Top Ten Suppoting Performances of the Decade (Male) – Richard Gere, “Chicago”.

Number 10 – Richard Gere as Billy Flynn in “Chicago”.

The ruling on Gere’s performance in “Chicago” is that he was a lead.  I disagree, but the Screen Actor’s Guild didn’t when he was nominated for Best Actor in a Lead Role, nor did the Golden Globes when he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.  But, the Teen Choice Awards did nominate him for best movie “villain”…even though he wasn’t…  In any event, I seem to be in the minority on this, so I digress.  In Rob Marshall’s “Chicago”, the role of Billy Flynn was the role that held the film together, in a predominantly female cast – Billy Flynn, the smooth talking, suave and charismatic lawyer was the role for a talented actor like John Travolta, or Kevin Spacey – an actor who could not only act, but sing and dance as well, and both Spacey and Travolta had that talent and I’m sure they would have made a fine Billy Flynn.  Rob Marshall decided to go with an actor who hadn’t been in previous films where he sings and dances (although in Coppola’s “The Cotton Club” Gere does show some musical savvy).  Gere, to this point hadn’t had a whole lot of hits, “Autumn in New York”, “Runaway Bride”, “The Jackel” and Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women” were all films he had done prior to 2002.  They were mostly forgettable films, it appear as if he played out his card in just starring in “chick flicks”.  But that year Gere came out with two stellar films, with two great performances, one in “Unfaithful“, and the second of course being “Chicago”.

Richard Gere as "Billy Flynn" in Rob Marshall's "Chicago".

Richard Gere magically pulled off the dance and singing numbers that were required by this George Clooney esq character.  Gere was perfect on the outside he had all the makings of Billy Flynn, a dashingly good-looking man, that oozes with wit and charm.  But what Gere lacked was the vocal ability to sing the three numbers in the film that he is apart of.  I remember first seeing the film in theaters seeing Gere gliding around in his first musical number singing in a campy Chicago accent.  But Gere did pull it off.  Then he pulled it off again, then again, and again.  Gere proved something in this film that he hadn’t prior, and very well may not in the future either (although I’m calling a dark horse nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the upcoming “Brooklyn’s Finest”).  He showed us he is an amazing talent, that he can act, sing and dance.

I tend to agree with Sean Penn that Golden Globes are meaningless, that they don’t hold much clout.  I agree to a certain point (although if I won one, I would thank my Mom, and cry for joy) but in certain cases, I do believe that they mean a lot, they sometimes get it right.  When Colin Farrell won for “In Bruges”, and the best picture going to “Babel” and when Richard Gere won his Globe for Best Actor (Musical/Drama) for “Chicago”.  I was just pleased that he was recognized, and I was pleased that the SAG recognized him that year too.  I am saying that Gere gave the best performance that year?  Absolutely not.  Daniel Day-Lewis gave the best performance that year in “Gangs of New York”, a close second would be a tie between Gere and Michael Caine for “The Quiet American” but the Academy didn’t even nominate Richard Gere, and completely ignored him.  He must have had the Mickey Rourke syndrome of having burnt, no wait, blown up his bridges by being a tough star to deal with when he was younger.  But of course the Academy was being political and making a statement with Awarding it’s Best Actor, to Adrien Brody for Roman Polanski’s holocaust film, “The Pianist”.

Richard Gere with fellow winner Renee Zellwiger at the 2002 Golden Globes.

Gere’s outstanding performance in “Chicago” launched him back into the A list where he made “The Hoax” which in an incredibly underrated film where he gained weight and wore a prosthetic nose about a wannabe writer who sold his BS story to publishing companies about his character, Clifford Irving, was set to help Howard Hughes write his memoirs.  He also stared in “I’m Not There” playing the Billy the Kid persona of Bob Dylan.  I am very excited about Gere’s upcoming “Brooklyn’s Finest” where in the restricted promo trailer shows Gere waking up to his alarm clock and sitting up in bed – quick cut to Gere at his kitchen table in front of a bowl of cereal where he sits, isolated, and reaches and puts the barrel of his service revolver into his mouth.  My only fear is Gere peaked with “Chicago”, but I am hoping that his best is still to come.

