Friday, March 05, 2010

Flashback Friday: My Best Actor Selections

In honour of Sunday's Academy Awards telecast, I am posting a special Flashback Friday edition which shows my selections for Best Actor in previous years going back to 1984. Some of them actually were nominated for those roles, most were not. These were the acting performances that most impressed me during those specific years. Enjoy.


Bill Murray


In 1984, I was absolutely CAH-RAY-ZEE about Ghostbusters and I wanted to be as funny and cool as Peter Venkman. Had I picked my Best Actor and other "Best of" choices in 1984, Bill Murray would have definitely been my choice that year. He was funny in that dead-pan manner of his. For Halloween that year, I was a Ghostbuster and my dad saw that I wrote "Venkman" on my nametag for the uniform and he asked me, "Why don't you use your last name? Why do you have to be someone else?" He had a point...but I was a typical teenager, seeking role models from Hollywood icons on the silver screen. To me, no one was cooler or funnier than Bill Murray. That is, until, the following year...


Tom Hanks

The Man With One Red Shoe

Tom Hanks became my favourite actor with this film. I know that sounds pretty weird in retrospect, because the film is pretty much a throwaway 80s comedy...not to mention a remake of a French film. However, what captured my interest was the sheer comedic genius of Hanks, as he played the straight man to all the hijinks going on around him. He's an unwitting pawn in a complicated spy game. Its classic comedy. At the time, I also still had a crush on Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher, so it was very cool to see her in a non-Star Wars movie.


Tom Cruise

Top Gun

In 1986, relatively unknown actor Tom Cruise blasted into fame with an adrenaline rush of a movie. I've read that this movie caused an increase in Navy recruitment in the late 1980s, and while I can't say for sure that it influenced my decision (mine was preset from birth, as my parents reminded me often that I was born in a US Navy hospital in Taiwan and thus obligated to return to the Navy upon turning 18), I did love this movie a lot. I envied a guy who vaguely looked like Tom Cruise because the prettiest girl in my ninth grade class dated him specifically because she thought he looked like the movie star. This movie has a fantastic soundtrack (my second favourite of all time). It might not have been a critic's favourite, but it certainly hit all the points that teenage boys and young men like: fast action, a rocking soundtrack, camaraderie, and a pretty hot love scene. The movie is so melded with Tom Cruise, that you can't imagine any other actor in the role of Maverick. In retrospect, its amazing to reflect that this was the film that changed his life forever. To this day, he's still considered the most profitable American movie star.


Steve Martin


I was never a fan of Steve Martin until this movie came out. He played a role that hit pretty close to home. Like his character C. D. Bales, I have been able to woo women with the written word (this was more true during my teenage and young adult years), but these girls who loved my notes and letters wanted "the complete package." They wanted the soulful intelligence of a writer in the body of a jock. But we all know too well that the body without the mind often has a stronger influence, particularly in the beginning. What I love the most about this film is the idea that a guy could win the heart of the woman of his dreams on sheer intelligence and wit alone, despite having an unusual nose. In college, a classmate in one of my French classes had a rather large nose. She was attractive, except the nose made her look like a human Miss Piggy. Despite this, she was still kind of snobby about the kind of guy she was into. Too bad for her. Anyhow, Roxanne still remains as my favourite romantic comedy of all time. I loved it as a teenager and wondered for years where the movie was set, because the town is gorgeous. I would love to live in a town like that. When I learned that it was in Nelson, British Columbia, that town is still on my dream destinations list. I've also learned that this town has a large population of Americans who fled to Canada to avoid fighting in Vietnam. Will I find my Roxanne there?


Tom Hanks


Once again, Tom Hanks made my favourites list. This movie followed a string of body-switching movies that critics had predicted this one would bomb. What they didn't count on was Tom Hanks' comedic brilliance as a twelve year old boy in the body of a thirty year old man. This movie had heart and soul, about the wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasms of a kid versus the jaded cynicism of adulthood. The premise is strictly movie magic and requires a suspension of disbelief (as all body switching movies do). The past decade, there was a female companion film to Big: Thirteen Going on Thirty. Watching both would make an awesome double feature. However, no one compares to Tom Hanks as a big kid. He received his first Best Actor nomination for this role, but lost to Dustin Hoffman, who played a man with Autism.


