- One of the most noteworthy characteristics of any of the noted performances of Zellweger, Phoenix, Williams and Crowe is that their work transcends acting.
- There are only a few others who are like them, forming a tiny club of artists that should have its own special logo.
Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Michelle Williams and Russell Crowe have one thing in common. Other than their profession. All four of them are absolutely brilliant. And all four of them are recipient of the Golden Globe 2020 award for best performance in film and television in the drama category: Judy, Joker, Fosse/Verdon and The Loudest Voice.
Three of these characters were based on real life people. I didn’t watch the Golden Globes, but I rooted for all of them, and when I read online that they had all been awarded I felt a delight that the most deserving actors had been chosen for the honour of one of the most prestigious awards of the world of cinema.
One of the most noteworthy characteristics of any of the noted performances of Zellweger, Phoenix, Williams and Crowe is that their work transcends acting. There are only a few others who are like them, forming a tiny club of artists that should have its own special logo. Becoming the character, they shine on the screen, taking the viewer on a brief, dizzying journey of complex personas, amplified emotions, nuanced darkness, and deliberate impenetrability. Moving in self-assured precision that is even bigger than their stardom, they slip into their characters with an ease that is indistinguishable from the superhuman effort they put in each role they play.
Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Charlize Theron, Jared Leto, Aamir Khan… I can’t think of many actors who lose themselves so seamlessly in a role the viewer is transported to a world of make-belief that takes pride in its authenticity. The unreal becomes the singular truth for the duration of the movie, and in the case of Williams and Crowe, in a limited TV series.
The art of reinvention in every new role has been given a re-definition. That is the gloriousness of each one of these artists.
The art of acting
Judy Garland is the iconic, larger-than-life Hollywood phenomenon in her tumultuous, forty-seven years of life that ended in a painful abruptness and was an epic of once-in-a-decades talent, extreme familial pressure, breakdown of self for survival, a raw need to excel, and a fight to fit in. Renée Zellweger in Judy portrays the indescribable artist Judy Garland who blazed like a star like no other, keeping her cinema and stage audience wrapped around her luminous talent, evoking admiration that was almost reverential. In Rupert Goold’s Judy, Zellweger is Garland in every movement of the hand, all the songs that were her magic, the bad decisions that she made, each pill that she popped to get through another day, each audience that she mesmerised.
Much comes to mind when I think of Joaquin Phoenix in Todd Phillip’s Joker. And not much is to be added to what I wrote about Phoenix’s Joker a few months ago: “Joker is Joaquin Phoenix. Completely. Joker is Phoenix’s best performance to date, arguably. Going beyond what is criticised as deviation from the original concept of the iconic villain, and using mental illness as a catalyst to a devastating transformation, Phoenix’s Arthur, who asks to be addressed as Joker, present in every scene of Joker, had me transfixed, wordless.
“His physicality, the almost emaciated body, the lines on his face blurring into his painted clown-ness, his unease with words, his uncontrollable laughter–a medical affliction–his distinct walk as he moves through the city without being noticed, his almost childlike running, and his endearing closeness with his old and frail mother, whose past has secrets that are more fearful than the monster under the bed, Phoenix turns Arthur into a character that would become part of super villain hall of fame. Or ignominy.”
I didn’t realise she was so brilliant until I watched her in Fosse/Verdon. Michelle Williams’ real-life Broadway star and choreographer Gwen Verdon is a delightful expression of love for acting in a seductive tango with talent that is supreme. Verdon was married to the still-famous film maker and choreographer Bob Fosse, and their personal and professional chemistry resulted in some extraordinary works as Cabaret and Chicago. Under-recognised, Verdon, a magnificent dancer, saw a decline in her splendid career after her marriage to Fosse and the birth of her daughter. Her life with her womanising, pill-popping, supremely talented husband and her personal choices become achingly human in William’s fragile, often funny, portrayal that is powerful and stunning in its expansiveness.
Roger Ailes, the Republican kingmaker, was and still is one of the biggest names in the world of media. Despite being a news junkie, his story was unfamiliar to me until I saw Jay Roach’s Bombshell. Based on the real-life exposé of former Fox News anchors, Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, and several other women, Bombshell brings to fore the excruciating reality of sexual harassment in workplace and the dynamics of enabling and silence. Ailes was a celebrated media titan who was known to have reshaped Republican politics, from Nixon to Trump. In 1996, he founded Fox News “just as a new wave of polarisation was about to tear Washington apart.” Bombshell took me to Showtime’s limited series The Loudest Voice. And to Russell Crowe’s Roger Ailes.
The man whose legacy is said to be that “the road to the White House runs through Fox News” was a force of astuteness, charisma, fierce patriotism, black rage, autocratic tendencies, and the blind determination to succeed. What Ailes had in abundance: entitlement. Crowe, physically unrecognisable, humanises Ailes. In all his power and grotesque self-righteousness.
Prosthetic make up and padding helped create a very realistic Ailes, but it is Crowe’s interpretation of the media giant fired from Fox in 2016 after allegations of sexual harassment that makes you go uncomfortably silent. Doing very bad things believing them to be inconsequential or harmless, Crowe’s Ailes is nuanced, multi-layered, complex, and terrifying. Crowe’s Ailes goes from the self-possessed, hugely powerful man, who made and broke political narratives that mattered, to the unbuckled, bed-wetting, shuffling on a stick, overweight, friend-less pariah. It is a performance so magnificent, so meticulous, it is almost surreal in its perfection.
And it made me forget that this write-up is about four mind-blowing performances, not one. Russell Crowe is that good.