Classically trained, unbelievably versatile, unmatched in charisma, Christopher Plummer was an acting titan of the highest order and there will never be another like him after his passing on this week. He could play snarky politicians, compassionate fathers, romantic leads, Machiavellian arch-villains and real world figures with class, nobility and always a good dose of humour. His trademark half smile and gleaming eyes and impossibly capable line delivery made him one of my absolute treasured actors, and I’d like to share with you my personal top ten performances of his in cinema! Enjoy..
10. Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula 2000
I’ve always loved this modern reiteration of the Dracula myth with a very effective Gerard Butler in the title role. Christopher makes a stately, badass and solemn Van Helsing and looks damn good carrying around a crossbow too.
9. Mr. Massie in Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor
This is essentially a bedridden, dementia addled cameo as some senile old bastard that Dennis Quaid goes to for information, but his work here always felt downright chilling to me. Between bouts of confusion and barking out for the “chocolate cherries” in his bedside drawer, we get a sense of the volcanically abusive, powerfully evil man Massie once must have been, and Christopher makes deft, diabolical work of a very quick appearance.
8. Bob Blair in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape
This visually delicious 80’s SciFi sees Plummer play a scheming, war mongering politician, a cold hearted, seditious prick and the last kind of person you’d want in a position of power. He relishes the role while staying restrained yet always vaguely threatening.
7. David Winters in Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic
This little seen yet star studded Canadian drama is a wonderful piece about Holocaust survivors, families joining up and time healing hurt, or at least doing its best. Christopher is the odd one out here as his younger wife (Susan Sarandon) rekindles bonds with two fellow prisoners (Max Von Sydow & Gabriel Byrne) who also escaped concentration camps. His character is blustery and initially impatient with these healing people as he’s never experienced anything like that but as time goes he softens, it’s a wonderful arc in a very underrated film.
6. Doctor Parnassus in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Gilliam delivers a reliably mind boggling visual experience with a troubled production and a boisterous, drunken yet commanding lead role from Plummer as a sort of travelling gypsy magician extraordinaire who regularly has conversations with the Devil himself (Tom Waits) and fights fiercely to protect his young daughter (Lily Cole).
5. Harlan Thrombey in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out
It’s ironic that his character here spends much of the film dead when Christopher actually gives the liveliest performance of a very large ensemble cast. Harlan is an aging horror novelist who suspects each and every one of his family of mutiny and trusts only his young nurse (Ana De Armas). His work here is utterly hilarious, injecting stinging, self aware gallows humour into the role and thoroughly stealing every damn scene.
4. Henrik Vanger in David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Henrik is the character who essentially sets the gears of the central mystery in motion here, a tortured patriarch haunted by the memory of a missing daughter he couldn’t save. He captures the hurt, desperation and refusal to give up the search excellently.
3. Hal in Mike Mills’ Beginners
Some people reach the most important decisions and realizations later on in life, as we see with Hal, a man who was married for four decades before coming out as gay to his son (Ewan McGregor) and subsequently finding out that he’s terminally ill. Christopher is loving, warm, playful and full of life in the role that earned him his Oscar.
2. Mike Wallace in Michael Mann’s The Insider
This is a towering portrayal of 60 Minutes producer and media mogul Wallace around the time his network hushed up an expose on big tobacco. His palpable outrage and righteous fury are truly something to behold, especially when he verbally debases a smug junior executive (Gina Gershon) who doesn’t show him proper respect.
1. Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music
This is the crown jewel performance for me. This was the first film I *ever* saw in cinema, and I was so young I knew Captain Von Trapp before I even knew he was played by an actor called Christopher Plummer. A harsh militaristic man, he has been turned somewhat cold and distant by the death of his wife and the ominous turn of the political tide in his country, until Julie Andrew’s Maria arrives to change all that and awaken in him the compassionate, romantic and morally steadfast man he always was but lost sight of. Christopher handles this arc with utmost class, charm and gravitas, and some of my earliest, fondest memories are of him singing Edelweiss, his fierce refusal to bend to Hitler’s incoming agenda and the tender moonlit scene where he and Maria catch their first real feels for each other. He will be missed by me more than I can say.