Monday, March 10, 2014

Top 5 Jake Gyllenhaal Performances

I’ve always liked Jake Gyllenhaal, but last week, he transformed from an actor I like, to one I consider truly great. Looking back over his career, he has consistently delivered solid work in a number of genres, routinely matching his charm and intensity with a distinct brand of subtle humor. Here are my favorite examples of his talent; a list comprised of a few good men, and some batshit crazy ones too.

5. Donnie Darko (2001)
as Donnie Darko


While Gyllenhaal’s big break came via a starring performance in October Sky (released in 1999), his breakthrough performance was as Donnie Darko. This is one hell of a bizarre, yet supremely confident head trip of a movie, led by a fearless performance from Gyllenhaal. The actor expertly inhabits the film’s distinct world, making it impossible to take your eyes off him. It’s worth mentioning that Gyllenhaal almost always manages to sneak in bits of understated comedy into his performances, of which Donnie Darko is arguably the best example. He really did feel like a disturbed, smart ass teenage kid.

4. Prisoners (2013)
as Detective Loki

I loved everything about Detective Loki. I loved his authentic interactions with his boss, I loved how close he got to Alex Jones while he was interrogating him, I loved his slicked back hair, his restaurant choice for Thanksgiving, his shocked reaction to witnessing a suspect kill himself, and, of course, I loved the hell out of his nervous blinking. Detective Loki was such a purposefully underwritten character, and Gyllenhaal’s ability to present a fully developed man through details proved to be one of Prisoners’ most impressive feats.

3. Zodiac (2007)
as Robert Graysmith

There isn’t too much I can offer in regards to praise for Gyllenhaal’s work in Zodiac, except to say that he truly became Robert Graysmith. There was no Jake Gyllenhaal in his obsessive madness. No Hollywood cute boy bullshit. This was a character that Gyllenhaal stripped down and built up from scratch. Sure, his character was based on a real person, but the performance is entirely the Gyllenhaal’s. There isn’t a shred of artifice to be found here. Rarely has an obsessive geek been so compelling to watch on screen.

2. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
as Jack Twist

As one half of one of my all-time favorite film couples, Gyllenhaal played Jack Twist as an eager lover, waiting for the opportune time to expose his intentions. From his first moment on screen, in which he flirtatiously sends glances Ennis Del Mar’s way, to a climatic argument on top the titular mountain, Gyllenhaal beautifully inhabits a tortured, raucous spirit with the utmost conviction. Heath Ledger’s performance is the more noteworthy of the two, but Gyllenhaal did wonders with his time on screen. He helped the audience make sense of Ennis’ plight, while himself creating an indelible character in the process.

1. Enemy (2014)
as Adam/Anthony

Yep. And believe me, I know. I know I risk coming off as a loon at the peak of a cinematic sugar high by listing Gyllenhaal’s most recent screen performance as his best. But my intentions couldn’t be more sincere. I’ve let Denis Villeneuve’s masterful new thriller, Enemy, stir around in my head for the better part of a week. My initial, ecstatic excitement for the film has subsided, and now I’m able to appreciate it critically, as opposed to impulsively. So, judging it critically, I’m confident in hailing the film as a great one, anchored by two perfect Jake Gyllenhaal performances. As was the case in my review for the film, it’s best to keep details about Enemy as quiet as possible. But let me offer this: acting is really all about two things: listening, and making choices. Every single choice Gyllenhaal made as Adam and Anthony was the right decision. He committed himself to these characters so intensely, that I completely forgot that I was watching Jake Gyllenhaal. Fair warning: readers of this blog should prepare to read a lot more about Enemy in the ensuing months. I’m not letting this film go anywhere.


38 comments:

  1. For me so far...

    1. Zodiac
    2. Brokeback Mountain
    3. Donnie Darko
    4. Source Code
    5. The Good Girl

    I would add some honorable mentions towards performances like October Sky, Lovely & Amazing, Love & Other Drug, and Jarhead as I think they're some of his best though I think his sister is the better actor. He has unfortunately been in some bad movies like The Prince of Persia and Bubble Boy though they weren't really his fault that they sucked.

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    1. I do think Maggie is the consistently better performer, but Jake has really stepped into his own these past few years. I really wanted to give a shout out to The Good Girl, because I love that film and I love him in it. Creepy little fucker.

