This grouping of performers comes from plays, adaptations of novels, or even screenplays created by some of the greatest authors or playwrights of their times.
Playing gay Cuban poet and writer Reinaldo Arenas, Bardem turns out a compelling performance that never condescends or takes the easy sympathetic route. Earning an Oscar nomination for the role, Spain-native Bardem committed to playing Arenas by learning Cuban Spanish and Cuban-accented English for Schnabel’s Before Night Falls. Much of the film is narrated by Bardem using passages directly from Arenas’ writings and his plaintive narration complements Schnabel’s expressively color-filled vision of colorful, gritty Cuba. Schnabel does not tell a straightforward story and large chunks of Arenas’ life are glossed over or forgotten altogether in favor of a high-art tone missing from most conventional biopics. It is Bardem’s thoughtful performance that fills in the blanks for the viewer, with a living, breathing character that feels completely authentic to the time period, to the spirit of Schnabel’s aesthetic and to the fiber of Arenas’ art. From his poor childhood, to his sexual exploration and realization, to his imprisonment and exile from Cuba, Bardem’s Arenas carries the full weight of all he’s been through without getting bogged down or over-dramatic, even in the face of terminal illness and political torture. Coupled Schnabel’s hands-on approach to filmmaking, Bardem’s envisaging of this international queer folk hero is natural, instinctual, and, yes, poetic. J.M. Suarez
You could condemn Beatty’s performance in Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller as overacting. But the man he’s playing, John McCabe, is an actor himself, and a bad one at that. The not-that-fast-talking McCabe has enough charm to fool the rabble over a backroom card game, but when he decides to build a saloon and brothel in the Pacific Northwest, he bites off quite a bit more than he can chew. The arrival of the much smarter and savvier Mrs. Miller, the madam who knows the business well, is a turning point for McCabe. He’s frustrated by her intelligence, awed by her business acumen, and plainly attracted to her.
Beatty plays all of McCabe’s angles to the extreme. He’s a doe-eyed blunderer with Mrs. Miller, a blustery fool when sober, and a cartoonish bumbling oaf when drunk. But when powerful men roll into town to buy McCabe’s business out, he overplays his hand, and Beatty’s manner changes. McCabe still spouts ideals and false bravado, but the softness of Beatty’s eyes shows he’s learned he’s in over his head, doomed to be nothing more than himself. Beatty’s performance is bravely over-the-top throughout, and one that turns the idea of western heroes on its head. He’s got far more flaw and fear than bravery, and crumbles in the face of danger rather than retreating behind the steely-eyed silence of the Eastwood’s of the world. McCabe is nakedly hapless, unable to be the man he pretends to be. In the end, he isn’t capable of saving anything—not himself, not Mrs. Miller, not the town. But Beatty, by committing so deeply to McCabe’s huge flaws, manages to show us the seed of humanity buried under them. In that astounding feat, Beatty has one of the great successes in modern cinema. Matt Fiander
In this film about the effect a near-death experience has on a middle-aged man, the perennially underrated Bridges carries off one of the more difficult acting tasks: rendering fundamental personality change consistently and believably. Max Klein survives a plane crash, his cool-headed actions in helping other passengers to safety earning him hero status and the nickname “the Good Samaritan”. But Klein’s behavior results from repression and denial. As he passes the wreckage of the plane’s nose, which flame retardant has made to look as if it’s encased in ice, Klein matches the effect with a cold, affect-less smile, Bridges adopting here and later an eerily cadaverous air. Then there are the bursts of insistent euphoria, Bridges expressing Klein’s sense of invincibility with a look that’s half beatific smile, half shit-eating grin. But his face sags and fissures in absolute terror as his pre-crash anxiety irrupts. In flashback we see the initial moment of transformation onboard the plane, Klein’s expression brightening as he thinks, “This is the moment of your death.”
