From now until the Oscar nominations are announced on January 22, Vulture will be highlighting some of 2007's greatest, sure-to-be-overlooked performances.
Yes, yes, the Oscars ignore comedy and horror films. But they also perpetrate a much less-discussed and more-insidious bias against people eating nachos. Think about it: Has there ever been even a Best Actor nomination for an actor or actress who featured in a nacho-based scene? We can’t think of one, and we spent like fifteen seconds looking on Wikipedia. The Oscar winner most associated with food was Anthony Hopkins, and that was for eating people. So, fully aware of the Academy's bias against humor, terror, and appetizers, we realize that the campaign for Kurt Russell for Best Actor is unlikely to succeed. But it is his very achievement in navigating those three disparate areas of thespianism that make his performance so eminently awardable. Let us explain: As “Stuntman Mike” in Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s super-fun half of the totally awesome Grindhouse, Russell is mainly called upon to be menacing; his “death-proof” car is the weapon that stalks and dismembers various sassy young women. But the movie’s not just entertaining because the violent collisions and chases are so thrilling; it’s entertaining because Tarantino sets them for maximum fear/relief effect with teasingly extended and expertly executed preludes.
Which brings us to the nachos that Stuntman Mike orders when he arrives at the Austin bar where he meets his first group of victims. Sitting at the bar alone eating, he waits patiently for an encounter that seems to occur by happenstance, then chats up and charms Vanessa Ferlito's fun-loving twentysomething character. Eventually, he convinces her to give him a lap dance — which, for comic effect, turns out to be the film’s "missing reel" — before leaving the bar with Rose McGowan. At this point, one might be convinced Russell is playing a rough-edged, hard-living, but good-hearted action hero; of course, the next thing that happens is that he he kills McGowan, Ferlito, and three of her friends in the most blood-and-dismemberment-heavy manner possible. And from there he nails the role of the silent, inexplicably malevolent, seemingly invincible murderer — until the film’s climax, when the fictional stuntwomen played by real-life stuntwomen Zoe Bell and Marcy Harriell get the better of him, shooting him in the shoulder, turning the tables and chasing him in their own souped-up hot rod. At which point he becomes a hilarious, over-the-top parody of a screaming, blubbering, horror-movie victim.
A classic horror movie should pass through three stages: slightly uncomfortable normality, blood-spattered terror, and sweet relief when the villain is finally vanquished. Most pay half-assed attention to the first, spend too time much on the second, and take a rather predictable approach to the third. Russell’s mastery of all three deserves both wider recognition and extra guacamole. —Ben Mathis-Lilley