20. Phillip Baker Hall – “Magnolia”
Can you remember the first time you saw Phillip Baker Hall? This guy has been in everything from Midnight Run to last year’s undervalued Bad Words. Given the opportunity, character actors will sink their teeth into a part that often has potential to be career-defining.
Although Paul Thomas Anderson’s film has a slew of amazing performances within it, none touch Phillip Baker Hall’s portrayal of a powerful man who hides many secrets from his family and friends. His past actions have reverberated off of those closest to him with tragic results. Hall’s approach to a despicable man is nothing short of flawless in its execution.
19. Ted Levine – “The Silence of the Lambs”
While everyone was looking at Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins for awards consideration and most assuredly Oscar wins, people overlooked the real player in this film, Ted Levine as serial killer Buffalo Bill. Foster and Hopkins, while both are great and deserving of their accolades, it’s Levine that steals the spotlight.
18. John Cusack – “Being John Malkovich”
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich…… Cusack. John Cusack gives a performance that shockingly was ignored by the Academy for some odd reason. He displays a longing, quiet sadness here that is impossible to not identify with. He is a man who is completely consumed by the women in this life and relegated to a life ofcuckoldry.
Even with his selfishness on display, it is a maddening look at a man who desperately just wants to be loved and have love–even if at the expense of those around him. Cusack makes this character endearing and gives him a likeability that few could have. Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich……..
17. Juliette Binoche – “Three Colors: Blue”
Blue is the first entry in a trilogy of films dealing with contemporary French society and it is also the best. That is mainly because of the beautifully tortured portrayal of a woman who has lost everything in her life.
Juliette Binoche plays Julie Vignon-de Courcy, a woman who is struggling to overcome the grief of just having lost her husband and child. A beautiful soul is tattered and torn onscreen and we feel every single solitary second of her unbelievable grief.
16. Johnny Depp – “Ed Wood”
It is most certainly Tim Burton’s best film, not his most popular, but it is his best. The love affair that he clearly has for Ed Wood’s oddly weird directorial efforts is evident from the onset. All of that is anchored around Johnny Depp’s best and most overlooked performance as Wood.
Delivering his lines with panache, Depp shows that he also is a huge fan of the Wood’s work. The rapport between Depp’s Ed Wood and Martin Landau’s much-deserved Oscar-winning portrayal of Bela Lugosi, leaves nothing to be desired. Each scene these two share is heightened even more so by their mutual talent. Depp deserved his Oscar as well.
15. John Goodman – “The Big Lebowski”
The Coen brothers keep showing up in this list. Maybe that is because while not only being some of the most talented people in the film business, they also happen to have a knack for finding the right people for each role almost every time. Maybe that is a partial reason as to why they are almost always successful.
It’s hard to think of another actor who could have played Walter Sobchak, which is played to comedic perfection by John Goodman. This is a character that is instantly quotable after the first viewing, which in itself is reason enough for returning to this comedy classic over and over again.
There are so many scenes that should have earned Goodman an Oscar nomination at awards time. To pick just one would be near blasphemy. Having said that, (spoilers for the two people whom haven’t seen this film yet) when he and the Dude are standing on the top of a cliff about to dump their deceased friend Donnie’s ashes to the wind. Goodman delivers a speech that borders on comedic genius, while also being the most heartfelt moment of the film. Pure genius.
14. Jack Lemmon – “Glengarry Glen Ross”
Maybe one of the most talented acting ensembles in the history of filmmaking, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey ignite the screen in this terrific film from writer David Mamet. It even garnered Pacino a supporting actor Oscar nomination, and deservedly so. In fact, all of these actors deserved recognition for their work here. And none more so than Jack Lemmon, an acting giant, a legend if you will.
Few artists bring something to their roles in the way Lemmon does. And here it is no different. Here he plays an aging salesman so desperate for a sale to turn things around that he will do just about anything. It is the kind of a role that Lemmon was born to play. In fact, this may just be Lemmon’s greatest performance, it is certainly his most underrated.
13. Tim Robbins – The Shawshank Redemption”
1994 was a tight year for the Oscar race. You had John Travolta making his comeback with Pulp Fiction, Paul Newman making his comeback…again with Nobody’s Fool, and just about 20 other performances that were worthy of awards consideration. Few were as unjustly overlooked as Tim Robbins’ in The Shawshank Redemption. Robbins has always been an actor of odd sorts.
On the one hand, most of us would agree that he is an artist who has made some questionable choices in roles in the past, i.e. Nothing to Lose. But not here. In Frank Darabont’s masterful adaption of Stephen King’s short story, we see the story of a man who has been imprisoned wrongfully.
At first unable to cope with his new surroundings, he soon finds a friend in Red (the always dependable Morgan Freeman) and they begin a friendship no prison walls can withhold. It is a touching performance, heartfelt, subtle, and perfect.
12. Dylan Baker – “Happiness”
Todd Solondz’s Happiness is an exercise in the weird human condition. Odd characters inhabit the universe that he has created, and none is more odd or repulsive than Dylan Baker’s Bill Maplewood. Knowing full and well that the subject would turn most off, Solondz still went ahead and created a character that on the surface is a respected well-to-do family man who exhibits the qualities that most of us would admire.
Behind that is a pitch black secret that Maplewood hides: he is in fact sexually attracted to young boys. While Baker’s character is a sick pervert who no one should feel sympathy for, it is a testament to his abilities as an actor that Baker makes Maplewood sympathetic, at least to a degree, and there is even a moment when the audience might even find themselves feeling empathy for this pathetically disgusting man. Baker gives him a humanity, a soul, and shows he is an actor who should be more well-known than he currently is.
11. Jeff Bridges – “The Big Lebowski”
Favorite Jeff Bridges performance? 9/10 people would probably say the Dude in the Coen brothers comedic masterpiece. And that other person, well they can just go screw themselves. Just like his contemporary, John Goodman, there is no one who could have embodied this character better and it may just be the character closest to how Jeff Bridges may actually be at his deepest. That is purely speculation, but warranted speculation it would seem from watching many interviews with the man.
The Dude is by all accounts a product of his generation, a loser, a hippie, and all the better for it. We would have him no other way. Thrown into a situation that almost calls for a Phillip Marlowe-like character, the Dude is our surrogate gumshoe, pot-smoking and bowling his way through the film while he searches for a kidnapped trophy wife and a toe. We can get you a toe dude, there are ways. Bridges gives the most iconic performance of his illustrious career here.
The Dude was one of the original authors of the Port Huron Declaration. Not the compromised second draft… And it seems the film and character may have found its audience in recent years. That makes us feel good, knowing that there are growing numbers of fans out there. Say, friend –you got any more of that good sarsaparilla?