Performance Art: The Best Acting of 2007 - Male

[8 January 2008]

By PopMatters Staff

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Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson

(Weinstein Company; US theatrical: 10 Oct 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 5 Oct 2007 (General release); 2007)


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Sam Riley Control

You can easily spot the uneducated fools in the theater when watching Control; they’re the ones smirking when Sam Riley (playing Joy Division’s doomed singer Ian Curtis with incomparable tenderness and eerie preciseness), is in the throes of musical possession on stage, marching spasmodically in place to the band’s hypnotic beat. There are times when Anton Corbijn’s sumptuously gloomy, black-and-white portrait of the short life of punk’s epileptic poet laureate threatens to veer into musical bio-pic cliché; but each and every time, the unadorned soulfulness in Riley’s haunted eyes brings it back to heartrending truth. Chris Barsanti

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3:10 to Yuma

Director: James Mangold
Cast: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol, Kevin Durand

(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 7 Sep 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 14 Sep 2007 (General release); 2007)

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Ben Foster 3:10 to Yuma

In the original 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Charlie Prince, Ben Wade’s lieutenant, is a minor presence. In James Mangold’s remake, the part is expanded into a menacing counterpart to Wade’s (Russell Crowe) more charming and intellectualized villainy. Ben Foster plays Prince with complete commitment, not only providing menace, but also evincing a fanatical devotion to Wade. Foster’s intense portrayal of devotion makes Mangold’s decision to expand Charlie’s role pay off every time the character appears on screen. On the other hand, the actor’s effectiveness makes the film’s already problematic ending feel like a sucker punch. Given a less committed performance, maybe it becomes easier to rationalize or whisk away Mangold’s finish. Foster makes this impossible. While hardly holding back on Charlie Prince’s psychopathic tendencies, he underscores the character’s loyalty, making it easy to think that Wade should have done better by him. Shaun Huston

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Director: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Emma de Caunes, Max Von Sydow, Isaach De Bankolé, Patrick Chesnais

(Mirimax; US theatrical: 30 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)


Max Von Sydow The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In my life, I have cried at a small, select handful of films. Coincidentally, they always seem to star Max Von Sydow (Shame, Hour of the Wolf, The Emigrants, etc.). In Julian Schnabel’s brilliant film, opposite the masterful Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby, for only two brief scenes (as his elderly father “Papinou”), Von Sydow again broke my heart and reduced me to a weeping puddle on the floor. The great Swedish actor conveys a lifetime in five minutes or less. Viewing this film in Toronto, with a room full of cynical industry types, I was taken aback at how the entire theater seemed to be literally bawling in sync at Von Sydow’s tenderness. As an octogenarian “locked in” his apartment, reliant on others for assistance, Schnabel equates Papinou’s sad life to the plight of Amalric’s character, who is “locked in” his own body. And his French is flawless too! If any older, revered actor ever deserved to win a make-up Academy Award for, essentially, a cameo, it is Von Sydow—besides, no Swedish men have ever won an acting Oscar! Matt Mazur

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Charlie Wilson’s War

Director: Mike Nichols
Cast: Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Om Puri, Ned Beatty, Emily Blunt

(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 21 Dec 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Jan 2008 (General release); 2007)



Phillip Seymour Hoffman Charlie Wilson’s War

For readers of George Crile’s obscenely readable (for nonfiction) book on the little-known Texan congressman who almost single-handedly got the U.S. to help the mujahedin to defeat the Soviets, it came as a shivering delight when Phillip Seymour Hoffman was tapped to play Gust Avrakotos, Wilson’s man in the CIA. Hoffman plays Gust perfectly as the full-bore, foul-mouthed, mustachioed, Commie-hating, large-gutted son of Greek immigrants he was in the book. Not surprisingly, it’s an audience-pleasing hoot, particularly in the too-few scenes that pair him with Tom Hanks’ sly politician, whom Gust is more than happy to do the dirty work for. Chris Barsanti

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Hot Fuzz

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Steve Coogan, Timothy Dalton, Martin Freeman, Paul Freeman, Bill Nighy, Lucy Punch, Anne Reid, Billie Whitelaw, Stuart Wilson, Edward Woodward

(Rogue Pictures; US theatrical: 20 Apr 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 14 Feb 2007 (General release); 2007)

