And somehow my most serious title yet still makes me sound like a sarcastic jackass.
Australian actress Naomi Watts is one I feel has been pushed to the side a bit. I think every role she has done that I have seen is at the very least interesting, and her best work is breathtaking. I know she has gotten a lot of praise by viewers and critics alike but I still think she has been left outside of the limelight lately. However, this may not be for much longer. It was just announced that Watts is to play the late Princess Diana in an upcoming biopic Caught in Flight, due in 2013. Then, knowing how strange and easily amused I am, it got me thinking about Australian actors, for whatever bizarre reason, and their importance in mainstream films.
A lot of great actors have come from there, haven’t they? In fact, a large amount of some of our generations best actors come from their, and their resumes include a large amount of biopics. So, I got to thinking, since I had a lot of time on my hands and I was overdue on writing an article (aren’t I professional?) and this seemed like a good enough idea to write about. I mean, why not? Australians are awesome. Before I go into more ass kissing about a country I haven’t even been to yet, I think I should start with this most random of list ideas.
Here are what I consider the best biographic film performances by Australian Hollywood actors.
10. Naomi Watts-Marie Anderson Bicke (The Assassination of Richard Nixon)
Her role may be small, but Watts always tries her hardest. We don’t know too much about the woman Samuel Byck was married to. All we know is that Byck tried to kill Richard Nixon. Watts worked with this idea and created a character that obviously meant something to Sean Penn’s portrayal of Samuel while playing an average everyday American woman with the unintended capability of doing more damage than she thinks. As usual, Watts proves to be an asset to whatever film she is in, good or bad (thankfully this one is the former).
9. Guy Pearce-Andy Warhol (Factory Girl), King Edward VIII (The King’s Speech)
Factory Girl as a whole is a brutally substandard look into the life of Edie Sedgewick, but Pearce’s performance as Andy Warhol is the one thing that shines here. The mystery Pearce always brings to his characters resonates in this film especially, but it’s a shame that the awful directing didn’t channel more into Pearce’s performance. If it did, we may have gotten what we did in 2010 with Pearce as Kind Edward VIII: Another mysterious character who we did get a chance to truly get to know and whose hidden qualities of a sadistic nature added tension and pathos to the story (something Factory Girl could have and should have benefitted from).
8.Nicole Kidman-Virginia Woolf (The Hours)
The story here does not pull off the intertwining-multiple-plot strategy all that well, but The Hours benefits from being a visual wonder and a stage for the three main actresses. Kidman plays Virginia Woolf to a tee. I personally think she is a good actress but not one of this generation’s best. However, her performance here was above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen her do. Her nervous twitches and looks of absolute confusion seem so natural and are so essential to the overall mood of the film. You can just sense that something is not right and that she will explode at any second. Kidman also cleverly incorporated the mannerisms of the other women in the film and created a better parallel to these characters than even the script did.
7.Errol Flynn-General Custer (They Died with their Boots On)
Flynn was best known for his films of fighting swordsman and swooning women, which implies that the characters he played were bold and commanding. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that he could play General Custer with such finesse in They Died with their Boots On. Custer (known for the battle Custer’s Last Stand) knew that this battle wasn’t going to be easy but fought anyways, and Flynn’s portrayal shows an appropriate uncertainty underneath his commands. It’s incredible how Flynn can still issue such power, even if it’s through an army and not through himself like it usually is.
6. Heath Ledger-Ned Kelly (Ned Kelly)
Heath Ledger was a terrific actor that passed away way too soon. He was known more for the prowess he brought to the fictitious characters he played as the scenes he would be in had no choice but to be his. If he had lived longer, he may have been in more biopics. If so, we may have had more stunning performances like his in the otherwise-just-okay Ned Kelly. Like De Niro in Taxi Driver and MacDowell in A Clockwork Orange, Ledger makes this criminal an unstoppable force you can only be amazed by and want to succeed. In reality, Kelly is both seen as a hero and a monster depending on who you talk to, so Ledger did exactly what the role asked for. While this film features other actors on this list (Watts, Rush), the film really is a stage for Ledger to show us what he has.
5. Eric Bana-Mark “Chopper” Read (Chopper)
Bana is a decent actor, but he is at his best in Chopper, playing the frightening titular lead character. The subtle details Bana adds to his character are ones I haven’t seen him do quite as wonderfully since, including a small sign of pain in his eyes while he is otherwise acting like your average tough guy. Bana plays Chopper similarly to how Ledger played Kelly in the sense that you want to root for this antihero. Chopper does some crazy things in this film, and somehow Bana makes you believe that he is capable of doing every one of them. What’s sad about this is that it means Bana is capable of delivering a compelling performance, but I haven’t seen many of his since that are quite as memorable (save for his work in Munich, which I would love to add to this list but the film was too loosely based on the actual events for me to be able to).
