Wednesday, June 4, 2008

[Top 5 Best Working Actresses]

Pretty self-explanatory. Any actress still making movies (so yeah, no dead ones, please). As you’ll soon notice, this post is longer than the others, due mainly to a footnote toward the end that sort of got out of hand, lengthwise. Read as much, or as little, as you like.*

*Which is sort of redundant... a half-full/half-empty kind of statement. And of course it goes without saying that you don’t need, nor did you ask for, my permission to do either (or both).

5.) Natalie Portman I made this pick based on two roles: Mathilda in The Professional* (aka Leon aka The Cleaner) and Alice in Closer, the second strongest acting performance (eclipsed only by Clive Owen’s) in what is in my opinion the most well-acted** movie of the past decade. Her career as a whole, however, has been spotty at best, stained by her performances in the Star Wars prequels, though this was not entirely her fault (more on the Lucas-factor later) and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, one of the worst-reviewed movies of 2007. Thus her position at the end of the list.***

*At the risk of showing my bias here, I fell just skull over ankles in love with her because of this movie. And no, it’s not gross—I was thirteen at the time, and she’s three months older than I am.
**Yeah, “most well-acted” may be the most awkward, clunky phrase ever to dirty up the English language. One of those clichés borne out of no better way to say a thing.
***Or beginning, as it were. Though the beginning’s really the end in this case. I think countdowns (as opposed to countups) have more dramatic effect.

4.) Kate Winslet One of the most underrated actresses out there. She has overcome the Titanic stigma by posting outstanding performances in film after film, with four in particular coming to mind: Quills, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland and Little Children. She has one of the rarest qualities you can find in an actor—range—and I expect more good things from her in the years to come.

3.) Gwyneth Paltrow Again, some bias slipping in here. I’m a card-carrying, meeting-attending Gwynaholic. Have been since the mid-‘90s when she hit it big with Se7en, (actually caught my first glimpse in ’91—I distinctly recall thinking the young Wendy in Hook was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen in my life (I was ten)). She won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, but that doesn’t represent her best work. Gwyneth moved out of the ‘crush’ category and into the ‘amazing actresses I happen to find gorgeous’ category with Proof, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe but snubbed by the Academy.*

Subcategory: Projected Names of Gwyneth's Next 5 Children:
1.) Avocado
2.) Possum
3.) Broofus
4.) Methuselah
5.) Helmet

*In favor of a handful of actresses whose films I didn’t see (and so won’t disparage them unjustly), Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, for which she won—deservingly,** I think, though I can’t be sure, I guess, not having seen the others, as stated above) and my #4, Kate Winslet (for Eternal Sunshine).
**Stephen: I’ve been shopping at Lolly’s, as you can tell. And you were right, happiness did wash over me.

2.) Dame Judi Dench I feel sort of poser-ish putting her at number two—it implies a much deeper patronage/knowledge of her career than I possess. According to the always reliable, Michael Scott-approved Wikipedia, she received her formal training onstage in London as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. But I first got to know her as ‘M,’ James Bond’s boss, saw her again in Shakespeare in Love and then again in The Shipping News, which was the film that won me over. Like her male counterpart and fellow knight, Sir Anthony Hopkins, she’s one of those actors you don’t want to look away from when they’re onscreen—not even for a second—for fear of missing something special.

1.) Cate Blanchett Yeah, I know. Such a conventional choice. But sometimes the reason a convention becomes a convention is because it’s true. While there was some preliminary shifting around of #’s 2-5, I never doubted my #1 spot: Ms. Blanchett held it from the beginning. Elizabeth,* Lord of the Rings, The Shipping News (a minor part, but a good point of reference with respect to her range), The Aviator, Babel, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There (one of the strangest, most compelling performances I’ve seen to date), et cetera.** More than any other actor I can think of, male or female, she seems to approach each subsequent project as a challenge to reinvent herself. But unlike the majority of those who attempt this, she has the talent to pull it off.

*Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a chick flick just because it involves a love story. For one, Geoffrey Rush is in it, and he kills people.
**So yeah, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fits somewhere in here (spoilers ahead: don’t read on if you haven’t seen it yet and want to go in fresh), which brings me to the Lucas-factor, the ability of this modern filmmaking icon, draped in Millennium Falcon-adorned laurels, to draw more talent to his recent projects than he knows what to do with. And I mean that in a literal sense.

