Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weekly Top Tens: Femme Fatales - Modern Era Edition

Sadly, the art of being a femme fatale has sadly been all but lost in the modern era, which for the purposes of this list, I defined as my own lifespan (I’m still young damn it!). But these ten ladies played the femme fatale with just as much gusto and oozing sexuality as their predecessors did, so they deserve their own list.

10. Evan Rachel Wood in Pretty Persuasion (2005)
I don’t much like this movie, as it is too scattershot and not nearly as smart or clever as it thinks it is. Yet Evan Rachel Wood’s performance as Kimberly Joyce, the high school femme fatale, is brilliant. Kimberly manipulates everyone in the movie using her sexuality – including teachers, classmates and the media. She starts a rumor that a teacher has sexually harassed her, bringing a media firestorm down on the school at large. But this is just phase one of her plan, that involves her seducing just about everyone in the movie – including a reporter played by Jane Krakowski to use as pawns in her little game. That it all turns out to be a plot to get back at her best friend, who is now dating a boy who dumped Kimberly after she let him do her in the ass (because how could he respect her after she allowed him to do that) is silly and somewhat offensive. Yet four years later, despite my misgivings about the movie (which I have only scratched the surface of her), I have to admit that Wood’s performance remains one of her best – and one that I cannot get out of my mind.

9. Rebecca Romijin in Femme Fatale (2002)
Brian DePalma’s underrated film is one of the best noirs of the decade, in large part due to Romijin’s performance, as Laura Ash, diamond thief turned society girl. After her daring diamond heist, she double crosses her partners, and flees to Paris, where she meets her doppelganger, who kills herself, and allows her to take over the woman’s identity. Six years later, she returns as the wife of the new American ambassador, and is photographed by Nicolas (Antonio Banderas), setting up a series of events, where she tries to get his help to conceal her identity so that her accomplishes from the past don’t find her. Romijin is an actress who has never really been given a role this good before or since. In her opening scenes however, she establishes her brazen sexuality, as she seduces a female supermodel in the bathroom stall at the Cannes Film Festival, and takes off with her diamonds. In the main action of the film, she slowly seduces Banderas, making him think that he is in control, when in reality, he is anything but. This is an underrated performance in an underrated movie that deserves more attention.

8. Ok-vin Kim in Thirst (2009)
Ok-vin Kim’s performance in Chan-wook Park’s Thirst is classic femme fatale material. When she meets the “hero” of the movie, played by Song Kang-ho she plays her part as the put upon wife with the thoughtless husband, and abusive mother-in-law perfectly. Song is a priest, who has recently become a vampire, and is immediately drawn to Kim’s victimhood. The two start a sexual relationship, as Kim finds the kink involved with sleeping with a priest irresistible. When he finally reveals his secret to her, she is at first horrified, but then figures out a way to use it to her advantage. She tells him that her husband is abusive to get him to murder her husband, and eventually transform her into a vampire – which is when her real, evil nature comes out. This is one of the best female roles of the year, and announces Kim as one of the best new actresses around.

7. Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992)
Forget the silly sequel if you can, and think back to the original movie, and how sexy and seductive Stone was in that movie. As author Catherine Tramell, she seduces and plays Michael Douglas’ dumb cop like a fiddle. She is icy cold in the movie, but also incredibly sexy. The classic scene with detective Wayne Knight, where she uncrosses her legs is justly famous, and the sex scenes in the movie are graphic, without ever crossing the line, and are truly erotic. Stone may not be a great actress, but given a role like this one, she knows how to play it to perfection. Yes, the movie is ludicrous, yet you cannot take your eyes off of Stone for a second when she’s on screen.

6. Jennifer Tilly in Bound (1996)
Jennifer Tilly has such a distinctive look, and an even more distinctive voice, that most directors never really know what to do with her. But the Wachowski Brothers cast her perfectly in this modern day noir tale (still their best film, by far). As Violet, the mafia moll of Joe Pantiliano’s money launderer, Violet uses her sexuality to seduce Corky (Gina Gershon), a lesbian handyman who moves in next door to them, and convinces her to steal $2 million in mafia money from him, so the two of them can run off together. Tilly has never been better, or sexier, than she is in this movie. Her seduction of Corky is erotic in the extreme, and she plays the part of femme fatale to perfection, coaxing not only only Pantiliano, but the other mafia men as well. When the movie ends, it ends on a happy note for both her and Corky – but can we really trust her? A great performance in a much underrated movie.