Robin Williams

Dead Poets Society

This was more of a supporting role, as Robin Williams took the backseat to the boys in the film. However, his role as an inspiring teacher who ends up as a scapegoat when one of his students takes his inspired advice to the extreme, is the best character he has played. I'm not a fan of Robin Williams due to his over-the-top performances in many poorly selected movies. With this film, though, he played a teacher who reminded me a lot of my U.S. Government teacher, and because I saw this movie during my senior year in high school, there were a lot of parallels between the situations the boys found themselves in and my own experiences during my senior year. Its what I call "the perfect synchronicity." Another worthy Best Actor role was Michael J. Fox in Casualties of War, which also inspired me in the summer before my senior year.


Tom Hanks

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Tom Hanks once again wins my vote for Best Actor in a film that critics panned and audiences avoided during the holiday season in 1990. Many say that the likable Tom Hanks was the wrong actor to play the role of Sherman McCoy, the Wall Street bonds trader whose life goes out of control by making a few innocent mistakes (accidentally calling his home to talk to his mistress, making a wrong turn in the Bronx). The Tom Wolfe novel is a modern-day epic, portraying America in the 1980s (my favourite novel of all time). It might've worked better as a mini-series, but the film almost became a parody of itself. Though much of the novel had to be taken out to make the film, the basic storyline is faithful to the novel. Despite what the critics had to say, I liked Hanks in this movie. It was the beginning of his more serious roles, as he moved away from light comedies.


Mel Gibson


I hated reading Shakespeare in high school and often slept through the Shakespeare movies that English teachers loved to play for the class at the end of our reading assignments. Thus, it was a surprise when I found a Shakespeare movie that I wanted to see in theaters. I had already graduated from high school and awaiting my time to go off to Basic Training. The Gulf War was just starting, and my uncle took me to see Hamlet when I visited my grandparents. It was a good move for action film star Mel Gibson to star as the conflicted Danish hero, because he made the film worth seeing. Hamlet was not one of the Shakespeare plays I was required to read in high school, but I find the story to be the most interesting. I also liked the clothing style that Mel Gibson wears in the film and his hairstyle is the one I pretty much have had since the film came out nearly twenty years ago. I haven't seen the movie in over a decade, so its probably worth revisiting. Gibson did a fantastic job with the role. Because of the greatness of this version, I never bothered to see Kenneth Branagh's longer version.


Tim Robbins

Bob Roberts

Tim Robbins had a banner year in 1992, with two Oscar-worthy roles in Bob Roberts and The Player. I found his folk-singing conservative politician to be the more interesting of the two roles. The movie is a "mock-umentary" about the 1990 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, in which a charismatic and young folk singer decides to run against the typical old school bow-tie wearing liberal, Senator Brickley Paiste (played awesomely by Gore Vidal). The film is a political classic, as the same issues it addresses two decades ago are very much relevant in today's political climate. This is the kind of film every conservative person should be forced to watch, though they would most likely claim it had a liberal bias. The idea that a conservative running on smokescreen "cultural issues" to distract supporters from the ugly truths of his philosophy and record might seem like a cliche, but we've seen it entirely too much in the past decade. Bob Roberts, the folk singing conservative is the forerunner to today's Sarah Palin. Conservatives have to hide their ugly record and agenda behind a pretty face or charismatic "populist." And liberals like the stoic and grandfatherly Brickley Paiste often seem too out of touch to see the writing on the wall. In a word, Tim Robbins was brilliant with this movie.


