Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The 100 most memorable characters of the decade - part 4

We're nearly halfway through the list. It's been tough to narrow things down, and as usual, there weren't really any rules, and I tried to balance the characters as much as I could. Here's the next batch for you:

70 - Paikea Apirana (Keisha Castle-Hughes) Whale Rider - I said earlier that there won't be many teenagers on this list, and there will be even fewer pre-teens. Pai will end up being one of a handful of memorable children. Fueled by the strength of Castle-Hughes, Pai is the poster child for female empowerment - the ultimate personification of girl power. Sometimes it's hard to believe she's just a child.

is the only available heir to her grandfather, the chief of her tribe, though customs demands that the chief be male. But she stands up to her grandfather, who would rather Pai had been born a boy, or perhaps, not even born at all (''There was no gladness when I was born.'')

Keisha Castle-Hughes on her role in Whale Rider:

''It's about a girl who's trying to find who she is in a male-dominated society,'' explains Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 13-year-old star of Niki Caro's inspiring coming-of-age film, ''Whale Rider"... The tale of the Maori in New Zealand has been embraced around the world, proving that it's more than a chick flick. ''One man said he saw his grandfather in Koro, the patriarch,'' Castle-Hughes says, happily surprised. ''He could relate, even though he was an Italian from New Jersey.''...The movie's message is a universal one: ''If you want something, you've got to go out and grab it with both hands..."

More on Whale Rider:
Keisha admits there are certain parallels between the young actress and this remarkable character she has played so effortlessly. "I think we're both strong willed and independent, and Pai has a great unique quality about her. She's an 11-year-old girl who's confident about who she is and knows exactly who she is. Not many 11-year-old girls are like that. She's a great role model for young girls. I think I'm like that too."

69 - Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) I'm Not There - I don't remember much about the film - messy plot and all. But I do remember Blanchett as Jude Quinn, an incarnation of Bob Dylan, circa the mid 1960s and his electric uprising. I don't know what's scarier - a movie made up of six different Bob Dylans that I have to keep up with, or the fact that Cate Blanchett might make a better Dylan than Dylan.

Stephanie Zacharek from Salon explains why Blanchett as Dylan is so good:
...Cate Blanchett, as the Royal Albert Hall-era Dylan (there we go again with the pushpins), is the most hypnotic, capturing the spirit of Dylan -- or, more accurately, one of his many spirits -- in her willowy frame. This could be the performance of the year, in one of the most inventive and joyous movies of the year.

And more from Jeff Beresford-Howe at Film Threat:
Cate Blanchett gets all the attention and awards talk for her cross-dressing portrayal of Dylan at his most scathing and magnetic, and she deserves it. You can’t take your eyes off her as she staggers through Dylan’s best-dressed, most confrontational and most fucked up time in his life, what was essentially a long-playing nervous breakdown. It’s an over-the-top performance rooted firmly in the truth.

68 - Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) Frida - Sometimes the media goes crazy for good looking actresses who get ugly for their roles. But in Hayek's case all the attention was deserved. While Frida reads like a standard biopic, on the screen it isn't. And that is largely due to the directing, and Hayek's ability to make a legendary artist into a flesh and blood person.

Frida's like a human hurricane; tempestuous one moment, and suddenly calm, and then tempestuous all over again. Hayek's performance is so brave, I think that she isn't afraid to show the Hayek beneath the Kahlo. It's not just Kahlo you're seeing there. You're seeing Hayek's years-long obsession with Frida and the guts she had to be able to bring Frida to the big screen (in the early 1990s 'when Hayek was told she was too young for the part, she replied "Then you are going to have to wait until I'm old enough"'). You can see it all somewhere in the eyes, beneath those striking eyebrows.

