I’m not digging up hidden treasures and claming that I’m the first one to find these characters spectacular. These are the six best acting preformaces that are forgotten, snubbed by the academy, and in some cases appear in film no one bothered to see. My criteria for picking these six are originality, characterization, how they capitalize on big moments, a hypnotic factor (when they are on the screen all you can do is look at them), and the staying power of the character long after the credits have rolled.
Dennis Hopper (Frank Booth)-Blue Velvet, 1986
Yes, he was nominated for a golden globe for his portrayal of a pure evil with his face constantly buried under a helium mask. His performance transcends the screen and each word delivered crawls up the skin of the viewer and nests in the brain. When asked by David Lynch why he should be hired for the film, Hopper took a sip of his whisky and yelled into the phone: “I’ve got to play Frank because I am Frank!” If you want to see if someone is a good actor or not…look at their eyes. Just like lying, eyes tell everything. Frank’s eyes flinch, squirm, tighten, and show no sign of an actor behind them.
Tom Waits (Zack aka Lee “Baby” Sims)-Down By Law, 1986
I guess 1986 was the year of amazing performances because Tom Waits delivers a spectacular minimalist portrayal in Zack, a radio DJ with a slow delivery to contrast his quick wit. Who could play a DJ better than Waits, whose music creeps a slow as this movie moves. Waits was born to be in black and white and seems to melt into each of the Louisiana settings that Jim Jarmusch puts him in. I think it all boils down to his voice. That amazing voice that adds a cavern of subtext to even the simplest line of dialogue.
Nicole Kidman (Suzanne Stone Maretto)-To Die For, 1995
The sexiest while being completely out of their mind performances ever captured on celluloid. Nicole Kidman opens the film talking straight into the camera with her soft-spoken, lip gloss smacking voice that would make any audience member suffer the same fate as the characters who are seduced by her hypnotizing good looks. She plays a newlywed housewife who becomes obsessed with seeing herself on television. Her motto in life is, “You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV.” Going back to the eyes, Kidman always has her true motive hidden behind her eyes causing the viewer to buy into everything she says and does. This movie is very satirical and she delivers as the perfect evil opponent to the homely sister in law. Like all great performances, her character builds scene after scene, until the end where she has left an impression on everyone who has come in contact with her.
Andy Griffith (Larry 'Lonesome' Rhodes)-A Face in the Crowd, 1957
Now this is a performance I would guarantee that only one out of ten people I poll would have ever seen. Yes, this is the same Andy Griffith from the Andy Griffith Show, but as a lying, cheating, cursing, loveable badass. As one of his first roles, Griffith approaches his role much as Orson Welles went about bringing Charles Foster Kane to the big screen. He creates a loveable character whose absent love always motivates each and every action. Kane thought he could buy love and Lonesome Rhodes thought he could charm the world into loving him. When he finally gets close to love, true love that is, he avoids it and then wants it back after he loses it. Griffth’s performace should be up there with Elia Kazan’s other creation, Marlon Brandon’s Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. If any movie deserves a criterion collection release it’s A Face in the Crowd and it’s all due to an amazing performance by Griffith.
Memorable Scene: His downfall. “Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president - and you'll be the power behind me!”
Jim Carrey (Truman Burbank)-The Truman Show, 1998
Ok film snobs…I’m ready to argue this one. First off, Jim Carrey sheds his skin as goofy comedian and tries on his drama shoes only to shock the world as a serious actor. This film runs on pure heart and a lot of people interpret films with heart as sappy flicks that don’t compare to those of Schindler’s List or Forrest Gump. Carrey and Peter Weir create such a complex character in Burbank who has to redefine himself as he realizes that his whole life has been a lie. It’s the funny moments in this film that makes Burbank feel like your average Joe with a great sense of humor. The viewer can’t help but cheer for Burbank when he decides to find the truth and escape. A lot of people think this is a fluff comedy but don’t forget that Carrey won a Golden Globe for best actor…not in the comedy section, but the drama. On top of that, Peter Weir and Ed Harris were nominated for the Academy Awards, both Weir’s directing and Harris’s performance great because of the spectacular acting by Carrey himself.
Jack Nicholson (Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky)-The Last Detail, 1973
Bad ass is right. Jack Nicholson grins and shouts his way through this role and the end result is a lovable asshole that displays a tough exterior and a soft interior. Often noted as one of Wes Anderson’s favorite movies, it’s easy to see where he gets his knack for creating characters with multiple layers. Nicholson does the impossible, embodying a brash character that the viewer should not like but ends up loving. The great directors and actors say that acting is all about listening to the lines that are delivered to their specific character and reacting how that specific character would act. Nicholson is always listening and when you watch him in this film you can see the characters thought process ticking away, each word that hits his ears are filtered and his reactions are then genuine…not just reading off a script.