Top 10 performances of Bill Paxton

About a year or so ago I saw Bill Paxton in Nightcrawler, a rather excellent film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It got me thinking that Paxton is a funny actor, in that he’s been around a long time (since the start of the ’80s), turns up fairly frequently, often delivering performances which elevate a scene or the entire thing – yet he’s not really got the plaudits he perhaps deserves.

And he’s 60 now (if you can believe it) which, given his body of work, means he’s approaching legend status in my book. Add to that his distinctive Texan drawl that’s perhaps only matched by Matthew McConaughey and you’ve got someone that should really be given more roles. C’mon Hollywood, you can do it.

And on that note, it makes picking ten of his best a tall order (his filmography turns up some gems, ‘Punk Leader’ in The Terminator anyone?) but here are my choices, in random order:

Private Hudson, Aliens (1986)
Morgan Earp, Tombstone (1993)
Simon, True Lies (1994)
John Garrett, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2014)
Bill Harding, Twister (1996)
Master Sergeant Farell, Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Joe Loder, Nightcrawler (2014)
Fred Haise, Apollo 13 (1995)
Jerry Lambert, Predator 2 (1990)
Chet Donnelly, Weird Science (1985)

From his slimy and sleazy used car salesman seducing Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies to his gung-ho soldier immortalising lines like ‘Game over, man!’ and making them gold, Paxton has had a varied and compelling career. And in recent years he’s kept his output high, popping up as the bad guy in season 2 of Marvel’s blossoming Avengers spin-off, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the good guy opposite Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic baddie in Nightcrawler. That’s range.

So hurrah for Mr Paxton. Keep on acting, you’re a legend and we love you.

Game over? Never!

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The top 5 performances of Ralph Fiennes

Somehow, I’ve not written about the living legend that is Ralph Fiennes before. And, these days, he’s just getting better with age. Well it’s high time we address that and look at my pick of his best performances.

So here they are, my favourite five. Do you agree? What would yours be?

Voldemort
Harry Potter (2005-2011)
A twisted, reptilian serpent of a villain, stealing every scene as poor Daniel Radcliffe tried to keep up. His take on Rowling’s primary bad guy was just as you’d want it to be – melodramatic, flamboyant, tortured, deliciously evil and highly watchable.

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Harry
In Bruges (2008)
Where did this performance come from? Who knew Fiennes was so funny? Obviously it helps to have a dark comedy penned by ‘the Irish Tarantino’ Martin McDonagh with zingers aplenty to get stuck into, but Fiennes’ performance was deadpan genius.

In Bruges

M. Gustave
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
In probably the quirkiest Wes Anderson film yet, Fiennes ran the show as enigmatic Hotel Manager M. Gustave, thoroughly embracing scenes with casual shootouts, jailbreaks and geriatric loving; as if it was the easiest thing in the world to pull off.

Gareth Mallory
Skyfall (2012)
Filling Judi Dench’s boots as M is a hell of a tall order, yet Fiennes effortlessly slotted into Sam Mendes’ world of Bond as if he’d been there all along. Initially we’re unsure of his motives (in terms of Bond) yet they come to earn each other’s respect.

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Lenny Nero
Strange Days (1995)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron, this gritty sci-fi thriller was a favourite of mine growing up. Largely due to Fiennes’ committed performance as former LAPD cop turned bootlegger. Worth seeking out if you’ve not seen it.

RF Strange Days

Cate Blanchett – modern day screen goddess

blanchett galadrielA few days after seeing the latest in the Middle Earth saga, The Hobbit, I realised a particular scene involving Blanchett had burrowed its way firmly into my subconscious.

Taking place in Rivendell, it focused on a tender moment between Gandalf and Galadriel, as they discussed the rise of a potential necromancer.

As it had been quite a few years since the LOTR trilogy I’d half forgotten how ethereal and captivating Blanchett had made Galadriel. Few actresses could have portrayed the elven queen the way she did.

