Films can change our lives for many reasons, whether it be making you emotionally stronger, guiding you through a difficult time in life, or wanting to be like a movie character you've seen on the big screen. Today, we’re going to celebrate the actors and their performances which did so, and why. I have chosen the date July 7th, 2007, simply for the quaint fact that it gives three sevens in a row. However, I will be keeping the topic open all weekend and well into Monday and Tuesday of more people have entries to add. So don't stress if you haven't got an article today exactly, there's plenty of time to start one!
So, I had to think long and hard about which movie performance made the biggest impact on my life. There were many, many performances that changed my life in the short term, for example, to make me want to better myself (eg., Amelie, Erin Brockovich), as well as films that inspired me to seize the day and do something radical (Chariots of Fire and Mr Holland’s Opus come to mind here), but essentially, 99% of movies don’t affect me for much longer than after I’ve finished watching it.
The four performances already mentioned have actually had a huge impact on my life, and those reasons I’ve discussed here and here. However, the performance that had the hugest impact and change on my life was one that I initially didn't think of. It had just affected my life in such an everyday way, that it had become part of my system.
I had convinced myself that it was Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire that was the performance, for a various reasons, two of them being that they got me obsessed with movies and interested in the art of acting. But then I realised that there was a performance that had already achieved this impact on me, and more, and had done it sooner.
And that performance was Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Without a doubt. On my sidebar, a while ago, sat the phrase, “I owe Osment my all”, and it is true, for it was he who really got me interested in movies, and the redeeming powers of communication, and everything that is good about life, really. So ingrained had his influence become into my everyday life, that I almost forgot him. But I didn’t.
I distinctly remember that year, 2003, when, at the time, I had been a gal who had considered Mr Deeds and Rat Race the pinnacle of good moviemaking. I’d just discovered the joys of IMDb, and had been looking at their top 250. A lot of the films on there didn’t interest me at all. But The Sixth Sense was different. As soon as I’d read the plot summary, I was completely intrigued. Sadly, though, it was classified a 15 and my parents wouldn’t rent it for me. Like an act of fate, however, ITV screened it several weeks later, and I watched it with one of my closest friends.
I had wanted to see the movie for the plot, the action and the ending. All were good. But Haley was a total revelation. Everything I thought I looked for in a movie (cheesy laughs and jokes) changed after my viewing of The Sixth Sense. In Osment’s portrayal of Cole Sear was a troubled boy who uttered that infamous line, “I see dead people.” As soon as the audience receive that first shot of Osment, I knew I was watching a special one. Something his aura just told me. He was incredibly chilling, those beautiful blue eyes speaking volumes. In The Sixth Sense, Osment possessed the ability to communicate through a simple look or gesture, convincing us while never going over the top, so much so that once he said that line, you believe every word. And even better, he projected the vulnerability that came with having his “gift” without ever having to resort to cutesiness or swarm.
I was disturbed by Osment’s performance. Any child who says, “We were supposed to draw a picture, anything we wanted. I drew a man who got hurt in the neck by another man with a screwdriver” is obviously not normal. In the film, Cole Sear who appears to be having the same problems that Bruce Willis (a psychologist)’s former patient once displayed . Willis wants to help him. And we, as the audience want Willis to help him. But, at the same time, we cannot help feeling nervous. There is obviously something very wrong with Sear. Osment captures the eerie quality perfectly.
Even more impressively, it was Osment’s role that added the extra emotional layer to Shyamalan’s dead people story, and he did so perfectly, carrying the film on his childlike back, his facial expressions, deliveries and mannerisms absolutely spot on. In every scene of his, I felt tense toward the plot, but also completely astounded by his acting.
But the scene of his which had the largest impact on me was his final scene with Colette, where he spoke of her deceased mother, and mother and son connect for the first time all movie. Here it is:
The message of reconciliation could not be more clear; The Sixth Sense was so much more than a horror story. This scene was one in a long stream of film scenes to induce tears in me, because it made me appreciate my own parents more, and also be nicer to my friends. From Osment’s performance I took the message that everyone needs to reconcile with their loved ones before it is too late.
Following that, I was absolutely fascinated by Osment and wanted to see all that there was from him. Luckily, the friend I watched it with held a movie marathon for her birthday, where the rented movies were Signs and A.I. And the two movies had very different effects on me, Haley being the backbone for both. Signs was comedy of the highest value; I laughed from start to finish. And Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin’s performances were two key sources of the hilarity. Their performances simply made me respect Osment more. My harshness in judging other child performances has remained with me for the four years that followed – whilst I’m willing to concede that Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive, Victoire Thivisol in Ponette Wei Minzhi in Not one Less, Ivana Baquero in Pan’s Labyrinth have all been stellar performances, I have been notoriously harsh with child performances (my friends were completely shocked at the number of profanities I uttered on Oscar nomination day this year when Breslin got a nomination). And all this hostility comes from my sense of high expectation following seeing Osment’s performances. That I’m still using him as a source of comparison four years after seeing his performance really says something.
