Hi all. Wanted to chip in and get part 5 posted of our Nice Acting! Shame About The Movie… series. With Robin and Bianca both seemingly absent since yesterday’s bizarre podcast recording (the 50th one too!), I thought as someone with access to Robin’s shared drive, it would be good to get this out – keep the site’s momentum going in this strange last 24 hours. Hope you enjoy these:
Alicia Vikander / The Danish Girl
It is fair to say that it’s agreed Alicia Vikander is the best thing about The Danish Girl. Her Oscar winning turn as Gerda is a wonderfully nuanced and compassionate performance in what could have easily been a thankless role as ‘concerned but supportive wife’ to Eddie Redmayne. The Danish Girl suffers from a superficial script that never allows the audience to fully devel into what could have been a powerful and complicated story of self-realisation. Despite the innate potential for drama of the situation, it never really feels like anything is truly at stake. The film is beautiful to look at with stunning production and costume design, but at the cost of any real dramatic weight.
Vikander’s performance however, transcends any of the film’s criticisms and she was rightly rewarded with a host of award wins and nominations. (It’s notable that she also racked up critics awards and praise for her supporting role in Ex Machina the same year.) It’s easy to joke about The Danish Girl, dismissively attaching the now derogatory term ‘Oscar bait’ to it and in another world the film would easily disappear into the annals of film history, but thanks to Alicia Vikander, it is worth remembering and revisiting for her outstanding performance. – – – – – Jo
Naomi Watts / King Kong
In theory, I’m not against a King Kong remake. Yes, the 1933 movie is a perfect film, and yes, it still represents some high-water mark in event-movie filmmaking. If you can come at it with a fresh angle, you can justify a remake’s existence. With the 1976 iteration of the story, the special effects suck, the whole movie functions as a bawdy interspecies sex comedy, complete with Jessica Lange’s iconic screwball heroine. Peter Jackson has no fresh angle for his 2005 remake. His only innovations are adding ninety extra minutes of padding, endless action sequences with visually homogeneous CGI, and giving Andy Serkis another another crack at an Oscar for his mo-cap work.
A film of missed opportunities, overstuffed with go-nowhere character arcs (love the idea of casting Jack Black as a proto-Orson Welles, but neither Black nor Jackson know what to do with the character). That means it’s up to Naomi Watts to justify King Kong’s distended runtime, and damned if she doesn’t almost succeed. Like the rest of the film, nothing about her character or the performance itself is subtle. Her Ann Darrow is a Struggling Actress, who hoofs it in vaudeville but knows – just knows it, I tell ya! – she’s destined for something more important. Jackson directs her like every scene is a contender for her Best Actress reel at the Oscars, yet somehow, Watts keeps us from recoiling at every histrionic moment.
Watts lives for playing big, and she does it with just enough of an arch, knowing edge. At times, it seems like she’s pulled a fast one on Jackson, turning her sections into some self-aware cartoon without her director being the wiser. When Ann needs to break our hearts, she can drop that mock-ironic facade like a guillotine and destroy us. Ann convinces Black’s movie producer that she’s got a lifetime of pain to benefit his picture. All of a sudden, Watts seems to shift out of her body, and her intensity of feeling puts Black on his heels. It takes him a moment to regain his composure. We sympathize – we’re right there with him. – – – – – Joshua
Tom Hanks / The Ladykillers
There was a time in the 80s and early 90s, Tom Hanks was thought of as a comedic actor. Whether he was dressing up as a woman in the sitcom Bosom Buddies, or he was falling in love with a mermaid in Splash or he was a literal man child in Big, Hanks proved to be that funny, playful, and a light on his feet performer. Then something happened: he won two Oscars in a row, and suddenly funny Hanks drifted away, and we were left with serious Hanks. Now I like serious Hanks, I’m glad we got him, he’s been in some good, to great films, but I really, really miss funny Hanks, he was so charming, and underrated, can’t we get him back?
There has been one instance funny Hanks came out to play during this serious era, and that was with The Coen Brothers updated version of The Ladykillers. Now I love the Coens, and would argue that the majority of their films rank as modern classics, but The Ladykillers may be their weakest film overall. However there is one spectacular bit of brilliance in the film and that is Hanks’ transformative, flamboyant performance as Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr, PH.D. Playing the ringleader of a band of idiotic criminals, determined to bump off an old lady after a robbery gone wrong, Hanks is a revelation and the main reason to see this film.
He has never been cast more subversively than here, playing a really evil, though dimwitted mastermind contrasting to his usual upstanding American heroes, and he actually looks like he’s having a great time in the part. It’s evidence that despite being everyone’s favorite nice guy on screen, Hanks can be a very talented chameleon, and given the right part, he can totally transform. One wishes he would team up with the Coens again at some point with a much better film more worthy of his comedic talents. – – – – – Jeremy
Ewan McGregor / Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Perhaps the most mainstream choice on this list, but also one of the most earned. We all know the Star Wars prequels have a bad reputation and, like them or not, there are many reasons for that. It’s green screen overload. It’s pseudo-Shakespeare with the dialogue of Love Island and plotting of insane, actual US politics. It’s just worse than it should have been. And with that unmet expectation it’s lined with a stellar cast including the likes of Liam Neeson, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman and more – but arguably the only one to drive forth some depth into the trilogy was Ewan McGregor. Coming off the back of the critically acclaimed Trainspotting, McGregor entered this franchise portraying a young Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Here the character is shown adventuring between his days as a Jedi apprentice and then further as an early master (with Alec Guinness portraying that era in its tail end during the original trilogy). Comparisons to Guinness aside, by the time McGregor reached the third entry (Revenge of the Sith) he was already a clear highlight, however it was not till this final film that he showed just how much gripping tension he could pull out of the cartoonish melodrama. During this film, McGregor really brought his A-game in subtlety portraying a wavering border between virtue and duty, and exactly when he needed to do so he could bombastically stress any tragic seriousness of that heroically innocent character. If you need proof of this, just watch his CGI lava-invested scene with Hayden Christensen towards the end of the movie. Even in a galaxy far, far away he made things hit home. – – – – – Jon
Emma Stone – Aloha
There was provocative talk about Cameron Crowe’ film Aloha, claiming some people of Hawaii had their feathers ruffled by the depiction of their distinguished culture. Well, yeah. The writer-director also caused a stir by casting Emma Stone as Allison Ng, who is renowned for telling the story that she is one quarter Asian and one quarter Hawaiian. Great. Wait, what? No. Emma Stone? Crowe openly apologized for this (only following bagfuls of offence and confusion). This is Cameron Crowe, of Jerry Maguire, of Almost Famous. Right there, the year 2000. Sorry dude, I used to love you.
Aloha then, what a cast – Stone, Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Bill Murray. Maybe fifteen years ago they were queuing all night to get in a Crowe movie. But these days, and while actually watching this movie, I was just wondering if these popular, talented, current crop were actually broke. Does Crowe still have some magnetic force? Nonetheless, Aloha is a real messy affair. The drifting, ineffective story strands, cumbersome editing, little chemistry between anyone. The whole thing is just bewilderingly stale. But Emma Stone shines bright here, she seems to be having the most fun, and can switch emotion in a sixpence. She came out of it, still breaking through, and road to success definitely untarnished.