The Under & The Over is a two part article dedicated to the underrated and the overrated people that work in film today. Right now, Hollywood, especially young Hollywood, is a place where the blade falls fast, and if you get chopped, you're chopped for good. Nowadays, a lot of film peeps find themselves so overwhelmed with fame, compliments, money, and invitations, that their craft takes a backseat to their pursuit of excess. Once your name is in lights, it's easy to make money, easy to spend money, easy make friends and to look fabulous and to sign your name for the little people on the street. These are the cats that find themselves on the chopping block. These are often the actors and actresses that find themselves part of a big break, and instead of rolling with the success, they seem to peak. They take boring, easy roles to make a quick and easy buck, and most of the time, they're forgotten as quickly as they're discovered. The same goes for filmmakers of all sorts. Once you forget about your craft, your craft forgets about you. But the public doesn't. So as an overrated artist, you still manage to steal the show, and you steal it from those that are underrated: those that place their craft first. Those that make wise decisions. And of course, it takes a rank role or two to find the one that truly suits, but that's not what's important. What's important is that after a great artist puts on that suit of success, he or she won't take it off. For Anything. These are the actors, the filmmakers that have it, and if they don't have it yet, they're moving slowly and steadily to that moment when they finally do.
Part I: THE UNDER
Underrated 1: Sienna Miller
Breakthrough: The rash and whimsical Katya in Steve Buscemi's Interview (2007)
You've Also Seen Her...: as tough, unyielding Francesca Bruni, opposite the late Heath Ledger in Casanova (2005)
Don't Miss Her In...: Factory Girl (2006); The film itself is a major flip-flopper, often intriguing, sometimes drab, but you won't be disappointed by Sienna. Her potent turn as tragic debutante Edie Sedgwick is so underrated that I'm not sure anybody even knows it exists. I didn't love Factory Girl, but I loved its title character. It really got me interested in the subject matter. I went on to do some major research on Andy Warhol and his poignant muse, and I must say, it's all because of Sienna.
Why I Think She's Underrated: Sienna got a weird rap after Jude Law cheated on her with his nanny. Most American audiences were disinclined to take her seriously at first, and many didn't know who she was, but after turns in US films like Casanova and Interview, I think they're starting to come around. She's plum-cheeked, sweet, almost so-cal but not quite. Sienna Miller has begun a quiet but moving career, and it has seemingly gone unnoticed until now.
Underrated 2: Paul Dano
Breakthrough: Lank and shifty preacher Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood (2007)
You've Also Seen Him...: as clunky hero Klitz in The Girl Nextdoor (2004)
Don't Miss Him In...: Little Miss Sunshine (2006); He barely speaks ten words in Little Miss, but Paul's commanding presence is one of the indie charmer's foremost quirks. His ability to roll with the likes of Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear were no doubt tranquil precursors to his 2007 work with trecherous Oil Man Daniel Day-Lewis. Some may call Little Miss Sunshine the philistine's Juno, but I highly disagree. Juno is apt, but it is sans Mr. Dano.
Why I Think He's Underrated: Paul Dano isn't exactly your run of the mill, every day looker. Sure, he's cute, but it's more of a "guy I knew in high school who used to play the trombone and send me flowers on Valentines Day" cute. In other words, Paul's got a look, and it's a strange look, and I'm not quite sure the world's ready to embrace it...yet.
Underrated 3: M. Night Shyamalan
Breakthrough: The Sixth Sense (1999)
You've Also Seen...: Signs (2002); As Shyamalan's best-reviewed film, Signs is the quick, funny, dangerous answer to the grim fairy tale called The Sixth Sense.
Don't Miss...: Lady in the Water (2006)...even if the critics told you to. Lady in the Water is not a Razzie-winning blip on the radar. It's rash, intriguing, and phenomenal storytelling. That is all.
Why I Think He's Underrated: The M. Night Buzz is a phenomenon I've written about many times in the past. Critics hate him. Audiences don't even give him a chance anymore. He's become a punchline, the clown shoes in a vast and pretentious community of film buffs. It's almost as if we've forgotten that M. Night Shyamalan has two Oscar nods under his belt. He became underrated when he became nothing more than an ending, a chess game. I think that's the fault of a quick and impatient audience, especially the critics. It's important to expect more from a film than it's ending. And I hope M. Night's new movie, The Happening, brings this to the front line.
