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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Strong Performances Worth Checking Out

Written by Kirk Baird

While watching the comedy-drama Take This Waltz, I was reminded again of the importance of casting. The film by writer-director Sarah Polley is good if unexceptional as a whole, but it’s elevated into the must-see category based solely on the terrific lead performance by Michelle Williams as a happily married woman who falls for a tall, dark artist who lives on her street. Williams is funny, sad, tragic, and by film’s end what you remember most about Take This Waltz. It will hopefully be remembered come Oscar time.

I felt similarly about Williams’s Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s My Week with Marilyn, which also featured an Oscar-nominated turn by Kenneth Branagh as a witty and exasperated Sir Laurence Olivier.

Williams, oddly enough, lost the Oscar to Meryl Streep and her tremendous performance in The Iron Lady, another flawed film that succeeds on the back of its two lead performers (Jim Broadbent as Thatcher’s husband Denis being the other). The Blind Side was a big hit, but it was an OK movie with a career-best performance by Sandra Bullock.

Richard Gere as a morally bankrupt hedge fund manager in this year’s the people vs. Wall Street drama Arbitrage leaps to mind as well. He takes a less interesting Gordon Gekko character and bends him into someone we may not like, but care enough to watch. And while Russell Crowe won his Best Actor Oscar for Gladiator, a better role comes as the troubled mathematics genius in A Beautiful Mind, a performance that transcends what is a rather unexceptional film.

The Master is brilliant and confounding at times, but no matter the response to Paul Thomas Anderson’s brave misfire, the lead performance of Joaquin Phoenix is stunning, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman in the supporting role. And check out Benicio Del Toro’s riveting and menacing enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

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