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.
In past weeks, when there’s been several actors who don’t have sufficient film projects to fill a 5 Favorites list, I’ve pulled 5 individual actors and highlighted one per person. This week, I’m going to do something a little different. There were three actors who’ve done terrific work in terrific films in the past and between them, I could highlight a handful (or a couple) between them. John Rhys-Davies, who stars this week in Starbright, has had a rather storied Hollywood career with over 90 film credits and more than 130 television credits. Four of his big screen outings were under consideration for this article.
Second, Eric Bana has been a rather tepid actor, but his filmography features two very strong films that could have been selected for this week. His film opening this weekend is The Dry. The third is Toni Collette who’s had a fairly strong career, but a lot of duds. I was able to set out four titles for potential consideration. Her release this week is the delayed-for-a-year Dream Horse.
Now to what I settled on. For Bana, it was between Munich and Hanna, and I felt that one of them was a clearly stronger film.
For Rhys-Davies, I’ve talked countless times about The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so his prominent role as the dwarf Gimli in that film certainly merits consideration as does his appearance in two of the Indiana Jones films. The fourth title was a smaller role in the 1982 Blake Edwards comedy Victor Victoria.
Collette’s film selection had a few borderline titles like Little Miss Sunshine and The Hours, that just barely missed consideration. The four titles I narrowed the list down to were Muriel’s Wedding, Emma, About a Boy, and Hereditary.
After the break, I’ll dig into the final five. Without looking, can you guess which ones? Let it be known that there were some cheats engaged to include more of the titles. Stay tuned.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) & Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
In Steven Spielberg’s third blockbuster motion picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark, John Rhys-Davies played Sallah, an Egyptian excavator and an acquaintance of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. With a prime supporting role in the film, Rhys-Davies left a lasting impression on audiences. He made a return appearance in Spielberg’s third film, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Both films were incredibly popular with audiences.
In the first film, Jones takes an excursion to save the lost Ark of the Covenant, a Christian artifact desired by the Nazis. Jones goes to great lengths to prevent the Third Reich from taking control of one of the most potent and important artifacts in Christendom, said to contain the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from God to his followers. What the chest contains, however, is something that none shall look upon and we’re given a graphic and surreal visual example of the toll it takes.
In The Last Crusade, Jones is on the search for another historical artifact of dubious legitimacy, this one the Holy Grail, an artifact of Arthurian legend that supposedly brought the drinker eternal happiness and life. Although the first reference to the chalice comes from French literature, Robert de Boron credited its origin to that of the one from which Jesus and his disciples supposedly drank at the Last Supper. Rhys-Davies is less an inspired presence here, but that’s because he and Denholm Elliott must take back seat to legendary Bond actor Sean Connery as Indy’s dad.
Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
Although Oscar-nominated actress Toni Collette seems to be appearing in every other film recently, before 1994, she was relatively unknown outside of her native Australia. PJ Hogan’s Australian wedding comedy Muriel’s Wedding provided her with her breakout role, which she followed up with roles in several minor films, but Emma in 1996 gave her another boost, which ultimately led her down the path to her Best Supporting Actress nomination for M. Night Shyamalan’s debut feature The Sixth Sense.
Muriel’s Wedding is a hilarious film about an awkward young woman who dreams of a glamorous wedding that will lead her away from her small town roots. Collette was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, giving her a great deal of visibility. The film is flush with quirky Australian comic spirit, releasing the same year as the equally offbeat The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and not only does it showcase that country’s burgeoning film industry, but it gives Collette one of her most idiosyncratic cinematic choices.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
For John Rhys-Davies to appear in not one, but two of the most popular film series in cinema history is an achievement unto itself. Rhys-Davies was one of the most experienced actors in a cast of dozens and he brings that gruff, forceful presence and distinctive voice to the role of Gimli, the dwarven companion that was part of the nine members of the titular Fellowship of the Ring. Buried under tons of hefty prosthetic and bearded makeup, Rhys-Davies’ voice is his only recognizable quality, which he tries somewhat to mask, but those familiar with his past work will easily recognize him.
Across the three-film trilogy, Gimli’s role always remains one of support, a gruff, irascible figure whose stoutness of demeanor is only rivaled by his potency in combat. As he befriends a longtime enemy in the form of elven archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom), we come to appreciate his frank and candid presence. In a film series as bountiful and glorious as this one, it’s a challenge to stand out, but he does so with aplomb.
An actor who few could say has had a really charmed career, Eric Bana’s choice of film roles isn’t spectacular, but he always manages to land in some major filmmakers’ projects. After a handful of small roles, including The Castle and Black Hawk Down, Bana was given the opportunity of a lifetime embodying the mild-mannered scientist with anger issues in Ang Lee’s Hulk, an adaptation of the Marvel comic hero five years prior to the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After following-up Hulk with roles in Troy, Munich, and Star Trek, he finally landed a role that used his acting abilities to suitable effect.
While Bana’s role in Joe Wright’s Hanna is minor, he gives our titular protagonist (Saoirse Ronan) the paternal boost needed to launch her “career” as a bona fide assassin. The film is every bit Ronan’s and she gives a tremendous performance in a film of unbridled splendor. It’s a richly appointed sci-fi thriller that sees Ronan go in pursuit of Cate Blanchett’s deadly villain. In most of Wright’s films, the production design is a character of its own and Hanna is no exception. A splendid thriller that won’t appeal to everyone, but it remains one of my favorite films of that year.
The final film on today’s list brings us back to Toni Collette. Her ubiquitous presence in cinema has been met with numerous accolades, but it may be her performance in Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary that is her absolute best. A horror film that you can’t stop watching even with its jarring act transitions, Hereditary is a masterful first feature from Aster who couldn’t have landed a better lead in Collette.
Gabriel Byrne plays Collette’s husband, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro play her children, and Ann Dowd plays a recent friend in what is a sometimes disturbing film that conveys strong imagery and an unforgettable first act denouement that you won’t see coming. Perhaps not as visceral as Aster’s second feature, Hereditary does not skimp on the violence. The film involves the deteriorating psyche of Collette’s matriarch and the struggles of her family to cope with her sometimes erratic behavior. Collette delivers a bravura performance, which is why this particular modern horror film remains as memorable today as it was three years ago.