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  2. What, no Bubble Boy?

    I haven't seen the most recent films Prisoners and Enemy. I would have your other three and I'd toss in October Sky, Jarhead, and/or Proof. The latter two were also from the same year as Brokeback Mountain, but got overshadowed by it some.

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    1. I love him in those films, his fire in Jarhead is captivating, and his romantic innocence in Proof is quietly appealing. Proof was one that I always thought deserved more praise. By far my favorite John Madden film... it's actually a pretty lovely little flick.

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  3. Agree! But I loved him in PoP. Whatever went wrong in that movie was not his fault. He looked the part and with Gemma, he was good.

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    1. I must admit that PoP has gone unseen by me. Really just not my thing. But I do appreciate your comment!

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  4. I love Zodiac, and Jake is brilliant in it. Even in a sea of fantastic character actors he manages to hold his own. It is definitely one of my favorite movie. I still can't believe it got zero Oscar nominations that year.

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    1. Oh me either. It's baffling that Zodiac went so unloved during the '07 awards season. Granted, that was a great year for film, but Zodiac was a big reason as to why. In fact, I've always felt that the various awards outlets kind of made up for their Zodiac snub by over praising Benjamin Button the following year. Nothing against that film (it's certainly more awards friendly than any of FIncher's other work), but it's far from the masterpiece that Zodiac is.

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  5. Holy shit at your #1! I have bookmarked your review and will read it when I've watched Enemy.

    All the others, and I know it sounds like a copout, but I love all of them equally. I loved Loki's nervous blinking too! Also, it's impossible to be a teenage girl and not be fascinated with his Donnie Darko.

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    1. Seriously, he's So. Good. in Enemy. Twice.. It's not a copout to love everything else equally! Some actors are just that good to us, so narrowing it down isn't possible. I totally get that.

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  6. I'm not one who considers Gyllenhaal the greatest actor, and I've been pretty vocal about considering him overrated and second fiddle to his vastly more talented sister...but he has been churning out some surprisingly deep performances in the past year or two that have flipped his career and my assessment of his talents on their head.

    I'd probably rank him as follows:

    1) Jarhead (still, in my eyes, his crowning moment of true star charisma and rooted talents combining)
    2) End of Watch (the beginning of his career resurgence)
    3) Donnie Darko
    4) Prisoners (I loathe the film, but he creates such a complete character here)
    5) Rendition (one of the only times I've felt that he stood out among a large cast)

    The thing with Gyllenhaal is that, while he is mostly effective in his roles, he seems to disappear in a cast of more than three. I also found him to be the weakest link in 'Brokeback Mountain' and found his line readings really showed him out of his depth. Still, he's making a comeback and I'm really anxious to see 'Enemy' as I'm seriously happy to see Gyllenhaal make good on his early promise.

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    1. I see where you're coming from, but it is nice to hear that you haven't given up on him. I think he's had some weak spots in his career (as everyone has), but he can really go full tilt when need be. I battled with my number 5 pick. It was between that and Jarhead, because I love him in that film. Such power.

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  7. Love Jake Gyllenhaal. Since I haven't seen Enemy yet, I'd probably put The Good Girl in it's place, otherwise we would have the same top 5.

    I love Donnie Darko, but I think it made me seriously hate The Day After Tomorrow. I was like "WTF is Jake Gyllenhaal STILL doing in high school?" lol

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    1. Ha, so true about tDAT, but such is what we can expect from a film that size, I suppose. So glad to hear your Good Girl praise. I adore him in that flick.

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  8. Ooh, now I really want to see Enemy.

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  9. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorites. Ever since Donnie Darko I've been interested in anything he's in and the looks don't hurt. I think he's a fantastic actor when he works on a good project, but his on screen presence works well even in lesser movies. Prisoners was definitely a step in the right direction in his career I think and I absolutely can't wait to see Enemy! Especially after your high praise.

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    1. Ohh trust me, if you're a fan of his, you'll love what he does in Enemy. He really brought his A-game in that film. I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

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  10. Really awesome list, I saw all of those except for Enemy and I agree with your choices - I hated Prisoners but he was really amazing in that, he kept me watching and if he would win all the awards just for delivering such a good work in such a movie I would not argue with that.