On the challenge of playing Frida:'s apparent that the role of Frida may easily be the most challenging role Hayek has ever undertaken. The part shows that Hayek is much more than just a pretty face. She mesmerizingly portrays Frida throughout all stages of her life – young girl, budding woman, old and dying. Not to mention that she has to convey the horrible physical pain Kahlo endured as a result of a crippling childhood accident. Additionally, prosthetics ranging from aging make-up, numerous scenes in full body casts, and of course Frida's omnipresent unibrow were heaped upon Hayek. "Honestly, it is definitely by far the most complex character I have ever played and maybe the most complex character I will ever play," exclaims Hayek. "But it was not the most challenging one. When you are so passionate about something and when you love someone so much, it's easy to feel their pain."

67 - Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Capote - I've always found the character memorable mainly because I find him unbearable. I've been trying to figure out if there is anything more than the fact that he gets on my nerves that has made me remember him all these years. Maybe it boils down to the obvious. The character annoys me, but Philip Seymour Hoffman does not. In fact I really like Philip Seymour Hoffman, so I suppose it's a testament to just how brilliant he is in the role.

Maybe Ebert's review helps give me an explanation:
...As he talks to the killers, to law officers and to the neighbors of the murdered Clutter family, Capote's project takes on depth and shape as the story of conflicting fates. But at the heart of his reporting is an irredeemable conflict: He wins the trust of the two convicted killers and essentially falls in love with Perry Smith, while needing them to die to supply an ending for his book. "If they win this appeal," he tells his friend Harper Lee, "I may have a complete nervous breakdown." After they are hanged on April 14, 1965, he tells Harper, "There wasn't anything I could have done to save them." She says: "Maybe, but the fact is you didn't want to."
66 - Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) The Notorious Bettie Page - This is arguable one of the best examples of perfect casting in a biopic. Gretchen Mol, with her huge eyes, big black bangs, and dazzling smile plays the sweet, innocent pin-up girl of the 1950s with so much charm and vulnerability. She's just as comfortable dressed in high heels and leather as a dominatrix as she is being bound and gagged - or even completely nude.

The perfect description of Bettie Page:
It has often been said that Bettie Page, the legendary '50s pinup with the pert features framed by those famously severe black bangs, was the rare American sex goddess who was equally at home projecting the image of a good girl or a bad girl. Frolicking, naked, in the ocean foam, her leg extended with playful pleasure, she was all dazzle and sunshine: the girl next door who said yes yes yes. In her scandalous underground bondage photos, where she posed as a dominatrix with a whip held high, or as a masochist with a ball in her mouth, she vamped like a pussycat from hell, her eyes narrowing with mean delight — or widening in mock terror. Yet the mysterious alchemy of Bettie Page isn't just that she could turn on a dime from light to dark, saint to sinner, virgin to vixen. It's that she was somehow able to project both qualities at once. In the bondage photos, so shocking for their time, her warm, spirited, peekaboo vibrance doesn't disappear; it's there just beneath the surface aggression of her poses. As for her all-American cheesecake shots, they have a quality of delirious, laughing abandon, as though she were winking at the she-devil inside. What Bettie Page conjured — always — was the promise of pleasure without limits. She was a one-woman orgy in centerfold form.
65 - Alice (Natalie Portman) Closer - Alice is an intelligent, sexy, 20 year old, who deals in deception ("Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off...but it's better if you do.") It's easy to be fooled by her innocent face, but even when Alice tells the truth it is to hurt her partner, not to unburden herself of guilt. She talks a good game about love, but one wonders at the end of it all if she's ever really felt it.

Why Portman's performance is so good:
Portman, who digs so deep into the bruised core of her character that they seem to wear the same skin. It's a blazing, breakthrough performance.
As for the elfin Portman, it's far and away the best performance of the adult portion of her career. Gone is that kid-genius preciousness; she seems like someone abused by men and self almost to the breaking point.

64 - Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) Donnie Darko - The title character in the film is a puzzle. He goes to a nice school and he's walking around with Jake Gyllenhaal's angelic face. But on the inside, he is gloomy, tormented, lost. He is a paranoid schizophrenic dealing with the mundane aspects of teenage life. He's more than just an angst-ridden teenager. He hears voices in his head, hallucinates, has visions of the future - he's often visited by a giant rabbit with an injured eye. He's an oddball with the guts to ask out the new girl.