Weir cleverly cuts the scene as if the fearless Klein is looking away from the frightened Klein. And Bridges makes the two versions of the man look, and sound, like two different people. As memories of the flight return, fearless Klein is haunted by frightened Klein, most notably in a rooftop scene where Klein wills himself to stand at the edge, banishing his fear through a terrified primal scream that gives way to a smug chortle. Bridges so faithfully plays the fragmented parts of this broken man that in the film’s climactic scene, when Klein finally comes to himself, we see, albeit briefly, the re-integrated, whole person return. Michael Curtis Nelson
The role of the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon may have felt uncomfortably close to reality for Burton, who by that point in his career was facing accusations that he had squandered his talent through drink and easy paychecks. Be that as it may, in John Huston’s film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play Night of the Iguana Burton delivers what may be the finest performance of his career. We first see him having a nervous breakdown in the pulpit: later we learn that he was implicated in the attempted suicide of a young teacher. Having lost his parish, Shannon is reduced to leading cut-rate bus tours in Mexico, where trouble seems to have followed him south. He soon stands accused of similar misconduct with underage tour member Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon, looking much as she did in Kubrick’s Lolita) and it’s no use to plead the truth that she’s the one pursuing him. In a last act of desperation Shannon hijacks the tour bus and drives to a resort hotel run by his old pal Maxine (a very sexy Ava Gardner) then steals the distributor cap to keep the group from driving away. Burton is frighteningly convincing in his portray of Shannon’s mental deterioration as fever, alcohol, and the incipient loss of this bottom-of-the-barrel job conspire to push him ever closer to the edge. Sarah Boslaugh
Russell Crowe and more
Russell Crowe plays Bud White, a cop dismissed as all brawn and no brains by his fellow police officers in Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. His character is filled with rage and that rage is channeled in his dealings with bullies, particularly those who abuse women. While Bud is out on the job, he encounters a Veronica Lake look-alike, Lynn Bracken, embroiled in an illegal prostitution ring and soon after becomes involved with her. Bud’s relationship with Lynn serves to illustrate a different side of Bud; he shows vulnerability that makes him more complex. Crowe’s performance is nuanced and on edge all at the same time. At times the viewer can almost see the wheels turning in his head. Crowe naturally imbues Bud with a full personality, flawed and often insecure about his intelligence, yet heroic in spite of himself, his performance stands as his most complete character work. J.M. Suarez
For quite some time, Matt Damon was often cast as second fiddle in the media to his fellow actor-pal Ben Affleck after the release of their 1997 hit Good Will Hunting. Upon the release of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Damon showed quite magnificently that he is, in fact, the talent to beat. Based on the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, Damon stars in the late Anthony Minghella’s brilliant adaptation as the creepy sociopath social climber and identity thief Tom Ripley. His rise from virtual obscurity begins when he is hired by Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) to go to Italy and return his son Dickie (Jude Law) to New York. Ripley makes the journey and gradually insinuates himself into the lives of Dickie and his girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Ripley quickly grows into the opulent lifestyle and begins to fall in love with Dickie. And as Dickie tires of Ripley, he attempts to excise Ripley from his life, at which point Ripley kills him and assumes his identity.
Ripley goes on the kill two more men and definitively scares the pants off Marge who seems to be the only one who sees Ripley for who he truly is. With a cast rounded out by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett, Damon was in highly-esteemed company, but like any masterful actor, he rose to the occasion, integrating himself into the ensemble rather than stealing the show with a flashy, grinning star turn. Ten years later and Damon is a star in his own right having recently completed the third installment of the very popular Jason Bourne series along, with a host of other high profile, profitable films, but it was in Ripley where Mr. Damon really allowed audiences to experience the versatility and depth of his theatrical acumen. Take that Ben Affleck! Courtney Young
Certain noises have the effect of a fog-horn: a baby crying, an angry elephant charging, and Harvey Fierstein screaming “Maaaa!” out his living room window in Torch Song Trilogy. Clearly, the most recognizable thing about Harvey Fierstein, regardless of the film, is the raspy, grating nasality of his voice. Unfortunately, some viewers can’t get past that voice to see the performance behind it, which is a tragic loss for film fans who have avoided Torch Song. The film is based on Fierstein’s own Tony-winning play about a drag queen looking for love in a culture that doesn’t understand him. The film opens with a monologue, as Arnold Beckoff dons his female attire before a show. Instantly, Fierstein’s range is on display, moving from hilarity and cattiness to pain and suffering with an ease that reveals how much of each of these Arnold has endured. From there, we see Arnold find love, lose it tragically, and create a home and family for himself and his adopted son, all the while engaging in battle with his loving but unsympathetic mother. Originally a series of three plays, the film condenses the story considerably, but Fierstein still gets to run the gamut of emotions, and run he does. In a role that has immense potential to be over-the-top, Fierstein finds the right balance of empathy and anger to make Torch Song Trilogy the first film to honestly and sensitively lay bare the emotional turmoil that comes with being gay in a homophobic culture. Michael Abernethy
The description of Tom Joad as an “everyman” is a misnomer. Joad is a convicted felon, homeless, and unmarried. Yet, in the likable Henry Fonda’s hands, Joad inadvertently becomes that mythical everyman thanks to the charm of the man playing him. It is a stroke of brilliant casting. The specific circumstances of his life are irrelevant. It is his intent and heart, his yearning for a better life, that represent the struggles of “everyman” and Fonda excels at capturing that specific kind of innate desire for respect and compassion. Released after a decade of the world’s worst financial crisis, the film about an Oklahoma family displaced by the dustbowl spoke to the millions who faced similar struggles that transcended monetary concerns. Still, audiences of any era can relate to Fonda’s portrayal of an inherently decent man who just can’t find a way to prosper.
