- The Aviator
- Head On
- The Sea Inside
- Million Dollar Baby
- Born Into Brothels
- A Very Long Engagement
- The Weeping Meadow
- Bad Education
- The Motorcycle Diaries
It’s not easy to prove you’ve got charisma when you’ve got nothing but the neck up to work with, but Javier Bardem manages to do that and more with his soul-lifting performance in The Sea Inside. It’s Alejandro Amenabar’s best film, a controversial tale of a paraplegic man who longs to end his life with dignity despite the fact that the law will not allow for him to be euthanized. Bardem may never leave the one spot on his bed where the whole film takes place, but his bravura work takes the audience everywhere that the heart can go.
It simply does not happen often enough that a woman’s reclaiming herself and renewing her zest for life takes the form of her ending a film by ordering a beer. Annette Bening‘s ability to chew the scenery is at its best in Being Julia, a film that serves mainly to showcase her enormous talent for putting across a level of wickedly charismatic theatricality while keeping everything genuine the whole time. I just love watching her blow up in anger when her young lover takes after the snotty ingenue in her play, before getting her revenge and realizing that all the many things she took far too seriously are merely trifles.
Alexander Payne is no stranger to character quirks, nor does he shy away from celebrating the child still hungering for more in the body of any grown adult. This was never better displayed than in his most celebrated film to date, Sideways, in which Thomas Haden Church gives birth to a whole new film career with his hysterical performance as the frustrating but irresistible manchild who leads best friend Paul Giamatti on a tour of California’s vineyards and, simultaneously, into no end of trouble.
Balancing out the humour that Church brings to the screen in Sideways is the romantic beauty of Virginia Madsen as the waitress and wine expert who has caught Giamatti’s heart. The romantic figure of femininity isn’t quite par for the course in Payne’s work (they’re usually as screwed up as the men are), but here Madsen’s role is that of a lovely, intelligent character whose knowledge and confidence have yet to bring her greater fulfillment. Thanks to having this fantastic, always underrated and finally appreciated actress playing her, however, the role is more than just a girlfriend cipher but a rich, highly enjoyable screen presence that brings much needed cenetring to a narrative whose characters are otherwise completely out of control.
Fatih Akin is one of the freshest, most original voices to come from Europe in the last ten years, and his best film yet is the excellent Head-On. It’s a romantic story about a marriage of convenience that turns into an adventure of the rawest proportions, but what really makes it zing is the style and panache with which Akin films everything. Passionately edited, superbly paced, it’s an outstanding work from beginning to end.