Saturday, January 24, 2015

Top 5 Movie Guide: J.K. Simmons

J.K. Simmons (Jonathan Kimble Simmons) was born in 1955 in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from the University of Montana (neat!), originally studying to be a composer - he has a degree in music, though he eventually got into acting and pursued that passion instead. His early career consisted mostly of stage work, but his breakthrough screen role come playing an inmate on HBO's first hour-long drama, "Oz", in 1997.


Since then, he's mostly taken supporting roles, but has mastered that niche and has stayed incredibly active throughout his career. Since his start in 1986, he's appeared in more than 70 films and 50 television shows. Among his regular collaborators over that time are Sam Raimi (the Spider-Man trilogy, "For the Love of the Game") and Jason Reitman, the latter of whom he's appeared in every one of his feature films (six to date).

He's one of the hardest working and most respected actors working today, and his performance in 2014's "Whiplash" is a testament to his dedication and commitment. His Oscar nomination (and probable win) is one of the most deserving you'll ever see for the award. It's nice to see an actor like Simmons finally get some of the credit he's most surely due.

Hit the jump for some of our favorites from his vast filmography!

Alex Schopp -
Not only was this list tougher than Knightley's in general, but I felt I had to approach its construction much differently. With Simmons, aside from "Whiplash", nearly his entire career has consisted of minor supporting roles. It was hard to assign value to such small appearances. So while I did pay some attention to his specific characters, this list is more about my favorite films that he happens to be in. But I do really like the guy and think he's a nice addition to any film.

     1. Whiplash (2014)
The only way this isn't getting enshrined is if someone below 1) hasn't seen it yet, or 2) decided to leave it off for a specific reason. Otherwise, this is easily Simmons' best role to date, both in screen time and quality. And for the record, I approve of Fletcher's methods in the film. We should all be so lucky as to have teachers who push for greatness. This movie is fantastic. Seek it out if you haven't seen it yet.
     2. Up in the Air (2009)
He's literally in this movie for one scene. One scene. I struggled initially including it, but once I started trying to apply limits to my system, it threw the whole thing off. I love this movie a lot; Clooney's character is one I really relate to and felt for. Perfect tone. Easy to watch.
     3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Part of me dislikes even having this film on here, because I think I just have to admit that I don't care much for this trilogy. This is easily the best of the three, and I think there's probably something to be said for what these Spider-Man movies did for the superhero genre as a whole. Plus, Simmons' take on J. Jonah Jameson is entertaining. Maybe the best part about these films?
     4. Juno (2007)
I think at this point the backlash against this film has swung back enough that I can appreciate it again. It still depicts a generation just different from my own, so I don't connect directly with these characters, but the writing and humor still works. Film #2 for Jason Reitman on this list.
     5. Extract (2009)
I've always thought (well, since 2009, anyway) that this was an under-appreciated comedy. I really like the entire cast in this film, and Jason Bateman consistently plays characters that I connect with. Plus, let's talk about David Koechner's character for a minute. He's just the worst!

Ben Foutch -
I'm surprised this guy doesn't get meatier roles more often.

     1. Whiplash (2014)
One of the most inspirational movies I've ever seen. While his methods may be abrasive, I can't say I disagree with Fletcher's "good job" philosophy.
     2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Possibly the best superhero film of all time. I think he ruined J. Jonah Jameson for the next actor that gets the part.
     3. The Words (2012)
"The Words" is a book turned film. If it were a novel, more intelligent minds than mine might place it on the purple side of the spectrum, which is a sign of lesser quality to many. Sometimes that's not a bad thing.
     4. Up In the Air (2009)
Simmons was barely in this, but his scene is one of my favorites in the film. It's a good example of how he has mastered the art of delivering snarky dialogue.
     5. The Vicious Kind (2009)
A memorable take on the dysfunctional family drama, and a sobering look at how our inner demons can manifest themselves upon the ones we love.

