The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Elizabeth Banks
Nobody's having as good a year professionally as Elizabeth Banks, and her success is well-deserved. A star-in-the-making for over a decade now, Banks has always felt like one of Hollywood's unsung heroines. She can really do it all. She's aces in all kinds of dramas, from big-budget studio types like SEABISCUIT to smaller-scaled indies like HEIGHTS or LITTLE ACCIDENTS, but she's also one heck of a comedienne as she's shown over-and-over again.
With her incredible good looks (I'd wager Banks is one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood) Banks should have hit the A-list a long time ago, but 2015 has really been the payoff to years of effort, with so many facets of her talent being on display throughout the year. Not only did she get raves for her turn in Bill Pohlad's LOVE & MERCY, but this summer she moved behind-the-camera to direct the $286 million grossing PITCH PERFECT 2, immediately making her one of the town's most in-demand new directors. And if that wasn't enough, this summer she also reunited with frequent collaborators David Wain and Michael Showalter for Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, where she stole every scene she was in as the camp's resident heart-breaker/undercover journalist. Truly, Banks is on a roll and it feels like this is just the beginning of a great new chapter in her career, both as an actress and a director.
LOVE & MERCY is one of the year's most underrated films, but as we get closer to Oscar season a lot of critics (and hopefully Academy voters) are starting to reevaluate it thanks to Roadside's excellent Awards campaign. Certainly, Banks is very worthy of a best supporting actress nod thanks to her exceptional work as Brian Wilson's eventual wife, Melinda. It's her performance that really makes the movie's central conceit – that Paul Dano plays the young Wilson while John Cusack plays him later-in-life – work. While she's being put up in the supporting category, in many ways she feels like the lead, as we truly see Wilson as observed by her in the eighties-set portion as opposed to the sixties 'Smile' sessions part, which play out like Wilson's tainted memories. It's a unique approach, and again – Banks is director Bill Pohlad's secret weapon.
This is a tough category for Banks. While she's been in a few clunkers like WALK OF SHAME and THE DETAILS, even in bad movies Banks is always worth watching. One movie she's not quite able to save is Oliver Stone's controversial W. While there's no doubt an interesting film to be made about George W. Bush, it maybe came out a little too soon, with its release coming while he was still in his last few months in office. Too often it felt like an extended SNL parody, and Banks comes off better than most in the cast as Laura Bush, but even still the movie feels like a minor effort on Oliver Stone's resume, although some critics, including the great Roger Ebert, championed it.
I always really liked James Gunn' SLITHER. A goofy, gooey throwback to movies like NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, it came and went without much of a trace upon its initial release. Maybe it was a little too hip and self-aware for audiences back then, although it's telling that the three principles, Nathan Fillion, Banks and director James Gunn, all went on to major stardom shortly after. Banks makes for a good horror movie heroine, with her comic timing being dead-on as she tangles with her hubby's (Michael Rooker) transformation into a particularly gruesome and gross creature.
While her role in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN is small, Banks is easily one of the most memorable parts of the film. Playing a dazzling bookstore employee with the hots for our hero, her outstanding comic timing mixed with her incredible sex appeal leads to one of the funniest and most memorable seduction scenes in recent memory.
Banks is in the enviable position of now being much-in demand both in front and behind the camera. As an actress, she's been linked to RITA HAYWORTH WITH A HAND GRENADE, in which she'd play a war-correspondent. As a director, Banks is not only coming back for PITCH PERFECT 3, but has also been given the reigns of CHARLIE'S ANGELS, which is bound to be another blockbuster.