But nothing did this better than A.I., a movie where Haley managed to outdo himself. He was transcendent, one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. I was stunned that someone so young bore so much talent.
And so, the film-watching obsession truly began.
It is also worth nothing the other way Haley’s performance affected me – I learnt the meaning of the world “fangirl.” I’ve been called a Harry Potter fangirl, a Marlon Brando fangirl and a Brokeback Mountain fangirl, but nothing topped my fandom towards Haley. I sent him letters (they were never replied), and, more embarrassingly, wrote two film scripts where the lead roles had been tailored specially for him. The first, Butterfly, was about how three teenagers in California fought crime. Ugh, I cringe just thinking about it. But the second was even worse. Titled The Only Way, it starred me (yes, me), Rupert Grint, and Haley, and revolved around how Rupert and I were both vying for Haley’s affections. It was awful. I showed all my friends and they laughed.
But for some reason, I didn’t mind, and went on to write film scripts and reviews. And some of those have actually come good! Following Haley’s performance, I decided I wanted a job in the movie industry, and, whilst my current education doesn’t quite accommodate that (I’ll probably read Maths at Uni), I still fully plan on making a film someday. And although the film won’t be called The Only Way or Butterfly, Haley Joel Osment will be the first actor who I want casted.
After Haley, I continued to watch films avidly, never expecting to watch another performance that wowed me as much as Osment in The Sixth Sense and A.I. I was wrong, of course, performances by Tim Robbins, Audrey Hepburn, Julianne Moore, James Stewart, Alec Guinness, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis, and chiefly, Marlon Brando proved me wrong. But Osment in The Sixth Sense was the first movie-watching experience to wow me.
Another factor that Haley played in my life was my development as a teenage girl. After watching him A.I., I’d developed somewhat of a crush on him (it’s OK, he was 13 in the movie and I was 13 as well!), and my writing letters to him was a huge step for me, as I would never have had the bravery to do that before. Although he never replied, I felt more confident as a result, and was less shy and nervy around boys. It’s hard to explain how an actor can affect your confidence around the opposite sex, but Haley really did. Although my crush on him didn’t last long (although my obsession with him did last, I still adore him), he was probably the first filmstar crush I had, and following my viewing of Signs, I also fancied Joaquin Phoenix. Which led to my viewing of films like Gladiator, again, heightening my appreciation of cinema. (a little shallow, admittedly, but anything that got me watching more movies can only be a good thing, now?)
That performance didn’t just make me more confident around guys. On seeing how a child could hold so much talent, I was less afraid to voice my opinion, speak up in class, and say what I thought of everything. In short, Haley gave me emotional strength.
Recently, Haley has suffered somewhat of a fall from grace. Caught with possession of marijuana and making films like Secondhand Lions and doing voicework for The Jungle Book II is not exactly how actors plan their lives to turn out, I’m sure. But I have such high hopes for Haley. I believe he’s just going through a rough patch, and in a few years time when he’s sorted his issues, he will grace us with an amazing comeback, and win countless Oscars. Anybody who can act as well as they did in The Sixth Sense and A.I. is destined for brilliance, albeit with a few bumps. I have faith in Haley.
Haley in The Sixth Sense opened my eyes to a world of excellence in acting, heartfelt emotions, talented little things and people who were ahead of their time. And I cannot thank him enough for that.
In the meantime, enjoy the brilliant entries that have already been written:
Kendra at Jake Weird on Michael Caine in Sleuth, saying, “Caine’s character reaches unheard quotas of auto-sacrifíced working class hero. You won't be able to forget Inspector Doppler once the film is finished.” This movie, and the remake, have both now shot up to the top of my to-see list!
Catherine from The Mixed Up Files of Catherine pays tribute to screen icon Bette Davis in All About Eve, “I really grappled with the role, struggled to break it down. It was something to get my teeth into. I longed to discuss it. To find the heart of it. I wanted, basically, to know it.”
Campaspe at Self-Styled Siren admits that Ginger Rogers in 42nd Street was the performance that changed her life, “The performance that really did change my life wasn't deep and wasn't even a star turn, though certainly it was meaningful to me.” In list form, she takes us through the lessons Rogers’ Anytime Annie taught her.
Adam from All Things Film is currently having a James Stewart weekend, and the performance that changed his life was Mr. Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, “The actor gives us a wide range of emotions from when we first see him trying to buy a suitcase, to when we see him with his family & friends at the end of the film.”
Anna at Verging Writer looks at Sally Field in Norma Rae, “Her gutsy, determined performance of a poor white woman who has the audacity to fight for labor rights & to unionize her fellow workers against their powerful, greedy employer was absolutely captivating.”
