So, this post will give my opinion on ten of the greatest acting performances in movies. And I just now realized that all of the actors on my list are men. Don't worry. It was not intentional. Perhaps I'll do another list for the ladies someday. Also, I do feel obligated to warn you that I'll be posting some clips some may want to avoid. As Captain America would say, "Language!" I'll just put an asterisk (*) at the top of the section where that will be an issue. Finally, I want to clarify that these rankings are in no particular order, until I get to numbers 2 and 1. (And don't worry. This post will not say a word about The Shawshank Redemption.)
10. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street*
First of all, I am not saying I recommend this movie, only that I think DiCaprio did a good job in it. I know Leo gets a lot of hate, but I honestly do think he's a very talented actor. I think Martin Scorsese saved him from his pretty boy Titanic reputation by giving him his role in Gangs of New York, and then following up with him leading in The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island. I also loved him in Inception and The Great Gatsby. (He was just downright scary in Django Unchained!) However, one complaint about Leo is that he always has at least one scene in his movies where he overdoes it. (Think of him grabbing Tom in The Great Gatsby.) That's why his role in this movie was so perfect for him, though. This part was supposed to be loud and excessive, and he performed that role admirably. In fact, the real Jordan Belfort has said that he was even more over the top than Leo portrayed him to be!
9. Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life
I've already said before that this is one of my favorite movies, and Jimmy Stewart is my favorite actor. I like him not only for his movie roles, but because I know he was a very upstanding man in real life, as well, which is a rarity in Hollywood. This is my favorite performance of his I've seen because he does everything I like about him: Make great speeches, tell the people off who need it, and most of all, hold true to his values no matter what the cost. And he does everything with such intensity, it's impossible not to be captivated by it.
8. Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull*
De Niro is Scorsese's main man (at least, he was before Leo). Known for playing hardcore, tough guys in movies like Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, this movie actually focused on how his toughness caused his downfall. De Niro plays a boxer who just wants to make it to the top. Unfortunately for him and everyone who knows him, he is just as violent out of the ring because of various frustrations too complex to fully delve into here. He loses his temper with family and friends on a regular basis, usually out of jealousy over his wife. He abuses her and later his also-violent brother (played by Joe Pesci, go figure). He eventually lands in jail where he cries out that he is not an animal. (Is it just a coincidence that this came out the same year as The Elephant Man?) By the end of the movie, he has turned his life around and is giving motivational speeches, but he has become hopelessly out of shape. Ever the method actor, that weight gain was not an illusion, but actual weight that De Niro put on just for that role.
7. Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbit in Rain Man*
Dustin Hoffman totally convinced me in all the roles I've seen him in, so far. He's been serious (Stranger than Fiction), silly (Hook), naive (The Graduate), and even sleazy (Midnight Cowboy). All of them seemed real to me. (Okay, I haven't seen The Graduate yet, but I assume he was good.) In this movie, he took on what would be a challenge for any actor: playing the part of a mentally challenged man. But, he pulled it off like he always does and I totally believed that he was the way he was acting when I watched Rain Man.
6. Robin Williams as Jack Powell in Jack
A lot of people think of this movie as one of Robin Williams' flops, and to a certain extent, it's true. It certainly isn't as good as some of his other movies, like Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting, but I still think it's an enjoyable picture. Playing the part of a boy in a grown man's body sounds like one of the most complicated things I've ever heard of, but he did it with the perfect amount of innocence required.
5. Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump
I thought of a couple other movies I could have put for Tom Hanks. I could have said Saving Private Ryan where he plays the stern army captain that slowly reveals more of his human side to his men. I could have said Cast Away where he plays a man marooned on an island who struggles to keep his sanity. (I miss Wilson, too.) But this performance always stands out in my mind because he plays the part of the dim-witted, but loving everyman so well. This was the first Tom Hanks movie I saw (not counting Toy Story or Polar Express), and I have seen him play other more serious roles since then, and that just makes his convincing Gump performance here all the more amazing to me.
4. Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest*
Jack Nicholson steals the movie no matter what he's in. The Shining blew everyone away. His Joker is the reason Tim Burton's Batman is good, in my opinion. Even if he's playing a part that you're supposed to be rooting for his downfall (A Few Good Men, The Departed), it's still impossible to hate him. But his role in Cuckoo's Nest set the precedent for all of his movies that came after it. He doesn't play a crazy man. He plays a guy pretending to be a crazy man to stay out of prison. But that's not all there is to his character. He wants to help the other crazy people, let them see that they can think for themselves, and free them from the control of the dictator Nurse. He pays a big price to do so, too. He gets his brain zapped and becomes a vegetable, and he played that part very nicely, as well.
3. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything
Playing the part of one of our great scientists is hard enough. But throw in ALS into the mix, and you've got one tall order. He remarkably portrayed Hawking as his body slowly deteriorates. It's especially amazing when you consider the fact that movie scenes are usually not shot in chronological order. This means he had to go into each scene at a completely random stage in the deterioration and know how to act for that stage. But, he somehow pulled it off.
2. Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
I have said before that I think The Dark Knight's Joker is the best super villain portrayal there is, and I still believe it. People actually doubted that he would be able to pull this off. But, as soon as they saw him in the movie, there was no doubt in anybody's mind that he was the psychopathic serial killer he said he was. He actually used some interesting method acting. Apparently, he locked himself in a room for six weeks and kept a journal as if he were the Joker. Tragically, his method worked a little too well, and he couldn't live with himself afterword...
Before I reveal my top pick, here are six honorable mentions (3 serious, 3 comedic)
Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List
Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas*
Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski*
Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
George Clooney as Ulysses Everett in O Brother Where Art Thou?*
Here we go...
1. Peter Sellers as Capt. Lionel Mandrake/President Merkin Muffley/Dr. Strangelove in Dr. StrangeLove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Sellers is probably better known for playing the original Inspector Clousseau in the Pink Panther films. But, his performance in the legendary Stanley Kubrick's satirical film was what impressed me. It takes skill to play 3 separate roles with personalities all their own. He plays the peaceful Captain Mandrake, the mock-serious President Muffley, and the zany man of the title. If that wasn't enough he has to do three separate accents in this movie! The Captain is British, the president is American, and the doctor is German. And we already know he can do French from his Inspector Clousseau role. So, I believe that this man is one of the most unsung comedic actors there ever was, God rest his soul.
So, do you have an opinion on this matter? What are some of your favorite performances?