Pardon the indulgence, but I have 17 performances I want to discuss, and I’d feel bad leaving any of them out.

You will notice I do not mention Eddie Murphy, even though he’s the Oscar frontrunner. I like Murphy in DREAMGIRLS, but this feels like a case of a comedy actor garnering acclaim for playing against type. I think there are other actors who would have been better in the role.

I don’t know how to rank this as a performance. Sliney plays himself, reliving events he actually went through. Even though he’s now acting for the camera for multiple takes, the work still feels completely real. He doesn’t emphasize moments for the sake of a movie. And he reenacts what must have been the toughest workday of his career.

16. Casey Affleck – THE LAST KISS
In general, I’ve liked Casey, but never saw him as a terribly great actor. This is a tough part and Casey is really affecting in the role. In the film Affleck plays a married man with a new baby. The strain and responsibility is more than he’s ready to handle and he prepares to leave his wife and child. Casey finds a way to make you care about him. Rather than dismiss him as a bad man, you hope for his redemption.

15. Clive Owen – INSIDE MAN
Clive Owen’s performance was my favorite part of INSIDE MAN. He gets the plot roling, and his commanding presence is a great star turn. One of my favorite moments of the year is when a hostage tries to hide a cell phone. Clive walks into another room where we see him moving behind tinted glass. When he steps back out, it’s scary.

14. Laurence Fishburne – AKEELAH AND THE BEE
If your character teaches the hero to use their muscle, hire Liam Neeson. If you need a teacher to open our hero’s mind, Laurence Fishburne is your man. Here, Fishburne plays Dr. Joshua Larabee, and he’s at his snobby, bellowing best. With a commanding voice, Larabee pushes and nurtures young Akeelah. Like Morgan Freeman showing gravitas, Fishburne is in a comfortable part, but few do it as well and this is one of his best performances.

13. John C. Reilly – TALLADEGA NIGHTS
Not too much to say here. Reilly is a very lovable performer and as wingman Cal Naughton Jr., he outperforms everyone, including star Will Ferrell. Nearly every single line is right on the money. His MTV movie award clip would have to be when Ricky Bobby learns that his wife is leaving him for Cal.

12. Terrance Howard – IDLEWILD
I hated IDLEWILD and for the first half-hour I hated how much Terrance Howard was being underused. He plays background, never speaking a word. Then (like a bear trap) he springs to life, shaking the whole film with his tremendous energy. He’s constantly placed in scenes with bad actors and he bulldozes right over them with heedless gusto. The best thing about IDLEWILD is that it reminded me Terrance Howard is ready to be one of our most electrifying movie stars.

11. Danny Huston – THE PROPOSITION
We hear about what a monster Huston’s character is long before we see him. Murder, rape…a total disregard for human life. When we meet him, he’s a big guy, but calm. Not the raving lunatic we were expecting. When he talks we realize that the calm peace is the monster. This guy’s scary because he’s completely IN control. It’s a chilling performance.

10. Mark Wahlberg – THE DEPARTED
“I’m the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.” When Wahlberg is the lead, he’s usually so bland that he fades into the poster. But in supporting turns like I HEART HUCKABEES and here, it’s like someone peed in his oatmeal. He’s cranky, snappy and often very funny.

There’s a lot of great rants in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and it seems like Arkin has almost all of them. His rant against the chicken, his decision to use drugs and his advice to his grandson are explosively funny. That's countered with the great affection he shows his granddaughter in the movie’s most heartfelt moments.

8. Ray Winstone – THE PROPOSITION
You are sure Winstone is a certain kind of character the moment he shows up on screen. There’s a diabolical need to bring down this gang and bring civility to the land. You come to find so many more layers than that. It’s easy to see Winstone as a villain, but if you look at his side of it, he’s really trying to ultimately do justice and capture a terrible human being. I like how you see the struggle as he tries to shield is wife, not so much for her own good, but so when he come home he can leave the terrible world outside.