Denzel Washington

Malcolm X

Though this film was released at the end of 1992 for the Awards season, I was living in Italy at the time and did not get to see it until the summer of 1993. There was some controversy about Denzel Washington not winning the Best Actor Oscar for this role (Al Pacino won that year for the forgettable Scent of a Woman, which was seen as an IOU from the Academy for not awarding him for his more memorable roles, Scarface, Serpico, or The Godfather). I was much more impressed by Denzel as Malcolm X. He doesn't really look like the famous Black Nationalist, so the fact that he pulled it off is due to his incredible acting ability (Washington had also played South African Black Consciousness activist Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom). In this epic biopic, he takes audiences on a journey from the zoot-suit wearing young Malcolm in the Harlem of the 1940s to the racist agitator and Nation of Islam convert of mid-life to his final days when he had a vision of Muslims of all races coming together in common cause. The film is not perfect by any means (Spike Lee has a tendency to overdo it and truly needs a disciplined editor), but Denzel made this film a necessary one worth watching. He was robbed of his rightful Oscar (though he finally won Best Actor at the 2002 Oscars for his role as a rogue cop).


Tom Hanks

Forrest Gump

My favourite actor wins yet again for his most unique role as a simpleton who lives an amazing life that touches all the milestones of Baby Boomer history. Not only is Tom Hanks my favourite actor, but the Academy showed that they also loved him, as he won back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for 1993's Philadelphia and 1994's Forrest Gump. However, I think had the Academy known that he would make such a great film with Forrest Gump, another actor would have won Best Actor in 1993 (possibly Liam Neeson for Schindler's List). So popular was Forrest Gump that Newt Gingrich cited this film during his 1994 "revolution" as proof of conservative values being morally superior to the decadent liberal values. Tom Hanks responded by pointing out a hilarious scene in the film: where Gump's mother sleeps with the principal so that her boy could attend a regular school. I think its a mistake to politicize this movie. Its more of a spiritually uplifting movie about a sub-ordinary man living an extraordinary life. Besides, Gump was no conservative. He was picked on by Southern rednecks, he befriended a girl who was molested by her drunken father, he saw nothing wrong with integration of the schools and even gave a black university student something she dropped when everyone else was taunting her, his best friend in the Army was a black guy, and when he found financial success, he gave money to Bubba's mother and the black church he attended. I don't see any Southern White conservative man doing any of those things. Newt Gingrich certainly never did.


Ralph Fiennes

Quiz Show

In 1995, I was glad to see Ralph Fiennes play a regular character after his star-making turn as Nazi war criminal Amon Goethe in 1993's Schindler's List. Quiz Show was directed by Robert Redford about a scandal in the 1950s when the producers behind the most popular game show decided to feed answers in advance to a popular university professor so he could beat the unlikable (and Jewish) smarty-pants know-it-all. Charles Van Doren goes along with it, justifying it for the kind of reasons people often justify things. However, the secret can't be kept for long and his fraud is especially galling for a university professor. Fiennes plays such a likable guy that the viewer understands the reasons he goes along with it. The other interesting aspect of the movie is watching it from our perspective. This type of quiz show would be dull by today's standards, yet it was apparently a popular program at the dawn of the television era.


Kevin Costner

Tin Cup

You've never seen Kevin Costner until you've seen Tin Cup, in which he plays a washed-up golf pro who lives a wasted life on a golf range in west Texas. This role is unlike any other character he has played before or since. He has great chemistry with actress Rene Russo and really looks like he's enjoying life while making this film. The basic premise you choose to live life in a safe way that gets you "par" for the course, or do you take the risks that run 50-50 succeed / fail? Olympic skier Bode Miller is an athlete who takes the big risks, thus why he failed to medal during the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino. He was more disciplined this time around and went home with a full set. One could argue either way, but for a golf movie, this was not boring. Golf as a metaphor for life. Something even Tiger Woods should think about. I think this film marked the end of Kevin Costner's good movies. He seems to prefer variations on his role as Roy MacAvoy...the low class wash-out. Such a role was different for him in 1996. Not so much a decade and a half later.