Conceivably, Fonda could have played Joad in an entirely different fashion, as a hardened, angry convict ready to lash out against a society that has treated him and his family so unjustly. But Fonda, always a lower-key actor, brings stillness to the character, an inner tranquility based in his love of family. His Joad is savvy and philosophical, and his final farewell to his mother (the equally magnificent Jane Darwell) remains one of cinema’s greatest scenes. When he says that he will be “ever’where”, in fights for justice and in moments of familial joy and success, we believe him. Joad is not a defeatist, although one would understand if he were. He possesses a belief in humankind and justice that is at odds with the life he has led. This attitude is what makes Joad a complex man, and all of his complexity comes through in Fonda’s performance. Michael Abernethy
Anthony Hopkins and more
Anthony Hopkins inhabits the role of Stevens, the head butler of Darlington Hall in the 1930’s. Considered by many to be the “perfect” servant, he is an absolutely loyal and tireless worker, suppressing his own needs and emotions in favor of a call of duty. Commanding an army of cooks, butlers, and maids, Stevens demonstrates a fierce commitment to order. At one critical moment, he responds, “It’s not my place to have an opinion.”
Portraying a character who tirelessly maintains his emotional distance is a difficult task for any actor, but Hopkins, a performer of fantastic range, is up to the challenge. Throughout the film, Stevens rarely offers the viewer insight with his spoken dialogue. As such, Hopkins employs his body language brilliantly to offer the viewer a window into his masked humanity. Each gesture, whether made with the eyes, lips, hands, or even legs, is gloriously realized and endlessly expressive. Most impressively, Hopkins uses his eyes to great effect, subtly hinting at the longing that lies behind the servant facade.
When each movement is performed with such skill and precision, it’s nearly impossible to single out a particular moment. One sequence that stands out as the premiere example of Hopkins’ brilliance in this role is the scene where Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson, as Stevens’ would-be lover), presses him to converse about his book. When Miss Kenton becomes too close, we immediately see Stevens move to the other side of the room and into the corner. Full of desire and curiosity, she continues to move toward him. As Stevens stares down at her with obvious attraction, she attempts to pry the book from his hands. The look in his eyes, as though he is seeing something for the first time, is staggering. The viewer is brought into the internal conflict that the distant butler faces. He struggles to hold onto the book just as he struggles to maintain his emotional distance. Stevens desperately wants to act on his attraction to Miss Kenton, but his fierce commitment to duty will not allow it. The latter side eventually wins out, but one never forgets this brief glimpse into the man behind the perfectly-pressed uniform and professional demeanor. He may be remembered by the masses for The Silence of the Lambs, but Hopkins will never top his work in Ivory’s tense masterpiece of longing and regret. Evan Kost
Crumpled, suspender-ed nowhere-man Sheldon “Machine” Levene flinches at the water fountain. Corporate honcho Blake (Alec Baldwin) spews expletives at Levene and the entire sales team. There’s a contest: “First prize, Cadillac, Second, Steak Knives, Third? You’re out of here. Each of the salesmen covet the golden Glengarry Glen Ross realty leads, they are the carrots on the stick that make these Pavlov-like dogs drool at their very mention, they are where all of the money is. Though his colleagues remain detached, cool and on the surface seemingly disaffected, Levene sweats. Buckets. This downtrodden, Lomanesque cog squirms beneath his furrowed brow—a canvas hat shabbily pushed over receding hair—battered trench coat slung sloppily over a colorless chair. Mustering brief courage Levene sputters, “The leads are weak.”
