21 February 2008

Best Actor

How do you know if somebody is good at acting like somebody else who isn't real? That's why actors who play people that were real are constantly being given awards (witness the last three best actors in a row - Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Phil Hoffman as Truman Capote, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles ... and with the ladies SIX out of the last EIGHT - Helen Mirren as the Queen, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, Julia Roberts as Erin Brockavich, Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena). NOW I know the fact that these were real people doesn't mean that the traits brought to the surface by the actor aren't new to us (I bet you had never seen an Aileen Wuornos impression), but still there's something going on here. [Honorable mention for Cate Blanchett's killer Dylan in I'm Not There and Johnny Depp's Hunter Thompson]

What's more, you know the performance that people often cheer for the loudest are those portrayals of disability, craziness, etc. "Hey, Sean Penn isn't really mentally retarded! That's acting!" (I've never seen that movie, but you know what I mean).

The occasion for this post is a salon.com article about Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. The article quotes a professional actor puzzled by all the lauding of Day-Lewis: "Weird how so many people confuse 'acting that you can see' with great acting," he says. NOW I'm pulling for DDL on Sunday ... that performance was one of the most stunning, memorable, most enormous things I've ever seen in a film. Perhaps rivaled only by DDL in Gangs of New York. But I think the article might be on to something.

But really, the problem is that I don't truly understand acting. This is something that I've thought about for a while. I mean I have actors and performances that I love and they often coincide with the actors and performances that critics think are great too. And while I'll go in for the BIG performance like the next guy, I can think of a number of counterpoints in smaller movies that blow me away just as much (for example Laura Linney in You Can Count On Me or Ryan Gosling in Half-Nelson). But I've never been sure how to spot bad acting. Anyone can see that Keanu Reeves is programmed to robot through every role with the same monotone and squint. So I solicit not only your opinion on the BIG performances, but what are some BAD ones (preferably bad ones that come from decent movies ... too easy to say Paris Hilton wasn't all that good in "The Hottie and the Nottie.")


kris said...

Wait -- you're saying Paris Hilton wasn't good in "The Hottie and the Nottie"? Are you saying you've seen "The Hottie and the Nottie"?

You watched "The Hottie and the Nottie." Admit it.

Anonymous said...

[quote]Anyone can see that Keanu Reeves is programmed to robot through every role with the same monotone and squint. [/quote]

No not everyone can see that. Only biased dicks who hate Keanu because they probably secretly lust after him.

That's right, dick. And don't tell me you are a Keanu expert who has actually seen every role that he supposedly "robots" through, because other dicks like you have already tried that argument.

bobichael said...

Sophie Coppola in The Godfather III.

Madhurima said...

As a complete surprise to me, Tim Robbins in The War of the Worlds was very disappointing.

How *does* one spot good acting? I used to love Anthony Hopkins, and thought he was one of the best actors around. Then, a professor pointed out that Hopkins's idea of emoting seemed to be a silly shielding of his eye with his hand, and that you could always tell that he was playing a part. Now Sir Anthony is lost to me forever.

JIM said...

How I understand Acting:

Forrest Whitaker got his Oscar for *Last King of Scotland* because it was a terrifying show of range and force that also came with a nominally convincing Ugandan accent (like I'd know one of those if it kicked me in the balls... but still.)

Forrest Whitaker is a Best Actor because he was also in Ghost Dog, where I think he made me (at least) feel a great range of emotions toward his character a minimum of demonstration from himself. You have to re-watch that movie to appreciate how subtle he's being about some of Ghost Dog's little failures or naivetes in following his own code.

To wit: Forrest Whitaker can act and is awesome, but he's a great actor because he can interpret text and take different approaches with pretty uniformly great results. DDL's instrument strikes me as a little more blunt (lol), but I haven't seen as many of his movies.