Who in the World is Gary Oldman?

When theatergoers leave screenings of “Red Riding Hood” this weekend, a great number of them will be saying, “The best thing about that movie was Gary Oldman.” This isn’t necessarily the greatest compliment that Oldman’s ever been paid – trust us, we’ve seen the movie – but it’s one that he’s heard plenty of times, and rightfully so.

On the occasion of this latest film, we thought we’d take a look back at 20 of his most notable roles, most of which are found in films far better than “Red Riding Hood.” That’s most, though, and not all. (See #10 and #13.) Still, as track records go, you’ll soon see that Oldman’s is pretty damned enviable.

1. Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy, 1986): Most would agree that it was Oldman’s performance as the late Sex Pistols bassist which really put him on the radar. Even those who criticized the accuracy of the film generally had glowing words for Gary, and that goes all the way up to Johnny Rotten himself. “The chap who played Sid, Gary Oldman, I thought was quite good,” wrote John Lydon in his autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. “Even he only played the stage persona as opposed to the real person, (but) I don’t consider that Gary Oldman’s fault because he’s a bloody good actor.” This was echoed by the Evening Standard British Film Awards, who named Oldman the year’s Most Promising Newcomer.

2. Joe Orton (Prick Up Your Ears, 1987): Only 34 years passed between the life and death of English playwright Joe Orton, and one might be able to successfully argue that more people know him for his connection to the Fab Four (he wrote a screenplay, “Up Against It,” which was rejected as the Beatles’ cinematic follow-up to “Help!”) than for his plays, let alone this movie, but if you’ve managed to see “Prick Up Your Ears,” then you’re already aware of the phenomenal work Oldman does alongside Alfred Molina, who plays Kenneth Halliwell, Orton’s boyfriend and – eventually – his murderer. Indeed, Oldman’s performance earned him a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actor.

3. Rosencrantz (Rosencrantz & Gildenstern are Dead, 1990): Fans of the Bard with a sense of humor have long praised the way Tom Stoppard took two relatively insignificant characters from “Hamlet” and turned their actions – or, rather, their lack thereof – into a full-length play, but there’s not quite as much unanimity about the way the production transitioned onto the big screen. Still, the only real complaint tended to be that it probably played better when performed on a stage, which stands to reason. (After all, the play’s the thing, innit?) Granted, the humor’s a bit highbrow for the mainstream, but if you like Shakespeare, you’ll love seeing Oldman and Roth pondering their characters’ existence.

4. Jackie Flannery (State of Grace, 1990): Although Phil Joanou’s Irish-American crime drama didn’t break any box office records, possibly because the Italian-American criminal contingent had the higher profile at the time (this was right around the same time as “Goodfellas”), it sure had a hell of a cast: Oldman is teamed with Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Robin Wright, John Turturro, John C. Reilly, and Burgess Meredith. Throw in an Ennio Morricone score, and you’ve got the kind of picture that critics drool over…and rightfully so.

5. Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK, 1991): When you make a film about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, if there’s one role that you absolutely, positively must cast perfectly, it’s that of the man who (ostensibly) assassinated him. In an interview with Empire, Oldman revealed that director Oliver Stone gave him a couple of plane tickets, a list of contacts, and told him to go research the part himself. You’d think it would’ve been easier on the budget if Stone had just paid for Oldman’s cab fare to the library, but, then, the library wouldn’t have provided Oldman with a tenth of the information about the man he was portraying that he ended up getting from his meeting with Oswald’s widow, Marina.

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Load up on guns and bring your friends: Twenty great action movie ensemble casts

When we saw the cast that Sylvester Stallone assembled for war machine throwback that is the upcoming “The Expendables,” well, we were just giddy. It didn’t matter that Stallone’s recent writing projects (“Rocky Balboa,” “Rambo”) were as predictable as a sunrise and safe as houses – he has put together the single biggest cast of ass-kicking movie stars we’ve seen in decades, possibly ever. Indeed, as we looked back at great action ensembles from the past, we discovered just how infrequently the big stars worked together for an action movie. It happens all the time for dramas (two words: Oscar bait), but one quick look at the ‘80s in particular will tell you that action movies, by and large, are a single man’s game.

However, there are times when movie stars have forsaken the lion’s share of the spotlight in order to deliver something special, and so we salute the great guy movie ensembles of years past. In the interest of full disclosure, once we discovered that the list was going to consist almost entirely of war movies, westerns and sequels, we decided to play around a little bit with the definition of “action movie.” To the point where it included Tim Burton and Steven Soderbergh. Don’t judge.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Cast: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter
The Plot: A village of farmers, frequently raided by a group of bandits, recruits a group of gunslingers to defend their town.
The Back Story: In the 1950s, it wasn’t exactly the easiest task to get the average American to go see a Japanese film, no matter how great it may have been. Fortunately, director John Sturges was up to the task of seeing Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai,” and upon doing so, he saw elements in the story and characters which would translate well to the Western genre. Boy, was he right…and if his instinct for hot properties was good, then his gift for casting was downright remarkable, given that the only truly top-shelf actor in the cast at the time was Brynner, who was riding high on the Academy Award winning success of “The King and I.” Combining these upstanding gentlemen, the inspiration of the original source material, and the classic score by Elmer Bernstein, and you’ve got yourself one of the greatest Westerns of all time.
The Money Shot: There are a lot of great small moments leading up to the big showdown between the Magnificent Seven and the despicable Calvera (Wallach), including the classic knife-throwing sequence that introduces Coburn’s character, and, indeed, the grand finale offers several immortal death sequences. None, however, match the power of Calvera’s final seconds onscreen, specifically his stunned reaction to the fact that Chris (Brynner), despite his earlier retreat, has not only returned but, indeed, successfully taken him down.

The Great Escape (1963)

Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald
The Plot: A group of Allied prisoners plan a daring escape from a supposedly escape-proof German prison.
The Back Story: Remember what we said about Sturges’s gift for casting? It wasn’t a one-off, as this ensemble clearly demonstrates. Based on a true story, utilizing Paul Brickhill’s book of the same title as its inspiration, “The Great Escape” was adapted somewhat from its source material, pumping up the importance of the Americans in the story and adding a bit more motorcycle action. The latter was reportedly done at McQueen’s request, but whoever came up with the idea deserves a round of applause, as it makes for some of the film’s most exciting moments. Ironically, “The Great Escape” got more shrugs than kudos upon its original release, but it has since gone on to become recognized as a classic.
The Money Shot: When Hilts’s mad motorcycle ride through Germany ends abruptly when he attempts to jump the fence into Switzerland, only to get caught in the barbed wire. That’s got to hurt…

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