Saturday, February 13, 2016

Top 5 Movie Guide: Jennifer Lawrence

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we continue our series with another actress nominated this year for an Academy Award, Jennifer Lawrence, star of 2015's "Joy". Lawrence was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and lived a life like any other kid. She didn't do any acting and frankly didn't have an interest in it. But as fate would have it, at age 14 (2005), a trip to New York with her mother changed everything. While visiting, she had a chance encounter with a photographer, which led to a meeting with an agent who asked her to read - she did it cold and her mother was told it was one of the best cold-reads they'd ever seen. The agent convinced her to remain in New York that summer and continue to audition.In that summer, she booked a variety of commercials and bit film roles. Shortly thereafter, she moved with her family to Los Angeles to further pursue her newfound talent.


In 2007 she was cast in "The Bill Engvall Show", which provided her national exposure. Momentum continued to build with small film roles until her eventual breakout role in 2010's "Winter's Bone". Her first starring role earned her an Academy Award nomination, and led to roles in two prominent franchises: Mystique in "X-Men: First Class" and Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games". Since then, her legacy has only continued to grow. In a now six-year span as a Hollywood star, she's already earned four Oscar nominations, winning one in 2013 for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook". She's the youngest actress to ever receive two such nominations (or three, or four), and the second-youngest to ever win one.

Lawrence's career is still so new that she hasn't had a lot of time to make mistakes or have regrets. She did audition for the role of Bella Swan of 2008's "Twilight", but ultimately lost out to Kristen Stewart. She still ended up getting her tween franchise a few years later, and I think most would agree that's an outcome that worked much to the benefit of Lawrence and her career.

Alex Schopp
This is the list I’m least excited about in our latest series. Not because I have any problems with Lawrence as an actor, she just hasn’t done enough to provide the content that makes these lists fun. But we’ve now started something of a tradition in doing lists on filmmakers from each of the four acting categories ahead of the Oscars, and Lawrence was the logical choice this year. We’ve already done a list on Cate Blanchett; Ronan and Larson both feel like they have even less significant filmographies at this point in their careers; and Rampling hasn’t generally done the kind of work we gravitate towards at this site. So Jennifer Lawrence it is!

     1. X-Men: First Class (2011)
An easy #1 for me, and the only superhero film that I’ve continued to really love in subsequent years after its release. In my opinion, this is about as good as the genre gets. I love the era (costumes, music, historical significance) and how the superhero elements are so seamlessly woven into an alternate history. The relationship between Xavier and Magneto is so great in this movie – I love origin stories as it is – and it actually makes the older X-Men films more layered and significant. Enjoyable film, great cast, fun premise.
     2. Winter’s Bone (2010)
The film that introduced us to Jennifer Lawrence. This was one of my favorite Best Picture nominees of 2010 (overall, I still consider 2010 to be my favorite year in film over the last decade). I really liked the setting and the tone of the film, and thought Lawrence did a great job in this role. She brought equal amounts of strength and vulnerability to the character, a balance she's already mastered quite well in her young career. Plus, John Hawkes, who was great in this film, is one of my favorite under-the-radar actors. I usually look forward to his performances.
     3. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Everyone in this cast is great in this film, but Lawrence especially does a phenomenal job. The story is sweet yet awkward, and even though it took me a bit to buy into the relationship between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (notable age difference), it actually worked quite well and they have pretty great chemistry. Also I love that Robert De Niro’s character is such a superstitious sports fan. While it’s not the same crippling addiction for me, I can relate.
     4. American Hustle (2013)
This is one of those movies that you remember the overall tone and personality more than the specific elements. Good soundtrack, great acting by everyone involved, and the fact that it was (at least generally) based on true events only helps make the silliness even more enjoyable. I also feel really bad for Jeremy Renner. When recalling this film, you think of the four actors who were nominated for Oscars – though I actually feel that Renner was one of the best parts of the film. It's a shame he didn't also get a supporting nod.
     5. The Hunger Games Saga (2012 – 2015)
I really do not care about this franchise that much (that's why I lumped them all together; not sure I could pick a favorite). I can recognize that these films have decent production values and quality acting performances (part of the reason this makes my list; the other is, what else would I put here?), but the story just doesn’t do anything for me. It’s just like the Harry Potter films – I cannot get into stories about children saving the world. I just don’t buy it. I still understand the significance for the tween audiences and that films like these make them feel like they have a voice, but as an adult, it’s just not my thing. And I know that statement will earn me great criticism from a lot of people, but I accept that.