Harrison Ford

Air Force One

If you ever want to see a U.S. president kick some major terrorist ass, Harrison Ford is the actor to do it. And he does it well on his own airplane on route back from a meeting with the leader of Russia in their mutual agreement to go after a rebellious separatist, played by Gary Oldman to chilling effect. I heard that Clinton loved this movie, and Bush probably wished that he came across as bad-ass as Harrison Ford's president. Unfortunately, both presidents were lacking. Its interesting to watch this film in the post-2008 era. Could anyone really see Sarah Palin as tough and ready to lead as Glenn Close's Vice President? Didn't think so.


John Travolta

Primary Colors

John Travolta picks up a role that Tom Hanks decided not to play due to his friendship with the Clintons. I was disappointed when I heard of the cast change, but once the movie came out, I was impressed by how well Travolta channel's Clinton's voice and mannerisms. Though this film is about a fictional governor who runs for president in 1992, its based on a roman-a-clef that was Washington D.C.'s favourite parlour game in 1996 ("who is anonymous?"). The story is essentially taken from Clinton's primary season and audiences are left to wonder what is true and what has been embellished. When I read the book, I thought George Stephanopoulos had written it (turned out it was reporter Joe Klein). I did not think the film version would play so close to Clinton's mannerisms and voice, because its supposed to be about the fictional Jack Stanton, who lives in Mammoth Falls (get it? Little Rock, Mammoth Falls? Not very subtle name changes). I'm curious if Clinton ever watched this film. I'm also curious why Hollywood fictionalized Clinton's primary campaign for a novel and movie but an actual film about George W. Bush was made. I'd like to see a biopic about the Clintons. How about it, Travolta...or Hanks?


George Clooney

Three Kings

George Clooney was on the verge of superstardom when this film came out in 1999. Though he had difficulties with the director, this first film about the first Gulf War was a sign of things to come (regarding Clooney's political views). Clooney starred with IceCube and (Marky) Mark Wahlberg about soldiers who decide to steal some of Saddam's gold bullion for their own benefit. What they find is a history lesson they never got in school when they meet Iraqis who are more than willing to make them drink oil as a lesson about what the war was really about. The film is even more remarkable now, when you think of Clooney's film trajectory over the past decade, from 1999's Three Kings to 2009's The Men Who Stare At Goats. He seems good at playing men caught up in our country's deceit in the Middle East. Hey, George--tell us what you really think!


Colin Farrell


Unknown Irish actor burst onto the scene with a film that was much talked about in Hollywood but never released in theaters. Director Joel Schumacher couldn't find a distributor for his Vietnam War film. What I loved about Colin's character is that he played a nonconformist soldier who found ways to help other guys get out of the Army before shipping off to Vietnam. In one impressive scene, the soldiers are taught how to interrogate prisoners of war through electrical devices attached to men's most sensitive body part. This film was made in 2000, but in hindsight one does wonder if Dick Cheney's favourite scene is the interrogation scene--before Colin's nonconformist soldier raises his voice to put a stop to it. I love movies that feature a strong nonconformist character (such as in Casualties of War and Dead Poets Society). Who knows? Maybe that scene in this film was one that inspired soldier Joseph Darby in 2004 to submit incriminating photos of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Its not easy to make a stand for humanity in the face of conformist depravity. Thus, Colin's role is an important one. Too bad he turned out to be such a schmuck of an actor.


Russell Crowe

A Beautiful Mind

Russell Crowe's best role in a film that showed audiences how mental illness affects the mind. When the twist comes, you finally understand. Though he was nominated for Best Actor (and should have won), he lost to Denzel Washington in the year the Academy recognized African Americans (Halle Berry had won the Best Actress award that year and Sidney Poitier was given an honorary Oscar). The reaction shot showed his disappointment, but he won the previous year for The Gladiator and he had wrecked a marriage (by hooking up with Meg Ryan, who was married to Dennis Quaid). Some in Hollywood have said that only a Tom Hanks could pull off a back-to-back Best Actor. Despite the Hollywood politics, I like to recognize the best acting performance each year and I was simply wowwed by Russell Crowe's amazing performance in this movie.


