Top Ten Performances of 2014

Long time no talk.  I know, it’s been almost four months since my last post, but it’s been quite the hectic fall/winter season, but the most wonderful/stressful/frustrating/awful/awesome time of the year is upon us.  Well, watching these films are a visceral experience.  Analyzing their awards potential, rewarding/not rewarding them, and seeing all this obnoxious campaigning (specifically whisper campaigning AGAINST certain films) is disgusting, but it’s part of the process… I guess.

Anyways, as a certain tradition of mine, I’ve chosen ten performances that I felt were unmatched.  I kind of cheated combining some a few performances, but who cares.  Here are my ten favorite performances of 2014.

MICHAEL KEATON (Birdman)

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson in BIRDMAN is a revelation, divulging into an extremely flawed, egotistical, and overtly ambitious man child who looks for meaning and fulfillment through praise and adoration.  For how artistically driven the film is, this entire thing would’ve crumbled if Keaton was anything less than prolific and completely devoted.  This is one of those performances where you have very little reason to appreciate the character on paper, but through the moving image, Keaton brings out the emotions and the flaws that we all suffer from — just on a more upscale level.  He drips with insecurity and confusion, moving through the halls of the St. Regis Theatre unsure of where he’s walking towards and when it’ll end, just hoping… HOPING he becomes what he desires to become.  Keaton kills it here, and though this is an ensemble piece with an excellent visual execution, Keaton is the beating heart of BIRDMAN.

MARION COTILLARD (Two Days, One Night)

Premiering at Cannes at steamrolling through Telluride and Toronto, the latest film from the Dardenne Brothers encapsulates a simple narrative of a hopeless and weak person turning into an example of strength and will.  Similar to Birdman, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT fails if they don’t nail the central figure, Sandra, a wife and mother of two who tries to retain her job by convincing each co-worker to not accept their bonus.  Cotillard’s performance is quiet, but doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful and gutting, expressing her depression and attitude through incredible facial expressions and body language.  This is a risky film, though being small, mainly because it’s hinged on our attachment to the main character, and if we don’t bond with her, empathize with her, understand her battle, then it all fails.  But thankfully, it magnificently works with plenty of credit going to Cotillard.

J.K. SIMMONS (Whiplash)

This image above is everything you need to know about WHIPLASH, J.K. Simmons’ award winning performance, and pretty much the thesis behind the brilliant film of 29 year old Damien Chazelle (yes, that’s correct).  Simmons is the grim reaper of all music instructors, a dark world that’s brutal and violent but rarely ever gets a spotlight on, pushing his students in ways that is criminal… but also rewarding.  I can’t imagine anyone else that could pull this role off the way Simmons does.  His mannerisms, his bulging biceps in a tight black shirt who soaks in darkness, and his execution of obscene language that’s both awful but yet artistic.  He’s so respectable and pulls of this tight rope act of making us appreciate his persona even though he emotionally and physically violates these young, hopeful students.  Simmons will win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars and rightfully so cause he’ll go down as one of the greatest villains/instructors/inspirations/motivators/devilish characters of all time.

TILDA SWINTON (Snowpiercer)

Tilda Swinton is the pinnacle of coolness.  She’s too good for all of us and human kind in general, and I’m so thankful I live in the age of Swinton as her choices and performances are precise and brilliant, always pushing the envelope for what she can do.  In SNOWPIERCER, she turned a male role into probably the most memorable element in the entire film, which says a lot considering the movie itself is a marvel.  Every second of Swinton is a masterpiece, and she’s pretty much unrecognizable here, though that’s true for almost all her performances.  Just like any auteur filmmaker, we should anticipate a Swinton film because she’s a gem in today’s entertainment world.

EDDIE REDMAYNE (Theory of Everything)

Watching Eddie Redmayne play Stephen Hawking in THEORY OF EVERYTHING was an indescribable experience, mainly seeing an actor speak less and less and evolve into an individual limited physically but mentally boundless.  So much in the mind, so much to express, so much to seek and understand, but unable to do the basic of human behaviors because of an unfortunate case of ALS.  I can’t imagine the preparation and technique that went into playing Hawking, saying so much through his eyes, his positions, his crouched stillness on his wheelchair.  It’s things like that where a performance is earned, and Redmayne deserves all the credit he’s receiving.

ANNE DORVAL (Mommy)

I can’t rave enough about Xavier Dolan’s films, specifically I KILLED MY MOTHER and MOMMY, which of course has Anne Dorval starring in both.  In MOMMY specifically, Dorval plays an immature and naive mother who slowly realizes that she’s unable to take care of her wild and emotionally uncontrollable son, and that experience of watching her coming to that realization is so painful and difficult.  Dorval plays another flawed character (see the trend?  Flaws are good) where she pulls off another work of magic with Dolan.  I pray that she gets more exposure (maybe she doesn’t want it) and gets to play ripe roles where we see her breathtaking talent more and more.