“You’re weak,” blasts Blake. “Are you man enough to take it?”
Lemmon, born in a Boston elevator, wears this role well. His body and face—constantly twisted in discomfort and anxiety are pointedly juxtaposed with the square-jawed he-men he must face off against. But survival matters, and though Levene permeates the personal space of his colleagues, the viewer gets the sense that he stands zero chance of winning the competition. Driving through a miserable downpour to hopefully close a sale, what he lacks in confidence and bravado, he compensates for with pig-hearted perseverance drawn from dogged desperation. Lemmon had a particular gift for finding the frazzled hearts of many of the working class ne’er do wells he played, from The China Syndrome, to The Apartment, to his brief, memorable cameo in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Lemmon’s empathy for the working man was his strong suit. Lisa Torem
Mortensen spent a decade or so Method-growling his way through under-seen supporting roles before being dropped unceremoniously into cinematic history as a certain ranger-cum-king in an infamous, hugely successful fantasy trilogy. After killing orcs, protecting hobbits, and romancing elves, probably the least obvious next step for Mortensen was to become Cronenberg’s favored leading man. But A History of Violence, along with its follow-up Eastern Promise (the duo’s terse tale of the Russian mafia) heralded a twilight renaissance for Mortensen as well as Cronenberg. The grotesque physiological nightmare-imagery of his previous work gave way to psychological-realist dramas about the hypocrisy of social pressures, while still referencing the antiseptic, often explicit, lessons in anatomy he had become so famous for. Mortensen proved to be the perfect foil for the auteur’s shifting focus.
As Tom Stall, he cultivates a stalwart folksiness with his fellow townspeople and firm but fair hand with his son (Ashton Holmes). As Tom’s alleged gangster past catches up with him, we’re asked to question his true identity. When that’s no longer up for debate, Joey Cusack bursts forth with an almost virtuosic ruthlessness. Mortensen trusts in the violence, the same approach that made Aragorn of Lord of the Rings a formidable warrior-king. But Cronenberg, in typical Cronenbergian fashion, grounds character conflict in sex. Mortensen’s two intimate scenes with the excellent Maria Bello—the first awkward role-playing, the other fierce primal aggression—encapsulate the schisms and the bonds of Stall/Cusack’s double-life just as surely as they demonstrate the actor’s vital commitment to Cronenberg’s uncompromising vision. Even without a mythical sword in his hands, Mortensen takes no prisoners. Ross Langager
Ran is legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s masterwork, a film based on Shakespeare’s King Lear that the auteur himself labeled as his testament. Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora anchors the grand opus with a virtuosic display of physical acting rooted in Japanese theatrical traditions. Kurosawa devoted more than 10 years of his life to developing the film, storyboarding the visuals in expressionistic paintings and drawings before committing a single take to celluloid. Indeed, there’s an undeniable painterly aspect to nearly every scene – in the shifting skies, the windblown grasses, the colors, bright or grim throughout—that betrays Kurosawa’s roots in the visual arts. That eye for minute detail played out in every aspect of the film, from the cinematography and the music, to the set/costume design and the acting.
Nakadai’s roots are firmly in the theatre and he describes in the extras on the Ran Criterion edition how Kurosawa’s method of filming continuous takes with four cameras—the actor never knowing which one was the close-up—allowed him to keep the flow of the scene going as if he were on stage. That theatrical training was vital as Nakadai was called upon to base his work on traditional Noh performance techniques that involved a great degree of physicality. Kurosawa even carried a Noh mask to the set and asked the designer to make Nakadai’s face look like that mask. The physical aspect played out in both subtle and striking ways.
