Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Ten: Great Jennifer Jason Leigh Movie Moments

Craig here. I've been given free reign on this week's Tuesday Top Ten. So, to keep it Actressexual I thought I'd offer up Ten Great Jennifer Jason Leigh moments. Here are some choice (short) cuts from the career of Ms. Leigh. They're in no order (chronological or preferential) and I've referred to Jennifer as JJL because, well, it saves time. Where's Margot at the Wedding? Where's The Anniversary Party? Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Synechdoche, New York, A Thousand Acres or The Machinist? Well, Nathaniel spoke about these and more in his interview with JJL a few years back. We're keen on avoiding any overlap.

1. Amy Archer, by Proxy: Goooooooo Eagles!!! JJL trying to avoid letting on that she's not really a Muncie girl at heart in The Hudsucker Proxy. She takes parodic period comedy to a higher level - not counting the Mezzanine.

2. The Mansfield Method: I'm sure we'd all shudder if I were to mention the words Tramps + Tralala + Back of a Car. But it's not that scene - although it was horrifically memorable for the sheer force of willpower with which JJL played it. In my view, just a tiny amount of genius was excreted when JJL played Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn. She's known to be Method on occasion - and some folk often balk at the Method Actor's over-rehearsal routine - but Tralala is exemplary evidence of how well Method can be harnessed in service of a role in an integral way. JJL didn't want to merely walk in the way she thought a 1950's hooker would - she supposed that Tralala would've walked the way Jayne Mansfield walked, since it was likely that someone in Talala's position would've wanted to emulate a then-screen icon to colour-up her own sense of self. So Tralala strutted thusly. Any time she sashays in or out of a scene you can see the results of her research bawdily trotted on the screen.

She, Jayne: JJL leads the Brooklyn charge

3. CSI: Crime Scene Intercourse: After reading Backdraft's script, JJL apparently had a word in director Ron Howard's shell-like that she 'wished she'd played the fire because it has the best part'. Girl's got a point. Who didn't go to see Backdraft to witness the spectacular immolation of a multitude of buildings? (Well, they did make a theme park attraction out of it.) JJL has claimed that she always trys to avoid straight-up wife/girlfriend roles for the sake of it, and if I'm not mistaken it was said pretty much after she starred in this. Maybe getting to grips with William Baldwin's fireman's pole atop a fire engine didn't quite cut it. But that scene was as memorable as it was dafter than a bag of cats.

4. "Sister" Act: Sinister act, more like. Lonely White Nutjob Hedy Carlson makes creative use of her spiked high heel in Single White Female. Footwear-based murdering aside, I was fully behind JJL in the film. She was much more fun to root for than Bridget Fonda's dull heroine. The film's like a style make-over lesson for psychos.

I doubt Hedy's track record at pet ownership is too reliable

5. Sister Act 2: Back on the Habit:"Take me back, take me back, take me back, take me back, take me back, take me back, take me BACK!" For the love of God, someone take her back. JJL's uninterrupted 8½-minute version of Van Morrison's 'Take Me Back' in 1995's Georgia was an audio endurance test/sublime depiction of raw vocal emotion [delete as appropriate]: those that love her (I count myself in this number) may well have liked to sit through another 8½-minutes (hang on, I don't love her that much); those that don't may have wanted to issue a fatwa upon Georgia's editor's head. This moment is unavailable to view outside of the film itself (due to some daft Van-instigated copyright business) but here - and just as memorable - is soulful sister Sadie Flood telling us she's gonna have no more Hard Times

6. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker: Of course I love me some JJL. But I've always been a fervent Dorothy Parker devotee, too. Imagine my joy, back in '94, on hearing that the former was to play the latter. (If you can't imagine that, and why would you, I'll simply say that I almost imploded with favourite female icon overload.) Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, or What Does One Have to Do to Exactly to Get an Oscar Nod Around Here?, was full to the brim of acidic put-downs and delightful quips, as was DP's MO. And here we get two of Parker's delicious bon mots, delivered in true derisory fashion, for the price of one: one being a barbed recitation of her eight-line poem Résumé, the other... well just watch the clip. Ouch, catty.

Drugs cause cramp? But sitting awkwardly will give you terrible posture Dotty.

7. Just a small hitch...: I'll bet that JJL's waitress Nash regretted downing the dishcloths and ditching diner life for a jaunt on the open road with C. Thomas Howell's lanky drifter in The Hitcher. Should she have gone? Should she have stayed? Oh, these decisions just tear you apart, don't they?

