For a few months now I’ve wanted to post my Top Ten Performance lists. Performances and actors are obviously two very different entities and so coming up with a final list for performances is very hard to do. Some of my favorite actors are bound to be left off of one list or another, and so I try to limit myself to ONE performance per actor or actress so as to spread the wealth and prohibit Marlon Brando from taking up the majority of the list. Still, it’s somewhat of a shame since some of my favorite actors fail to land on my Top Ten performance list. Most notable is Paul Newman, who would probably rank in the #1 or #2 spot for me as my favorite actor ever (certainly the most consistent) and yet he just misses (and I mean by an inch) this performance list for his magnificent turn in ‘Hud’. Well start with the Lead Actor list (the rest to follow), where Marcelo Mastroianni was also very close for ‘La Dolce Vita’, and my recent rewatch of ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ was kind to Tony Curtis. Heath Ledger was also considered for his towering achievement in ‘Brokeback Mountain’, but at the end of the day I could only chose ten…
And here they are:
When one thinks of the classic film ‘Citizen Kane’, one often focuses on the visual embellishments, the rich story development and Welles’ tragic Oscar loss in the Best Director category, but one often forgets that it is his magnificent performance that really anchors the film. Taking on a mysterious figure that is fleshed out through the viewpoints of others and yet left entirely to his own devices to completely ‘create’ this man, Welles’ turns out a multi-faceted performances that completely overtakes the picture. Capturing every layer of this man’s personality and shading him ever so lightly in order to make his personality shifts all the more believable, Welles completely OWNED this movie and should have taken home Oscar’s for every category he was eligible.
Largely considered one of the greatest snubs in the history of Oscar, the fact that Anthony Perkins wasn’t even listed in their top five is a monumental shame. The depth he brought to such a shaded and disturbing character is fascinating to behold. It’s really all the little things that do it; the way he allows the angst and pent up frustration to escape his lips in such tempered and controlled ways helps build this character before he’s fully explained to us. He completely gives himself over to the man he’s portraying and creates such an undeniably tortured soul with the ability to completely terrify us with a single glance.
‘Less is more’ is one of those universal truths that many actors forget about when they have the opportunity to ‘go big or go home’ and yet Anthony Hopkins understands fully how to use subtly to his benefit, and ours. With incredibly soft focus, Hopkins internalizes so much in order to give us two men trapped by their profession and their loyalty to their craft. As his character struggles with his passions and desires, Hopkins shades each movement with an internalized pain that only surfaces in blips to allow us to see how deeply effected he is by what he refused to allow to affect him. Hopkins delivers such a beautifully layered and moving performance that was, sadly, beaten out at the Oscars by a clichéd and embarrassing one.
Brando was bound to land on this list somewhere and for something. I honestly struggled to pick just one. Tomorrow I may wish to swap this out for his stunning tour-de-force in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ or his more internalized work in ‘On the Waterfront’, but for now I’m going with this tremendous exercise in emotional cutting. As the wounded widower, Brando filters through his character’s sexual frustrations and need for dominance in such a fearless way, attacking each avenue of his character’s wounded psyche with determination and aggressiveness. Some may consider this film mere smut, but digging deeper uncovers a much richer and progressive look at grief and the tragic effect it has on those left in the wake of it.
One of those comedic gems, ‘Some Like it Hot’ is a film I could watch over and over again (resting rather comfortably in my Top Ten Films of All Time) and a lot of that is thanks to the magnificent performances by the entire cast. But it is Jack Lemmon who completely anchors the film and gets the largest amount of praise, and rightfully so. His complete abandon of restraint leads to one of the most delightful and rewarding comedic performances of all time; a layered and intelligent riff on the classic cross-dressing gag that pays off in a richly characterized portrayal of a man at the end of his rope, disguising it all with a little ‘fun’.
There is a crushing intensity that Wilkinson brings to this performance that literally leaves me speechless every time. He’s haunting, in that very realistic way, to the point where I was reduced to tears several times by the mere look across his face. The moment where he enters his son’s room, tears falling from his face, is one of the greatest moments of acting I’ve ever witnessed. Like Hopkins, Wilkinson knows how to internalize so much, rationalizing his situation and trying desperately to see it for what it is, only to have it completely unravel before his eyes to the point where he is doing things he never imagined, only to have the emotional consequences of those actions eat away at his soul. His eyes! They ruin me. His Oscar loss devastates me, especially since he lost to the complete opposite (Washington was very good, but flashy is far easier to convey than the subtlety Wilkinson brings to this performance).
Gunnar Bjornstrand is simply flawless, captivating the audience by creating a very human portrait. It has been stated that Bjornstrand in particular loathed the character of Tomas, but I feel that it was in that loathing that this tremendous tour-de-force was born. You can see the struggle on his face to accept who he is, and that struggle is not forced but a very real interpretation. Perhaps it is the depiction of Gunnar's own struggle with accepting this character, but the turmoil that is present is beyond words. Watching his facial expressions give way to the weaknesses in his soul is absolutely stunning to witness and certainly proves a richly rewarding experience. These themes, especially from a religious standpoint, are often hard to embrace and examine without showing bias and yet Bjornstrand manages to convey such conviction without once overstepping his boundaries.
What is so brilliant about this performance, so memorable, is that when you walk away from viewing this film you're forced to find those pieces of Travis Bickle in yourself. I've always said this about this performance in particular because I think it's such an alarmingly scary realization, but when you watch De Niro on screen and really analyze his actions you begin to reason and rationalize with him. It takes a special kind of actor to elicit sympathy from a man like Travis Bickle, and it's only been done a handful of times. I'm not saying that we condone his actions, but I am saying that we begin to understand where he's coming from even if he's not going about things appropriately, and for that De Niro deserves a tremendous amount of praise.
Knocking Crowe out of the #1 spot was very difficult for me. As Hando he is savage and ruthless, donning a cold and often unsettling exterior that breathes a life of superiority. You recognize his power; you understand he owns you and you are ready to devote yourself to him. There is a scene where he is explaining to Gabe, a young runaway who joins his clan, Hitler's words in Mein Kampf, and it's in that scene that you see who this man really is; how sick and demented and unholy his soul is. Crowe gives such a rich and powerful portrayal of a man convinced his own imperfections are godlike.
Dethroning Crowe from the top spot required a lot from Salvatori, but he certainly deserved this. Simone is such a tragic character, and one that required a lot of shading and emotional complexity, and Renato delivers in spades here, finding ways to engulf every facet of this character with the right amount of emotional passion and characterization. The downward spiral is so beautifully fleshed out without ever taking completely over the other aspects of this man. We see his arrogance, his suave persona, his lovelorn countenance, his brutal aggressiveness, his vindictiveness, his heartbreak, his childishness, his stunted maturity, his passion in everything he does. Bottom line; Salvatori gives us EVERYTHING, and for that he deserves this spot, hands down.
So that's all for now. I'm thinking of making this a Tuesday thing, so Lead Actress to follow next week and we'll get into the Supporting categories after that. I'm splitting them all out to include more performances and actors. I need to revamp my 'Top Ten Films of All Time' list as well, so that update should be coming soon as well.