Friday, May 29, 2020

Classic Movie Review: Report to the Commissioner (1975)

Report to the Commissioner (1975) 
Directed by: Milton Katselas.
Written by: Abby Mann and Ernest Tidyman based on the novel by James Mills.
Starring: Michael Moriarty (Bo Lockley), Yaphet Kotto (Richard 'Crunch' Blackstone), Susan Blakely (Patty Butler), Hector Elizondo (Captain D'Angelo), Tony King (Thomas 'Stick' Henderson), Michael McGuire (Lt. Hanson), Edward Grover (Captain Strichter), Dana Elcar (Chief Perna), Bob Balaban (Joey Egan), William Devane (Asst. D.A. Jackson), Stephen Elliott (Police Commissioner), Richard Gere (Billy), Vic Tayback (Lt. Seidensticker), Albert Seedman (Detective Schulman).
Report to the Commissioner is the kind of gritty cop flick that the 1970s seemed to produce at will, but which Hollywood has forgotten how to make – or perhaps more accurately, completely lost interest in making. This is a cynical film, about how the police system itself grinds everyone down to nothing – uses them, and discards them when they are no longer needed. It isn’t a perfect film – the lead performance is far too obvious, going for intensity, but going too far – and you figure out where it’s going before it gets there. Still, it’s a refreshing look back at an era of Hollywood moviemaking where something like this could be made.
The film is told with a complex flashback structure. Bo Lockley (Michael Moriarty) is a young cop on the NYPD – new to the detective division, and still really too green, too naïve for his own good. We find out in the films first scene that Lockely has shot and killed a young woman – and that young woman is Patty Butler (Susan Blakely), a young, pretty, blonde undercover cop. The how and why of the shooting will take most of the film to unravel. Until we get there, we spend a lot of time with Lockley as he tries to learn the ropes of his new job – being taken under the wing of the more experiences Crunch Blackstone (Yaphet Kotto) – who shows Lockley pretty clearly the kind of moral compromises are needed to be a cop here. We also see Patty, as she slips deeper and deeper undercover – first being the kind of minor undercover agent, scoring drugs to arrest dealers, before getting to go ahead to go deeper and deeper and try to get information on Stick (Tony King) – a major dealer. This will require her to become Stick’s “girl” – but her superiors (one of whom is play by Hector Elizondo) think it will be good for their careers, so they approve it. Of course, once Lockley shoots her – the whole thing threatens to become a giant shit show.
The film is suitably intense. Directed by Milton Katselas, mainly on the streets of New York itself, the films major goal seems to be that street level intensity – and it mainly succeeds, especially in the later scenes, which feature some intense chase scenes through the streets of New York. That chase sequences – followed by an intense hostage situation are the highlight of the film. There are moments that stick out a little like a sore thumb – where that authenticity slips a little, although I don’t think you can really blame the film for casting a young Richard Gere as a pimp – a realization that takes you out of it a little.
The biggest problem is probably Michael Moriaty’s performance. Moriarty has always been a talented actor – but I’m not sure he always figured out the best way to channel his intensity for the good of a role. Here, he always seems to be just this side of either catatonic, or on the verge of tears or a nervous breakdown. It’s a performance that calls too much attention to itself. Better are the performances by Kotto – who grounds his character is a realistic cynicism, or Blakely – who makes Patty smart, ambitious and genuinely likable. Tony King is very good as Stick – so good in fact that you wonder why he didn’t become a bigger star, or at least more of a working character actor in the years after this.
Report to the Commissioner is the kind of forgotten film that happens all the time – films come out, and some are remembered, but many are simply forgotten – especially when the film wasn’t directed by a big name, and doesn’t star a big name either. To be fair, this isn’t a great film. But it’s a good one – one that can scratch that itch for a gritty, cynical 1970s cop movie for when you’ve seen Serpico or Prince of the City or The French Connection too many times.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Movie Review: The Trip to Greece

The Trip to Greece **** / *****
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom.
Starring: Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan), Rob Brydon (Rob Brydon), Kareem Alkabbani (Kareem), Marta Barrio (Yolanda), Cordelia Bugeja (Steve's Ex Wife), Richard Clews (Steve's Dad), Justin Edwards (UK Agent), Rebecca Johnson (Sally), Claire Keelan (Emma), Timothy Leach (Joe), Harry Tayler (Young Dad), Michael Towns (Alexander), Tessa Walker (Chloe).
For the fourth, and apparently final, time in the last 10 years, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon hit the road together, travelling through a different country apparently to eat at fancy restaurants so they can write a magazine piece for The Guardian. No, that doesn’t make much sense, but no, it doesn’t matter at all. The reason to see these movies – and keep seeing them – is to watch these two gifted comedic actors, playing versions of themselves as they try to one-up each other, get through their mid-life crisis (or not) and show off their insecurities. Each movie in the series is good – but it’s one of those series where the sum is greater than the individual parts. It’s always nice to revisit these two – always fun, always funny, but increasingly, the films have become more serious as well, more willing to explore more than just the insecurities of middle-aged, rich, white male entertainers. The last film, The Trip to Spain, left Coogan on a dark road in Africa, being confronted by extremists – all because he wanted to have a “real” adventure, not just the safe ones he had been going on with Brydon for years now. In The Trip to Greece, mortality is a focus – Coogan’s dad is sick during the trip, and he receives updates on his health, while hiding it from Brydon – and everyone else. Brydon, who has always been slightly more secure and together, at least compared to Coogan, starts to feel a little more of the creep of middle age as well. He started his family later than Coogan – whose kids are grown, while Brydon’s are still young. His wife is younger him as well. And he doesn’t want to lose her.
All of this is sprinkled throughout the last chapter of this series – The Trip to Greece – as well as some other moments that puncture the bubble of these two men playing with, and off each other. They like to needle each other, although Coogan, the more famous of the two men, is also more thin skinned. He bristles at the idea of being classified as a “comedian” – even when Brydon points out his BAFTA nomination was for playing a comedian (which leads to the pair doing a funny bit – Laurel and Tom Hardy, which I think I could have watch forever). Brydon has always just felt more comfortable in his skin – more comfortable with his position in life, his career, etc. Coogan is always striving for something else – something just out of reach.
The pair, of course, need each other. They need to have that audience, the validation that they give to each other. It’s why they keep coming back together again. There is a certain comfort level between the two of them that has grown through these movies. To be honest, I could go on watching more installments of The Trip every three years for the rest of Coogan and Brydon’s lives. Each new chapter continues to be funny, even if the pair do repeat some bits (perhaps, especially because they do) – and because each new chapter finds them in a slightly different phase of life, running away from slightly different problems, confronting something new. Taken separately, each of these movies is good. As a whole, this series is something altogether more special – perhaps the crowning achievement of the careers of Coogan, Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom. Before Winterbottom made these films, he made one of the worst of his career – The Road to Guantanamo, about some friends who unwittingly found themselves in the American prison for terrorists, through a series of what could be called a comedy of errors. It was about people who didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into – who were blinkered from the outside world. It also didn’t really work – it was a fiction/documentary hybrid, and Winterbottom never found the right tone. Oddly, with The Trip movies, he seems to have accomplished something similar. He has always shown the difference between Coogan and Brydon, and the restaurant workers preparing their meals. Over the course of the series, he’s gradually allowed more and more of the outside world to intrude on the proceedings – here there is even an acknowledgement of the European refugee crisis, done in a comic way.
As an individual chapter in this series, The Trip to Greece is better than the other three chapters. But as a capping off of this decade long project, it makes you appreciate just what the trio here has accomplished. If this is indeed the last chapter, then I’ll miss the series. If they decide to do more, I for one, couldn’t be happier.

Movie Review: The Painter and the Thief

The Painter and the Thief *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Benjamin Ree
What an odd, beguiling documentary The Painter and the Thief turns out to be. I don’t necessarily think it’s entirely successful – and the structure of the film serves to make the film more contrived than it needed to be – but it’s ultimately a documentary about the subject that most documentaries avoid – the power imbalance between the artist and their subject. And the film adds in another layer to this as well – as it is about a painter and a thief, and their power imbalance, but then complicates that imbalance as it moves along – eventually even questioning the relationship to the movie itself, with both of its subjects. It’s the type of thing that will be studied by documentary students for years, even if the film doesn’t quite live up to its lofty ambitions.
The film begins with a robbery – two junkies break into a Norwegian art gallery, and steal two paintings by Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech painter, living with her Norwegian boyfriend. That she is talented is clear – but she hasn’t exactly become a star of the art world – and even if her paintings were valued only at 20,000 Euros total, you wonder if she could sell them even for that. Still, the paintings are good – and immensely personal for Kysilkova. The thieves are quickly apprehended, but the paintings are gone – one of the thieves won’t say anything about the whereabouts of the painting her ended up with, the other says he doesn’t know. It’s the latter of these two that is the thief of the title – Karil-Bertil Nordland. Kysilkova boldly approaches him at his trial, not angry, but inquiring if she could paint him. The first act of the film culminates with Kysilkova showing Nordland her portrait of him – and him breaking down in tears. It’s the type of reaction that you know Benjamin Ree wanted – to have Nordland feel seen for the first time, and get that reaction on camera. Had the film ended there, it may have been a fascinating little short.
But Ree continues, and continues to complicate matters. If the first act is locked into Kysilkova’s perspective, the second makes the choice to lock in on Nordland’s. Like it said in the extraordinary Portrait of a Lady on Fire, yes, the artist sees their subject – their model. But while they are posing for you, they are also observing you. Nordland may well feel seen by Kysilkova – but he also sees her. The movie becomes about their complicated, co-dependent relationship that develops between the pair of them. The different roles the play, the personas they adopt, etc. The movie doesn’t want to fall into the trap that one can argue the painting does – which is to reduce people to easily digestible stereotypes, to make it easier for the audience.
It is a lofty goal, and an admirable one, and had Ree been able to really pull it off, then The Painter and the Thief may well have been a masterwork. But I have a feeling Ree knows he didn’t quite pull it off, which is why he fiddles unnecessarily with the structure of the film – he’ll often show us an event, than circle back to show us what lead to it – and then continue the thread from there. So for Nordland, there is a horrific car accident, that leaves him in need of physical therapy – and a stint in Norwegian jail (which looks like a nice summer camp). For Kysilkova, the film delves into some issues she has with her boyfriend – who isn’t sure he likes this relationship for her, and her own economic circumstances (a lot of time is spent on rent – which ultimately ends up going nowhere).
The film is able to bring it altogether for one last, devastating shot -the type of shot that you will remember long after you’ve forgotten the details of the movie. Ree has a gift there – his film really does feel like it could be a work of fiction – a style that recalls perhaps the Dardenne brothers. The film looks great. And the high moments of the film are exceptional. I just cannot shake the feeling that perhaps Ree is playing with things a little too much – playing with the audience too much – to make a completely satisfying movie. There is so much here to admire – I just wish the entire package came together better.