Derek Clem

     1. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Seeing the X-Men hit the big screen was a childhood wish come true. This is my favorite superhero franchise out there. I even find ways to defend the terrible "X-Men United" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", which is very hard to do. It’s clear that this movie is making the most out of JLaw because of her star factor. Like, it’s soooo obvious. But I’m okay with that. Mystique was always present in the early films but her role was pretty minor. It’s nice to finally see her get some strong character development. I have to hand it to this movie; it succeeds in rebooting the franchise a second time and does it without making any of the previous films obsolete. Unfortunately it’s pretty clear Lawrence’s heart isn’t in this film. It feels very phoned in. Regardless, I like the X-Men, so it tops my list.
     2. X-Men: First Class (2011)
Some of the X-Kids could have used a little work, but this was a great way to reboot the franchise via prequel. This is the first time we see Jlaw in franchise cinema. It’s pretty cool to revisit this movie knowing what a force she’s become.
     3. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Such great wintery rural gothic vibes coming from this movie. Quite chilling.
     4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
This was tough. I wanted to put the first film in the franchise on my list because of its tone and… I guess sense of realism. The sequels are all very shiny, slick, and blockbustery - but that blockbuster element is what elevates the games in this installment. The events feel big, urgent, important, and most of all, exciting.
     5. The Beaver (2011)
She plays such a small role in this film. Most of my interest in this movie revolves around it being Mel Gibson’s re-entry into acting after his controversies - a very daring gesture from his friend and director, Jodie Foster.

Nathan Hinds
Jennifer Lawrence is not only one of my personal favorite actors, but arguably one of the best overall actresses in the business right now. She has great range and really excels at playing real-life characters. She still has a very small filmography since she hasn't been around very long, and a huge chunk of her time over the last few years has been devoted to 'The Hunger Games', which is a franchise I never found the least bit interesting. That's not me hating on young adult films - the 'Harry Potter' franchise ranks as my third favorite set of films; I just thought 'The Hunger Games' was too vanilla. Still, it's a really safe bet that she will be a major player in Hollywood for years to come.

     1. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
This is such a great film. I don't think it has a single weak spot. All the actors in this film are at the top of their game - and it helps that they had such a strong script to work from. The characters are normal(ish) people but every one of them is interesting. The film has a lot of chaos that leads to a great payoff at the end.
     2. X-Men: First Class (2011)
If you're gonna pick a series Lawrence has been involved with, this is easily the better of the two. For me, First Class is one of the few films to come out in the current superhero era of film that continues to hold up well. The casting was perfect for this film, and the Cold War setting works wonderfully. This is easily the best X-Men film and possibly my favorite Marvel film to date.
     3. Winter's Bone (2010)
Not many actors or actresses turn in performances like this in their first leading role. I loved the tone of this movie, and the tension is great. The people and region of the film had a lot of similarities to where my grandparents lived so it was easy for me to get drawn in.
     4. Joy (2015)
I had fairly low expectations going into this one. I thought it would be too similar to Silver Linings Playbook. In a lot of ways it is, but then again, being comparable to a movie I love isn't a bad thing. It has enough differences to stand on its own and its another performance that Lawrence nails.
     5. American Hustle (2013)
Now with this film, I had super high expectations and it didn't live up to them. The tone never clicked with me and I never connected with most of the characters. Lawrence's performance was my favorite part of the film, though; I thought she was great.

Andy Schopp
I guess I didn't realize how limited her filmography was... I'm not saying that as any sort of condemnation of her career - I mean look at all she has accomplished in just a handful of years - she just hasn't been around as long as it feels like she has. Even still, she's already a household name and clearly isn't slowing down!

