Friday, February 28, 2014

In Character: Amy Adams

It’s funny. For the first time in my In Character series, a post almost entirely reads as a call out of past Oscar nominations. In just nine years, Amy Adams has racked up five Oscar nominations for her stellar work in vastly different films. Initially making a name for herself as the doe-eyed, innocent girl next door, Adams has ventured into dark minds as of late, which has produced some of her best work. Simply put, Amy Adams is one of the best, most reliable actresses we have. I don’t care what the movie is about or who else is in it, if Adams is on the call sheet, I’m game.

Five Essential Roles
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Brenda Strong
The benefit of being relatively unknown is that, if you’re a strong enough actor, you can convince people that the way you behave in a movie is the way you act in real life. After watching Catch Me If You Can for the first time, I would’ve bet that the actress playing shy, innocent Brenda Strong really did have a deep southern accent. I would’ve also assumed that the actress was uncommonly giddy, had a penchant for crying, and falls in love easily.

That’s the strength of Amy Adams. Few people knew who she was when she appeared in this film, but she seized the opportunity, and gained a lot of attention in the process. Of all the people Frank Abagnale Jr. rips off in Catch Me If You Can, Brenda is the one I adore most. Her innocence is beyond charming, and it makes Frank’s deception of her that much more heartbreaking.

Junebug (2005)
Ashley Johnsten
When Adams was recently on Inside the Actors Studio, she described her teenage self as, essentially, Ashley Johnsten. Ashley’s unfailing optimism and impossibly bubbly personality all came from Adams’ own experiences. And the result is the kind of performance that the Academy doesn’t highlight very often: a fantastically realized, happy, normal woman featured in a tiny independent film. Ashley is one of those film characters you fall in love with while watching them. Sure, she’s a little too talkative, and sure, her ceaseless good mood is a tad annoying, but Ashley has the ability to inject positivity in those around her, just as the actress playing her does. When I watch Junebug, I become pleasantly infected by Adams’ magnetism. It’s a fiercely comedic performance that packs one hell of an emotional punch.

Doubt (2008)
Sister James
I’m not going to lie, when Adams received an Oscar nomination for Doubt, I was little taken aback. I thought Best Supporting Actress was an extremely competitive category in 2008, and I felt there were a handful of other actresses more deserving of the nomination than Adams (namely Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married). Following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing, I was compelled to revisit the film, and I found myself startled by Adams’ work. It’s such a quiet, reserved performance that, upon first look, is overshadowed by Hoffman and Meryl Streep’s more explosive performances. But that shouldn’t dampen its worth.

In many ways, Sister James is the emotional anchor of Doubt. She’s the one who innocently sets in motion the dangerous suspicions of a priest’s relationship with an altar boy. And it is she who, after realizing she may have gone too far in her curiosity, attempts to back pedal furiously. But the damage is already done. The words have been spoken, and the suspicion has been raised. And in the end, we’re left with a transformed Sister James. From scared and anxious, to a steady shoulder to cry on.

The Master (2012)
Peggy Dodd
One of the greatest reveals of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, is discovering that the petit, unassuming wife of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the one who really runs the show. Peggy is the ticking clock, the angel (or devil) on Lancaster’s shoulder, quietly chiming in whenever she deems it necessary. But the true beauty of Peggy is that she doesn’t follow a straight path. She never sets out to get her way in the same manner that she did before. She can ask for something calmly, or demand it with a raised voice, both with equal weight. A smile or stare of cold resentment from Peggy say more than any monologue. Doesn’t matter if she’s crying in a bedroom, or jerking her husband off in the bathroom, nothing is beyond Peggy’s grasp. She’s a master manipulator, and, it would appear, the single greatest proponent of The Cause. Every movement should be so lucky to have such an ally.

American Hustle (2013)
Sydney Prosser
I felt from the moment I left American Hustle that Adams’ work as Sydney Prosser was the highlight of the film. Sydney was the one character I could never quite figure out. What’s her angle in all this? Money? Love? Lust? She slings a web of deception so thick and intricate that it’s nearly impossible to determine her end game. Hell, I’m not even sure Sydney knows what she wants out of the whole thing, that’s how entangled she is in her own bullshit.