This got me thinking of other characters she’s played that have had a similar impact on my subconscious, albeit for various different reasons. Galadriel aside, here’s my list:

Katharine Hepburn – The Aviator (2004)

Playing such an iconic individual was never going to be easy. Blanchett, though, made it look effortless, with a captivating and compelling performance. She clearly revelled in the part too, adding layers to Hepburn that delighted and surprised in every scene. So much so, that the results deservedly won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

life aquatic cate blanchettJane Winslett-RichardsonThe Life Aquatic (2004)

Securing a part originally written for Kate Winslet, hence the character’s name, she played a reporter who draws both the affections of Owen Wilson’s Ned and Bill Murray’s Zissou.
Her character’s relationship with Ned was wonderfully sweet and affecting and gave the film a lot of heart.

Irina SpalkoIndiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Granted her character is a one-size-fits-all, clichéd Russian baddie, but this type of adventure action movie is a guilty pleasure, so surely that’s the point? That said, in a role that could’ve been one-dimensional, Blanchett gave Spalko depth and intensity. Her climactic ‘I vant to know’ scene cemented a place on this list.

marissa weigler cate blanchett hannaMarissa WeiglerHanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright, this dark, intelligent, fairy tale-esque action film played like a Brothers Grimm version of a Bourne film. Or a thinking person’s Kick-Ass. Here, Blanchett played an immoral and ruthless CIA agent, bent on chasing down Saoirse Ronan’s teen assassin Hanna. Another over-the-top villain? Possibly, but still a great performance.

Daisy FullerThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

To say this film divided people is an understatement. From two reviews I read earlier – both well-respected critics – one gave it one star and one gave it five. Love or hate the story, it’s difficult to fault Blanchett’s beautifully nuanced performance, as the love interest to Brad Pitt’s increasingly youthful Benjamin Button.

Top ten performances of Tom Cruise

After being impressed with Cruise’s performance in Jack Reacher recently it got me thinking. Is Cruise one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood? He surely must be, given his output. Since his first credited role in Endless Love in 1981, I can only count seven instances in the last 31 years where he’s had more than a one-year break between jobs. Mostly he’s had at least one film out a year, 39 in total to date.

What’s most impressive is the range of films and quality of performances. I assume that’s why, for some people, he’s a divisive figure. A man at the top of his game and loving it. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to dispute his screen presence and charisma. Here’s my pick of his top ten performances:

  • lestat tom cruiseInterview with the Vampire – 1994
    Cruise wasn’t initially favoured by novelist Anne Rice, but won her and audiences over with his sublime, sadistic and graceful take on aristocratic vampire Lestat, constantly tormenting Brad Pitt’s troubled vampire Louis.
  • Vanilla Sky – 2001
    Described as ‘Jerry Maguire on an acid trip’ this sees Cruise play a publishing mogul who becomes facially disfigured following a car accident. What happens then is anyone’s guess as dream and reality blend together in Cameron Crowe’s twisted tale.
  • A Few Good Men – 1992
    Slugging it out with Jack Nicholson’s army general in a courtroom is no easy task. Cruise’s performance as idealistic navy lawyer was realistic and compelling, plus he gave us that iconic ‘you can’t handle the truth’ scene.
  • YouCompleteMe_JerryMaguireJerry Maguire – 1996
    Taking nothing away from the outstanding Zellweger, this film is anchored by Cruise’s raw, touching performance as sports agent Jerry, trying to rebuild a career and hang on to his marriage. A beautifully told, feel-good tale.
  • Minority Report – 2002
    Some may think this a Spielberg action tale, but it’s closer to a futuristic film noir. Cruise convincingly plays cop John Anderton whose life gets upended, accused of a crime and forced to clear his name whilst on the run.
  • Collateral – 2004
    Perhaps this was a nice warm up to play Reacher – here he played a cold, calculating and ruthless hitman, les-grossman-moviestuck in a cat-and-mouse game with Jamie Foxx’s average Joe-type cab driver.
  • Tropic Thunder – 2008
    With an ensemble cast of great comic actors, Cruise stands out as ruthless studio head Les Grossman – his tirades (I will massacre you!), his dancing, his menace. Fantastically funny and refreshing.
  • The Last Samurai – 2003
    As world-weary Captain Nathan Algren, his performance in Ed Zwick’s epic action tale is truly a masterclass in submitting wholeheartedly to the character. Compelling, heartfelt and affecting throughout.
  • Jack Reacher – 2012
    Ensuring the wrath of Lee Child fans worldwide, Cruise opted to play 6’5 man-mountain army detective Jack Reacher – a sort of modern Dirty Harry. Here he gives the character wit, intelligence and gravitas.
  • tom cruise Born on the Fourth of July 01Born on the Fourth of July – 1989
    Delivering arguably a career-best performance as wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Ron Kovich. This film came only a few years into his career ascendancy, but firmly cemented him as bona fide A-grade, talent.

