It’s telling when, in director Ruben Fleischer’s Venom, the most engaging moments are the two (short) scenes between Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Inception) and his local Asian female shopkeeper.
Venom is a unimaginative bombast of an origin film as Hardy acquires the power of an alien symbiote as an alter ego in his (initially reluctant) battle with power-crazed Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed – The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Nightcrawler).
In spite of all the CGI, the latest in the Marvel Comic oeuvre feels somewhat dated and wastes a great deal of talent. It’s an uninspiring yarn lacking any sense of the fun expected from a director responsible for Zombieland and Gangster Squad.
Oh, oh, oh. It’s visceral magnificence on screen. Grand gestures aplenty but the minutiae of wartime claustrophobia, fear and defeat balance this superb, emotional sweep of a film.
Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight) tells the true story of the rescue of 300,000 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, surrounded by an advancing German army. It’s the flotilla of weekend sailors and fishermen (and women) who save the day as the navy destroyers are picked off by the German air force.
A true ensemble piece – Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy along with newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard are just a few – that is a jigsaw of narratives of few words and which makes up the whole, building to a rousing crescendo. Exhausting!
Personally, 2016 was not awash with great films (or at least not yet released in Australia). And the same can be said about male performances. Drawing up the list was something of a struggle. There’s lots of good performances (Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool, Viggo Mortensen as Captain Fantastic, Tom Hanks in Sully and Don Cheadle in his personal labour-of-love that was Miles Ahead) but few that were that one rung up the ladder.
But my top five male performances of 2016 are:
5: Leonardo di Caprio (The Revenant)
4: Geza Rohrig (Son of Saul)
3: Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
2: Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake)
1: Michael Keaton (The Founder)
Keaton’s renaissance over the last couple of years continues (Spotlight, Birdman) although chances are he will be overlooked again for his less than flattering portrayal of Ray Croc, CEO of McDonalds.
Part-time actor Dave Johns is riveting – and completely carries Ken Loach’s latest deeply humane British social commentary, I Daniel Blake. Jeff Bridges is in the supporting role for Texan sheriff in Hell or High Water – more screen time may have elevated him higher on the list. Like Johns, Geza Rohrig is rarely off-screen in the Hungarian Holocaust Oscar-winner, Son of Saul. And last year’s Oscar winner for best actor, Leonardo di Caprio, makes my top five for his role in The Revenant – narrowly beating out Tom Hardy who starred alongside him.
The list would have undoubtedly looked very different if the Australian release schedule mirrored the US – Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Denzel Washington (Fences), Joel Edgerton (Loving), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Dev Patel (Lion) could well have formed the top five.
It picked up three Golden Globes – best film, best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and best director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu). Add 12 Oscar nominations and 8 BAFTA noms and it’ll give you an indication of the Hollywood Royalty of The Revenant.
Stunning to look at thanks to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (and a possible third successive Oscar following on from last year’s Birdman and Gravity in 2014), The Revenant is a sonerous, sweeping narrative; a brutal yet poetic survival tale of the utmost hardships.
Yet, in spite of an intense, believable performance by DiCaprio (possibly his first Oscar winning performance?) and excellent support from the likes of Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Drop) and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex-Machina, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), a visceral The Revenant is a bombardment of grim, grim and yet more grim.
In creating the extreme contrast between psychotic Ronnie and tough-but-loveable Reggie, Legend loses its hard edge in telling the story of the feared Kray Twins and their control of underground London in the 1960s.
Tom Hardy (Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road) is magnificently magnetic as both Ronnie and Reggie – this is no gimmick but two sides of one character literally wrestling with each other on screen. But the rest of the film is strangely underwritten (a surprise considering its written by Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland – LA Confidential, Mystic River) and underdeveloped, creating something of an episodic mishmash of the evil that men do.
It’s flawed, overlong, not as hard as nails as it should have been – yet it’s still entertaining and extremely cinematic.
Mad Max: Fury Road is visually stunning, with excitement pumped to the max (excuse the pun) that leaves you breathless. There’s no doubt that director George Miller, in this Australian-American co-production, has achieved an extraordinary updating of his original Mad Max films from the 1980s (also known as The Road Warrior in some countries).
But… I yearned for significant human interaction on screen that softened the frenetic chase across the desert. It is reported that not all was well on set between the two leads – and the lack of chemistry between Charlize Theron (Monster, Prometheus) and Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) shows.
Whilst an impressive piece of film making, ultimately felt bombarded and a little disappointed. (And Furious Furiosa would have been a more appropriate title – this is Charlize Theron’s movie).
Going away for those few days put me behind on my top film lists for 2014! So here we go with best male performance of the year (remember it’s according to the release in Australia).
5. Jake Gyllenhaal: Nightcrawler
4. Brendan Gleeson: Calvary
3. Matthew McConaughey: Dallas Buyers Club
2. Timothy Spall: Mr Turner
1. J K Simons: Whiplash
This was hard as the top three are certainly interchangeable, and two or three on the periphery of the top five could have easily made the shortlist on another day – Tom Hardy for Locke and Oscar Isaacs for Inside Llewellyn Davies in particular.
But character actor J K Simons is my choice for the year with his riveting performance in Whiplash.
I’m a big fan of film adaptations of Dennis Lehane’s novels and short stories – Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, Mystic River. Add The Drop to the list.
A much smaller film in scope than the others, The Drop is filmed primarily in a bar and a couple of Brooklyn streets. The threat and dread of violence simmers beneath the surface of this crime drama, but it is the dialogue (and Tom Hardy’s performance) that is the highlight – the first to be adapted for the silver screen by Lehane himself.
The Drop also marks the English-language debut of award-winning Belgian director Michael R Roskam (Bullhead – nominated for 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar). It’s an auspicious debut.
Wholly and utterly engrossing. A man, a car and a (hands-free) phone. No flashbacks, no cutaways, no histrionics – the narrative simply unfolds in front of our eyes. Brilliant!
Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson) is extraordinary and holds our attention throughout. But Locke is also technically inspiring and totally intriguing. It is, after all, only Tom Hardy on screen driving a car (at night) and talking into a phone…