Movie Review: The Lodge

The Lodge **** / *****
Directed by: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz.
Written by: Sergio Casci and Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala.
Starring: Riley Keough (Grace), Jaeden Martell (Aidan), Lia McHugh (Mia Hall), Richard Armitage (Richard), Alicia Silverstone (Laura), Danny Keough (Aaron Marshall), Lola Reid (Young Grace), Philippe Ménard (Boy), Jarred Atkin (Priest at Funeral).
If you can get through some fairly jarring plot twists and leaps in logic, The Lodge is about as good as horror movies these days get. Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, whose last film Goodnight Mommy, became a cult hit, allowing them this opportunity to make their English language debut, know what they’re doing in constructing a slow-burn horror movie. Both movies are about children, and the lengths they go to torment a parent – or potential stepparent, as in The Lodge. And both movie are slow burn horror films, gradually building the tension up and up and up, until it needs to be released. Goodnight Mommy became more violent as it went along – but I think The Lodge does it one better, by becoming more disturbing.
In the film, Grace (Riley Keough) is the new girlfriend of Richard (Richard Armitage) – who was in the process of divorcing Laura (Alicia Silverstone) when she committed suicide, shortly after he tells her he wants to get remarried. Their two kids, Aidan (Jarden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) aren’t thrilled to be getting a new stepmother so soon, are fiercely protective of their mother even in death, and want to show Grace who she’s dealing with. They know a little about her past – her father was a cult leader, the rest of the cult killed themselves when Grace was just a child, but they don’t really know how deep her trauma is – or the extent of her mental illness.
The Lodge of the title is the family lodge – way up north somewhere which Richard, making one of the dumbest parental decisions in cinema history, decides would be a good place to spend Christmas – allowing the kids to get to know Grace. And what better way to accelerate the process than to leave the two kids and Grace alone together, so he can go back to work. A storm hits, the road become impassable, and communication with the outside world is pretty much cut off. None of this seems to worry Richard very much – who waits day after day before attempting to get up there, or ahold of anyone. Really, Richard is responsible for everything that happens.
So yeah, you do have to cut the film some slack. Clearly, what the filmmakers wanted is to get the kids and Grace together, and not give them room for escape – and even if they contrive an unbelievable way to do that, once they are trapped, the movie is really effective. Much of the reason belongs to Keough – who has quickly become one of the more interesting actresses working. Here, she is given a juicy role as a woman who means well – she wants to bond with Richard’s children – but for whom isolation, her past, and her mental illness makes her descend deeper and deeper, closer to madness.
The film has a clip of the trio watching The Thing (1982) – and will likely remind viewers of Kubrick’s The Shining as well, perhaps crossed with Hereditary. It isn’t a particularly original concept – people trapped in a snowbound, isolated house go insane – but it’s one handled well here. The film is a slow creep of the insanity – with three very effective performances.
So, yes, the movie is more contrived than I would have liked – but that contrivance is necessary to put these three characters – a would-be stepmother, and the two children who don’t want her, isolated together. From there, the filmmakers make a wonderful, creepy, disturbing – and at times scary movie – that ends perhaps the only way it could.

Movie Review: Young Ahmed

Young Ahmed *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne.
Starring: Idir Ben Addi (Ahmed), Myriem Akheddiou (Inès), Victoria Bluck (Louise), Claire Bodson (La mère), Othmane Moumen (Imam Youssouf), Amine Hamidou (Rachid), Yassine Tarsimi (Abdel), Cyra Lassman (Yasmine), Frank Onana (Fouad), Laurent Caron (Mathieu), Annette Closset (Sandrine), Olivier Bonnaud (Caseworker).
The Dardenne brothers latest film, Young Ahmed, is nowhere near as good as their previous films – but it’s not really for the reason that made it so controversial at Cannes, and since its release. Those criticisms – that two, old white Frenchmen shouldn’t be making a movie focused on a young Muslim who becomes radicalized, is not without merit – because what would they really know about this person? But the more fundamental problem is that the Dardenne’s style doesn’t really lend itself to a portrait of this type of person. The Dardenne’s cinema has always been in the neo-realist vein, and it continues so here, but there style The Dardenne’s movies are usually about morally conflicted characters – and their style is to follow their protagonists, with their camera trained on them – often their face, sometimes the back of their head, as if they are trying to bore into their skull, and see what is there – see the thought process, the conflict inside. And with Young Ahmed, there just isn’t that much conflict. Ahmed is a young Muslim man, in his teens, who following the death of his father has come under the sway of a charismatic young Imam, who preaches Jihad. Ahmed’s plan is to target another Muslim – his teacher, Ines (Myriem Akheddiou), because at her homework Academy, she teaches modern Arabic, and not Quran Arabic. Ahmed isn’t please with his mother either – she drinks, she doesn’t wear the hijab, etc., and older sister, who he tells dresses like a slut, when really, she dresses like a normal teenager. There isn’t an abundance of growth in him either – his plan is foiled, he is sent to a program for troubled teens, but as soon as he is able, he is back on the Jihad path again. He has a one-track mind, so it isn’t particularly interesting to try and stare into it.
Now, of course, because the Dardenne’s are master filmmakers, Young Ahmed isn’t a horrible movie – but like their last film, The Unknown Girl, it just isn’t up to the standards they themselves have set with movies like Rosetta, The Son, L’Enfant, The Kid with a Bike or Two Days One Night. Here, they seem more resigned than anything else. They don’t really have answers as to how a kid like Ahmed becomes radicalized – he starts the movie when the process is already pretty much complete – nor how a liberal, Western democracy can reach him once that has happened. The system treats him with respect – he is sent to a nice place, where he is allowed to prey and practice his religion, where he is given a certain amount of freedom, and where rehabilitation, not punishment, is the goal. But even coming into contact with nice people his own age – like Louise (Victoria Bluck), who likes him almost immediately, doesn’t seem to be able to penetrate him. Louise flirts with him, and kisses him in a field one day – which really causes the only confusion in Ahmed we see the entire movie. He is conflicted – he likes Louise, he likes kissing her, etc. But his solution to the guilt and shame he feels for doing what he has done with her, is to try and convince her to convert to Islam – then his sin wouldn’t be as great. She, understandably, doesn’t agree.
The controversy around the movie is, I think, mostly unearned. The Dardenne’s are very clear about separating the faith of Islam, from those who take their faith, and turn it into violence. They allow a full spectrum of views, and Muslims, into the fray here – and that does require a certain view of extremism. The film does understand the type of young man who can become radicalized – those who are already hurt and angry, and looking for something to take all that hurt and anger out on. Unfortunately, I don’t think it ever really delves any deeper into Ahmed than that. The Dardenne’s are arguably the most empathetic of all modern filmmakers – but empathy requires understanding, and I don’t think they ever truly crack Ahmed. The end of the film also feels like a cheat.
The Dardenne’s remain among the best filmmakers in the world – you can see that even in their lesser films, and Young Ahmed may just be the weakest film the brothers have ever made. You can admire their intentions – and yes, their ambition here – and the film basically works on a scene by scene level – it just never quite adds up to anything more than that. Perhaps the basic criticism of the movie is right – that because the Dardenne’s could not, or at least do not, fully understand Ahmed, they shouldn’t have made a film about him.

