Tag Archives: Bright Star

10 Unsung Performances of the 00’s

A few months back, I wrapped up my Best Performances of the Decade series. But while that list included a lot of familiar names and acclaimed performances, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the performances that not everyone has seen. This list contains no Oscar or Golden Globe nominated roles, and I’ve limited myself to performances that received little or no awards attention and were relatively overlooked by audiences (as much as I think that Jim Carrey, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rebecca Hall should’ve been nominated for Oscars, they did receive a considerable awards attention elsewhere for the roles in question, which disqualified them from the list). Here are ten unfairly under-recognized performances from the past decade, in alphabetical order.

Daniel Bruhl – Good Bye Lenin!

Inglourious Basterds may have introduced German actor Daniel Bruhl to a wider North American audience, but it’s 2003’s Good
Bye Lenin! that really showcases his skills. Bruhl’s charismatic performance carries the film, and he nails the sense of whimsy that permeates every scene. Heartbreaking at times and hilarious at others, Bruhl’s performance shows enough genuine charm to cross all language barriers.

Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote

Clifton Collins Jr. is a solid character actor who has lately been favouring tiny roles in big studio films (Star Trek, Brothers). But if there’s one film that proves why he should get bigger roles, it’s Capote. Playing one of the two murderers that Truman Capote investigated for In Cold Blood, Collins makes his character Perry disarmingly and chillingly sympathetic. Collins is every bit as good as lead Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the scenes that they share together are breathtakingly intimate.

Abbie Cornish – Bright Star

Abbie Cornish’s performance as Fanny Brawne, the young love interest of poet John Keats, is just as beautiful as the cinematography in Bright Star. She revels in Fanny’s feisty modernity, but also reflects the melancholy of her restrained life. As Fanny’s relationship with Keats evolves, so does Cornish’s performance – ranging from star-struck to distraught over the course of the film. It truly is a breath of fresh air.

Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A favourite performance among his fans, Robert Downey Jr.’s work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proves why so many people love him. He’s hilarious, bumbling, and sexy as our protagonist and snarky narrator. Always a scene-stealer, Downey is the epitome of charisma here.

Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild

Previously best known for his work in the teen sex romp The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch stunned audiences with his raw performance in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Into the Wild. Playing a young man who gives up his material possessions and sets out for the Alaskan wilderness, Hirsch is often the only person on screen throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. Hirsch takes what could have been a purely preachy character and injects a sense of vulnerability that makes his optimism admirable. He’s entirely charismatic and compelling.

Jared Leto – Requiem for a Dream

Ellen Burstyn received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but the unsung MVP of the film is Jared Leto. Leto’s strangely iconic turn as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life coupled with his foray into emo music has made him something of a critical punching bag, but he proves what an amazing actor he can be here. Much like the film itself, Leto’s performance as Harry is dark and harrowing. It easily could have become caricature, but his performance as a drug-addled optimist cuts right to the bone.

Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose

As one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, it’s surprising to see how often Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Ballad and Jack and Rose is overlooked. It may not be as “big” as some of the other performances that he gave in the past decade, but Lewis’ work here is just as good as anything else he’s done. Playing a quietly desperate, confused man, Lewis’ performance is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

Guy Pearce – Factory Girl

Always a chameleon, Guy Pearce’s turn as the legendary Andy Warhol is uncanny. To me, the entire film is underrated, but Pearce’s performance is certainly the highlight of Factory Girl. The character is often downright unlikeable, and Pearce’s snarky screen presence is striking.

Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell is an actor who is just starting to get the recognition that he deserves, and it’s easy to see why with a film like Snow Angels. David Gordon Green’s story of small-town tragedy is disturbingly beautiful, and Rockwell is stunning as a recovering-alcoholic-turned-evangelist. The film’s bombastic final moments are only amplified by the quiet, desperate journey that Rocwell’s performance takes us on.

Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me

You Can Count on Me is a film that I recently caught up with, and while it provided my favourite Laura Linney performance to date, the real stand-out for me was Mark Ruffalo. His character is an insufferable screw-up, yet rather than making him a downbeat loser, Ruffalo revels in his messiness and makes him a purely charming, memorable guy. There are no big “cinematic” moments in the film, but this allows Ruffalo to give an all-around great performance, rather than relying on select scenes to stand out.

Honourable Mentions

Samantha Morton – Control

Michael Angarno – Snow Angels

Ryan Gosling –The United States of Leland

Keri Russell – Waitress

Jason Bateman – Juno

Benicio Del Toro – Thing We Lost in the Fire

Bright Star (2009)

Bright Star has all the makings of your typical frothy period romance, but director Jane Campion wastes no time in proving that it is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. We meet feisty Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) right away, and her love of outlandish fashion and outspoken attitude makes her an immediately interesting protagonist. Fanny soon meets poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), and despite their initial conflict and the fact that Keats earns virtually no living (thus preventing them from marrying), the two soon fall in love.

Everything about this movie is gorgeous. It’s beautifully shot, and every scene stands out as an artistic reflection of the emotions of the two young lovers. Interior shots add a perfect spill of light coming in through the window, while the scenes that take place outdoors are full of the vibrant colours and textures of nature. The languid feeling that rests comfortably on every scene feels like Campion’s signature on the film.

Stars Cornish and Whishaw are both fantastic in their respective roles. Cornish plays every facet of Fanny’s emotions with an honest mix of innocence and wisdom. Her sheltered world is blown apart by the artistic genius that unassumingly steps in, but Cornish’s Fanny is a worthy match for Keats’ enigmatic intensity. Whishaw never feels like he’s playing a typical biopic role. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching an actor portraying John Keats – it feels like Whishaw is John Keats. He’s a complicated individual, and though there’s an ever-present mystery to Keats, there’s enough genuine charm and heart in Whishaw’s performance to get the audience to become completely attached to the figure.

There may not be quite enough plot to stretch the movie out to two hours, but the simple story develops nicely over the course of the film, and the gorgeous visuals and multi-faceted performances largely prevent the film from dragging. It’s slow, dramatic and romantic, and that’s exactly how this story should be.

Despite being set in the past, Bright Star feels very modern, in many ways. The prim stuffiness of films like Becoming Jane is nowhere to be found. There’s a sexual tension that runs throughout, and the chemistry between Fanny and John crackles in the simplest of gestures – just knowing that they’re on the other side of the wall from each other creates a spark that full-on sex scenes in most movies lack. I came to care so deeply for these two characters and their relationship over the course of the film, and it truly is one of the most romantic films in recent years. I almost never cry at movies, but Bright Star had me welling up at various points, and it left me thinking about the story for days. Thanks to strong visuals, writing, and acting, Bright Star is a strikingly beautiful, engrossing film.