Some perfectly fine movies here, almost making me question the very premise of our acting quality over the movies. There is little shame in these next five choices, plucking acting highlights from pretty decent films. But it is these particular performers that hold the limelight, whether the movies have their detractors or not. Though there are two Coen Brothers’ films here – so I await your hate mail…
Jennifer Jason Leigh / The Hudsucker Proxy
Oddly enough, and if I recall correctly, this was the year Jennifer Jason Leigh came the closest she had ever been to an Oscar nomination with a Lead Actress bid for Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. Before The Hateful Eight, obviously. She unfortunately missed out this time. I, though, have not been as impressed as I was seeing her as the brash, snappy, fast-talking Amy Archer, a la Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn, in The Hudsucker Proxy.
I am pretty sure that was intentional by the Coen brothers, in their homage to the very early days of cinema. This was a great mini-era for her, what with her turns in Georgia and Dolores Claiborne the next year, and Short Cuts the year previous, an Oscar nod here could have jet-fired her career into a different direction. Unfortunately the movie was not well received by the box office or critics, so she had little chance. – – – – – Robin @Filmotomy
Dustin Hoffman / Hook
As a child, I adored Hook, with its colourful visuals, eccentric performance from the legendary Robin Williams and its magical direction from Spielberg. Looking back, Hook is a mess of a movie, that is far too camp and silly to take it as a serious film. Dustin Hoffman seems to know that the film isn’t a great work of art, donning a curly wig and hook to play Peter Pan’s nemesis, and over-acting like he is in his own pantomime. Hoffman seems to delight in playing the classic villain, and delivers his lines of dialogue (”Prepare to die, Peter!”) with glee.
Hoffman gives Hook some depth, indicating this villain has a crisis of identity, but still continue to play it for laughs; this is seen by his over-dramatic declaration to commit suicide to Smee (Bob Hoskins), ”Smee. Don’t you dare try to stop me this time, Smee, try to stop me. Smee, you’d better get up off your arse. Get over here, Smee!” Although, it’s not one of Hoffman’s greatest performance, it’s clear that he is just having a lot of fun and enjoying himself. It’s probably worth noting that Spielberg, Williams, and Hoffman did not take salaries for the film. – – – – – Bianca @thefilmbee
Alden Ehrenreich / Hail Caesar
Hail, Caesar! was a star-studded, irreverent affair about old Hollywood during the Red Scare written and directed by indie darlings Joel and Ethan Coen. Although Hail Caesar! has some truly charming moments, overall the tone is uneven and it doesn’t seem quite sure exactly what it’s trying to say about this era in film. And somehow, in a film featuring George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum (among others), the one who ended up stealing the show was the relatively unknown Alden Ehrenreich.
Before he starred as Han Solo in the ill-fated Star Wars prequel, his role in this film as sweet, dumb Hobie Doyle earned him some well-deserved attention. Hobie is a cowboy turned western movie star in the midst of a studio-orchestrated pivot towards sophisticated drawing room comedy that is predictably going poorly when he somehow gets embroiled in a communist plot. (I hate it when that happens.) Ehrenreich is hopelessly endearing throughout his entire on-screen performance, but really he wins us over with six simple words: would that it were so simple. – – – – – Audrey @audonamission
Samantha Morton / Sweet and Lowdown
So the basic spine of Sweet and Lowdown, may well be Woody Allen’s love for the jazz music. Sean Penn, in the lead, plays such a musician, a guitarist, in the 1930s. Emmet has a kind of goofy arrogance, and with it a pasting of naivety. Especially so when he meets, and falls in love with, a sprightly, mute woman, Hattie (Samantha Morton). Hereon in we watch Emmet attempting to shield his true feelings by portraying a busy life of an artist. Who is he trying to kind?
Well, not Hattie, that’s for sure. She may seems timid, and a little docile at first, but she has Emmet sussed out long before he knows it. Samantha Morton was deservedly Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress for the film (Penn got himself a Beast Actor nod), in a truly remarkable, commanding performance – without uttering a single word. Wonderful Morton makes it easy to fall in love with Hattie. Such emotive, telling facial expressions and gestures (including the most sympathetically perfect sad mouth you’ll ever see), mean Hattie is the star of the show. One of the great silent turns from Morton. – – – – – Robin @Filmotomy
Renée Zellweger / Chicago
I am a little bit peeved that I am writing this analysis, implicitly agreeing with the fact that Chicago is just an average movie. It is a musical built for musical lovers, with all of the pomp and circumstance that comes with a show-stopping production, so I was always guaranteed to love it. However, with all those jazz hands, there are bound to be some mixed feelings. Despite the Broadway adaptation garnering 13 Oscar nominations (six of which they won, including Best Picture), history has not looked favorably on this film. Valid criticisms of the direction style have been leveled and Richard Gere’s singing is… passable. But one aspect that may never turn rotten with age is Zellweger’s rendition of Roxie Hart.
Renée Zellweger is famous for her too-breathy voice and classic Hollywood face. She can flip from cherubic to raunchy at the drop of a hat, and sometimes it feels as if her every word is a double entendre. This is the exact personality that must embody Roxie Hart: a cliché every-woman who wants to be more than her average life would allow her to be. The character is cartoonish, because it is a musical and it has to be, but it taps into that part of your brain that wanted to be a pop star when you were a kid. Zellweger’s angel face and blonde curls open the door for a bit of empathy, and humanizes what otherwise would have been an insufferable role.
Zellweger knows just how far to push it, without stumbling across the line. When Velma Kelly is pitching Roxie her two-woman show in “I Can’t Do It Alone,” the audience knows Roxie is going to refuse. What they don’t know, is how big is she going to go? Earlier in the film, Hart would have rubbed Kelly’s face in the dirt, but now, she opts for the gentle but ruthless “So, where was the part where you blew her brains out?” Zellweger delivers this line with such nonchalance, she perfectly captures the growth and hubris of Hart, in a way that I doubt any other actress could have convincingly done.
Look, if you don’t love musicals, maybe skip this one. But if you’re interested in watching two women battle it out with their egos and each other, Chicago is a fascinating look at how femininity is bought and sold in show business. And Zellweger is there to teach you just how bad you have to want something to make it worth killing for. – – – – – Celia @filmsunstuck