Tom Cruise

Minority Report

Out of all the actors in Hollywood, Tom Cruise has the highest ratio of making films that I want to see. Unfortunately for him, his over enthusiastic devotion to his Scientology b.s. has probably hurt his chances of ever winning an Oscar. Many don't see any remarkable acting ability in his performances, but when he can disappear into a role and not have me think that I'm watching Tom Cruise playing a role, I take notice. Minority Report was such a film. He did a fantastic job as a pre-crime investigator in a future America where murderers are arrested before they commit the crime and locked away for life. The film is brilliant in the question it poses for the audience. The basic conflict boils down to free will versus pre-determination. The pre-cognitive that Cruise rescues in an attempt to clear his name, kept telling him that he has a choice. This message is important to get across to people, particularly those obsessed with the Book of Revelations and believe that the last days are meant to happen and thus contribute to the quickening up of trashing our planet because they want these horrors to happen in order to prove the validity of the Bible to all the non-believers. We have a choice. Tom Cruise makes excellent film role choices. Too bad when it comes to religious nonsensical b.s., he's not nearly as smart in his choices.


Ewan McGregor

Down With Love

This film was a loving tribute to what Hollywood calls "bedroom comedies" of Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Ewan McGregor plays a suave "man's man, ladies' man, man about town" star reporter who has a way with words (as well as women). My favourite comment that he makes is when he tells his publisher that he will title his article "Catcher Block On Barbara Novack: Penetrating the Myth." He says it with such panache, as well, that you can't help but laugh. There are a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments of sexual innuendos and the most brilliant thing about this film is that its filmed in the style and colour scheme of a film straight out of the early 1960s. Ewan McGregor is the best you've ever seen, particularly when he pretends to be an astronaut (Zipp Martin) in order to win Barbara Novack's love so he can expose her fraudulent "down with love" scheme that has women enthralled and their husbands unhappy.


Jim Caviezel

The Passion of the Christ

I chose Jim Caviezel playing Jesus over Jamie Fox's role as musical genius Ray Charles for the main reason that I had wanted to see Caviezel play Jesus ever since I saw his 2000 film Pay it Forward in which he played a homeless drug addict. When I saw that movie, my first thought was, "that actor would make an awesome Jesus!" I had no idea who he was, but he looked like a certain picture of Jesus I had seen at church throughout the 1990s. Also in his favour, Caviezel was struck by lightning during the filming of this movie (which must have freaked people out, since people often joke about God punishing people with lightning bolts) and the difficulty in speaking a language not widely in use today (Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke). There wasn't much to the role, other than getting his ass kicked in some of the most gruesome violence ever shown on screen. I would have liked to have seen more of Jesus, though, in the life that he led, such as the scene when he joked with his mother about the table he was making. The film made more than $300 million and if any movie demands a prequel, its definitely this one. Caviezel is the most awesome actor to play Jesus (and Willem Defoe was the worst). I want to see the best movie about Jesus ever made. To date, there has not been any worthy of the most perfect human to have lived.


Steve Carell

The 40 Year Old Virgin

Comedic performances are rarely recognized by the Academy, but if any deserved an honour, its this one. I know some feminists who refuse to see this movie because of what they think is a vulgarity that is not necessary to be made into a film. However, they miss the point. The movie is actually pretty sweet. Even a conservative like Sarah Palin should like it. Part of that is due to Steve Carell's comedic brilliance. He plays a guy who is forty years old and never had the opportunity to be with a woman that he loved enough to sleep with. In fact, some might say that he was afraid of sex and was waiting for the right woman to come along. Joking and hijinks aside (mostly through his buddies, who are always trying to hook him up with any skanky ho), the story is one of the sweetest love stories ever seen in a movie. I don't think Jim Carrey would have made this film as great as it turned out to be. Proof that having the right actor in the right role can make a film.


