Killing Them Softly is a movie I’ve been craving to see for a long time and maybe it’s because 2012 has had such an amazing track record, but there wasn’t much doubt in my mind that I was going to enjoy Killing Them Softly. This is one of the most disappointing movies I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not saying it’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while, I’m saying it’s one of the most disappointing. I was expecting one thing, what I got was unfortunately not a good movie.
This is the second feature film by Andrew Dominik and just like his first feature, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, KIlling Them Softly stars Brad Pitt and a role he does wonders with. Unlike his first feature, Killing Them Softly was a bad movie. I loved The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it was an incredibly well made film and the acting was amazing. This was another reason I was excited to see Killing Them Softly, it seemed to have that great combination of director and actors. The actors did what they could with the flat characters they were given and lightning just wasn’t able to strike twice when it came to Andrew Dominik’s career.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was just under three hours, while Killing Them Softly is just a little over an hour and a half. Killing Them Softly manages to feel longer than Dominik’s first feature. Now how did he manage to do that? It had something to do with meaningless scenes of dialogue that went absolutely nowhere, characters that could’ve easily been cut from the movie because their arcs or lack their of offer nothing to the film other than more wasted time, but worst of all it offers up for our appreciation a simplistic and predictable story with an obvious theme that could’ve been established in 5-minute short film.
I’ve read comments of people who enjoyed the film expressing that the reason there are people who don’t like it is because they don’t understand the underlying themes. My main compliant with the movie is that there was no way I couldn’t understand the point of the movie. There was no subtlety in the movie whatsoever, there was one purpose the film was attempting to get across and it was shoved farther and farther down my throat. Throughout the entire movie it is made completely obvious what the film maker’s agenda in making this film was and then the theme is punctuated by its last moments which is when I realized how much of a waste of time the movie really was.
If there was a bit of light that could be found in this dark and dull film, it would be some brilliant camera work and some good acting. The film was shot beautifully and when it comes to the performances I just can’t complain, it’s just sad these actors were given such lackluster characters and unimaginative dialogue. Killing Them Softly was a disappointment through and through and I can’t wait to just forget about it because the more I think about it, the more I just get frustrated.
The art of performance is an art form that’s hard not to find an appreciation for if you love movies. As a result of this appreciation, this is a list that has been in the works for a very long time. To preface this list of the people I consider the greatest actors in existence I’d like to make a few things clear. This is a list of actors that are all around the greatest performers, but it’s also a list of actors whom, on a personal level, I just enjoy watching. Along with the names of my favorite actors I’ve also listed three films in front of each actor. I want to make it apparent that these three films aren’t necessarily the three best films to come out of that actor’s career, it’s a list of that actor’s three best performances. This is a broad list so I’d like to start with a list of Honorable Mention (in no particular order).
Philip Seymour Hoffman
George C. Scott
And here we go…
10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Most, if not all, will be surprised to find actors like Morgan Freeman, Marlon Brando, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt on a list of Honorable Mention while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is right here at number 10. There’s never a need to justify or rationalize one’s opinions when it comes to discussing something as subjective as film. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s aura of charisma any time he’s on screen. He knows how to do what he does and he does it perfectly. I respect him a lot.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
9. Robert De Niro
This list would be incomplete without the great Robert De Niro. He deserves every ounce of praise he gets for any role he plays. There is certainly an intensity to the way he becomes engrossed in his characters and like any brilliant actor, he really does have such a broad range. Whether he’s playing the awkward and psychotic Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver or the calm and collected crook in Heat, he always manages to put a very raw touch on any performance. The industry wouldn’t be the same without him.
3. Taxi Driver
2. The Deer Hunter
1. Raging Bull
8. Michael Fassbender
Whether he’s playing a robot or even the main character in an X-Men movie, Michael Fassbender always has such a powerful presence. He first caught my attention when I saw him in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Inglourious Basterds. He didn’t play a huge part in the story, but couldn’t help but command the screen. He has such a naturalism to the way he acts making every single one of his actions feel completely real. If you want to watch truly flawless performing watch Michael Fassbender become his character in Shame.
