Despite the recently published figures that showed 2014 was one of the lowest attended years for people going to the movies, the year did not disappoint in terms of showcasing the best of the medium. One aspect, where this was clear, was in the realm of acting. The following four performers all share the common characteristics of playing characters who push boundaries in order to achieve simple, but impossible goals even in the face of overwhelming and deterministic forces such as time and mortality.
Scarlett Johansson’s performance in Under the Skin is an excellent recent paradigm of an actor and director collaboration. Johnathan Glazer uses Johansson as a sketch to make potent commentary on image and objectification while additionally changing our perception of the actress. Johansson adds to this vision by creating a fascinating portrait of a foreign being who learns what it is like to be human, with all the pitfalls that come with that. Her performance accentuates a film that is dazzling in showcasing the unexpected, unconventional and power of independent cinema.
The Grand Budapest Hotel’s central character Monsieur Gustave H is perhaps the most delicate character on the list because he could have easily become a one-note exercise in comic indulgence. However, Ralph Fiennes finds the humanity and innate melancholia while balancing this odd and quirky side that all combine to create a figure who encapsulates director Wes Anderson’s nostalgia for a Europe and time long gone.
Inside Llewyn Davis felt like an authentic piece from an era when the medium was pure, and not marred by commercialism. At the same time, it was also contemporary in its depiction of Llewyn Davis, a man struggling to find a break after the death of his musical partner. Part of his hardships are caused by his unlikeable, prickly demeanour. However, this is redeemed when we see Llewyn Davis perform. Oscar Isaacs during these moments, authentically shows us a rare exhibition of what art can do. It can redeem us, show us at our most vulnerable and remind us to fight even when it seems bleak, impossible and ultimately foolhardy.
Finally, Patrica Arquette in Boyhood was an exceptional reminder of just how powerful cinema can be in showing the mundane and seemingly everyday trials and tribulations of life. While the film on the surface is about a boy growing up between the ages of 7-18. The subtext that makes the central narrative fascinating is seeing the parents develop too and the effect of their parenting on how Mason will turn out.
Patricia Arquette’s Oliva is arguably the most interesting character because she is strong, tenacious and not held down because she is a single parent. She has goals, dreams and a vision of how her life should be, and that is admirable. Arquette’s finest scene is her last one which is a powerful reminder of not only the central theme of the film, but also how good things in life never truly last and how short they can feel.