Rachel Getting Married
Anne Hathaway - "Rachel Getting Married" (2008)
After breaking in through family films like "The Princess Diaries," Anne Hathaway made a conscious choice to move into more adult roles, both successfully (a nice little performance in "Brokeback Mountain") and unusuccessfully ("Havoc"). But the critical cred she was after finally arrived (along with an Oscar nomination) with Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married." A real return to form for the "Silence of the Lambs" helmer, who lenses the proceedings with a humanity and looseness that puts performances above everything else, it stars Hathaway as Kym, a troubled young woman released from rehab to attend the wedding of her sister, only to bring the family's tragic past bubbling to the surface. And even among an outstanding cast (the great Rosemarie DeWitt as the titular Rachel, and Bill Irwin and Debra Winger both wonderful as the parents), Hathaway stands out. It's a dream of a part for an actress, offering all kinds of notes to play, and Hathaway hits each one like she was at Carnegie Hall; she's funny and childlike and furious and self-absorbed and guilt-ridden and desperately sad, her outsized eyes and gothy haircut perfect for a character who stalled as a teenager. And despite her character doing some truly abominable things, you come to love her and forgive her just as much as the most of the rest of her family do (although Demme smartly leaves things unresolved with Kym's mother). Without this film, it's more than possible that Hathaway would never have come onto Nolan's radar.  

Mysterious Skin
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - "Mysterious Skin" (2004)
Gordon-Levitt was a former child-star looking to make his name withi adult roles, and along came Gregg Araki's "Mysterious Skin." Playing the co-lead alongside Brady Corbet (who's as good, if not better), Gordon-Levitt is Neil, a young gay man who, along with Corbet's Brian, was sexually abused by his baseball coach as a boy. Now grown up, his best friend (Michelle Trachtenberg) has a crush on him, but she knows it'll always be unrequited, describing his heart as "a bottomless black hole";  he's grown up twisted by his chidlhood abuse, and runs away to New York, becoming a male escort, ending up savagely beaten by a customer. The lean, attractive young man here is a world away from the boy of "3rd Rock From The Sun" and "10 Things I Hate About You"; with an almost James Dean-like charisma, he's aggressively sexy and often charming, but also entirely lost in the big bad world. His reunion with Brian, when it comes, is impossibly tender and moving too. Gordon-Levitt has impressed in subsequent work, like "Brick" and "The Lookout," but for now, this remains a high peak in his career.  

Sid and Nancy
Gary Oldman - "Sid & Nancy" (1986)
The pairing of writer/director Alex Cox (“Repo Man”) with this Sid Vicious biopic was something of a match made in punk heaven. It’s a shame, then, that this writer finds the film to be a bit of a slog. We’d skip it altogether were it not for Mr. Oldman’s fierce performance, the kind of acting that demands your attention; you simply can't take your eyes off him. While the tropes we’ve come to expect from this kind of movie are certainly present in “Sid & Nancy” (heavy drug use, band infighting, the girlfriend who comes between band members, etc.), Cox and DoP Roger Deakins give it a certain grimy grittiness that sets it apart in the genre, but it’s the bristling, full-tilt lead performance that gives the film its needed punch. Vicious was the punkest of the rogue's gallery of the Sex Pistols, and Oldman's a snarling, brawling, force-of-nature in the role; witty, destructive and romantic, almost like a "Looney Tunes" cartoon come to life. And yet somehow, he's never anything less than totally convincing. In many ways, he laid the groundwork for most of the work he would do: uncompromising and truly and utterly captivating.