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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Four Performances In A Row!

Each of the last four movies I watched feature lead performances that have been rightly recognised by various institutes.  First up was Natalie Portman in "Black Swan", for which I have little doubt she will win the Academy Award.  Her year's study of dancing alone is enough for a nod, let alone her intense performance as a young woman rapidly cracking under pressure.

Now don't get me wrong, I do not begrudge Portman the accolade, and think it is very much deserved, but since her shadow looms so large over it, and it is assumed she will take it, I would like to do my little part in drawing attention to somebody in the same category, who is equally as worthy of the win.  Her name is Jennifer Lawrence, the film is "Winter's Bone".  Whilst I think the film was too small a release to garner any major attention, I would say that if Portman was going to lose to anyone, it could only, and should only be to this girl.  She would have been barely 18 when making "Winter's Bone", but she carries a screen presence and an ability to convey and emote that can match the likes of Annette Benning or Meryl Streep.  Lawrence takes on the role of a girl who is bringing up her young siblings, in lieu of a disabled mother, and who, upon discovering her waste of a father has put up their land for his bail only to disappear, sets out to find him.  Along the way she is met with hostility from family and friends, and no matter where she turns or what she does, she does not appear to be able to break the silence over his whereabouts.  The story is a heavy character piece, and the film very much relied on the audience buying Lawrence as this hard-nosed, stubborn young woman, who is old beyond her years out of necessity.  Whilst the film was not perfect, I found numerous scenes where I was hugely impressed with Lawrence's delivery of sharp, hefty dialogue, and the range of dark emotions she was able to convey, whilst remaining completely understated throughout the entire film.  If there is one reason for you to watch "Winter's Bone", it is her, so please do; the film may be a bit of a slog, but the joy of watching this actress work makes it worthwhile.

Just recently I had the privilege of finally seeing "The King's Speech".  At last people get to see what some of us have probably known for some time; Colin Firth is a formidable actor.  Although I am a little aggravated that other members of the cast seem to have been overshadowed, such as Geoffrey Rush, whose character the story is as much about as the King, I will not deny that Firth is brilliant.  Whilst the focus is of course on his speech impediment, Firth's mastering of the infamous stammer, making it appear to be so natural, is only part of the great performance here.  Along with the stammer he has managed to in fact alter his way of speaking almost entirely, the mispronunciation of his R's, and the royal cadence in his delivery, never faltering.  Add to that the fact that he manages to be completely believable as a Duke terrified of his inevitable position and responsibility, a point that the majority of the film's emotion relies upon, and it can safely be said that he deserves his award, which he is sure to get (No doubt he is quietly thankful that Daniel-Day Lewis has not had any work out in time for this awards season).

The final performance is sadly not one that was ever recognised by the Academy, even in the form of a nod , which is quite shameful.  "Moon" is a fascinating, low-budget sci-fi film, independently produced, and one which genuinely surprised me, as I think it did many; it is fast becoming a cult favourite for people, sci-fi fan or not!  Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, a contract worker who has been mining the moon for helium-3, the solution to Earth's energy crisis.  He has been doing it for close to three years, which is his contracted time, and he is excited about getting home; for so long his only company has been that of video messages from his wife and child, photographs, and the on-board computer Gerty.  Upon visiting one of the mining stations, Sam has an accident and finds himself waking at base under the care of Gerty.  What then unfolds is something which cannot be easily described without spoiling the things that make the film so good, but it is fair to say that on more than one occasion, due to a lot of the sci-fi tropes seeming so familiar, I believed I knew where the film was going.  I didn't.  It was refreshing to see this sort of film take more than one turn along the way and become a movie I really was not expecting.

Sam Rockwell may well be becoming one of my favourite actors now, a man who seems able to manifest actual physical transformation from one role to the next without the aid of effects; put Rockwell from "Frost/Nixon", from "Iron Man 2", and from this film alongside each other, and you could almost believe they are different men!  This film really does illustrate most just how complex and real a performance he can give, and despite the other things about "Moon" that I love (Clint Mansell's gorgeous score, for one), it is ultimately Rockwell the film's success hinges on.  This is literally a one man show; even Gerty was only voiced by Kevin Spacey after the man himself had seen a rough cut and was so impressed by the actor.  This fact is not only testament to the quality of work from first time film maker Duncan Jones, but also to just how impressive Rockwell is.  This is the performance that in time to come, people will likely look back and think, why didn't he get an Oscar nomination for this?

I am so happy to be able to say that four films on the trot have provided me genuinely astonishing performances from these great actors.  I wish all the luck to Portman and Firth, not that I think they need it, and I advise anyone who has not seen Jennifer Lawrence or Sam Rockwell in action to do so; they deserve everyone's attention!


  1. It's good to see another blog entry that i can enjoy reading through and (as always) well written :-)

    It's interesting that you mention "Winter's Bone" as it's a film i've been meaning to watch for sometime as i've got the impression that from last year it was a film to watch out for, particularly for the performance.

    I still need to see "The King's Speech" but i will make sure i get see it in the week. It would be a shame if Geoffrey Rush is overshadowed as he is a great actor and i loved him in "Shine" and "Quills" in particular, but as i am yet to see "The Kings Speech" i still look forward to his performance as much as Firth's.

    I haven't seen "Moon" either, or much of Rockwell's performances with the exception of "Frost/Nixon" but i have heard he is one to watch out for and a star on the rise. I will have to check those films out sometime.

    I look forward to the results from the nominations and i think we're lucky that there are so many good performances out there atm. At the same time however, and i agree from your references, that some recognition for those that also deserve it would be nice.

    In the meantime it looks like i have some films to catch up on :-)

  2. Haha, you in particular will enjoy "Moon", it holds hands nicely with "Solaris" and "2001", and yet, as I say, defies your a great way. My favourite Clint Mansell score; it is so perfect with his performance, and the whole thing was quite overwhelming on a couple of occasions. He reckons he'd like to work with Mansell again, but next time more how Aronofsky does, so that he's on board through the editing process, as with "Moon" he joined on the tail-end of that process. I highly recommend "Moon"...seriously considering where it will go on my list, cos I think it's straight in there like "Black Swan".

    As for Oscars, how is Nolan not up for Best Director when David O Russell is for "The Fighter"?

    Shame all this great cinema and terrific acting has to step aside when summer comes :(

  3. Glad you liked Moon, I adore it, must have seen it about 5 times now! Sam Rockwell's a spectacular actor, and the main reason I went to see Moon at the cinema - wasn't expecting to be as blown away as I was. You're right about the soundtrack too, so atmospheric, you can freak yourself out wonderfully just by listening to it loudly whist walking to work or on the bus, it fills everything with such a feeling of portent, great fun!

  4. Sam, five times is pretty good...I'm having my third run at it this weekend. I really was quite stunned by Rockwell; it was only later, total coincidence, I watched The Assisination Of Jesse James, and lo and behold, look who I saw :) Yeh, Mansell's opening theme got stuck in my head for ages! As for the piano piece called Memories, whenever I listen to it now I can't help but recall that incredible scene when he calls him home :(

    Speaking of surprising performances, have you seen Firth in the Marc Evans film "Trauma"? I'm tempted to write about it in my next entry

  5. Ooh, no I've not seen Trauma, I'll look it up. For other great Rockwell performances, see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (I think Clooney directed it), and Choke (based on the Palahniuk novel, also hilarious) : )

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  7. Oh wow, I know of Choke the story, but have seen neither, thanks. I have seen The Green Mile of course, which I didn't recall him in until Jody mentioned it :)

    I shall write about Trauma for you to have a read x