Despite my inflammatory statement last year that Russell Crowe would have been a bad choice to play Drover in Baz Lurhmann'sAustralia, I have a soft spot for this actor, especially lately. For the moment, we'll put aside that whole phone throwing incident, and focus on the positive.
First and foremost, he is an excellent actor. Crowe initially made a name for himself stateside in Curtis Hanson's LA Confidential, a gorgeously-shot film noir, in 1997. Check out this scene where his emotionally wounded yet oh-so-manly Detective Bud White meets Kim Basinger's Lynn Bracken for the first time. This was Crowe's first major part in a big movie, and he absolutely holds your attention here. It's very impressive.
Another thing I admire about Crowe is his willingness to completely transform himself for a role. He was completely believable as tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffery Wigand in The Insider, the true story of a man who revealed that cigarette makers Brown & Williamson intentionally formulated their products to be more addictive (and therefore harmful) to smokers. Wigand was an older, slightly nerdy guy, and heavier than Crowe -- not a stereotypically sexy part -- but a real hero nonetheless, and Crowe totally inhabits him.
Not long after this film, Crowe won the Best Actor Oscar for Gladiator. This is actually, I think, one of his less interesting roles, but that's not to say he doesn't make you believe he's a wronged man out to avenge his family's murder. I am convinced to this day that Russell Crowe could hack off an opponent's limbs, romance a Roman princess, and terrify a tiger with ease. And only a year after this, he displayed similar versimilitude as mentally-ill mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. Watching Master and Commander made me damn near want to join the British Navy -- it looked so convivial and full of good, honest work, not to mention botany and entomology! And cute sailors! But I probably wouldn't be so thrilled about the whole surgery without anaesthesia aspect.
Besides all the aforementioned acting chops, however, let's consider other qualities. There isn't anyone else out there who can be as forcefully masculine onscreen as Russell Crowe. He isn't a pretty boy, and that is a very good thing. His physical presence is rather overwhelming. There's a reason the ladies on Sex and the City named him in their sex fantasy list: Russell Crowe, and those who are compared to him, is all man.
We're now heading into one of the most excruciatingly pleasurable times of year for movie fanatics like me. Pleasurable because the studios bring out all their prestige, Oscar-bait films, and excruciating because how are you ever supposed to find the time to see all of them?
High on my list is Jason Reitman's Up in the Air. The first trailer is here and the second trailer is here. (Fun/random fact: a former co-worker from my game show days was an assistant to someone on the set. Flashy!)
Jason Reitman has quietly and steadily created a good name for himself on the basis of only two films so far: Thank You For Smoking and Juno. I'm sure being the son of director Ivan Reitman doesn't hurt with opening doors, but the guy is clearly a very talented, skilled filmmaker in his own right. Just 'cause your dad is a hot shot doesn't mean you automatically get to be one (seeCameron Douglas).
Like most women, I love George Clooney. Not just for his smooth, handsome urbanity, but also because he's never taken the obvious route with his career. I like how he bops between the Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh, once wore a batsuit with nipples, and was the one who campaigned for ER to do a live episode. And this might finally be the movie to push Vera Farmiga into greater awareness with American audiences. She was so fantastic in The Departed -- I can't think of anyone else who could have played that part.
With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince about to be released on DVD, the magical Potter PR machine is kicking into gear again. ABC Family will have another marathon weekend of the first four movies, complete with teases of the new film and other nerdy extras like Luna Lovegood visiting the costume department.