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With Nowhere Boy finally opening to a limited release in the US, I feel the need to discuss the brilliance of one of the most underutilized, unappreciated actresses in Hollywood, Anne-Marie Duff.  Commonly known as Mrs. James McAvoy, Ms. Duff is anything by arm candy.  With leading roles in The Virgin Queen, The Magdalene Sisters, The Last Station and countless other BBC-helmed projects, Ms. Duff has been making a name for herself in British cinema for sometime.  Why then, has she not crossed over into mainstream US cinema, being showered with plum A-list Hollywood roles and placed on countless glossy magazine covers along the way?  There are probably a few answers to this question, but I have narrowed it down to the two most plausible:  she’s not what Hollywood considers “leading actress material” (read: conventionally beautiful) and she could give a shit what Hollywood thinks.

Full disclosure:  I came to become a fan of Anne-Marie Duff through my interest in James McAvoy’s career.  In 2004 my husband and I had recently finished the third installment in Frank Herbert’s Dune series, “Children of Dune” and decided to see  the film adaptation.  While the movie was mediocre at best, one actor struck us as an unusually magnetic choice  for such a middling production.  Being the movie nerds that we were/are, we discussed the inevitability of James McAvoy’s rise to stardom and were later vindicated as he was thrust into mainstream cinema in career changing roles in The Last King of Scotland and later Atonement and Wanted.  Between Children of Dune and blinding stardom, however, Mr. McAvoy appeared on the quirky British series “Shameless” where his co-star was the luminous yet relatable Anne Marie Duff.  Her portrayal of the sweet and caring family matriarch Fiona Gallagher garnered her multiple award nominations and a devoted fan base within the British Isles, but did not lead to multiple film offers as it did for her husband.

While I realize that success in Hollywood has a lot more to do with what you look like than how you act, it constantly frustrates me that I have to seek out movies containing female leads who are compelling.  I’m sick of having to hunt down Anne-Marie Duff’s performances while I can watch a Jessica Alba movie anytime I want.  I’m sick of watching these cookie cutter women attempt to emote when I could be watching Anne-Marie Duff or any of her various contemporaries actually emote.

I’m pretty sure I sound like just another bitter woman bitching about inequality in Hollywood productions.  Be that as it may, if enough of us continue to cause a fuss and continue to support films with complex female characters and female protagonists who are “perfectly realized” as opposed to physically perfect, maybe someone will listen.

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I consider myself a connoisseur of dark and brooding British melodrama so of course I’ve now seen four film adaptations of Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte.  I’ve never actually read the book, but I consider this to be beside the point.  The point being that I’ve found the NEXT Marlon Brando.  Ok, so I didn’t FIND him, he’s an actor on the rise, a male ingenue as it were, a supporting actor in one of the largest films of the year.  In any case, I’m putting my money in the ring for, one, Tom Hardy.

With buzzy roles in Bronson, Layer Cake and the ubersexy RocknRolla, Tom has been building a solid repertoire for a few years running.  It was not until Inception though, that audiences began looking past Leo, past Mr. Gordon-Levitt and directly at Tom Hardy, asking “Who the hell is that?”  It was at this time I began a thorough research into his past film projects, stumbling upon the aforementioned Wuthering Heights adaption.  I was skeptical that Mr. Hardy could out-Heathcliff my favorite actor of all time, the illustrious Ralph Fiennes (1992 version).  I was, however, humbled and disturbed by this revolutionary performance.  Bitter, vile, hedonistic, primal, pathetic.  Perfect.  Pairing feminine histrionics with male force and ego, Mr. Hardy creates a 50/50 balance in which a full on-screen personality is realized, a space in which gender becomes a non-issue and raw emotion is central.

Brando, possessor of explosive rage and languid vulnerability.  A man in touch with every emotion, whether it be decidedly masculine or feminine.  It was in Hollywood where he defied and then defined what it is to be a character actor and yet, it is still Hollywood where a man’s sexuality will typecast him. Unwilling to back down from bigoted perception, Tom Hardy embraces every aspect of his personality, even if that means admitting to bisexuality.  He is a 21st century Brando, consistently pushing the boundaries of what it means to be human, what it means to be masculine or feminine, what it means to be an actor.