Monthly Archives: January 2012

Favorite Geoffrey Rush performances

It’s probably been mentioned in passing a time or two (he did top my list of favorite movie pirates), but I’m going to make it a bold statement here: Holy crud, Geoffrey Rush is an amazing actor. Interestingly enough, I think the first thing I ever saw him in was Shine, for which he won an Academy Award, so you’d think that maybe there’d be nowhere to go but down. Boy, would you be wrong. This Australian actor is fantastic whether he’s being extremely dramatic (as in Shine) or extremely funny (Captain Barbossa, anyone?) or extremely and amazingly subtle. And so, I thought I would list for you some of Rush’s best performances. Although he’s a huge talent, he’s sort of a second-string guy in terms of exposure, so let’s focus on him for a little while, shall we? He deserves no less.

Shine (1996)

Shine is the true story of David Helfgott, who was a child prodigy on the piano. Driven by his father to succeed, he eventually suffers a breakdown. The main action of the movie focuses on the adult Helfgott (played by Rush) who finds his way back to life and back to the activity he loves. It’s a highly dramatic and affecting movie, and pretty much all of the credit goes to Rush. It’s a truly great performance, and it surprises me to think that Rush’s career has actually taken off after this film. Sure, he won the Oscar, but he didn’t really become a known quantity until later on.

Elizabeth (1998)

While Rush is fabulous in intensely dramatic roles or particularly humorous ones, I think it may be his subtlety that really floors me the most. I recently rewatched 1998’s Elizabeth, and while I appreciated the overall film a lot more than I did the first time, the thing that stuck with me was Rush’s magnetic portrayal of Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s “spymaster”. He just totally inhabits that role and his every expression seems to speak volumes. Cate Blanchett is, of course, amazing and is the focal point of the whole movie, but I think that Rush ties things together in a certain way. His Walsingham is a catalyst for the movements and progressions of Elizabeth’s growth into her role as monarch. He leads her to the conclusions she needs to make, not in a manner of influencing or changing her mind, but rather showing her the course she already knows she needs to follow. It really does take an exceptionally gifted actor to give us all of that with a modicum of words and gestures.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Wow. Two Elizabethan pictures in the same year? And with markedly different characters? You’ve got to admit that’s impressive. Where Walsingham is mysterious and deadly and fascinating, Henslowe is, well, a little bit of a joke. He’s a fun character, though, and Rush plays him to the hilt, as he always does. My feelings about Shakespeare in Love are already documented, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Mystery Men (1999)

This campy superhero satire is admittedly not a great movie, but it’s achieved cult classic status at this point, and for good reason. It boasts a great cast that includes Ben Stiller, Greg Kinnear, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, and Janeane Garofalo, and of course, Mr. Rush as the film’s villain. Personally, I think Rush as a bad guy is an awesome idea, and his Frankenstein Casanova (an evil genius type) fits the tone of the movie perfectly. He’s ridiculously over-the-top, but still kind of scary.

Quills (2000)

Speaking of over-the-top and scary, Quills is not for the faint of heart. A fictionalized account of the last years of the Marquis de Sade, we are again treated to an acting tour-de-force, not only by Rush, but also courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslet, and Michael Caine. It’s not what I would call an enjoyable movie (there’s lots of sex and violence of a somewhat twisted nature, and there’s lots of, well, Geoffrey Rush, if you get me), but Rush’s performance is pretty astonishing. He was nominated for Best Actor for this picture, and lost to Russell Crowe, and I will go on record as saying that I think maybe he should’ve won. If that tells you anything. It should.

The King’s Speech (2010)

Couldn’t leave this one out; you can read my review here. As you probably know, The King’s Speech was the Best Picture winner last year, and it picked up Best Director for Tom Hooper and Best Actor for Colin Firth as well. Mr. Rush was also nominated in the Best Supporting category, and his performance is certainly worthy. It’s a return to subtlety, and his Lionel Logue is the heart of the movie. My favorite scene, though, is when he’s auditioning for a role in Shakespeare’s Richard III. He’s so incredibly bad that I was immediately struck with how amazingly good he would be if he actually played the part. Mr. Rush, if you’re reading, could you make that happen? Call Kenneth Branagh, or something.

