For an actor considered to be one of the best working today, I must admit that Bale often leaves me cold. Apart from Empire of the Sun, American Psycho and The Prestige, Bale's predilection towards grungy roles in often times grungier movies and his Method-tics that have lead to much-publicized weight gains and losses for the sake of his art do very little for me. I often feel like Bale is an actor who prefers to work on the surface so much he forgets to work on the internal character. The Fighter, on first glance, certainly appears to be another Bale performance in the vein: all loud showiness, no grasp of subtlety. And when Melissa Leo appears, it's like a competition to see who can be the loudest at any given moment. Over the course of the film, however, you realize that without Bale, there can be no Adams or Wahlberg. They need each other, much like good and evil, in order to survive; Bale is the showman, the one who must build up Wahlberg while Wahlberg is the one who must back up Bale's taunts and big words. Bale is the yin to Wahlberg's yang and becomes an essential part of The Fighter's enormous success.
Fish Tank, in part, is a film about deceptive appearances with no character being more deceptive than Fassy's Connor. On the first go-around with the film, Mia (and the audience) can't help but to be attracted to this figure of both emotional and sexual fulfillment. He takes an interest in the hard, impenetrable Mia when no one else in her life can be bothered. Connor makes her feel like an important person for probably the first time in her life. The second time watching Fish Tank, however, makes it abundantly clear that Connor is not Mia's savior in any way. At first, we want to excuse his behavior (He's in love! He couldn't help it! He was drunk!) because of the (positive?) impact he has made on Mia's life up to that point. Eventually we see that Connor has been setting Mia up for this since the beginning of the film. All the classic signs of sexual abuse are there: his potential victim is an isolated young woman, he makes her feel important and loved, he slowly seduces her before making the big move. Part of the brilliance of Fassbender's performance depends on the fact that, like in real life, we often cannot tell who the villains are until much later. Fassbender doesn't hit us over the head with the fact that he's The Villian; his evilness comes across organically, constantly shifting to Mia's erratic moods. Fassbender's performance is a reminder that evil-doers sometimes come in pretty, charming, sexually attractive packages.
The Social Network
Is Andy the greatest actor of his generation? If not, he's certainly the most versatile, hopping around between styles and genres with an ease that contemporaries like Efron and Pattinson can only dream about. Despite his ability to bounce around, it appears like Andy already has a "type": the socially awkward young male who barely manages to function in everyday society. The reason he has been so successful, however, is the fact that he has been able to bring a little something different to each of his characters in Boy A, Never Let Me Go and The Social Network. The last of these, which was this close to netting him his first Oscar nomination, is interesting in the fact that it allows Andy to play with the comedic part of his awkwardness. My first thought whenever I think of his performance is the scene at the beach party where he's wearing that ridiculous straw hat and, upon seeing Mark enter, he does this funny little dance as his way of greeting him. The most fascinating part of his performance, however, is watching Andy's Eduardo slowly come to the conclusion that he will probably never "know" Mark in the way he would like. No matter how hard he tries, Mark will always have some walls that won't come down. This realization on Eduardo's part manifests itself in many forms: paranoia, anger, hurt and confusion, among others. It's to Andy's credit that these conflicting emotions never once feel at odds with each other; if anything, these compliment and flow into each other perfectly. When Eduardo's big moment happens, confronting Mark about being forced out of the company, all his emotions come out at once and he doesn't even care if he makes sense. It's the perfect exclamation point on a career-changing performance for Mr. Garfield. Oh Andy, indeed.
Death at a Funeral
The actor who has had the biggest career reinvention of the past five years is not someone who normally comes to mind. Between the 1-2-3 punch of Hairspray, Enchanted and 27 Dresses in a six month span and this year's Death at a Funeral, James Marsden continues to surprise those of us who thought of him as nothing more than a generic pretty boy. But, at an age when most former boytoy actors find their careers floundering, Marsden has finally found his niche as a character actor with a flair for over-the-top comedy. In Death at a Funeral, a slightly generic if not totally unwatchable remake of a British film of the same name, Marsden plays the boyfriend of Zoe Saldana, nervous about spending the day with her strict, dominant father. He takes a pill to help him relax, it turns out to be acid, and Marsden spends the rest of the film in a hilarious drug-induced haze, having conversations with flowers and seeing dead people move inside a coffin. The centerpiece of his performance involves him getting naked on a rooftop and it's every bit as glorious as you'd think it is. Some of the jokes are duds but Marsden sells them like the pro he is and winds up stealing the entire film from an impressive cast.
The Kids Are All Right
For a film as tepid and straining-to-be-relevant as The Kids Are All Right ultimately is, it's impressive that the ever reliable Ruffalo manages to give one of his best performances under such unfavorable conditions. He plays Paul, a 40-something man-child who has certain parts of his life finally figured out but other areas that could definitely stand improvement. Paul is at an impasse when he's contacted by two teenagers who were conceived via his sperm donation from back in the day. He meets them and things suddenly start to fall in place for Paul. Maybe this is what he meant for? But even with this newfound "maturity," Ruffalo is keen on letting us know that Paul has a long way to go. For every good thing he does with the kids, there's a "I like lesbians!" punchline or an even bigger plot twist that reveals Paul hasn't grasped this adult thing yet. He's still a child who wants what he wants when he wants it. Ruffalo, like the Godsend he is, conveys all this while remaining ever likeable and sexy eye candy to boot.
And the Diva Cup Goes to: Michael Fassbender, Fish Tank