8. Malcolm Rivers – Identity (2003, Pruitt Taylor Vince)
Just before the execution of a convicted murderer, it turns out there are some new pieces of evidence to be considered, and the process has to be put off, for he is allegedly insane. We also follow a parallel story about ten people stranded in a seedy motel in the Nevada desert during a torrential rainstorm. Expectedly, an unknown perpetrator starts killing the guests of the motel.
Are the two stories connected, and how? Do the killings have something to do with the man waiting to be executed? The answers will be delivered in tense, action-packed ninety minutes, and, even though the ending comes off as a bit of a predictable let-down, great acting must be mentioned. Even though the mentioned lunatic appears only at the beginning and at the end of the movie, you will be given a tour through all the blind alleys of his mind before the movie is over, and some of the actors really turn in fantastic performances, including John Cusack and Ray Liotta.
This is not strictly a tour-de-force performance of one actor, talent is more widely dispersed here. As the pieces start to fit together, the characters become progressively creepy, and though it is predictable, the resolution offers some great acting creations by everyone involved. You might have expected everything that happened before the ending credits, but your eyes were certainly glued to the screen nevertheless.
7. Teddy Daniels – Shutter Island (2010, Leonardo DiCaprio)
In his fourth co-operation with Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio plays the role of a U.S. marshall, assigned to investigate the disappearance of a murderess from an insane asylum, who is presumed to hide nearby. As he gets little or no help from the doctors, with more and more bizarre things happening, he begins to doubt everyone and everything, even his own sanity.
This is a full-blown DiCaprio vehicle, and he carries the entire film on his own back, supported by the rest of the cast. His performance is strong and convincing, but, once again, marred by the predictable outcome, which was there from the first half of the movie. He successfully portrays the emotionally ruined man who comes to investigate for personal reasons, and balances beautifully between the smug smile when he’s onto something (or so he thinks), and the look of genuine despair when he realizes that his world is crumbling down.
Leo saved this one from being a below-average psychological thriller with great photography and production design. From the first shot in the bathroom to the last one in which he calmly chooses his own destiny, DiCaprio is the heart of this flick, and he handles it beautifully.
6. Eve White – The Three Faces Of Eve (1957, Joanne Woodward)
Aside from “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde“, this is one of the first attempts of portraying DID on film, and also one of the first documented cases of this disorder. It turned Joanne Woodward, previously famous only for being Paul Newman’s wife, into a star, bringing her an Academy Award for her stunning work. She plays a mousy housewife who commonly experiences migraines, and also has occasional blackouts.
The hypnosis treatment shows that there are two more women inside her, one wild and reckless, and the other stable and down-to-earth. What ensues is a difficult fight to make the last one the only one. Woodward did her best to play each of the separate personalities adequately, giving them different voices, manners and conduct. Her transformations seem so easy and painless and she succeeds to shape them all into a tour-de-force performance, which was a cinch for the Best Actress Oscar that year.
The Southern-born beauty later remarked ironically that it took her many years of training to lose the accent, and then she had to return to it in order to win an Oscar. If we know that she was a newcomer with only two roles in her pocket before this one (or rather these ones), then her work here is all the more impressive. She made this film worth watching.
5. Trevor Reznik – The Machinist (2004, Christian Bale)
Christian Bale’s manic devotion to acting and role preparation is already well-known (and matched only by Daniel Day-Lewis). But he really pushed himself to the limit here, since he reduced his weight to miserable 55 kg in order to play a factory worker and a psychosomatic insomniac who begins to feel strange alienation among his co-workers. Regularly involved with a prostitute, and simultaneously obsessed with a young waitress, he becomes convinced that someone wants to eliminate him and starts collecting evidence.
However, the conspirators always seem to be one step ahead, as he sinks deeper and deeper into the pits of delusional paranoia. He will have to face his greatest fears in order to answer the questions that trouble him. Thanks to the clever direction, Bale is able to exploit his immense talent to show the complexity of his conflicted character. Only an actor of his skill could offer such a wide range of emotions in a character taken directly from the works of the great Dostoyevsky, most notably “The Double“ and “Crime and Punishment“.
Despite its relatively short length, this movie takes us on a tour through Trevor Reznik’s distorted perception of reality, mostly caused by the lack of sleep. Christian Bale shows once more how terrific an actor he is, a true driving force of this movie, making it famous, even though it is not the standard Hollywood mainstream. A fantastic vehicle for him.
4. Bae Soo-Mi – A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, Su-Jeong Lim)
A young girl returns home from the mental institution with her sister, to their largely disinterested father and acerbic, vaguely condescending and suspiciously omnipresent stepmother, and sparks begin to fly immediately, for the sisters (especially the strong-willed Soo-mi) become convinced that she wants to hurt them. “A Tale of Two Sisters“ is simultaneously a gripping drama, and an effective psychological thriller/horror with some genuinely scary segments, mixing together in a typical Asian fashion.
