Tuesday 12 June 2012

My Top 10 Actresses

If I had to take an oath in court about who my top 10 actresses are, this wouldn't necessarily be the list. Meryl Streep is probably a better actress than Rosario Dawson -- but this isn't the point of my list. Today I'm writing about actors that I like personally, whose work I gravitate towards. I usually steer clear of writing posts like these; because I'm not the kind of guy who ranks things, and also in many ways I'm a bad judge. Streep might be great in 'The Iron Lady', but I just don't care; whereas Rosario Dawson broke my heart a little in 'Seven Pounds'. And THAT means more to me. 

The following is in no particular order. 

1. Helen Hunt

She had a great, peak period, I guess from around 1996 to 2001. It began with 'Twister' and 'As Good As It Gets' and ended with 'Pay It Forward', 'Cast Away', 'What Women Want' and 'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion'. Most of my affection for her, as an actress, is based on her performances in those films. 

I think that Helen Hunt has something about her that is indescribable. She radiates a warmth, openness and honesty that is extremely rare on screen. She was cast perfectly in 'Cast Away'. She's only in it for a few minutes, but when Chuck (Tom Hanks) is stranded alone for all those years, we really get a sense of what he's missing. When they finally see each other again--- wow. I don't know any other actors who could have nailed those scenes as beautifully as Helen Hunt did with Tom Hanks. 

Hollywood is tough on women. Hunt had a golden period that was extremely short; and now we rarely see her in anything particularly great. But there's still the hope that someone will write something for her that she can really get her teeth into. Even in 'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion', arguably one of Woody's weaker efforts -- Helen is a joy to watch and utterly compelling. 

2. Ellen Page

I totally fell in love with her when I saw 'Juno'. She was cool and hip and funny and weird and full of bizarre references and ideas. Of course, much of that was down to Diablo Cody's writing. But then you see Ellen Page in an interview, or in a different movie, and she's incredible. She's still in her early 20's, yet her wisdom about acting, coupled with her work on screen, is something special. These days, I wouldn't say I'm in love with her, but I just really want to sit down with her and have a coffee. Or get her here for a KITFR interview. I just think she's extremely talented. And hilarious. 

3. Kristen Stewart

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Kristen Stewart. Me? I think she's fantastic. I think she's subtle to the point of mastery. In 'Adventureland' and her tiny appearance in 'Into The Wild', I think she evokes a truthfulness and humility that is really hard to do. 

I know two sets of people that hate her. The first are the 'internet people'; the types who go around the internet hating on people who are successful and beautiful. The other set of people who hate her, are actresses. I know LOTS of actresses who despise her. Their criticism is, "she only has one facial expression, she never does anything!" I think they totally miss the point, and are probably just jealous. Kristen Stewart's acting style is like a Woody Allen joke; it's best to be underplayed -- to just get things done. What Kristen does on screen is subtle, and I almost always relate to her characters, but not so much in the vampire thing. 

4. Greta Gerwig

Wow, what a year she's having. A lead in a studio flick, and working with Woody Allen and Whit Stillman. And next year she's writing and directing again. 

She stands for so much that I love ---- she put the hours in. She's worked her way up. Her initial projects were about creativity and inspiration, not money. If you go back and look at her early work, the 'mumblecore years', some of it is genius, some of it is shockingly bad. But without learning from the bad stuff, she wouldn't be where she is today. 

She's refreshing on screen. She's unique. She mumbles her way through half her lines but we adore her for it because she's so darn human. A fantastic actress, who is now highly in demand. I am extremely excited to see her career develop. You can see more of my thoughts about Greta here.

5. Patricia Clarkson

I think she's a class act. Films are all about men, but what if they weren't? What if Patricia Clarkson was the lead in the Hollywood blockbusters? Movies would be fascinating! I'd actually get off my ass and go to the cinema more often. (But then admittedly most people who go to see movies now would stay home, but I'd love it!). 

She was unforgettable in 'The Green Mile'. But I think she's at her best in comedy. She was hilarious in 'The Station Agent', and she's always wonderful when she works with Woody Allen (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Whatever Works).

The point I made about films being for men --- I guess what I mean is; years from now when Patricia Clarkson and Helen Hunt are dead, we'll look back at their careers and, while they have been wonderful and memorable, they've not been as great as they could have been, because films aren't about women. Certainly not at the ages they're at now. It's a deep shame, and we're the poorer for it. 

6. Charlize Theron

I think 'Young Adult' sealed the deal. Her performance in that was nothing short of spectacular. And it links to what I said about Patricia Clarkson --- here is Theron in her prime, and she's getting those roles. It's REFRESHING! Because there's no-one like her. She's great at being intense, and she's also extremely funny when she has the chance to be (she was one of the best things about the third season of 'Arrested Development'). 

I only saw 'Monster' once. It's not the kind of film you want to repeat. But I remember being blown away by Charlize. I love that she takes risks, that she's really and truly about the acting. She's one of the most beautiful women in the world, but I love that she doesn't over-identify with that. For her, it's about great roles, and great projects. Having said that, her upcoming projects don't excite me, but I'm sure it won't be long before she does something fantastic. With her talent and reputation, I think it's safe to say: she has masterpieces ahead of her. 

