Having shared some of our favorite movies of 2015 so far in last week’s trio of posts, I thought I would delve a little deeper by shining some light on those in front of the camera. I’m hardly looking for Oscar contenders here, I would much rather advocate some of the best, stand-out performances or roles on offer thus far that the consensus are perhaps not talking about. Once again I asked a reliable, talented bunch of film-addicts to scribble down their thoughts on those actress or actors (or dogs) that shone for them. And they did not disappoint. As I thank them privately (and there are two more batches of our own acclaimed group of film performers to follow) why don’t you, for now, take a gander at these, starting with the movie I saw most recently:
Rinko Kikuchi (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter)
The fictitious blurb at the opening of Fargo (yeah, the Coen brothers) that claims the story you are about to embark on is based on true events is very much synonymous with the central character Kumiko’s ambition to seek out the very bag of cash that Steve Buscemi’s character hid in the snow. Kumiko is treated poorly at work and by her mother, is at her wit’s end, and her only friend appears to be a rabbit, who she attempts to set free (a surprisingly moving scene as she bids a teary farewell). Best known for her silent, devastatingly good performance in Babel, Rinko Kikuchi brings another troubled, isolated character to life as Kumiko. Kikuchi is a terrific actress, she has volatility in her face, and innocence in her movement. As the treasure hunter Kumiko you can not help but empathize with her motive and determination for such a journey (especially with the characters limited grasp of English) – and although her ideals seem swayed by fiction, you route for her all the same.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Chris Pratt & Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World)
The biggest reason I like Jurassic World more than Jurassic Park is because of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Pratt plays Owen, he’s in charge of the raptors, and Howard plays Claire, she’s in charge of the entire park. There are a couple scenes where they are not in it together, but when they are it’s terrific. The first time we see them in a scene together is when Claire needs to ask Owen to come and inspect the viewing area that contains a genetically modified T-Rex. They have an attraction for each other, but only Owen is open to talking about it. This works so well for these actors because they have a natural chemistry. In another scene they need to track down Claire’s nephews that have gone missing. Owen explains how he’s in charge, and Claire takes this offensively. She rolls up her sleeves and makes him realize that she can keep up with his tracking. It’s a minor scene, but works so effectively because we see how they work better as a team. Jurassic World may not have meant to be a romance, but in a strange way, it was. Actors Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were just so natural as their characters that you believe that what they do is actually possible. Plus, it’s so great to watch Howard run the whole time in high heeled shoes.
Al Robinson @Al_Rob_1982
Body & Luke (White God)
Spontaneity and intensity – two elements of the perfect performance that often prove mutually exclusive to many actors, regardless of age, gender or species… yes, species. Gone are the dead-eyed dancing monkeys – or, rather, dogs – of too many features past (poor Uggie), and here are two actors in the one film, indeed in the one role, who fulfill your quota of spontaneity and intensity for an entire year in film! And they’re dogs! The procedures involved in training such a creature to respond in a specific manner to specific cues and yet to do so with a natural demeanor seem to defy belief, if the stilted performances of cinema’s starring canines in the past are to be trusted. Yet Body and Luke, both in the role of White God’s four-legged lead Hagen, will make you a true believer with their strikingly naturalistic yet stunningly powerful work, and all with the kind of relaxed countenance that suggests something virtually unseen among film stars of their species: they actually seem to be enjoying themselves. The film’s worth a watch for this pair alone.
Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
Jason Statham (Spy)
We know him as the kick-ass anti-hero (The Transporter series), a big action star (The Expendables franchise) and a Guy Ritchie regular (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch), but now we’re seeing him in a new light – comedic actor. That’s right: as Rick Ford, the ego-driven, inept field agent for the CIA, Statham proves he has impeccable comedic timing as he continuously interferes with Susan Cooper’s (Melissa McCarthy) mission of stopping loose nukes from getting into the hands of terrorists. What makes this performance all the better is how he does this with a straight face. Any other action star might have furiously mugged and tried hard to act funny, but Statham plays it seriously, thus making the jokes about him surviving poisonings and breaking bones all the more hilarious.
Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23
Lou de Laâge (Respire)
Respire is a sophomore directorial effort by the famous actress, Mélanie Laurent. I had personally not known her to be a director before. This is a film that at first feels like a sensitive portrayal of female adolescent friendship but then it turns into a battle between two distinct people. This is (I believe) first film of the lead Joséphine Japy and the scene-stealer Lou de Laâge. Both delivering very worthy performances with some truly compelling moments. One can also credit Japy for her part in the film (she is good) as Charlie, an innocent but competent young girl living with her mother. But for me, Lou de Laâge is the true stand out. Her portrayal of Sarah is bold, complicated and unnerving. The friendship at the center of this film between the two characters turn into a dangerous game. Lou de Laâge plays Sarah in a way that never gives a straight away perception of her character. You can almost second-guess her intentions, her words, her expressions. She plays her part with the confidence it needs to be both enigmatic and frustrating. I wont go into spoilers but there are moments, as the plot progresses that are just oh so shocking. Laurent does get the credit for playing against the expectation of audiences and stopping our heartbeats for minutes but Lou de Laâge gives this film the bite it could have easily lacked otherwise.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Lin Shaye (Insidious 3)
Let’s be perfectly honest, you saw the movie and immediately turned your nose and snorted sarcastically. I know most people would never expect one of the best performances to come from the third installment of a horror franchise, but Lin Shaye manages to do just that. While obviously not an Oscar contender, I challenge any person to watch Insidious 3 and not be simply surprised how much depth and intrigue goes along with the character she puts on screen. In a franchise based on cheap jump scares (apart from the first) Shaye manages to give an actual memorable performance, something almost no horror movie in the last 30 years can say confidently. Just like The Babadook that preceded Insidious in 2014, a strong and powerful woman gives depth to a role that was not completely necessary but fondly welcomed. I implore you to check out this movie and just like me allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised.
Mike Austin @MuzakWeeWoo
Horror movie heroines were once runners and screamers, which was all well and good for the traditional scarefest, but elements of the genre have slowly evolved. Women appear to have substantial brains and balls now. Maika Monroe’s college girl Jay Height in It Follows is rather both free-spirited and head-strong, bit still finds that having sex with a boy can land you in a different kind of trouble altogether. Eerily pursued thereafter, and in fear of certain death, Monroe portrays Jay with a depth of intrigue, that fear is not always apparent in her face, but it is there underneath, we feel it. Here is a heroine then who, although seeking help from her friends, is keen and able to attempt to take control of her own potentially perilous situation. Monroe is undoubtedly radiant on-screen, and convinces as a regular teenage girl with a far-from-regular predicament. It is a thoughtful, engaging, and occasionally emotive performance, and a credit to the modern horror genre.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA