What with all the year-end lists we’ve been seeing lately, I’ve been surprised at some of the omissions. Well, not all that surprised, since lists like these almost always neglect films released during the first three-quarters of the year in favor of movies released at the year’s tail-end (Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood, Atonement), films that in many cases the moviegoing public hasn’t even had the opportunity to see yet.
While I can’t really argue with all the love showered on the cast of No Country for Old Men, Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, and other favorites, here are a couple of supporting performances that have been unjustly overlooked.
Kurt Russell as “Stuntman Mike” in Death Proof – Death Proof, the Quentin Tarantino-directed half of Grindhouse, reminded me more than anything else of Howard Hawks’ Hatari, a film which consists mainly of characters sitting around gabbing, interspersed with occasional sequences of vehicular action. Only in the case of Death Proof, the characters sitting around gabbing are women. The principle exception is Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, who also happens to be the villain of the piece. Stuntman Mike is a charming serial killer. His macho persona is a shout-out to the favorite leading man of late Hawks, John Wayne. However, beyond his easy charm, what makes Stuntman Mike interesting is his vulnerability, his chagrin when none of the women he talks to have heard of any of the television series he appeared in, his howls of pain when his would-be victims turn into aggressors.
T. J. Carpio as “Prudence” in Across the Universe – I liked Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe right from the start, the female lead dancing to the Beatles’ “Hold Me Tight” at a pastel-colored American high school hop, intercut with the male lead dancing to the same song in a dark Cavern-like club in Liverpool. However, the moment when the film really took off for me was when we were introduced for the first time to Prudence the gay Asian cheerleader, sitting in the bleachers singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” while gazing longingly at one of her fellow cheerleaders practicing below. Prudence is a recurring figure in Taymor’s panorama of the 1960s, one who has to be coaxed out of the closet – literally – by the other characters singing (what else?) “Dear Prudence.”