Often we glimpse moments of glacial stillness in Nakadai’s face and body, the thoughts and emotions conveyed slowly through facial expressions and slight movements, such as the moment in the castle where madness descends on Hidetora and we see that happening merely by looking into the character’s eyes in several long takes. His face is still and filled with steadily increasing horror, the madness growing until finally it explodes into full bloom as he staggers down the stairs of the burning castle and into the windswept abyss. That scene had to be done in one take, by the way, as they really were burning down the castle and Nakadai suffered facial blisters when his beard caught fire as the walls around him burned. Nakadai’s genius throughout Ran is the ability to convey complex character development and advance the story through minimal dialogue and a masterly of the physical realm of acting. Sarah Zupko
Jack Nicholson and more
“Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” Nicholson, an axe and the world’s most popular talk show: this unlikely combination added up to an introduction of lasting proportions for The Shining‘s Jack Torrance. In retrospect, the scene works as both a “Jack being Jack” moment and an earnest climax to Nicholson’s portrayal of a man turned mad. Ironically, in a film filled with brutally exacting directorial details, Nicholson’s improvised line became the movie’s slogan. In fact, the scene’s iconic nature has caused critics to overlook the craftsman-like journey to mayhem. Nicholson peels away the layers of humanity while a case of writer’s block metastasizes into wrath. The key to his performance is not the famously arched eyebrows but instead the possessed eyes, which ultimately make Torrance the greatest employer of “the Kubrick stare” (Vincent D’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket and Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange are two other examples). Nicholson had been warming up for Torrance over the course of a long career playing the archetypal “Stifled Man”. Be it in classic films like Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown or even later triumphs such as About Schmidt, he expertly portrays men who never win. In The Shining, he takes that impotence to murderous extremes by showing how a relentless lack of fulfillment leads to outwardly directed rage. Simply put, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” By film’s end, Nicholson completes the transformation from man to ghost, left to forever wander Kubrick’s labyrinth of limbo. Tim Slowikowski
Japanese existentialist Kobo Abe posits Okada’s entomologist and Tokyo schoolteacher Niki Jumpei deep in the desert on a research mission that will see his name put into an encyclopedia. Before he knows it, he is forced into labor alongside a woman whom the townspeople keep in a deep hole, in a hut in the Dunes, to perform menial labor for their profit. If in Teshigahara’s potent photography of the sand and the elements, as well as the claustrophobia, pure visual poetry is attained, than Okada’s performance is the modern sensibility that grounds the heady political content in base masculinity and sensuality. For a film that is set is such close quarters, each frame is important in setting tone, and Teshigahara uses Okada (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) to convey a static sense of tone and mood by posing him almost like statuary in places.
Okada practically defines the term “physical acting” in Woman in the Dunes in a performance unfettered by vanity or by “acting”. He must run through the deserts to escape his captors, he must toil thanklessly every day shoveling sand to stay alive, and then he must also make love to a strange woman he has been forced to cohabitate with. This bracing look at blunt, unromantic sexuality, captured with a clinical, artistic eye by the director, benefits from Okada cutting a dashing, muscled figure against the background of sandstorms and mounds of salty dirt, and also equally from his introspection. The actor’s dedication to the weight of the source material, as well as to the physical constraints of the role, leads finally to a whammy of a denouement, rife with helplessness and mournful resignation. In the end, Okada makes this performance about, in essence, not fighting one’s fate, accepting one’s place, but not before a huge fight first. Matt Mazur
Shawn, early for rehearsal because he got the start time wrong, stands on a Manhattan corner eating a knish. He comments to Lynn Cohen that he couldn’t sleep the night before as other conversations circle around. He lays his head down on a wood bench and tries to drift off while the rest of the drama company gets settled, and in we slip to Malle’s graceful take on Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.
Shawn, as the title character, plays another type of overshadowed figure: one who has spent his life working and managing his family’s manor, sending the proceeds to his brother-in-law, a spoiled professor whose career and life Vanya covets. When the professor moves back to the manor, the already delicate situation runs quickly towards an explosion. The diminutive actor simmers and steams and is almost gleeful in how he refuses to keep his feelings to himself. His voice booms one moment and is pinched off the next. His emotions practically ignite at even seemingly harmless provocations and all of the actors do incredible jobs of turning their feelings on a dime; uncontrollable laughing and weeping have never felt closer. By the end, Shawn’s Vanya is almost as exhausted with life as he is resigned.