Bring in the Heavy Part II.

Batman Begins – 2005

I am embarrassed to admit this, but I had absolutely no interest to see “Batman Begins”.  I remember seeing the first image released the films website.  All it was the image of the “new” Batmobile.  Then the TV spots started coming out and it looked cheesy to me.  As far as I was concerned Michael Keaton would always be Batman.  Who the hell does Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale think they are?  Batman would always remain in my heart as Michael Keaton.  At this point in time I had grown tired of the mediocre (at best) comic book films hitting the theaters, “DareDevil”, “Hulk”, “Catwoman”, ect.  Boy was I wrong!  “Begins” changed comic book films forever.  It made the industry make them with more sincerity.  But what is really commanding about the film is its cast.  Nolan took the semi-unknown Christian Bale and tossed him into a pool of sharks.  Two-time Academy Award winner Michael Caine (“Hannah and Her Sisters” and also for “The Cider House Rules“),  Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”), Rutger Hauer, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, and Academy Award nominees Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai”), Tom Wilkinson (“In the Bedroom”) and the ultimate Heavy, Liam Neeson (“Schindler’s List”).  Holy great European cast (minus two) Batman!

Liam Neeson as the man who finds Bruce Wayne and forms him into Batman, Henri Ducard.

“Begins” brought sheer realism to the world of comic book films.  The excellent story was sometimes outlandish at times, but what made it believable was the stellar cast.  I truly believe that if you had the entire cast minus Neeson, the film wouldn’t have been as good.  Neeson has almost typecast himself as a mentor or Heavy in recent films like “Star Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Breakfast on Pluto”, “Gangs of New York” and “Batman Begins” but he has been able to still break out in excellent lead roles such as “Kinsey” and “Taken”.  Neeson’s role is vital to the film, since he as Henri Ducard seeks out and finds Bruce Wayne in a Chinese prison and teaches Wayne how to channel his anger and aggression and use it for good, for justice.  In a sense, Ducard is responsible for the birth of Batman.  Neeson’s vital part doesn’t end there, he’s also a major player in the thrilling climax that leaves you wanting to see more Henri Ducard.

Iron Man – 2008

Robert Downey, Jr.?  Really?  You’re getting that guy from “Swingers” to direct it?  No not Vince Vaughn, the other guy.  Wow…this should be interesting. I remember reading about this project and seeing that.  Then Marvel signed Terrance Howard who was hot off his Oscar nomination for “Hustle & Flow“.  I still wasn’t sold.  Then they announced they signed Gwyneth Paltrow?  Come on!  She’s the least deserving Best Actress winner next to Halle Berry.  Then Marvel announces four-time (soon to be five time for “Crazy Heart“) Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges.  SOLD! I was so excited, even though Bridges was playing the cliché mentor/father figure who eventually becomes the villain.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane.

The cast had only slightly interested me prior to Bridges joining since Downey was on a come back with a brilliant performance in “Zodiac” but think about what Marvel and Paramount must have thought.  This was their first production with their new film studio.  And they are putting the studio in the hands of John Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr.  Before you jump on my case about slightly bagging on RDJ, think about it in their perspective.  RDJ was hot when he was younger, being nominated in “Chaplin” and being a box office draw until things took a turn for the worst when his addiction to drugs and alcohol took hold of him.  He was out of the lime light, and in and out of jail and rehab for a couple of years.  He became sober and his first real test was “Iron Man”.

I can almost imagine Favreau sitting in a darkly lit board room, a spot light on him, and all the men who are have egotistical and financial investments in the film sitting at a huge board table in darkness, smoking cigars and drinking Johnny Walker Blue Label, and Favreau is sitting there just sweating.

JF:  Well…um…we have Terrance Howard.

Big Wig #1:  Who?

JF:  He…uh, was just nominated for “Hustle & Flow”.

Big Wig #2:  What’s that?

Big Wig #1:  For a Grammy?  Is this guy a rapper?

