So you’re expecting me to write about Bogart in -Blanca, Tom Hanks as Gump, or Jimmy Stewart’s Wonderful Life (or even Harrison Ford as Indy, which I was tempted to do). Not goanna happen.
To break with cliché and ignore all the “100 Best” lists, I give you a little panegyric on two of the greatest performances in the last decade that I’ve seen this year.
Charlize Theron’s Monster
I had heard about it on the radio when I was a school kid: the beautiful Charlize Theron people then knew as the knock-out blonde in so-so films like The Italian Job, That Thing You Do, The Devil’s Advocate and Might Joe Young suddenly broke out. She gained 30 pounds, wore prosthetic teeth, and embodied the real life character Aileen Wuornos, a convicted serial killer, becoming the first (South) African to receive an Oscar. And damn, she was freaky.
It’s the role that Roger Ebert calls “one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema.”
The film follows the real life story of Aileen, a highway prostitute, abused all her life, street wise, and tough as nails. Aileen meets and falls in love with a girl, the mysteriously beautiful Christina Ricci (of Sleepy Hollow and Casper fame), and is motivated to change. She does, going on a killing spree out of paranoia after being brutally raped within an inch of her life.
It goes without saying it’s in many ways grotesque – prostitution, lesbian sex, serial murders, abuse, etc.; but in the same breath don’t deny the realities of life.
Charles Dickens’ works were criticized by “fine upstanding Christians” for characters such as the prostitute Nancy in Oliver Twist and even the great (drunkard and blackmailer) Sydney Carton of Two Cities. These plot-turning sinners were the basis of the epic triumph so-called “good people” would have nothing of. As if all good actions should be done by outwardly morally fine looking people. As if such a thing were possible.
Monster leaves the viewer with a heart (and stomach for gruesomeness for that matter) immensely distraught at the terrors of the world that help shape society’s monsters, and compassion for those who tragically choose to be them.
Theron’s performance is an entire bookshelf on the human condition, not to mention an acting feat that will not be matched.
A friend of the real life Aileen commented on the film:
The mood swings Charlize Theron portrays are perfect, as are the mannerisms, body language, clothes, teeth, complexion, hair, the body fat, manner of speaking, that strutting walk and just everything. It was absolutely uncanny. You never forget someone like that, and then when they pop up alive like that again. It was just unreal.
My dad once said, you know a great actor (or actress) when you no longer see them but the person they are portraying and you are convinced the character is real.
Theron’s monster does just that and is a great film indeed.
George Clooney, Syriana
I was never a fan of George Clooney until the Ocean’s movies. Always thought he was a soft ladies man and nothing more.
Well, the rumors are true: on film at least, he is thee cool dude of dudes.
Recently I raved about him in Up in the Air, but even that performance is nothing compared to his previous and entirely different role as Bob Barnes in Syriana.
Watching George look like a Taliban sheik throughout the first five minutes of the film, you quickly realize his character is not your average Bob. Trained, experienced, an incredibly talented and capable field agent, Bob is brought back to the States after a job gone wrong to be grilled by pee-brained, soft-handed, white collar Pentagon execs who tell Bob he’s all wrong about everything they’ve never seen for themselves. Just the look George Clooney gives them is to die for.
Though the film draws out as another bullshit “we’re over there for the oil” speech with the talented Matt Damon, between Bourne’s, never breaking out due to flat script restraints, Clooney delivers! “Powerful!” doesn’t describe the magnetism of his role as a man trying to grab a desk job for what was his family sent on a last mission that tears him between risking all for what he believes is right and the prospect of a sophistic failure.
Though the movie is otherwise flat, Clooney’s chasm more than earns the Best Supporting Oscar. His final blank climatic stare spoke all the magic words.
Though I refuse to be manipulated in my opinion by a golden statue, the Oscars prove to be generally good guides in terms of artistry. Both Clooney’s and Theron’s roles are extremely abnormal, both for them and for film period; which is where extraordinary acting tends to show.
Like Hanks in just about anything, Gump tending to be the favorite, they broke the mold and successfully played their anti-typecast, which I believe is the only door to real superstardom.
Perhaps DiCaprio’s continued breakthrough as adult actor in Inception will be up for role awards this year. But for now, nothing drop dead great on the radar.