The character’s emotions criss-cross and turn in an instant throughout the film and the performances don’t allow you to let your guard down as they bang off the decaying walls of New York’s New Amsterdam Theatre. It’s a true ensemble piece but Shawn sets the pace. Jon Langmead
While Apocalypse Now is perhaps most famous for the gonzo performances of Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper, it is Sheen’s performance as Captain Benjamin Willard that carries the film and serves to hold it together through all of its chaos and insanity. Ultimately, despite the overbearing presence of Brando’s Colonel Kurtz lurking out in the jungle, Apocalypse Now is about Williard, a broken man who is sent directly into the proverbial heart of darkness to exterminate Kurtz, a man who serves as a walking and breathing symbol of the Vietnam War and what happens when a man goes to war. Sheen, however, plays Willard as a man descending into madness yet still capable of reason and recognition. He doesn’t allow Willard to go nuts, at least not after the film’s terrific opening sequence, in which a drunken and traumatized Willard hallucinates about the war he’s just outside of and longing to return to. But once Willard is back in his element and in pursuit of Kurtz, he pulls himself together and stands as the closet thing the film has to a moral compass.
Sheen plays Willard as a man trying to hold what’s left of his sanity together, struggling to maintain focus and perspective amidst the madness surrounding him. His narration, delivered in a lisp-y and exhausted monotone is the glue that holds the film together. We see the world around him through his eyes, and conceptualize it through his mind. Sheen endows Willard with subtlety and grace, watching and taking in everything around him with hardly any reaction to the horror and insanity he’s witnessing. His true personality, in a sense, is left open and relatively undefined. We know a bit about who he is, sure, but as soon as his narration begins, we’re left alone with Willard in his head. Sheen, in essence, resists the urge to engage in the sort of explosive theatrics he has a tendency for an, instead, allows us to become Willard and journey up river not along side of him, but rather within his consciousness. James R. Fleming
Denzel Washington and more
Denzel Washington’s captivating turn in Lee’s rendering of the story of Malcolm X‘s life, based on the 1965 publication The Autobiography of Malcolm X, is, simply put, his best. As the visionary African American civil rights leader, should be used as a tool for all actors preparing to star in a biopic. The actor who appears onscreen as a real-life figure must walk a fine line between the trap of mimicry and grasping at the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the character, hoisting them upon your shoulders and taking charge of the character, all the while being cognizant of the limitations of one’s self and imparting the characterization with actual personality to patch up any cinematic cracks. It is hard to imagine any other actor as the mythological Malcolm. His magnetism extends far beyond the screen and compels his audience to sit up and take note, and when the film was released they did, en masse: “X” marked the spot just about everywhere you went. Malcolm’s “logo”, of sorts, set about a sort of pop culture renaissance, a re-discovery of one of the most important stories of the entire Civil Rights movement. Washington’s performance helped to correct some of histories wildest inaccuracies, as well as shed new light on this man’s private life. He lost the Oscar to Al Pacino’s ham-fisted guffawing in Scent of a Woman, one of the worst instances of giving a “make-up” Oscar to a performer for a body of work that the Academy has ever engaged in. Courtney Young
Police Captain Hank Quinlan is Welles’ most fascinating monstrosity. The undeniable villain of the much labored and studio-molested A Touch of Evil, Quinlan was reflective of the kind of internal and external adversarial forces that plagued Welles throughout his career. Perhaps Welles inhabits Quinlan so well because he studied for the part his whole life. Quinlan serves as perfect foil to Charlton Heston’s ambitious Mexican narc officer Vargas. Vargas’s ambition is to tackle the great white whale, the corrupt and racist Quinlan, the William Randolph Hearst from the Welles biography, whom he pursues with a vigilance that places his newlywed white wife (perhaps the reverse-race embodiment of Dolores Del Rio, Welles’s Mexican girlfriend during the filming of Citizen Kane) in serious peril. Quinlan, on the other hand, is the living end game of said ambition, with a dead wife, crippling obsessions, and new addictions (first to “hooch”, then to “candy bars”) to worry about. Quinlan now orchestrates crime scenes like a film director, planting evidence, and using his closest friends as supporting cast members.