Whether she’s speaking with a (horrible) fake British accent, wearing dresses with a nonexistent neckline, having heartfelt conversations while sporting giant hair curlers, or, in the film’s most primal moment, screaming in a fit of lustful rage while sitting on a toilet, Sydney Prosser proved time and time again that she was American Hustle’s most deliciously complex character.

The Best of the Best
The Fighter (2010)
Charlene Fleming
She talks in a hushed whisper, as if she isn’t concerned with people actually being able to hear her. She dresses scantily, wisely knowing that the more skin she shows, the better her tips will be. She speaks her mind, defying anyone who disagrees with her. And when her blood boils, she rages as hard as her boxer boyfriend, taking on whoever steps up. So describes the new Amy Adams, who, as a petit little bruiser named Charlene, not only stole her every scene in The Fighter, but singlehandedly redefined her career as well.

In many ways, Charlene was the antithesis of what we had come to expect from Amy Adams, which is precisely what made her performance so impactful. In a film full of flamboyant, fierce performances, Adams proved that character restraint, mixed with the occasional episode of sudden intensity, was enough to steal the show. For my money, she ran circles around nearly everyone else in the movie, which was certainly no easy feat. It was a performance that redefined a career none of us even knew needed changing. In short, no one saw Charlene coming. She knocked the wind out of us, and we’ve all been trying to catch our breath since.

Other Notable Roles
In Her
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
The Office (2005-2006)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rocky Bobby (2006)
Enchanted (2007)
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)
Sunshine Cleaning (2009)
Julie & Julia (2009)
The Muppets (2011)
Trouble with the Curve (2012)
On the Road (2012)
Man of Steel (2013)
Her (2013)

48 comments:

  1. I first saw Amy Adams in a very unfortunate project which ended up being a prequel to Cruel Intentions where she played the Sarah Michelle Gellar character. What an awful fucking movie as I look back now. It wasn't her fault she wasn't good but it was the project itself and she did the best she could.

    It was Catch Me If You Can that I think is where she kind of stole the film a bit from everyone including Leo as it was the first of many things to come as I also loved her in Drop Dead Gorgeous.

    Enchanted I think was her breakthrough for me and she's been killing it since.

    If I was to rank her performances as of now, it would be this:

    1. The Master
    2. Her
    3. American Hustle
    4. The Fighter
    5. Enchanted
    6. Charlie Wilson's War
    7. Catch Me If You Can
    8. The Muppets
    9. Sunshine Cleaning
    10. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
    11. Drop Dead Gorgeous
    12. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
    13. Julie & Julia
    14. Psycho Beach Party
    15. The Wedding Date
    16. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (she was the best thing in that bland film)

    Junebug and Doubt are the ones that I want to see from her. I really think she's amazing and also someone who hasn't let fame get to her head. I look forward to what she'll do next.

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    1. Great list man. It really does come down to The Master and The Fighter for me, but ultimately The Fighter wins out.

      Enchanted almost made my list, because she is one of the few actresses who could actually pull that role off. Such a skilled performance.

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  2. I agree 100% with this list. Amy Adams (woman of my dreams!) is, as you said, one of America's most reliable actors at this point and for me The Fighter will always have a special place in my heart as the film that contains my favorite performance from both Adams and Wahlberg (I figure most will probably still go with either The Departed or Boogie Nights but his role here is the one that sticks out the most for me) and being my favorite David O. Russell film. But, like any good actor, she is always showing us more, trying something different and unexpected, and whether she's singing and dancing, trying to learn how to cook, seducing the world in those scantily clad outfits, or being the unassuming friend who you can lean on - it appears she can do no wrong.

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    1. Awesome man, glad you dig the post! I really enjoy The Fighter as well, which is funny because as a former boxer, I can honestly tell you that the fighting scenes in that movie are awful. Literally some of the worst I've seen. BUT the performances are So. Damn. Strong. from everyone, especially Adams. A perfectly acted film, that one.

