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.
This week, rather than highlight one specific actor with a film in release, I figured I’d pick up five actors with new movies coming out over the weekend. In Unhinged, Oscar winner Russell Crowe terrorizes a young woman who cuts him off in traffic as he harasses and pursues her on the roads. Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver leads the cast of Stage Mother, a film about a conservative mother discovering that her dead son has a drag bar that needs to be run. She is supported by Lucy Liu as her son’s best friend. Finally, we have Ethan Hawke starring in Tesla, a film about the legendary inventor and electrical engineer whose ideas were stolen and repurposed for profit by Thomas Edison, the well known patent thief of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Kyle McLachlan plays Edison.
These five actors while not having sufficient titles between them to make a full list in my opinion, each have at least one noteworthy film worth celebrating.
Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2014, 2017)
None of McLachlan’s characters have been more richly developed than his starring role of Dale Cooper in David Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks, which ran originally in 1990 and 1991 for two seasons with a 25-years-later return in 2017 as well as a prequel feature film in 2014. Lynch first worked with McLachlan on Blue Velvet and was so impressed that he chose the actor to headline his first foray into television.
As FBI Agent Cooper, McLachlan brought a certain level-headed normalcy to a series where he was surrounded by the bizarre and twisted denizens of the town. As he investigates the murder of Laura Palmer, he begins to uncover countless intrigues and a bizarre series of events and circumstances that call into question his sanity as well as the greater problem of who actually killed Laura Palmer.
I came into the series late into the first season, but re-watched the entire first two seasons and the film well before the revival was announced. I haven’t seen the new miniseries, but the first season of the show was terrific, a twisting narrative that brought each figure into the limelight just long enough to become a suspect. If you enjoy the weirdness of Lynch’s films, the show will certainly pique your interests; however, even if you’ve never seen a single Lynch film, this show is easy to get into and very difficult to stop watching.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
While I could have cited L.A. Confidential for Crowe, that film was previously recognized on my list of best films featuring James Cromwell, so I decided to go to a different, and perhaps more engaging, post-fame effort, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Released in the year 2003 that would be dominated by the final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Master and Commander took us to a less fantastical world of the southern end of the Atlantic Ocean.
Crowe plays the captain of a British vessel sent to take out the French privateer Acheron, which plans to continue plundering British ships in the area. Although Crowe’s HMS Surprise isn’t as powerful as the Acheron, his crew fight valiantly using every advantage they possibly can to triumph over their adversary.
Nominated for ten Academy Awards, Crowe was surprisingly not among the nominees. The film managed to take home two Oscars thanks to the historical juggernaut The Return of the King not being nominated in either Best Cinematography or Best Sound Editing. Everywhere else it was stymied by the 11-for-11 victory from Peter Jackson.
Animal Kingdom (2010)
It might have been easy to cite Weaver’s more familiar role to audiences in Silver Linings Playbook, but her supporting turn in Animal Kingdom, as the matriarch of a criminal family, not only brought her to the attention of Hollywood, it provides her best role to date, not to mention her first Oscar nomination.
Starring James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Sullivan Stapleton, and Luke Ford as Weaver’s sons, Joel Edgerton co-stars as Mendelsohn’s best friend and partner in crime, and Guy Pearce, the only major name among the cast at the time, as a good cop who tries to convince Frecheville not to enter the family business.
David Michod’s crime drama is a fresh, exciting take on the genre with stellar performances from the entire cast with Weaver the clear standout. It not only brought Mendelsohn and Edgerton enough attention to launch them into solid careers in Hollywood, it impressed the TNT television network such that they turned it into a television series which, in spite of its meager $6.8 million box office run, was a prominent part of its original programming slate with Ellen Barkin in the Weaver role. The series has already produced four seasons of additional drama for the Pettingill crime family with a fifth already in the works.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
I would consider it cheating if I went with a film that I never realized she had been in, Chicago, but Liu has starred in several interesting films and television programs in her career. One of her best was as the assassin Cottonmouth, real name O-Ren Ishii, in Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant blaxploitation/samurai picture Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
In the film, Liu is one of five members of an elite assassination team who betrayed the Bride played by Uma Thurman. It isn’t until the second film that we find out all the details, but Thurman’s epic quest for vengeance is a bloody and brilliant marvel that culminates in the gorgeous final conflict between Cottonmouth and the Bride. Set in a beautiful wintry courtyard, the stark red of the blood and the Bride’s bright yellow outfit help to create a mesmerizing and stunning set that is matched only by the action’s visceral strength. Liu is terrific and might well deliver the film’s best performance.
The Before Trilogy: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013)
Each filmed nine years apart, Richard Linklater’s trilogy follows a pair of lovers through myriad events that seem to interfere with their ability to come together. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy star as the central couple. Ostensibly the only characters of importance in each of the films, the pair are filmed having deep conversations and romantic entanglements over the course of three star-crossed moments spread apart by several years. Were there to be a fourth feature, I would expect it to release in 2022, but I feel these characters have found an honest and natural development and conclusion to their relationship, a fourth film might feel a bit unnecessary.
Hawke and Delpy start things off in Before Sunrise as the pair meet on a Train and disembark in Vienna where they slowly fall in love as they ruminate on the meaning of love and life. In the sequel, the two meet again in Paris where Hawke is on a tour promoting his novel based on their first meeting. In the final film, their lives have drifted farther apart and the truth of their intermittent love affair is complicated by life intruding on the love they want to share.
Being minimalistic, the film’s duo have numerous discussions about themselves and their lives, but never seem to be able to come together, always struggling to find the time to make something more of it. Linklater’s projects haven’t always been great, but this trio of films is easily his most informed, inspired, and intimate.