Monday, December 16, 2013

Riske Business: Stars That Turned a Corner in 2013

Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence turned the corner for me in 2012. Before last year, I was either indifferent or mildly critical of those three movie stars. Then Channing Tatum starred in 21 Jump Street and shocked me with how natural he is at comedy. Bradley Cooper proved in Silver Linings Playbook that he can play manic quite well, and Jennifer Lawrence showed in the same movie that she might be the most charismatic star in movies today (further proven by American Hustle, where you wait in anticipation of her scenes). Here’s who I became a fan of in 2013 -- The "Tatums" of 2013.

AJ Bowen – Prior to his darkly funny turn in You’re Next, I was not a fan of this actor. I thought his performances in movies like The House of the Devil and The Signal were amateurish and self-aware, like he was an actor indicating that he was playing dark. Then came You’re Next, and I was impressed he was able to keep his usual tics in check and make his character come alive through a bizarre sense of practicality. As further evidence, I saw an early screening of Ti West’s next movie The Sacrament, in which Bowen has the lead, and he is also strong at playing regular guys in extreme circumstances.
Andrew Dice Clay – Who the hell saw this one coming? Before his sensitive and empathetic performance as the hard-luck Augie in Blue Jasmine, all I could think of ‘Dice’ was that he was a douchebag. His performance in Blue Jasmine showed what a subtle character actor he is capable of being. I hope to see him in more ensemble pieces going forward.
Gemma Arterton – In movies like Quantum of Solace and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Gemma Arterton made zero impact on me. Sure, she’s pretty, but who cares? There was no there there. Then she gets the role of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and I’m not being derisive when I say it is the role she was born to play. She’s terrific in the movie, completely nailing the black comedy (“The Curse of Hunger for Crawling Things. I fucking hate that one.”) and physicality of the role. She looks like she’s having a blast for the first time in a movie and it’s infectious. I love you, Gretel!
Jordi Molla – Of all movies, Riddick convinced me that I am a fan of this ridiculously over-the-top actor. Whenever I see him in a movie now, I get a big smile on my face. I first became familiar with Molla as the absurdly entertaining villain Johnny Tapia in Bad Boys II (where I dubbed him the Cuban John Stamos), but it’s Riddick where he gets huge laughs by saying single words like “NUUUUUUUUUUUNEZZZZ” combined with a facial expression that has to be seen to be believed. Jordi Molla is one of my favorite heels in movies today.
Miles Teller – I mentioned in my review for The Spectacular Now that Teller’s performance in the movie works so much for me because it almost acts as an apology or psychological profile of the party-boys he played in Project X and 21 & Over. Teller is so good in The Spectacular Now, finding a way to play an alcoholic that seems completely original (i.e. equally self-aware and self-destructive). He challenges the audience with his character’s decisions in a way not unlike Denzel Washington in Flight. I’m a bit worried about Teller because in the trailer for the upcoming That Awkward Moment he appears to be channeling Vince Vaughn again (like he did in 21 & Over). Besides, that movie is all about Imogen Poots. 2014 is the year of Poots.
Olga Kurylenko – The redemption of the Bond girls from Quantum of Solace continues. Besides looking marvelous, Kurylenko is wallpaper in movies like Hitman and Max Payne, but she turned in a wonderful performance this year in Terrence Malick’s otherwise problematic To the Wonder. She’s by far the best thing in that movie, perhaps because she photographs so well and is great at displaying emotion non-verbally. Her face is extremely expressive, showing the audience a full range of heartbreak without much dialogue. She’d be great for a Sofia Coppola movie.
Olivia Wilde – She just needed to play a tomboy! Like so many actresses that Hollywood is still trying to figure out what to do with, Wilde went years in movies like Alpha Dog, TRON: Legacy and Cowboys & Aliens that didn’t take advantage of anything other than her appearance. But in Drinking Buddies and to some extent The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Wilde shows she is adept at comedy and drama when she’s allowed to play an actual person that doesn’t only exist to react off of her male leads.
Vanessa Hudgens – I’m going out on a limb with this one. Outside of James Franco in Spring Breakers, it is Hudgens who most captures the spirit of that challenging and provocative movie. When coupled with the equally subversive Sucker Punch, I’m starting to wonder if Vanessa Hudgens in some kind of secret feminist genius or it’s simply a coincidence that she’s in two of the best movies in recent years at exploring young female exploitation. Even if I’m wrong and it’s dumb luck more than talent, I am interested to see where this actress will go next with her career.

Who turned the corner for you in 2013?

Also, be sure to check back in next week when Patrick and I take a look at our favorite performances of the year.


  1. Fully agreed on Arterton and Wilde. Goes along with my little theory that there are few actually bad actors, just people who haven't been cast in the right roles yet.

    (Also, nice to see someone else who enjoyed Hansel & Gretel, which I thought was a lot of fun. Then again, I didn't think Burt Wonderstone was completely terrible so whadda I know?)

    1. People who don't enjoy Hansel & Gretel on some level are people who may not be able to experience happiness. I didn't hate Wonderstone either. I laughed more in that than a lot of other comedies this year.

  2. Cool column, Adam! It's cool how the right role can open up our "viewer's imagination" to much more possibility for a performer. I think it does the same thing for the performer - they get a larger sense of their own possibility. I'm glad you included Dice; he was great in Blue Jasmine and I hope to see more of him in that kind of role.

  3. Enjoyed your picks, and now thinking of my own.

    Before I do that, though, I immediately thought of Luke Evans, mostly because he is the exact opposite of what this column is talking about. However he's used, it feels like shorthand for someone with actual presence. Is it because he's British?

    1. There you go again Mark. Using any opportunity to put down Luke Evans. Remember him in Smaug? Yeah, I barely do either. FISH IN A BARREL!

  4. I really became a fan of Wilde in "Butter".

  5. nice column, Adam! I agree with many of your choices. I don't have much of an opinion on Jordi Molla, but my wife already has been a fan of his Spanish work for a long time. Which is one more reason he must die.