It is no secret that 2016 has been one of the most brutal years for celebrity deaths of all time. We’ve lost icons of music, film, and sport to all manner of illnesses, addictions and everything in between. However, even in a year where it has been easy to grow numb to death, the sudden passing of actor Anton Yelchin left me confused, brokenhearted and numb yesterday. This wasn’t somebody who I’d ever expect to lose. For the past decade, he had been a reliable staple of both the indie and mainstream movie scene, consistently giving fantastic performances. From all reports, he was an entirely kind and well-reasoned man, who never found himself in the news for anything other than his work. That is until now when he was crushed by his own car in what seems like an entirely avoidable freak accident. This was somebody who deserved to have a decades-long career who was taken all too soon. Fortunately, he left behind a fantastic crop of performances.
Here are my personal favorites:
Pavel Chekov In Star Trek (2009)
When one thinks of Star Trek, a flurry of names instantly comes to mind. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Picard. There are so many names in fact that it might take a little while to arrive at Chekov. It’s understandable, as on paper Chekov is essentially a glorified IT guy for the Enterprise. However, the moment Anton Yelchin came on screen in JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot, he completely reinvigorated the character. While not a large part by any means, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov steals every scene he’s in through his adorable energy. He may be spouting techno-babble in that exaggerated Russian accent, but Yelchin’s willingness to play up the awkwardness of such dialogue sells it. It’s going to be nice, if bittersweet, to see him reprise the role again in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond.
Charley Brewster In Fright Night (2011)
It’s unfortunate that this film was lost in the shuffle of summer 2011 because it’s actually a fun horror romp. There are a whole lot of fun elements here, but what ultimately anchors the film is Anton Yelchin. This film was his test to see if he could be a leading man, and he passed with great skill. He does a great job of making Charley not notably fall into any one stereotypical high school trapping. He’s a bit nerdy, but he’s very funny. He’s only got a couple of friends, but he has excellent chemistry with Imogen Poots as his girlfriend. This not only makes him relatable but easy to root for in his battle against an evil vampire next door. It’s certainly not high art but definitely, a fun one to crack open a beer with and enjoy.
Pat In Green Room (2016)
Green Room is certainly not a film for everybody. In fact, its sadistic violence towards Anton Yelchin’s character might be too much to take considering what has happened. However, he gives the most intense performance of his career as a punk rocker trapped in a Neo-Nazi nightmare. Pat is a character that is broken down both mentally and physically. He has to ride his adrenaline and instincts in order to survive. Anton Yelchin is particularly excellent at selling the terrified side of Pat. He throws his body completely into the anxious mannerisms of this unfortunate young man. He’s also paired up with Poots again, and they still work great together. While not great overall, it is a great showcase of a side of Yelchin we didn’t often get to see.
Jacob Helm In Like Crazy (2011)
As somebody who was in a long distance relationship himself, this film had a very powerful impact on me. It chronicles the relationship between Jacob and Felicity Jones’ Anna as they are ultimately forced to split when Anna is deported back to London. On the surface, it is a remarkably subtle film in many ways. Director Drake Doremus opts fo improvised scenes that feel like we are looking into the window of a neighboring couple. It’s not a movie that feels written. It seems more as if the story was etched along by the dynamics of its actors. Yelchin and Jones are both spectacular here. Yelchin really nails the feelings of abandonment that come from not seeing a partner for long periods. He’s a ticking clock, a nice guy whose kindness threatens to tear him apart. It ranks up there with Blue Valentine as one of this generation’s best tragic romances.
Charlie Bartlett In Charlie Bartlett (2008)
After hearing about Anton Yelchin’s tragic passing yesterday, I decided that it was finally time to check out Charlie Bartlett. I had heard good things about this film over the years but had never really given it a chance. I was a fool. This is one of the best movies about high school I’ve ever seen. Most of the credit goes to Yelchin for his phenomenal turn here. This character, a trouble making private school Richie Rich type who is forced to go to public school, could have been such a disaster. He could have been prissy, artificial, and unlikable in the blink of an eye. However, in Anton Yelchin’s hands, he not only has his quirky affluent qualities but a boatload of charm. He’s a genuinely nice kid who wants to help people, even though he constantly throws himself into crazy situations. He has moments of huge comedy, subtle pathos, and intense drama here and he brings them all to life beautifully. The hopeful silver lining of this tragedy is that more people will discover this film, and hopefully not just think of Anton Yelchin as a background player in a couple of Star Trek movies. He was a full-fledged talent, and he will be dearly missed.
Michael Fairbanks is a lifelong film lover from San Diego, California. His favorite movies include The Dark Knight, Silver Linings Playbook, and As Good As It Gets. In addition to The Nerd Stash, Fairbanks writes for both The Young Folks, and his own blog, entitled Fairbanks on Film.