Thursday, June 9, 2011

Brad Pitt's 10 Best Performances

I had a lot of fun last week writing about my favorite Woody Allen movies in preparation for Midnight in Paris, so this week I decided to do something similar with Brad Pitt performances. Brad Pitt became a sex symbol 20 years ago with his performance in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise. While I hate that movie, Pitt has proven time and again that there is real talent underneath his looks. Yes, there are times when Pitt simply coasts on his charm but when Pitt is given the right role, he is one of the best actors out there right now. Tomorrow, I will see his latest - Terence Malick’s Tree of Life - for which he is getting great reviews, and perhaps will change this list. Until then, these are my 10 favorite Brad Pitt performances. Some will probably complain that I left off many of Pitt’s most popular movies, but I was far more impressed by the work done in these films - even as good as he is at playing the “movie star” roles (truly few currently do them better). Anyway, here are my 10 favorites from his career.

10. Kalifornia (1993)
In Dominic Sena’s under seen and under rated film, Brad Pitt gives his first truly great performance. Starring alongside then girlfriend Juliette Lewis, a pre X-Files David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes, Pitt plays a dirty, greasy serial killer, proving very early in his career that he didn’t mind taking non-glamorous roles. Duchovny and Forbes are traveling across the country researching a book on serial killers, who end up picking up Pitt and Lewis, and getting a rude awakening to the reality on which they were trying to exploit. Pitt is cold blooded and merciless in the film, slowly drawing the couple into his game, before forcing them to confront him at his level. A great performance and a sign of things to come for Pitt.

9. True Romance (1993)
Brad Pitt has only a few scenes in Tony Scott’s True Romance - but does he ever make the most of them. It was apparently Pitt’s idea to make his character into a stoner who never leaves the couch in the film. He plays the roommate of another major character, and everyone in the film at one point or another shows up to questions, and get frustrated by his casual, stoner ramblings. Pitt is absolutely hilarious in this movie - he practically steals it from a stellar cast - everyone obviously having a lot of fun with Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue.

8. Snatch (2000)
Pitt is often at his best when he is having fun – and I’m not sure he had more fun in any movie than he had in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. The movie itself is only average – it follows Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels formula pretty much exactly, but this time with bigger stars, like Pitt. And yet, the film is an entertaining crime film in its own right – and it really comes alive when Pitt in on screen. In a supporting role as Mickey O’Neill, and an “Irish Traveler” boxer, who speaks so quickly, and in his own dialect, which is pretty much completely unintelligible to anyone in the movie or the audience. The plot gets overly complicated, yet whenever Pitt is around, talking with his over the top accent (does he even know what the hell he was supposed to be saying), the film is pure joy.

7. Seven (1995)
This is the first movie that Pitt made with director David Fincher - which is easily the most fruitful director/actor collaboration of Pitt’s career. Pitt turned down a chance to star in the more audience friendly Apollo 13 to make this extremely dark movie about a pair of cops - one closing in on retirement (Morgan Freeman) and one newly minted big city detective (Pitt) on the trail of a sadistic serial killer committing a murder for each of the seven deadly sins. Pitt’s performance isn’t even the best of the movie - both Freeman and Kevin Spacey, who plays John Doe are better - but his performance truly is great as well. He is immature and impatient, but also eager to learn from the experience of Freeman. His final scene in the film is truly one of the most memorable climaxes ever put on screen, and he is a big reason why. The Pitt and Fincher movies would get better from here, but this is a hell of performance and film.

6. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Pitt may essentially be playing a caricature in Quentin Tarantino’s alternative history WWII epic, but what a caricature! From his first scene, addressing his Basterds with his demented hillbilly accent, you know you are in for a treat from Pitt. There is nothing subtle about the performance, but it is such tremendous fun I cannot complain about it. Pitt has the right charm and charisma to pull off this role, goes over the top, but not too far over the top to make it ridiculous. A truly great, fun performance by Pitt - and who knew he could speak Italian so well?

5. Burn After Reading (2008)
I think that in order to play dumb well, you have to be pretty smart - and if that’s true that judging on Pitt’s performance in the Coen brothers delirious, cynical poison pill of a movie, than Brad Pitt is a genius. He is so gloriously stupid, dancing around as a gym employee, throwing a medicine ball around, and having each and every thing said to him go completely over his head. Pitt remains completely clueless right up until his hilariously tragic end. Pitt once again delivers one of his best performances by not being afraid of looking like an idiot. He has never been funnier than he is here.

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Brad Pitt’s performance in David Fincher’s wonderful three hour rumination on death is much more complex than it first appears. True, Pitt is very much passive in this performance - allowing the colorful characters around him to often take center stage. And yet, despite that, it is Pitt that I remember most about this film. His performance as a man who ages backwards requires Pitt to play the title’s character entire life on film. Pitt doesn’t overreach, doesn’t try for affect, or to milk tears from us. Instead, it is a quiet, introspective performance about a man who accepts his lot in life, and tries to live it the best he can. Although Fincher’s film received 13 Oscar nominations, including one for Pitt, I seem to be one of the only people who will admit he loves the film. I do. It took guts for Fincher to essentially make a three hour, slow moving fairy tale about death. And it took guts for Pitt to deliver this performance - one of his very best.

3. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Pitt received his first Oscar nomination as the insane Jeffrey Goines in Terry Gilliam’s wonderfully strange sci-fi film. Pitt plays a man in an insane asylum, who comes into contact with the “hero” of the movie, Bruce Willis, who believes that Goines – an animal rights activist and anti-consumerist fanatic who may be among those responsible for the current state of the world – where everyone is trapped underground, as the surface has been ravaged by viruses. Pitt may end up being a red herring, but his performance as a schizophrenic, which he spent a long time researching, is always the first thing I think about when I think of the film. It truly is a wonderfully whacked performance.

2. Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club was not a huge hit when it was first released, but in the years since it has probably become Pitt’s most iconic performance. As Tyler Durden, the crazed founder of Fight Club, and screwed up philiosopher, Pitt steps front and center into the movie and takes over for our more passive narrator Edward Norton. Pitt’s performance in the film is charming and funny, yes, but it is also brutal in its violence. Pitt seduces the audience with that famous charm, getting us slowly on his side, until you realize just how crazy it all is in the final reel. Tyler Durden has become one of those instantly recognizable character names, and it’s because of Pitt’s performance, who in my mind is truly the heart of the movie, even if he is not the central character – or of course, not a real character at all. Pitt has always done some of his best work with David Fincher – and here he truly outdid himself.

1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
It’s a shame that Andrew Dominik’s brilliant The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of Pitt’s least seen films, because it truly is his best performance by far. Most of the praise was heaped on Casey Affleck, and deservedly so for his brilliant performance as Robert Ford, a kind of old West Mark David Chapman, but Pitt is equally brilliant as the iconic outlaw Jesse James. Pitt plays a James reaching the end of his life, and who is tired of being an outlaw – even more tired of being a celebrity. All he wants to do is settle down, but he knows that can never happen. Pitt’s eyes in this film are remarkable – slightly crazed when he is about to kill someone, but most of all just simply tired and weary, right up until his magnificent final scene when he knows exactly what is coming, and even helps it along. There is not question in my mind that this is Pitt’s finest performance.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I really enjoyed your post! I love Brad and I think he's a great actor. I also love what he did in "Meet Joe Black" & "Legends of the fall". Now I want to see "The tree of life", I've heard that it's Oscar material :)