The Reel Deal


A Look at Two of the Biggest Stars to Emerge from the Silver Screen in 2011

Film Insight by Tyler Malone

January 2012

Though people have already begun hailing this “The Year of The Gos” (with Ryan Gosling’s two Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor, neither of which came from his best film of the year: Drive), I’d like to argue that this is not so much Gosling’s year, but rather “The Year of Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender.”

I have a hunch that 2011 will be remembered as the year that introduced us to one of the finest actresses of our era. Jessica Chastain had been filming movies for the last few years but, much to her chagrin, none of them were ever released. She even told a story on one of the late night talk shows that her mom didn’t believe she was working with all the great actors she had told her she was working with because none of the movies she had supposedly been working on had ever been released. In 2011, many of the movies she’d been filming finally trickled out into cinemas around the globe, one after another after another. At almost any time in 2011, Chastain could be seen in some movie playing somewhere near you. She went from someone few had heard of to a superstar and highly sought-after actress almost overnight. She was in six movies released this year, and, by my humble estimation, could be nominated for an acting award in any of the six.

In what I consider her best film, The Tree of Life, she stars opposite Brad Pitt as a wife and mother who represents a state of grace, which is the counterbalance to Brad Pitt’s embodiment of nature. Though Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life doesn’t have a straightforward narrative, Chastain doesn’t get lost in the film’s poetic meandering. Her performance warrants her character’s place as one of the film’s thematic poles.

In The Debt, she played the young Rachel Singer (a character who, as an older adult, is played by Helen Mirren). As convincing as Mirren in the role of Singer, it is undeniable that Chastain has the talent of an actor well beyond her years. Take Shelter and Coriolanus were also interesting movies in which she shined.

Though I thought The Help was mediocre at best, Chastain as outsider Celia Foote was one of the best parts of the film. The same could be said for her role as Detective Pam Stall in the likewise mediocre Texas Killing Fields.

Whether or not she wins an Oscar this year, do not underestimate this actress. She’ll be racking up Oscar statuettes for years to come.

Another thespian who I’m certain will be racking up Oscar gold in the near future (and maybe even this year) is Michael Fassbender.

In 2011, the moviegoing public went on a Fassbender bender, with four movies starring the actor being released this year. Each of these movies is radically different from the next and each shows Michael Fassbender’s versatility and skill. As the young Magneto in the blockbuster X-Men: First Class, Fassbender had an intensity that went above and beyond what the comic book movie called for. The scenes that involved the younger X-Men paled in comparison to Fassbender on a revenge-fueled rampage against Nazis in hiding. Fassbender as Magneto and James McAvoy as Professor Xavier outshine everyone else in that film, and form captivating friends-turned-adversaries. Likewise, the less than stellar A Dangerous Method was also kept afloat by the captivating performances of its two male leads: Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud.

This year’s version of Jane Eyre had Michael Fassbender playing the iconic role of Edward Fairfax Rochester. Cary Fukunaga’s version of the Charlotte Brontë novel did a phenomenal job at capturing that book’s poesy, but a large part of Fukunaga’s ability to get such a poetic version of Jane Eyre on screen was the amazingly understated performances he elicited from his leads, Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.

By far Fassbender’s best performance of the year though was as the sex-addicted Brandon Sullivan in Steve McQueen’s Shame. I think Fassbender’s performance in Shame deserves this year’s award for Best Actor. It is a tour de force performance, better than any others I’ve seen in the last twelve months. One scene of sexual performance where the camera focuses on Fassbender’s face for what feels like forever–and on that orgasming face one can see pain, pleasure, disappointment, satisfaction, anger, ecstasy, as well as a number of other emotions in the turmoil of that expression–is enough to prove the nuance Fassbender can bring to a difficult scene. Unfortunately, due to the film’s NC-17 rating, I highly doubt that the film (and thus Fassbender’s performance) will get the audience or the accolades it deserves.

Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender are two of the finest actors working today.


Jessica Chastain at IMDb

Michael Fassbender at IMDb

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of  Sony Picture Classics and Fox Searchlight

Design by Jillian Mercado


Press photos from Take Shelter and Shame, Photography Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics and Fox Searchlight

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