3. Inglourious Basterds
7. Tom Hardy
Its slowly starting to be realized by all with each movie he’s a part of, but Tom Hardy is a truly masterful actor. Its a sight to behold anytime he acts. He makes such lucid choices and stays absolutely consistent. Any character he plays becomes so ridiculously defined due to his flawless work as an emotive performer. At this point I can expect nothing less than greatness anytime he chooses to act in a film. It’s always enjoyable to watch him do what he does regardless of the part, be it a charismatic action hero or a feral and emotionless monster of a man.
1. The Dark Knight Rises
6. Al Pacino
I feel as though there’s an unspoken competition when it comes to the legendary actors, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. I would have to go with Al Pacino. Every character he plays is made so intensely human due to a dedication to his work. Realism is what it seems to be about with Pacino. Whether he’s chewing apart the screen in Scent of a Woman or playing a more cool-headed ex-con in Carlito’s Way, with confidence he always manages to bring out the humanity in the men he becomes. Al Pacino is a true master at what he does.
2. Dog Day Afternoon
1. The Godfather (Part I + II)
5. Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman is a brilliant character actor who is more than capable of playing the leading man as he sees fit. He has one of the widest ranges of any actor who has ever performed. He can play a ferocious villain in an action movie such as Air Force One and he has the ability to play a more subdued protagonist in a complex drama like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. With maturity and grace, Oldman makes everything he does so completely memorable. Gary Oldman is still working today, but he’s already left such a lasting and magnificent legacy with the fascinating ways he takes on the vibrant characters he plays.
3. The Professional
2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
1. The Dark Knight Legend
4. Jack Nicholson
Ever since I fell in love with the art of film, I’ve always considered Jack Nicholson one of my favorite actors. It’s hard not to love the actor when you look at his track record. He is extraordinary, that’s all there is to it. Due to his work as a magnificent performer he is partly responsible for some of the masterpieces fundamental to the progression of cinema. He’s always having fun just doing exactly what he does best, perform flawlessly. Jack makes you feel it no matter what it is. When he laughs, yells, cries, breathes, it’s not him, it’s his character. Jack Nicholson is an incredible artist and one of the best there is.
3. The Departed
2. The Shining
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
3. Christian Bale
There is something so miraculous to the way Christian Bale completely throws himself in his roles. Regardless of the character, he makes you believe it. As Batman he’s heroic, as Patrick Bateman he’s psychotic, as Dicky Eklund he’s pathetic, as Alfred Borden he’s enigmatic and I could easily go on. It’s as if he just has some kind of vast knowledge on exactly how to tap into the mind and shoes of the characters he portrays. Christian Bale defines a generation of actors who have learned a lot from a long, long history of film and excels because of that knowledge.
3. The Fighter
2. American Psycho
1. The Dark Knight Legend
2. Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis is a phenomenal artist and the greatest actor working today. He is incredibly deliberate in the choices he makes and I don’t just mean in the ways he chooses to portray a character, but also in the characters he chooses to play. He’s touched on such a broad spectrum of emotions and he does so flawlessly. No one does it the way Daniel Day-Lewis does it. You want to talk about intensity in performance, just watch him tear through the scenery as the violent villain, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is coming soon and I just can’t wait to see what Day-Lewis does with it.
Daniel Day-Lewis blows me away any time he takes on a performance, but it’s in There Will Be Blood where he really hits his stride and shows just how extraordinary a performance can be. Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an epic character study about consumption, greed and the American nightmare. At the heart of the film is the complex and depraved oilman, Daniel Plainview. Rarely does the film have a scene without its black-hearted protagonist. It’s one of the juiciest roles in all of film and as always, with precision and dominance, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the character to perfection.
3. Gangs of New York
1. There Will Be Blood
1. Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger is the greatest artist to have ever acted in film and its a shame to think about what could’ve been. The Australian actor was only 28-years-old when he passed away and all we have of him is an enigmatic and extraordinary career that was tragically cut very short. Even since a very young age, Heath showed great promise when he took on any role. No matter what it was, be it an rollicking adventure movie like A Knight’s Tale or a serious drama like The Patriot, Heath Ledger showed more than potential to be one of the greats.