7. Noah Emmerich – LITTLE CHILDREN
In films like THE TRUMAN SHOW, BEAUTIFUL GIRLS and COP LAND, Noah Emmerich was always the big, nice friend, like a St. Bernard. In LITTLE CHILDREN, years have added a rough edge to his bland exterior. He once again plays the best friend, but events from his past reveal a monster hiding his own pain by picking on a convicted pedophile. Because of Emmerich, we start to question the crime.

I want to talk about a similar character handled completely the wrong way in HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. In that film, the character (a cop) was so thinly written and played so overly menacing you could see tragedy coming from a mile away. Here it’s always in doubt. Will he or won’t he go too far? I won’t discuss the ending, but the resolution of his character is one of my biggest reasons for liking LITTLE CHILDREN so much.

6. Brad Pitt – BABEL
I like that I saw this film months ago and I’m still not sure if I like Brad Pitt’s character. While traveling in a foreign land, his wife is shot. He does everything to try and get her medical attention, and in the process is bullish and forceful with a lot of people. He’s very much the head-strong American trying to keep it together until the situation improves. Many of these scenes, Pitt could have played with pleas for compassion, but by being aggressive towards those around him it makes for a more complex character. It also suggests he may be the cause of his current marital strife.

5. Hugo Weaving – V FOR VENDETTA
I’ve always believed it impossible to do good acting without using your face. Eyes and expression are so important. As the enigmatic V, Hugo Weaving proves me wrong. The character itself is a walking contradiction, a sympathetic terrorist trying to set things right by destroying the government. He’s everything we fear, yet he convinces an entire nation to rally behind his cause. He aims for a greater good, but his tactics are often criminal and cruel. Weaving captures all of it, with his inflections and fantastic use of body language.

4. Stephen Colbert – STRANGERS WITH CANDY
“I need more out of this relationship than I'm willing to put in. I think I deserve better, don't you? Hey, I know this is hard on you. It would be hard on me, too, if I broke up with me. I know what you're losing.”

Everything about Stephen Colbert’s acting is obvious. You see the strings, but he wants you to see them. It’s that Bill Murray style of letting us know he’s only PRETENDING to be a pompous jerk. You laugh at just how far he goes with the part. (“Go tell the grief counselor. She’s supposed to care.”) I did not like STRANGERS WITH CANDY, but I liked absolutely every moment Stephen Colbert was in.

Everybody has a favorite performance in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Mine is Steve Carell. He had me from the opening shot, one of the saddest expressions I’ve ever seen. Carell plays Uncle Frank, who recently attempted suicide. He’s dragged into the story because the family can’t trust him alone. Unlike a lot of recent comedy stars, Carell’s specialty is deadpan realism. It feels like he’s not trying to make you laugh, but what comes out is absolutely hysterical. The gas station scene is certainly his Oscar clip, but he’s pitch perfect throughout.


Ever since his breakthrough role, as an aging rocker in LOVE ACTUALLY, Bill Nighy has popped up in what seems like every British film ever made, and for that I give thanks. He’s a wonderful performer and I think he gets better all the time. In NOTES, Nighy takes a back seat to the film’s two grand dames, but when it’s his turn to play, he proves to be every bit as feisty and surprisingly funny. In DEAD MAN’S CHEST, he’s the great Davy Jones. Nighy not only has the chops to play this unique concoction at epic size, he seems to be having great fun while doing it.

1. Jackie Earle Haley – LITTLE CHILDREN
During my initial viewing of LITTLE CHILDREN, Haley’s character, Ronnie, felt like a distraction. Too much time was being given to this supporting character. Upon reflection I realized that Ronnie is the most important character in the film. Everyone else in the movie believes they’re good people, even though they commit some appalling acts. Ronnie is a convicted pedophile, although the exact details of the crime seem a bit vague. He knows his thoughts are not acceptable, and he tries so hard to behave.

I keep thinking about what to write here, but I really can’t without ruining a lot of good character development. We don’t like Ronnie. He looks creepy and his first appearance (at a public swimming pool) plays right into our fears. But from that launch pad, a much more complex picture grows. There’s a date scene that’s brilliantly handled, and a final sequence that sort of put the whole film in perspective for me. Ronnie is easily the trickiest role in a very complex movie. Jackie Earle Haley deserves all the awards they throw at him.


Post a Comment

<< Home