So, in completing my Fisti Awards for 1988 (to be posted later this week, hopefully), I discovered something about the year in question; it is probably the single greatest year for comedy I’ve watched through so far. I mean, the riches in this genre our boundless, and when trying to formulate my acting categories, I found that I actually considered TWENTY-TWO comedic performances for my ballots. I nominate SEVEN of them, which is a pretty big number when you consider that most acting ballots, even here at the Fisti’s usually focus on dramatic works.
And so we’re clear, I don’t really consider Bruce Willis’s work in ‘Die Hard’ as comedic, even though he laces everything with humor, so if you do then you can say that I nominate EIGHT comedic performances, since he’s on my Best Actor ballot (oops, I spoiled the surprise).
So, I decided for my Tuesday Top Ten this week that I would do my top ten comedic performances of 1988. Now, as I said, I actually considered 22 performances for actual awards this year, but I’m only listing my top ten, so 12 of those wonderful performances are getting the boot.
I want to give a special shout out to Julieta Serrano and Robert Loggia who just missed my top ten for their stupendous supporting work in their films (‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ and ‘Big’ respectively). Such different yet truly remarkable work. I’ll never forget the day I fell in love with Robert Loggia; which was the day he danced on that piano alongside Tom Hanks!
But now, for my top ten!
As a point of interest, all seven of my nominated performances land on this list, but they are not the exact top seven. This list knows no specific category, which is why a non-nominated performance can rank higher than one that actually gets nominated in a less competitive field.
This is Keaton’s iconic gift to cinema, and really one of the ONLY moments where I feel like he does a standup job at anything (not a fan) but one cannot ignore the ballsy take on broad comedy and complete caricature creation that is Beetlejuice! He nails this, which is probably why he went back to slight variations of this character in some of his other work (it doesn’t work without the context buddy). He’s gross, but in a completely digestible way, and he makes this a true gem of a star turn.
I’ve always said that Tom Hanks is first and foremost a comedian, then a dramatic actor. I personally don’t think he sells drama all that well, but when he’s in his wheelhouse he shines. This was one of the first tastes of how great his star would shine (thus the Oscar nom) and the way he balances out boyhood curiosity, straight up naivety and complete awkward adulthood is pretty amazing. It’s a very subtle and soft performance that is laced with expert depth and understanding.
Mercedes Ruehl/Married to the Mob
Broad comedic timing can be wasted on characters that overstay their welcome, but Ruehl (who proved her dramatic chops in her Oscar winning performance in 1991) flitters into this film only a few times to deliver such hilariously sporadic comedic rants, raves, outbursts and hysterics that one only wishes there were more of her, and then again we’re really glad she’s only in the film briefly so that we can appreciate and love her without growing tired.
Michael Caine/Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
His subtle slice of comedic underlining may take a backseat to his co-stars more abrasive approach, but there is no denying that Michael Caine knows how to make that backseat shine. He uses his British wit and charm to magnificent lengths, casting a line and drawing us in. He finds so many delicate nuances, making his spar with the loud and abrasive Martin feel well balanced and beautifully fleshed out.
Michelle Pfeiffer/Married to the Mob
That accent is TO DIE FOR, straight up amazingness rolled into the perfect package of hot, sassy blonde trapped in hysteria, paranoia and pure annoyance. Pfeiffer is on FIRE in this film and completely makes the stupidity and mere mundane quality of the film sizzle. She finds so many details in her work, making her character feel complete, fun and special.
Susan Sarandon/Bull Durham
This may be cheating, sort of, since this performance relies just as much on comedy as it does on drama, but it is the comedic under (or over) tones that make this performance so special. Sarandon is one of my favorite actresses, and it is her ability to charm the pants off of the audience with biting realism laced with slight humor that makes her so special to me. She sells every ounce of this performance; form her romantic sensibility, her dramatic flares and, yes, that biting loose sense of comedy.
Sigourney Weaver/Working Girl
Call her a total cartoon, but man is that cartoon hilarious. I love it when an actor or actress can take a caricature and make them work gloriously. Some characters are SUPPOSED to be caricatures, and it is up to the actor in question to sell it. The broad sexual humor, the delicious biting sarcasm, the pitch perfect line delivery; all of it works brilliantly. This is the performance above all others that makes me sad Weaver does not have an Oscar.
Kevin Kline/A Fish Called Wanda
One of the best Oscar wins in the history of the award, and certainly one of those star making performances that lives on, Kline’s remarkably astute work in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ is one for the ages. He bites off so much and delivers a memorable comedic slice of villainy that never feels like a villain but more a shade of what that villain could be. He makes so many deliberate choices that give such life and wit and surprising charm to this sexpot turned burglar.
Steve Martin/Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Steve Martin shines so brightly in this hilarious romp. I absolutely love this film (one of my favorite comedies) and it is largely because of Martin’s broad humor and his impeccable physical comedy. He just radiates, using every ounce of his comedic range to sell a cast of characters who are all ridiculous and yet all believable thanks to his command of the screen.
One of my favorite comedic performances of all time, and certainly one of the best of the 80’s, ‘Scrooged’ was the PERFECT outlet for Bill Murray’s classic comedic delivery. His dry sarcasm and pompous arrogance is captured to delicious detail. He chews up the scenery and makes this film, which is rather formulaic and somewhat stupid, work so well. You can see the shift in his persona and he sells every biting remark with a stab of sass that only Murray can provide.