Back in the halcyon days of Bill Simmons’ late (best) web site (ever) Grantland, when I checked it as regularly as my Midwestern forefathers would check weather reports, and before it all went to pot in the name of ESPN giving its First Take ass clowns that much more money, my favorite podcast on the Interwebs was the aforementioned site’s liltingly titled Do You Like Prince Movies? It was hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Wesley Morris and ace culture scribe Alex Pappademas. And in the run-up to last year’s Academy Awards they bestowed their own set of acting prizes affectionately called The Ruffalos.
Mr. Morris and Mr. Pappademas did not define the criteria for their awards so much as just sort of shout out random guidelines in the discussion, but that was part of their charm. Ruffalos went to “People who aren’t getting nominated for anything.” To earn one “you gotta be playing the background a little bit,” or maybe not since some of the recipients were more in the spotlight rather than the background. And whatever, because The Ruffalos were more ineffable, something less stately and more tossed off, make-believe statues concerning a life-force that was more indelible than mere pomp. And because Grantland and, in turn, Do You Like Prince Movies? Has been shuttered, Cinema Romantico, this itty bitty blog that most people stop reading at the first sign of a ham-fisted Kate Middleton reference, has taken on the task of keeping them alive.
The Ruffalos were named, of course, for Mark Ruffalo, the charismatic character actor who, ironically, is nominated for an Oscar this year for his work in “Spotlight.” Therefore I briefly considered renaming The Ruffalos as The Crudups, or perhaps The Dunsts. But I don’t wish to dis-honor The Ruffalo founders and so The Ruffalos it shall be. To be sure, a few of the actors listed in my Best Performances of 2015 were likely also eligible for a Ruffalo, but as they have already been recognized, we will leave them off here to recognize others just as deserving. Onward!
Kyle Chandler, Carol. He's like a once chiseled, now crumbling edifice to the power and the glory of unrepentant masculinity.
Tessa Thompson, Creed. Befitting her character, one whose hearing loss will inevitably morph into permanence, Thompson gives her character of Bianca a no time for B.S. vibe that manifests itself in the form of tender empathy just as much as sturdy get-it-togetherness.
Andie MacDowell, Magic Mike XXL. Like a banana flambé that shows up in the middle of the meal rather than dessert, Ms. MacDowell, exerting a carnal attitude that could be the movie's emotive mission statement, turns a movie that's already burning with sexual desire to scorching.
Alfre Woodard, Mississippi Grind. In a one-scene walk off opposite Ben Mendehlson's small-time gambling junkie, Woodard opens with a compassion that comes on like that of a true friend before doubling back at the scene's conclusion to level honest-to-God menace without even seeming to alter a muscle.
Ron Livingston, James White. Exuding an incredible mixture of sternness and warmth, Livingston extends a hand to the titular protagonist before realizing he needs to draw the hand back and give him a well-meaning kick in the ass.
Joan Cusack, The End of the Tour. In a movie where one dude is trying to figure out who the other dude really is, and both dudes seem to consistently have some sort of emotional deflector shield up, Joan's driver to David Foster Wallace when the famed author is in Minneapolis is all earnestly sunny Minnesotan disposition.
Josh Brolin, Sicario. If Emily Blunt's eyes mirror the drug war's confusion, and if Benicio del Toro's overall blankness mirrors the drug war's mystery, then Josh Brolin's jocularity mirrors the drug war's inevitability. He speaks in riddles, but his face, and that little smile, is transparent, an invitation to something that makes no sense and never will.
Viola Davis, Blackhat. With enough charisma to front her own movie, Davis plays the whole part like a pot that's boiling while somehow still set to simmer.