Forest Whitaker

The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker playing real life dictator Idi Amin of Uganda is at once mesmerizing and terrifying. As a child, I heard stories from other children about this crazy African leader who ate other people and murdered scores more. He was probably the first boogeyman I learned about, but I never really made a point to read about him. Though this movie is based on a novel featuring characters and situations that were created by the writer, of composites of real people, the portrayal of the dictator is supposedly real. Amin could be charming to people, but don't ever cross him. He's crazy that way. Its particularly bone-chilling to hear him say "Nicholas" (the name of the Scottish guy who becomes his personal medic). I would not want to work with such a brute, but if I did, I certainly wouldn't put myself at greater risk by sleeping with one of his ladies. Yikes, this movie is creepy. I've only seen it once, but the final torture scene where Nicholas is hung from the ceiling by chains that were hooked into his was simply too much for me to watch or desire to see again. You know its great acting when an actor disappears into a role and you really believe you are watching a historical figure. That's how good Forest Whitaker is...and he won the Oscar for this role. Well deserved.


Ioan Gruffuld

Amazing Grace

I was surprised when this movie was not nominated for Best Picture or even Best Actor. Its the kind of film that the Academy used to love back in the 1980s...historical, costumed, drama, positive message. Ioan Gruffuld, of Horatio Hornblower fame, plays William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament whose lifelong goal was the abolition of the slavetrade. We get to see a lot of passionate speeches in Parliament about the slave trade and how long it took to accomplish this goal. Its an important lesson for us in the age of instant gratification. Change requires committed people for the long haul. There will be setbacks along the way, but activists can't give up. Change will happen. It always does. William Wilberforce is an inspirational figure. We need a leader as passionate as him to do what's right. Hear that, President Obama? Don't let the teabaggers derail universal health care!


Sean Penn


Another case where a famous actor disappears into a role and you believe you are watching his character, not the actor in a role. Sean Penn seemed to be the unlikeliest person to ever play an icon for the gay community, Harvey Milk. Penn has a reputation for being a fist-throwing brute who was likely to beat someone up if they speculated on his sexuality. Yet, his marriage to Robyn Wright seemed to have softened him over the years, though their marriages seems to be over (really, this time). When he won the Oscar for this role, he joked at the podium: "you homosexual commie lovin' sons of a gun." His liberal political views is often criticized by conservatives, and while he might not be a credible advocate for liberal causes, it was great to see him bring Harvey Milk to life. I knew nothing about this San Francisco councilman, thus why I love biopics to bring such famous characters to life on the silver screen. I can't imagine any other actor playing this role.


Jeremy Renner

The Hurt Locker

I never heard of this actor before, until I saw this movie and was impressed by the cold professionalism, mixed with the spontaneous moments when he shows that he cares (for the Iraqi kid who's always trying to sell things to GIs, to the man who has a timebomb on him and not wanting to die because he has a family to care for). Renner has an Oscar nomination for this role and if there is justice, he'll win, but I'm thinking that the Academy is going with another IOU Oscar (Jeff Bridges has never won, thus seems a lock for this year). Like I said above...I make my selections based on actual performance, and no performance was as powerful as the role Jeremy Renner played in the best film of the Iraq War.

These actors represent my selections over the years of who had the best performances / best roles. I am confident in saying that my choices are way better than Oscar, because I don't believe in giving "IOU Oscars" because the Academy missed out on the opportunity in earlier performances. These are the roles and characters that made an impression on me, and maybe even influenced me just a little bit in how I live life (particularly Roxanne, Forrest Gump and Tigerland).


NickUSCS1861 said...

I think 1989 continues to reign as one of the more unusual summer movie years. I think it was the year the term "blockbuster" was coined. That year saw an unusual crop of significant movies: Ghostbusters II, Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Trek V, Driving Miss Daisy, Glory (my pick for Best Picture), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and, of course, Dead Poet's Society. What a year of movies.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Interesting walk through movie memory lane!

Sansego said...

Actually, Nick, from my understanding, the term "blockbuster" dates back to the summer of 1975 when "Jaws" pretty much ruled the box office. It was because people waited in line around the block of the local movie theater...which were generally one screen at a downtown location.

But 1989 was the best year in movies. Still waiting for a summer like that one!