Movie Talk: Best Acting, Brave Acting

Movie Talk: Best Acting, Brave Acting

Lloyd: I’ve started watching Netflix’s House of Cards, an original series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. The first two episodes are directed by David Fincher, and the show is altogether amazing. I hope you get to see it sometime (worth a one month’s free trial just to watch).

Back on track, let’s talk about acting. Who should win Best Actress?

Jake: I'll start by saying I still need to see both The Impossible and Beasts of the Southern Wild. I've heard great things about both of those movies, but I haven't gotten a chance to check them out. Soon, Lloyd.

So that leaves us with a Triple Threat Match, with Jennifer Lawrence versus Jessica Chastain versus Emmanuelle Riva. Great performances, all of them.

Hopefully we can talk about the Best Actor contest some more, too, but I just want to make a quick comparison to that field. To me, filling out an Oscars prediction sheet would be a waste of time if you thought anyone other than Daniel Day-Lewis was going to win. For my money, there were really two stellar performances this year, and the other one came from, you guessed it, Lloyd: Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. But when it comes to the Oscars, Abe Lincoln is taking it. I don't think there's much question.

With the Best Actress category, I think it's a bit different. It really feels like any of them could win. If I had to guess who's going to take home the Oscar, I'd say Jessica Chastain. But beyond the politics of the Academy Awards (and really any awards) the choice usually isn't that clear. For me, Emmanuelle Riva was the best of the bunch. Just a killer acting job. But zoom out, and you see that only three actresses in foreign films have ever won for Best Actress. That's one of the reasons it's Jessica Chastain, I think.

And you?

Lloyd: Here’s the thing. Jessica Chastain deserves it.

I hate the nepotism I see in Hollywood, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see a young woman as good as Chastain be recognized for years of hard work. She’s not someone’s daughter or niece. She went to Julliard. She skyrocketed into fame last year, starring in Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, The Debt, and The Help. And with ZDT, I absolutely love her.

Emmannuelle Riva, although superb, is unlikely to win. I’m wondering if she’ll even show up. I’d love to see Jennifer Lawrence win as well, but I give it to Chastain.

For the men, it’s far more disappointing because it’s sure to be a boring night. Although I fundamentally believe Philip Seymour Hoffman should be up in that category (who exactly is he supporting in The Master?), it will be Day-Lewis. I’d love to be surprised though, like seeing Mr. Cooper on stage. But how can you not give it to the man who played Lincoln?

Jake, I think I should see Les Mis, but I’m afraid. I don’t know if I can sit through Russell Crowe’s singing. What do you think?

Jake: Lloyd. If I ever ask you for anything in my life, it's not to watch that movie.

(Just kidding. That's from Vanity Fair's profile of Megan Ellison, who produced, yes, The Master and, yes, Zero Dark Thirty and, yes, will be producing Terminator 5.)

But really, I'm not kidding, don't watch it. If I could unwatch one movie of the last year, it would be What to Expect When You're Expecting. But if I could unwatch ten movies of the last year, one would surely be Les Misérables. I will say, though, that if your only hesitation is Russell Crowe (and not that it's 12 hours long and it makes no sense and they just won't stop singing), then I'd say go ahead and watch it. I didn't think he was as bad as a lot of people have said.

I was discussing the Best Actor category with my brother the other day, and I tossed out the idea that maybe Joaquin Phoenix was even better than Daniel Day-Lewis. I think that's a valid argument to make, even if most people might not see it that way. But he made the (I think convincing) point that whereas Phoenix could do basically whatever he wanted as Freddie Quell, Day-Lewis had to be The Abe Lincoln. And he was, right?

For me, the other actors in the category are a step down. Hugh Jackman put on a good performance in a bad movie. Denzel was, I thought, a slightly (but shockingly) different Denzel, but not quite up there with the other two. Bradley Cooper was great but not Great. (Although, after that movie, I'm particularly interested in seeing him in Beyond the Pines.)

And, regarding the Best Actress Oscar: If Jessica Chastain wins, I'll have no problem with it. I think comparing the performances is impossible, because they're so, so different. If I had the deciding vote, I would give it to Riva, but then again, I've never seen Jessica Chastain in anything other than ZDT and The Help.

Lloyd: You surely must see Chastain in everything she’s done. If not everything, at least The Tree of Life and Take Shelter—both fine films.

And can I say that Megan Ellison is a godsend?

Back to the men. Although Day-Lewis is a fine actor, did he really do anything in Lincoln? It was a great performance, but it wasn’t special. It didn’t push the line, it didn’t shatter anything. Phoenix, however, did something rather extraordinary. Can you compare his performance in The Master to anything else you’ve seen, at least in the last decade? The only recent comparisons that come to mind are Day-Lewis (ironically) in There Will Be Blood, perhaps, if I may say, Heath Ledger as the Joker, and Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa.

