Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been the most recent actor in my memory to actually spend time in my mind as my favorite actor. I have yet to have an actor to replace him, but he's not at the top of my mind anymore. I guess I'm just lazy.
An interesting case of a child actor who improved and continued to have a career after his adolescence, the man has utilized other talents in his roles such as physicality and choreography, voice and pantomime storytelling.
His early indie film performances had showcased a versatile ability at an early point in his career. Pacino had to span a career to reach roles from Tony Montana to Michael Corleone to Frank Serpico. JGL only had to do a couple of years between.
His more recent roles have had a toll taken on their quality unfortunately, in my eyes. Despite enjoying the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, I am not a fan of how Christopher Nolan has used him (or Michael Caine, ugh, worst use of a veteran yet). And he's had to take some... less than pleasant films previously, one of which I am ashamed to have bought without seeing only because I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in it (and another of my favorite actors).
And yet, neither of them could save the film...
However, one cannot doubt the fact that his hard work in the field has finally paid off, having been cast in two Christopher Nolan pictures, one Steven Spielberg picture and a Quentin Tarantino which he unfortunately had to turn down. He's finally been cast into the limelight.
I find a huge interest that he does not consider himself a method actor at all, however, and the minimalistic approach among his more impressive performances. When it came to him and roles where his character is more than extraordinary, he knows less is more with his actions and feelings, but he still makes you notice them somehow. It may partly be the help of the script, or the director, or the cameraman, or the editor, but it's also on JGL to reflect those emotions in a way that's not showy but not wholly realistic. It's a modern form of acting made just for the cinema in my opinion. Not Brando or DeNiro at all. But it's just how I love it.
So on to my top 5 favorite performances by him:
5. The Lookout - Chris Pratt
When I say his work is the old-school work of nuances, this performance is essentially the prince of that. From the beginning, his discomfort at attempting to regain normality in everyday rituals like shaving, driving, cooking or work is apparent without being too in your face. Granted at the beginning, we need the training wheels on inner monologue to understand his dilemma, but it doesn't last and we follow him throughout. Nevermind the cool turbulence Gordon-Levitt puts his character under once the main heist plot is set into motion.
4. (500) Days of Summer - Tom Hansen
It's really not so much something new out of him, since it seems an extension of the childish infatuation he portrayed in 10 Things I Hate About You, as a perfection of that sort of emotional bait by teaming it with the self-awareness of Woody Allen's character Alvy from Annie Hall. It owes just as much to the editor and writer to Gordon-Levitt as well, by placing scenes (or days) at a juxtaposition (or revisiting) to see just how the rise and fall of Tom Hansen's lust goes. +5 for utilizing Gordon-Levitt's physical skills for a musical number of the modern hipster essence. (More popularly and better utilized along with his gymnastics training later in Inception, the highlight of his performance in that picture).
3. Brick - Brendan Frye
The movie relies most on the performances of every single cast member to not seem incredibly hokey as a hardboiled detective story but also to not seem so dramatic as a high school movie. Nearly everybody made due on this demand of the script, at the center of it Lukas Haas as the Pin and Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, carrying an air of Hammett's Spade, waltzing in pleasantly to observe the dealings of the world.
2. Morgan M. Morgansen's Date with Destiny (and others) - Morgan M. Morgansen
What can I say? I'm just a sucker for silent characters. Morgan draws back to the persona of the Little Tramp, but with a modern and stylized draw. The performance itself is accented by the animated background, the Victorian esque sepia tone, the demeanor of the characters. It's easier to watch a world like this slip around us for the length of the shorts. This took imagination. Well-done.
1. Hesher - Hesher
I am of the firm and heavy belief that Hesher is meant to be a guardian angel to the lead characters of this film. That said, he's the weirdest guardian angel ever. He is loud, crass, rude and a bully. He steals, assaults, trespasses, drinks, destroys random people's homes, commits arson, squats in another person's home uninvited in only his underwear, vandalizes and ultimately graverobs. But it eventually proves for a good effect in the life of the protagonist.
He's said to have been heavily influenced by late Metallica Cliff Burton, to the point where Metallica, having been shown the film without being told that fact, exclaimed that Hesher reminded them of Cliff, and Hesher is heard performing 'Anesthetia (Pulling Teeth)' in one scene. If that is so, that makes Cliff one hell of a badass to me.
And the complete ranking (IMHO) of JGL's performances from what I've seen.
My ranking on all the performances I've seen him in. It's not a consideration on the quality of the films themselves (Because... come on, G.I. Joe over Inception?!) but his performance in comparison to the rest of the movie or his other performances.
The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012) - John Blake
Inception (Nolan, 2010) - Arthur
Shadowboxer (Daniels, 2005) - Dr. Don
Killshot (Madden, 2007) - Richie Nix
10 Things I Hate About You (Junger, 1999) - Cameron James
Stop-Loss (Peirce, 2008) - Tommy Burgess
50/50 (Levine, 2011) - Adam Lerner
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Sommers, 2009) - Rex/The Doctor
Manic (Melamed, 2001) - Lyle Jensen
Angels in the Outfield (Dear, 1994) - Roger
The Lookout (Frank, 2007) - Chris Pratt
(500) Days of Summer (Webb, 2009) - Tom Hanson
Brick (Johnson, 2005) - Brendan Frye
Morgan M. Morgansen's Date with Destiny/Morgan and Destiny's Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo (Gordon-Levitt, 2010) - Morgan M. Morgansen
Hesher (Susser, 2011) - Hesher
Want to See:
Mysterious Skin (Araki, 2004)
Uncertainty (McGehee/Siegel, 2008)
Looper (Johnson, 2012)
Lincoln (Spielberg, 2012)
Miscellaneous I've Seen:
Treasure Planet (Muskers/Clement, 2002) - Jim Hawkins
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Miner, 1998) - Random Kid with a Hockey Stick (forgot the name)
The Brothers Bloom (Johnson, 2008) - Cameo