These are mine, but what’s your favorite Geoffrey Rush performance? I know some people will probably go for Barbossa, but I felt like that would be repeating myself. 🙂

Weekend viewing: Critical acclaim

 This weekend, we managed to watch not one, not two, but THREE of the movies currently in contention this award season. Impressive, no? Much thanks to Netflix and MLK day (parents off + daycare open=MATINEE).


The movies themselves were equally impressive. In fact, I am going to call it; right here, right now. One of these films is going to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Which one? You’ve already got a hint, but read on …

Moneyball (2011)

I like good movies, and my husband likes baseball, so this film was an obvious choice. I am not a rabid Brad Pitt fan, per se, but I do think that he is consistently under-rated as an actor, and his performance in Moneyball certainly deserves the attention it’s receiving. As Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As, Pitt conveys a convincing “every man” quality that I think can sometimes be difficult for big movie stars, particularly ones who really look like movie stars. He also gives us the motivation and baggage behind the man who puts everything on the line to change how the business of baseball works. Equally impressive (and more surprising) is Jonah Hill as Beane’s numbers man, Peter Brand. Hill is the extremely smart guy thrown in among a bunch of baseball types, and his awkwardness and attempts to fit in are very realistically portrayed. Overall, Moneyball brings some heart and inside knowledge to the back-end workings of America’s pastime; it’s a little slow in places, which is disappointing given Aaron Sorkin’s crisp work on The Social Network in 2010. Still, it’s a movie that should certainly be part of the conversation, and while I don’t think it’s Brad Pitt’s year, his performance here ought to at least remind audiences that he is more than just a pretty face.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

I’m not really much for Woody Allen, although I’ve definitely enjoyed some of his newer films. I attribute this to two facts: 1. good casting, and 2. the fact that Allen himself is not in the movies. See, while he generally has someone acting as his stand-in (check out this video for the proof), they are somehow less annoying than he is, and even manage, in some cases, to be sort of charming. Owen Wilson’s frustrated writer, Gil, in Midnight in Paris is such a one, although you shouldn’t really watch the film for him. The original story, the views of Paris, and the stunning supporting cast are what make this film a contender. In addition to being Allen’s stand-in, Gil is mainly the medium through which we enjoy the journey back in time to the Paris of Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and the Fitzgeralds (Tom Hiddleston, yay! and Alison Pill). I feel the need to mention Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams (surprisingly unlikable) as well, and out of all these great little performances, Adrien Brody (in one scene, as Salvador Dali) is the highlight. In the end, it’s the story that makes this film an excellent one; for despite a lack of explanation, Gil’s experiences and their ultimate outcome are surprisingly realistic and insightful.Take away the time travel and the literary superstars, and you’ve got a simple, well-told story about two people who are realizing that they’re not as happy as they think they are, and we all know that the simple stories are always the best.

The Artist (2011)

Ordinarily, I don’t like hype. Sometimes, though, something comes along that’s worthy of all the buzz, and this year, that something is The Artist. It’s not an original idea, and in fact there are multiple references to my favorite movie, Singin’ in the Rain, but the finished product is something truly original and unique. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius deserves every ounce of acclaim that he’s raking in for this picture, and yes, I do believe he will walk away with the biggest prizes of them all next month. Performers Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo should be no less celebrated for their great performances. The movie is not perfect (it drags a bit in the middle), but it’s an impressive piece of work, an excellent blend of nostalgia and modern story-telling. While it adopts the style of “old” movie-making (in case you didn’t already know, it’s a black and white silent film!), it carries the dramatic weight of a current-day story as it follows silent movie star George Valentin (Dujardin)’s fall, his struggles against pride and progress, and his final redemption and acceptance of change. While I can imagine some audiences are deterred by the nature of the film, I’d like to believe that anyone would to find The Artist enjoyable, and I think that it stands alone this year in terms of its vision, originality, execution, and overall, entertainment value. If it’s still playing near you, go see it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

This-coming weekend, we’ll be going a little older with The Music Man (the 2003 version with Matthew Broderick. Yeah, I’m also skeptical.) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Liz Taylor! Paul Newman! Need more be said?). What’re your viewing plans? If you’re looking for something to see, well, you’ve just had three pretty glowing recommendations, so what’re you waiting for? Get to it!