STEVE CARRELL, CHANNING TATUM, & MARK RUFFALO (Foxcatcher)

I’m cheating, I know, but it’s too difficult to choose between the three in FOXCATCHER, where each performance is so greatly intertwined with the other two characters and their intimate and sensitive relationships with one another.  It truly is a love triangle, all trying to manage quite carefully who the others are and what they’ll slowly become.  This is a film driven by suppression, wealth, failure, disappointment, fulfillment, and irrevocable emotions, making this such a complex and dense work of art.  And though I regard Bennett Miller as one of the great American directors, Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo round out this powerful film with their devotion to this unfortunate story.  It sucks to see Tatum become so irrelevant in the discussions for best performances of the year with the other two getting appropriate praise.  No individual sticks out from the rest in my opinion.  All three are vital pieces that create a fascinating piece of human dilemma.

REESE WITHERSPOON & LAURA DERN (Wild)

Something about this film kills me within, and the more I think about it, the more I realize so much of it’s emotional stake is because of the relationship between Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and her mother (Laura Dern) and how the loss of such an important life can impact our own journey.  WILD works so well because of this relationship told in flashbacks, and much credit is given to Witherspoon for her courageous and revealing performance as a sex and drug addict who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, equal praise should be given to Dern who plays that motherly figure so well it makes me cry.  Literally.  She captures that gentle, tenderhearted soul in ways that makes you feel like she’s your mother, and realizing how this film is more about the discovery of self through the loss of loved ones rather than your typical escape through nature narrative, their performances have so much more weight now.

DAVID OYELOWO (Selma)

Excuse my language, but this fucking film is so damn good and David Oyelowo is damn good as MLK.  This should be required viewing.  Every school in the U.S. should put SELMA in their syllabus, making all students, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic watch this because it’s so important and artistically immaculate.  Oyelowo kills it.  Simply kills it.  The speeches, the politics, the way he revolves around conflict and individuals, his relationship with his wife and the revealing of his flawed moments — it’s all there.  This is a performance that should be reveled for years, and I can’t speak enough about how amazing Oyelowo, the rest of this cast, Ava Duvernay, and all involved are in this piece about American history.  Arguably, this is probably one of the most important films on our country, being so relevant today and our fight for progress FOR ALL.  I still can’t believe how Oyelowo pulled it off, and it easily goes down as one of the best performances of the year.

ROSAMUND PIKE (Gone Girl)

This look, this face, this image is EVERYTHING.  I think GONE GIRL deserves such a huge conversation and study that covers a multitude of topics include American marriage, gender roles and expectations, Women in film, the definition of feminism, media fascination and exploitation, etc.  That’s how great David Fincher is.  He can throw a heavy amount of themes and elements and still make this film feel seamless and proficient.  What else he does so well is get the best out of his actors, and I really can’t think of a performance that’s had such polarizing reaction and discussion other than Rosamund Pike as  Amy Dunne.  Pike nails the complex state of Amazing Amy, stretching the blurred boundaries of who she actually is — from her narrations, her diary entries, her innocent & victimized self, or the violent, aggressive, and capitalist Amy, this is a role that requires one to explore the darkest of human capabilities.  There’s nothing more cinematic and bone tingling in movies of 2014 than the “Cool Girl” monologue.  The fact that that picture above is the fear of men everywhere across this country shows what kind of an affect this film has.  This is the year of Rosamund Pike and GONE GIRL, and our true feelings of women, who women should be, who women actually are, and what women can be.

Roundabout: Potential Award-Worthy Films’ Trailers

Lots of trailers were recently released for the upcoming awards season, and man, what an exciting fall we’re going to have.  There’s so many trailers to post, but I’ll post three that really tickle my fancy.

BIRDMAN (October 17th)

 

GONE GIRL (October 2nd)

 

THE SKELETON TWINS (September 12th)

The Social Network Analysis at Go Into The Story

A screenwriting blog that I follow and admire, Scott Myer’s GO INTO THE STORY, has a segment this month called 30 Screenplays in 30 Days, and today, I’m honored to contribute my analysis and breakdown of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, one of my favorite films of all time.  Here is the link.

Below is my analysis on the site.

Today’s guest columnist: Jason Park.

Title: The Social Network

Year: 2010

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

Plot Summary: “On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history… but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.”

Tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”

Awards:

-8 Academy Award Nominations / Three Wins (including Best Adapted Screenplay)

-6 Golden Globe Nominations / Four Wins (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay)

-Won WGA Awards Best Adapted Screenplay

Analysis: My initial exposure to The Social Network as a screenplay all stemmed from my incredible first eight or nine viewings of the film. After each and every spiritual experience watching the entirety of the film, I started what is now a constant practice: watching the film while simultaneously reading the screenplay.

The film itself is wonderfully executed through the brilliant mind and vision of David Fincher and his team of collaborators, but diving into the words of Sorkin, his screenplay is a massive collection of flawed individuals with incredible strengths but also dire weaknesses, all playing out through this well-known entity called, “Facebook”.