Big Wig #3:  Oscars don’t mean anything to my grand kids.

Big Wig #1:  Look we can get Michael Bay and (insert up and coming popularish good-looking shitty actor’s name here).

Big Wig #2:  Look Kid, what else ya got for us?

JF:  (Nervously sweating and getting dry mouth from the heat of the spotlight on him)…Jeff Bridges…?

Big Wig #10:   (coughs on his cigar, exclaims in excitement)  The guy from “Tucker“?!

Big Wig #5:  He was GREAT in “The Last Picture Show”!

Big Wig #35:  Wasn’t he in some Eastwood flick…?  What was it…um…

JF:  “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot“.

All Big Wigs:   Yes!

Big Wig #1:  Alright kid!  You get Bridges and you got yourself a three picture deal with all the actors you want.  Here’s a blank check.  You name it kid you got it!

JF:  Well, I had a thought about the villan for the next installment.

Big Wig #2:  You mean Bridges won’t be in it?  Alright kid.  Who?

JF:  Mickey Rourke.

Big Wig #15:  Don’t push it.

I’m sure it didn’t at all happen like that.  But it’s fun to think it did.  Bridges ties this film together nicely, but it is RDJ that does make the film.  He is Tony Stark.  He is the only actor that could play Tony Stark.  He and Bridges play off of each other so nicely, it’s as if they are actually father and son.  They have this great banter and a give and take with their performances.  The idea of the Heavy, in this case Bridges, is to attract people like my Dad’s age.  Older movie goers who comics don’t really appeal too.  But the fact that Jeff Bridges is in it may steer them to the theaters, and more likely to the DVD rentals.

My Superhero Film Template: Lets bring in the “Heavy” Part 1.

I am very much a fan of superhero films.  Some are poor, others are average, others are good, and there are very few that are excellent.  I have always noticed one similar trait that most superhero films have in common and that would be the “Heavy”.  What’s the “Heavy” you may ask?  Well a Heavy is an actor who is well established in the industry, who brings much clout and a sense of seriousness to the film.  I believe the Heavy is brought onto a project to bring sincerity to the studio as well as to the audience.  The Heavy stars opposite the hero, more times then not the actor brought in to play the hero is either and relatively unknown, or someone who is untested in bringing home a box office success and start a franchise.  Let me start from the beginning…

Superman – 1978

Marlon Brando as Superman's Father, Jor-El.

Richard Donner’s “Superman” was the first serious attempt at bringing superheros to the big screen.  Cast as the Man of Steel was the unknown and untested boyishly charming Christopher Reeve.  So how else does Donner let the studio and audiences know to take this film seriously?  By casting a few Heavies in the film, Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman (both of whom at this point had won Oscars in leading roles). Brando was cast as Jor-El Superman’s diplomatic father who foresees disaster that is intimate to their plant of Krypton and pleads with the Council (lead by veteran English character actor Trevor Howard) to start evacuating Krypton. Though his premonitions are true, Jor-El is banned from notifying the public by Howard and threatened with banishment.  So Jor-El sends his only son, Kal-El to a distant planet to be saved.  Think about how crazy this idea is!  Take the thespian (though not known at the time to the public how insane Brando really was) and put a white wig on him, with some sort of disco era sequined spandex and a bizarre emblem stamped on his chest and you have Marlon Brando as Superman’s Father, Jor-El.  The more surprising part of the ordeal is it works.  It works beautifully.  Brando brings sincerity to the role and brings much authority, telling us, the audience, that we need to pay attention to this film because Marlon Brando is in the opening (and only) scene in the film.

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor.

The next Heavy brought into the film is Gene Hackman playing Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor a criminal mastermind that wants to take Superman’s power and share it with the world but not without taking a cut of the action for himself.  Hackman had already won his Oscar for Best Actor in Lead role for Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection” and been nominated twice for supporting performances in “Bonnie and Clyde” and “I Never Sang for My Father“.  Hackman is commanding as usual in a role he must have relished while playing.  His performance was sometimes a little too comedic for my tastes but it’s still a role that he will forever be remembered for.  To play off of Hackman Donner brought in Ned Beatty who had already been established in the industry and to America as a valued and well versed character actor.  Veteran character actor Glenn Ford was brought in to play Superman’s surrogate “Human” father.