Different techniques have been employed in order to create an intriguing plot, whose central part is the powerful performance of Su-Jeong Lim’s, playing the tormented, but willful sister who tries to disclose the tedious stepmother, but also to protect her weaker sister from her bad influence. Of course, there is a more-or-less standard bag of tricks when it comes to the plot in the Asian movies, but the best thing is that it is completely unrestrained (just as the leading performances are, with Su-Jeong Lim at the helm).
While the final thirty minutes deliver one shock after another, we begin to realize how masterfully it was all brought together, and how brilliant the portrayal of Soo-mi (together with the rest of the cast). Because of the sensitive subject, multiple viewings may be required to grasp the beauty of this performance.
3. Aaron Stampler – Primal Fear (1996, Edward Norton)
Edward Norton became very famous in a very short period of time during the second half of the nineties, turning in several impressive performances, and his first role was no exception. He plays a meek, timid altar boy, accused of a brutal murder of a beloved archbishop. His case is interesting to a hotshot lawyer, who accepts to work pro bono, for the sake of the challenge, since the case seems virtually unwinnable.
It turns out that a nice, introverted and stuttering boy was a victim of the archbishop, who, while being a respected humanitarian, was also a paedophile. Aaron also has blackouts during which he is controlled by his violent and creepy alter-ego Roy and has no memory of his actions whatsoever.
While watching Norton’s transformations, one cannot believe that this is his first role ever, he showed he would be a force to be reckoned with in the following years. He makes the audience take notice of his abrupt mood changes, and transformations from pitiful to bone-chilling in a matter of seconds.
Norton truly steals the show and he was Oscar-nominated quite deservedly, but his role was just a bit too dark and sinister for the Academy’s taste. That’s quite a shame, his terrific acting here made him a star, and you could say that he was going to be big (Sunset Boulevard, anyone?) right after seeing him in this movie.
2. The Narrator – Fight Club (1999, Edward Norton)
“Fight Club“ is an instant Hollywood classic, which has already achieved cult status, only 15 years after its making, and quite rightfully so. Even the writer of the book it was based on, Chuck Palahniuk, said his work was inferior to the movie.
The reasons for that are numerous, but it’s mostly thanks to top-notch acting of everyone involved, especially Edward Norton, one of the most wanted actors at the time. He is brilliant as a nameless entity, just a tiny screw in the machinery of corporate America, whose insomnia makes him go to different strange places and meet different strange people.
Meeting one of them will turn his life upside down, for his attention will be drawn to the evils of capitalism, and he will be offered an opportunity to fight them in a very exciting manner. Expectedly, this will be “the first day of the rest of his life“, since he starts to feel alive for the first time, but, of course, it also carries a set of consequences.
Almost every line is quotable, and this was the perfect vehicle for Norton to establish himself as one of the best young actors at the time. He seems to enjoy himself playing mentally unstable characters, generally speaking, but he really shines here, because many of the viewers can relate to him, he is an epitome of a modern man, always in a hurry, always doing what he’s told in order to make money in order to buy things he doesn’t want in order to impress people he doesn’t like. If this film was made a couple of years earlier, the Narrator would still stand as one of the best movie characters of the 21st century.
1. Norman Bates – Psycho (1960, Anthony Perkins)
Even 54 years after it’s made, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho“ stands its ground as one of the best psychological thrillers/horrors of all time. It has already been said numerous times how flawless the direction and the script are, but I’m afraid that the fantastic performance by Anthony Perkins is somewhat underrated, because of being subtle and nuanced.
He turned in the best role of his career, playing an unassuming motel owner with a domineering mother. He may not be a man of many words, but his facial expressions, movements and the things he don’t say speak volumes about him. Norman is not a typical flashy villain, he manages to be scary and weirdly mesmerizing while doing and saying completely ordinary things.
No matter how many times you watch this movie, Perkins always manages to surprise you, never hitting a false note, and simultaneously delivering both the madness and the tenderness. Even though there were many young, aspiring actors at the time, it is virtually impossible to imagine anyone else as Norman Bates.
The iconic performance by Anthony Perkins marked the movie history, creating one of the most influential movie characters of all time in one of the most influential movies of all time. This role made Perkins a permanent victim of typecasting, which means that he played it maybe a little too well. Nevertheless, Norman Bates remains one of the best characters in a horror movie, and in the history of movies in general.
Author Bio: Dusan is an English language and literature teacher and a movie aficionado with a special interest in classic cinema. Watching many movies has greatly enriched him as a person. He’s also an amateur blogger and a book, music and sports lover.