The Cheek is all about me. My life. Stuff I’ve done, places I’ve been, things I’ve lived through and just a smattering of the moments that have shaped me and made me the multitalented, highly educated and downright super swell guy I am today.
Stop laughing . . .
Anyway, after the Magnum opus that was my last post, I thought I’d come back today with something a bit on the sunnier, fresh-air side of life.
I love movies. Always have. The peaceful moments of my existence are embodied best in a quite evening at home with a DVD in the Pioneer and the lights out. And while there’s nothing wrong with the occasional lighthearted romantic comedy or a mindless blockbuster action movie, what I really enjoy are movies about interesting characters. Often called dramas, these presentations of honest people living real, complex lives in the midst of both the magnificent and the mundane turn my crank and drag me through the entire spectrum of emotions. I laugh. I cry. I escape for a couple hours and then slide reluctantly back into the real world, often having learned a thing or two about myself along the way. And making good character-driven movies take incredibly talented and versatile actors.
I got to thinking about all this last night while watching one such movie with my son, and our chat was still jogging upon the dewy grass track of my mind as I awoke this morning. So I decided to run with it and solidify a list of my favorite character actors to share with you, starting with the ladies. When I see any of these gals cast in a movie, it’s almost always a must-see. So here they are, my leading ladies, in no particular order:
She oozes talent from every pore. While most may not consider her a leading lady, I find that she brightens nearly every movie I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her in. I fell for her in The Green Mile. To watch her transform from a diseased and bedridden bag of bones into a beacon of light and redemption moved me. She stole the show, even if only for a brief few minutes. She did almost the same thing in The Station Agent. And then she melted my heart completely in Lars and the Real Girl.
She never plays a weak character, every one a strong woman with poise and intelligence. Consider her as Bonnie Waitzkin, the protective yet compassionate mother to a chess prodigy in Searching for Bobby Fischer, or as the no-nonsense senator in The Contender. And who really wants to mess with Pamela Landy, the hard-as-nails agent with a heart of gold in the last two installments of the Bourne trilogy? She’s been in too many good movies to list here. As a leading lady, she’s not had much success. But she steals every scene she gets with her wit and charm. She’s spot on every time and a pleasure to watch.
I’ve loved her since Mad About You. She was the perfect foil for Paul Reiser, counterbalancing is stupidity with her spunk and grace. She manages to save Twister, and then burst onto the big screen with class in As Good As It Gets, providing the shaky yet determined voice of reason to Jack Nicholson’s insanity and earning and Oscar in the process. Her eyes speak volumes and her silence screams. It all just simmers underneath and then bursts out with such precision and poise. She’s been sort of underground for a while but has a new movie out, Then She Found Me, which she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. I can’t wait to see it.
She could have been a bimbo actress. Her first big screen role was in Children of the Corn III. What?! Then came The Devil’s Advocate. I was a bit worried. Then she started taking on some real meaty roles and came out shining. Most people missed The Legend of Bagger Vance, which is a shame. And . . . my God . . . the awesomeness that is her performance in Monster. Rent it today if you haven’t seen this Oscar-winning performance. She sparkled in The Cider House Rules and showed her tough side in The Italian Job. She’s gorgeous, talented and hasn’t disappointed me in quite some time. Of course, I haven’t seen Æon Flux yet . . .
My favorite elf. I’d enter a spooky, ancient forest any day for an audience with this extremely talented former Queen of England . . . er . . . I mean actress. Cate has portrayed almost everyone imaginable, including Bob Dylan, and done so with her own unique style. Her smile can lift your spirits or rip out your heart. Consider her role in Notes on a Scandal opposite the always-good Judi Dench. She fell apart on screen, deconstructing the stereotypical image of a successful woman with secrets in the closet. And she managed to steal Babel right out from under Brad Pitt. Then there’s all that red hair. My oh my, what a beautiful woman.
She quietly slipped on the scene in 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding in a performance lauded by critics but missed by most moviegoers. Then came The Sixth Sense, in which her startling and sympathetic turn as struggling single mother Lynn Sear earned her an Academy Award nomination. I watched this movie again last night with my son and I’m still touched by her transparent performance. Simply riveting. Almost as good as her role in the funny yet touching Little Miss Sunshine. Her pout isn’t . . . pouty, if you catch my drift. She’s honest with her emotions and never fails to make me smile.
Face it. Anyone who could make Titanic a joy to watch has to be good. Kate is fearless when it comes to the roles she chooses. She can play the classics, as she did as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, embody such eccentric personalities as Iris Murdoch in Iris, and then bring boring to life with an easy dramatic flair as she did in Little Children. She even managed to breathe life into Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opposite Jim Carrey. That was no small feat, for that movie would have been dead without her knack for sincere laughter atop a smile that speaks a thousand words. She’s a rare and elegant beauty, and I just adore her.
I just realized that Jennifer Connelly is the first brunette on my list. I’ll let you decide what that means. Meanwhile, I’ll watch her again and again. I loved her in the thinking person’s sci-fi noir flick Dark City. She looked just so darn poised and otherworldly standing on the dock at the end of the film, her dark hair blowing in the breeze. But her other roles have taken her deeper, as a drug addict in Requiem for a Dream, as Jackson Pollock’s impressionable lover in Pollock, as a single mother with supernatural water stains on her apartment ceiling in Dark Water. But watching her shatter a glass of water in anger and frustration in A Beautiful Mind is a study in excellence of expression and personification. And those baby blue eyes . . .
Russell Crowe once encouraged anyone who came from “the downside of advantage” to pursue their dreams whatever they may be. Such is the case with Hilary Swank. She got her first big break in The Next Karate Kid after she and her mother moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Then came Boys Don’t Cry, and astonishingly compassionate and realistic performance as Brandon Teena, a transsexual who was brutally raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993. Few people saw this movie, which is a shame. She earned an Oscar for her performance, and then earned a second Oscar for her portrayal as boxing phenom Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. She’s had some duds (The Reaping) but the good far outweigh the bad.
If I were pressed to name my favorite actress, I wouldn’t hesitate a second in picking Laura Linney. Honestly, I’ve never seen her in a bad movie. She has that rare ability to rescue even the shallowest of screenplays and bring her performance to life. I first fell for her in The Truman Show. Her over-the-top performance matched Carrey’s step for step. And consider her opposite Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me. The quiver in her voice sounds genuine and unforced and adds a sympathetic touch that dives deep but never drowns. I especially enjoyed her in The Savages with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Interestingly, she always seems to be cast opposite some of my favorite actors. She holds her own and brings out the best in everyone.
Ever see Magnolia? No, not Steel Magnolias. That one sucked. Magnolia is the three-hour ensemble drama directed my Paul Thomas Anderson, the wunderkind behind last years best movie, There Will Be Blood. He has a way of bringing out the best in his actors, and he got way more than even he could have imagined from Julianne Moore in Magnolia. She walks the tightrope of madness and never slips. She’s done sensitive and sweet in Far From Heaven, sexy, dirty and nasty in Boogie Nights, and strong and proud in Children of Men. Not all of her movies have been masterpieces, but that’s no fault of hers. Heck, I even liked her as Clarice Starling in Hannibal, not an easy role to take on after Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning turn.
So there you have ’em, my leading ladies of cinema. Were I an actor in need of someone to work with who could make my star shine, I’d choose any one of these gals any day of the week. Feel free to add your favorites to the comments, or simply add your praise for these actors if you feel so led. I love talking movies, so fire away . . .