Richard Gere

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1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. There might not be another actor alive who would devote many months just to find Lincoln’s voice. Fewer still who could take what history told us about him, subtract the multitude of falsely deep Lincoln voices because they sounded “more important” and give us the real Lincoln via his unusual and less familiar voice. He was going to take some shit for this choice, as no one was ready to accept a Lincoln with that voice. Take on its own in isolated clips it might at first have sounded  a little strange, but when you witness Day-Lewis immersed in Lincoln’s totality, the actor vanishes. The voice comes alive with thoughtfulness, and that unmistakable color of sadness that Lincoln carried around with him since he was young, when his mother and then his sister died. Somehow Day-Lewis knew how to capture that sadness. He knew that Lincoln was weary — from the war, from the burden of doing what was a right at a time when there opposing forces seemed insurmountable — and weary from his wife’s mercurial disposition, crying or raging, depending on the day or the haunting.

Day-Lewis has captured so much in one breathtaking turn that this becomes, maybe, a bar to which all others might aspire. His head hung to one side, his tall person’s slouch, his lopsided walk. That any group would award someone else for the prize of best performance only illuminates, in many ways, Day-Lewis’ unequivocal work. They can’t say he wasn’t good enough. They can only say they’d like someone else to have a chance to share the spotlight with him. If Oscars are meant to be given out as career achievements, Day-Lewis would easily and handily win his third Oscar. We all know that the Oscars, despite their intentions, do not always award the best. But history should remember Day-Lewis, whether they give him a gold statue for it or not.

The supporting players: Sally Field – for her astonishing work as Mary Todd Lincoln Field gained some weight and reseacrhed the extensive first-hand historical record, as any great actress would, to find out that Mary Lincoln possessed a fiery intelligence, shared a love for reading with her husband, and didn’t have much else to do back then but stand by her man. Field captures Mary Lincoln’s craziness, unending grief and inner battle with depression so well it makes you long for the days when you had to be this good to get into movies. Tommy Lee Jones brings with him the great memory of Thaddeus Stevens, and perhaps the best moment of his role is the conflicted scene when he has to support the notion of freeing slaves but knows he must withhold his feelings in agreeing that they’re equal in all terms. He does this through his teeth, against everything he believes in — but he does it because he knows that tearing down an old sturdy wall is done brick by brick. Other wonderful turns in Lincoln include James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the great Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, self-freed slave who became an author.

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Richard Gere, with his slick silver hair and squinty blue eyes, just turned 63 this past August. A stinging reminder that not only does time go by in the blink of an eye but also that this underrated American actor has never won an Oscar, let alone gotten nominated for one. Yes, that’s right. No nomination for his killer good role as lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago”, nada for his portrayal of Zack Mayo in “An Officer And A Gentleman”, the cheated-on husband in “Unfaithful”, Julian Kaye in “American Gigolo” or even as Clifford Irving in the underseen 2007 picture “The Hoax”. That might just change this year as Gere gives the performance of his career in Nick Jarecki’s “Arbitrage”. In fact, Gere is so good as nasty hedge fund magnate Robert Miller that you still root for him to get out of his situation in one piece. Given that Miller is cheating on his wife with a french mistress, scamming his clients of millions of dollars and using his friend Jimmy as bait for the police, we shouldn’t be feeling that way about this corporate son of a gun.

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Todd McCarthy says about Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, “Onscreen for nearly the entire running time, Washington has found one of the best parts of his career in Whip Whitaker, a middle-age pilot for a regional Southern airline who knows his stuff and can still get away with behaving half his age. In the film’s raw opening scene, he’s lying in bed in Orlando at 7 a.m. after an all-night booze, drugs and sex marathon with a sexy flight attendant. With a little help from some white powder, he reassures her they will make their 9 o’clock flight for Atlanta.”

This is easily one of the best performances of the year and will be a strong contender to win the Best Actor race. He will have some competition, though, in Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln — which has to be among the best performances of all time, and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. These are probably the strongest three in the race as we head into the final months.

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Over at Gold Derby, Tom O’Neil has seen Lincoln and says the Oscar for Best Actor is over:

Move over, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Daniel Day-Lewis is about to join you in the pantheon of Oscar’s second-biggest winners. After previous Academy Award victories for “My Left Foot” (1989) and “There Will Be Blood” (2007), Day-Lewis is now a shoo-in to win for “Lincoln.” He’ll soon be just one statuette shy of four-time champ Katharine Hepburn.

