Monday, January 17, 2005

Top Actresses

When looking at film, I usually look at the director. I would call a movie David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 or Richard Linklater's School of Rock. I consider the director the author of the movie, and the one person most responsible for creating the film. However, there are some other people who are also critical, and can completely change the way the director's vision is put into practice, and these people are called actors. A really good actor can take a bad movie and make it good, or a good movie and make it great. Witness Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean. This is a servicable action movie, but his performance as Jack just owns, and makes the rest of the movie so much better.

So, here's some of my favorite actresses. Not coincidentally, a lot of them have worked with my favorite directors. I think a big part of liking an actor/actress for me is their choice of scripts, because if you're doing great acting in a bad movie, I might notice it, but if you're doing it in a great movie, I'll definitely pick up on it.

Julianne Moore - Her relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson has given us two great characters, but she does great work in pretty much every role I've seen her in. As part of the Magnolia ensemble, she plays a dislikable character, but makes her human, and understandable, even in the midst of crisis. She's great in The Hours, as a 50s housewife, desperate to escape the confines of her suburban existence. She has probably the toughest role in the film, having to spend almost all her time acting with a kid, and she pulls it off.

Naomi Watts - First off, her performance in Mulholland Drive is one of the most awe inspiring performances ever. The audition scene, where she goes from goofy 50s character to brilliant actress, the change in character between the first and second half, all the while staying on one emotional arc. She gives the movie its heart, the thing that Lynch's very similar Lost Highway lacks. Just watch her in Club Silencio, completely silent, but her face tells you everything you need to know. 21 Grams is another great performance, again in dark and tormented mode. Her recent role in I Heart Huckabee's was more comedic, and she excelled there too. The bizarre ads, the bonnet, great stuff.

Natalie Portman - Obviously, being in Star Wars doesn't hurt her in terms of gaining my appreciation, but acting wise, the Star Wars films are by far her least work. Even though it was ten years ago, and she's done a lot since, she's never topped the brilliance of her work in Leon: The Professional. The relationship between Leon and Mathilda is one of the most interesting in film, and it really affects me emotionally. Her work in Cold Mountain was the highlight of the movie, and Garden State was her best performance since Leon. In Garden State, she was so full of life, she was the energy in the movie. Closer was more great work, and I'm really psyched for her slate next year, which includes Episode III and V For Vendetta. Throw in Mars Attacks! and Heat, and she's already got one of the best resumes in the business.

Maggie Cheung - She's only done a couple of movies in English, but that doesn't preclude her from being a great actress in my eyes, and if you've seen In the Mood For Love, you'll know she's brilliant. That's one of the great subtle performances, with each gesture seemingly perfetly calculated to convey the feelings of loss and longing that she has. She's great in Hero as well, once again teaming with Tony Leung. Despite dying so many times in the movie, each one still feels emotionally relevant. She steals Ashes of Time, with a wordless performance that is the emtional centerpiece of the movie. And in 2046, just the glimpse of her brings back a rush of emotions. I'd love to see her do some work over here, since she speaks great English, and is unquestionably one of the best actresses working in the world today.

Nicole Kidman - Of all the people on this list, I'd have to say that my favorite is Nicole Kidman. Despite being a massive star, she takes on a lot of really challenging roles, in movies that people aren't going to see. She works with very challenging directors, and is chameleonic in her acting skill. She steals Eyes Wide Shut, and in only a couple of scenes, puts her shadow over the whole film. In Moulin Rouge, she sings beautifully, and keeps an emotional center amidst a lot of visual craziness. The Hours is another performance in which she's barely recognizable, and completely becomes a character. But, her best performance is in Dogville. The car scene at the end of the film is chilling. Working with no props, no set, she still makes you believe that everything is really happening. And next, she's teaming up with one of the world's best directors, Wong Kar-Wai, in a film that I seriously need to see.

So, that's it. Five great actresses, all beautiful, but more importantly, all people who can really get into a role. If I see that one of these people is in a movie, even if it's a movie that looks rather crap, I'm much more likely to give it a look. Good acting is all about becoming someone else, and these people can pull it off, most notably Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts.

Related Posts
Dogville (11/26/2004)
Clean (6/28/2005)
Magnolia (7/22/2005)

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