Sometimes, individual scenes in movies are well-worth singling out for their sheer artistry.
Here is one example. LINCOLN may be among the best films of the year, but there is one moment in this film that left me speechless-- and that said volumes about human emotion. This scene is the last one in which we see Thaddeus Stevens, who is played by Tommy Lee Jones, onscreen. I will not reveal its content, but suffice to say that it is perhaps the most stirring individual scene I have seen in any movie in 2012.
And speaking of sequences in movies, I want to cite the extended opening section in FLIGHT, which is one of the most harrowing airplane-in-trouble sequences one ever will see on celluloid. FLIGHT is not a ten-best-of-the-year title, but it is a top-notch action thriller and it does star Denzel Washington, who adds class and intelligence to all his performances.
Speaking of Tommy Lee Jones’s performance in LINCOLN, well, it deservedly has garnered a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination. But I am betting that it will not beat out Robert De Niro’s finest performance in many a year in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.
With regard to leading performances by actors, the five Oscar nominees are Bradley Cooper for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, Daniel Day-Lewis for LINCOLN, Hugh Jackman for LES MISERABLES, Joachim Phoenix for THE MASTER, and the aforementioned Denzel Washington. I also was expecting two other actors to be in the mix: Anthony Hopkins for HITCHCOCK and John Hawkes for THE SESSIONS.
But there is one superlative acting job that seems to have disappeared from view, even if it did garner a Golden Globe nomination. That is Jack Black’s performance as the title character in BERNIE. This fact-based film is the saga of a genial Texas funeral director who for good reason is well-liked by one and all. The story follows the bizarre events that occur when Bernie becomes immersed in the life of his town’s wealthiest and most disliked widow. BERNIE is a flawed film, to be sure, primarily because it is a bit repetitive, but Black’s performance is akin to a master class in acting. With his every gesture and voice inflection, he brilliantly captures the essence of his character.
And finally, a brief word about DJANGO UNCHAINED and the manner in which it is linked to Quentin Tarantino’s previous film, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Both films, of course, are loaded with knowing references to film history as well as cinematic touches that reflect Tarantino’s fascination and even obsession with that history.
But there also is an altogether different take on history in these films.
At their core, they are revenge fantasies in which an exploited people triumphs mightily over an oppressor. In INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, which is set during World War II, Jews get to bash in the skulls of Nazis with baseball bats and Nazis get to have swastikas emblazoned on their foreheads. In DJANGO UNCHAINED, which is set prior to the Civil War, a slave is transformed into what might be described as the “fastest gun in the west.”
While watching-- and enjoying-- both films, I found myself thinking, over and over: “If only the fantasies that Tarantino presents were, in fact, realities.”
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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