His racism is apparent, though subtle, more about perception than slurs and derision. Quinlan’s confidence at film’s start whilst investigating a car bomb planted in Mexico and detonated in the U.S seems to arise from a belief that the entire scene is within the limits of his control, propelled by a curious belief in the intuitive power of his game leg. As Vargas’s skepticism in Quinlan’s official “truth” grows, the weathered police celebrity’s ability to manipulate reality to his liking deteriorates and his gravitas transforms into a war-torn gravity. His path, which involves a deal with the devil, surely not unfamiliar to the notoriously Hollywood-compromised Welles, becomes tragic, even as his actions threaten the only sympathetic characters in the film. Timothy Gabriele
One of my favorite games is trying to pigeonhole my friends and students into the categories of kids from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). If you think about it, every one of has the potential to be Charlie Bucket (laconic, friendly); Augustus Gloop (fat, selfish); Mike Teevee (obnoxious, narcissistic); Violet Beauregarde (annoying, loud); or Veruca Salt (ostentatious, spoilt). But, just try to find one person to be Wilder’s Willy Wonka? Good luck. Although Wilder has made some seriously funny movies—The Producers (1968), Young Frankenstein (1974) and Stir Crazy (1980)—he will forever be known as the incredibly eccentric, cane-wielding candy maker given to quoting William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, John Masefield and even Neil Armstrong! Wilder took a major fictional character in a children’s book and made Wonka into a very adult film character. Yes, he runs the competition to find someone to take over the factory (spoiler alert) and yes he has a kind heart to hire Oompa Loompas.
But Wilder’s Wonka is no birthday clown, but a cold, calculated, confectionary genius with a penchant for Ogden Nash—my favorite quote being, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” He is a loving man, no doubt, but is also dead-pan, sarcastic, sadistic, and plainly has no tolerance for bullshit. Yes, he is kind of scary during the infamous tunnel scene (“Are the fires of hell a-blowing? Is the grizzly reaper mowing?”), but what about all the warm and wonderful parts of the movie where Wilder seems to cement himself for eternity by acting or singing. Is there anyone on this planet who has seen the movie and not hummed the Wilder-sung “Pure Imagination” once? Or remembered their first time watching this film and feeling the shock of the five Golden Ticket winners when they see Wonka struggle to walk out of his factory at the beginning? Although author Roald Dahl never liked the original film, there is no question that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory may be the greatest children’s film of all time. And there is absolutely no argument that it deserves that recognition because of Gene Wilder’s scrumdidlyumptious job. Shyam K. Sriram
Sure, he appeared in hits like The Full Monty and Shakespeare in Love, but In the Bedroom was British actor Tom Wilkinson’s first real chance to shine for American audiences. And by delving deep into the sadness and shortcomings of the grief-stricken father Matt Fowler from Andre Dubus’s short story “Killings”, Wilkinson quietly stunned his audience. He plays Dr. Fowler as a man envious of his son Frank’s youth, even after his son is killed by his girlfriend’s ex-husband. In the wake of the tragedy, Fowler keeps his small practice going, showing no signs of grief, and fails at consoling his wife (a tremendous Sissy Spacek). As the justice system slowly lets them down, Wilkinson takes on a frantic desperation as Fowler tries his hand, awkwardly, at amateur sleuthing. And Fowler also painfully visits Frank’s girlfriend and looks less like a grieved father and more like a shy and smitten boy.
Wilkinson’s ability to shift his demeanor from stoic doctor to cold sleepless husband to isolated unmoored man to vengeful father, with no connection between each, is astounding. He’s always uncomfortable, his back always straight, and his face barely wincing in the shadow of pain. But even after the Fowlers hash out their anger and Matt exacts justice for his son’s death, there is still no resolution. He lies in bed, as his wife rises to make coffee, trying to go back to some normality. But to see Wilkinson’s deflated face is to know nothing will be the same. Wilkinson doesn’t just create a character in Matt Fowler; he creates a whole life, one that doesn’t seem to end when the film does, as he brilliantly carries the rest of the man’s tragic life on his tired body. Matt Fiander