10. Christopher Walken – King of New York
Quirky, sleek, driven, and imposing would be some words many of us cinephiles would use to describe some of the enigmatic characters that the great Christopher Walken has brought to the screen. Here he plays drug lord Frank White, who is released from SingSing prison after serving a number of years for drug trafficking. Soon after his release he finds his old crew have changed quite a bit.
With psychotic leader Jimmy Jump having taken over the neighborhood, everything has fallen apart. What goes on from here is a strange twist on the Robin Hood legend as Whitedecides to eliminate his competitors and take their drugs and money to create a hospital for the needy in his neighborhood. Unable to leave the old life behind, and dirty cops trying attach everything to Frank, he soon comes face to face with his own mortality.
Walken is raw, energized, and sad here. This is a performance that really should have garnered him a vast array of awards, but sadly did not.
9. Pam Grier – Jackie Brown
Quentin Tarantino is known for resurrecting the careers of long-forgotten former A or B-listers. Pam Grier was at one time the queen of B blackexploitation action films. Miss Foxy Brown herself stars as the title character, in what is most assuredly a nod to her past work.
This is at first glance a sort of heist film, based on Elmore Leonard’s terrific novel. It showcases some of the best work from every actor involved, and it garnered an Oscar nomination for another forgotten actor in Robert Forester. However, oddly enough, Pam Grier was overlooked at awards time.
8. Ray Liotta – Goodfellas
Martin Scorsese’s classic gangster film garnered the mostly overrated Joe Pesci an Oscar, but nothing for the always intensely delightful Ray Liotta. Long overdue for recognition, even atthis point in this career he has amassed a nice resume of remarkable performances. So it blows the minds of us cinema lovers that this performance was shockingly omitted from any awards consideration.
Playing the real-life character of Henry Hill, former mobster, F.B.I informant and coke head/dealer, Liotta knocks it way out of the park and delivers his best turn to date.
7. Bill Murray – Groundhog Day
Smug, sarcastic, overconfident, and downright mean at times describe Phil Conners (Murray) at the beginning of this film. He is second-rate weatherman being forced to cover an event he has absolutely zero interest in covering for the umpteenth time.
The destination, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The story? Whether or not a giant rat, sorry groundhog, called Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow. What follows is one of the most wildly original films ever made anchored by Murray’s chaotically endearing performance.
6. Gary Oldman – Leon: The Professional
Luc Besson’s shtick has grown tiresome over the years. Having said that, Leon is one of those films you can return to again and again. One of the biggest reasons for that are the performances in the film: everyone lights up the screen with their turns here.
However, it is Gary Oldman’s role as a mad dog crazy corrupt DEA agent that steals every scene he is in. In particular, is the scene involving a symphony of horribly violent acts that ends with with Oldman talking about classical music with a future victim. It really is one of the greatest scenes not only in the film, but in film history.
5. Jim Carrey – The Truman Show
Jim Carrey, the rubber-faced comedian, known for his work on In Living Color, Ace Ventura, and Dumb & Dumber. took on the role of Truman Burbank in auteur Peter Weir’s masterful work, The Truman Show. With all the wonderful people in this film, it is Carrey who comes out ahead of the rest.
The story of a man confined to a world created for him and who is watched on television by millions around the globe was seen by many in 1998 as too far-fetched and too ridiculous to jump on board with (though now we know that it is more than possible for a scenario like this to occur), Added to the prospect of seeing comedian Carrey go way out of his comfort zone, this film had two strikes going against it from the onset.
Despite all that, the film earned terrific reviews and was a success at the box office. And for Carrey? He saw his star rise to a level that many thought it could not. Playing the character to absolute perfection, he is the lighthouse on the shore to this film. And he brings it home through stormy waters.
4. Val Kilmer – Tombstone
This one just baffles about everyone who has seen Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in this film. Kilmer injects life into each scene he shares with every actor on screen. The role was tailor-made for a method actor like Kilmer.
Kilmer’s best moment may be near the end of the film as Holiday is near death from tuberculosis. He and Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) are recounting their times and mistakes. It is a darkly comedic and sad scene, and a performance that should be revered and studied by all.
3. Sylvester Stallone – Copland
Despite wearing out his welcome by the time this film came out in 1997, critics took notice of a film that showcased the talents of a Stallone we hadn’t really seen since the first Rocky or possibly First Blood. Stallone has been saddled with criticisms throughout his career, some warranted andsome, well, not so much.
Here he displays a range and presence that overshadows some of the best in the game. Those include Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Harvey Keitel, and Robert De Niro, all of whom are on their A game here. However, it is Stallone as sheriff Freddy Heflin that outshines them all. Heflin is the sheriff of a small town in Jersey that is inhabited by cops from the New York City.
After a shooting goes awry, and the possible suicide of a young decorated officer who was involved, Heflin begins to notice that things are not what they seem in this quiet little town of lawmen. In what is essentially a modern day western (mirroring High Noon in some respects), Stallone gives the performance of a career. It is in the quietest of moments in which Stallone’s Heflin broods, stares, and seems troubled by the events taking place around him.
At first unwilling to believe those he has held on a pedestal would resort to criminal acts, he shies away from outside investigations. Soon he discovers that he may just be the only one who can right the wrongs that have been committed. The best scene involves a confrontation with Heflin and the parties involved in the local cop bar. Stallone overpowers everyone, but not with muscles as he had in past films. No, here he does it with undeniable talent. Here is a performance that begs to be witnessed.
2. Robert De Niro – Heat
This giant of the acting world had seen his career take many turns by this point. No one would have thought that after all the great roles of the past that this would be the one that De Niro gave his performance in.
In Michael Mann’s Heat, as Neal, a career thief who is near middle age. he is looking for answers and that last big score to end this life and start anew. After meeting a young woman everything changes. This hardened criminal is now faced with the prospect of love and one last job. What will he do when the rubber meets the road?
De Niro gives a nuanced, subdued turn in this film that may just be the best he has ever given. Highlights include a quiet scene with Amy Brenneman, looking out over the Los Angeles night sky,might just be the most beautiful thing Michal Mann has ever shot and maybe De Niro’s most vulnerable moment in the film. Just great acting here. How did this not garner attention?
1. Al Pacino – Heat
Michael Mann is the most stylish director of all time. Not the best (though certainly one of the best), but most definitely the most stylish, and this film is without a doubt his crowning achievement in the art form. At the forefront is a legend of the industry:Al Pacino.
Going head to head with De Niro for the first time, Pacino tears through the scenery. The characters both of these men play are from different walks of life. De Niro is a criminal and, Pacino is a cop, and yet they are really the same in many ways. Both have given everything to their careers, it is their livelihood.
Pacino barks, shouts, sulks, and sizzles onscreen in every scene. No matter what is needed, he delivers on point. No scene is better than the one involving him and De Niro onscreen for the first time together. This scene, which takes place in a diner, delivers more than just these two together, these guys bring out all they have in probably the greatest scene in the history of film.
Pacino matches De Niro beat for beat, with neither outdoing the other. It truly is a feast for the eyes and ears for any lover of acting. Classic does not even begin to describe it. Magical. Performance art at its best here. How did Pacino get nothing?
Author Bio: Matt’s love affair with films began when he was a young boy. He use to visit his local video store on a regular basis consuming as many titles as possible. Films are his greatest passion. He is a manager for a large grocery retail chain. Lifetime cinephile who hopes to one day open and operate his own independent theater.