February 2, 2005

All About The Performances

In our continuing quest to check of items from the Oscar nominations list, Cinecultist took in Ray on Monday afternoon during our much needed comp day and Being Julia last night via studio supplied VHS copy. There's mucho buzz surrounding Jamie Foxx and Annette Bening's performances what with their best actor and actress nods and after seeing both of their movies, CC can understand why. Which is not to say that either of the movies taken as a whole are really cinema destined for the canon, but if you can isolate the enjoyment of good acting by a lead performer they're surely worth your time.

The feeling which both of these actors seem to be evoking is that Peter Pan "I Can Fly" crow. Do you remember that moment from the Mary Martin play? To see the actor soar above audience, reveling in what is possible, is an inspired creative experience. Neither character will apologize for their supposed weakness (Julia's age and Ray's blindness) but rather use them for their advantage, triumphing over those who thought to stand in their way. Perhaps for fine actors like Bening and Foxx embodying other creative people is more freeing than becoming say, a serial killer or a cop. It's as though they can identify with their character's drive to bring to their audiences the very best of themselves.

In Foxx's performance, our favorite parts are when he's portraying Ray the lady's man. In the way that Foxx brings him to life, all Ray Charles ever had to do was sit at the piano and play, then all the women in the room flocked to him. According to the movie, his signature move was stroking the wrist of the women he met, so as to determine if they were attractive or not. The way Foxx executes this telling gesture is so sensual, you see him touch them and you just know that girl will be under his spell. Genius can't help but be charismatic and it's these little details in Foxx's performance which bring this point about Charles home to the audience.

As for Bening, her greatest strength is in making a character who could be pathetic or completely unsympathetic the person you can't help but root for in her machinations. Playing the aging English stage actress Julia from the Somerset Maugham novel, Bening shows only the movie's audience her softer side but to everyone else in her life, she reveals only what they want to see. Thus, when we watch her maneuver the pawns about her, she does it with grace not malice and a giddy joy that's infectious. Come uppance on screen hasn't been this sweet in a very long time. By the way, Jeremy Irons isn't half bad as Julia's producer husband, if you happen to be a Jeremy Irons fan like the Cinecultist.

Coincidentally, both of these movies are now available on DVD so really, is there any excuse for working your way through your own Oscar nominations list? If you're being obsessive and trying to see as much as you can before the February telecast like CC, that is.

Posted by karen at February 2, 2005 11:09 PM