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Top 5: Male Performances in 21st Century American Cinema | Tyler Morholt

5. Bill Murray- Lost in Translation (2003)

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Bill Murray was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2004 Academy Awards for his portrayal of Bob Harris, an American actor temporarily working in Tokyo. His loneliness in this foreign city dissipates after meeting an American woman named Charlotte, played by a nineteen year old Scarlett Johansson. Murray’s performance is subtle, minimalistic, and human. The character is a perfect role for Murray because he is out of his element in a dramatic role, like how Bob is out of his element in a foreign country. Through his relationship with Charlotte, Bob is able to lament his nagging thoughts on loneliness, and Murray executes the dialogue in a soft and melancholic manner. He is a man who has made mistakes. The ending is what sets the performance apart for me. The setting is a busy street, late afternoon. The sky is a deep gray. Bob and Charlotte stand together; the only Americans there. He whispers in her ear then kisses her passionately. Tears stream down Charlotte’s face. She does not want him to go. But he has to; he has to get back to his family. The ending series of shots consist of Murray staring out his limo window, gazing up at the bright buildings stretching towards the rain clouds. He smiles slightly. What did he whisper in her ear? What will he do next? The answers are lost in translation. Clever, I know.  

4. Ryan Gosling- The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

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An angel once came to me in a dream. She gently touched my shoulder, gazed into my groggy eyes and said, “Ryan Gosling is a bad actor.” I believed her. I thought his acting niche would follow the role he played in The Notebook—a blonde-haired, blue-eyed hunk; an actor destined to swim within the boundaries of ordinary and obvious. Good God was I wrong. Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman at a carnival in upstate New York who begins robbing banks to support his child. His hair is bleached blonde. His back is painted with tattoos. He smokes cigarettes constantly. The epic, four-minute opening tracking shot follows him as he ventures throughout the brightly lit carnival, arriving at a stadium packed with fans awaiting his performance. It perfectly sets the tone for the film, and sets the character of Luke as a quiet but volatile human. His performance is mostly subtle, like the opening, but later during the robberies, he explodes. His voice screeches as he waves his pistol at the unsuspecting bank tellers; he portrays a man who sees no other way. This is such an amazing performance because it broke his stereotype for me. It showed he was a multi-dimensional actor possible of playing a convincingly evil role. The angel never came back; she’s too embarrassed.

3. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman- The Master (2012)

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Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an angry, alcoholic, sex-addicted World War II veteran who finds himself lost in post-war America. He begins a friendship with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a cultish religious movement, who welcomes him with open arms. I picked both actors because their performances rely heavily on each other. One scene in particular captures the essence of both characters’ deep sense of doubt and anger about each other. They have both just been arrested—Lancaster for false practices of medicine, and Freddie for assaulting a police officer. “You’re making this shit up. You make it up as you go along!” Freddie screams at Lancaster through thin cell bars. “Fuck you!” Lancaster screams. “No, fuck you!” Freddie screams back. The scene is captivating because it is the first time Freddie reveals his doubts about Lancaster’s teachings, and Lancaster, (who Philip Seymour Hoffmann portrays wonderfully as a quiet and persistent leader), loses his cool. Freddie loves Lancaster’s parental guidance, while Lancaster loves Freddie’s carefree spirit, but when together, their self-doubt is exacerbated. The relationship is volatile, sure, but it makes for great cinema.

2. Jim Carrey- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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Alright, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for comedic actors turned dramatic. Jim Carrey sneaks into your hearts as Joel Barish, a shy, soft-spoken average Joe who recently broke up with the love of his life, Clementine Kruczyinski (played by Kate Winslet). The couple undergoes a process of erasing each other from their memories but Joel wakes up during the futuristic operation and realizes what he is doing is a mistake. The film follows him as he runs through his crumbling memories, trying desperately to stop the procedure’s completion. Like Murray in Lost in Translation, Carrey is perfect for this role because he plays a man who is quirky, yet seemingly always out of his element, which Carrey is essentially doing as a dramatic actor. Carrey’s delivery is soft and personal. His overall sense of anxiety materializes through his concise dialogue. I like this performance more than Murray’s because of the characterization of Joel—he has no one. While Murray still has a family, Carrey loses the only person he ever cared about, which makes a harder role to execute. But he manages, coming off as a socially awkward human who longs for his loneliness to disappear. His scenes with Winslet are realistic and heart-warming, and Carrey perfectly portrays a thirty-five year-old man realizing he would rather love a woman’s faults than not love at all.

1. Mickey Rourke- The Wrestler (2008)

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I think I cried when I first watched this movie. I mean, no I didn’t. Perhaps. It was Rourke’s comeback movie. As a former wrestler himself, the role was perfect. His portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler desperately trying to find some meaning in his life after a near fatal heart attack, is heart wrenching. “I’m a broken down piece of meat, and I’m alone. But I deserve to be alone,” Randy laments to his daughter that he hasn’t seen in years. This particular scene is set on an ocean boardwalk in New Jersey. The sky is a bleak gray. The camera rests closely on his beaten-up face. His vocal pitch is soft and realistic. The tears are real. It’s enough to bring badass Ryan Gosling to tears. Rourke seems to portray Randy and himself at the same time, since he was considered a washed-up actor. Like Randy, who decides to make a comeback in his wrestling career in the film, Rourke was making his comeback in acting. Through his role, he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in 2009 as well as earning a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards the same year. This is my favorite movie—a raw, realistic depiction of a man torn down, a man desperately trying to find himself, and trying to make amends with his only child. Where did I put the tissues?





Tyler Morholt, Blue Muse Staff Writer.

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