Weekend viewing

Thanks to the long holiday weekends (and the end of the holiday performance schedules) we actually managed to squeeze in some movies by the end of 2011. One of them was even released in the same year! Shocking, I know. Here’s what we saw …

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Somehow I missed out on a lot of the “Christmas classics”. I hadn’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life until last Christmas, and I still haven’t seen A Christmas Story. I think that we may make watching a Christmas movie a family tradition, though, so maybe we’ll cue that one up for 2012. At any rate, I very much enjoyed Miracle on 34th Street. Featuring credible performances by Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, and a young Natalie Wood, this charming little story is about a man who claims to be the real Kris Kringle. He becomes involved in the lives of skeptic Doris Walker (O’Hara) and her daughter, Susan (Wood), and quietly works some Christmas miracles, not only for them and their handsome neighbor, Mr. Gailey (Payne), but also the city of New York. As you may know, this movie is pretty much a 96 minute ad for Macy’s, but it definitely works hard to convey the message that Christmas is about more than consumerism. It takes a little while to warm up, but when it gets going it’s laugh out loud funny, and you’ll feel like applauding at the end. Definitely recommended for holiday (or any day) viewing!

Beginners (2011)

You may recall that I featured the trailer for this charming little picture when it released. At the time, I posited that it looked whimsical and intimate. The film is a semi-autobiographical look at director Mike Mills’ (“Oliver,” played by Ewan McGregor) relationship with his father Hal (Christopher Plummer), who comes out to him after the death of his wife, and dies of cancer a few years later. Oliver looks back over his and his parents’ relationship as he attempts to overcome his own fears of commitment while attempting a relationship with fellow commitment-phobe Anna (Melanie Laurent). Though a little hard to follow at times (the chronology jumps around a lot), Beginners is gorgeous to look at and definitely carries some emotional heft. It is indeed a very intimate piece, more a character study in some ways than a conventional story with discernible plot lines, a beginning and an end. The main message that we take away from the film is actually that the end is the beginning, at least for Oliver and Anna. All of the performances here are stellar; Christopher Plummer is nearly a lock to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at this point, although we thought that Melanie Laurent was a little bit more of a stand-out. Well, Melanie Laurent and Cosmo the Dog. Beginners is a must-see if you’re into small, quirky dramedies and/or cute dogs.

King Kong (1933)

Number 43 on the AFI list, King Kong is noteworthy for helping to originate the monster movie. Unlike Frankenstein two years earlier, though, Kong is actually pretty good. It’s the story of Machiavellian movie director Carl Denham(Robert Armstrong), who hires a ship’s crew and aspiring actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to venture to an unknown island in order to film a movie, the plot of which he keeps secret. Once we arrive on the island, it becomes apparent that Denham’s plan is to capture on film a legendary monster, and to create a story about beauty and the beast. Life reflects art when Kong really does take a shine to Miss Darrow, and the movie takes off when the ship’s crew, led by handsome First Mate John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) race through an uncharted wilderness to rescue her. They encounter prehistoric beasts and Kong himself, but ultimately Driscoll and Darrow manage to escape. Meanwhile, Denham, still looking for a story, decides to capture the great ape and bring him back to New York as “the eighth wonder of the world.” The ending of the movie is iconic, of course, so we’ll stop there. King Kong is impressive for a number of reasons. First, although audiences today would snicker at the special effects, one has to consider that they were quite impressive for 1933, and overall, the cinematography and camera work is really first rate. Second, although the acting and dialogue is nothing special, the story has a lot going on. Denham’s hubris and disregard for natural order brings destruction; first to the ship’s crew, many of whom lose their lives in Kong’s jungle, then to the city of New York, and ultimately to Kong himself. One wonders if, even at the end of the film, Denham has learned a lesson. And then there’s King Kong, the beast. Throughout the film, he puts himself in danger to protect the object of his affection, but that goes largely unrecognized by the humans he encounters. Obviously, he wreaks a lot of havoc, but that’s really all he knows how to do. In the end, one can’t help but feel sympathetic toward him. Even though Kong is obviously clunky technology and not (as in the 2005 remake) motion-captured Andy Serkis, he’s a poignant character. Overall, an impressive piece of film-making; it’s easy to see why the original spawned a variety of sequels and remakes. I think I’d recommend that you accept no substitutes, though.

Happy 2012 to you! I’m looking forward to award season and trying to squeeze in more movie viewings during the year, and I hope you’ll check back in to judge my progress! As always, thanks for reading.