On my mind… Keira Knightley

A lot of ladies seem to hate her. I sort of see why. She can come across – in her performances at least – as a little smug. Yet in press interviews and chat shows she’s warm, personable, enthusiastic about her roles and really quite endearing.

Sticking to her acting abilities, she does have talent. And despite being lumbered with the posh tag, she’s played a variety of other types of roles with varying degrees of success.

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Born in southwest London in 1985, Kiera Christina Knightley broke onto the scene with a film called The Hole, then Pride & Prejudice and Atonement earnt her critical acclaim and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies gave her box office clout.

However, beyond the posh parts and the popcorn offerings, she’s chosen some interesting roles in her career to date. Here are some I’d like to highlight.

For me, these show the true Knightley.

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Opposite Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in this rather sad and ponderous Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation, Knightley had her work cut out, but she put in a good performance.

A Dangerous Method (2011)
Opposite Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen she really had to up her game in this David Cronenberg directed tale of two heavyweight psychologists.

Anna Karenina (2012)
This epic tale marked the third collaboration between Knightley and director Joe Wright (the others being Atonement and Pride & Prejudice) and received high praise from critics.

Begin Again (2013)
Well received, critically and commercially, this sweet story had Knightley’s singer-songwriter character team up with Mark Ruffalo’s record label executive to record a new album.

Begin-Again-Keira-Knightley-and-Mark-Ruffalo-1

So what’s next?

Well, she’s got The Imitation Game out now (or soon), the tale of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the man who cracked the enigma device in World War II, which looks good and has a cracking cast.

Then epic survival yarn Everest, based on a true story – with a cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes.

What’s your favourite Knightley performance?

On my mind… Charlize Theron

the_burning_plain19Having just watched The Burning Plain it’s become clear that we need to discuss the career of Charlize Theron. She doesn’t get anywhere near enough love (or interesting roles) and that needs to change. This isn’t an intervention or a rant. Simply put, this is a frank acknowledgement of talent.

As all the great actresses of our generation tend to do, she mixes blockbusters and smaller projects with consummate ease. Another point to mention is that, like some of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses, she’s not afraid to remove the glamour and strip things right back, leaving little to hide behind except her performance. This is evident in Monster, but it’s also a strong theme in all of her work highlighted below. Still… I’d love to see her in more. Hollywood, it’s time to step up and send her scripts!

Anyway, here’s my pick of her best performances to date:

The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
She largely burst onto the scene here – opposite Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino – with a beautiful, tormented and captivating performance. One which set her career standard.

Monster (2003)
A deserved Oscar win for what is considered a powerhouse performance. When one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women transforms herself to this level you sit up and take notice.

North Country (2005)
Continuing a fine run of form she got a best actress nomination for this role in what some critics have argued – in some ways – was a more complex character to portray than her Oscar winning one in Monster.

The Burning Plain (2008)
Guillermo Arriaga (the writer behind Babel) directed this tale of loss and guilt and, whilst the film is somewhat confusingly edited, Theron shone in her scenes with another fine display.

Young Adult (2011)
There’s no doubt that director Jason Reitman’s tale here was both tough, tender and funny throughout. A large part of that was, once again, down to Theron, who balanced the film’s comic and tragic moments with equal skill.

On my mind… Leonardo DiCaprio

With The Great Gatsby just out and The Wolf of Wall Street on the way, it got me thinking about the career of the lead in both; one Leonardo DiCaprio.

kid quick deadTalk about an impressive CV. Since the early ’90s, he’s dazzled us with a wide range of performances across numerous genres. His filmography reads like a cinephiles ‘best films of the last 20 years’ collection.

And as such I’d like to respectfully nod to his performances that have not only stood out but also stood the test of time. Therefore let’s commence with the first in a series of ‘cinematic living legend’ posts, paying tribute to my favourite roles and performances from actors that just keep on getting better and better.

  • KidThe Quick and the Dead (1995)
    Young, cocky, but with undeniable screen presence in Sam Raimi’s western, little Leo comfortably held the screen alongside big names: Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Sharon Stone.
  • Jim CarrollThe Basketball Diaries (1995)
    His first performance that truly blew me away. When this came out I was 13 and loved basketball. Admittedly the gradual descent into drugs and sleeping rough on the streets was something to which I couldn’t as readily relate.
  • frankcatchmeifyoucanFrank Abagnale JrCatch Me If You Can (2002)
    With Gangs out quite soon after, this was an impressive year for Leo. This time going toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks with Spielberg at the helm. Bit of a dream partnership resulting in a fantastic performance and movie.
  • Amsterdam VallonGangs of New York (2002)
    Whilst DiCaprio’s star was flying high by this point, it was never going to be easy going up against a true heavyweight of cinema in Daniel Day Lewis. Nonetheless, his performance as Amsterdam was highly watchable.
  • Howard HughesThe Aviator (2004)
    A consummate and wholly engrossing performance at the top of his game. He got Hughes’s mannerisms and tics spot on. Watch this original footage of Hughes then compare it to Leo’s similar scene – a master at work.
  • Billy Costigan JrThe Departed (2006)
    This marked his third collaboration with Scorsese and – for the pair of them – their most profitable partnership to date. An impressively raw and aggressive performance befitting a cop mentally unravelling whilst undercover as a gangster.
  • blooddiamondDanny ArcherBlood Diamond (2006)
    Often overlooked, yet well received critically and commercially, Ed Zwick’s diamond smuggling war film not only showed DiCaprio in a more mature light with a commanding performance, but was an engaging action tale too.
  • Teddy DanielsShutter Island (2010)
    Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, this psycho-thriller saw Scorsese direct Leo again and come up trumps. I’ve heard this described as a B-movie with an A-list director and star. Unfair and unjust – it’s genuinely spooky and thrilling.
  • CobbInception (2010)
    Another bumper year following Shutter Island, helping DiCaprio tick another ‘greatest living director I’ve worked with’ off his list in Christopher Nolan. du-ac-000125_lgQuite a restrained, nuanced and tender performance, possibly a career best.
  • Calvin CandieDjango Unchained (2012)
    Sadistic, charming, brutal with a god complex – the first time Leo has really had the chance to play a villain and he lapped it up. Tarantino at the helm was no doubt a draw, but his performance, whilst unsettling, was truly mesmerising.