Graham: Hawke, The Rock and year’s best performances

Six performances to seek out before awards season takes over

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

If the Oscars were held tomorrow, well, that would be weird, considering it’s only September and a bunch of the year’s biggest movies have yet to open.

But if it were, here are some of the performers who might get recognized for their work. Check out these six excellent performances before they’re buried by fall’s avalanche of prestige pictures and awards bait:

Ethan Hawke, “Born to be Blue”: As jazz great Chet Baker, Ethan Hawke will break your heart in this small-scale biopic from writer-director Robert Budreau. Hawke gets down to the tragic soul of the ’60s musician, his sad eyes conveying the pain of addiction that coursed through his veins. It’s not as showy as Don Cheadle’s louder, more pronounced characterization of Miles Davis in “Miles Ahead,” which was in theaters at the same time, but Hawke’s haunting performance will stick with you longer. (Now on DVD)

Ralph Fiennes, “A Bigger Splash”: Fiennes is more than a house on fire, he’s the burning house and its smoldering ashes in this film where his character, Harry Hawkes, crashes a couple’s relaxing vacation on an island off the coast of Sicily. Performing a rambunctious dance to the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” Fiennes sets the tone for his wild-card character and turns in one of the year’s most unpredictable, untethered performances. Just hope he doesn’t show up at your vacation home. (Now on DVD)

Emilia Clarke, “Me Before You”: This one’s all in the eyebrows. Clarke is known for playing Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons, on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” But her and those eyebrows, which are like two caterpillars resting just above her eyes, came to warm, bubbly life in summer’s modest weepie romance hit, which grossed a respectable $56 million. Clarke’s fashionable caretaker character spun in her own orbit in the film, and she emitted a glow on screen like a young Julia Roberts. The end of “Thrones” will be just the beginning of her career. (Now on DVD)

Alan Rickman, “Eye in the Sky”: The deaths of David Bowie and Prince overshadowed the loss of another giant this year, the great Alan Rickman, who gave his final screen performance in this tense drama about modern drone warfare. Rickman plays a lieutenant general flying orders up the chain of command, and he found the dry, dry humor in the rigid protocol that dictates literal matters of life and death. His performances in “Die Hard” and the “Harry Potter” series are immortal, but this performance is a reminder of the subtle versatility of Rickman’s talent. (Now on DVD)

Dwayne Johnson, “Central Intelligence”: What can’t The Rock do? In this comedy hit, he outshines Kevin Hart as a former high school zero who becomes a musclebound superspy hero, and he does so by giving an off-balance performance that seems beamed in from some sort of stranger, weirder movie than the one he’s in. In films like “Southland Tales” and “Pain and Gain,” the Rock floated in his own plane of existence, but in “Central Intelligence” he makes that plane come to him, and the film comes off better for it. Maybe it’s time to start doing everything The Rock’s way. (Now on DVD)

Chris Pine, “Hell or High Water”: Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster chew up all the scenery (and the entire Texas landscape), but Chris Pine and the deep wells in his ocean-blue eyes tell the story in this tale of two Texas bank robbers looking to right a few wrongs by taking the law into their own hands. Pine is great as the cocky Captain Kirk in the “Star Trek” series, but it wasn’t until “Hell” that audiences were able to see the true depth of his abilities. His final showdown scene with Bridges is one of the year’s single best scenes. (Now in theaters)

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Twitter: @grahamorama