An actor might be our most unheralded master performer. It doesn’t matter whether he’s slumming it in a megabudget atrocity, or headlining some indie that only four people will see. Maybe they bring effortless integrity to everything they do. What about that high-profile role, in a popular movie, and he quietly gives the best performance in the film. That you never catch him acting. But that’s the leitmotif of his entire career: he keeps getting upstaged by showier performances. But not always. (words by Joshua Katz)
Amy Adams / Big Eyes
I’m pretty much certain that director Tim Burton has lost his way, his 2014 film Big Eyes was an odd one, which is pretty much forgettable aside from Amy Adams’ performance and that Lana Del Ray song. Adams plays the role of American artist Margaret Keane—famous for drawing portraits and paintings with big eyes. The film follows the story of Margaret and her husband, Walter Keane, who took credit for Margaret’s phenomenally successful and popular paintings in the 1950s and 1960s. Adams manages to capture the drive and passion that Keane had, and also the frustration that many women felt during that period.
For research, Amy Adams consulted with the real-life Margaret Keane, who was in her late 80s. According to Adams, Keane was overwhelmed by the notion that anybody would want to make a film about her life. Adams’ efforts paid off and resulted in her winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, and was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. – – – – – Bianca @thefilmbee
Cameron Diaz / The Counselor
Cameron Diaz never seems to get the credit she deserves. While she may be known for being a comedic leading lady, thanks to her performances in films like There’s Something About Mary, it feels like we tend to forget that she can be an amazing dramatic actress. One example of her tremendous acting prowess is The Counselor where she plays the sociopathic Malkina.
As a film, The Counselor is underwhelming and honestly, a tad pretentious. But the film’s sole saving grace is easily Cameron Diaz’s performance. Much like how her character is always one step ahead of everyone else, she manages to be heads and shoulders above the material. Diaz is both chilly and unpredictable as a woman who uses everyone around her, including her dear lover Reiner (Javier Bardem), as a pawn in her chess game. Diaz presents Malkina with such an alluring mystery that she makes you wish she had her own movie. – – – – – Matt S @filmguy619
Denzel Washington / Roman J. Israel Esq
Dan Gilroy’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. is an example of a film of spirited ambition mired with plot constraints. However, in its confines lies one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen by Denzel Washington. Washington, who won an Oscar for the crime-soaked Training Day as Detective Alonzo, here disappears into this film’s titular character, Roman.
Washington’s performance is hinged on the unlikely personality he and Gilroy give Roman. Roman is a likely autistic, routine-based research attorney who must become a litigator when his boss dies and leaves the failing firm in his hands. There is no trace of Washington here; there is only Roman. He’s awkward, methodical, soft-spoken, integral, and quixotic. That is until a crisis of faith presents itself and sends Roman reeling backwards.
While Denzel is known for power performances and powerful characters, his true gift here is his restraint. The film’s best scene has Washington’s Roman running, terrified, from a low-level perpetrator who sees through Roman’s guise. The brilliance of the scene comes from its authenticity: Washington, a take-no-nonsense power actor convinces us he is authentically afraid and mortally shamed – a truly remarkable achievement for the actor; and the only reason this otherwise mediocre plotted film remains memorable. – – – – – Mark @The_Movie_Buff
Michael Fassbender / Alien Covenant
I had high hopes for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, but the film was a mess and it’s only saving grace was Michael Fassbender’s sneaky android David, whose intentions are as mysterious as the aliens that the crew encounter. Going into Alien Covenant, I wasn’t expecting any improvement. Like Prometheus, the plot is all over the place and the narrative is confusing (giving the viewer more questions than answers).
Again, Fassbender is on top form here, playing not one but two androids, the ‘American sounding’ Walter and the ‘upper-class Brit’ David. Fassbender has to give these two android’s life, but ensure that the viewer is aware that they aren’t human like the rest of the ship’s crew. Fassbender manages to cleverly perform the dual roles, each sharing an intimate scene with himself. With his performance, Fassbender manages to give the androids a rich emotional complexity, presenting them as intelligent self-aware beings, who are just as eager to face their makers as their human counterparts.– – – – – Bianca @thefilmbee
Billy Crudup / Watchmen
In 2009, Billy Crudup found a showstopping performance as the all-powerful superhero Dr. Manhattan in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation. There was just one eensy, weensy, little problem: Watchmen is three-quarters and two-thirds terrible. It might be the most misbegotten collision of adapter and source material. The graphic novel is a dense, postmodern deconstruction of comic-book tropes… and who better to realize that vision for the screen than that thudding literalist Zack Snyder? Snyder has no idea how comics work (based on his Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, one could argue that he actively hates comics), so for all the slavish attention he employs when copying Watchmen’s aesthetic and graphic violence, he can’t ask one original question or make one provocative new point.
Yet Crudup emerges from the film uunscathed. Dr. Manhattan looks like the most swole Smurf in Smurf Village, and the fact that he can literally de-materialize all organic and non-organic matter proves less noticeable than his CGI-rendered anatomy (complete with a distractingly floppy…ahem, endowment). But Crudup, working wonders under a mo-cap suit, emphasizes the stillness of the character. He knows that a giant blue ubermensch is already about eight steps over the top, so he moves with a deliberate, unsettling languor: when he deconstructs a tank and reassembles it into a completely new invention, Crudup uses the kinds of finessed micro-movements one would expect of a miniaturist or a skilled puppeteer.
Furthermore, in what might be his most inspired directorial decision, Snyder lets Manhattan speak in Crudup’s own voice, and that disconnect between godly status and Crudup’s soft, whispery tones conveys everything Moore and Gibbons first wanted to say about humanity’s own uneasy relationship with false idols. Crudup gives Manhattan a complex vocal range – tenderness, jealousy, alienation, regret, wonder – that acts as a reminder of the human qualities the character is desperate to subsume. Dr. Manhattan remains one of the great mo-cap showcases (it’s Andy Serkis as Caesar, Serkis as Gollum, and then Crudup), and I credit Crudup’s subtle acknowledgment of the tension between pixels and performance. – – – – – Joshua @TrppdnthCg