The Emperor's New Clothes (2001)--Best-known for his performances in such films as Alien, The Sweet Hereafter and Lord of the Rings, Ian Holm has a body of work that consists mostly of carefully crafted, understated supporting performances, which have earned him a reputation as one of the best actors working in film. But with director Alan Taylor's The Emperor's New Clothes, the entire success or failure of the film hinges on Holm's sublime dual performance as the imprisoned emperor of France, Napoleon, and as a common man who impersonates him. History tells us Napoleon died in exile on the island of St. Helena; but if we are to believe this film, based on Simon Leys' novel, Napoleon escaped his prison and Eugene Lenormand took his place to fool his British captors. The plan was that once Napoleon was safely in Paris, it would be revealed that Eugene was an impostor, and the king would rise up to reclaim his throne. But as this dark comedy progresses, everything goes terribly wrong, and as hard as he tries, Napoleon seems destined to live out his life as Eugene. The Emperor's New Clothes could have easily failed, had Taylor chosen to make the film a broad farce rather than a subtle, and cynical, comedy.
Two Family House (2000)--Buddy Visalo is a loser. Married to Estelle, a castrating shrew, and stuck in a back-breaking factory job, his lofty goals of self-employment exceed his meager means. He's the man Thoreau wrote about, living a life of quiet desperation. His latest plan involves purchasing a two-family house, the bottom floor of which he plans to convert into a tavern while he and Estelle (Kathrine Narducci) live upstairs. But Buddy (Michael Rispoli) gets more than he bargained for when he tries to evict the upstairs tenants, setting off a chain of events that will forever change his life and the lives of those around him and become part of the neighborhood mythology of Staten Island. Set in the 1950s and inspired by writer-director Raymond De Felitta's real-life Uncle Buddy, Two Family House is a quiet story of one man's journey toward an awakening of his inner self. De Felitta's film is sweet without being sappy, emotional without being melodramatic and sentimental without being contrived. De Felitta's script and Rispoli's performance bring a solid dimension to the sad-sack Buddy while Narducci (one of many Sopranos veterans in the cast) and Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Gosford Park)--the upstairs neighbor--provide balance to the complex, troubled man.