DL at Cellar Door chooses Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar, revealing “Never before had I seen an actor dive so deeply into a character's soul like that. I was completely mesmerized by everything she did, all the choices she made as a performer.”
Sen at Les montreurs d'images writes about Robert Redford in All the President's Men, and how well he depicts Bob Woodward "Redford gets so into character that he makes the mistakes that that person would have made in that situation. He's become him."
My fellow Crouchie-fan Becci at The Sacred Ramblings of Becci looks at the beautiful Emmy Rossum in The Day After Tomorrow. Becci says, "It takes a special film to make me pay attention," and Emmy did, for she showed many identical qualities to her friend Laura.
Marius at Blog by Cosmo Marius writes of Marco Hofschneider in Europa Europa, "The great thing about Solomon’s story is that he survived; he somehow managed to overcome all that hardship and psychological stress. More importantly, his experience made him stronger", showing how the best of performances can inspire us to be braver and stronger individuals.
Dave over at Victim of the Time picks Jodhi May in The Last of the Mohicans , "Jodhi May's performance changed my life because it made me realize that performances don't always need deep groundwork to function, that someone can swoop in for barely a second and be as affecting as three hours of a performance."
Kayleigh at Shiny Happy Blog chooses Audrey Tautou in Amélie, "everytime I watch this film, or look at my huge Amelie poster in my room, i get a sudden urge to go into the streets and help everybody." I'm in total agreement here.
Vertigo's Psycho from And Your Little Blog, Too picks Shani Wallis in Oliver!, asking "How could this caring, beautiful constant in Oliver’s life, so gloriously alive moments ago, be abruptly removed from his life, and from ours?"
RC at Strange Culture praises Stéphane Audran in Babette's Feast, "I want to be like Babette in a way that I could help people see goodness, beauty, and God through beautiful things." Beautiful.
Adam at DVDPanache chooses Joseph Cotten in The Third Man, "It becomes clear after watching Martins' bumbling journey that there are some mysteries that may not be solved, certainly not by Nice Guys."
Rant1229 from The 400 Obscure Passions of the 8½ Personas goes for Erland Josephson in The Sacrifice, and his personal story as to why and how it affected him "Some may find it ironic that the source was from a movie... not real. But I beseech you. Watch Erland Josephson's performance. Then, tell me his grief was not real."
In what is a very nice surprise, Nathaniel from the hugely successful Film Experience blog chooses Marni Nixon in West Side Story, "She's come to represent to me all the unsung backstage heroes and heroines of film, the thousands of unfamiliar names and faces that help shape these great things we call movies."
Mr. Movie Geek at Movies to Movie Geek No Kamikakushi praises Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, "Clementine has inspired me to live. She may not always be the most agreed upon and she'll definitely yell at you some point a long the way, but she is a confident and strong-willed human being."
Adam Carson Keller from Crumb by Crumb picks Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise, "It was incredibly liberating and empowering for me to see Thelma Dickenson find herself and her strength. I don't think any single performance has moved me more."
Jose at The pathetically normal, pop culture obsessed, life of Jose goes with what have been the partner in crime to mine had I gone with Brando, Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. Writing of Blanche, he says, "but for a moment Blanche Dubois was everything I was and also everything I was scared of becoming."
StinkyLulu goes for Anne Meara in Fame. This is the woman who "Meara's Sherwood prolly taught little Lulu lots more than she ever knocked into Leroy's noggin." Great stuff.
Piper from Lazy Eye Theatre goes with Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, saying "for the lingering moments of this performance, Day Lewis makes this monster of a man not seem like a monster at all."
My good friend Luke kicks off his new blog The Musings of a Movie Maestro in the best possible fashion, with a wonderful YouTube (or should that be DailyMotion) tribute to Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! He says, "When I first saw Moulin Rouge!, I was not familiar with Nicole Kidman, nor was I hugely interested in films. She changed this. I fell in love with her, both as a character and an actress". The tribute is fantastic, go watch it!
Lylee from Lylee's Blog pays tribute to Jane Powell in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, "What’s remarkable about Powell’s performance, and what’s stuck with me through the years, is how she manages to make the character not only perfect but fully, recognizably human."
Cal from Shake Well Before Use proudly accepts his Guardian-readerness, thanks to Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, acknowledging that "Popularity only matters when you have respect for the people who like you; and like Henry Fonda, we should all risk being unpopular in order to fight hard for what we believe in." Exactly right.
As Cool as a Fruitstand goes for Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, saying, "I'm not sure any performance really changed my life permanently. I am sure, however, that there is one that sent an almost painful pang of recognition and revelation through me."
Erich Kuersten from acidemic-film goes with Jon Voight in Runaway Train, "Voight’s performance is the sort of thing that can blast a stupefied suburban slacker right out of his chair, and have him moving fearlessly out to get a job, go to school, and or join a band in no time flat. "
Cinefille from For Cinephiles by a Cinefille goes for Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen, "The look of pure joy and enthusiasm that appears on her face makes me wish I had moments like that occur every day in my life."
