5. Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet”
The role of Frank Booth, the sadomasochistic villain of “Blue Velvet”, had been previously offered to Willem Dafoe and Richard Bright, who both turned it down.
It is very likely that the first scene involving Frank, in which he brutally assaults Dorothy’s husband screaming more than a few blasphemous exploits, made them think twice before accepting the role. However, when Hopper read the script, he called up Lynch and hailed: ”You have to let me play Frank!” He then explained his ominous reason: ”Because I am Frank!”
Maybe the role of Frank Booth was a vessel for which Hopper could exorcise his demons. His path to drug-induced self-destruction had come close too many times, as he was someone who went all the way and then realized he went too far.
Frank Booth might have been the nihilistic dredge that came out every now and then during his drug-induced slumber, and now he had to say goodbye to him. He had to be transferred into a character in a movie, away from his mind, away from his fragile being.
Whatever the reasons, Frank Booth became a titular character in pop culture. He might had more than a few hilarious lines, but it was his madness that we feared. We know such a villain lurks somewhere in society, representing the depravity we like to pretend isn’t out there.
But once you see him, nothing is ever the same again, and it’s a testament to Hopper’s madness that he could make the character so unforgettable. Nobody else could have played Frank Booth, because simply, Dennis Hopper was indeed Frank Booth.
4. Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin in “The Naked Gun” films
The genius of The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams was perceiving the hilarity that lurked in the overbearingly serious disaster movie, something they exploited richly in the classic “Airplane!” There’s nearly nothing more hilarious than serious people not realizing they are in a very silly business, something that would inspire Trey Parker and Matt Stone in the future as well. One of the great standouts in the film was Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack.
Nielsen had previously been the star of several B-movies, and his strong features had all the markings of a 1970’s star. But, as fate would have it, he turned out to be a better comedian. Not just as any comedian, however. He would become one of the most unforgettable comedy icons to ever to grace the screen: Frank Drebin.
Comedy had always been Nielsen’s prime ambition, and he seemed to have been made for it. After the short lived ”Police Squad” television show, David Zucker used Frank Drebin’s character in arguably the best comedy trilogy ever: The Naked Gun series. The kind of silliness that the gang started in “Airplane!” could never have been as brilliant were it not for Nielsen’s talent, who seemed to have been bred for these kinds of parts.
The comedy shtick of Frank Drebin would be used in various other comedies. He would become a comedic safe haven, guaranteed a few extra laughs in mediocre comedies, such as in the latter “Scary Movie” films.
With his unforgettable deadpan face, he represents the ultimate mockery of the macho cop, hell-bent on taking down the bad guys. Nielsen might have lived a long life, but when he died in in 2010, the world lost a lot of laughs. But he left enough to enjoy until the end of times, and if a point comes when people can’t laugh at Frank Drebin, there’s simply no more hope for us.
3. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood”
“There Will Be Blood” is, without a doubt, one of the more unconventional Oscar vehicles. The 80th Academy Awards had been a peculiar ceremony for best picture nominees; the two frontrunners were drenched with nihilism, as one was the eventual winner “No Country For Old Men”, and the other was “There Will Be Blood”. These are two movies that were anything but ‘feel good’.
One could consider this Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark remake of “Citizen Kane”, but when this adaptation of Kane loses his soul in this version, there is no regret, only the constant need to feed his gluttonous beast. It would be better to call it a portrait of America; with the story of the self-made man who must lose his soul in order to gain his riches, it’s the typical story of the American dream being drenched with blood.
A political parable, perhaps; the pursuit of oil, the ravenous evangelical, the rise of corporatism. Whatever you wish to call it, it’s undoubtedly a masterpiece, one that takes few prisoners. It could not have been as successful, of course, were it not for Daniel Day-Lewis’ fearless and uncompromising portrait of Daniel Plainview.
Already infamous for his method turns, he studied for this role for more than a year, and the result is astonishing; it’s as if he leapt from the past, waving his finger at us, the sweaty madness drenching from his face. He might be a demon talking in tongues, but we understand fully well what he’s saying here.
These are the men who made history, the men in history we admire, whom we carefully look away from when they wash away the blood on their hands. Daniel Plainview is the Americana we wish we could ignore, the rotten soul of the country exposed to all.
It’s Day-Lewis who dared to go to those dark places. And it’s hard, probably impossible, to imagine anyone else doing it better.
2. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Even if you’ve never seen the film, any cinephile is bound to know the face of “Breakfast of Tiffany’s”. The original beauty personifies all the dignified glamour we wish still remained in Hollywood, if it ever existed at all. A dream is just a dream, but it’s a wonderful dream after all.
There’s the cigarette holder, the sleek black dress, that perfect face seemingly untouched by the sharp tools of plastic surgeons. Girls who never saw the movie would put her picture in their rooms, dreaming they could look as magical as Audrey Hepburn did. Naturally, so far only her looks have been described, but one must never forget her delicate performance. She’s a woman who knows how beautiful she is, clamoring to become a pretentious socialite in order to find herself acceptable.
Hepburn pulls of the ultimate Hollywood magic; you can’t help but adore her, even if you tried. There’s the phoniness she’s combating at her every step, the struggle laying there beyond the glint in her eyes. Shirley MacLaine had been offered the role, but who else could pull off “Moon River” with such starry eyes?
And though much has been said about the changed ending from Truman Capote’s novella, or Mickey Rooney’s hilariously wrong performance as Yunioshi, the film should still be remembered for making us dream a little longer, for having Hepburn on that poster, smiling so dreamily to all of us.
1. Jeff Bridges as The Dude in “The Big Lebowski”
Now you can call him ”his Dudeness” or ”Duder” or ”El Duderino” (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) but don’t call him Mr. Lebowski. This is the Dude we are talking about.
Now every year, in Louisville there’s this thing called ”The Lebowski Fest” where ardent fans and disciples of the Dude come to celebrate the majesty of this character. His character has received eastern philosophical parables, as many of his quips have been hailed as metaphors for existential Buddhist struggles.
Bridges himself has confirmed this, his own life guided by its peaceful ”far out!” principles. Like many of the actors on this list, he not only personified the character, but he put a lot of himself on this character.
Few characters in cinema have prompted religions, but The Dude made it happen. Every year people meet up to drink white Russians and celebrate his wisdom. Anyone who wishes can ordain themselves as ministers of Dudeism. A cult hit became the inspiration for many in this world. And could it have been different if Bridges hadn’t performed the part so infamously?
Probably not. And luckily for us, we will never know. The Dude will always abide.
Author Bio: Chris van Dijk is a writer and a self-proclaimed cinematic-connoisseur who started his unhealthy obsession with film at a very young age. He’s famous for being an incredible slob, taking himself way too seriously and getting along brilliantly with anyone who agrees with him.