Jake Gyllenhaal on his experiences working on the film:
I remember that when [Richard] was in the bunny suit that we shot that at night and that there was pizza behind the camera, because we were going over, and all I wanted was a piece of pizza, that was my main motivation for that... I couldn't agree more with Steven. When I read it, I just immediately responded to it, even though I didn't read it all the way through when I met [Richard]. I had ten pages to go and I had five minutes before the meeting and I knew I already wanted to do it. Good to know that I didn't know what happens in the end because I still don't know what happens in the end. But it was an amazing experience for me and a familiar one too because this was hopefully not the last time that I work with my sister, but everyone sort of became family from that experience and I'm so proud of it.

63 - Latika (Freida Pinto, Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar) Slumdog Millionaire - Latika isn't like other love interests, though, like most of them, she's beautiful. Even as a child she is street smart and tough. Latika knows how to survive. She starts off as Jamal's friend - the unnamed third musketeer. But as time moves forward, she's snatched away, and she comes in and out of our hero's life - she's more of a vision than anything real.

Freida Pinto discusses the character:
Two younger actors play Latika at earlier ages, so she drew from that work. However, most of the adult Latika was intuitive from the script. "I read the script first and I read little Latika's part. I was like, 'That's the character. That's the Latika that I can relate to because she's a spicy, stubborn girl. She's got this zest for life and she's playful.' She's a fighter and the moment you come to the girl in the middle, she automatically gets submissive and she's kind of grown before her time. She's 14 but she looks like she could be 18, 20. So it was really important to watch the kids to see how they had grown so I could grow beyond that as well. So Danny had already shot scenes with the two characters and I watched it and it was such an immense amount of pressure because they were so good. They just seemed so effortless. It just makes it kind of simpler to have watched it, so the growth seems not disconnected. It just seems fluid."

62 - Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) Transformers & Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Sam starts off as an awkward high school kid hell bent on trying to impress Mikaela, the hottest girl in school. He is the unconventional hero. He isn't that strong, has no useful skills, and he's more of a smart aleck, than actually smart. He's kind of cool though, in a dorky sort of way. There is also courage deep down, even though at times, one wonders if the kid is just stupid. But he has that quality every film hero ought to have - he is sympathetic. He's the everyman.

On Shia LaBeouf as Sam:
...things get infinitely better when Shia LaBeouf appears as Sam, a smart-mouthed teen who discovers the Transformers with his would-be girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).

LaBeouf is a good choice to act out the lively script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who never forget that they're writing a movie about robots from outer space that can turn into helicopters and boom boxes. The rising young actor, who will play Indiana Jones' sidekick in next summer's big movie, has a geeky charm that recalls a young John Cusack or Patrick Dempsey.

61 - Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) Forgetting Sarah Marshall - We spend most of Forgetting Sarah Marshall feeling sorry for the hero. It's bad enough that his girlfriend dumps him, but having to deal with her self-centered, cool, rock star boyfriend while on vacation sucks even more.

Russell Brand does, sort of steal the show:
Brand, a Brit stand-up, radiates star quality and ace comic timing as the sexually insatiable lead singer of Infant Sorrow, a rocker so self-involved that he doesn't see why Sarah wouldn't want to join his groupies, the Sorrow Suckers, on tour. Brand is priceless when a pushy waiter (Hill is perfecto) asks if Aldous has listened to his audition CD. "I was going to," says Brand in an accent that blends Keith Richards with Monty Python, "but then I just carried on livin' my life."

But, Aldous Snow doesn't end up being the stereotypical vapid rocker though he does screw around. He's funny, charming (mostly because Brand is playing himself) and he eventually becomes friends with his rival. Aldous isn't really a villain ("Fuck you're cool! It's so hard to say, because, like, I hate you in so many ways.") It's not that surprising that Aldous will be getting his own spin-off movie.

There are still a lot more characters left, and hopefully I'll have the next part up next week.

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