     1. X-Men: First Class (2011)
This movie nailed it! It captures all the necessary emotions and plot devices I want to see in an origin story for the X-Men. I also remember this as one of the first roles I noticed Jennifer Lawrence in; I think it was the first real step to her being a household name in my house.
     2. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
This role showed some real range. She proved to the world that she isn't held back by type-casting in any way. She is versatile and now the world knows it.
     3. The Hunger Games (2012)
This movie captures a good balance of tone in its severity while still keeping it "friendly" enough for families. You get a great sense of the hopelessness the people in this world are feeling and it really works.
     4. Winter's Bone (2010)
Her real and true breakout role. I remember not knowing who she was at all but being pleasantly surprised by what I saw. She showed real character and grit in this movie. The only reason it's lower on my list is that it isn't the most watchable. There just isn't much this movie gives you on a second or third viewing.
     5. The Beaver (2011)
What, no "American Hustle"!? You're a lunatic! (or so I imagine some people are saying). The truth is, I just plain ol' enjoyed "The Beaver" more. Is it because I'm a real sucker for Mel Gibson? Maybe. Is it because the movie was just silly enough and just dramatic enough to hit that sweet spot? Could be. Am I watching it every day? No, but you know what I'm watching a tiny bit less? "American Hustle".

Elisabeth Clem
My list makes it seem like I’m some kind of crazy Hunger Games fangirl, but I assure you, I’m not. I enjoy the movies and the books were pretty good, but that’s about the extent of my interest. I wanted to include one or both of the X-Men movies she’s in, but she’s nowhere near my favorite part of either of those films, so I just couldn’t. Side note: I lived in Louisville, Kentucky when Jennifer Lawrence was rising to fame in Winter’s Bone, and they talked about her every single night on the local news. They were so proud of their hometown girl. It’s fun to remember that when I see where she is today.

     1. Like Crazy (2011)
I love this movie so much. Jennifer's role is pretty limited in it, but I really feel for her character, Sam. She’s in love with a boy who does love her, but is truly *in* love with someone else. He strings her along for years, and it's so unfair. I’ve never really been in a situation like that but I certainly feel for her, especially because she seems like such an awesome girl. She’s not the “other woman” you hate. You can’t hate her, even when you really are rooting for the two main characters to be together.
     2. The Hunger Games (2012)
This is my favorite of the franchise. Maybe it’s because I got to wander around District 12 a few days after they finished filming, so I feel kind of excited when I see it in the movie, but the overall feel of it (the score especially) really works for me and makes me want to return to it frequently. I was initially pretty dubious about Jennifer being cast as Katniss, but she proved me wrong.
     3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
I swear I don’t seek out Hunger Games filming locations to travel to, but I happened to go to several of them in this movie as well, so watching it is also super fun for me.
     4. Winter’s Bone (2010)
To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about this movie. But I do remember that I liked it, and that Jennifer was so great in it. I remember being struck by the scenes at her high school, how it was the first time I’d seen a high school on screen that resembled the small town high school I went to. I also love John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, so the cast really does it for me overall.
     5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015)
I thought the last film in this franchise did such a great job at making a somewhat lackluster book much more enjoyable. Jennifer really turns it out for her last run as Katniss. I’m looking forward to watching this one again on DVD.

Not a bad group of films for an actress with such a new and budding filmography. There isn't a clear top pick from Lawrence's filmography, and I think strong cases can be made for multiple films - something that only shows how strong she's been from the start. Overall, 11 different films were listed above, though two franchises, The Hunger Games and X-Men, featured multiples films (so only eight total different characters). There were six total selections from The Hunger Games saga, though no more than two for any specific entry. If we're being purists, "Winter's Bone" led the way with five selections, the only film to appear on every list above. This breakout performances still remains one of the best of her career, and a worthy title to be the best represented on this list.

"X-Men: First Class" was the only film that appeared on four lists, and "Silver Linings Playbook" the only one on three. "American Hustle" and "The Beaver" rounded out the bunch, each receiving two votes above.

As always, happy watching!