dialogue that not only shows despite being a former wild child who did drugs and caused the tragedy involving a young family member she is still daddy's little girl but also shows her realizing in that moment she now needs to let go of being daddy's little girl.

2. Josh Brolin, "Milk". This portrayl of the man who would assassinate gay rights activist Harvey Milk is the exact defintion of supporting work. Brolin completely convinces us of his character's motivations in limited screen time (and he doesn't require a massive monologue to do it). He enhances and deepens the plight of the main character without overshadowing him. He does not demand our sympathy but earns it. A word comes to mind.....flawless.

3. Craig Robinson, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno". The comedic performance of the year. Yeah, yeah, this role as the pseudo-producer of the porno of the title isn't a stretch for Robinson (best known as the warehouse manager on "The Office") and blah, blah, blah, blah. None of that crap stops his work from being genius which is what I saw from where I was sitting. He delivers the best line of the year that is made the year's best specifically because of how he delivers it. His line readings make me think of how people talk about when drummers play "behind the beat". Robinson has a way of garnering laughs behind the punchline. Often comedic actors are so quick and insistent with their delivery they suffocate the actual line, but it's as if Robinson lets the line highlight itself and then you realize how brilliantly he said it. I'm not doing it justice but it truly is something special.

4. Kate Winslet, "The Reader". I know what you're thinking, that I'm biased. "He's a Winslet devotee!" you're shouting. "He's just shamelessly plugging his favorite actress!" What, you don't believe me when I say she was great? Fine. Would you believe that Time Magazine's Richard Corliss called it the best performance of the year? You should because he did. Or how about if you read what critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote of Winslet in "The Reader" (bold lettering is my necessary addition): "....whenever she takes a role she peels back more layers, she gives more, than most other actresses do. As Hanna, she's a woman who refuses to allow herself to be tender, as if she were performing a self-imposed penance. She's also unself-pitying, sexually bold and insecure about her own intellect. Winslet wraps all of those ideas into one character, without needing to wave them around like brightly colored flags. Even the way she walks -- vaguely heavy-footed, as if she's not sure she deserves to tread the earth -- is a subtle choice." See? I'm not the only Winslet devotee out there.

5. Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor". There was a great deal of praise surrounding this turn by the typically unsung Jenkins (you may recall him from "There's Something About Mary" as the therapist who advises Ben Stiller that rest stops are the "bathhouses of the nineties") as a lonely professor who befriends an immigrant couple and you know what? Every bit of it is deserved. It is restrained magnificence. Few actors dare to do as little as Jenkins does here for fear people may not realize just how well they are acting. His character is quiet and withdrawn and polite and has an entirely unassuming air about him. In the end, of course, he has a couple moments where his fury rises and leaves his shy self behind but these are convincing because he has invited us into the transformational arc of the character every step of the way. I have a few trepidations about the movie as a whole but not about the work of Jenkins. Probably not showy enough for the Best Actor Oscar, but it is wholly deserving.

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