Not only is the new Indy movie the worst film George Lucas has ever made (and that’s saying a lot in light of The Phantom Menace), it’s the worst movie Harrison Ford has ever made as well (and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot in light of Hollywood Homicide). An insultingly predictable and lazily-constructed plot, one-dimensional and often incoherent character development, a slew of missed opportunities (not the least of which are underutilized actors—LaBeouf’s natural charm is wasted on a tough-guy greaser caricature while Blanchett is constricted to a sword-wielding stick-figure Communist whose motivations are never really articulated), almost no charm whatsoever (not entirely Ford’s fault, by the way—no one could’ve delivered those lines with any semblance of charisma (but his acting is also pretty bad)), too absurd and over-the-top even for an Indiana Jones film (yeah, I’m thinking of LaBeouf’s vine-swinging and the nuclear blast/fridge scene at the beginning with those cute little gophers a la Caddyshack—for a second it felt like I was watching a Pixar flick). Ultimately, it played more like the reunion episode of a sitcom than a feature film, a movie high on its own nostalgia, much to the detriment of the end product. This guy sums it up pretty well, I think.

And it would be a mistake to blame the director, because this is not a Spielberg movie—I refuse to believe the guy who made Munich could turn out something like this. Even his lower-tier efforts (Lost World, War of the Worlds, etc.) are pretty solid, respectable films, overall. No, George called the shots on this one. Spielberg, artistically crippled by Lucas’s close involvement with the project (and hesitant to give honest script notes that might have saved the film (but tested their friendship)), just worked the camera, kept his mouth shut, and now he’s stuck with it.

It’s like the guy whose wife gives him a wool sweater for his birthday. All the seams are crooked, the arms are too short and it’s a bright fluorescent orange. But even though it’s ugly as sin he wears it with pride, never saying a word, because he loves her, bless her heart, and he knows it took her five months to knit it.


Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the orange sweater Lucas knitted for Spielberg. The real tragedy is that he used to be pretty handy with a needle.

22 comments:

Ryan Gibbs said...

Well, we’ve had four days without a post. After considering various explanations for this, I’ve narrowed it down to the following possibilities:

a.) It’s an uninspiring category.

b.) It’s such an inspiring category you’re thinking super hard on this one to make sure your list is the best.

c.) My overly harsh Indiana Jones rant has prompted you to organize a boycott of DITF.

d.) The spring/summer hiatus, filled with glorious days of river floating and disc golf, has negatively affected your daily consumption of the internets.

e.) A massive nuclear attack has engulfed the country in flames, and Lubbock, Texas is the only city left standing. God help us all.

Summer Weed said...

gibbs,
i have every intention of responding, but have thus far been thwarted by 3 of your 5 possibilities. Plus one: i need to do a bit of research. for instance, i'd really like to see La Vie en Rose, as i hear marion cotillard's best actress award was well-deserved. not sure if that merits her a place on a top 5 list, but we'll see. there are others i need to consider as well. tomorrow officially begins my summer break, so i should have ample time for such banal moil.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely not as verbose as either of you.

That said, the reason for my absence from the information super highway is that I'm currently in the 2nd week of a 6 week education boot camp. In fact, I'm officially reporting to you from my dorm room on Georgia Tech's campus. Odd. Anyhow... I'll unfortunately be MIA for the next couple of topics.

Though sweet action on winning the last one! = )

mel sutton said...

yeah, helen mirren is one smokin' old woman! and makes an excellent queen of england, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

top five working female actors (recut)

5. Drew Barrymore - She won our hearts with E.T. and then went nuts. And certainly learned a valuable lesson in 'Babes in Toyland' (what to do with the eyes). After some coke and rehab, she won my heart over again along Adam Sandler in the Wedding Singer. Hey, So what if she can't get rid of that lisp, that is why she is #5.

4. Helen Mirren - She's brilliant and for a woman up in years she looks great. Melanie agrees.

3. Vanessa Lynn Branch - A somewhat careless choice on my part... I just like the Orbit commercials. FABULOUS! Oh, and she was on LOST once.

2. Allison Janney - A.K.A. Claudia Jean Craig. C.J. brings the heat in the West Wing and you really identify with her. I mean, come on. And she was in Juno! COME ON!

1. Chris Crocker - LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE! hahaha. I quit.

In a non-idiotic top 5 - Helen Mirren is #1.

Ryan Gibbs said...

After careful consideration, I've concluded that Bob's list is far superior to the rest. He currently holds the lead.

Summer Weed said...

I am in full support of Kate Blanchett and Helen Mirren. They quite possibly belong in my top 5, but I've tried picking actresses who, heretofore, have not been mentioned.

5. Marion Cotillard – see La Vie en Rose, Big Fish, assorted French films

4. Laura Linney – see The Squid and the Whale, Kinsey, The Savages

3. Jennifer Connelly – see The Labyrinth, Requiem for a Dream, Beautiful Mind, general hotness

2. Juliette Binoche – see The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Chocolat, Trois Couleurs

1. Frances McDormand – see Fargo, anything else

Anonymous said...

5. Jessica Alba
4. Kristen Bell
3. Rachel McAdams
2. Rachel Bilson
1. Megan Fox

Just 'cause they're hot!

Anonymous said...

First post, ever, in no particular order.

Zooey Deschanel - all her rolls kind of annoy me, but for some reason I still love her, even before she sang "you really got a hold on me." Oh my.