Batman – 1989

Tim Burton’s now overshadowed “Batman” is one work of cinematic genius and the first film I remember seeing in theaters.  It stars the franchise blockbuster untested Michael Keaton who previously starred mainly in comedies and – Jack Nicholson.  My fear is this version and Keaton’s Batman and possibly Nicholson’s Joker will be forgotten in time due to Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and his unbelievably masterful “The Dark Knight”.  Keaton had previously worked mainly in comedies “Mr. Mom”, “Gung-Ho”, “Night Shift”, “Beetle Juice” and “Johnny Dangerously”.  As great as those movies are, and as great as Keaton is in them, he was truly untested to take on the dual roles of playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne and the dark and vengeful Batman.  So how does Burton handle this?  Jack Nicholson.  I must say that Heath Ledger will always be the definite Joker but Nicholson still makes the role his own.  Nicholson plays Jack Napier, a mobster double crossed by his boss, crime kingpin Charles Grissom (played by Jack Palance and Tim Burton said himself in the DVD commentary that no other actor could have believably played Nicholson’s boss).

Jack Nicholson as The Joker.

During the double-crossing at Gotham City’s Axis Chemicals Napier tries to flea the scene, only to be cornered by Gotham PD and Batman and eventually falling into a vat of chemicals that magically transforms his skin white, hair green, and with a wicked a sadistic ear to ear grin.  Nicholson steals every scene he is in, with his memorable one liners (“Where does he get those wonderful toys”, “Wait till they get a load of me”, “Descent people shouldn’t live here, they’d be happier some place else”, “You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses would ya?”) and his over-the-top acting.  But with all the fun that Cesar Romero originally brought to the role, Nicholson takes it one step further, one step darker.  He masks the deeply psychopathic and sadistic side of The Joker with campy humor.  For as great of a tour-de-force Nicholson can be as a dramatic actor, the role of The Joker stands out as one of his best.

Spider-Man – 2002

In 2002’s “Spider-Man” Sam Raimi brought us a fresh and new superhero franchise.  A superhero we had never seen on the big screen before.  Tobey Maguire stared in the title role.  Maguire’s previous work was very good, playing supporting roles in great films such as “The Ice Storm“, “Wonder Boys” and “Pleasantville“.  He, like Keaton and Reeves were untested in holding down a potential blockbuster franchise.  In walks two time Academy Award Nominee Willem Dafoe as the egotistical scientist turned Green Goblin, Norman Osborn.  What makes Dafoe’s performance differ from that of Hackman’s and Nicholson’s is that Dafoe’s performance is better then the film.  Don’t get me wrong, I think “Spider-Man” is a good film, but Dafoe is the best part of it.  Dafoe successfully pulls off the feat of carrying this film on his back, and giving a wonderful showboat of a performance as Norman

Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn.

Osborn/Green Goblin.  Dafoe’s character is given more depth than Hackman’s Lex Luthor and a little more then Nicholson’s Joker.  Osborn is a self-made man who is inherently good and trying to supply the military with the best arms and weaponry he possibly can.  After the Military threatens to cancel their contract, and after the Board of Directors of Oscorp oust Osborn he partakes in an unsupervised experiment of a serum that he created that he takes himself to make him super human (much like the Super Serum used to create Captain America) and the experiment goes detrimentally wrong and turns a businessman into a mass murdering super villian, The Green Goblin.  Willem Dafoe is one of those great character actors that has the ability to break-out when needed, and can step up and give scene stealing performances like he had done in “Platoon”, “Born on the Fourth of July”, “Wild at Heart” and “Shadow of the Vampire” (just to name a few).

End of Part 1.  Coming in part two of “Lets bring in the “Heavy” is “The Hulk”, “Iron Man”, “Batman Begins”, and “Superman Returns”.