Underrated 4: Paul Bettany
Breakthrough: sincere but somehow sinister, Charles in A Beautiful Mind (2001)
You've Also Seen Him...: as Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight's Tale
Don't Miss Him In...: several other key roles in the lush, glossy adventure film genre. Paul gave a startling performance as gun-wielding monk Silas in Ron Howard's The Davinci Code, and I look forward with wide, excited eyes to the moment he walks into Inkheart as the fire-breathing matchstick-eater from the Inkworld: Dustfinger. Perhaps it's his lily-white skin or those strange, crystalline eyes, but, whether he's a poet from another era or a figment of John Nash's imagination, Paul Bettany just looks good in fantasy.
Why I Think He's Underrated: In fact, I don't think anything. I know I said he looks good in fantasy (he does. damn good.), but he also looks good in shifty-eyed thrillers. And romantic tennis movies. Especially romantic tennis movies. Paul Bettany has yet to win or even be nominated for an Oscar, but that doesn't mean he's gone undeserving. One of the most underrated performances in recent years, I truly believe, is his wild and unswerving turn as Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight's Tale. Soon, I know he'll come to fruition. It's only a matter of time. And I'll just throw this in for kicks: Paul Bettany swinging a tennis racket and getting sweaty and winning the Wimbeldon tourney is, um, yummy:)
Underrated 5: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Breaththrough: Slightly crazed, utterly dutiful Lee Holloway in Secretary (2002)
You've Also Seen Her...: telling brother Jake to go suck a fuck in Richard Kelly's 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko
Don't Miss Her In...: Stranger Than Fiction (2006); Gyllenhaal plays Ana Pascal, the candid and sweet-centered baker who develops a weakness for tax man Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). I wanted to put SherryBaby here, but I couldn't bring myself to pass up the work Gyllenhaal did in Fiction. I think it's subtle and breathing, like a whole field of daisies, and it is central to developing one of the film's most crucial matters: acceptance.
Why I Think She's Underrated: Maggie Gyllenhaal is underrated because she does her best work in really little, itty-bitty unknown films. SherryBaby barely broke one copy at the local video store, and Secretary tip-toed so successfully under the radar that when Maggie garnered a Golden Globe nomination for the role in '03, the majority of America gasped and gaped, unsure of what to think of this sultry unknown. Maggie Gyllenhaal has made some bad films (The Great New Wonderful, Happy Endings...), but she's never made bad art. Many of the roles that she takes have swift, hostile under bellies, and I look forward to the shadow she'll bring to Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight.
Underrated 6: Keira Knightley
Breakthrough: Quick-mouthed Austinian beauty Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Predudice (2005)
You've Also Seen Her...: Gasping and flailing about in Pirates of the Caribbean as Miss Elizabeth Swan
Don't Miss Her In...: Atonement (2007); The film is heavy, heavy, heavy, just like the novel from which it derives. It's beautiful, even more beautiful than one can imagine, blessed with Keira's sweetest and most enticing performance to date. I think it's important to remember just how young she is, twenty-two, and the passion one experiences while watching her in Atonement is truly, truly a miracle. I love Keira Knightley. She's one of my favorite actresses. I think this is the movie that established that for me.
Why I Think She's Underrated: You might not believe me, mostly because she's so effing famous. But I think there's more to being truly respected than just being really, really famous. Many critics and, of course, members of that pretentious film buff community, have already written Keira off as this drab, one dimensional British beauty that should quit the silver screen and go eat a sandwich. Oh, how I disagree. Keira Knightley is one of the fastest-developing actresses of her age. Yes, she's made a hefty living, and will continue to make that living, off the success and royalties of the Pirates franchise, but who cares? Do you call Johnny Depp any less of an artist simply because once he played the drunken pirate captain of a ship called the Black Pearl? No. Or, maybe you do. I don't know. Either way, Keira Knightley is on a path to what is sure to be an indulgent and successful career. If Pride and Prejudice didn't make this clear, then the Academy did when they nominated her for an Oscar.
Underrated 7: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Breakthrough: Snide swindler Chris Wilton in Woody Allen's Match Point (2005)
You've Also Seen Him...: running, sweaty and Irish and sexy, alongside Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Don't Miss Him In...: August Rush (2007)...yes, I said it. Maybe it's true. Maybe the only two people in the whole world who actually fell for this movie were me and Roger Ebert, but I'm not ashamed. I think this movie is lush, musical, sappy, and it garners many twinkles in its mushy midst, the brightest of which is Jonathan Rhys Meyers. He's a gem. A big-eyed, slightly androgynous gem whose power to croon into a mic is matched only by his power to melt an audience, and he puts both talents to vigorous work in the schmultzy romance August Rush. He may, in fact, be the very definition of the word 'dishy.'