Maggie Gyllenhall - No I'm not just picking women with difficult names to spell (or am I?). Nor am I picking relative "newcomers." I just like this one, that's all, and I haven't even seen Dark Night yet. But I will. And so will you.

Jenna Fischer - there is nothing that she could do that would be wrong. If you haven't heard her interview on Fresh Air yet, I don't know why you're still reading this. Go. Now! Listen.

Amy Adams - she was great as Jim's girlfriend in The Office and plays such a nice assistant who is in love with her boss. I need one of those.

Evangeline Lilly - I hope she isn't one of those actors who never go anywhere because she did a tv show for so long and people can't see them in any other roll. But if that is the case, she picked a great show to start and end her career with.

Ryan Gibbs said...

Yeah, Maggie Gyllenhall's good. Liked her a lot in Donnie Darko and -- though I'm a little hesitant to admit I've seen it -- Mona Lisa Smile.

I followed your advice and listened to that Jenna Fischer NPR interview last night (yep, it was great), which led into 2+ hours of Office filled self-indulgence, starting with outtakes posted on Youtube (for both the American and British versions) and ending in a video of John Krasinski at Jest Fest doing a public reading of one of my favorite short stories of all-time, "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," by David Foster Wallace.

It was a good time, but I know I should've spent that time writing so I feel pretty guilty about it. Damn you, Scho.

Anonymous said...

ok...everyone has taken ALMOST all of mine...cause I was late. I will however come up with a brilliant list today that will make all of you cry (or just rescramble your lists, I can't decide)!!!

Anonymous said...

Scho- I read your post and thought "wow, that's pretty unashamedly blunt" and then was momentarily confused with the thought that Zooey Deschanel isn't really fat at all before: "ahhhh 'roles', as in the fictional characters that she portrays."

Hmm, working actresses? I'll tread lightly here so as not to come off misogynistic and just say that I think the tepid response to this question speaks for itself. There don't seem to be too many standouts these days.

We watched Gone in Sixty Seconds the other night. The only actor credited at the start of the film is Elanor. I think she still works, but is looking pretty bad these days. Maybe I'll start a list with her.

holly jean said...

Okay, for the record, Ryan’s #1, Cate Blanchett, is without a doubt my number one. Maybe that’s an overstatement. I haven’t seen her in everything she’s ever done….but I her performance in I’m Not There blew me away. I haven’t seen any other actress perform at that level….at least I’m pretty sure.

Now to my top four – I’m sure all of these actresses have been in movies, but they’ve all made their biggest mark on television. So, I’m sorta breaking the rules. Sorry for the violation, Mr. Gibbs.

4. Lauren Ambrose – She was recently in a movie where she played a grad student who tries to inspire an old professor to write again – but I heard it’s pretty awful. She also has a short spot in Diggers with Paul Rudd, but once again, her performance isn’t anything to write home about.
Then, Holly, why the heck are you wasting our time? Because friends…once upon a time, she played a girl named Claire. She drove a green hearse; she turned her cubicle job into a musical; she fell in love with a republican; hell, she won my heart.

3. Connie Britton - I just started watching Friday Night Lights this year. In my opinion, Connie steals the show (okay, let’s be honest, ladies, we know who steals the show)…..when she cry/yells at Julie about not having sex….it is a pretty intense/amazing moment.

3. Mary Louise Parker – I’m still not sure how I feel about Weeds. There are episodes that I love and episodes I am totally grossed out by (and not in a good way). It’s one of those shows where I feel like sometimes they’re just trying to show off that they’re on Showtime. BUT….Mary Louise never over-acts. She is graceful and subtle and human on a show that is gaudy, in-your-face, and irreverent.

1. Frances Conroy – Once again, a Six Feet Under pick. Her character, Ruth, is sort of like, well maybe, your grandma. She’s mega conservative, and most importantly, willing to look the other way so she doesn’t have to acknowledge the “hedonistic” reality of her children. But, here’s what’s so great about a TV show done right: the character grows just like we do – gradually and usually without us even noticing at first. Frances Conroy evolves over five seasons without ever losing her “Ruthness.” She is phenomenal.

Anonymous said...

pull the trigger... next category.

Ryan Gibbs said...

i'm on it.

Britta Coleman said...

I haven't checked blogs all summer, so it's not an uninspired post at all.

Totally agree with your pics while simultaneously horrified you saw Closer at the tender age of 13.

Ryan Gibbs said...

Hey Britta,

Thanks for stopping by.

I was actually 23 when Closer came out; 13 when I saw The Professional. (That said, one could certainly make a strong case that I still lack the emotional maturity to handle rated R movies like an adult.)

Keep checking back -- a new category will be going up very soon.

Ryan

Ryan Gibbs said...

Winner posted.

Ryan Gibbs said...

New category posted.

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Anonymous said...

It's Judi not Judy Dench.

Ryan Gibbs said...

So it is. Thanks.