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    2. Wow, former boxer! Had no idea about that one lol. I remember reading in an older post that you thought the boxing scenes in the film were really bad, but to me (as someone who has no interest in any kind of sports activity) the rest of the story and the great performances were what made that film for me - as it seems it did for you.

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    3. Ha, yessir. I loved that damn sport. Brutal but honest.

      It's funny, after I wrote you that comment, I watched The Fighter and paid really close attention to the boxing fights. I wanted to see if my criticism was fair. And yeah, I believe it sure is. Really poor boxing scenes throughout. But hey, great performances can make a movie!

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  3. This is a great list - for some reason I tend to forget just how good she is and always overlook her as an actress but the majority of her films really do show her talent. I should give her more credit!

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    1. Thanks Caitlin! I think because she's so good, she can actually be easy to overlook. Which may be why she hasn't won an Oscar yet, because it never feels like she's acting. She's so natural and there.

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  4. Oh Man! You know how much I like her. I can, not only I can but I literally have, watch any, absolutely any film if she is in it. Doesn't matter how shitty film turns out to be if she is in it, I am watching it.Of all the films, you have mentioned in this post, I have only not seen Drop Dead Gorgeous. And you can call me biased but she hasn't disappointed me. Her films sometimes have, but she hasn't.

    I noticed her first in Enchanted and as you mentioned, what I appreciate the most about her is variations of her roles. I don't think there are many actresses who can go from a Disney princess(Enchanted) to nun(Doubt) to sort of white trash(The Fighter) to Manic pixie dream girl(Mrs. Pettigrew) to quite, demure puppet master(The Master) to, as you said, bubbly, overly optimistic but very normal housewife(Junebug). And she plays all of them with a conviction like she was born to play them. I absolutely LOVE that about her.

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    1. Yes sir, I know you adore her! She's so skilled at changing the dynamics of her craft from character to character. Also, I LOVE your description of Peggy as "demure puppet master"... so well put.

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  5. Great list! I love Amy Adams, she is a fantastic actress. It's hard not to be blown away by her performance because she is good at what she does. She's quite versatile, being able to play any kind of role. I first noticed her in Enchanted, but even if I don't like the movie, I thought she was great in it. I have yet to see her other works (particularly The Master, Fighter and Doubt), but my favorite movies of hers are Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Junebug and Sunshine Cleaning.

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    1. Thanks! If you're a fan of hers, I definitely recommend checking out The Master and The Fighter. Those really show her true strength as an actor.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  6. Big fan of Amy Adams. She's one of those actors who just seems to go about things in the right way, if you know what I mean? She seems to choose her films well and puts in the hard work without being too flashy about it. You always know you're going to get a decent performance.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. Acting is all about choices, and she ALWAYS seems to make the right ones. Really damn impressive, actually.

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  7. I first saw her in Drop Dead Gorgeous, and I freaking love that movie, stupid as it is. I think Adams will go down in history as one of those great "classic" actresses many years from now, she turns in to many great performances. I still think Junebug might be my favorite performance of hers, she turned what could've been a dull movie into something wonderful.

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    1. I think she'll always be remembered too. Surely one of the greatest talents we have and, all things considered, she still has plenty more years of great characters to offer us!

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  8. She's definitely growing as an actress. Great potential in early roles which has proved to have plenty of substance. Now we're seeing that range in her acting. I'm looking forward to seeing what she'll be doing over the next few years.

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    1. Same here man. The fear for me is that, how can she top what she's already done? But I'm sure she'll make smart moves and still dish out excellent work.

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  9. She is a great actress with a very good filmography! Great list!

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  10. I happen to be watching her on The Office at this very moment, but I definitely agree that The Fighter is her best work. She impresses me more each time I watch, which is not typical with David O. Russell characters. Nice list!

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    1. Ha, that's funny that you were watching The Office. I enjoyed her stint on that show. Glad to hear you're a fan of Charlene! Thanks for reading man.