8. gAmeZ-R-uZ: Death to Videodrome! Long live The New flesh!... Oops, I mean, Death to the demoness Allegra Geller! Yes that. And long live eXistenZ! Hurrah. I think of this film every time I have to remove the giblets from a chicken at Sunday lunch (though I stop short of attempting to make a bone-gun out of its innards - I don't think my other half would appreciate a wishbone to the face). And I also think of this film every time I think about JJL and David Cronenberg. Which is a lot. If you haven't seen it, go and see Inception for a quick reminder; better still - watch the film itself. Two moments here: when Allegra gets out of the game ("Have I won? Have I won the game?"); and when we're not quite sure whether she has or whether she hasn't. ("Hey, tell me the truth... are we still in the game?")

Game playerZ Law and JJL

9. Cutting the call short: When most stay-at-home moms are cradling a phone receiver in one hand and a baby in the other they're probably having a much-needed chinwag with a friend. Short Cuts' Lois Kaiser, on the other hand, is a staunch multi-tasker. Verbally assisting a stranger to get his rocks off is as much part of her day as changing nappies. Chris Penn wasn't so keen, mind you.

For once, JJL hangs up so she can hang out.

10. After Birth of a Notion: JJL plays performance artist Lydia Johnson in Christopher Guest's movie-making spoof The Big Picture. In the film Guest and Leigh cheekily extract the urine out of performance art, turning it into a daft mockery of the strained seriousness that can all too often be found in the fine art world. Those who didn't think JJL had an aptitude for comedy should watch this clip. Mad and, indeed, cap.

* The main picture up top is a bonus moment, #11. JJL as Pauline in In the Cut: wandering around a garden in the morning, filling her head with beautiful thoughts - before she went and lost it.

Are there any moments I've missed that y'all like? Or are these enough for one day thankyouplease?


BeRightBack said...

Her uncanny little girl impression in Palindromes?

Richard Bellamy said...

Craig - I clicked on this post just because, in my opinion, my number one choice would be JJL as Amy Archer - and there it was at the top (even though your list is not necessarily a rating.) Yes! Jennifer Jason Leigh's rapid-fire delivery of her lines and her facility with some pretty ornate, clever language is amazing!

Oh, I just had to say that I saw her on stage in NYC in the lead of Proof.

She's also quite good in a movie called The King is Alive - in which a group of tourists, trapped in the Namibian desert, put on a production of KIng Lear, directed by one man's memory. Of course, things fall apart, and it's all very sordid, but it's another instance of great JJL acting.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BeRightBack said...

Oh, I found the moment I was thinking of, her reading of the last line in this clip:


Daniel said...

Love JJL and loved her in Margot at the Wedding, why did no one really appreciate that film?! Admittedly I did nod off whilst watching it at The Angelica, but it was too warm in there! I did manage to fully appreciate it in whole later. Loved Nicole and JJL together on screen.


i've never been able to connect with her work on a regular basis (i'm not sure why. too mannered? but then i like some mannered actresses a lot so that doesn't explain it exactly)

but i do think she's good in HUDSUCKER PROXY and i like the whole film -- i sometimes think if it had been released at a different point in the Coen Bros career that film would be more respected.

my favorite JJL performance is probably MRS PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE though weirdly -- considering i'm not really a fan -- that seems to be the one that a lot of people *don't* like.

Unknown said...

I like the scene where she takes care of Jason Patric's junkie cop as he's trying to go cold turkey and kick his habit in RUSH. There is something comforting about the way she deals with him in that scene that is very endearing and has an authentic feel to it.

Dan said...

Whenever I think of Jennifer Jason Leigh I always think of two films - Fast Times At Ridgemont High and her top coming off, and The Hudsucker Proxy and her kinetic performance.

Damian Arlyn said...

Like you, Nate, I've never been able to connect with Jennifer Jason Leigh in a significant way, but there a couple tings she's done that I've enjoyed. Definitely her wonderful Katherine Hepburn-inspired turn in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Love that film and love her her in it. Also, I thought her performance as Kathy Bates' disturbed daughter in DOLORES CLAIBORNE was pretty good too.

As for her "bottom ten" movie moments, how about ROAD TO PERDITION? Does anyone even remember that she was in that film?

Volvagia said...

Think of the Marketing Campaign field day with her and Joseph Gordon Levitt. (The first J for both in the centre and then the other initials flaring out on either side. Find the great movie for that ad Campaign and you'll intrigue people, even if the campaign is slightly opaque. People used to love that.)

