In the 8th Post post-Oscars, my true love sent to me: thoughts on five of my favorite male performances from 2018 movies (click here for the ladies!).
—2018 Favorites: Introduction
—In the 1st Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movies — Intro + Complete List
—In the 2nd Post post-Oscars: 2018 Genre Movies
—In the 3rd Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movie Beginnings and Endings
—In the 4th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Miscellaneous Movies
—In the 5th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movie Music
—In the 6th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Acting
—In the 7th Post post-Oscars: 2018 Movie Year of the Year
These five deserve special citation for requiring specific styles of acting that often, shamefully, fall outside the purview of year-ending awards recognition.
The 21st century values believability, the sort we ideally don’t even recognize as believable because it seems so real. The five movies mentioned below ask their leads for something else, something different. They don’t want to convince us they ARE their characters; their relationship as actors to their characters is the essential ingredient to their distinct thespian recipes. Replace any of these five with more traditional, more convincing A-C-T-I-N-G, and the movies flat out wouldn’t work nearly as well. The Oscars like to reward performances that stretch the natural talents of the actors as far as possible, but sometimes we should herald casting decisions that fully utilize the intractable essence of an actor. Sometimes, finding the actor who adds an element no other could is way more than half the battle.
Christian Bale, Vice
Christian Bale is a naturally magnetic actor. You know who isn’t naturally magnetic, at least conventionally-speaking? Dick Cheney. This juxtaposition is crucial to Vice’s exploration of the relationship between history and how history is recorded, often through recorded mediums like film. How can star-spangled Hollywood possibly capture a figure who deliberately shied away from the spotlight, who lived by the motto that real Gs move in silence? By their very nature, the bright lights of cameras — in both entertainment and politics, which Vice, and the world, make clear are now one and the same — can’t help but lionize their potentially-undeserving subjects. How can the spotlight of a movie tap into this dichotomy, of a figure who tried affecting the general public in the least public way possible, who consciously avoided the spotlight even while reshaping the world around it, and himself? You hire an actor like Christian Bale, who can wield the wattage of his coursing star power to straddle this public-private line. By dialing himself down to an elusive enigma, Bale nails Cheney’s appeal, of a man who seems to have more going on under the surface than he lets on, casually reveling in power of this subsumed mystery. As Bale disappears into the prosthetics of Cheney’s latter-day obesity, his magnetism becomes even more distant. We may be seeing Cheney’s face projected on Orwellian-sized Big Brother propaganda screens, and yet we feel like we know his “true self” less than ever; our vision, our understanding of his personhood — while beholding Cheney writ-large, both on the screens within the movie and the screen we’re watching Vice on — is obscured underneath Bale’s stoic disposition. What’s underneath? Is there anything underneath?
Ryan Gosling, First Man
First Man’s a sort of companion piece to Vice, in that both wrestle with the troubled and troubling legacies of Important American Figures, all while probing film’s troubled and troubling role in altering our perception, and thus conception, of these legacies. Through sheer force of silent will, Dick Cheney and Neil Armstrong helped define their respective eras, yet they themselves remain impossible to define, perhaps because they resisted the attention that inevitably came with their ambition. The “undefinable” defining the world is a rather apt representation of America itself. Neil Armstrong has been cast as one of the 20th century’s undeniable heroes, a perfect product of wholesome Americana. But underneath this all-American facade was a deeply conflicted man, a man lost in a pretty shell whom the country, and maybe the entire world, saw and continues to see as the person they want, even need him to be. Balancing these forces calls for an actor who’s both invitingly-affable yet also a bit foreign, a literal AND figurative space cadet. Enter Ryan Gosling — his boyish charm cannot mask his pain-rooted, hardened internal vulnerability. It’s easy to suspect that his exterior might be a coping mechanism honed over decades, to get what he wants while also not giving away too much of himself to others. There’s a tricky push-pull to navigate at the heart of both performances; they must suggest internal multitudes that perpetually-pique our interest, while also deflecting our gazes as antithetical to their respective characters’ beings.
Robert Redford, The Old Man & the Gun
The Old Man & The Gun is ostensibly about a geriatric, gentlemanly bank robber getting his last kicks in before the end credits of his life roll forevermore. But in David Lowery’s hands, the movie’s just as much an examination of how the end of eras transition into historical legacies, and what happens to those on the fringes of this divide, who refuse to go quietly into that soft night. The lens through which Lowery delves into these ideas are the lens of Hollywood cameras themselves. And what actor still kicking represents the Golden Age of Hollywood more than Robert Redford, who played glorified bank robbers and other swashbucklers who stole our hearts with nothing more than charisma and a smile? He might be the last of his devilishly-handsome, handsomely-devilish generation of celluloid stars; he broke onto the scene right before the industry began to be dominated by more unusual faces like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, chameleonic protégés of The Marlon-Brando-Popularized Method. Redford was, and is, a certified old-school Movie Star, and he’s still got it. If he didn’t, The Old Man & the Gun wouldn’t work.
Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built
Not much commentary required here. Lars von Trier’s depraved meta-narratives on top of meta-narratives descending into all things artistic depravity rely on a performer whose usual onscreen persona teeters on the edge of sanity. Not many fulfill that stipulation more than Matty D.
John Huston, The Other Side of the Wind
How many actors in the history of the silver screen possessed the gravitas to pull off an Orson Welles imitation…IN AN ORSON WELLES MOVIE?!?! John Huston’s characterization transcends mere imitation; he taps into the universal tragedy of such a mercurial, titanic figure’s eternally insatiable lust for, well, more.