' ' Cinema Romantico: The 2nd Annual Prigge's (Top 5 Performances of 2006)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The 2nd Annual Prigge's (Top 5 Performances of 2006)

"One scene is all it takes for audiences to realize they're in the presence of one of Those Performances, the ones people talk about deep, deep into the fabulous muck of awards season and beyond." - Michael Phillips

These words come from a recent Chicago Tribune article regarding potential Oscar nominees and I could not agree with them more strenuously. Therefore I thought it would be a fantastic idea to sum up the 5 best performances from the year that was 2006 by listing a particular scene from each actor's turn that clued me into the fact I was witnessing one of Those Performances. And there is no disputing the fact each one listed below was indeed one of Those.

1. Morgan Freeman, "10 Items or Less". In the opening scene of the film the Nameless Actor played by Freeman is being driven to a grocery store in order to do some research for a potential movie role by an overzealous member of the film crew. The crew member is convinced Freeman's Actor did a book-on-tape of a particular movie (I don't want to give away the movie) and plays him a snippet of it. But no, says the Actor, that is not him. He wouldn't read it the way the person actually on the tape reads it. He then proceeds to give his interpretation of the book-on-tape. And at this moment - not more than a couple minutes into the movie - you already realize you're witnessing the finest acting turn of the year. The common misconception is comedic acting cannot be commanding, not like dramatic acting. In this film Freeman proves otherwise.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, "Blood Diamond". Midway through the Jennifer Connelly character asks DiCaprio's South African mercenary Danny Archer about his parents. Most actors would go in the wrong direction. They would seethe with rage, play it over-the-top, show how the anger still burns. But DiCaprio shrugs, even chuckles, takes a drink. He is indifferent now. He long since put that behind him. Great choice. Great performance.

3. Meryl Streep, "A Prairie Home Companion". As one half of The Johnson Girls singing duo, Streep and her sister (Lily Tomlin) are introducing their first song of the night on the radio show which shares the movie's name. It is a song about the mighty Mississippi River. Streep explains how their mother would sing it all the time because of how much she loved it. "She had a smile as wide as the Mississippi." Pause. "You know, down at the mouth." Most actors would not only screw up the timing of that line but would oversell the punchline. But Streep pauses for the perfect length and delivers the capper matter-of-factly. She has reached the take-for-granted stage but her talent should never be taken for granted.

4. Kate Winslet, "Little Children". Sarah is engaged in an affair with Brad. She asks what his wife looks like. "A knockout," he says. And one morning Sarah decides to park her car outside Brad's house in order to catch a glimpse of his wife. Brad and his wife (played by Jennifer Connelly) leave the house. Seeing that his wife is indeed a knockout, Sarah freaks out in the front seat. Okay, so what do we need to feel here? Well, we kind of need to feel bad for Sarah since we sort of want her to be happy. But we also need to feel sad for her since, you know, she's parked outside the house of the married man she's having an affair and, hey, she's married, too. So you kinda' don't want to like her because of this level she's stooped to but you do want to like her because, come on, we've all had moments of desperation. And then you realize Winslet has convinced you of all this. And so then you wonder how in the world she managed to do that. And then you remember it's because she's the best there is.

5. Sacha Baron Cohen, "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby". "As French Formula One driver Jean Girard he threatens Ricky Bobby himself with defeat in an upcoming race. But Ricky Bobby's right-hand man Cal Naughton Jr. responds by saying, "Shake and bake" - the duo's racing motto. He then repeats it. And repeats it again. "It's nonsense!" hollers Girard. Now watch the delivery of this line closely. He's not merely yelling it because the scripts tells him he's supposed to yell it but because his character has tried to understand what this "shake and bake" means, has come up empty and is truly confused and put off by whatever it may mean. Most comedic actors let their own persona upstage up the character. Cohen doesn't. That's what sets him apart.

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