First of all, I’d like to say that I, too, am not the biggest fan of saying something that people hold dear is “overrated.” Especially a performance, for I am neither a performer nor an academic in the field of performing arts. I am most definitely not Stanislavski. My knowledge is limited to reading books about acting and watching films.
However, I believe that anyone who watches movies with a passion and a critical eye has the right to state how they feel about them. If we can criticize movies, we should be able to criticize acting (all gender identities) performances as well. That doesn’t mean the critics don’t respect those performers. I do, in my case. I respect all the performers on this list and I love most of them dearly. I believe that they are phenomenal and I could never do what they do on screen, which is to bare open your soul.
Although these actors are all accomplished in their field, their performances on this list are a little bit overrated, in my opinion. They are solid, but did they deserve the recognition and buzz that they got? I don’t think so. Were there better performances that year? Absolutely!
All the performances on the list will be criticized respectfully as these are valuable actors that the movie industry relies on. And without movies, we wouldn’t exist. Here goes the list:
10. Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
I’ll start with the toughest of them all. I dare to say that Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher is overrated. Now hold on, before you march to my house with your pitchforks. I am not stating that she is an overrated actor, as one certain person suggested. Meryl is the ground upon which Hollywood stands. She is the heart and the soul of popular cinema. She is also one of my favorite performers around. She made me cry in “Mamma Mia 2” with just five minutes of screen presence. So if this is hard for you to read, it’s harder for me to write.
Her performance in “The Iron Lady” was good, but since she is Meryl Streep, “good” is not what we expect from her. We expect from her to be that character. She is Miranda Priestly, she is Donna Sheridan, she is Sister Aloysius Beauvier. You get the point. But looking at “The Iron Lady,” I feel like I’m watching an SNL sketch with a $10 million budget. It’s not just her fault. The film itself is… well, not good.
What I like about Meryl’s acting in general is that she plays her characters with compassion. Even when they are devils in Prada, she treats them with empathy. That’s what makes her characters so fascinating. The worst people somehow become relatable in her capable hands, but that’s not the case with Thatcher. She is just unlikeable. It feels as if even the Great Meryl couldn’t find a way to like her and that shows on screen. She has all the right sounds and looks, but she doesn’t bring the feelings that she is famous for.
That year, one person at least, brought so many feelings to the screen. That was Viola Davis in “The Help.” She was out of this world. I don’t remember a single line from “The Iron Lady,” but I will remember, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” when in need. You can guess that my friends are very lucky.
Davis should have gotten that Oscar. But her career keeps getting better and better. I have no doubt that one day she will be known as one of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen. It’s also a huge bonus that she knows how to get away with murder. That always comes in handy.
9. Humphrey Bogart – The African Queen
I know, I know… how dare I come after Bogie! Of all people! I love him, truly I do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched “Casablanca,” “Sabrina,” “To Have and Have Not” and many more of his genius. I also like “The African Queen,” although I admit that it’s a bit racist by today’s standards. But I disagree with the idea that it was Bogart’s best performance ever. Has nobody seen “The Treasure of The Sierra Madre”? He is brilliant in that one. Top-notch acting.
On the other hand, in “The African Queen,” Bogart isn’t so different from the tough, wisecracking figures he played perfectly in gangster movies. What sets this one apart is that he is on a boat. In Africa. Also, he has a dirty beard. Apart from that, same old Bogie.
Was there a significant performance that was overlooked that year? Oh, funny you should ask. There was this fella named Brando, maybe you’ve heard of him? He was in a little movie called “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I could argue that no performance had more influence on modern film acting than Brando’s work as Stanley Kowalski. No big deal, right?
8. Michael Douglas – Wall Street
For this one, I will not pull my punches. There was no way that Michael Douglas’ performance in “Wall Street” was better than Robin Williams’ in “Good Morning Vietnam.” Just no way. If we went deep into the jungles and hosted a double feature screening for a tribe of people who have never seen a movie, they would agree with me. It’s that obvious.
Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoy Douglas’ acting. He was great in “Ant-Man and The Wasp.” Maybe he is better as a comedy actor. Even though his performance is good as Gordon Gekko, it’s not as exceptional as it is believed to be. Do you know what movie role was exceptional? Douglas as William Foster in “Falling Down.” That is what I call acting! You hate that character, you understand that character, you feel for that character. I don’t even know what I feel for Gordon Gekko.
I feel a lot for radio man Adrian Cronauer, though. Robin Williams had that ability that few people have. He brought a part of himself into that character. He played a bunch of different characters. But in all of them, there was a part of Robin. That’s why we loved his movies so much. He was a good man with a golden heart and he made you feel that even through the screen. “Jack,” for example, could have been a terrible movie. It’s not. Because Robin plays Jack with a conviction so strong that you form a deep connection with the character.
Douglas’ Gordon Gekko is different. Douglas doesn’t bring himself to the character and we don’t identify with Gekko, because we don’t care about Gekko that much. He is a tool to tell the story.
7. Julia Roberts – Erin Brockovich
As I write this, I feel the rom-com fan in me shrieking. I don’t know where you stand, but in my mind, Julia Roberts is a proper actor. She makes us smile, makes us cry, makes us just be girls standing in front of… where was I? Yes, she is a fine actor. Just watch “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” you’ll be sure of it if you weren’t before.
After “Erin Brockovich,” people started to take her seriously. Something that they should have done years ago. In that respect, she deserved all the attention she got. But I think enough years have passed by for us to acknowledge the fact that she wasn’t as great as she was made out to be in that role. She was good, that’s all. She has much better performances than that. But if this is the one that people choose as her greatest, so be it.
If you haven’t watched it before, I strongly advise you to give Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” a chance. If you watch it, you’ll be immediately bedazzled by Ellen Burstyn. She is a legend. No one can deny that. She should have grabbed all the Best Actress awards back in 1973 with “The Exorcist,” but she did anyway in 1974, deservedly so. She is magnificent in Aronofsky’s film as well. Such an amazing portrayal of modern-day addiction.
6. Roberto Benigni – Life is Beautiful
We all remember him jumping up and down his chair, don’t we? How can one forget? But sadly, that was not the performance he got the Best Actor award for. “Life is Beautiful” is a problematic movie. At Cannes, it offended some critics with its use of humor in connection with the Holocaust. But that’s a whole different matter.
Benigni has a certain charm. He is like a child, joyfully acting through the movie. He reminds us of the greats such as Chaplin or Keaton. There is no denying that his screen presence gives us a sense of childlike innocence and happiness. We want him to be alright. We want his family to be alright. But is his acting so great that we forget Edward Norton that year? In “American History X”? Really?
Benigni made a movie that takes us on a journey of joy and trauma. He is the one that made it possible. He is the beating heart of the movie. But let’s be honest, it’s not a perfect performance. Neither does it have to be.