Top 10 Performances of 2013: #3

12-years-a-slave-michael-fassbender

3. Michael Fassbender: 12 Years A Slave


A textbook performance. Best Supporting Actor was the only Oscar outcome I really had an issue with. Leto did fine work in Dallas Buyers Club, but I thought Fassbender was miles ahead of him. From the first moment he’s onscreen in that profile close shot the tension onscreen increases exponentially. From a narrative standpoint, supporting characters are meant to introduce a variable to the main storyline that wasn’t present prior to their entrance. Nobody did that more effectively or more importantly than Fassbender did. In the hands of a lessor actor, this role could have been something of a “mustache twirler,” but Fassbender absolutely nails the complexity of this character, a professional dehumanizer who clearly hates himself and attempts to hide behind religion and booze. His every move is threatening, unpredictable, but Fassbender’s brilliance here is in how he doesn’t ever fully boil over, even in the enthralling “whipping sequence.” I really feel that with all the praise heaped at this film, Fassbender’s performance was somehow overlooked and subsequently under-praised. McQueen himself appears to feel the same way, highlighting his performance specifically in so many of his award acceptance speeches. Actors and filmmakers will be studying this performance for a long time to come.

Top 10 Performances of 2013: #4

FRUITVALE

4. Michael B. Jordan: Fruitvale Station

The biggest Oscar snub by far in my opinion. He’s been at it since he was young and was great on The Wire as a teenager but this is an incredibly mature and accomplished performance for someone his age. There was no more full picture of a single character than Jordan painted for us in Fruitvale Station. This film reminded me a bit of classic neo-realism like Bicycle Thieves, showing us a single day in the life of a completely ordinary citizen simply living his life that day and all that entails. Fruitvale is not about a shooting, it’s about a young man who’s life was taken abruptly and unexpectedly. What the film does best is show us Oscar Grant’s humanity, which is channeled through and personified to the smallest detail by Michael B. Jordan in a nuanced, understated and moving performance. The academy seemed to only have enough room in their collective hearts for one “black film” this year, which is a real shame, because I actually thought this one was better than the one they chose.

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The Sudden Rise of the “Magic Indian”

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

There is concept in film studies called “the Magic Negro.”  The magic negro is a character through which a white protagonist achieves their objective, narrative or otherwise.  Its a concept as old and enduring as the feature film itself.  Famous recent examples include The Green Mile, The Blind Side, The Help, Jerry Maguire, and every Whoopi Goldberg film.  Despite many fine performances and some quality cinema that has come out of this vein, the magic negro as a narrative device is problematic precisely because it essentially reduces black characters to mere narrative devices.  In other words, it has a dehumanizing effect.  Needless to say, I would be remiss for calling myself the Mixed American Film Buff if I didn’t keep an eye out for this, and frankly, its never too hard to spot.  Sadly, when you look closely, there are few roles written for black actors that don’t adhere to this trope.  Continue reading