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The Movie Star Reigns

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The Movie Star Reigns Empty The Movie Star Reigns

Post by Admin on Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:00 pm

September 23, 2011

Most of my favorite actors are not considered “stars”: Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman, Sean Penn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and others, might be well-known individuals in their own right, but they certainly don’t pervade the covers of magazines or provide fodder for paparazzi or Entertainment Weekly gossip. I’m fine with that, and I’m sure that they are as well. Instinctively, I’ve always considered “celebrity” to be a concept in opposition to that of “actor,” as if fame and quality are mutually exclusive. Lately, however, I’ve warmed up to the idea that the “Sexiest Man Alive” can be one of the greatest actors alive, even if such a determinant of itself means very little. You see, my wariness of celebrity status is just another form of reductive prejudice (a bit strong, but you understand my point): just because people have very white teeth or very wavy hair does not mean, necessarily, that they are poor actors. They can be able actors, yes, but they can be more than that (and this is where it’s taken me a while to come around): they can be great actors. They can have that innate genius that resides in the likes of Day-Lewis or Oldman; they can build their careers not by off-screen charm or magazine-ready physiques but by pure ability (though, admittedly, the former certainly doesn’t hurt when one hopes to climb a latter in the film industry). In other words, I’ll never peruse the tabloids in hopes of finding our next titan of quality cinema, but I must admit that the potential exists for one to reside there in any case.

Lately, my tastes have skewed to the younger crowd when I look for great acting. With the likes of Nicholson, Hoffman, De Niro, Hackman, and Pacino either not working at all or not working at a respectable level both in terms of project selection and performance quality (there are exceptions, of course, especially in the case of Pacino, but they are just that: exceptions), the burden has fallen on their successors to maintain the bar that the previous generation had increasingly let slide. Coincidentally (maybe), my affinity for the up-and-comers has occurred right at the moment of the rejuvenation of modern star power. This phase is still in the early stages, I think, but some of my favorite young actors have become “stars” (not on the level of others, but on a level nonetheless) in a relatively small amount of time and with only a small gap between the occurrences their respective coming-out parties. I am thrilled that these guys seem to be inadvertently spearheading a new cinematic phase wherein stars (and, dare I say it, celebrities) are not those without the requisite skills, and thus thus falling on their looks to “become” actors; they are actors who thrive on their skills but happen to don appearances deemed worthy by publishers and camera-holders.

At the forefront of this “movement” are two A-listers who have been celebrities for quite some time; they have only recently, in my opinion, proven themselves to be great actors. I’m talking about Brad Pitt and George Clooney, two people with more money and more clout than they know what to do with. Actually, they do know what to do with it: they support (and keep afloat) projects that might not be in existence otherwise; they produce and/or direct meaningful material without aiming at box-office explosive numbers; and they balance between the worlds of “star” and “actor” with honorable aplomb. I’m not claiming that Pitt and Clooney are as gifted as people like Penn and Hoffman, nor am I claiming that their abilities are as responsible for their success as their faces are. Yet, I feel that they have stretched themselves and grown as actors, and their efforts on both sides of the camera are deserving of recognition. In the case of the younger generation, I knew that the actors were great before I realized their potential for stardom; in the case of Pitt and Clooney, I viewed them simply as stars before I realized how deeply affecting they can be. Pitt is nearly singularly responsible for the continued life of both of his projects this year: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Bennett Miller’s Moneyball. The ups and downs (and one-time catatonic states) of both films are well-documented, so I won’t get into them here. But it’s not presumptuous to say that without Pitt’s resilient effort, it’s possible that neither film would have seen the light of day. In the former, he gives an earnest, deeply-layered, lived-in, career-best (in my opinion) performance, and in the latter, he’s getting strong notices for another charismatic, committed showing. Clooney, meanwhile, is also getting the rave of “career-best” in many circles for his performance in The Descendants. At the same time, his directorial effort The Ides of March played well at the festivals and might put him in the thick of Oscar conversation once more. After terrific turns in Good Night, and Good Luck., Michael Clayton and Up in the Air, I’ve finally accepted Clooney as a great actor and a considerable talent behind the camera. I already knew that Pitt was a very strong actor, but I didn’t expect for him to hit such emotional resonances. In the cases of both men, I have to say that I’m now a big fan.

Now for the potential successors of Pitt and Clooney. Leonardo DiCaprio has long been both a celebrity and a powerful actor. He lends his star power to the big-budgets like Inception at the same time that he can make little money but move people to tears in something like Revolutionary Road. Ryan Gosling, directed by Clooney in The Ides of March, is having a coming-out for celebrity status this year, even though he’s been known by film buffs as an amazing talent for many years. Sure, he had The Notebook, but he certainly didn’t give many tabloid-enthusiasts a reason to remember him, what with work like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine as follow-up. Crazy, Stupid, Love (re)acquainted him with fans of romance and/or comedies, and Drive certainly solidifies his power of “star,” even if people who fawn over The Notebook should be the last group in the crowd for that film. Andrew Garfield, oozing charisma in Red Riding, will wait until next year to announce his presence to the world, as will Tom Hardy, it seems. He burns through the screen in Warrior, but that film did not catch on with audiences. After a busy 2012 (including a particular blockbuster about a bat), Hardy will no doubt be a household name. Speaking of bats, Christian Bale is another actor whose skills can terrify and whose charm can infuse even the darkest character. Finally, there’s Michael Fassbender, the chameleon of Fish Tank, Hunger, and Inglorious Basterds. As far as this year goes, A Dangerous Method isn’t playing very well, but many call his performance in Shame his best to date. Then, of course, there’s his conflicted turn in Jane Eyre, and his dazzling turn in X-Men: First Class. I don’t know where Fassbender’s career will take him (it might be far from the world of TV-spots and multiplexes), but he has a true star power that he can exploit if he sees fit. I could write a whole post on any of these guys, but they all have abilities and X-factors to match.

One generation might have all but moved on, but there’s a whole group poised to take over. Thankfully, they can shift between the art houses and the malls of the masses, between the roles that need a star and the roles that need a genius. Watch out for: DiCaprio (37 in November), Gosling (31), Hardy (34), Fassbender (34), Bale (37), and Garfield (28). They are here to stay. Oh yeah, and there’s those guys named Pitt and Clooney. They’ll probably wow you for years to come as well.


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