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  11. I wish she got more attention for Her, she was so charming and warming in it. She's at her best when she's like this. Wasn't a big fan of her in American Hustle, thought she was miscast.
    I first saw her in Drop Dead Gorgeous.

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    1. I wish her work in Her was called out more too. She had a very tough job in that film, and she pulled it off wonderfully. I loved her in that.

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  12. Funny ... I never connected Amy Adams with the kid in Catch Me If You Can. Great picks. I loved her character in Junebug. Granted she might be a bit hard to take in real life, except in small doses, but I couldn't resist her relentless love and hopefulness in the face of her husband's indifference toward their relationship and their baby.

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    1. She's so good and innocent in both of those films. So adorable in Junebug. I just cherish her.

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  13. God, when is she going to get her Oscar? (I highly doubt tomorrow; Blanchett pretty much has this year all taken care of.)

    Also, I really need to re-watch The Master. All of my attention was focused on Phoenix and Hoffman when I saw it, so I don't really remember much of her work. (Shameful, I know.)

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    1. Seriously, she should've won once or twice by now. I get what you mean about The Master. Peggy is a very unflashy character, but damn did she play it wonderfully.

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  14. Oh man, Amy Adams is probably my favourite working actress next to Jessica Chastain. She's so brilliant in every thing she's in. My favourite performance of hers is probably Enchanted, since no one else would be capable of doing as well in that role as she did, but I love her in all of the films you mentioned. She's so versatile and great, plus she is one of the most adorable people ever!

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    1. She's the best, isn't she? I agree that no one else could pull off Enchanted quite the way she did. That's a very special and important performance from her.

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  15. Nice picks man. I'd replace American Hustle with Enchanted. Otherwise, my list would be the same, except Junebug would probably be my #1. I do love her in Miss Pettigrew, though. That actually might sneak in ahead of Catch Me If You Can.

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    1. Thanks buddy. So many excellent roles to choose from. I really wanted to get Enchanted up there, because she's so good in it.

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  16. Such an an amazing post for Amy Adams. I feel like everything she does is worth its weight. From comedies to dramas she never is a caricature and one of my all-time favorites. As you said, she's just so darn reliable in every role. I give you a lot of respect for ranking her performances because I'm a bit blinded by all of them being top-notch. :)

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    1. Thanks so much Katy! It was really hard to pick a favorite Amy Adams role because yeah, she's always so damn good. No matter the genre or character, she makes EVERYTHING work.

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  17. She was the only thing I liked about American Hustle and from everything that was lovely in Her, she shined especially large. Absolutely going to watch The Fighter ASAP, too, thanks for the recommendation, Alex. :)

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    1. My pleasure! In hindsight, she really was the only thing I liked about American Hustle too. That film just hasn't sat well with me.

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  18. Amy Adams is someone I've always liked but I also always tend to underrate, somehow. I'm not sure how that works. Every time she has a film out (which is all the time, it seems like recently), I'm like, "oh, yeah, I like Amy Adams, I'll go see that." And then every time I'm like "whoa, I forgot how good she is." Literally, every time. You'd think I'd remember how good she is every time, but somehow I'm always surprised.

    I'm really looking forward to catching up with American Hustle and Her.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean. She has an outwardly underwhelming presence to her acting, which is what makes it so meaningful when she packs that emotional punch. Her acting isn't obvious at all, you know? She's never acting, but rather being.

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  19. Oh shit, did not know she was in Catch Me If You Can. I have that DVD sitting at home, and now I'm looking forward to seeing it even more. (No clue how I haven't seen that one yet)

    Anyway, great list, and I agree with your #1. She hit it out of the ballpark in The Fighter.

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    1. Ohhh man, Catch Me If You Can is so much fun. Literally from its opening credits on. It's like an innocent, PG-13 Wolf of Wall Street, in many ways. I really cherish that film, and Adams is perfect in it.

      So glad to hear your praise for her work in The Fighter.

