Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
In honor of this week’s Avengers: Infinity War, what is your favorite performance by an Avenger in a non-Marvel film? (Example: Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker)
Bonus question: What is your favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
As Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress, Don Cheadle’s performance fixed him on my radar, and because of that, I’ll watch him in anything. (And to prove it, I’ve seen After the Sunset, which may be his worst screen role).
One of my favorite characters in my all time favorite movie just so happens to be an Avenger. Buck Swope is his name, and even though he makes his money in the adult film industry, his real dream is to open his very own stereo equipment store. Don Cheadle aka Lt. Col James Rhodes aka Rhodey aka Iron Patriot aka War Machine plays Swope with such incredible empathy that his plight resonates most amongst the large ensemble cast of Boogie Nights.
It’s a Don Cheadle love-fest here and rightly so. My pick is for his heartbreaking performance as hotelier Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda. The tears were flowing like rain water in this one. Cheadle does an amazing job balancing the sanity of a man who is driven to protect his family, as well as his guests, all while maintaining the high standards of the foreign hotel he is running. Meanwhile, hell is descending on him from all sides.
I do want to make a special shout out to Anthony Mackie and his performance in Pain & Gain which, to this day, remains the only Michael Bay movie I truly love. See it.
Favorite Marvel movie? Guardians Vol. 2 probably, but also Winter Soldier. Also the first Thor movie. It really doesn’t get enough credit. — Jill Malcolm
I’m bucking the rules here a bit and choosing someone who isn’t an Avenger. However, she exists in the same universe. Does that count? Putting my foot down and saying yes, yes it does. I’m referring here to Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.
I’ve never had a problem with Gwyneth Paltrow. In fact, I’ve always liked her a lot. Do I think she’s the greatest actress of all time? No, of course not. And she should have never won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. But can you hold that against her? We’re talking about an academy that gave an Oscar to JLaw over the late, great Emmanuelle Riva. Well, apparently I’m deep in the minority here, as somehow Paltrow has been crowned Hollywood’s most hated celebrity. This makes zero sense. You’re telling me you hate her more than Tobey Maguire or Bill Cosby (no link necessary)? Yikes.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that I not only really like Paltrow as Pepper Potts in the MCU, but she is also in one of my favorite movies ever. Shallow Hal. Wouldn’t that be a fun twist? No, the movie I’m referring to is The Talented Mr. Ripley, the 1999 adaptation of the 1955 novel of the same name. The book was also adapted in 1960, which brought us the beautiful Purple Noon. Paltrow plays Marge, the ostensibly stoic fiancée of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) attaches himself to the couple, whom he so admires for their culture, money, looks, and laissez-faire approach to life, and will stop at nothing to try to live the same exact lifestyle. Matt Damon gives possibly his career-best performance, and Paltrow is spot on as Marge. Demure and beautiful, but when tragedy begins to surface, her fragile state of existence slowly begins to reveal itself. Although I also love Paltrow as the formidable Margot Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Ripley is just on a whole different level for me. Tense and beautiful, this film is filled with excellent performances, Paltrow being no exception to that.
My favorite MCU entry is probably Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)! It’s hilarious, supremely enjoyable, and has the best soundtrack ever. What’s not to love?—Catherine Haas
There are some good options here, but my pick has to go to Robert Downey Jr. inTropic Thunder. He somehow accomplished the impossible— a meta performance commenting on Downey’s own troubled past, that also skewers Hollywood’s obsession with method acting, in a Ben Stiller comedy, in blackface. In 2008. I never thought a blackface performance would even exist, let alone be acceptable, and definitely not be funny, in modern times, but RDJ somehow crafted a character that is so offensively ridiculous in concept that it is miraculously innoculated of its sting and utterly hilarious in execution. I mean… Downey was nominated for a freaking Oscar for this role; it’s that stand-out. If it has been a while since you’ve seen Tropic Thunder, I urge you to revisit it, and then check out the outtakes to see how committed he was on-set in order to pull this off. He even stayed in-character for the DVD commentary, harkening back to a line from the film. If you forgot about Downey’s chops outside of Tony Stark, Tropic Thunder is a perfect example of how gifted this guy is.
Elizabeth Olsen in Martha, Marcy May, Marlene. It is one of the better movies of the decade, and Elizabeth Olsen’s performance as a broken-minded cult survivor is the center of it. Not to mention it was the first time that everyone learned there was a third Olsen sister! She has struggled to find good roles since then (Ingrid Goes West was great though), and to be honest her turn as Scarlet Witch has not done her any favors. But she gets a lifetime pass for MMMM, as far as I am concerned.–Andy Elijah
One performance that I continue to ponder, even four years after the film’s initial release, is Scarlett Johansson’s work in Jonathan Glazer’s existential sci-fi film, Under the Skin, in which Scarlett portrays an alien more deserving of the moniker “black widow” than her Marvel persona. Johansson’s performance, mostly silent and built around the recurring task of engaging Earthlings through a routine behavioral pattern (observe, seduce, deceive), is, itself, about the art and mechanics of performance, as this extraterrestrial, having crafted the perfect imitation of human behavior, eventually finds itself mystified by that impulse which informs action and gestures: psychology. Following an epiphanic instance, wherein the concept of empathy manifests and registers, the heretofore hostile visitor spends much of the back-half confronting the human experience head-on, with all its perplexities and cruelty intact. It’s a sublime piece of acting, at once deceptively simple and discreetly elegant.
My runner-up choice would likely be Mark Ruffalo for both Zodiac and You Can Count On Me.
Finally, while I must confess that superhero films and I go together as well as a cat and a mouse, I thoroughly enjoy Tony Stark’s smartassery in Iron Man 3, as well as the zany, hangout vibe of Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of which: hey Marvel, where’s our Howard the Duck reboot?–Dan Santelli