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Simon Pegg Hot Fuzz

Simon Pegg might be the greatest triple threat in the movies right now: he’s a convincing action hero, a comedian with wicked sharp timing, and a dramatic actor with the range to play a commitment-phobic slacker in Shaun of the Dead and an officious police officer in Hot Fuzz. No matter how bizarre the situation, no matter how perverse the joke, Pegg is up to the challenge. After all, how many other actors could keep a straight face while a massive shoot-out is laying waste to a cozy English village, or make kicking an elderly woman in the face seem justified, or sell us on a quasi-love story with the schlubby Nick Frost?  Now that’s real talent. Jack Rodgers

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Gone Baby Gone

Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Edi Gathegi

(Miramax; US theatrical: 19 Oct 2007 (General release); 2007)

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Casey Affleck Gone Baby Gone

Much has been made of Ben’s brother’s turn as the Old West fame whore Robert Ford in the Brad Pitt revisionist Western The Assassination of Jesse James…, but this is the rising star’s real acting showcase. As a neighborhood P.I. pursuing the truth about a missing little girl, Affleck’s thick accented bravado hides a young man vulnerable to the contrivances and conspiracies around him. While he may talk tough, everything else about his slight framed façade suggests being way out of his league. Minus the quirk and period piece setting, Affleck is free to explore, artistically—and what he finds is devastating. Bill Gibron

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Michael Clayton

Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: George Clooney, Sean Cullen, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 5 Oct 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 28 Sep 2007 (General release); 2007)

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George Clooney Michael Clayton

The name of the film Michael Clayton doesn’t tell you anything about its plot or genre, but there’s a good reason for titling it after the character played by George Clooney. He appears in almost every frame of the film. The “fixer” at a big New York law firm, Clooney is convincing and engrossing as a man who’s trying to keep a colleague sane, pay off debt collectors, help raise his son, and watch his own back. Clooney expands on his star-making role as E.R.‘s Doug Ross. Though similarly harried and something of a maverick, Michael Clayton is less self-righteous and his vulnerabilities are deeper and more richly portrayed. Nominated for a Golden Globe, a Best Actor Oscar should be next for George Clooney. Michael Keefe

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Eastern Promises

Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack

(Focus Features; US theatrical: 14 Sep 2007 (Limited release); 2007)

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Viggo Mortensen Eastern Promises

With Naomi Watts riding a motorcycle in form-fitting jeans, my eyes shouldn’t have spent so much time glued to the male lead in Eastern Promises. But Viggo Mortensen is riveting as Nikolai, the taciturn driver for a Russian mob family. He’s either a psychopath or a humanist, the heir apparent or a potential traitor. Throughout the film, he’s pulled by warring loyalties. Rather than amplifying these conflicts into melodrama, Mortensen reels us in by playing his sympathies close to his tattooed and chiseled chest. Whether fighting for his life or against his feelings for Anna (Watts), Nikolai appears resigned. With each shrug, Mortensen hints at a turbulent world burbling inside Nikolai. To glimpse this world, catch the brutal but gripping Eastern Promises. Michael Keefe

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No Country for Old Men

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson

(Miramax; US theatrical: 9 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 18 Jan 2008 (General release); 2007)

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Javier Bardem No Country for Old Men

If Satan had a badly coiffed assassin/servant here on Earth, he/it would definitely resemble hitman Anton Chigurh. Carrying an air powered bolt gun and a cartoonish ‘70s bowl cut, he’s the most unassuming personification of immorality ever to do the red guy’s dastardly dirty work. And once the die has been cast—or in his case, the coin has been flipped - he is capable of the most horrendous and vile acts imaginable. Without the histrionics (but with all the horror) associated with such a character, the Spanish born actor flawlessly captures the manner of pure, unearthly evil. It’s unsettling to behold. Bill Gibron

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There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Mary Elizabeth Barrett

(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 26 Dec 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 15 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)



Daniel Day-Lewis There Will Be Blood

In There Will Be Blood, the character of Daniel Plainview is undeniably nasty. He has taken his wildcatting ways into the American West, and through manipulation and mean-spiritedness, he’s become rich… and irredeemable. Yet there is much more to Day-Lewis’s turn as the larger than life tycoon than channeling John Huston or updating his Bill the Butcher persona from Gangs of New York. In fact, the human nuances presented by the actor are so complex and layered that it takes nearly three hours for filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson to get through them all—and we are more than happy to sit back and watch them unfold… coldly… calculatedly… corruptly. Bill Gibron

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