Essential Film Performances 2013 Update

Part 1

by PopMatters Staff

28 July 2013


Marion Cotillard and more...

Peter Capaldi—In the Loop
(Armando Iannucci, 2009)

The cursing in In the Loop, a film about the madcap escalation of a questionable remark made by International Development Minister Simon Foster (played by Tom Hollander), is so fast-paced that it becomes awe-inspiring. In director Armando Ianucci’s universe—which includes In the Loop‘s Britcom predecessor The Thick of It and the HBO hit Veep—no one is more eloquent in their profanity than Minister of Communications Malcolm Tucker. The controlled lunacy and ribald rage which Peter Capaldi brings to the role marks Tucker as one of the most threateningly hilarious creations of recent modern cinema.

Whether using two cell phones to berate two different people at the same time or administering such advice as “you stay detached, otherwise that’s what I’ll do to your retinas”, Malcolm Tucker is a fully realized nightmare of a work colleague. Originally thought to be inspired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, Alistair Campbell, the Scottish Capaldi has been quoted as saying that inspiration was also culled from Hollywood agents shouting into phones and Miramax Head Harvey Weinstein. Capaldi is never overused in In the Loop, and much of his performance does involve viciously conducting business by phone. A significant portion of the film’s opening scene involves Tucker traversing from 10 Downing Street to Simon Foster’s office while going into damage control mode over a major gaffe Foster made.

Another great asset of Tucker’s is his way with pop culture-related insults. One of the film’s most famous lines, “You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews” (told to Foster after he makes another press faux pas involving the phrase, “climbing the mountain of conflict”) is delivered by him. He continually calls Foster’s new aide Toby Wright (Chris Addison) such cruel nicknames as “Ron Weasly” and “the baby from Eraserhead.” And, of course, the use of the word “purview” provokes Tucker into making an obscene Jane Austen reference.

In a movie about communication, Tucker’s mode is actually most successful. He is one of the few characters who means what he says and gets the job done in doing so. Of all the people Tucker does business with, he meets his match but once, in an epic verbal face-off with the late, great James Gandolfini’s pacifist lieutenant general, George Miller. In a scene that fans of the film counted as a highlight even before Gandolfini’s passing, Tucker still gets the last word. ~ Maria Schurr

Stockard Channing—Grease
(Randall Kleiser, 1978)

Usually when people think of Grease, flashbacks of Frankie Avalon serenading a pink-haired Didi Conn in the iconic “Beauty School Dropout” scene come to mind. Or John Travolta dancing on the hood of a Ford 1948 with his pals, belting out “Greased Lightning”. Or even Travolta and a leather-clad Olivia Newton-John’s epic final song and dance number, “We Go Together”. But many overlook the smaller yet significant portrayal of rebel leader Rizzo by Stockard Channing. In a performance that epitomized the girl power movement before it became a much talked about thing, Channing infused both sensitivity and toughness in a character that we loved to hate (or was it hate to love?).

When we first meet Rizzo, she’s sashaying onto the campus decked in skin-tight all-black attire with her two besties on the first day of school. With one quick summation of the scene, she deems it mildly worth her presence, and declares “We’re gonna rule the school.” Even just knowing her for all of a few minutes, we don’t have a doubt in our minds that she will. With just one look, Channing seduces audiences with an alluring combination of intimidation and curiosity. While she’s not what you’d call approachable, there’s something about her assuredness and femme fatale-ness that makes you yearn for the camera to stay on her. Channing makes sure that Rizzo isn’t just the naughty head bitch of the crew; the nuance she brings is measured down to the last drop.

We later learn that while Rizzo has the attention of both gals and gents, she secretly faces the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Though the movie doesn’t spend many scenes on this, it is Channing who creates a bold moment with an affective rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Can Do”. The song, which even by itself has an empowered message, is further punctuated by the confidence and directness of Channing’s lyrical middle figure response to the gossipers and naysayers who’d undoubtedly brand her. It was a poignant reaction that only Rizzo could convey, as embodied by the remarkable Channing.

Channing took what could have been seen as a typical “mean girl” role and turned Rizzo into an indelible character we can all look up to, one that was made up more than just snarls and pouty lip gloss. She made her one of us. ~ Candice Frederick

Marion Cotillard—La vie en Rose
(Olivier Dahan, 2007)

Today, she is perhaps best known as the existential femme fatale in such Christopher Nolan epics as The Dark Knight Rises, or Inception. But before she stepped out as Johnny Depp’s arm candy in Public Enemies, or glimmered as Adriana in Midnight in Paris. Marion Cotillard was a promising French actress hoping to break out of the mundane movie roles she was offered in her native country. For more than a decade, she was seen as a fresh face forever locked in certain cinematic stereotype. Then along came the biopic of trouble chanteuse Edith Piaf and, suddenly, Cotillard was the talk of the international film community. Winning nearly every award possible, including an Academy Award (unheard of for a foreign language performance), the actress suddenly skyrocketed to the top of many moviemaker’s A-lists.

In retrospect, it seems odd that Cotillard would win such acclaim for such a showy part. She didn’t sing any of Piaf’s classic torch songs herself (most were handled by singer Jil Aigrot) and bares only a passing resemblance to the miniature marvel. But just ask anyone aware of Piaf’s personality and passion, ask the numerous devotees who’ve memorized every line and gesture of her creative canon and see if they don’t believe that Cotillard captured her subject flawlessly. In fact, some have even suggested that she actually channeled the late songstress during her performance. There is a delicacy and a drive that cuts through the standard biography to make a bigger than life character decidedly down to Earth. There are also a lot of flaws and foibles on display, Cotillard making each and every one seem part of the bigger picture of Piaf’s unconventional life.

For anyone, playing a legend is hard enough. In Piaf’s case, she represents an entire generation of French cultural couture. From her earliest days in the streets of Paris to her untimely death at age 47, she represented a heritage rapidly disappearing behind the ravages of war and significant social change. Cotillard captured this moving mythology, the endemic, enduring symbolism of an entire nation’s acknowledged traditions. More than anything else, the actress found the central tragedy of the singer’s short life. Add in her addictions, her failed romances, and her powerful pint-sized pipes and you have Piaf as a true icon brought to reality by an artist with an equal frailty, and force. Singing is not just a song. It’s interpretation. The same can be said for what Marion Cotillard was asked to do here, and the results are stunning. ~ Bill Gibron

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