The 20 Greatest Acting Performances from Directors in Movies Other than Their Own

16. Quentin Tarantino in “From Dusk Till Dawn” (Robert Rodriguez, 1996)

Quentin Tarantino in “From Dusk Till Dawn”

There is only one way to describe the cinematic style of Quentin Tarantino and that is to simply say Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is the prodigy of American cinema in the 90’s and the true wild child of the movies. By his own admission, Tarantino steals frames, ideas and shots from every movie on this planet (most of them only him and a few cinema geeks have seen), then mashes them together creating a whole new and original film.

Tarantino is a self-taught walking movie encyclopedia and all of his movies pay homage to the giants of cinema. A trained eye can recognize themes and motifs from the masterpieces of world cinema and from the old-school B-movies. Tarantino masterfully writes (“True Romance”, “Natural Born Killers”), directs and sometimes acts. In the case of the action vampire story “From Dusk Till Dawn” Tarantino writes and acts leaving the directing to his good friend Robert Rodriguez.

Despite his nerdish look, in this film, Tarantino plays a rapist, psychopath named Richard Gecko who, together with his brother Seth Gecko (George Clooney), rob banks, start crime sprees in the middle of the desert and take hostages. Returning from a recent bank heist, the two flee across the Mexican desert to meet up with their partners in crime.

On the way, they meet a former minister – he lost faith after the death of his wife – and his two children. They decide to kidnap the family in order to make it across the border. They decide to spend the night at a drivers and truckers bar where they plan to have a good time. But they picked the worse bar in the world to unwind because the bar is actually a coven of vampires and the two must now fight for their lives if they still want to be alive at dawn.

Despite playing a rapist, Quentin Tarantino make his character likeable managing to be more funny than scary. When the brothers’ battle with the vampires reaches its maximum the viewer actually founds himself/herself routing for the criminals, mostly because of Tarantino’s extravagant persona.


17. Mike Nichols in “The Designated Mourner” (David Hare, 1997)

DESIGNATED MOURNER, Miranda Richardson, Mike Nichols, 1997. First Look Pictures

Mike Nichols had a career that any filmmaker would kill for. Mike Nichols was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin in 1931. In 1939, when the Nazis began arresting Jews, his family fled to the United States. It is here that film director Mike Nichols was born. He began his career doing improvisational comedy on the radio with Elaine May.

“Nichols and May” was one of the most popular comedic duos of the 50’s. They even released three comedy albums that have all reached the Billboard Chart. In the early 60’s, Nichols felt it’s time to move on so he began a directing career in both the theater and cinema.

Despite being acclaimed worldwide for his work in film, Nichols never gave up theater work doing it as often as he could. Having being bitten by the theater bug, Nichols used the same techniques in his film work; he developed close relations with his actors and has an intimate style of shooting and telling stories…just like in directing a stage play.

This is just one of the reasons he was dearly loved by his actors. He is the man behind remarkable films such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, “The Graduate”, “Silkwood”, “The Birdcage” or “Closer”. In spite his comedic roots and his predilection for humor, even in his most serious dramas, Nichols took on the lead role in a soul-crushing, under-appreciated drama entitled “The Designated Mourner”.

“The Designated Mourner” is an adaptation of the stage play of the same name written by Wallace Shawn. Mike Nichols plays Jack, an English professor who lives alongside his wife Judy (Miranda Richardson) in an unnamed western country sometime in the nearby future. The country is ridden undemocratic practices and repressive measures against its people. This does not seem to bother Jack very much as he is not at all interested in politics.

As the film evolves the political repression worsens so Jack sees no way out but to withdraw from reality and from his own family. The film is told through a series of monologues of the main characters but mostly it presents Jack’s point of view of the current situation. Nichols does a fine job but you can’t help but wonder what he would have done with the character if it had been on stage.


18. Sydney Pollack in “Eyes Wide Shut” (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

sydney pollack in EWS

When starting out in the business, Sydney Pollack was constantly told that his talents have better use for the stage then for the silver screen. He was told he was too self-critical to be a film director. The truth is Pollack was never quite at ease with Hollywood as his artistic voice was yearning for creative prerogatives that were not always to the liking of big studio bosses. Pollack chose to ignore all this and became a film director.

In 1969, he took everyone by surprise with the success of his film “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” – a bleak fable among marathon dancers in the Great Depression. His career flourished since then with films like “Jeremiah Johnson”, “Tootsie”, “Out of Africa” and “The Firm”.

Sporadically Pollack took one acting roles, mostly in films directed by his friends. When the legendary Stanley Kubrick offered him a part in what was to become his last film, Pollack jumped at the occasion to work alongside one of his film idols.