Movie Review: The Lovebirds

The Lovebirds ** / *****
Directed by: Michael Showalter.
Written by: Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall and Martin Gero.
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani (Jibran), Issa Rae (Leilani), Anna Camp (Edie), Paul Sparks (Moustache), Kyle Bornheimer (Brett), Kelly Murtagh (Evonne), Moses Storm (Steve), Barry Rothbart (Mr. Hipster), Aaron Abrams (Paramedic).
Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae both deserve better than The Lovebirds – a rather lifeless comedy that the pair nevertheless do their best to breathe life into. They play Jibran and Leilani – who we first meet in the aftermath of a would-be one-night stand, that turns into a real date, which turns into a relationship. Flash forward four years, and the pair are living together, but don’t seem to like each other much. He thinks she, and her obsession with reality shows and social media, is shallow, she thinks he, a documentary filmmaker who spends all his time editing a documentary he may never finish, is satisfied with being a failure. They break up, but still have to go on a ride together in their car. It’s then that they hit a biker with their car. The biker immediately gets up, says its okay, and takes off. But then a cop jumps into their car, takes over driving, chases down the biker and runs him over – repeatedly, showing, of course, that he wasn’t a cop after all. Jibran and Leilani aren’t dumb enough – or white enough – to turn themselves into the cops, so they take the dead man’s cell phone, and try to crack the mystery of his death,
The film is supposed to be a comedy or remarriage – popular in the 1940s, where divorced or on their way to being divorced, couples find themselves drawn back together by circumstances beyond their control. Here, it doesn’t really work for a few reasons – the most fatal of which is that while Nanjiani and Rae are great comedic presences, and both are trying really hard here, they never quite feel like a couple either pulled apart, or put back together. Perhaps they could have been that, had they not been forced into such an inane plot, full of would-be set pieces that don’t really work – like Anna Camp, doing a Southern accent, and threatening the pair with bacon grease, or a comedic climax right out of Eyes Wide Shut. If there was a way to make this work, screenwriters Aaron Abrams, Brandan Gall and Martin Gero and director Michael Showalter, don’t find it.
There are isolated moments, mostly in Nanjiani and Rae’s performances, that do work. Nanjiani is perfectly playing the exasperated everyman, and his asides, or sometimes just tired sighs, are downright hilarious. Rae is able to deliver the perfect cutting insult (the best of which “Did you think it was one of those male only doors”) that can elevate rather lame, would-be one liners.
But none of it ever really comes together in a meaningful way. The Big Sick proved that Nanjiani is a movie star – and showed just how solid a director Michael Showalter can be. But here, they are stuck going through the motions – going through one tired set piece after another, and the film never lets the characters breathe. It also never really embraces its dark comic potential after the opening sequence with the biker. This is a Netflix film that was supposed to be a big screen release – sold by its studio after the Covid-19 breakout. It fits perfectly well on Netflix, beside all the other tired programmers – wasting talent and time.

Movie Review: Emma.

Emma. *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Autumn de Wilde.
Written by: Eleanor Catton based on the novel by Jane Austen.
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma Woodhouse), Johnny Flynn (Mr. Knightley), Mia Goth (Harriet Smith), Miranda Hart (Miss Bates), Bill Nighy (Mr. Woodhouse), Josh O'Connor (Mr. Elton), Callum Turner (Frank Churchhill), Amber Anderson (Jane Fairfax), Rupert Graves (Mr. Weston), Gemma Whelan (Miss Taylor / Mrs. Weston), Tanya Reynolds (Mrs. Augusta Elton), Connor Swindells (Robert Martin), Chloe Pirrie (Isabella Knightley), Oliver Chris (John Knightley).
The best thing about Autumn de Wilde’s Emma is how fully the film embraces the inherent silliness of the narrative. Jane Austen, of course, wrote many great novels – and Emma, her last, could easily be dismissed as her most frivolous – and yet there is so much joy in the telling of what is essentially the self-absorption of the main character that you cannot help but enjoy it all – even going so far as to like Emma, who is vain and vapid, and uses people as her own personal playthings. You should hate her – but instead, you are utterly charmed. De Wilde’s film nails this.
Anya Taylor-Joy stars as the title character – a rich woman in the Victorian age, living with her hypochondriac widowed father (a delightful Bill Nighy). Emma Woodhouse is popular in her little social circle of course – people just adore her, and she fancies herself a matchmaker – recently getting setting up the marriage of her au pair, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) to marry the widower, Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves) – something no one thought possible. Her latest mission is to find an appropriate match for Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) – a young woman of unknown parentage, at the school for girls in the area, that she has taken under her wing. Harriet is already in love with farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) – but Emma considers that beneath her – he isn’t poor enough to help out of pity, but not rich enough to take seriously. No, a far better match would be Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), the local vicar. As for her own prospects, she insists she will not marry – she couldn’t leave father – but seems interested in Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), Weston’s son, who has recently become the heir to his rich uncle – and taken his name. Then there is Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), her old rival, and niece to the very annoying Miss Bates (Miranda Hart). Oh, and don’t forget Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), from down the road. He and Emma needle each other with insults – so you know they are really in love.
All of this is so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but the film knows this, embraces it, and turns it all into a delightful farce. Autumn de Wilde would have likely been right at home making screwball comedies in the 1930s Hollywood system. Anya Taylor-Joy is a complete delight as Emma as well – best known for more serious work in films like The Witch, Split or Thoroughbreds, here she completely embraces her comedic side and delivers a wonderful comedic performances. Add in the most elaborate, colorful, and beautiful, yet silly, costumes in a period piece I’ve seen in a while, and you have a delightful package.
I do wish perhaps the film was a little shorter – sustaining this comic momentum for over two-hours is hard, and the film strains more than a little under the weight – especially once you realize who is going to end up with whom (which is the only question really to answer here) – but also realize you still have 45-minutes left in the film. Still, that’s a minor quibble in a film that I basically had a blast watching – and that gets Jane Austen’s novel just right.

Movie Review: Seberg

Seberg ** / *****
Directed by: Benedict Andrews.
Written by: Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse.
Starring: Kristen Stewart (Jean Seberg), Jack O'Connell (Jack Solomon), Anthony Mackie (Hakim Jamal), Margaret Qualley (Linette Solomon), Colm Meaney (Frank Ellroy), Zazie Beetz (Dorothy Jamal), Vince Vaughn (Carl Kowalski), Yvan Attal (Romain Gary), Gabriel Sky (Diego Gary), Stephen Root (Walt Breckman).
Both Jean Seberg, the talented, tragic actress, and Kristen Stewart, the talented actress playing her, deserved better than Seberg – a tired biopic that ends up treating Seberg as a cipher in her own life. The life begins with Seberg on the set of Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan – where the fire set to burn her character at the stake, gets out of control, and ends up burning Seberg herself. The film uses it as a metaphor throughout the film – but it also stands out as being the only scene of its kind in the movie – the only one that shows Seberg acting, her desire to act, to express herself in that way. The film will barely bring up the rest of her career – there is a passing reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, which made her immortal, and a lot of potshots at Paint Your Wagon, but you would be forgiven if you didn’t know Seberg’s career for thinking that she was 1960s version of those women who are famous for being famous – instead of a talented actress, with ambitions all her own.
To be fair, the film isn’t really about Seberg’s career – but about her political activism. It’s the late 1960s, and she is leaving her husband and son behind in France to travel to L.A. to audition for Paint Your Wagon – where she meets Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) – a leader in the Black Power movement, complaining to the stewardess about the treat the widow of Malcolm X is receiving in coach. This sets something off in Seberg – who offers to give up her own first-class speech, and poses for a picture doing the Black Power salute with Jamal and others when the plane touches down in L.A. It isn’t long before she’s travelling to Jamal’s home in Compton, apparently wanting to get involved in the movement – to have an affair with him.
This, in itself, isn’t a bad decision for the movie. Seberg’s involvement could have been fertile ground to make a movie – about whether she’s genuine, or she’s basically a tourist in the group, etc. But the movie quickly abandons that – and makes the odd decision to focus on Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell), the young FBI agent, who along with his partner Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) are assigned to monitor Seberg – and end up following her, tapping her phones, and basically gaslighting her, for years. Solomon, of course, falls for Seberg at this remove – and through that comes to believe what he is doing is wrong.
It’s probably the least interesting choice the movie could make – and ends up wasting an incredibly talented cast. Stewart isn’t given much to play – she slips into (justified) paranoia as the film moves along, but it’s basically one scene after another like Gene Hackman at the end of The Conversation – but without the conviction. O’Connell is a talented actor as well, but he cannot sell his transition for square fed, into sympathetic person – and it feels particularly hollow, since he isn’t convinced, he shouldn’t be screwing with oppressed minorities, as much as he falls for a beautiful woman. The film completely wastes the talents of Margarete Qualley – as Solomon’s wife, slowly realizing what is happening, and Zazie Beetz, as Jamal’s wife, who goes full psycho pretty rapidly. It gives Mackie, not the most expressive performer to begin with, wooden dialogue he cannot deliver. Strangely, Vaughn coms across best of any of them – he is a one note, square jawed, conservative Fed – but he appears to genuinely be one.
In the end, Seberg just isn’t all that interesting. It doesn’t really figure out its central character, nor does it really figure out what its trying to saying about the time and place she inhabits. It’s got a goldmine of a subject matter, and comes up with perhaps the least interesting approach to it.

Classic Movie Review: A Married Woman (1964)

