SPOTLIGHT: Meryl Streep

Fresh off her decades-in-the-making third Academy Award victory, now seems the perfect time to take a look back at her unprecedented acting career.  Widely considered one of the finest screen actresses living or dead, her gift with accents is almost as iconic as her darting eye movements.  Streep is one of those performers who are imminently watcheable even if the movies are terrible (The Iron Lady, Mamma Mia!).  And yes, while she’s shone brightly in her fair share of duds, she does the same in movies that are actually good, too.  Whether she’s playing a notable historical figure like Thatcher or Julia Child or a dry-witted monster like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, you never stop seeing her.  Each performance is a unique creation all its own, but you can still see her underneath it.

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SPOTLIGHT: Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard wasn’t very famous when she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for her performance in La Vie en Rose, but after starring opposite Johnny Depp and appearing as a crucial character in a Christopher Nolan film, she began to be a recognizable face among the summer movie crowd even if they still couldn’t quite place her.  Cotillard is one of the most technically proficient actresses working today, using her eyes to level the audience and bring them into the rapture of the fiction that she inhabits.  Not since Catherine Deneuve has a French actress been accessible to American audiences at this level.  Set to appear in a new thriller from Steven Soderbergh later this year as well as next year’s inevitably successful new Nolan Batman film, she most recently captured hearts and minds in Woody Allen’s excellent French-set comedy Midnight in Paris.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmark
Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (screenplay)
Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, and Ulrich Tukur

Voyeurism, as it turns out, is one of the leading topplers of totalitarianism.  At least that’s what Florian Henckel von Donnersmark suggests in his Oscar-winning foreign drama The Lives of Others.

The film tackles both of the aforementioned “-isms” with a formal technique that is amazing from a first-time director.  Suspense fills almost every bleakly muted frame, generated not by constant cutting but by focusing on actor’s facial expressions and the many twists of the story.  Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), an interrogator in East Berlin circa 1984 (yes, like the book) is tasked with listening in on the lives of a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress muse (Martina Gedeck.)  At first, we see him interrogate an earlier subject with relish, and the film cuts to him as an instructor lecturing eager students with a recorded copy of the same interrogation.

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SPOTLIGHT: Nicole Kidman

Few actresses have matched Nicole Kidman’s hot streak in the early 2000s.  Not that she set the box office on fire, more our imaginations.  People watch this accidental movie star fully embody a variety of characters with not only ease, but technical perfection.  She is a consummate professional when it comes to characterization and the emotional control she displays over her characters.  This perfection draws the audience to her even when she shares the screen with others more famous.  Although now she is a household name, that is only because she snatched it away from those who couldn’t hold onto audiences quite like her.

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SPOTLIGHT: Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett has come a long way in a short period of time.  One of the actresses to gain momentum in the 2000’s and rise quickly to critical praise, she has become an actress that everyone has seen in at least one movie.  It was probably Lord of the Rings, but in no way does that tiny part reveal to us the extraordinary skill this woman posseses.  She garnered much of her fame for playing Queen Elizabeth, and became the first person ever to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar-winning actress (Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.)  She selects roles that will take her somewhere new, and by extention she takes us with her.  Whether she is a school teacher drawn into an affair with one of her students or Bob Dylan, Blanchett never hesitates to go to places other performers would stumble.

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SPOTLIGHT: Adrien Brody

Nobody would’ve believed someone who said Adrien Brody would be the science fiction star of 2010.  But here we are, with Brody offering up two performances in Splice and Predators that, along with his work in movies like King Kong, The Village, and The Jacket earn him a place among the most unconventional science fiction/fantasy stars working today.  However, Brody does much more than sci-fi.  He has triumphed the Oscars (The Pianist), solved murder mysteries (Hollywoodland), and searched for himself alongside his brothers (The Darjeeling Limited); whether or not the movie is that great, you can rely on Mr. Brody to create a character that you’ll want to watch and learn more about.  Here are his five most interesting to date.

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SPOTLIGHT: Angelina Jolie

As if she didn’t have enough cameras flashing on her, I’ve decided to shed even more light on the career, not private life, of one of America’s biggest obsessions.  As one-half of a Hollywood power couple, Angelina Jolie’s screen presence often takes the backseat to her personal life.  Like her husband, her career is full of impressive roles.  As I mentioned in my Salt review, Ms. Jolie seems to have two types of screen performances she excels at.  There is the emotionally charged Oscar contender, and the kick-ass action heroine.  While acclaim is shoveled upon her for the former, the latter brings home the bacon.  Jolie, like Meryl Streep, is an undeniable box office draw for the female market.  The number one success of a movie like Wanted will never be attributed to James McAvoy.  As Jolie’s career continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how she manipulates her public image and directs it towards a cause, or to making people feel something for that character on the page. Here are her current five best performances.

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