With the release of the twenty-third James Bond movie “Skyfall” opening this weekend, it’s worth focusing on the career of Javier Bardem: one of the most acclaimed thespians in Spanish and English of our generation and the very first Hispanic actor to ever play a villain in a 007 motion picture. This time he immerses himself in the guise of Raoul Silva, a tragic and rancorous effeminate criminal mastermind set on attaining revenge on ‘M,’ James Bond’s boss.
His performance is “uncomfortable,” as he has described to me in the past, yet arresting. He manages to hold his own against the pantheon of memorable evil adversaries Bond had to eliminate in the last 50 years. But is this the performance of his career? And why after all, is he so highly regarded anyway? To satisfy our inquiring minds, I made a list of Bardem’s Top 5 best performances. You’ll be surprised to see what is in the #1 position.
5. The Sea Inside (2004)
In what I consider to be one of the best global films in the last twenty years, Alejandro Amenábar directs Bardem in this powerfully and visceral true story of Ramón Sampedro, a paraplegic who fought a 30 year campaign in favor of euthanasia and his own right to die. This is the best acting Bardem has ever done, and I believe, one of the best any actor has ever committed to celluloid. His performance is absolutely devastating, and even hard to watch for its realism and intense grief. But as a result, we are the fortunate witnesses to a performance for the ages. The film won Spain an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language category in 2005 and Bardem was perplexingly not nominated.
4. Biutiful (2010)
An Oscar win is not always regarded as one’s greatest achievement in film. In Bardem’s case, his award for “ No Country for Old Men” is a distant third. In a year where Colin Flirth won Best Actor at the Oscars for “The Kings’s Speech,” the true Best Actor of 2011 sat viewing the ceremony from a far. In my opinion, Javier Bardem was unequivocally the better actor for his tragic and affecting performance that will shake you to the core. Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu creates a story of a tragic hero, an ordinary man named Uxbal (Bardem), who is in a state of rapid deterioration. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Uxbal is connected with the afterlife and finds that his death is imminent. But before that final moment, he seeks redemption with the intention of leaving his legacy to his two young children. Bardem employs every talent in his arsenal to plunge into the deepest levels of his being to extract the complex nuances and dimensions of Uxbal. It is truly a sight to behold.
3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Scary, evil, enigmatic and violently demented, Javier Bardem provides us with his finest English language work to date and one of the most terrifying villains in recent cinema history. His performance of Anton Chigurh, subtle and indelible, won him an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. People who have seen the film still talk about evil itself portrayed on screen. The film, about a drug deal gone wrong, is a Cohen Bros tour de force only highlighted by the Bardem’s unforgettable acting.
2. Before Night Falls (2000)
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in 2001, Bardem plays real-life Cuban gay poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas, whose writing and homosexuality was harshly castigated by the Castro regime. Bardem somehow imbues the spirit of Reinaldo Arenas in a brilliant performance of nuances and essence. The quality of his performance becomes better by the minute until reaching an intense and heart-rending finale. Just when you thought he couldn’t be any better, the next three films, cements his legacy.
1. Mondays in the Sun (2002)
This decade-old film — that unfortunately evokes the current economic travails of Spain — was Spain’s selection for the 2003 Academy Awards over one of Pedro Almodóvar’s greats – “Talk to Her.” It centers around a group of stevedores in northern Spain who lose their jobs and are forced to look for work after the local dockyard closes. The friends spend their days loafing, all the while searching for something that will help them retain a sense of dignity and purpose. Bardem plays Santa, a womanizing, bitter, bearded fellow who commands the screen from the onset with a bite to his humor that is funny and harrowing. His role connected with a whole country for its deep and almost real association to the unemployed Spaniard man of the time. For Bardem’s efforts he received a Goya Award, the Oscar of Spain, for Best Lead Actor. The movie is wonderful, but Bardem makes it memorable.
JACK RICO, NBC LATINO contributor and founder of showbizcafe.com.