Like any great story, screenplay, or film, the core of its success lies on these characters. From the main players like Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Suavarin, and Sean Parker to the minor but inspired and effective roles of The Winklevoss Twins and Erica Albright, who arguably, could be one of the most important characters in a film with the smallest amount of screen time. All this represents one singular aspect: interesting characters. I remember the reputation The Social Network was receiving prior to its release, with people claiming how “boring” and “typical” of Hollywood to make a “Facebook” movie. But by supplying this engaging story with individuals fueled by power, satisfaction, jealousy, status, money, glory, and a sense of accomplishment, we have hear, at the very essence, a plain and simple human story wrapped around a mega company.

Another aspect I noticed was revolving the entire structure of the script around two deposition hearings from two different lawsuits. Every flashback or scenes that’s played outside of those two settings are essentially stories told from one perspective. I find that to be quite ingenious considering that I truly believe Sorkin had no intentions of shedding his own opinions or thoughts on the matter of Zuckerberg and the Facebook ordeal. But it’s almost impossible to NOT do such a thing, considering writers provide words, attitudes, characteristics, and all other forms of predisposed feelings onto such subjects. But by constructing the film around these two scenes, we aren’t necessarily getting the truth, but figments of the truth, and it’s our job as the audience, to create our own opinions and positions on who’s in the right or the wrong.

There’s so much in this screenplay that works. From Sorkin’s relentless but beautifully crafted dialogue to the small little details and descriptions that create such vast and large images that reflect hugely on the character, specifically the ending where Mark continues to wait and hits refresh over and over again. Though it uses the minimalist amount of words, it speaks volumes about Mark, the story, and just what really motivates humans in relation to the very essence of our needs.

Most Memorable Dialogue: This one’s tough, considering there are so many great lines and exchanges. I’m going to cheat and choose three different scenes of dialogue that I consider the most memorable.

After Mark continues to drop unintentional bomb after unintentional bomb in the opening scene with Erica breaking up with him, she grabs his hand, stops his motor mouth, and says:

Erica Albright: You are probably going to be a very successful computer person, but you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

This next scene is the deposition hearing between The Winklevoss Twins and Mark, where he’s distant, unfocused, and wandering off as he watches the rain fall outside.

Gage (Winklevoss’ Lawyer): Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: No.
Gage: (beat) Do you think I deserve it?
Mark: What.
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation say no.
Gage: Okay. “No” you don’t think I deserve your attention.
Mark: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try, but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially you’re clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

In this last and final scene of the script before Mark sends a friend request to Erica Albright on Facebook, Marilyn, a second-year associate at the firm for Mark’s lawyers, is about to leave after witnessing the hearing on the lawsuit between Mark and Eduardo, his once best friend.

Marilyn: You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.

Most Memorable Moments: Outside of the scene where Mark refreshes his computer constantly to see if Erica responds to his friend request, and the nightclub scene where Sean Parker convinces Mark to fully trust him and his instincts and suggestions rather than Eduardo, I’d have to pick the opening scene between Mark and Erica, where Erica breaks up with Mark in a crowded bar near Harvard. It’s tough because it’s not necessarily a moment, but more of a 8-page scene, but I picked this because I felt it perfectly captures the film and what it’s really about. It’s not about Facebook. It’s not about back-stabbing jealousy and lawsuits. It’s about a college kid who’s hurt and lonely. It’s about our need to respond after heartbreak, and what truly motivates us in this world, and how far we’re wiling to go to achieve these “goals”, even if all it takes is one simple act or deed. It really captures the struggle we all have with insecurities and doubt, and how we are or portray ourselves to the people that matter most.

What Did I Learn About Screenwriting From Reading This Script: I’m going to try and just pick one thing that I’ve learned about screening, and I think the most important lesson from reading The Social Network is to take chances. Sometimes, as aspiring screenwriters and beginners, we tend to be locked down by these “rules” that are given throughout the screenwriting community. Write a likable protagonist, have a specific three-act structure, have dramatic beats organized by page numbers, don’t write long scenes, keep your screenplay short. Obviously, I’m going after rules that The Social Network clearly breaks, fully being aware that this is Aaron Sorkin. But I think why this screenplay works so well is that everything is in purpose for the story. The structure, the dialogue, the eight page opening scene, the protagonist/antagonist relationship within Mark, they’re all elements supporting one singular goal, which is to make the best possible story. The biggest difference between beginners or aspiring writers and the likes of Sorkin is that outside of their talents, experiences, and knowledge, they’re incredible aware of their writing. They know they must keep the story and pace flowing, and have everything focused and dialed in to specific and simplified goals.

Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” Music Video Directed by David Fincher!

I don’t usually show music videos, but when I do, it’s directed by David Fincher.  Yes, the director that created such great films including Se7en, Fight Club and The Social Network, directed Justin Timberlake’s brand new hit, “Suit & Tie” and it’s quite spectacular.  Fincher started his resume by creating music videos for Madonna and Nine Inch Nails, so it makes sense for him to have a natural sense for it.  Enjoy!