A turning point that marked the career of a mature and defiant actor was Heath Ledger’s performance of Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. This was a role that needed a powerful and honest performance and Heath Ledger responded with a portrayal that exceeded those necessities. Heath Ledger is an extraordinary actor who never needed to prove anything, but if he did, he proves it here. You’d be hard-pressed to find other performances that are as touching and real.
Heath Ledger is the kind of actor who just seems to have fun with whatever he’s doing. He loves doing what he does and just happens to be the best at what he does. Never did he have more fun with a role than when he gave not only the greatest performance of his career, but the greatest performance in the history of film. In The Dark Knight, Ledger was universally praised for his realistic portrayal of one of the most iconic villains in the history of stories. In The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger crafted the greatest character in film, which is in part due to a landmark performance that cements Heath Ledger as the greatest actor to have ever performed.
It’s sad to take an entire genre of films and pass judgement on it. I will say though that for the most part I’m not a huge fan of sports movies. Obviously there are some great sports movies. Just last year, The Fighter came out and that was a great movie. There’s even occasions, rare ones, but occasions where you’ll find a masterpiece in the sports genre, take for example my favorite sports film, Raging Bull. For the most part though sports films just seem to follow a similar pattern and in that way lack a certain level of thrill or even entertainment. Moneyball may have in some aspects followed similar patterns, but it managed to be a truly awesome movie.
Moneyball is a brilliant film that looks at Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, and his attempt to make his baseball team a champion regardless of the fact that they have the least money of all other baseball franchises. There are a few details that make Moneyball slightly stereotypical, because the story is told from such a different and interesting perspective and executed so well.
I am not a very avid sports watcher and as a result I did not know this particular story as some of my friends did. Subsequently, there was actually a lot of drama in this movie for me. I had no idea what was going to happen and I was interested through out. And I could care less how historically accurate the movie is because that’s exactly what it is, a movie. The ideas it was establishing dealt with a lot more powerful issues than just baseball and the ideas were expressed due to the plot and brilliant execution of this particular story.
The acting in this film is pristine. Philip Seymour Hoffman is always a positive, this is Jonah Hill’s best performance and you can’t go wrong with Brad Pitt in a leading man role because he’s never given a performance that wasn’t satisfactory. There have been some dull movies, but he’s always played his part. He’s a truly magnificent actor and he’s fantastic in Moneyball.
In the film Moneyball, what you find is a very inspiring and yet honest tale about overcoming even the most relentless obstacles and never forgetting to believe in what’s important. I’ve truly never been as enthralled with another baseball movie than I was with Moneyball. It was written in the unwritten contract of movie reviewing that you have to make some kind of pun when reviewing a sports film so here it goes, Moneyball was a home run.
If you want to look at a film as simplistically as possible there are essentially two sides to a truly amazing film. The first side is one of art, the side where you look at the film from a filmmaking stand point and appreciate its themes and the way it excels in its craft. The second side is one of entertainment, this is the side that makes you want to watch it over and over again, the side that puts reasoning behind the question of why we watch films and the answer is simple, escape. What makes a masterpiece is when the art and the entertainment combine, collide and balance each other out. The Tree of Life is a movie that was very heavy on the art aspect and a lot lighter on the entertainment side.
This is not to say that I believe The Tree of Life was not a good film. I’m merely stating that there were many points that made you think, but didn’t necessarily give you much enjoyment. But that sounds a bit worse than what I’m trying to express. It’s not that I wanted to gouge my eyes out right after seeing it, it’s just that I wouldn’t sit down and watch it again anytime soon. One viewing will be just fine perhaps for a life time. That’s not even to say that it was extremely boring, I just got what I needed out of it and that most certainly wasn’t an excess amount of entertainment.