7. Rosario Dawson

'Seven Pounds', 'Clerks 2', 'A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints', '25th Hour', 'He Got Game'. I think she does great work. She's come a long way since 'Kids'. 

There's something about her. I believe her. I believe in her. I always root for her characters. She makes it look so effortless on screen. A recurring thing, I'm noticing, about the actors I like, is subtlety. 'Seven Pounds' is probably the best example of this. Her job in that movie is mostly to mope around being sick, yet she does it such an engaging way -- you just want to know her and help her when you watch it. She was great in 'A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints', too. She had two scenes; one sweet scene in a window, and one rooftop argument. In both scenes she was terrific, but in completely different ways. Check out that film just to see her acting with Robert Downey Jr. It's two actors at the top of their game. 

8. Natalie Portman

I've got to be honest. I'm a little bit bored of Natalie Portman. That's a horrible thing to say, I know, but I am. But she gets on this list based on merit, and based on the fact that I have, for as long as I can remember, loved her work. Have you seen her in 'Beautiful Girls'? She was phenomenal, and only about 14. Of course, she was even younger in 'Leon', which people remember even more. It's clear that she was immensely talented even when she was a child. 

I'm not a Star Wars fan, so her work in those movies doesn't mean anything to me. That's always been the thing with Portman, she does a lot of work that I'm just not that interested in. I loved 'Garden State' and 'Closer' but that's about it. 

And then, more recently, she crammed in about fifty projects in a two year period. 'Brothers', 'Hesher', 'No Strings Attached', 'Thor' and of course 'Black Swan'. She was great in all of them. Yet somehow, this pre-having-a-baby-work-blitz has given me Natalie Portman overkill. But I'm still a fan, and curious as to what the future has in store for her. 

9. Kristen Wiig

She's hilarious! I love her! Comedy needs people like Kristen Wiig. We all know how brilliant she was in 'Bridesmaids' (so much so that I wrote two articles about it, here and here), and she was fantastic in 'Paul' and 'Adventureland'. What's next? Her schedule is rammed full of projects. I can't wait to see what the future has in store. 

Kristen Wiig has all the tools, training and talent that could see her becoming one of the greatest female comediennes of all time. She cut her teeth at Groundlings, she's been a cast member of SNL for seven years, and now she's branching out into big-budget Hollywood movies. The sky's the limit, and I'm definitely along for the ride. 

10. Kate Winslet

Just because she did 'Titanic', that didn't guarantee anything. Her career still could have stalled. But she picked her projects wisely, and she had great talent to back it up. I like her the most when she's surprising, like in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', and I like her the least when she's 'normal', like in 'Revolutionary Road'. 

I'd like to see her do more comedy, some lighter stuff. She's great at being serious, she always nails it, but I rarely seem to enjoy it. She was a riot in her 'Extras' episode, she definitely has a fun side to her that we don't always get to see on screen. Here's hoping. 

Care to share?

Monday 11 June 2012

Screenwriting Program Completed!

For the last week, I have been working with six writers to produce six screenplays that are fifteen pages or under.

They all completed their projects in time for yesterday's deadline. It was a fascinating week. My job was to mentor the writers in any way I could to get them from the blank page to the final draft. Some were in touch with me a lot and used me as a sounding board, others just got on with their thing and got back to me on deadline day.

It was a great week. I certainly learned a lot, and I hope the writers did too! I'll be interviewing them and sharing their work here throughout the week. I'm really excited about it.

Care to share?

coffee endless coffee

Endless coffees how you doing what you been up to let me buy this one no really it's fine your projects are looking good keep working persevering bit depressed don't worry tomorrow will be better you're showing your talents maybe chosen for the thing or not and yes i'm fine keeping busy moneys coming but not enough maybe an opportunity maybe we should start something just an idea not sure you're right for it maybe you could text me maybe we could get a friend to help out but is there a budget my last film was really bad you're actually really pretty damnit you have to go oh that's fine no really it's cool we should catch up soon that would be great it's been a while i miss you you miss me we miss each other and say it and say it and two years go by and where are you then we meet up and endless coffees how you doing you're fine i'm fine the projects are going okay few setbacks getting there trying not enough money not enough creativity feel that life got tough starting to get the flow back maybe we should produce something maybe we could do a thing maybe there's an opportunity at that tv station you should write to them or ask your uncle if he knows anyone who knows anyone haven't seen you in so long this industry is tough want another coffee no i'll get it really i want to buy it you save a seat maybe the comfy ones by the window yeah so how have you been what do you edit on are you still with that guy oh no you broke up me well i'm the same you know how it is we should share some cake yeah maybe we'll start a project that would be cool we could do that idea that we started to write maybe soon but you're busy i'm busy we're busy but with what no-one knows let's meet up again soon yeah tea coffee cake discussion yeah how are things good thank yeah goodnight.