A Married Woman (1964) 
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Starring: Macha Méril (Charlotte), Bernard Noël (Robert, the Lover), Philippe Leroy (Pierre, the Husband), Christophe Bourseiller (Nicolas), Roger Leenhardt (Self), Margareth Clémenti (Girl in Swimming Pool), Véronique Duval (Girl in Swimming Pool), Rita Maiden (Madame Celine), Georges Liron (The Physician).
The two films Jean-Luc Godard made right before and right after A Married Woman (1964) were Contempt and Band of Outsiders before and Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou right after. All four of those are celebrated, acknowledged masterworks by Godard – but somehow this film made right in the middle of them all is usually completely overlooked, and not listed among Godard’s greats. That’s really a shame, because it’s the type of Godard film that I miss – a film that is both able to understand its main character, make her a fully realized character, and critique her and the society around her, that produced her. Godard even has some sympathy for her. Godard even has some sympathy for her – something he will lose in just a few years. While A Married Woman may not quite be at the level of some of Godard’ best 1960s output – it certainly deserves a better reputation that it has.
Godard was right not to cast his then wife – Anna Karina – in the lead role of Charlotte, instead opting for Macha Méril instead. Karina, a terrific actress would have been wrong for this part as a bored housewife – who doesn’t realize how bored she is. Meril is perfect in the role though – spending her morning with her lover, Robert (Bernard Noel) before returning to her husband, Pierre (Philippe Leroy). She seems to be sleepwalking through all interactions with both men – they talk and talk and talk, and if they don’t quite seem to like her, they do at least have an interest in continuing their relationship. But Charlotte has little of interest to add to the conversation. She lives in a bubble of consumerism – told by magazines how to look and act, what to buy, etc. The best scene in the film – the most famous one – is when Charlotte sits alone reading a magazine, the ads taking up the entire screen, as she eavesdrops on a couple of teenage girls, talking about their own initiation into this hetero-normative worldview that Charlotte is an expert in. She’s an expert in nothing else – unable to contribute to a conversation about Auschwitz, because she has no idea what it is.
Perhaps the reason why A Married Woman isn’t as well-regarded as some of his other films of this period is because it can be read as casual, condescending misogyny. Godard didn’t want to name the film A Married Woman, but rather The Married Woman – thus extending his feelings that the bourgeoisie, middle class women are all empty headed, consumerist, who know nothing else but how to consume. It is only when Charlotte finds out she is pregnant – and doesn’t know how the father is – that she engages anything approaching self-introspection – trying to figure out which man she should be with; which man she loves. She isn’t even really able to defend herself against her abusive husband – weakly telling him at one point “you didn’t need to beat and rape me”. And yet, as we see in the first shot of the movie, of her hand, that ring suggests some kind of ownership – that Charlotte isn’t her own person anymore, but property. Amazingly for Godard though – since two years later, he would dismiss the younger generation as “the youth of Marx and Coca-Cola” in Masculin Feminin, he clearly feels some sympathy for Charlotte. He doesn’t like the way she is, doesn’t approve of it – but also sees it as the deliberate byproduct of a patriarchal society – one that wants women to be like Charlotte, pliant consumers, obedient wives, sexual objects, etc. I could see how dismissing the giant swatch of women in one swoop could be read as misogyny – and it isn’t like this is the only film from this period where you could credibly accuse Godard of the same – but I think Godard does make Charlotte both sympathetic and specific – she is a real character, not just a stand-in that Godard can use to make his political points. This is the Godard that I miss – the one that can make incisive, damning political points – but also tell a story, with a real character at its core at the same time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ranking the Columbia Noir Collection on Criterion Channel