The Tree of Life was a rather mesmerizing piece of art, well put together and well acted on all accounts. It was executed masterfully for the exact story it was telling. What you find in this film is the exact ideas a director wanted to express with out thinking about what the critics would say or even the general audiences. He just made the movie he wanted to make and he made it very well. While at times The Tree of Life was slightly dull at other times it was mysterious and rather breath-taking.
The Tree of Life was a very broad and interesting look at life and the events and people who make us who we are. It’s a gigantic feat to take on ideas like these in any art form, but it’s not as if these ideas haven’t been tackled before. There have been movies that have been created that attempt to tackle these same types of broad ideas and no, The Tree of Life was not the master of expressing these themes. Other films have established ideas such as these and they’ve done it better. To put it bluntly, The Tree of Life is a pretty great movie, but it just wasn’t nearly as life changing as it was attempting to be. That’s just me, for someone else it may very well be the most life changing piece of art in existence. Decide for yourself.
The original minds of the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino. Their love for violence, their fantastic and memorable writing and their ability to never let you down, just to name a few. But I think Quentin Tarantino tops the Coen Brothers in his creation of some of the most memorable characters in film. Tarantino puts such a graceful brush stroke on every single one of his characters, making each one (no matter how manner) just plain awesome.
As always it was a difficult list to make because I love practically every character Quentin creates. I unfortunately was not able to make room for many characters I would love to find on a top ten such as this. Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde are my favorite criminals from Reservoir Dogs who weren’t able to make to list. I wish I had room for Shosanna Dreyfuss of Inglourious Basterds, but she just missed the cut. Anyways, here they are, my favorite Quentin Tarantino characters…
10. Calvin J. Candie (Django Unchained)
If Candyland is the mountain surrounded by hellfire that Dr. King Schultz describes in his german legend, than Calvin J. Candie is the fire breathing dragon. Leonardo DiCaprio never fails to show off his chops as an actor and he really shines here as a sadistic, savage and charismatic plantation owner. He’s the kind of villain you just despise from the moment you meet him and DiCaprio sells out. It’s a brilliant character that deserved a brilliant performance.
9. The Bride (Kill Bill)
The Bride is my favorite female hero in all of film. Period. Her determination and bloodlust drive the epic force that is Kill Bill. I love every moment of the four hour movie and it tells the tale of her escapades. Of course I love her. She puches her way out of a coffin buried 6 feet under, kills “88” people (not really, but still a large number) with out breaking a sweat and gouges out a rivals eye with her bare hand. Black Mamba is a samurai and the deadliest woman in the world.
8. Lt. Archie Hicox (Inglourious Basterds)
He only makes it in three scenes of Tarantino’s WWII masterpiece, but one of them just so happens to be almost a half hour long and quite possibly the best scene in the movie. Hicox is an english officer bent on helping the Allies in any way he can. What makes him a shoe-in for this list for me is a scene when he’s told of his imminent death. With pride he sucks down his cigarette, picks up his glass of scotch and says one of my favorite lines in film, “There’s a special rung in hell for people who waste a good scotch and since I may be wrapping on the door momentarily…(finishes the glass)… I must say, damn good stuff.”
7. Stuntman Mike (Death Proof)
I absolutely love Death Proof. Is it that good of a movie? Most would say no probably, but I have a blast with every single time I’ve watched it. I think for the most part I love the movie because its driven by a character I love. The psychopathic killer, Stuntman Mike. A sweet talkin’ charmer who happens to kill girls with his car. He has played many bad asses in his illustrious career, but I don’t enjoy watching Kurt Russell nearly as much as I enjoy him as this bad ass.
6. Bill (Kill Bill)
Bill is simply what he calls himself, “a murdering basterd”. Look deeper though and he’s still a murdering basterd, but also a wise samurai with a broken heart. Every single line Bill has is uttered with sauch subtle grace and beauty by David Carradine. Every single moment is made quite epic by his presence. We don’t even see his face for the first half of the movie. Instead, we get a few shots of his hands, his sword and his cowboy boats slowly walking over to the half dead corpse of the woman he loves and is about to shoot in the head. Bill has a way a about him that makes him hated and loved by all he’s touched by. I for one just love the guy.
