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.
With Knives Out, director Rian Johnson tries to go small after the blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi gave him a taste of the big time. Johnson here assembles a star-studded list of actors. What better way to honor those actors than to select my favorite films by those actors. What I tried to do was limit each actor to a single film. I then tried to select only titles where the actor had a significant role in the film. While Daniel Craig is terrific in Infamous, his performance isn’t quite as key to the film’s success as others. Other examples that didn’t make this list: Django Unchained, Love, Simon, Blade Runner 2049, and Short Term 12 were all wonderful films, but Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, Ana de Armas, and LaKeith Stanfield respectively weren’t even remotely the reasons for those successes.
Jaeden Martel (formerly Jaeden Lieberher) and Riki Lindholm (as well as Langford, de Armas, and, to a lesser extent, Stanfield) do not have lengthy careers from which to pull viable selections. Lindholm is a special case. While her film career has been minor, she’s done a lot on television and her show Garfunkel and Oates was absolutely hilarious. That said, the five actors whose films ended up on the list, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, and Toni Collette, largely made their films the successes they were with only Shannon not being the lead of his film.
While these may not be the all-time best films starring the cast of Knives Out or everyone’s agreement on the best, these five are among my favorites. Here they are in order of release.
The Sound of Music (1965)
In spite of a very illustrious career, Christopher Plummer is probably best known for his role as the head of the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music. As the patriarch of a proud Austrian family faced with the prospect of succumbing to Nazi influences, Captain von Trapp must make the difficult decision of abandoning his status in opposition to the Nazi party and protecting his family.
Plummer’s gruff authoritarian demeanor is slowly softened over the course of the film as the freewheeling former nun Maria (Julie Andrews) works her way into the admiration of his children and eventually him, helping them all to see the value of a rejection of rigid ideologies. Plummer’s performance is one of his strongest and this is my single favorite film on his resume.
Jamie Lee Curtis started out as a scream queen, starring in a handful of horror films in the late 1970s and early 1980s before eventually finding her way into more comedic roles. However, the performance that really put her on the map was her work as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween.
Of the horror films that came out of that period, Halloween is a seminal achievement right there with The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film’s success was largely Carpenter’s creative energy, creepy score, and persistent killer. Yet, the human touch Curtis brought to the role elevated what would eventually become the prototypical horror heroine survivor into a flesh-and-blood character who was topped only by Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
Climate change has been a major crisis for years, but cinema has found it difficult to effectively explore the idea. Give it to South Korea’s Bong Joon-Ho to bring its frightening and fatalistic future into frightening focus. Snowpiercer is a science fiction film that not only explores climate change, but also class warfare and civil unrest, projecting modern separation of classes into a dystopian reality.
At the head of the rebellion was Chris Evans’ Curtis, a working man at the tail end of a massive train traveling non-stop around the world. As they push to the front of the train, they pass through increasingly lavish cars where the wealthy know little about the rabble at the rear of the train and blissfully enjoy the carnal pleasures that their money has been able to ensure. Evans’ performance as the every man struggling to secure the freedom of his fellow workers is a key element to the film’s success even if it’s only a small cog in a brilliant machine.
The Shape of Water (2017)
The sole villain on this list, Michael Shannon plays Richard Strickland, the amoral head of a research facility that has secured a rare aquatic specimen that looks like he might have been pulled from the Black Lagoon. Subtle homage is the name of director Guillermo del Toro’s game as he places his film squarely in the 1950s where such creature features would have found a home. His modern sensibilities however make for a more well rounded and dense treatise on the kind of discrimination felt by many of the characters in the film.
Shannon’s filmography has a lot of films where he’s delivered better performances, but this film is simply the most enjoyable and engaging film on it. The Shape of Water was a visually resplendent film filled with stunning design surrounding a passionate narrative topped off by stellar performances from everyone involved, including Shannon.
Toni Collette is one of our generation’s great actresses. Although her list of credits includes a lot of duds, there are quite a few terrific performances. Her work in Hereditary is the most superlative of all of the aforementioned actors selected for this list. Deep, honest, and chaotic in equal measures, Collette pulls Hereditary along keeping it just on the edge of reality until she slips completely off that edge.
The film is not your garden variety horror flick. It messes with the mind and it toys with the psyche, making you question reality itself. What starts out seeming to be a film about a little girl with psychic powers morphs into something strange, unusual, and almost other-worldly. Ari Aster’s cinematic debut is a stellar one and if you’ve seen Rosemary’s Baby or Suspiria, you have an idea of the kind of whirlwind you’re in for.