5. Kathleen Turner in Body Heat (1981)
“You’re not too smart are you? I like that in a man”, Turner’s Matty tells the cocky lawyer Ned (William Hurt) early in Body Heat. In her debut performance, Turner had the guts to take on Barbara Stanwyck’s whose role in Double Indemnity is the obvious inspiration for her work here. No, she doesn’t out Stanwyck Stanwyck, but she comes damn close. Turner’s trademark voice, which has become the subject of countless impersonations and mocking, here is as sexy as any female’s voice in cinema history. She seduces Hurt’s Ned to kill her husband for her, but brilliantly gets him to think that it is his idea. He goes along with it. In classic film noir, the sexuality could only be hinted at, but in Body Heat it is front and center. These two characters are in heat, and Turner confidentially plays Hurt like a fiddle. The movie has twist after twist in the plot – perhaps one or two too many – but at the center of it is Turner’s engrossing performance as a woman who uses sex to get what she wants. A brilliant debut performance.

4. Laura Elena Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Elena Harring plays Rita in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, named after the famed Rita Hayworth in Gilda, a poster she sees on the wall. Without a memory of what has happened, she teams up with aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) to try and discover her true identity. It is only slowly that we discover the secrets in Lynch’s brilliant neo noir, and only slowly that we realize what is truly going on. Harring is not as innocent as she seemed at first, and of course neither is Watts. In the films later scenes, Harring is cruel and mocking towards Watts, her former lover, who she is now abandoning, leading her own mental break. Harring is styled after classic femme fatales of the past, and is brilliantly portrayed by Harring – who has never been given an opportunity since to play a role this good.

3. Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns (1992)
Michelle Pfeiffer is the quintessential Catwoman, and the perfect femme fatale for Tim Burton to insert into his film noir version of Batman. She starts out as the meek, mild mannered Salina Kyle, but quickly transforms into Catwoman, the sexy seductress with the skin tight vinyl cat suit, bright red lips a whip, and a kittenish purr of a voice that made her the object of countless wet dreams. In the cat suit, Pfeiffer seduces Batman (including the unforgettable scene where she licks his face), and then out of the cat suit, Kyle starts a relationship with Bruce Wayne. No matter what she is wearing, Pfeiffer has never been sexier than she in this movie, and despite the fact that she has received more than one Oscar nomination, this for me will always be her best performance.

2. Nicole Kidman in To Die For (1995)
Gus Van Sant’s wonderful film mixes film noir with a media satire, as Kidman’s Susan Stone plays a lowly TV weather girl who dreams of becoming a big news star. She sees her sweet but lunk headed husband (Matt Dillon) as getting in the way of her dreams. Working on a documentary film about teenagers, she meets Joaquin Phoenix and Allison Folland, and seduces both in different ways. In Stone, Folland sees a glamorous role model, and the type of girl in high school who would never give her the time of day. Stone takes a more direct approach with Phoenix, seducing him and beginning an affair with him, threatening to cut it off if he doesn’t kill her husband for her. Kidman puts his icy good looks, and natural born sexuality to great use here. Bubbly and perky in front of the camera, coolly seductive to Phoenix, and then just downright cruel, this is perhaps the best performance of Kidman’s career – and a perfect modern femme fatale.

1. Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction (1994)
Linda Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory is one of the most sexual, seductive femme fatales of any era. Stealing $700,000 from her drug dealing husband (Bill Pullman), she arrives in a small town and immediately hooks up with the lunk headed Mike (Peter Berg), just back from Buffalo following a quick marriage and divorce. She is looking for sex, which he provides, but he wants more. She gets a job at the same insurance firm as Mike, and quickly figures out a way to tell when men are cheating on their wives by viewing their credit reports. She then goes out of town for a while, and when she comes back, she shows Mike the cash, and convinces him that she got it by murdering a cheating husband, and splitting the insurance money with the widow. She then convinces Mike to do the same thing – setting her own husband up as the victim. Fiorentino is brilliant in this role, coming across as innocent when faced with the police, but in reality she is a stone cold sociopath, who uses her sexuality to play all the men she meets brilliantly. Fiorentino gained a reputation for being hard to work with, and her career never really took off, but she will always have this performance – one of the very best of the 1990s – as her career best. Simply amazing work.

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