For this article our writers were set a tough task- ‘pick your favourite performance in a film’. (Difficult one isn’t it?) Mixed and interesting choices were the result…
Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds– Phil Gorski
Before Inglourious Basterds, no one in their right mind would even think they’d be quietly cheering for a character who is not only a Nazi, but a self-serving, manipulative, treacherous Nazi. The world of cinemagoers, however, was not prepared for Christoph Waltz’s performance as Hans Landa—‘the Jew Hunter’.
Waltz’s natural charm and his talent for breathing life and depth into virtually any character (save for, perhaps, his role in The Green Hornet, which no one can reasonably fault him for) helped craft Hans Landa into a loveable monster of sorts (well… as lovable as he could possibly be given the circumstances). Moments like Waltz exclaiming “That’s a bingo” helped add a strange charisma to a character who could only ultimately be described as despicable.
What really made Waltz’s performance one of the best in recent history is that he embodied Inglourious Basterds in one character. He was multi-layered and equally capable of drawing out laughter or building tension in a scene. His smile left audiences melting in their seats, while later scenes saw him kill in cold blood (sometimes both dramatic effects take place within the same scene and require a remarkable range in his performance). He even helped bring down the Third Reich. Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa – the fictional Nazi that captured too many hearts.
Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy– George Storr
Robert De Niro, at the height of his career, was the ultimate on screen gangster, so often beautifully contrasted with a, comparably simplistic, but hard hitting Joe Pesci. He also gave one of the most studied performances of all time in Martin Scorsese’s gritty modern classic Taxi Driver. (“Are you talkin’ to me?”) But arguably his finest performance and indeed one of the finest performances of all time was his portrayal of the egotistical yet uncharismatic comedic failure, Rupert Pupkin.
As a man accustomed to playing meaningful, powerful characters, often in dramatic and violent films, De Niro took on the role of Rupert Pupkin in King of Comedy and showed a new edge to his performing genius. In one of Scorsese’s finest work’s De Niro show’s a new string to his bow and impressively gripped audiences without the easy hook of a likeable character.
De Niro gives an unforgettable performance that helps make King of Comedy the unpredictable cinematic marvel it is…
His portrayal of Pupkin is so impressive because, in a film that treads the line between comedy and drama, he overcomes playing an ultimately dislikeable character, disproves any and all critics that at the time had him down as an actor that could only play gangsters, and gives an unforgettable performance that helps make King of Comedy the unpredictable cinematic marvel it is.
Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride– Delilah Niel
The Princess Bride saw a slow road to success, only becoming a cult classic when it was released on VHS. The film has a lot of standout performances, Andre the Giant, Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal and Wallace Shawn all give performances with a deliciously quotable quality – not to mention many other cast members. But the one who sticks out the most to me is Mandy Patinkin (star of Homeland in recent times,) as Inigo Montoya, a brilliant swordsman turned vigilante.
This role brought Patinkin into his own, being as proficient at swordsmanship and athletic choreography as he was a dedicated stage performer. This as well as his sheer joy in performing these feats, including the fantastic sword fight with Cary Elwes, brings a vigour to the film’s action scenes which gives them a unique quality and his character a unique appeal.
Patinkin fought with such determination that Christopher Guest actually felt he was going to be seriously injured, if not killed.
The vulnerability of his performance though makes it even more valuable, and indeed memorable. Inigo Montoya is a character set on revenge, seeking out the man who killed his father. Mandy Patinkin himself had lost his father to cancer before the movie’s production and said that Inigo’s desire to kill what had killed his father was also his driving motivation. In the scene where Inigo finally finds the man who has killed his father Patinkin fought with such determination that Christopher Guest (Count Tyrone) actually felt he was going to be seriously injured if not killed. Moments like this coupled with the warmth of Inigo and Fezzik’s (Andre the Giant) friendship combine to create what was a standout performance for me. One which deserves the cult fan base it has now.
Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy– Oliver Rowe
Gary Oldman has a filmography that is practically as diverse as cinema itself, and yet one of his greatest roles came at an early stage in his career. Remaining a truly flawless performance, Oldman plays the infamous bassist of punk rock group the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, to perfection in Sid and Nancy.
We meet him, of course, at one of the most turbulent times of his life. A lot of it has to do with the overall quality of the film and his chemistry with Chloe Webb, but Oldman himself by far deserves the most praise. Drug-infused, sweary, violent, pitiful, tragic, heartbreaking, romantic, revolutionary – Gary Oldman’s Sid Vicious is all of these things, often in the same breath. This is the strength of the performance.
It would be all too easy to portray Vicious as an angry stereotype, but Oldman really makes the audience care about this character – he’s humanised, and through this we can empathise with both him and the punk movement (a major theme of the film too). Isn’t that what great acting is all about? Making you care and sympathise about someone – or at the very least empathise and understand their actions, even if you don’t agree with them? Gary Oldman does this to dazzling success in Sid and Nancy.
Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Der Untergang- Arran Byers
Der Untergang, translated as Downfall in English, was released in 2004 to critical acclaim from film critics, world cinema lovers and interestingly, historians. Traditionally historical films tend to annoy historians when they embellish facts to sell tickets but admirably this film did not even consider doing that…
Bruno Ganz, working from an incredibly mastered script written by Bernd Eichinger, taken mostly from historical accounts and memoirs of those in the Fürherbunker in the final stages of WWII, brings to life a man many have tried to understand and never truly grasped due to his immense complexity.
Ian Kershaw, a revered Nazi Germany historian, said this depiction of Hitler was the only one to ever “move him”.
Ganz took 4 months to perfect his reading of the script, watching repeatedly a rare piece of footage featuring Hitler in a normal conversation. This was to capture his conversational tone and mannerisms in a way no depiction of Hitler on the screen had done before. Ian Kershaw, a revered Nazi Germany historian, said this depiction of Hitler was the only one to ever “move him”, as Ganz brings to life one of history’s most horrifying figures; not in a caricatured, movie villain way… but in a scarily down to earth, human manner. In a poll on watchmojo.com Ganz’s performance was voted the greatest depiction of a historic character and it is clear why when you look at his commitment to the role and how haunting its accuracy is.
Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost– Amelia Conway
Whoopi Goldberg undeniably supplies the grittiness in the film Ghost (1990) as the character of Oda Mae Brown, a con-artist masquerading as a spiritualist. Alongside the poignant performances of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, Goldberg is the dash of realism stirred into the fantastical nature of the film.
Upon first encounter, Sam (Swayze) and Oda Mae appear unlikely allies, it quickly becomes evident that Goldberg’s character is the only person who can help the protagonist resolve his unfinished business in the living world. The vivacity of Oda Mae is key to catching the attention of Sam’s endangered lover Molly (Demi Moore). Goldberg’s most impressive scenes are those in which she serves as a channel of communication between the separated couple, desperately attempting to convey Sam’s warning to Molly of the perilous situation she is in, whilst trying to convince her that she is not the fake that everybody assumes her to be.
Goldberg’s character feeds off the dependence that the protagonist’s ghost has invested in her, igniting an awareness of her deeper purpose. She continually appears astounded at the discovery of her own supernatural powers, her stubbornness and witty comebacks remind the audience that she is most certainly aware of the absurd nature of her predicament. The character’s deep compassion and emotional investment is displayed through the offering of her body to Sam, an act which allows the dead man and his living lover to share the beauty and impossibility of a final embrace. This performance remains impressed upon the memory and reveals that Oda Mae Brown is, ultimately, the heroine of the story.
Daniel Day Lewis as ‘Bill the Butcher’ in Gangs of New York– Jeremie Sabourin
When it comes to Daniel Day-Lewis, there’s no shortage of excellent performances. He has won three Academy Awards for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, and Lincoln. In fact, he’s the only male actor to have won three Oscars in that category. He’s truly a transcendent talent in the world of cinema and there may well be no be better example of his talents than his role as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Gangs of New York.
Even as the villain, you still adore him…
As the antagonist in Martin Scorsese’s Civil War-era drama, Day-Lewis commands the viewers’ attention in every scene he’s in. The audience is meant to sympathise with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Amsterdam Vallon, but it’s Bill “The Butcher” that demands your respect. Every line of dialogue, every movement, and every facial expression is executed with purpose and effect. Bill “The Butcher” isn’t just a character in a movie- he simply feels real.
The best part about Day-Lewis in the role is that, even as the villain, you still adore him. During the final showdown between Amsterdam and Bill, it feels like a truly painful moment, rather than one in which the viewer pines for the villain’s demise. That’s a telling sign of one of the greatest performances to ever be put onto film.
Vivian Leigh as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire– Anna Whealing
A Streetcar Named Desire is the film most associated with the beginning of Marlon Brando’s rise to Hollywood stardom. And yes, he made a pretty fantastic performance, but he didn’t win an Oscar and he couldn’t outshine the brilliance of Vivian Leigh in the role of Blanche Dubois.
Blanche Dubois has become an iconic character in film history partly due to Williams’ writing but also due to Leigh’s incarnation.
Brando’s character, Stanley Kowalski, is created not as the main focus of the film, but as the antagonist to Blanche Dubois. In this great clashing of two characters Tennessee Williams pits working class against aristocracy, masculinity against femininity, reality against fantasy and, I suppose, love-sick insanity against love-starved insanity…
Blanch Dubois is surrounded in mystery, suspicion and late 1940’s womanly wiles; she is at the same time powerful and pathetic. And the audience is at the same time infuriated and admiring of this woman who seems both in command of her own destiny and yet somehow totally dependent on men. Vivian Leigh balances these conflicting qualities so perfectly, turning from blithe wittering to intense sentiment as naturally as if the change of feeling was her own.
The success of her performance is, of course, helped by the success of the writing. The film A Streetcar Named Desire was adapted from the play of that name, but in adapting his play for the screen Williams changed very little. The camera allows for close-up shots and heightens the tension between Stanley and Blanche especially, but the characterisation is unaltered. Blanche Dubois has become an iconic character in film history partly due to Williams’ writing but also due to Leigh’s incarnation. Blanche Dubois can never be played again without, at the very least, a gracious nod towards Vivian Leigh as the actress who embodies this character.
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