4. Russell Crowe-Jeffrey Wigand (The Insider), John Nash (A Beautiful Mind)
L.A. Confidential was Crowe’s door to the world of mainstream cinema. The Insider was his first opportunity at showing the world he means business. He played Jeffrey Wigand, who was famous in the mid 90’s for being a whistleblower that announced on television that the cigarette company he used to work for was making cigarettes that were made up of manufactured tobacco to affect the smoker more than usual cigarettes would. His performance is chilling and his co stars Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer are also heavy hitting. Where Crowe thrives, however, is when he is the main man of the show like he was in A Beautiful Mind, playing the schizophrenic genius John Nash. Oddly enough, Crowe is the most reserved he has ever been in this film and it is still somehow his best performance yet. A Beautiful Mind could have been corny as hell because of its cliches, but a few factors made it an especially moving film (score, cinematography, Connelly), but none were as moving as Crowe’s performance.
3. Peter Finch-Oscar Wilde (The Trials of Oscar Wilde)
Finch is a bit of a hidden treasure, especially in modern times. Not many know of him, and sadly they are all missing out. Those who do know him know him for his grande finale in Network and have gone on to look for more of his films because of it (including yours truly). If they look hard enough they will find this gem, where Peter Finch plays the iconic Oscar Wilde. I have never heard Wilde talk or have seen him in motion (and I don’t think it is possible to do either), but if there was any way to do either or, I think Finch’s representation would be spot on. His words oozed of Wilde’s suavity and his body language alone speaks to us of a man whose prized possession is his status. While the film may not show Wilde’s whole life and its main focus is on the Queensbury trials, we get to know the general story of who Wilde was as a man thanks to Finch.
2. Geoffrey Rush-David Helfgott (Shine), Marquis de Sade (Quills), Peter Sellers (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Lionel Logue (The King’s Speech)
It appears I have saved two chameleon actors for the top two spots, with a large amount of roles I can’t pick from. First we have Geoffrey Rush; the acting extraordinaire. Rush didn’t have much of a film career until 1996, when he played the schizoaffective pianist David Helfgott and won a ton of awards. Rightfully so. Like Crowe with Nash, Rush makes Helfgott neither too smart and borderline pretentious or too crazy and borderline silly. Much like Helfgott, Rush came out of nowhere and didn’t gradually become talented, he just started being one of the best in his field and the world had to stop around him to comprehend it. Has he slowed down since? Not even close. Rush went on to play French icon Marquis de Sade in the film Quills (of which is a film that definitely was made because of its actors, also including Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix). Shortly after, Rush payed tribute to one of the greatest chameleon actors Peter Sellers in the film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (a film that is just okay but should be watched for Rush’s spectacular work). The most recent example of his spot on biopic work was with The King’s Speech, where he didn’t play anyone with an eccentric background or attitude. Instead he played Lionel Logue, who is a stage actor has been who now teaches elocution lessons. While the king, played by Colin Firth, could still be understood even with his stammer, Logue was the one to translate the king’s voice of reason to us, and nobody could have done it better than the witty and understanding Geoffrey Rush.
1. Cate Blanchett-Katherine Hepburn (The Aviator), Queen Elizabeth I (Elizabeth), Bob Dylan (I’m Not There), Veronica Guerin (Veronica Guerin)
Like Rush, Blanchett too is an actor that works like a shape shifter and becomes her roles instead of just playing them. Also like Rush, Blanchett is easily one of our generations best actors, and both can easily be deemed two of the best of all time in the near future. Blanchett has done many roles of fiction, including parts in Lord of the Rings, Benjamin Button and Notes on a Scandal. However, Blanchett still thrives the most when she plays famous women. In Elizabeth (which also features Geoffrey Rush, seriously how many movies is this guy in?), Blanchett plays Elizabeth the first with such panache, it’s a damn shame she didn’t win for it. As I have said before, it was also a damn shame when she didn’t win for her pitch perfect portrayal of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, where out of a large cast of actors that play Dylan’s various personalities and Blanchett had the duty of playing the Dylan we all know through the media (needless to say she stole the show, even with a mostly remarkable cast). Speaking of show stealing, Blanchett made a Schumacher movie watchable (that alone should be considered a miracle) when she played Irish journalist Veronica Guerin and brought realism and pain to a movie that wouldn’t have had either without her.
I think the role of hers that speaks the most about who she is as an actor was her transformation into another important figure in the acting world: Katherine Hepburn. In Scorsese’s The Aviator, Blanchett may not have been the central character but she was definitely a huge asset with one of the best performances of the past decade. It’s astonishing enough that she was Hepburn reincarnated, but the fact that you could not see any bit of Blanchett herself in the role is something else. Much of what makes The Aviator a beautiful film is its ability to travel back in time, and thanks to the cinematography, sets and costumes, performance by DiCaprio and especially the performance by Blanchett, it achieved just that.