Derek Clem -

     1. The Ladykillers (2004)
This isn't his best performance by a long shot but it definitely has some personal significance to me. If you know the movie, you know J.K.’s character suffers from a medical condition that can urgently pull him from performing a task without warning. When I first saw this movie, it was just a funny comedic device placed on his character. Now that I’m older and have since developed a similar condition, this movie means much more to me than it ever did before. This is a character I can relate to, and that’s why it sits at #1.
     2. Whiplash (2014)
Now we get into performance. This is easily the best work of his career, and come Oscar night, it’s a guarantee he’ll be walking away with the golden statue for Best Supporting Actor. He plays a character I would hate and would never want to be in contact with in real life, yet I understand his ways and think his methods would provide fruitful results. I highly recommend this movie. I’m not much for music, but this movie had me fully captivated from beginning to end. One of the best of 2014 by far.
     3. Burn After Reading (2008)
This might be his best comedic performance. The end of this movie is absolutely golden because of J.K. He gives a great meta line ultimately saying what the audience is thinking - pointing to the absurdity that can often exist in a Coen Brothers film. Without J.K. I’m not sure if this movie would have registered in any way for me. He keeps it from be forgettable.
     4. The Spider-Man Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)
He did a nice job bringing this character to the big screen. He provides all sorts of shake-my-head and chuckle moments.
     5. Dark Skies (2013)
For all those that believe in aliens among us, both on screen and off, there usually seems to be an element of cuckoo behind them. Simmons creates a character that you believe from the get-go has been in contact. He creates a credible character. That realism, or buyability, elevates this movie to the next level.

Nathan Hinds -
J.K. Simmons is an actor who I like whenever I see him in films, I've just never seen him in a role that really has any meat to it (sidenote: I haven't yet seen "Whiplash"). These rankings will reflect more my enjoyment of these films as a whole, not necessarily his performance.

     1. Up in the Air (2009)
All of these are going to be films I enjoy, not love. To be honest, the rankings on most of these films could get shifted around depending on the day. This is one of my favorites though.
     2. The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
Such a ridiculous movie, but a lot of fun.
     3. Men, Women, and Children (2014)
I just recently watched this and thought it was great. I feel like there's a character for everyone to relate to in this movie. Unless your life is perfect, in which case, get away from me you weirdo.
     4. The Ladykillers (2004)
This movie was a little too weird for me the first time I saw it, but it's grown on me over the years.
     5. Juno (2007)
This would probably be higher if it weren't for its horrible soundtrack. I know a lot of people liked it and thought it was quirky. Not me, I thought it was annoying.

Andy Schopp -
Going in you think to yourself, 'this guy isn't really in very many movies'. You then realize that you're making a list for a hard-working supporting actor and that filmography explodes! The guy has a range that's pretty unbelievable, and he shows up in just about every genre imaginable. Even in just a list of five movies like this you can capture the broad range of work he's been in.

     1. Whiplash (2014)
This is easily his best work from my perspective. It's dramatic and funny in an odd way. This character is his bread and butter; his meat and potatoes. He nailed it.
     2. Up in the Air (2009)
This one is up here because of the sheer quality this movie brings to the table. It was one of my favorites the year it came out and it still holds up in my eyes as a great story.
     3. I Love You, Man (2009)
Simmons plays one of the best dads in comedy here. I just love what he brought to the table. And it's all around just a great comedy, as well.
     4. The Spider-Man Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)
These are up here purely for Simmons' role. The movies as a whole are good, but not great. These though, I think, are what solidified him as a "household name" for the current generation. And that seems important to show on a list as prestigious as ours.
     5. Dark Skies (2013)
An out-of-nowhere, pretty good alien movie. Sure, there are some less-than-spectacular parts in the film, but ultimately it has a great tone and good characters. And how many alien home invasion movies do we really get? Not that many, let me tell you!

So that's what we're looking at this week. Overall, another good week with plenty of variety (and as a whole group, we appear to be back on track!). Simmons' filmography is unique in that his actual presence from film to film issn't much different in terms of screen time. This led to different approaches by all writers, and led to a total of 13 different films being ranked above. Of those 13 films, not a single one showed up on all five lists (for "Whiplash", that's most likely attributed to Nathan not having seen it yet). It did appear on four of the lists though, and in the #1 spot on three of them. "Up in the Air", and the Spider-Man movies, in some capacity, were the other films to appear on four of the five lists. Otherwise, "Juno", "Dark Skies", and "The Ladykillers" were the only other films to appear on multiple lists, each hitting on two.

Good variety this week. Hopefully our picks above provide a few J.K. Simmons films for you to check out that you might have missed previously.

Be sure to check in next Saturday, when we'll be posting our Top 5 Movie Guide for Julianne Moore, who received an Academy Award nomination this year for her performance in "Still Alice".