best film: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is simply one of the great works in the artform’s history and Helen Mirren is front and center for it. Gosford Park is an important Robert Altman work – it is amongst the master’s best – but the answer here is still Greenaway’s film. There is a different color for each room – exteriors in blue, dining in red, bathroom in white, kitchen in green—some characters outfits change colors as does the cigarettes for Mirren. There is different music in every room – the child singing opera, Michael Nyman’s score stronger in the red dining area and lighter in the white bathroom. The costumes are stunning – Jean-Paul Gautier – pure expressionism. The Nyman score is haunting and probably his best (he always works with Greenaway and did The Piano as well). The film is a colossal triumph for Michael Gambon. His diction in the film is a marvel – he and his Albert are connected to Dennis Hopper/David Lynch’s Frank Booth in Blue Velvet for sure. Mirren’s achievement is a tad lower but only slightly. The scene where she is talking to her lover’s corpse while she is crying is a wow of a scene.
best performance: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover but this one is closer with each one of Mirren’s top three performances acceptable as the correct answer. She is marvelous in Greenaway’s masterpiece, but he keeps a sizable camera distance from his actors (he is one of the finest at painting the full frame). Altman is sort of the same way in Gosford Park with his camera sort of eavesdropping on the actors- and Mirren is part of a larger ensemble here which is often Altman’s modus operandi. Still, she is much more than a mere Greenaway model or mannequin and she slays it in a crucial scene in Altman’s film. Mirren’s work in The Queen is a fine answer as well. She is sublime in the key lead and crucial role – it is just that the artistic stakes are so much lower here than the other films.
stylistic innovations/traits: Helen Mirren has had a brilliant career over the decades. She sort of started out as a risk-taking sexpot (roles in Caligula and controversial work with Greenaway) who often played the beauty or the tart. Years later she largely ended up playing more regal and traditional prestige period films and roles including winning an Oscar for her work as Queen Elizabeth. In Mirren’s top three films, it is largely her stoicism that pervades- she definitely excels at playing characters with great inner strength. She also seems to have a single scene emotional breakdown in all three films that help break that stoicism and flesh out the depth of her character – these scenes are also clearly great show off scenes for any actor and Mirren lands all three perfectly.
directors worked with: John Boorman (1), Peter Weir (1), Peter Greenaway (1), Paul Schrader (1), Robert Altman (1) but no director with more than one archiveable film
top five performances:
- The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
- Gosford Park
- The Queen
- The Long Good Friday
- The Madness of King George
|1973- O Lucky Man!
|1980- The Long Good Friday
|1986- The Mosquito Coast
|1989- The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
|1990- The Comfort of Strangers
|1994- The Madness of King George
|2001- Gosford Park
|2001- The Pledge
|2006- The Queen
|2009- The Last Station
|2009- State of Play