“Eyes Wide Shut” is seen as Kubrick’s testament film. It is a well-known fact that Kubrick never made the same film twice; that all his films belong to different genres. “Eyes Wide Shut” is the director’s foray into the erotic genre. But it is not just a film of sex and nudity. It talks about marital issues, about obsession, about betrayal and raises awareness about the masonic organizations and their practices. Stanley Kubrick died shortly after the film was completed at the age of 70.

Conspiracy theories state that Kubrick was killed because he revealed the secret sexual practices of the masons but anyone who was watched the film with an open mind realizes that the film is not revelatory in any way. It does not answer questions but raises new ones creating a bigger mystery than before.

The films tells the story of a New York City doctor named Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), who pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), admits that she once almost cheated on him. Sydney Pollack plays Bill’s friend and patient Victor. Victor is the one that introduces Bill to the underworld of decadence and sexual desire.

However, Bill will soon discover that he is in well over his head and finds he and his family are threatened. Being much older than Cruise, Pollack plays this to his strength transforming Victor in a sort off an evil father figure that lures young men into temptation. An excellent but fairly misunderstood film that must be seen with an open mind.


19. Spike Jonze in “Three Kings” (David O. Russell, 1999)

Three Kings spike jonze

Before Spike Jonze, the visionary film director behind “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation” or “Her”, there was Spike Jonze, the visionary music video director behind some of the most innovative videos of artists like Beastie Boys, Fatboy Slim, Bjork or Weezer. His real name is Adam Spiegel. Spike Jonze (a reference to comedic band leader Spike Jones) is a nickname he got while in high school.

In present time, Spike Jonze has the whole artistic world at his feet and every movie he does is meet with both critical and audience acclaim. He has just four feature films under his belt but all of them (but especially “Being John Malkovich”) are considered to be modern masterpieces. With such an intellectual profile, one would not expect Jonze to pull off a role such as redneck soldier Conrad Vig in “Three Kings”; but he does and does it very well.

“Three Kings” is a modern fable with a powerful anti-war message set during 1991 Gulf War. It is here that the audience meets Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), a war disillusioned officer close to retirement, Sergeant Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), an office worker with a family waiting for him at home, Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), a religious airport baggage handler and Private First Class Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze), a jobless, semi-literate soldier from a group home who idolizes Troy.

During a routine mission, they discover a map that leads to Saddam Hussein’s secret bunker filled with gold bullion. Filled with enthusiasm and with hopes of becoming rich men the four set off to find the bunker and take the gold figuring it won’t take them more than a couple of hours. But once they reach the village they are faced with the harsh conditions in which the Iraqis are forced to live and the devastating consequences of a country at war with itself.

Tragedy strikes and our heroes find themselves way in over their heads. Jonze’s character in the movie is considered the comic relief but as the story unfolds, we discover there is something to Conrad yet; a primary wisdom that is not to be overlooked. Well done Mr. Jonze!


20. Werner Herzog in “Julien Donkey-Boy” (Harmony Korine, 1999)


Werner Herzog was once called “the most important director alive” because of his huge contribution to the German New Wave of Cinema, to the documentary genre and to world cinema in general. Critics used to joke, when referring to Herzog, saying that even his failures are spectacular.

Herzog’s films often feature heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature. Who can ever forget films like “Aguirre, The Wrath of God”, “Fitzcarraldo”, “Nosferatu” or “Stroszek”? Aside from making feature films,

Herzog is also very active in the documentary film world and he is known to approach his subjects with humanity and equidistance. His love-hate relationship with friend-enemy Klaus Kinski enriched the intensity of his films, has prompted him not to use storyboards and always leave room in the script for improvisation, as you never know what might happen.

As for acting career, Herzog has a few roles under his belt but none more interesting than that of the father in Harmony Korine’s bizarre film “Julien Donkey-Boy”.

Harmony Korine is America’s misunderstood child whose films are edgy too say the least – they often border insanity and chaos. “Julien Donkey-Boy” is the first non-European film to be made under the Dogme ’95 vow of chastity – a movie manifest, initiated by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg that preaches a return to the origins and imposes a set of rules (using natural light, natural sound, real location, hand-held camera etc.) on the film.

Korine’s film was shot on MiniDV Tape, then transferred to 16mm film before being blown up to 35mm film for the master print. Korine used this method to give the film a low-definition, grainy aesthetic. The film explores the life of Julien, a young man whose untreated schizophrenia worsens as the film progresses. If one can get past the bizarre aspect of the film one will discover quite a heart-warming film about this dreadful mental condition and its effects on the subject and the people around him.

Werner Herzog plays Julien’s German father, a domineering, grouchy old man who shows no real love for the boy or his family in general. He does not have a name in the film he is simply called Father. Not only does the father not show paternal love for Julien but he constantly ridicules and humiliates the boy by calling him names and forcing him to wear his dead wife’s wedding dress.

Herzog portrayal of Father – a strict and boorish figure – is the total opposite of his own poetic, bohemian personality and by doing so he creates a very interesting and composed character.

Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.