Why I Think He's Underrated: Jonny Rhys is definitely and up-and-comer. His latest gig as the glutinous and lustful King Henry VIII in The Tudors already garnered him a Golden Globe nod in 2007. Perhaps he's not as underrated as he is underseen. Match Point endured a slight box office debacle, and so did August Rush. The Tudors is appropriately stationed on scandal-heavy Showtime, which means more room for sex and blood, less for a super-wide audience. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, as we saw in Match Point, is full of sneers and subtle nods. He's very good at making us believe that he's one person and then turning out to be someone completely different. Someone sinister, or even someone sweet. Either way, he's always a tender surprise, and that part about him is so, so underrated.
Underrated 8: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Breakthrough: Bumbling, romantic Cameron James in the faux-Shakespearian 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
You've Also Seen Him...: turning the tables of a botched bank robbery in The Lookout.
Don't Miss Him In...: Brick (2005); This movie is rad. It's modern. It's fresh. It's totally unique. It's authentic high school film noir. Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan Frye, a new brand of Roger Thornhill who finds himself in a situation a little to sticky to comprehend. He goes ballistic when his girlfriend turns up dead in a local drain pipe, and I know it might be difficult to imagine that kid from 3rd Rock kicking major ass, but wow. Throughout the duration of Brick, Brendan Frye goes from semi-ordinary mole for the high school principal to full-blown drug ring insider. You won't soon forget the scene of fruition, when Brendan and his sinister femme fatale meet for the last time in the middle of the high school football field. I'm telling you. Here is a version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt you never thought you'd see.
Why I Think He's Underrated: Joseph Gordon-Levitt chooses small, often stylish roles that hardly blip the radar. He can be clumsy. He can be forceful. He can pimp it out, thug it out, roll it out thick. All of these things are endlessly mapped in the brilliance that is Brick. The problem then? Nobody's seen Brick. It's got a blue cover and a woman's pale, dead hand. It's probably no longer a new release, but you'll find it in the dramas along with the rest of this country's film noir greats. Or, I own it. You can borrow it from me if you want. Just be sure to watch it for Mr. Gordon-Levitt. And give it back, because it's one of my faves.
Underrated 9: Zooey Deschanel
Breakthrough: mild and swooning Jovie aside Will Ferrell in Elf
You've Also Seen Her...: Shakin up the shit as Andy's weird gal-pal Kate on the acclaimed Showtime comedy Weeds
Don't Miss Her In...: Winter Passing (2005); It's a quiet movie, one of those rare gems in which Will Ferrell does NOT play some fictional hero with an I.Q. of eighteen. In this film, Zooey plays Reese Holden, actress and daughter of esteemed novelist Don Holden (Ed Harris). When she learns that her father's love letters to his late wife (and Reese's late mother) have garnered themselves a small fortune of worth, Reese heads home, only to find pops in a less than wanting condition, living with a Christian rock wannabe and an ex-grad student. Zooey is small in this movie, melancholy, course yet foolish not to change. She bewilders, deadpan as, slowly, she reveals herself to harbor not only indifference, but vulnerability as well.
Why I Think She's Underrated: Zooey Deschanel reminds me of Rosalind Russell or Donna Reid, or even Grace Kelly the way her eyelashes fall like quilts over glitzy discs of blue. She's an actress many people want to look at, or to look like, but because of her lack of commercial, starring roles, she's hardly ever taken seriously. She may not seem to hold commercial appeal, but I think that with the success of films like Elf and enough short but wistful turns like the one she gives in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Zooey Deschanel will gain some major regard in the future.
Underrated 10: Emile Hirsch
Breakthrough: trekking and tragic Christopher McCandless in Sean Penn's flick Into the Wild
You've Also Seen Him...: Wooing ex porn-star Danielle as Matt Kidman in The Girl Nextdoor
Don't Miss Him In...: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002); In this difficult, eerie teenager drama, Emile Hirsch plays Francis Doyle, daft and handsome Catholic school boy who invents a comic book with best friend Tim (Keiran Culkin) to escape the tedium of suburbia. This film comes layer after layer, always colorful, escapist, intriguing and often deeply upsetting. Its ending is abrupt and yet somehow inevitable. The film itself approaches one taboo after another, and is carried with deft innocence by the incipient unknown Emile Hirsch.
Why I Think He's Underrated: Emile Hirsch is young, an indie prince. He's appeared in quite a few movies, making notable appearances alongside names like Heath Ledger, Kevin Kline, and Jodie Foster. However, his looks, while devastatingly (DEVASTATINGLY) handsome, are dark and unrecognizable, boyish yet weathered and hard. He reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio, the Leo we saw in Titanic and The Man in the Iron Mask. Emile Hirsch drips into his roles, disappearing like rain into a puddle, and while this has proven him a great talent, it has yet to, for whatever reason, establish him. I think that Into the Wild was a great breakthrough, however, and it proves that the future holds a valuable place for him in the league of leading men.