5. Dr. King Schultz (Django Unchained)
I like to imagine that Tarantino sees a bit of himself in Dr. King Schultz, a man who could never truly understand Django’s pain and struggle, but who would never the less help Django in any way he could. Dr. King Schultz walks into Django’s life very suddenly and they instantly hit it off. He says it himself, Schultz “despises” slavery and he sees to the freedom of a man he was meant to meet. Together they form a bond willing to stand up against the atrocious tyranny of slavery. He’s a charming man, a wise mentor and a friend.
4. Lt. Aldo Raine (Inglourious Basterds)
Known to his enemies as Aldo the Apache is a nazi-scalping aficionado and the leader of the band of renegade jews sent to do as much damage as they possibly can against the Third Reich. He bares a lynching scar across his neck and we don’t know why, but I love it. Aldo goes through no transition or arch as a character and that’s the reason I love him. We know what to expect out of him. We know what he loves and we know he’d like to be doing it till the day he dies and that is “killin’ nazis.”
3. Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
Jules Winnfield is by far one of the greatest movie characters of all time. A notorious hitman touched by the grace of god and changed spiritually forever. This is by far Samuel L. Jackson’s best and most iconic performance. “Hmm, that is a tasty burger.” I love every single violent and philosophical induced moment with this “Bad Motherfucker”. You can’t talk about Quentin Tarantino movies and not mention the awesomenous that is Jules Winnfield. From the bible verse he recites before killing somone to his rightfully stitched wallet, I can never get enough of him.
2. Django (Django Unchained)
In Django Unchined, you’ll find the greatest hero Quentin Tarantino has ever created. I never want anything bad to happen to Django and his love, Broomhilda. From the moment he is released from his chains I am rooting for him. He’s the definition of a badass and he’s a righteous man, a hero looking for retribution. Django is reminiscent of a mighty knight riding in to save the woman he loves. You love him and his woman and his journey, you hate the villains that stand in his way and to watch his wrath unleash when it goes down is nothing short of breathtaking.
1. Col. Hans Landa (Inlgourious Basterds)
“The Jew Hunter” is one of the greatest characters in film and by far the greatest character Quentin Tarantino has ever created and probably ever will create. It took him 15 years to top the character Jules Winnfield. I seriously doubt he’ll ever be able to top Hans Landa. A nazi is probably the most hated figure in history, but finally someone had the guts to give one some depth, and Col. Hans Landa is the result (played to nothing short of perfection by Christoph Waltz).
Col. Landa is actually a man who doesn’t buy into the nazi propaganda and instead is just doing his duty and he’s damn good at it because the S.S. officer is also a detective. It really doesn’t get much more interesting than an intelligent nazi colonel who intertwines through the threads of the events and people around him, eventually betraying his country in order to secure his survival and happy future. Col. Hans Landa is a despicable mastermind with no cap on his malevolence.
In the universe of the greatest directors known to man, The Coen Brothers, there’s always a lot going on. Most of it unorthodox and all of it enjoyable. These feats are made possible through the amazing characters they develop or sometimes just randomly throw in there for a bit of fun.
In each Coen film there’s always some type of entertainment that can be brought from almost every character. Maybe its because of his/her sick and twisted humor they crack at random moments, maybe its because of their affection and kindness towards even the rudest person, or maybe its because their penchant for laziness. Either way, there’s so many different ones to choose from, these are my favorites.
10. Loren Visser (Blood Simple)
Out of the Coen Brothers first movie comes one of the sleaziest dirt bags known to film, Loren Visser. Everything he does is unethical and everything he says is made somehow disturbing. There’s not much he won’t do to bring in a quick buck. He’s the ultimate dirt ball you’d absolutely never want to meet. Not to mention he has one of the greatest maniacal laughs ever put on screen.