/3rtfu11 said...

Jennifer Jason Leigh is an actress I didn’t initially like. Her performances felt so authentic. The ones I saw she was always a screwed up – bitchy bitch. From what little I know of her as a person she seems nice and grounded. The fact that she’s never broken through with the Academy actually makes her more endearing.

Volvagia said...

Burrowed into your top ten Nominationless Actors thing from a few years back. So far, I see Donald Sutherland as deserving 3 Noms and a win, and it's not where most would go.

70: Lead Actor, M*A*S*H - nom (Loss to Mick Jagger, Performance)
73: Lead Actor, Don't Look Now - nom (Loss to Martin Sheen, Badlands)
78: Supporting Actor, Animal House - win. (Hilariously ripping apart his stuffy, restrained persona sets this above everything else I've seen him do.)

BillyBob said...

Her collaborative efforts with Miranda Richardson in Altman's highly underrated KANSAS CITY are, in my opinion, some of the best acting of the nineties, so it's disappointing not to see such masterly work mentioned, but otherwise a great list!

Craig Bloomfield said...

Hokahey - yes to the Amy Archer love. Lost count of the times I've seen THP. The Kind Is Alive is pretty nifty, I liked it more than many of those other Dogme95 films.

BillyBob - I agree about Kansas City, a really great, undervalued Altman film. It was in there but had to whittle it to 10 (well, 11-ish). There were roughly six more I wanted to do, but kept it to just moments in films, as opposed to performances. (A preferential list of performances would look rather different!) I'd be more than willing to do a follow-up in future.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

This article finally made me get up and watch Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle for the first time. A strange but very good movie, and she's quite good. So, thanks!

dbm said...

My faves of JJL is

1) Fast Times- because I was young and this was one of her first roles and she played shy and naive well. I related to that film becuase of the time. I was in 6th grade and that was my older brothers life.
2) Short Cuts- it's a great role where she truly does have to multi task and she makes it look effortless.
3) Georgia- Just believable.
4) Hudsucker Proxy- Snappy and different from what you expect from her
5) Last Exit To Brooklyn- Sexy siren, another that you don't expect from her.

Honorable mentions- Single White Female, Dolores Claiborne, Miami Blues, Rush.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Wow, that's a lot of bad movies for one actress to be in. There was a brief shining moment where I thought I might like her, probably around Last Exit To Brooklyn, but it's been all downhill since then. To me, she's the epitome of box office poison. Sorry guys - I know it's me.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I know I love JJL, but I'd started forgetting why I do. This was a great reminder.

I think the main reason is Hudsucker Proxy (Go Eagles is a great moment but that whole genius performance is a great moment). Her Last Exit to Brooklyn strut would be the second main reason.

Henry said...

I still think her Amy Archer character is the best role she's ever played. I still get a lot of laughs from her interactions with Bruce Campbell, John Mahoney, and Tim Robbins.

But... NOTHING from The Anniversary Party?

Henry said...

I actually completely forgot she was in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But to be fair, I was only remembering the image of Phoebe Cates and The Cars with that film. It's like Animal House with the food fight scene. Everything else tends to be blocked out.

nyww said...

Guess my recommendations can be quite minor but if you haven't please see great subtle performances in

- Washington Square

- Bastard Out of Carolina

- Love Letter

MRRIPLEY said...

jjl i feel is the msot mannered over rated actress of her generation.

8 half mins in georgia proved it and her awful turn in mrs parker.

Anonymous said...

I will always remember her as the girl getting preggers in the dug out in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was disturbed for like 2 days after watching Last Exit to Brooklyn. I watched it on video like 15 years and haven't seen it since. MinDC

Ralph said...

I was about 12 years old when I first saw her in Paul Verhoeven's Flesh + Blood.... need I say more.

And a role I really liked but hasn't been mentioned yet, was her role in Dolores Claiborne.

dbm said...

I mentioned DC...

mediawahwah said...

Always lovee JJL...and not many people talking about eXistenZ these...or any days for that matter. Interesting.

Jay Raskin said...

I always show the crying "Morris, Don't leave me" scene from Washington Square in my Humanities Class.
I think the most amazing scene is her rape scene in "Flesh and Blood"
The "Better Than a Sock in the Eye" scene in "Mrs. Parker" is terrific too.
Jennifer is the best American actress since Betty Davis.