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  20. Glad you highlighted Amy Adams, I've always admired her versatility.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading. I admire the hell out of her versatility as well.

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  21. This is just another great post, Alex. It's highly subjective of course to pick the best role for an actress of such versatility, but I'd go with her unforgettable Sidney Prosser / Edith Greenslay in "American Hustle" as her very best. Amy Adams has proven herself to be a truly terrific actress. She has shown an incredible range over the years and I say that having watched her entire filmography - like literally, her entire filmography, even her TV appearances (I know, it seems I'm a little obsessed with her wok). I totally love her and I'm glad she has come to show her abilities in full display. But never more as the way she did it in "American Hustle". Not only does she manage to steal the show in a film loaded with masterful performances, but also she gives the performance of a lifetime. He work in "Hustle" is spectacular - there aren't probably any adjectives strong enough to describe it. It's the kind of performance that will surely be counted among some of the greatest film acting of all time, the kind of performance that gets better and better with repeated viewings (and I've already seen the film three times). She never had such a meaty role in her hands, not even in "The Fighter" (a film that certainly reinvented her whole career) and she grabs the chance to shine there more than ever. It's quite moving I must say to watch an amazingly gifted actress being given the opportunity she deserved from the very beginning of her career. If had to rank her top 10 performances, the list would be the following:

    1) American Hustle
    2) The Master
    3) The Fighter
    4) Junebug
    5) Enchanted
    6) Sunshine cleaning
    7) Doubt
    8) Miss Pettigrew lives for a day
    9) Catch me if you can
    10) Talladega nights: The ballad of Ricky Bobby

    I think the first 8 performances of this list are worthy of an Oscar win - not a nomination, a win (yes, that includes her incredibly inspired work in "Enchanted"). In my mind, there's no way she wouldn't have the Oscar this year, if it hadn't been for Cate Blanchett's "bigger than life" performance in "Blue Jasmine" (the fact that two of the five performances included in the Best Actress category this year at the Oscars are two of the 50 best female performances of all time is undoubtedly encouraging). Amy Adams is one of the greats and I'm pretty sure we haven't seen anything from her yet. I can't wait for Tim Burton's "Big Eyes". Congratulations again, Alex, for your great list!

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    1. Hey man, thanks for another excellent comment! As always, I so appreciate your kind words and, of course, your incredible insight on the topic at hand.

      I love that you’re such a fan of Adams’ work. I agree that Hustle paved way for her meatiest role yet, and she killed it. I loved everything she did with that character, even if I didn’t love the film as a whole.

      Really dug your Top 10 as well. After I posted this In Character, I rewatched Enchanted and man, she really is the only gal in town who could’ve pulled that off so convincingly. I love her in that film. I’m really excited for Big Eyes as well. Thanks again for the comment!

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  22. Amy Adams is definitely my favorite actress working today. Every year she she brings out one or more amazing performances it seems. She is the next Meryl Streep and probably the only actor or actress that can possibly compete with her amazing Academy Award nomination record when she get's to that age.

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    1. She's the best. I'm really hoping Tim Burton delivers with Big Eyes. I have no doubt as to whether or not Adams will hit, but I wonder how Burton will handle the material.

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  23. Excellent post on one of my favorite actresses working today. I love how she can go from hard-nosed in The Fighter to doing the more family friendly Muppets or manipulative in The Master to playing Lois Lane, then going from seductive yet vulnerable in American Hustle (in which she was the acting MVP in my opinion) to sardonic in Her. I wonder how she does it?

    P.S.: I have a suggestion for another In Character post: Ben Mendelsohn. One of my favorite character actors working today. Kind of like how you followed Rosemarie DeWitt after Rachel Getting Married, I have followed his work after Dark Knight Rises.

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    1. So glad you're such a fan of Adams' work. I adore her, and yeah, I also wonder how she does it. She's just incredible.

      I've been wanting to cover Mendelsohn for a while now. But I'm not very hip on his Aussie work. But still, I should just do it! I love that guy.

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