9. Chad Feldheimer (Burn After Reading)
Chad is down right stupid and dimwitted. If you really look at his dialogue, your kind of wondering why anyone would find it funny because its almost too forced. Brad Pitt plays it to perfection and I am in stitches every single time he’s on screen. You really couldn’t see it played any other way after seeing Mr. Pitt do it so hilariously. I love Feldheimer to death by the end of it all.
8. Mattie Ross (True Grit)
The quick-witted and persistent 14-year-old who drives the plot of the Coen Bros. masterfully made western is an unquestionable candidate for this list. She’s young but at the same time smart and she’ll stop at nothing to see the avenging of her father through. A truly entertaining character that you can’t stop feeling for based on the way the character is perfectly performed and what the character’s endgame is.
7. Leonard Smalls (Raising Arizona)
Even though I love the Coen Brothers and find basically everthing they make a masterpiece in one way or another, I’m actually not a huge fan of Raising Arizona. Its not that I don’t like the movie, it’s that I don’t believe it stacks up to their other films. I can not, however, deny my love for the motorcyclist from hell, Leonard Smalls. You don’t get to see him much in the film, but when you do, your eyes are wide with appeal, at least mine are.
6. Marge Gunderson (Fargo)
Among a lot of terrible people in the world of the Coen Brothers, Marge Gunderson is by far the most kind hearted. She makes it her duty to not only protect and serve (she’s a pregnant police officer), but to also be incredibly sweet whenever she can, even if its towards someone she knows doesn’t deserve it. Marge has a great husband, a child on the way and an important job she’s committed to. This is Frances McDormand at her best, one of the greatest female performances I’ve seen. Period.
5. Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski)
The Dude is of course iconic and one of the greatest characters in film, but not all of the laughs come from Jeff Bridges. John Goodman’s character is definitely a huge part of the puzzle piece. Honestly, every action, every facial gesture, every word he utters or shouts at the top of his lungs, I’m usually laughing uncontrollably or at least chuckling. The vietnam vet Walter Sobchak makes every scene he’s involved in memorable, to say the least.
4. Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (True Grit)
Rooster Cogburn is such a fascinating character to watch develop. At times he’s dark due, in part, to a checkered past, while at other times we know far well that this is the hero of the story. Also, he never fails to draw out a chuckle from time to time. A unique and interesting character in every sense. Jeff Bridges puts every ounce of performance he’s got into Rooster and the result is one of the greatest western heros that a lover of films can ask for.
3. Charlie Meadows (Barton Fink)
It’s hard to top Walter Sobchak and Rooster Cogburn, but Goodman is able to do it with his portrayal as Fink’s hotel neighbor, Charlie Meadows. Charlie has such an unbearable presence in each scene. You just can’t wait until he pops in for a chat the next time. He’s the epitome of the classic neighbor whom you just love sitting back and talking with. Then the character turns in a completely different direction and John Goodman plays it to absolute perfection.
2. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski)
The Dude is quite possibly the most iconic character The Coen Brothers will ever create. That’s surprising because he doesn’t do much at all. He’s usually just smoking weed, bowling or drinking a white russian. It’s difficult for me to put The Dude at number two because most would have put him at number one. I absolutely love The Dude. The Big Lebowski, the funniest movie of all time, is centered around him and his laziness. The plot is driven by the insane events going on around him and even more so, his insane friends. But no matter what happens you can always expect The Dude to just sit back and ride along. “Fuck it” he might say, but I think he puts it best when he says “The Dude abides”.
1. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men)
By far one of the greatest villains and characters ever put on screen is Anton Chigurh. And he wouldn’t seem as evil if it weren’t for the perfect concoction. I’m speaking of course of the of the original writing by Cormac McCarthy, transfered to the screen by the two of the greatest writers working in film, directed by the aforementioned writers and performed to absolute perfection by Javier Bardem. Through these ingredients, we get one of the darkest presences ever put on screen. What we get is a confident and intelligent killer basically representing death itself. Killing is routine for him, almost to the point of being an art form. The modern day movie villain that lies at the heart of their greatest feat in film is with out a doubt the Coen Brothers’ greatest character.