    His work in Brokeback was outstanding, so convincing and touching. Him and Ledger were at their best there.

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    1. Thanks! I think it's really cool that you are able to separate a performance from a film. I think a lot of people assume that because you hate a movie, you must hate everything within it, which just isn't true. So basically, I'm glad to hear you liked him in Prisoners. I hope you dig Enemy, it is the polar opposite of Prisoners, truly.

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    2. I think it's even a little more admirable if someone pulls off a great performance in something I consider to be a bad or mediocre movie. To overcome the limitations of a script and really create a character is a sign of a big talent.

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    3. Oh for sure. Certainly not an easy feat.

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  11. Once I see Enemy I'm sure I'll be able to make my list concrete but I'm on track with you so far:

    5. Source Code
    4. Donnie Darko
    3. Brokeback Mountain
    2. Prisoners
    1. Zodiac (Enemy, based on the trailer and your review I'm sure will occupy this spot once I see it though)

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    1. Great picks man. I know how much you love Zodiac... that's just a perfect film, isn't it?

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    2. I do indeed love that film lol! I go back and forth as to whether that or The Social Network is my favorite Fincher film. As much as I just love the dialog and the precise detail in that film, Zodiac has Gyllenhaal, a great restrained (to a degree) Downey Jr., John Carroll Lynch, and I believe is, as you put it, one of the best examples of Fincher making the ordinary - extraordinary.

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    3. Master of the mundane. Yes sir. Se7en will always be my favorite Fincher, but damn, the guy has made some classics.

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  12. Nice list. Haven't seen Enemy yet. Given that I'd swap that one and Brokeback for his work in Jarhead and End of Watch. The latter I always think of as a tandem performance with Michael Pena. They were ridiculously good together.

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    1. He and Pena had such great chemistry in that movie. That flick actually really surprised me. I remember expecting nothing going in, but being really impressed with it. Solid film.

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  13. Hard to rank his 'many' great performances, but Prisoners, Donnie Darko, Brokeback and Zodiac would all be near the top. I enjoyed his work in Jarhead (rounding out the 5) and Love and Other Drugs and Source Code too. I still haven't seen End of Watch, but again, I read good things about his performance. Only Prince of Persia is a blemish. The Day After Tomorrow was so important for his career, come to think back on it.

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    1. Yeah I can't really hate on The Day After Tomorrow, because it showed that he could carry a film, even without being the real star (which for that flick, was the special effects). But he held his own and delivered a good performance. What did you think of Enemy? Can't remember if you caught it on the festival circuit...

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  14. I've liked Jake before, and thought him really good in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for example but weirdly it's PRISONERS which proved - beyond reasonable doubt - that he's really impressive. It's probably what I would choose for him as my favourite performance and why I'm curious to see what teaming up with Villeneuve again leads to in ENEMY.

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    1. I thought he showed us something new in Prisoners, which is why I was so drawn to that performance. Really impressive work. In Enemy, he shows us WAY more.

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  15. It's weird because I think a lot like you with Gyllenhaal. I always know that he's there and putting out great work, but I never fully pay attention to him like I should. He's amazing in just about anything he shows up in and I think Prisoners was the best example of that, as it was such an under-written character, that only someone like Gyllenhaal could actually go and dig in deeper with. Lovely list, bud.

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    1. Thanks Dan! He's come into his own these past few years and finally started to MAKE people pay attention to him. Which is awesome.

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  16. So glad you included his performance in Prisoners, which I nominate him for in Best Actor. I've never actually seen Donnie Darko, so I need to check it out. This also makes me even more excited for Enemy. Really looking forward to that one.

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    1. Dude, he is so good in Enemy. I can't wait to talk about that performance(s) with you.

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  17. Very intriguing little mini-analysis' on a great actor, one of my favourites.
    Although from your list, I've only seen 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Zodiac'.
    Thus I'd actually add movies like 'Moonlight Mile', 'Proof' and 'Brothers'. My Top-5 on JG.
    NS

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    1. Hey, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I highly recommend that you check out Prisoners and Enemy (when it comes your way). They capture three distinctly different aspects of his craft. That said, I loved him in the three films you mentioned.

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