Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Best Body of Work, 2008

Robert Downey, Jr. [actor- Iron Man, Tropic Thunder] (131 points/20 votes)

“There is an established tradition that a good-looking young actor who has been in enough hits to establish that he's not going anywhere will appear in a "serious" role in a "serious" movie and suddenly be hailed in the media as not just a bankable star but also a Fine Actor. But Robert Downey, Jr. has never gone in for the conventional approach, and this year, when Iron Man hit the multiplexes, he became the first actor I can think of to receive this treatment in reverse: after some twenty-five year in the business (not counting his earlier childhood appearances in the films of his father), Downey set off a wave of ecstatic press attention over the discovery that he was fit, sober, and insurable enough to be permitted to carry a blockbuster popcorn movie. It's not as if there were any reason by then to doubt his talent. To judge from some of this year's cover stories about him, the conventional wisdom is that we all found out how good Downey was when he starred in Chaplin, the 1992 Oscar-bait biopic by Richard Attenborough.

“Actually, the fullness of Downey's range was pretty well established by the fall of 1987, when he followed up his charming work as the comic romantic lead in James Toback's The Pick-Up Artist with a beautiful, heartbreaking performance as a self-destructive junkie in Less Than Zero. Characteristically, while Iron Man was still in theaters, he went right back out to the edge with his satirical creation Kirk Lazarus, the Method actor in Tropic Thunder who has so much faith in his tranformative powers as an artist that he ill-advisedly decides to transcend race. How great is this performance? So great that even as Downey keeps you laughing at Kirk's clueless pomposity, he sort of makes you feel that the crazy son of a bitch just might be able to pull it off. Downey has always been great at playing all varieties of lunatics and sleazes, because he doesn't sell any of his characters short; you might not want to be trapped in a phone booth with some of them, but you never get tired of watching him.

“How does Downey get his effects? How does he do this stuff, especially considering that for years he was often able to do it brilliantly even when, he was apparently in a state where most of us would find it a challenge to tie our own shoes? Attenborough marveled at how his lack of formal training was canceled out by his work ethic, his willingness to do whatever it took for as long as it took to get a part down. Yet the effort never shows, any more than you could see Fred Astaire counting off the steps in his head. In interviews, he's dropped a few clues that Kirk Lazarus, the tireless advocate for "authenticity" at every level, is his comment on those who do it a different way; Kirk, he told one writer, is "nuts." (He also told a TV reporter that the character was based on himself, which may just have been his way of making it possible for him to look Russell Crowe in the eye with a straight face and an unsnapped neck.) On some level, I'm not sure I want to know how Downey does it, any more than I want to see footage of Astaire soaking his feet and moaning. When Downey is cooking, which over the course of his long, varied career has been more often than not, he seems stripped down to pure imagination, and there doesn't seem to be anywhere he can't go; he doesn't seem to be constrained by the things that hold back other actors, never mind the rest of us. I don't mean piddling things like material and budgets, either. I mean stuff like gravity.” ~ Phil Nugent

2. Gus Van Sant [director- Paranoid Park, Milk] (93/15)
3. Richard Jenkins [actor- The Visitor, Burn After Reading, Step Brothers, The Tale of Despereaux] (89/14)
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman [actor- Synecdoche, New York, Doubt] (79/14)
5. James Franco [actor- Pineapple Express, Milk] (62/11)

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jahs34 said...

I think Kirk Lazarus is actually based on Colin Farrel not Crowe, in fact in the last scene, you can see that he almost looks like Farrel in Miami Vice. In the trivia section in the imdb, it says that the character was supposed to have an irish accent, but it was dropped for an australian accent, because Downey Jr, couldn't do the irish one.

ptatleriv said...

I'm glad Farrell squeaked in at #21. He gave two career-best performances this year (though his IN BRUGES character was familiar to anyone who saw 2004's INTERMISSION)and I hope to see him continue to grow out of the Hollywood It Guy ghetto that kind of hamstrung him these last few years.

Lucas said...

while I'm glad to see Gus Van Sant so high, I'm really surprised to see Winslet so low. Or was "Extras" last year? That must be it.

Bryan Whitefield said...

Excellent write-up.

Steve C. said...

Wait. I was the only voter for Herzog? What the hell?

Matt said...

And I guess I was the only voter for Pixar in general.

(Dread Pirate: I figure Herzog's already in the Pantheon, else I would have voted for him as well.)