Monday, March 19, 2007

The 10 Best Movie Performances by Kids

Pajiba had an article a while ago about the best performances by children (under the age of 13) in movies. While I agreed with some of the choices, I have my own ideas about who should be in the top 10. It has taken me a long time to get around to it, but I have finally come up with my own list.

In no particular order they are:

Christian Bale: Empire of the Sun-

First of all, if you have not yet seen this movie, you need to rent it this weekend. In my opinion, it's the best movie Spielberg has ever made.

Synopsis: Empire of the Sun is basically about a spoiled British kid (James Graham) living in Shanghai trying to survive after being separated from his parents after the Japanese invade. He is eventually captured and put in an internment camp. The movie is poignant and the cinematography is amazing. (I love the scene where he is in the stadium with all the valuables that were taken from private homes.)

Christian Bale takes you from hating Jim, to laughing with/at him, to being utterly heartbroken for him. You will roll your eyes, laugh, cry, cheer, and then cry some more.

Like Christian Bale? Check him out in The Machinist.

Macaulay Culkin: The Good Son -

Forget about those stupid Home Alone movies. They were made to get families with kids to the movie theaters and they did a great job of that (and of keeping Joe Pesci working).

Synopsis: After his mother's death, a young boy, Mark (Elijah Wood), goes to stay with his aunt and uncle while his dad goes on a business trip. Mark makes fast friends with his cousin Henry (played by Culkin). But after seeing Henry in action, Mark realizes that Henry is truly evil, and has to keep Henry from hurting others, because no one believes Mark's stories about Henry.

Macaulay Culkin is utterly convincing as a depraved psycho. Seriously . . . if I ever ran into Mac Culkin I would probably run for my life. In the final scene where the boys are hanging over the cliff and the mother has to decide whether to save her son or her nephew . . . wow.

Like Macaulay Culkin? Check out Saved!

Elijah Wood & Thora Birch: Paradise -

First of all, let me forewarn you about this movie: The two main adult leads are Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. But you shouldn't let that stop you from seeing this movie.

Synopsis: Willard Young (Wood) goes to stay with his mother's friend Lily (Griffith) and her husband Ben (Johnson) after his father runs off with another woman. Lily and Ben are having marital problems which started after the death of their son. Willard naturally brings the couple back together by reminding them how much they love each other, and they all live happily ever after.

Cheesy, right? Not really. Elijah Wood, who was only 8 or 9 when the movie was made, already showed a great deal of range as an actor. And his co-star, a very precocious Thora Birch (as Billie Pike) is the perfect counterbalance to Willard's pensive, introverted personality. She is nosy, bossy, and just kind of a brat, but at the same time she is a vulnerable, wounded child who really just wants someone to love her unconditionally.

Like Elijah Wood? Check him out in The War, The Ice Storm, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Like Thora Birch? Check her out in American Beauty and The Hole.

Anna Pacquin: The Piano -

This is another must-see movie. Forget for a moment that we are talking about performances by children. Holly Hunter kicked ass in this movie. Oh, and as an added incentive, Harvey Keitel went full frontal.

Synopsis: Ada (Hunter), a mute Englishwoman, moves to New Zealand for an arranged marriage along with her young daughter, Flora (Pacquin), and her prized piano. Her new husband then sells her piano to a neighbor, George (Keitel), who Ada then begins having an affair with. Drama ensues.

Flora (to use Jo's word) is cunty. But when you look at what she has been through, you kind of can't blame her. She is the sole link between her mother and the speaking world; she is hauled off to a strange land; she has no friends her own age. But at the same time, she and her mother have a very close relationship, although not in a traditional mother-daughter sense.

Like Anna? Check her out in A Walk on the Moon and Almost Famous.

Abigail Breslin: Little Miss Sunshine -

Synopsis: Olive Hoover (Breslin), a chubby, glasses-wearing, little girl wants nothing more than to be in the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, and her father (Greg Kinear) has convinced her that she can win, much to her mother's (Toni Colette) chagrin. The family takes off on the road for the pageant and hilarity (and tragedy) ensues.

If this movie was nothing but the last 10 minutes, it would be well worth the cost of admission to go see it. But when you throw in this horribly flawed cast of characters, and the dynamics between them all, you get one of the best movies I've seen in quite a while. And Olive is a jewel . . . this is a child with no fear (or is she just completely oblivious?!) who is somehow able to bring her dysfunctional family together for a common goal. By the time she was about 30 seconds into her dance finale, I found myself cheering aloud for her, because you just want this little underdog to come out on top.

Like Abby? Check her out in Signs.

Rory Culkin: Mean Creek -

Synopsis: Rory plays Sam, a quiet kid who is being bullied by George. When Sam admits this to his older brother, he and some friends come up with a plan to get their revenge on George. But what was supposed to be a prank goes sour, things quickly start to fall apart, and George ends up dead.

There is one word to describe Rory's performance in this movie: riveting. If you haven't seen this movie, you need to check it out.

Like Rory? You can check him out along with Abigail in Signs.

Miko Hughes: Jack the Bear -

This is the best movie you've never seen.

Synopsis: An alcoholic single father (Danny Devito) struggles to raise his two young sons following the death of his wife. The oldest son, Jack (played brilliantly by Robert J. Steinmiller Jr. ) is left to care for his younger brother, Dylan (Hughes), and grows to resent him. But then Dylan is abducted by a neighbor and life gets even more complicated for this family.

You may not recognize the name, but you know Miko Hughes well. He was Gage in Pet Sematary, Simon in Mercury Rising, and Joseph ("Mr. Kimble are you all right?") in Kindergarten Cop.

Like Miko? Check him out in Pet Sematary, Kindergarten Cop, and Mercury Rising.

Natalie Portman: The Professional (AKA Leon) -

When I first saw this movie, it was obvious that Natalie Portman was going places. This would not be the last time we saw this little girl.

Synopsis: Leon (Jean Reno) is a professional hit man who lives down the hall from Mathilda (Portman), a precocious young girl with a potty mouth and a pack-a-day smoking habit. One day, while Mathilda is at the store, dirty cops come in and kill her parents (who are drug dealers) and siblings. Luckily, through the intervention of Leon, Mathilda narrowly escapes also being killed. Mathilda then decides that she is going to train under Leon to be a hit man as well so that she can get revenge on the cops who killed her family.

Her performance was so raw and emotional (think Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver) that it's easy to forget that she was only 11 years old when the movie was made.
Like Natalie? Check her out in Closer and Garden State.

And I know that I said that these were in no particular order, but I had to save the best for last:

Victoire Thivisol: Ponette -

Sometimes, when you are watching a good movie, a scene or a moment will move you to tears. And sometimes the emotions jump out of the screen, maul and emotionally rape you, and leave you a blubbering, mascara-smeared mess on the floor. That's Ponette.

Synopsis: A 4-year-old little girl (Thivisol), after the death of her mother, tries to bring her back to life through chants and deals with God, while at the same time withdrawing from her family and those around her.

You may say that you don't really like movies with subtitles. Honestly, I'd rather watch my movies than read them, too. But you don't even need the subtitles with this movie. Everything you need to understand is right there in Victoire's eyes.

Like Victoire? Check her out in Chocolat.


Jo said...

I loved Elijah Wood in the Radio Flyer actually.

Totally agree with the list otherwise, esp. Macauley Culkin in the Good Son. That movie scared the crap out of me.

Helen Skor said...

Jo, have you seen Ponette? If not, you definitely need to. It is a wonderful film, and I think it would be right up your alley!