We don’t really see acting like that anymore—brave acting. Acting with no inhibitions. Day-Lewis is too calculated, too perfect. Yes, Day-Lewis is playing a historical figure, but that’s not special. So to give it to him is just bestowing an honor on an honorable actor. Giving it to Phoenix is saying some performances sit above the rest of the crowd.

Jake: I love that distinction you made with Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix. Totally valid. Joaquin Phoenix was doing stuff we've never seen before. Having gone over the acting awards of the best ten years, the only guy I'm tempted to add to that list is Mickey Rourke. I totally agree with the rest of the list. Also an interesting parallel with Rourke. He had the performance I think people remember most from that year, at least among people who saw both movies. Would you agree? The problem with The Master is that nobody has seen it, whereas everybody has watched Lincoln.

I think that's what The Master was, as a whole. Lincoln felt like a Spielberg movie. The Master felt like nothing we've really ever seen before. At least, it did for me. The cinematography, the storytelling, the characters. The problem is that it wasn't really about anything that people understood. Like my brother said, "I don't know what happened, but I enjoyed the movie."

I'm curious what you think about the Supporting Actress category. But then again, you haven't seen Anne Hathaway. Darn. Okay, go watch the first half hour of Les Misérables. Because, frankly, I think Amy Adams did the best job. But if we're looking for brave performances, it's probably Hathaway.

Lloyd: I’m still torn on Les Mis. I don’t know if I want to give them my money. I rented Flight yesterday on iTunes. It was horrible.

Mickey Rourke was robbed of an Oscar, but I’m not sure I’d add him to the list. Maybe I should see The Wrestler again. I’d definitely draw the comparison that people thought it was a great performance that stood above the rest. However, I wouldn’t say it was similar in brilliance.

I’m so withdrawn from popular opinion. When I read “The problem with The Master is that nobody has seen it...”, I couldn’t help but think that was false. The same thing happened when The Hurt Locker got nominated. Everyone kept saying that it was a film no one saw. But as someone who saw it, I totally recognized how good it was, and naïvely assumed others felt the same, or at least saw it. But how can people not be excited about a film made by the man who created There Will Be Blood. Didn’t people see that? I thought so. It’s surprising to me that people wouldn’t be jumping over each other to see The Master. At least to see a “scientology biopic.”

As for supporting actresses, I didn’t find Amy Adams particularly good. I felt Jacki Weaver was quite good. It will likely be Anne Hathaway. But maybe I should see The Master again.

Jake: I'm going to revise my previous statement and add at least one more name to the list, even though it was slightly more than a decade ago by now. What about Charlize Theron in Monster? I was only about 14 when that came out, and I still remember that being huge.

Jumping back to Daniel Day-Lewis versus Joaquin Phoenix: What would a braver performance as Lincoln have been? It wouldn't have been possible, right? So are you suggesting that the limitations of the character pretty much precluded him from qualifying for that elite tier of acting?

And it's funny that you bring up There Will Be Blood as a reason people would want to see The Master. There Will Be Blood was as fine a movie as there has been in the last decade. I mean: "I. DRINK. YOUR MILKSHAKE." But, in 2007, it was number 66 overall at the box office. More people saw Are We Done Yet?, Ice Cube's family comedy sequel. It's just the same as any movie like this, except probably worse because of the bad press it's gotten. Amour, for example, was always going to have low box office numbers, but more people are seeing it because everyone has loved it. The Master was always going to have pretty low numbers, too, and that would be even if it had gotten nominated for Best Picture.

Lloyd: Charlize Theron in Monster might be the original. I remember seeing Monster in a very small theater here in Austin—The Dobie. It’s gone now, but it was quite wonderful. Each theater had its own theme, like gothic, old Hollywood, etc.

There is no braver performance of Lincoln. Day-Lewis is limited in that way, and yes, it precludes him from being momentous.

Your last paragraph reminds me of my impatience for the popular audience. Perhaps we’re just lucky to have seen all of these fine films. We’re spoiled. We’re the same as those who eat fine food, and experience fine music. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the end, it doesn’t matter who saw all these films. (It’s like it doesn’t matter how many people know who Joe Biden is. Apparently a great percentage of Americans don’t know who Joe Biden is, at least by photograph.) Amour, unfortunately, is a foreign film—both Austrian and French, depending on who you ask. So that precludes it from being popular. The Master is just too much for most Americans. You have a triple threat of cinematography, acting, and story. People can’t seem to handle it. But that’s ok. I had to see it twice. Hopefully you can see it multiple times.

Jake, do you remember seeing The Mona Lisa for the first time? Did you look at it once without feeling a need to look at it again? I bet not.

Leave a comment