Rachel Weisz – her top 5 performances

A few years ago there was a survey of celebrity ladies in a men’s style magazine. To the question ‘Who would you most like to marry?’ men unanimously went for Weisz.

At the time she was single and responded saying ‘So I’m the most marriable but I’m not married?’ Perhaps because it took an alpha, Bond-esque male for her to say yes. Damn.

Anyway, my slightly convoluted point was to illustrate how the thinking man holds her in high regard. She’s one of those actresses that flies slightly under the radar at times. Whilst obviously stunningly beautiful she chooses her roles intelligently, mixing blockbusters with more considered, indie projects. Not every actress has the skill, star appeal and versatility to pick and choose roles in this manner.

I recently posted a list of a thinking man’s top actresses and shamefully didn’t include her. This post, I hope, will make amends. Below is my pick of her five best performances.

  1. The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
    You’ve got to hand it to Weisz, she’s maturing like a good single malt whisky (better than a fine wine in my opinion). Last year she gave us one of her finest performances to date as Hester, the lady at the centre of a love triangle, in an adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s 1955 play.
  2. The Constant Gardener (2005)
    After a string of average action blockbusters, she fought to get this role and it’s clear she had desire to play the part with conviction. Her performance as Amnesty activist Tessa was accessible and compelling and the results won her an Oscar.
  3. The Fountain (2006)
    Choosing to work with up-and-coming indie Director and partner at the time, Darren Aranofsky, her performance is raw, affecting and heartfelt. I wonder – in an alternate universe – what she’d have been like playing Nina instead of Natalie Portman in Aranofsky’s Black Swan. Would she have bagged an Oscar as Portman did?
  4. The Brothers Bloom (2008)
    After success of indie noir thriller Brick, Director Rian Johnson made this film, echoing Wes Anderson’s style. It didn’t make much on release but gained a cult following afterwards. Weisz is great in it – quirky, bubbly and loveable. Again, her desire to work with up-and-coming Directors must have been a factor – Johnson followed this with critically acclaimed sci-fi Looper.
  5. Confidence (2003)
    Playing a budding con artist, she had an interesting chemistry with Ed Burns. Seductive, sultry, hard-to-read – the perfect foil to Ed Burns and his smug approach to conning. This film really reminds me of her timeless beauty – the perfect femme fatale in any era.

Honourable mentions should go to The Mummy (1999), About a Boy (2002) and The Bourne Legacy (2012). All considerably lifted by her presence. The Mummy, in particular, launched the action side of her career, putting her on the map for many people. Plus she gets added kudos for making Brendan Fraser bearable.

So there’s my list. If you’ve not seen all the ones in my top 5, seek them out and watch them soon, particularly if you’re a Weisz fan. If you’re not, you’ll soon become one I promise you. I’ll leave you with the photo-shoot that accompanied the survey in the men’s style magazine I mentioned at the start of this post. Enjoy!