The Columbia Noir collection was one of the most popular during the early days of the Criterion Channel – so much so, that for it is first anniversary they not only brought it back and expanded the selection. There are now 26 titles in the Columbia Noir collection. Last year, I watched or re-watched six of those titles – this year, I plan on watching the other 20. And below, is a ranking of all 26. Some of these I will do full reviews of – or already (have – others I won’t, simply as a matter of time). It is an excellent collection – with some legitimate masterworks, and some fun B movies as well – only a few aren’t really worth your time.
26. 5 Against the House (Phil Karlson, 1955) – Sometimes cheap B-movies remain so simply because they aren’t very good – and that’s the case with this heist film. Four friends, the old guys at college after returning from Korea, get mistaken for casino robbers in Reno, and hatch a plot to do it for real – and draw in the finance of one of one (Kim Novak). It’s a fairly cheap film, and feels like a programmer and nothing more. At one point, the young Novak breaks into song for some reason. The heist plot is overly complicated, and bizarrely it is all pinned on one guy (Brian Keith), and the rest apparently get off scot-free. Director Phil Karlson can be great – this very same year he directed The Phenix City Story, which is brilliant (as well as two other films in 1955 – including Tight Spot, also part of this collection). This feels like exactly what it was – something cheap tossed off for all involved without much care.
25. Blind Alley (Charles Vidor, 1939) – The earliest one in the collection is not one of the best. It’s fairly lightweight, and almost comical in its Freudian dissection of the criminal mind. The film is about a criminal (Morris) who escapes from jail, and takes a psychologist (Bellamy) and his family hostage – with Bellamy eventually figuring out all of Morris’ problems. The acting isn’t uniform either, with silent star Chester Morris, still mugging for the camera – and Ralph Bellamy having to speak in psycho-babble speeches. Yet, it’s a short movie – just under 70-minutes, and moves quickly. It’s an interesting little film – kind of combining the gangster genre of the 1930s, with what would come with noir, but not quite being either. A curiosity more than a satisfying film in its own right, it at least holds your attention.
24. Tight Spot (Phil Karlson, 1955) – Ginger Rogers stars as a tough female convict, who the cops – lead by Brian Keith, who falls for her, and Edward G. Robinson as the D.A., gets her out of jail in the hopes that she will testify against a mobster who will go free otherwise. It is hardly vintage Rogers or Robinson – both were kind of at the tail end of their movie careers as stars anyway, and they’re basically phoning it in. It’s also not really a noir either. For the most part it’s fun, but it really is a cheapie genre film, not made to last.
23.The Dark Past (Rudolph Mate, 1948) – This is a remake of Blind Alley – and it basically has the same issues with its screenplay as that film did – too many speeches, too much overt Freudian analysis, and adds another one – awkward bookends with the shrink, played by Lee J. Cobb. But it’s also slightly better overall than Blind Alley – mostly due to the fact that I think William Holden and Cobb more than Morris and Bellamy, and Mate’s direction basically apes better noir, which had become a thing by then is better than Vidor’s, who did more of a melodrama thing. Still, I’m not sure you really need to see either of these.
22. The Burglar (Paul Wendkos, 1957) – This film is about three films in one, all mushed together, in ways that don’t entirely satisfy. This sat on the shelf for two years, before Columbia bought it for release – and you can kind of see why. Dan Duryea, usually a great slimy character actor, here as the lead – as a burglar who steals jewels from a fake spiritualist, and then head to Atlantic City to hide out. The heist is a highlight of the movie – it’s not Rififi or anything, but it’s pretty good. Then the film kind of shifts into something else. Duryea is fine, a young Jayne Mansfield not so much. It’s all decent, and moves quickly from one thing to another, but it never quite comes together as a satisfying whole.
21. So Dark the Night (Joseph H. Lewis, 1946) – So Dark the Night is a weird film – a kind of Agatha Christie style mystery, wrapped in the trappings of noir, that both plays itself for laughs, and takes it seriously – and all in just 71 minutes. Does it work? Not entirely – the big twist here, with what happens when a genius level detective on vacation (played by Steven Geray) starts investigating one murder, and finds it spin out to more, is, well, odd to say the least – the type of twist a hack screenwriter thinks is clever. But it certainly is, well, weird.
20. Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) – Any Noir with Humphrey Bogart in its lead cannot be all bad – and while that’s true of Dead Reckoning, it also certainly doesn’t rank among Bogart’s best noir. This film, where Bogart plays a paratrooper, returning to America with his buddy, who disappears, and turns up murdered, when he discovers he’s going to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor is classically structured noir all the way. Bogart starts playing detective – and it doesn’t take him long to get in over his head, and fall for a classic femme fatale (Lizbeth Scott). The movie kind of spins its wheels after a while though – repeating itself. And although 100 minutes is far from a long movie – it’s far too long for this one. Like I said, any noir with Bogart cannot be bad – and Scott helps a lot too – but there’s a reason it doesn’t rank with his more famous noirs.
19. The Crimson Kimono (Samuel Fuller, 1959) – Director Samuel Fuller examined the subject of racism throughout his career, and it kind of takes over the 1959 noir The Crimson Kimono. The plot is about two detectives – best friends, one white, one Japanese America (James Shigeta), investigating the murder of a stripper, and both falling for the same woman (Victoria Shaw). To be honest, the murder mystery kind of gets lost along the way – in favor of Shigeta’s questioning his place in America, and the racism he faces. If this were made today, it would be laughed at as far too simplistic – but for 1959, it really was kind of groundbreaking – so there is some importance to the film. It isn’t quite all that interesting to watch however – a film full of good intentions, and an interesting time capsule, but hardly the best of Fuller’s great career.
18. The Mob (Robert Parrish, 1951) – This quick moving, not-really-noir, stars Broderick Crawford as a cop, who lets a murderer slip through his fingers, and then has to go undercover as a longshoreman from New Orleans to try and get to the bottom of corruption on the docks. The movie works best for its first hour – as Crawford gets deeper and deeper into the mob – also enjoyable to see him go toe-to-toe with Ernest Borgnine. The climax probably gets a little too complicated, and isn’t quite as much fun – but overall, this is pretty much exactly what Columbia Noir promises – fast-moving, entertaining B-level genre films.
17.Affair in Trinidad (Vincent Sherman, 1952) – Rita Hayworth’s “comeback” movie to Columbia after 5 years away, the film basically ends up being Gilda-light. Once again, Hayworth stars as a nightclub singer in a tropical locale, and Glenn Ford plays a man who both loves her and hates her, because of her relationship with an effeminate rich man. But this film isn’t as harsh as Gilda was – we know from the start that Hayworth is innocent, she acts the way she does because she’s trying to get information on her husband’s murder, and Ford acts the way he does but her husband was his brother, and he thinks his wife was cheating on him – and that everyone is trying to convince him his brother committed suicide. As a film itself, it’s fine – Hayworth is dances wonderfully, and does the rest of what she does well, as does Ford. It’s mainly interesting as an echo of Gilda though.
16. Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur, 1956) – Jacques Tourneur was one of the great journeymen directors of his era – moving from one genre to the next with ease – sometimes producing masterpieces like Out of the Past, one of the best noirs ever made, and sometimes producing a fleet, entering B-movie like Nightfall. It is a classic wrong man set-up, with Aldo Ray accused of bank robbery and murder, and pursued, and falling for a young Anne Bancroft along the way. The movie is fleet footed and entertaining – and even if it never rises to the level of Tourneur’s best work, it’s certainly an entertaining B-movie.
15. Johnny O’Clock (Robert Rossen, 1947) – Robert Rossen’s breezy noir stars Dick Powell in full movie star mode as the charming title character – a man who runs a casino, and kind of floats on the surface, liked by all. Then, his playboy ways catch up with him, and he’s drawn into a web of murder and revenge. Lighter than a lot of noir – with a hero who is a likable heel that you still root for. Quite a good debut for Rossen – and a movie star vehicle for Powell, with solid character work by Lee J. Cobb. Diminished (slightly) but some unconvincing supporting performances, and the strange name of the title character – making it slightly harder to take seriously – but still a crackerjack entertainment.
14. Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954) – The presence of Fred MacMurray in the film really does make one think of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Double Indemnity (1944). Once again, MacMurray falls for a femme fatale (Kim Novak) he is supposed to be investigating, leading him down a path to murder, and then more murder to cover it up, and try and get a lot of money to run away with the girl. The movie is, of course, no Double Indemnity – Novak’s performance, and her character, have nothing on Barbara Stanwyck. And the whole movie has the feel of a quickie B-movie, which it what it is. But that works amazing well, is fun and movies at a breakneck pace to its inevitable conclusion. A wonderful B-movie.
13. The Harder They Fall (Mark Robson, 1956) – There is an added layer of interest in The Harder They Fall because it was Bogart’s last film – filmed right before his cancer diagnosis, when he was clearly in pain. It’s also one of those late 1950s films where you can watch different kinds of acting – Bogart’s old school movie star charisma vs. Rod Steiger’s method acting – and remarkably they both work well individually, and together. The story, with Steiger’s heavy hiring Bogart’s recently fired boxing reporter to promote his latest prospect – a worthless, but huge, South American boxer to stardom. The whole thing works, in an old school way – and really does kind of feel like an end of an era in many ways.
12. The Brothers Rico (Phil Karlson, 1957) – Richard Conte stars as a former mob accountant who has gone straight – but is dragged back in to track down his younger brother, who may or may not have reached out to the D.A. On the surface, the film doesn’t really feel like noir – but it really kind of is, with Conte as the dupe, sucked deeper and deeper into a world. The cross-country narrative works as well, and Karlson’s direction is top notch. I do think the end of the film is a big letdown – you know what has to happen, but it just doesn’t work as well as the terrific rest of the film.
11.Drive a Crooked Road (Richard Quine, 1954) – Out of all the dupes in film noir, I’m not sure I feel more outright sympathy for any of them more than I do for Mickey Rooney’s Eddie in Drive a Crooked Road. A mechanic, and race car driver at local racers, he’s got a scar on his head, and seems a little slow, but is basically happy in his life – until a criminal’s girlfriend (Dianne Foster) seduces him, and gradually convince him to get the getaway driver for a bank robbery. Eddie is such an innocent here, who gets in way over his head, but he really doesn’t want to – he isn’t motivated by greed or lust, but because he genuinely loves her. The movie itself isn’t as good as the character or Rooney’s performance – but they do a lot of heavy lifting to make this one genuinely moving – and exciting.
10. The Lineup (Don Siegel, 1958) – Shot on location in San Francisco, The Lineup is a terrific entertainment – featuring a memorable performance by Eli Wallach as the psychopath gangster Dancer, who travels around the city retrieving packages of heroin, by any means necessary, smuggled in my unsuspecting tourists returning home. The film shifts focus a few times – first looking perhaps it’s going to be a wrong man narrative, then a police procedural, before finally settling on Dancer as its main character. The film makes terrific use of the real locations, and like the best of Siegel’s doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it.
9. The Sniper (Edward Dmytryk, 1952) – Watching The Sniper in 2020 is a very odd experience. It’s main character, Eddie Miller played by Arthur Franz, is pretty much a prototypical “angry white man with a gun” – who has just become a larger and larger problem in the nearly 70 years since the film was made. He is basically an incel – who gets angry at women, particularly women with boyfriends, who he feels “rejects” him, when really, they haven’t done anything wrong. The only real difference here is that Eddie takes out the specific women he hates, one-by-one, with a sniper rifle, instead of one mass incident. The film tries to psychoanalyze him a little – and has far more sympathy for Eddie than normal – right down to the final shot. It’s a film to watch and wrestle with.
8. My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945) – The title character here is played in a terrific performance by Nina Foch in a terrific performance. She plays a down-on-her-luck woman who takes a job from a mysterious stranger – and then wakes up in their house, being told my everyone that she is not who she thinks she is. Terrific supporting work by Dame May Whitty, as an overbearing mother who is willing to do anything to protect her son. Director Lewis keeps things moving at a crackerjack pace for the entire 65-minute runtime. Personally, I think I would have liked it more had we not known the truth from the outset – but this is a terrific film in the vein of Gaslight.
7. Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) – The film that made Rita Hayworth an icon, with one of the most memorable entrances in all of cinema, had previously struck me as kind of lightweight, mainly because the happy ending of the film feels so false. And yet, without that happy ending, this film would actually be incredibly dark and disturbing. Hayworth’s Gilda isn’t really even a femme fatale, or the villain here. It is Glenn Ford who is the dangerous one here – and he is just about perfect in his role, playing perfectly against Hayworth. Personally, I would have preferred a darker ending – that may have marked this a masterpiece – but as it stands, it’s still pretty great.
6. Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954) – A year after they made an acknowledged masterpiece – The Big Heat – director Fritz Lang reteamed with stars Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame to make this remake of Jean Renoir’s La Bette Humaine (1938) based on the novel by Emile Zola. The film doesn’t have the reputation of The Big Heat – and admittedly, it isn’t quite as good – but honestly, I think this film is grossly underrated. In the film, Ford plays a train engineer just returned from the Korean war, who falls for Grahme – who is married to an angry co-worker – Broderick Crawford – who has already killed one man, and may kill more. Made during the period when Grahme was one of the best actresses in Hollywood (seriously, she won a much deserved Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952 – yet I think she’s even better in The Big Heat and In a Lonely Place), she makes a wonderful would-be femme fatale – with Ford a slight twist on the regular dupe, and Crawford excellent as the human beast of the original title – this is an underrated film from one of the great directors of all time.
5. Experiment in Terror (Blake Edwards, 1962) – Blake Edwards is, of course, best known for his comedies (he is one of the great comedic directors of all time) – but here, he directs an excellent Hitchcock-ian thriller about an asthmatic man harassing a bank clerk (Lee Remnick) – forcing her to steal from her employer, with cop Glenn Ford trying to crack the case. My only doubt with this film is if it’ actually noir at all (it doesn’t really feel like it) – but whatever you call it, it is terrific. It’s also the latest film in the collection – and the longest, and yet Edwards never lets the tension flag, and it contains such terrific performances. Edwards isn’t who you’d expect to deliver something this terrific and taut – but he does.
4. The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947) – Like many of Welles’ Hollywood films, he made this for money – and it shows, as the film has a tossed off feel to it, as if Welles couldn’t care less about the narrative. Recut without him, the film almost feels like it’s missing some scenes – and the infamous funhouse climax is as brilliant as anything you will ever, even in its truncated form. Welles seems to want to undermine the whole thing – from his over-the-top accent, to making a farce out of the courtroom climax, to making his then wife, and leading lady, Rita Hayworth chop off and dye her infamous hair. Seriously, the film probably shouldn’t work at all – and yet somehow it does work, and brilliantly so.
3. Murder by Contract (Irving Lerner, 1958) – This is probably the oddest title in the collection – the most one-of-a-kind hidden gem that we all look for, and so rarely find. Martin Scorsese is a big fan, and has raised the visibility of the film – and you can see the influence on others – like perhaps Jim Jarmusch. The story, of a young, callous hitman (Vince Edwards) who is able to operate without feeling – that is until his latest client, who for the first time is a woman, and he just doesn’t seem to be able to finish the job. It is an idiosyncratic portrait of this hitman in existential dread. If Jean-Pierre Melville had made a low budget American film in 1958 – it may well have looked like Murder by Contract – a masterwork from little-known Irving Lerner.
2. The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953) – One of the best films of Fritz Lang’s career – certainly of his Hollywood career – in this film in which are hero is really an asshole, and responsible for almost all the horrible things that happens in the film, particularly the horrible things that befall all the women in the film. Glenn Ford – who, by the by the way, is terrific in a lot of films in this collection maybe gives the best performance of his career, as a cop whose wife and son are killed, and sets out for revenge. A young Lee Marvin is terrific here too as the heavy – and has the most famous scene. It is also one of the best performances of Gloria Grahame – which shows how great she is. Lang has this film fly by – in just 89-minutes - and undercuts the supposed happy ending. Overall, one of the great noirs of all time.
1.In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950) – This is one of the best noirs ever made – and as great as any number of other films in this collection – are the easy choice for best in the collection. The film stars Bogart – in one of his 2 or 3 best performances – a screenwriter who may or may not be a murderer, who is cleared by his beautiful neighbor (the great Gloria Grahame) who starts to doubt her own testimony, even as she falls in love with him. This is a deep, dark film – probably the best of the great Nicholas Ray’s career. This is an enigmatic noir – one that has to string the audience along, not telling them all the information they have, but still make it satisfying – and doing a character study. Just because Bogart may not be a murderer – it doesn’t mean he isn’t a violent asshole. An absolute masterpiece.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Ranking the top 50 Office Characters

