5 Favorites Redux #18: The Films of Bill Nighy

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Last weekend, Emma opened in limited release. It expands wide this week and in honor of that release, I want to look at my favorite films featuring Bill Nighy. Nighy plays Mr. Woodhouse in this new adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. He has been acting on film since 1979, but only came to prominence in the last two decades, most notably for his appearance in the popular romantic comedy Love, Actually.

Love Actually (2003)

Richard Curtis directed this star-studded British romcom about a disparate group of individuals falling in love or discussing in love in humorous and emotional ways. Nighy places a washed-up rock star brought out of retirement to record a Christmas song and trying to understand the concept of love that his wild and crazy life hasn’t taught him.

The film co-stars Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Rodrigo Santoro, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Claudia Schiffer, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elisabeth, Denise Richards, and several others. While the romantic entanglements in the film range from serious to silly, it’s Martin Freeman and Joanna Page who elicit the most spectacular laughs in an overall hilarious movie.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Nighy has a small role in Edgar Wright’s horror comedy from starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, co-written by Wright and Pegg. Part of Wright’s loosely-connected Cornetto trilogy, Shaun of the Dead follows a pair of longtime friends who find themselves caught in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

The success of the film relies heavily on Pegg and Frost and their superb comic timing moving from one zany bizarre event to the next with the kind of blood volume of a traditional horror film. The humorous take on the zombie movie was a tremendous success and while Nighy might not have been the reason for its success, he provides his fair share of humor to it.

The Constant Gardener (2005)

Fernando Meirelles’ thriller stars Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Pete Postlethwaite, and Nighy. Based on a popular John Le Carré novel, Meirelles gives audiences the tale of a British diplomat (Fiennes) in Kenya who is attempting to solve the murder of his wife (Weisz) and coming across all manners of intrigue and road blocks blocking his way.

Nighy plays Fiennes’ boss in the film, the head of the Africa Desk at the Foreign Office, and its his machinations that eventually come to the fore in the film. The film is incredibly well acted, although Weisz was the only one nominated from the cast. It’s a slow-boil thriller that unravels in the most compelling way possible with Nighy asked to give one of his more regal performances.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

In the follow up to surprise blockbuster hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) return to the Caribbean for Will and Elizabeth’s wedding and end up running from the East India Trading Company for their roles in the escape of Jack Sparrow.

While the action of the film continues to center around Sparrow and company, a new figure emerges literally from the seas to collect Jack’s debt to him. Under large amounts of makeup and visual effects, Nighy stars as Davy Jones, the octopus-faced ferryman for the nautical dead who captains the Flying Dutchman in its pursuit of Sparrow. His performance gives gravitas to a figure that could have largely been built on pure villainy rather than a surprisingly deep and conflicted man cursed to patrol the seas.

Total Recall (2012)

Not everyone agreed, but Len Wiseman’s re-adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale was a superior film to the Arnold Schwarzeneggar original thanks in large part to star Colin Farrell’s fascinating and haunted portrayal of the lead character. The film co-stars Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, and Nighy.

In this film, Nighy plays Resistance leader Matthias who seeks the robotic kill code hidden deep inside Hauser’s (Farrell) head. The entire cast works well together in a film that has some fascinating themes to explore Dick was noted for looking at the dark and seedy side of technological advancement and the lengths to which corporations can insidiously manipulate the public with almost unfettered maneuvers. Among Nighy’s films, this is probably the most dense in terms of content, but it helped show his tremendous range moving between all five of these largely disparate films.

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