Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The five best Robin Williams performances

1) John Keating, Dead Poets Society

Come on, admit it, you couldn't resist Williams' incredible performance as an english teacher that inspires his students to love poetry and seize the day. It's an unabashedly sentimental movie and incredible performance by an actor at the peak of his powers. His Professor John Keating is a man that embodies every professor who you thought was cool and respectful, every person who taught or enlightened with something out of the ordinary. Williams made it HIS performance and this is the one role he will likely be remembered for in 40,50,60 years from now.

2) Daniel Hillard, Mrs. Doubtifre

On a less serious, but no less brilliant, note Williams brought slapstick comedy to the forefront of his movie career as Daniel Hillard a man that wants to see his children so badly that he dresses up in drag and pretends he's a British nanny. The transformative Williams is tremendously good in a roile that could have easily delved into the ridiculous. It was a hilarious and heartfelt performance that used the snap-fast ADHD'ed tempo of his comedy. I will need more than two hands to count the number of classic one liners this film has and another few hands to count the number of times I have seen this movie in my childhood.

3) Genie, Aladdin 

Fine this was an animated voice performance but it also probably is the single greatest voice performance in animated movie history. This is how it all worked out: the directors brought Williams to his sound recording booth and asked him to just let'er rip and improvise with whatever the hell he felt like improvising with and only after did they do the animation to fit his voice. It worked out just fine. Williams' Genie is the clearcut highlight of this classic Disney movie and he ultimately set the bar for more adult-oriented jokes in animated features, which to this day is still an influential part of the animation process.

4)  Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning Vietnam

How can anyone discount this great performance. As a radio DJ for the armed forces in Vietnam, Williams' Cronauer tries to make a difference and speak up about what is really happening. Heavy stuff right? It is, to a certain extent. His character is scarred by war and his own inner terror. It was Williams' first oscar nomination and a sign of things to come for an actor that was about to break through big time in Drama while having some side jokes along the way.

5) Parry, The Fisher King

It is quite difficult trying to explain to somebody what Terry Gilliams' fantasy film really is about, but I think that's the beauty of The Fisher King, a film so devoid of cliches that it never seizes to amaze at every turn. Williams is the core of the movie, playing a homeless man scarred by tragedy and emotionally run over by his constant hallucinations. Parry is a man that is difficult to understand but easy to like.  Williams deservedly got Oscar nominated for this role. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

TIFF 2014 report

The performances keep getting the attention at the fest. Last year “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” were Oscar bound the minute they got screened (and were declared as such by Telluride), but this year there is no such movie.
Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller is the dark side of the American dream with an eerie understated score accompanying its tremendous performances, none better than Steve Carell, creepy as hell, playing a billionaire wannabe wrestling coach trying to get his recruit athlete, played by Channing Tatum, a gold medal at the Olympics. It’s a performance constantly talked about since Cannes, but it really is that good.
If “The Imitation Game” was a major hit at Telluride, it has some competition here with James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything”, most notably because of Eddie Redmayne’s performance playing Stephen Hawking. You can’t take your eyes off of Redmayne. He doesn’t play Hawking, he IS Stephen Hawking. Whenever I get into a conversation with somebody about this movie, it always comes back to Redmayne, a 32 year old British actor known to Americans for his role as Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables. Felicity Jones is also fabulous as Hawking’s wife Jane Hawking, a woman who stuck by her man until the task became too overwhelming.
You want electric? Look no further than J.K Simmons in “Whiplash”, one of the best movies to have played at the fest so far and one that warranted a rousing standing ovation. I’ve bumped into many TIFF-goers who are telling me this could win the Audience award and I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. It’s a blisteringly made crowd pleaser that makes excitingly high art out of jazz drumming. J.K Simmons is the teacher from hell, pushing his students to limits they might not even have –- think Sgt. Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” but turned into a Jazz band professor at the best music school in the U.S. Don’t be surprised if Simmons gets tons of Awards attention by years end, he’s incredibly good. The movie asks us moral and ethical questions near its end but its rousing conclusion is the most exhilarating and sensational end to a movie I’ve seen so far this year.
The haunted genius of Bobby Fischer comes to us in “Pawn Sacrifice”, a by-the-books account of Fischer’s endless genius and torment. As played by Tobey Maguire, Fischer was one hell of a chess player but he also had paranoiac delusions that ultimately led to his downfall. That downfall is sadly not touched upon during the film, which mostly has to do with Fischer’s rivalry with soviet chess champion Boris Spassky, as played by always reliable Liev Schreiber. I don’t think Maguire’s ever given us such a performance, one that keeps you on the edge throughout and brings real humanity to a very conflicted human being. Edward Zwick, whose helmed “Glory” and “Blood Diamond” in the last, knows what kind of performance he’s getting from Maguire and he does what he should do, lets him rip.

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