Okay, just so everyone knows how I got here – I originally was only to rank the characters who appeared in over 10 episodes – but that would leave off characters like Jo Bennett and Charles Miner, and that felt strange – so in order to accommodate that, I dropped it down to 7 episode. That took me to 43 people, and that felt odd, so I then just found 7 other characters who were important to the show, but less than 7 episode (I think the least is 3). The ranking criteria is a mixture of character and performance – but is basically the characters I liked to watch the most to the least – but really, most of them are pretty great.
50. Jordan Garfield (Cody Horn) (3 Episodes, Season 7) – Poor Jordan, never stood a chance. She came in late in Season 7 – after Michael left – and was gone in just three episodes, as they clearly didn’t think they needed her once Robert California took over. Horn was fine in the role – her highlight may be bonding with Pam as they had to protect all the clients from having to talk to Creed. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps she was designed to be what Cathy was in Season 8 – and the just decided to go in another direction. Whatever happened, Horn and Jordan were never really given a chance to become a real character, and is one of the most forgettable characters in the run of The Office.
49. Hannah Smotridge-Barr (Ursula Burton) – (6 Episodes, Season 3) – Other than Karen and Andy, Hannah was the last of the Stanford employees to last in Scranton. But Hannah never really was given a chance to be much of a character – she is clearly miserable from the beginning of her time to the end, she looks with disdain on everyone in the branch – and even if some of that is deserved (they do stare at her breastfeeding) – she also never really tried to fit in. It isn’t Burton’s fault that you basically forget Hannah – she seems designed to just be there for the first half of the season so they can slowly pick off the Stanford people one at a time. In the end, she does what she is there to do – but it’s hard to think of too many more forgettable Office characters who appeared in this many episodes).
48. Esther (Nora Kirkpatrick) (5 Episodes, Season 9) – Esther shows up in Season 9 for a brief run as Dwight’s girlfriend, and perhaps even fiancé - I wonder if the purposed spinoff about Dwight’s beet farm had of taken off had they ended up together. As it stands now, she’s basically there to infuriate Angela – and provide that brief speedbump in their relationship down the stretch before the ending we were hoping for. She is a lot of fun – but there comes a point where they are clearly done with her, and it just kind of ends.
47. Rolf (James Urbaniak) (4 Episodes, Seasons 5-6, 9) – Okay, so Rolf is barely a character on The Office – he shows up in just four episodes, and for the most part, it’s basically bit parts. But he’s always funny when he does show up – as he is basically playing a more extreme version of Dwight – which Dwight cannot help but admire, even as everyone else cannot stand him.
46. A.J. (Rob Huebel) (3 Episodes, Seasons 5,7) – Holly’s boyfriend during her time in Nashua doesn’t really get much to do. The show basically establishes him as a nice guy – he’s kind, he treats Holly well, they seem reasonably happy together – but without the love that Michael and Holly have. It’s hard to hate him, because he’s so inoffensive – but it’s hard to really like him either.
45. Bob Vance (Robert R. Shafer) – (25 Episodes, Season 2-7, 9) – Poor Bob Vance, he just isn’t that interesting a character. They basically wrote him as a one joke character – as he introduces him as “Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration”, over and over again, and even as he hangs around, and even marries Phyllis fairly early in its run, doesn’t really get any other personality other than that through 25 episodes - other than he clearly hates Michael, Dwight and Andy, and his and Phyllis’ sex life is apparently very healthy. Everyone who knows The Office knows immediately who Bob Vance is – but I doubt they can tell you much other than that one line.
44. Brian (Chris Diamantopoulos) (5 Episodes, Season 9) – The final season of the show made the decision to give us a peak behind the curtain – address the documentary and its crew in a way it had never done before – leading up to the airing itself. Brian representing that peak – the sound guy who we see stepping into comfort Pam when Jim yells at her about the recital, or protecting her from the warehouse guy who comes to attack her. It is hinted that he loves her, without ever quite following through on it. I do love how the show gave us that peak in Season 9 – but it’s more of an all-encompassing love, rather than Brian specific.
43. Val Johnson (Ameenah Kaplan) (14 Episodes, Seasons 8-9) – I cannot help but wonder that had The Office been able to find a way to be in a post-Michael world, and continue for years, if they would have done more with Val. They basically fired the entire warehouse staff in Season 8 to get her into her role as foreperson, and then worked hard to bring her and Darryl together – but once Season 9 begins, and it’s the ending, they pretty much abandon her – she shows up once in a while, but there’s not much there. It’s a shame because there was some promise here – and I liked Kaplan’s performance. But she basically ends up being kind of forgettable.
42. Cathy Simms (Lindsay Broad) (12 Episodes, Season 8) – I feel bad for Cathy, who never really got a chance on the show. She was brought in for the After Hours episode – where she tries to seduce Jim, and gets rejected again and again, and she is great in that. But she’s there for 11 other episodes, where quite frankly, she is more often than not lost in the background. I also understand that they cut a scene where we would have found out she just got out of an abusive relationship, which wouldn’t excuse what she did, but would make it more understandable. So Lindsay Broad never really had a chance to do much with this character – who is essentially an object for 11 out of 12 episodes, and then mocked in the 12th one (and it’s not her last one) – and doesn’t even get any sort of send-off at all – she just never returns from Florida, and is never mentioned again. For someone who is such a key part of one of Season’s 8 best episodes, she deserved better.
41. Helene Beasley (Linda Purl) (9 Episodes, Season 6-7, 9) – Pam’s mom shows up several times during the latter half of the season – but her highlight episode is clearly Season 6’s Double Date – when Michael takes her, Jim and Pam out for Helene’s birthday, and then dumps her when he finds out how old she is. She is wonderful there – even if it still basically remains the Michael, Jim and Pam show for that episode. Her other highlight is Season 7’s Sex Ed, her last scene with Michael. Other than that, she’s mainly a background character at Halpert/Beasley family functions. Her character is great – but oddly, probably the best when she isn’t there, and Pam and Michael argue about her.
40. Donna Newton (Amy Pietz) (5 Episode, Seasons 6-7) – Donna shows up late in Season 6 to give Michael a final girlfriend before he gets back together with Holly. She is the manager of the bar they go to for happy hour, and she and Michael hit it off there, and get together soon after – only for him to discover that she is married, and he is the other man when he suspects she is cheating. Her best episode is Body Language, when she comes into the office for a sales pitch, and everyone debates with Michael if she’s into him or not (although, he’s quite amusing in a quick phone call in Sex Ed in Season 7). To be honest, I always think this storyline is rushed, and is basically filler – but Pietz is still very good in the role.
39. Dangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell) (4 Episode Season 7) – Ferrell was clearly brought in to add some star power in the the run-up, and immediate aftermath of Carrel’s departure. You cannot deny them comic chemistry together – and they have moments where it works. But he’s only around for 4 episodes – Training Day is a bit of a letdown after the engagement the previous episode (the bar cold open is Ferrell’s best in the episode), his best overall episode is probably Michael’s Last Dundies, and still he isn’t what you remember about that episode, he’s a third wheel in Goodbye Michael, and then he gets one stand-alone episode, and ends up with brain damage. Ferrell is, of course, a great comedic actor – but part of me wonders if the writers didn’t come up with this character, and cast Ferrell, to show the direction The Office wasn’t going to go in post Carrel, because the character never really works (seriously, if you don’t like a season of Robert California, imagine a whole season with Vickers – it’s a nightmare scenario).
38. Katy Moore (Amy Adams) (3 Episodes, Seasons 1-2) – Seriously, if Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for multiple Oscars – her first, around the time she was on the show, we’d probably remember Katy a little less than we do. She shows up in the Season 1 finale, selling purses, with all the guys in the office wanting to ask her out – and Jim “winning”. She shows up, barely, in The Fire, basically to show how bad she is for Jim, and then on Booze Cruise, where he cruelly dumps her. Seriously, two of her three episodes are all time Office classics – and yet her character is more of a prop than a character. Adams plays it well, but there’s only so much you can do with it.
37. Gabe Lewis (Zach Woods) - (51 Episodes, Season 6-9) – Poor Gabe, they never really figured out what to do with him. He was probably at his best in Season 6 – as the go-between for Jo and the Scranton office, and always being on the outside looking in, never quite being included. Season 7 had him date Erin – in a storyline that never really made much sense, and just showed him to increasingly be an asshole, but a meek one – probably one of those guys who would go online and complain that women don’t like “nice guys”. He probably should have left when Jo did at the end of Season 7 – but they extended him into Season 8, even though he really didn’t have much of a point that season. Woods is a talented comedic actor to be sure – but The Office never cracked Gabe – and at some point, just seems like they stopped even trying to.
36. Todd Packer (David Koechner) (16 Episodes, Seasons 2-3, 6-9) – Todd Packer is an hard character for lists like this – I never really enjoyed him as a character, but then again, that is precisely the point of him – Todd Packer is insufferable for everyone not named Michael Scott, and Koechner plays that perfectly. He needed to be used sparingly however – and they mainly understood that, as he never appeared in more than 4 episodes in a single season. His best episode probably is the one called Todd Packer – where it becomes clear even to Michael sees through him as he becomes insufferable even for him.
35. Carol Stills (Nancy Carrel) (8 Episodes, Seasons 2-3, 7, 9) – Carrel’s talented real-life wife played his first real love interest, aside from Jan, starting as Michael’s real estate agent selling him his condo. Out of all his love interests, she seems the most normal – a regular divorced mom, looking for love, who thinks Michael is normal – until she gets to know him, and he takes things from 0-60 real fast. Still, she remains calm with Michael throughout all their interactions, if increasingly irritated with him. She’s not in A Benihana Christmas much – but her scene dumping Michael is her best moment on the show. It was always welcome to see her back – even if she was stuck playing the straight-man throughout.
34. Hank Tate (Hugh Dane) (23 Episodes, Seasons 2-9) – The security guard at the office park, Hank showed up a few times every season, basically just to giving withering looks to the crazies at Dunder Mifflin, or give a sarcastic comment. This isn’t a deep character by any means, but he is incredibly funny almost every time he shows up – perfectly played by Dane. It’s hard to pick the best Hank episode, because he essentially does the same thing every time – but it’s always so amusing it’s impossible to complain.