Bob Turnbull from Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind looks at the entire cast of Network, "Seeing all these great actors just throw themselves into their roles to enable the satire and message of the movie was (and still is) an amazing experience." He admits he's pushing the rules a little, but with a post this good, I can easily forgive.
Damian at Windmills of My Mind never had any doubts about picking Liam Neeson in Schindler's List, "my mind went immediately to the one given by that tall, dark and handsome Irish actor Liam Neeson when he portrayed the title character of Oskar Schindler in the film that, as I have said many times, changed my life."
Arden at Cinephilia picks Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me, "The reason I love this role and this performance so much is that it was so convincing and so honest that I truly believe Terry exists. Even just as a trembling real feeling that haunts me." Beauti-ful.
Midento from when i look deep in your eyes selects Ninón Sevilla in Aventurera, "the performance that carries this film was a starting point into what would eventually become my future. And for that, muchisimas gracias, doña Ninón."
Glenn Dunks from Stale Popcorn goes with the 11 and a half minute cameo from Drew Barrymore in Scream, saying "This scene, this performance - as I said - instantly grabbed me. It got me hook, like and sinker. I continued watching this movie with the sort of hyper-scared enthusiasm that I think only younger people can have."
Peter Nellhaus from Coffee Coffee and More Coffee picks Sean Connery in From Russia With Love, "Unlike parental favorites like Gary Cooper or Bette Davis, Connery was one of the first movie stars that as far as we were concerned, did not exist prior to the Bond films."
Kimberly from Cinebeats picks Barbara Shelley in Dracula: Prince of Darkness, "Before I saw Barbara’s turn as Helen I had assumed that no one could upstage the iconic Christopher Lee, but I was wrong. Shelley not only upstages Lee, she literally wipes the set with the entire cast in my opinion."
Chris from Drunken On Celluloid, goes with Robert de Niro in Raging Bull, "Watching Raging Bull gives its viewer the feeling of being within the presence of an auteur."
Curtis from Notes opts for Meg Ryan in In the Cut, "Certainly, this character doesn't sound like me, but I understand her the most out of any movie character. Many times I get to the point where I see validity in blocking everyone out and holing myself up at home."
JD from Joe's Movie Corner does the Recycle thing well with his entry on Julia Jentsch in Sophie Scholl: The Final Days and Alison Lohman in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, saying of the latter, "I hold it as the best dub of all the dubs, I do!" He apologises for the lateness, I thank for the ingenuity. *kiss*
Chet Mellema from Opening Shots looks at Peter Falk and Gena Rowlaands in A Woman Under the Influence, "Every gesture, voice inflection, facial expression, spoken word, audible noise and physical movement from Falk and Rowlands express Nick's frustration at his inability to understand and comfort his wife and Mabel's resulting, and maddening, estrangement."
Brian Erickson from Oscar Obsession goes with Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, saying the performance "the performance that changed my life, by teaching me and the world what love and doing the right thing really is."
Brooke from Boy on Film goes with the stunning Gong Li in 2046, tracking the similarities between Gong's predicament and his own " I saw Su Li-Zhen after we had last spoke, but before I never saw him again and I was far too moved for words."
Ninquelosse at Cinesism goes with Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, "This is a great performance because it's totally unlike anything Mr Pitt has done before or since. This is one of my favourite performances because it makes me laugh, feel nutty and horrified all at once. But hey, they weren't the questions asked."
Bob at SaltyStix.com picks Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, "The anger seethes through Welles, and the viewer can feel the anger coming from the screen. It is with this vivacity that Welles brings his character to life."
Karina Longworth at SpoutBlog picks three life-changing performances, played by Bill Murray, Judy Garland and Glynis Jones.
Criticlasm picks Guilietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria, "Cabiria, humiliated, broke, and heartbroken, is walking on a small road in the woods. Suddenly she is overtaken by a group of revelers, young people out for a small night parade, it seems, or just dancing to the Spring."
Beckles from Scones with Jam and Cream and other Ramblings chooses Gregory Peck in The Guns of Navarone, looking at the verbal exchange he had and the effect it had on her 12-year-old self, "Peck’s final explosion hit me like a truck, and dammit Atticus Finch the army version was right: someone *has* to take responsibility, someone has do the dirty jobs to ensure things function."
If you've got an entry you would like to add to the list, simply send me an e-mail, or, easier, reply to this post, and I'll link you the next time I get to a computer. You can honestly write about any performance you like, in any style you like. Can't wait to read the rest.
Thank you so much for everyone who has participated. Keep 'em coming!
Happy Blogging, Happy 07/07/07, and Happy Filmwatching, everyone!