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Saturday 9 June 2012

HITLER'S CHILDREN - "You weren't there, you didn't do it."

One of my best friends, an English guy, is obsessed with Germany. He just loves it. He knows the language, he visits whenever he can. All his favourite bands are German.

I was telling a German friend about this. It was sometime last year, I think around September. We met up in Spain -- and we were talking about the war, about her being German and me being English. I guess we were trying to figure out what it means 70 years later. Anyway, she couldn't grasp the fact that my friend adores Germany. She was uncomfortable with it, she didn't believe it. When she thought of what legacies her country has left the world, the only thing that came to mind was the Nazis. 

And she feels immensely guilty about it.

Not that she thinks about it all the time. But when you're a German and you visit another country, your accent is unmistakable. 
And I have to admit, the second I hear the German accent, I get a little trigger in my head, a little reminder, the thought of World War 2 flashes through my mind. Not in an angry way, not really in any way at all-- but it appears for a moment in my consciousness.

History takes a long time to process. People say "enough about the Holocaust already!" or "get over slavery, it was like 200 years ago!", but you can't put a time stamp on these things. The effects of history still play out in society in more ways than people realise.

Hitler's Children" is a documentary that aired on the BBC a few weeks ago. A friend mentioned it yesterday, assuming I'd seen it, but I knew nothing of it. I did a quick search online and found it on YouTube.

It's about the direct descendants of some of the biggest Nazi war criminals, such as Rudolph Hoess' grandson Rainer and Amon Goethe's daughter, Monika. It's a very touching documentary, focusing on five individuals, all of whom seem like absolutely wonderful people, but they're burdened by the guilt of what their relatives did.

How do you deal with such a thing? Goering's Great Niece & Nephew decided to be sterilised. Their grandfather attempted to exterminate the Jewish race and now his descendants are exterminating their own family. It's the best answer they've come up with. 
Niklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank, tries to exorcise his guilt by writing about his evil parents and educating younger people by doing talks. But sometimes he tells people that he has no trust, especially in Germans. He thinks they have the potential to do the same again.

That's what always worries me. Not about Germans, but all of us. Because the people who worked in Auschwitz were normal people; doctors, farmers, artists, etc; they came from all over to work for a cause they BELIEVED IN.

Our brains are wired in strange ways. We conform. What if our iPhones suddenly started instructing us to kill people? What if the celebrities that flood our brains every day in tabloid newspapers started subtly pronouncing hateful ideology? How strong is our will? How certain are we we'll know what's right? The Goering's and Hitler's are scary; but the everyday accomplices are even scarier; because they're no different to any of us. 

I think I'm a good person in a good country, but then I look at the Iraqi civilian death count and realise I know nothing.

As for World War 2; I feel, as an individual, that I am still processing this part of history. My grandparents fought in the war, and I love them for it. But there is so much I don't know and will never know. When I meet a German person, if I'm honest with you; I really feel the urge to talk about it. And I mean it in the best possible way, I just want to TALK! To process what it means to us as human beings in the 21st century. Part of that is a fascination with that part of history, a deep interest; but also there's a feeling of hurt, of confusion, of still grappling with the past and what it means to us, what it means to me. I think it's the same for a lot of people, from all the nations involved. 

There's this beautiful moment in the documentary when a Jewish holocaust survivor meets Rainer Hoess, the grandson of the Auschwitz commandant, Rudolph Hoess. Seeing Rainer's deep pain and guilt, the survivor says to him, "You weren't there, you didn't do it." It's a beautiful moment. The most unlikely meeting you can imagine, but you feel the world getting healed a little just by the moment they shared together.

As the older generations come towards the end of their lives, it becomes a world where none of us were there to witness it, but many of us still need to talk about it. And I hope we do. History is our greatest teacher, with endless wisdom. I hope we can process it together.

Care to share?

Thursday 7 June 2012

Visualisation and Manifestation! Booooom, yeahhhhhhh!

I was talking to my friend Rosie earlier about all the great things we've achieved when we've been in a positive frame of mind, believing all the crazy good things about life. She totally believes in that stuff; which is probably why she's a famous actress. Anyways; we haven't reached all our goals yet -- we wanna be making magic happen down in New York City, not here in London town. So I decided to visualise our phone conversation a year from now. Here goes:

Hey Rosie, wanna hang out?

I'm on the corner of 57th and Columbus.

Where's that? 

Near 58th and Columbus. 

You wanna get a coffee?

I'm in Starbucks.

I'll meet you there.

No, I wanna go to Starbucks.

You're in Starbucks. 

I wanna go to the other one. 

Is it far away?

I don't know where you are right now. 

I'm in my penthouse. 

It's quite far from your penthouse but not far from me -- I can see Starbucks from the window of Starbucks. 

There must be something to do other than go to Starbucks. 

Not really; this is what New Yorker's do. 

Let's go see a movie. 

I'm bored of movies; I just shot three of them with Denzel. 

How is Denzel?

Not bad. How's Scarlett, Portman & Megan Fox?

They're okay, but I think I need a bigger penthouse. 

I'm going to put down the phone now. 


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