33. Josh Porter (Charles Esten) (8 Episodes, Seasons 2-3) -  Josh was used basically as a counterpoint to Michael during the first third of Season 3 – with Jim at Stamford, working for manager Josh. Josh was the more normal boss, who did what he was supposed to, and looked down on Michael, without ever doing so vocally in front of everyone. But ultimately, he revealed himself to be the type of person that Michael isn’t – one that would hang all his employees out to dry in order to improve his own position. It’s not a particularly deep performance – but I think Esten captures something more universal in why so many hate their bosses – because we know that, deep down, they don’t care about us at all.
32. State Senator Rob Lipton (Jack Coleman) (14 Episodes, Seasons 7-9) – The State Senator is clearly a very important character in the last three seasons – so much tension in the office revolves around him – but Jack Coleman doesn’t quite get as many opportunities to shine in the role as you may think. Still, it is a pitch perfect performance as the closeted Republican hypocrite, leading to a perfect send-off for him in his final appearance, as seen on TV, which is just downright funny.
31. Hidetoshi Hasagawa/ Madge Madsen/ Calvin aka Glenn – and ALL Warehouse Workers (Hidetoshi Imura/Karly Rothenberg/Calvin Tenner) - (30 episodes combined, Seasons 1-9) – Basically, these three represent all the warehouse workers who showed up throughout the run of the series. They are often in the background – occasionally getting a good line, or do something good in the background. The highlight of these three is probably when Hidetoshi gets a monologue at the end of Happy Hour to explain why he left Japan. The fact that Calvin aka Glenn aka Lester appeared in 15 episodes over 6 seasons, but had three different names, show how much attention they got from the writes. Still, as a group, the warehouse workers could often be quite funny – so as a group, they deserve some respect.
30. Robert California (James Spader) (25 Episodes, Seasons 7-8) – It’s hard to fault James Spader for Robert California not quite working – they basically hired him to be the creepy guy he specializes in, play it completely straight, but have it be funny because of what he says, and the context. And Spader does that. And in episodes when Robert California is a supporting character – one who shows up for a few minutes and episode, he can actually work the way they want him to – being an agent of chaos, the type of rich guy who isn’t good at his job, but who floats through life without consequences. Had he been utilized like say David Wallace – a few times of seasons, he could have lasted it years. As a regular he was just too much.
29. Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates) (8 Episodes, Seasons 6-7) – Bates, unfortunately suffered a little bit from coming in during the second half of Season 6, which is when The Office was trying to figure out what to do with itself, and I’m not quite sure they ever figured out what she should be. Because Bates is a brilliant actress of course, Jo is an interesting character – and a fun one, with her accent, her sayings, her dogs, etc. – but given just how good of an actress she is, this feels like a missed opportunity for there to be a truly great character.
28. Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate) (34 Episodes, Seasons 7-9) – I’m not sure they ever quite figured out how to use Tate, and her unique comic talents on the show. In the Season 7 finale where she interviews for Michael’s job, and throughout most of Season 8, where she leads the team in Florida, then conspires to take Andy’s job, they seem to want her to be as insufferable as possible – and Tate is more than up to the challenge. In Season 9, they tried to soften her a little – tried to get her to bond with Pam a little, and become exasperated with Toby, and it works – kind of – but she also becomes less memorable as a result.
27. Clark Green (Clark Duke) (19 Episodes, Season 9) – There are two things true about Clark – one, is that I don’t really think he was necessary, Season 9 could have been fine without him, and two, I kind of wish we got to see more of him, because grew on me throughout the middle of the season, before he was basically left behind for the more major characters. Still, when paired with Dwight, Clark could be hilarious. Had this show gone on a few more seasons, Clark could have climbed his way up this list.
26. Pete Miller (Jake Lacy) (21 Episodes, Season 9) – Most of what I just said about Clark can apply to Pete as well – although I think he established himself earlier, and you really can see him becoming the new Jim of The Office – at least in the few opportunities he was given to do that. He fits with Erin – and he handled Andy well, and overall, is just a likable presence. Was he necessary? Not really – but I enjoyed him anyway.
25. Nate Nickerson (Mark Proksch) (19 Episodes, Seasons 7-9) – Mark Proksch’s Nate is one of my favorite background characters in the Office – showing up here and there throughout the last three seasons of the show, always being a pathetic, deadpan delight. He starts as Dwight’s worker at the building then graduates to warehouse worker. The show knew just how to use his character -briefly, a scene or two here and there, and he was always hilarious.
24. Charles Miner (Idris Elba) (7 Episodes, Season 5) – The ever charming Elba had to turn that natural charisma way down to play Charles Miner – a man who is a deliberately boring character, which explains why he takes an immediate dislike to not just Michael, but Jim as well. He made a good opponent for Michael – someone Charles really should have been able to beat, but Michael still got the best of him, and gradually, Elba shows just how petty Charles really was. It’s odd he never really got a send-off – presumably, he was fired along with everyone else at corporate in season 6 – but we don’t get any word of it. Elba played him well – and it was nice to see someone not charmed by Jim, but it’s hard to be a top tier character when you are deliberately designed to be a stick in the mud.
23. David Wallace (Andy Buckley) (37 Episodes, Seasons 2-6, 8-9) – Andy Buckley is wonderful as David Wallace in Seasons 2-6, when he is the CFO of Dunder Mifflin, and basically has to oversee Michael – as the trio of Jan/Ryan/Charles who are supposed to, can never quite do it. He creates a portrait of basically a good businessman, exasperated by what he has to go through, but not seeing another option. I also enjoyed him playing the drums after he lost his job. They brought him back near the end of Season 8, and then through Season 9, and he’s fine – without quite getting the same opportunity to be great. Still, his staying power is impressive.
22. Mose Schrute (Michael Schur) (13 Episodes, Seasons 3-9) – Pretty much the only acting role of Michael Schur’s great career – this Office writer who went on to create Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99 and The Good Place is wonderful each and every time he shows up as Dwight’s very special cousin Mose. There isn’t much to the character really – but eventually in every episode he will break into a run, and that’s worth it. Deep character? No. But is he one you will ever forget? No.
21. Roy Anderson (David Denman) (32 Episodes, Seasons 1-3, 5-7, 9) – I always felt a little bad for Roy, who was set up immediately as an antagonist, because we want Jim and Pam together, and Roy is in the way. But Roy isn’t really a bad guy – he’s a little clueless, he takes Pam for granted a little, but without Jim there, then they probably would been like many people – get married, have a couple of kids, then get divorced, etc. Even when he gets violent, he does have a reason to be upset with both Jim and Pam (although he handled it very poorly to be sure). I particularly liked him in Season 3, when he wants Pam back, and is just kind of sad, and says things that aren’t true (my favorite about how he thinks Pam’s art is sexy). He is played well by Denman, a sympathetic character, who will still root against. It’s nice to see him back in Season 9 – happy and successful, and hopefully, a better person.
20. Karen Filippelli (27 Episodes, Seasons 3-7) – Like Roy, you do feel kind of bad for Karen, even if you don’t want her to end up with Jim. Still, she and Jim work well together in Stamford, and perhaps had the branches not merged, they could have been happy together. But once they’re all back in the same office, things get awkward. Jones plays the character well – funny, sarcastic, and smart, basically a good person, who is just in the way of the love story we want. Like Roy, it’s nice to see her end up happy, because she deserved that. You liked her, but you wanted her to go away.
19. Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) (17 Episodes, Seasons 4-5, 7) – Amy Ryan is, of course, a brilliant actress – most often in heavy projects like Gone Baby Gone, so it’s great to see her not just in a comedy, but allowed to be goofy in a comedy. The show does a great job of showing us just how perfect for Michael Holly is- which was necessary – but I do kind of wish they had done more to define her as a character unto herself, which they never really do. Her first run of episodes is designed to break Michael’s heart, and her second run is to get them together, so she never quite becomes a full person. Still, she was always a delight to watch – and it takes something special to make you think she is perfect for Michael Scott.
18. Erin Hannan (Ellie Kemper) (102 Episodes, Seasons 5-9) – I enjoyed Kemper’s Erin quite a bit during her time on the show – she is always so chipper, friendly and happy – but it masks a deeply unhappy upbringing, and longing for something more (I have to think this is why they cast her in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). It’ odd though that while I like her in the show, and think she became an integral part of it, she never quite like a member of the group inside the office itself – that she was outside the core, looking in, and I cannot figure out if it was intentional or not  - it could also be that for the most part, she wasn’t part of the show at its absolute peak).
17. Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak) (168 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – I’m torn on Ryan in many ways – because on one hand, I never really liked him, I found him obnoxious in a way that was never really made sympathetic or understandable, unlike both Michael and Andy. But on the other hand, that is exactly the way his character is supposed to be – the show sees him much the way Pam does, as a prick who she doesn’t like very much. And the show seemed to know how to best utilize him as well – as a supporting character, someone who showed up for a few moments in each episode, but very rarely had episodes built around. Novak was always wonderful in the role, and he could be funny. But he was a character I liked more, the less he was utilized.
16. Meredith Palmer (Kate Flannery) (187 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Meredith is perhaps a notch below the most of the other office mates, if only because there was never much depth there. She was an alcoholic the whole time, and made fun of for how many men she slept with – the refreshing part being that she didn’t care, and fully embraced those roles – and her son, who we saw once as a child, who may be psychotic, and later as a teenager with a lot of tattoos. I don’t know if there was much there to Meredith – and she didn’t often get the one-liners that elevated other swallower characters. Yet, it is still a great performance by Kate Flannery, marked by her willingness to do just about anything for a laugh.
15. Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) (161 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Mindy Kaling looked to be having an absolute blast playing Kelly Kapoor during her run on the office. She didn’t often get whole storylines built around her, but she often got great moments, great one-liners – ones that continue to be memes to this day. Her on-again, off-again romance with Ryan was something that ran through her entire run, and often brought out the best in both of them – their pettiness, their self-absorption, etc. – although it was great to see her finally able to break free of him in season 9. There was never much depth to Kelly – she played a character obsessed with superficial things – but she played it to absolute perfection.
14. Phyllis Vance (Phyllis Smith) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Phyllis always felt like a little bit of a mystery to me – and I mean that in a good way. She was the one female salesman who lasted the whole series, and she never seemed to play the cutthroat games of the others, but just quietly went along, always making her sales. There was also the little peaks inside her relationship with Bob Vance – elevated by the fact that for the most part, Bob Vance was dull onscreen, but then Phyllis would make a comment that gave you a peek inside a more perverse relationship. Smith was able to use her stereotypical mom-like exterior to great use throughout the run of the show – her best comments almost always being made quietly. She was a fine character, to have play out in the background.
13. Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) (152 Episodes, Seasons 3-9) – Honestly, it took a little while for Helms’ Andy to grow on me. He was deliberately made to be off-putting when his role began in Stamford as Jim’s co-worker, and when he gets to Scranton, and has to deal with his anger issues. Still, he is a different kind of person lacking in self-awareness from Michael, and they often played off each well – and eventually, he does grow on you. In Season 8, he really is able to hold everything together, even as Robert California threatened to detail things that year. I’m not a huge fan of how they portray him throughout Season 9 (his abrupt shift in attitude towards Nellie sometime between the Season 8 finale and Season 9 premier is the first strange thing about him) which is probably what keeps him out of the top 10. They land it well, but most of that season he is insufferable.
12. Darryl Philbin (Craig Robinson) (120 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Robinson’s Darryl was at somewhat of a disadvantage, because while he was there from the beginning of the series, he didn’t really get to be a regular until later on in the run – when he moved from the warehouse into the office in Season 6, when the show started to become uneven. Still, it’s hard not to love Darryl, who knew precisely how to play Michael to get what he wanted, and their scenes often brought out the best in Robinson. In later seasons, they seemed to like to pair him with Andy – for a similar type of dynamic. Robinson had a great, easy going presence to him – but they complicated him as he went along – with his daughter, with his disappointments, etc. Robinson’s talents were evident – and they eventually figured out how to use him, so he became one of the best characters in the later years.
11. Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein) (141 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Poor Toby. You couldn’t help but feel bad for him when Michael picked on him mercilessly – sometimes cruelly – because even though you liked Michael, you knew Toby didn’t deserve it. I’m not sure poor Toby ever caught a break – he had a crush on Pam, but that kept going nowhere, his dream of moving to Costa Rica went nowhere, he was stuck in the annex with Kelly and Ryan and even if the rest of the office was never as mean to him as Michael was, they didn’t really include him either. As played by Paul Lieberstein though, Toby was often hilarious – the sad sack Eeyore of the bunch, who often had hilarious, sad one-liners. Poor Toby.
10. Oscar Martinez (Oscar Nunez) (177 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – As an accountant, I always had a soft spot for the Dunder Mifflin accounting department – and although Oscar ranks the third of three here, I still loved him. He was always a great foil for Michael – who picked on him for both being Mexican and, later, gay. Nunez perfectly played Oscar as the frustrated smartest guy in the room – he knows more than anyone else, but never really got to be in control, for other reasons (even when given the chance, he cannot quite bring himself to say it – like in Shareholder’s Meeting). He was uptight, but still somehow lovable – often cast in the role of straight man, but also capable of being quite funny.
9. Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton (180 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Creed was never designed to be a deep character – 9 seasons, 180 appearances, and he is still basically a comic enigma. He basically shows up to make a quick quip in his one-to-one interviews to the camera, or do something hilarious in the background. We basically know nothing about Creed – and that helps to make him as funny as he is, and also as interesting as he is. There is hardly a moment when Creed speaks that isn’t hilarious. Strangely, the first appearance you remember him for – in Season 2’s Halloween, where he talks Michael out of firing him, is one of the episodes he talks the most in. He is the perfect example of a character who when used sparingly is wonderful – and the writers knew it.
8. Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Something that struck me as I re-watched the show this time is that Stanley may well be an older version of Jim – a few decades longer doing a job he’s good at, but doesn’t love, and resigned to see it through. Aside from Jim, no one had more, amazing side-eye looks at the camera when something stupid was going on, and he could also always be counted on for a great one-liner. Perhaps it shows the importance of Dwight to Jim – as this is Jim’s future without someone to prank. That’s just a theory of course – overall, Stanley is, of course, a great character – always in the background, with his crossword puzzle, the guy in the office who just wants to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Leslie David Baker is a deadpan genius.
7. Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – It takes some skill to play a character who is essentially a stick in the mud, and yet make her both insufferable, lovable, and very funny at the same time. Angela is the most judgmental of all the Office characters – she looks down at everyone from the start, pretty much to the end (she is so proud of her husband, the Senator). Yet, as much as you sometimes dislike Angela – you always feel sympathy for her as well. Her chemistry with Rainn Wilson is great, and it’s always great to see her and Jenna Fischer play off each other as well. Angela took a long, roundabout way to get where she should be – but I’m happy that in the finale, she ended up there.
6. Kevin Malone (Brian Baumgartner) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – No one is more surprised than I am that out of all the officemates outside the main four that Kevin ended up being my favorite during this re-watch (my money was on Stanley). But Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin made me laugh more consistently than just about anyone on the show. I love how indignant he can get, how angry he gets over small things, and how he just doesn’t seem to understand some very basic things. He could be as wonderfully comic as anyone with his looks to the camera (that smile that creeps across his face). Also, more than just about any of the supporting office players, there seems to be a whole secret life Kevin is living – with his band, with his gambling addiction, with his fiancé, who he just isn’t engaged to at one point (he doesn’t want to talk about it). Baumgartner is an absolute riot throughout.
5. Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin) (43 Episodes, Seasons 1-7, 9) – Out of all the occasional characters in the show, Melora Hardin’s Jan is, to me, the clear best one. Part of it is based on her absolutely brilliant performance in the best office episode ever – Dinner Party (seriously, that episode is perhaps Carrel’s best performance in the show, and Hardin is his equal throughout – a true accomplishment). But it’s more than that. It is her journey, from when she begins and we think she is a serious, competent businesswoman (which perhaps she was at one time – and perhaps became again) – to her absolute bottoming out with Michael, to picking up the pieces again. Because she wasn’t a consistent presence always, there was always this feeling of a tornado of activity going on with her when she wasn’t around. My only complaint – I wish she were given a slightly better end point. But overall, Jan is the best character in the office who wasn’t around all the time – and Hardin’s performance is a gem.
4. Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Jim is certainly among the most beloved characters on the show – which is why his actions throughout Season 9 cause so much distress in people, because they don’t want to think of him as an asshole. Still, from the time he and Pam get together in Season 4 through Season 8, he is basically perfect – so it’s nice to see him smudged a little. Besides, there was always something not quite perfect about him anyway – and I appreciate how they writers did that. In the role, Krasinski is just about perfect – it’s strange to me that he never got an Emmy nomination for the role. Krasinski is perfect here, and Jim is a great character. It’s hard to be one half of the perfect couple – but somehow, this works.
3. Dwight K. Schrute (Rainn Wilson) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – It really is a testament to Wilson’s performance that he was able to make Dwight Schrute into more than a cartoon character – which he easily could have been. You can see why Dwight can be annoying to be sure – but Wilson makes him both insufferable and lovable, gullible, and smart, competent and crazy, and somehow all of these things at the same time. He is also clearly the character who grows the most out of anyone throughout his nine seasons – his actions in the finale make complete and perfect sense – but would have been unthinkable to the Dwight of seasons 1 and 2. Yes, as the series went into the post-Michael era, the writers sometimes made Wilson go over-the-top – which he did to perfection even if you wish they didn’t push it that far. Still, Dwight is a great sitcom character - and one that becomes far more complicated then you ever would have thought.
2. Pam Beasley (Jenna Fischer) (188 Episodes, Seasons 1-9) – Pam Beasley is one of the most lovable characters in any TV show ever. Yes, she could be insecure and indecisive, but that just makes her even more relatable. She was always the heart of the show – the one you rooted for the most, whether it was in Season 2 when Jim was in love with her and she couldn’t see it, or season 3 when she was being rejected. Hell, I thought the show – especially in the finale – was WAY too hard on her for doubting Jim (he acted like a jerk for a while there). She is also responsible for some of the very best, most heartwarming moments in the entire show. I don’t think there is a moment that brings me more joy than the end of Season 3 when Jim asks her out, and she’s flustered – it is a truly great moment.
1. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) (140 Episodes, Seasons 1-7, 9) – Michael Scott is what made The Office great – really what elevated a very good sitcom to legendary status, and Carrel’s performance is perfect. That first seasons isn’t always great – they are figuring out the line between Michael being a jerk, and just being well-meaning but clueless. But from Season 2, this become one of the best performances in sitcom history -his six Emmy nominations in a row, for which he shamefully never won, were well-deserved. Carrel and Michael left a massive hole when they left – and while it was admirable how they tried to fill it, it’s also clear that they couldn’t. The Office ranks among the best network sitcoms of all time – and while the entire ensemble cast is brilliant, it’s hard to see that happening without Carrel and Michael Scott.