His “Lincoln” rules the screen with authority. It seems like a cinch to be nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Sally Field) and Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), in addition to Best Actor. There’s also an excellent chance that Tommy Lee Jones is nominated as firebrand abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and that Spielberg’s usual team of craftsman will probably score nods too: composer John Williams, film editor Michael Kahn and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. It also may reap bids for art direction and costumes.

As of now, Day-Lewis’ biggest competition is Joaquin Phoenix’s career-best turn in The Master. Given that Day-Lewis has already won two Oscars and Phoenix none I’m giving the edge to Phoenix. But I haven’t yet seen Lincoln so I can’t say for sure. The other name that is bound to cause a stir is Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables. Although he’ll be singing the whole time it already looks like astonishing work.

And then there’s Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock (one Oscar), and Denzel Washington in Flight. Washington has also won two Oscars but only one lead Oscar. He’s such a great actor and there has long been the complaint that when he played good characters he was snubbed but when he played a drug dealer, against type, that’s when he won the Oscar. The against-type thing is a killer every time.

And then there’s Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained. And John Hawkes for The Sessions. Richard Gere for Arbitrage. You can see Best Actor is filling up fast.  But if Day-Lewis or Tommy Lee Jones wins they will make history as the first actors every to win starring in a Spielberg movie.

An aside: Lincoln is the movie with the actors with three names: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jackie Earle Haley.

While Manohla Dargis’ review in the New York Times mostly names Richard Gere as the reason (she thinks) Arbitrage doesn’t work, but many believe the opposite is true. In fact, Gere is the perfect slick willy, providing not just someone who is adept at manipulating people to do what he needs them to do, but also manages to play the character as a human being and not a monster. I think that is what makes this performance, and the film, a standout.

In his four star review, Ebert writes:

We tend to identify with the leading character of a film, even if he is a heartless bastard. Few films illustrate this curiosity better than Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” and few actors might have been better at making it work thanRichard Gere. Here is man involved in a multimillion-dollar fraud, who cheats on his wife, tries to cover up the death of his mistress and would throw his own daughter under a bus. Yet we are tense with suspense while watching him try to get away with it.

Gere has always been an actor good at suggesting secrets under the surface. Improbably handsome, he has aged here into the embodiment of a Wall Street lion, worth billions, charming, generous, honored and a fraud right down to his bones. He plays Robert Miller, whose face must have beamed reassuringly from the covers of many magazines.

TIME mag’s Mary Pols:

But the main reason to see Arbitrage is Gere, whose steady improvement with age (he just turned 63) is not remarked upon enough. In recent years he starred in Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (so devastating it makes Old Yeller seem like a walk in the emotional park), the farcical political story The Hunting Party and The Hoax, a clever tale of literary lies and in the bad cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest. All were fine performances, but all received scant attention. (To be fair, in the same five year stretch Gere was also in the more high profile, and lousy, movies Amelia and Nights in Rodanthe.)

The beauty of his skillful Arbitrage performance lies in how uncompromising it is. You don’t like 1 percenter Robert Miller, even if you admire his ability to get things done, and enjoy, perversely, his oblivion to the 99 percent. “What’s an Applebee’s?” he says at one point, just as blithely as Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess says “What’s a weekend?” You’re not remotely on his side, the way you inevitably are when you’re watching, say George Clooney, but you want to stay by his side, both to watch every nasty little maneuver Robert employs to save his own skin and in the hopes that someone will trip him up. Gere is being talked about as an Oscar contender—he’s never been nominated. January is a long time off yet, but his name is certainly worth putting on the long list.

NPR’s Jeanette Catsoulis writes:

Even when a violent car accident causes Robert’s troubles to multiply and the film to drift uneasily into thriller territory, Jarecki holds steady, keeping his pacing attuned to Gere’s silver-fox composure.

It’s the kind of marvelously contained performance that made the actor so riveting in The Mothman Prophecies and so potent as the betrayed husband in Unfaithful. Always at his best in the eye of the storm, Gere excels at characters who gain our sympathy precisely because it would never occur to them to ask for it.

 

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The Best Actor race is getting crowded this week, with Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs and now, Richard Gere in Arbitrage. The timely pic is a chilling illustration of the way powerful people use other people to get what they want out of life and usually win. The screenplay is flawless; no character gets the short shrift.  Every line crackles with Mamet-like intensity.  It will surely be among the best original screenplays this year.

The film feels particularly poignant now, with an election that is positioning the rich against the middle class. In Arbitrage, integrity — laid squarely on the antihero (Richard Gere) — is conquered by the better game. Because the script is played out like a chess game, every move is deliberate.  I love movies like this because I know that a couple more viewings will reveal patterns I missed the first time.

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