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Jim Carrey: Great actor, or greatest actor?

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010 10:10 am

So … yeah. I don’t even know anymore, guys. This time of year is supposed to serve as vindication for the legions of cinephiles who happily suffered the slings and arrows of months past, confident that their patience would be rewarded in the form of awesome fall movies. Instead, in wide release, the best we’ve gotten lately is “Unstoppable,” “Faster” and the new “Harry Potter” — and as much as I enjoyed them in a relative sense, this isn’t exactly what I was looking forward to for all those desolate months.

Sacramento hasn’t been much help, and consequently most movies worth seeing aren’t playing outside San Francisco. Hopefully that will slowly but surely change as the hyped limited-release titles continue to expand (this week’s pick has finally made its way from S.F. to Sac), but frankly, I’m running low on hope.

“I Love You Phillip Morris” 

★★★★ (out of four)

2010, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, U.S., R

Jim Carrey is a great actor. He never gets his proper due, but over the course of the past 12 years — starting with “The Truman Show” and then “Man on the Moon” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” — he has demonstrated not only keen dramatic skills, but also a willingness to throw himself into difficult roles with absolute confidence and commitment.

Carrey may have made a name for himself by dressing in tutus and talking with his butt, but these periodic forays into strange and dark territory have proven that he is willing and able to deliver brilliant, completely unique performances when given the right material. (I know I’ll get flack for this comparison, but honestly, the only other high-profile actor I see routinely displaying this level of creatively and risk-taking in his performances is Daniel Day-Lewis. Yeah, chew on that for a while. You know it’s true.)

But where is the fanfare? The poor guy has yet to be nominated for an Oscar, and that probably won’t change this year as his latest marvel, “I Love You Phillip Morris,” quietly slinks into theaters after being shelved in the U.S. for nearly a year. Unfortunate, because this is easily his most impressive and distinctive performance to date.

Here he plays Steven Russell, a family-man cop who turns con artist after a near-fatal car wreck inspires him to embrace his true identity as a gay man. Finding the fabulous gay lifestyle too expensive to maintain, Russell becomes increasingly bold in his attempts to swindle a quick buck.

His shenanigans land him in prison, where he meets the sweet and effeminate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and discovers that he has found his soul mate. After they are both released, Steven puts his mind to creating a “real life” with Phillip but finds the temptations of the con game too great to resist. So he does the only logical thing and fakes his way into a gig as the CFO of a major corporation and quickly concocts a scheme to embezzle millions.

This actually turns out to be one of the more sane and reasonable things Steven does to protect his life with Phillip, but as the story gets weirder and more seemingly implausible, one must remember that this is based on a true story — all of it. The wild, free-wheeling narrative works as a comedy, of course (in fact, it provides more hard-earned laughs than any other film this year), but when one takes into account that the screenplay sticks pretty close to reality, the whole thing becomes something much darker: a troubling portrait of a man driven to total ruin by his pathological insistence on instant gratification. Quite a step up from “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” I’d say.

Does anyone really care about the Golden Globes?

We spend a lot of time talking about them, but nobody really lends any legitimacy to the Academy Awards anymore. Yet at least they’re fascinating in an “insider’s view” sense, because they give us an idea of how Hollywood itself regards the craft of filmmaking. Critics awards are naturally less interesting, but certainly more useful and representative of the year’s best work. But here’s something I’ve always wondered: How do the Golden Globes fit into all this?

The Golden Globe awards are distributed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — not industry players, not established and educated critics, but the freakin’ foreign press. I’m sorry, but who in their right mind would put any stock whatsoever in what some random, brown-nosing Hollywood journalist has to say about a given movie?

Given their status as know-nothing sycophants, it’s not surprising when, every year like clockwork, the HFPA releases a profoundly offensive list of Golden Globe nominees. Still, this year’s list is particularly bizarre.

Have you seen this thing? “Burlesque” for best picture? Two nods for Johnny Depp as best actor in the musical/comedy category (for “Disney’s Alice in Wonderland“ and “The Tourist,” which also earned spots on the best picture and best actress lists, for co-star Angelina Jolie), while Jim Carrey’s career-best work in “I Love You Phillip Morris” and Edward Norton’s pitch-perfect dual role in “Leaves of Grass” go unnoticed? These aren’t “unfortunate snubs” — they’re the outrageous, baseless, completely indefensible opinions of people who quite clearly haven’t the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

To underline my point, I leave you with these simple words that truly say it all: best supporting actor nominee Michael Douglas. Chew on that one, too.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.



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