Top 10 best performances that carried the movies
This isn’t a list of best performances in films. There are several films that have performances that make or break the movie. These performances either A) improved the film greatly, or B) made the film a classic. The sort of films which are regarded as classics, but might not be, if not for the performances. If Jaws didn’t have such a great performance from Roy Scheider, would it be as good? I think so. The Shawshank Redemption? Maybe not AS good, although, I am pretty sure it would still be regarded as a classic.
10. Ewan McGregor – The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
The trilogy of prequels, among other things, was deservedly criticised from its atrocious acting from its stars such as Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (who admittedly went on to do some good films). Some actors are not bad though, mainly stars such as Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee. Ewan McGregor stands out as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and makes the film watchable. Without him, this trilogy would be even more terrible.
9. Michelle Pfeiffer – Batman Returns
I vastly prefer Batman Returns to the original, mainly because the tone is a wonderful mix of fun but dark. Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the main reasons for this, thanks to her underrated, slightly campy portrayal of Catwoman. Anne Hathaway was decent, but never came close to her delightfully unhinged yet sympathetic antihero, and the less said about Halle Berry’s version, the better. Pfeiffer is a great actress, with this being one of her standout roles to date. Uma Thurman tried to replicate Pfeiffer’s seductiveness in Batman and Robin, too, though failed miserably. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the movie as much without her.
8. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Let’s face it – The Dark Knight is a brilliant movie. Without Heath Ledger, it would still be a good movie, just not great. Ledger plays the menacing, yet darkly comic Joker, and is still the best portrayal of the iconic villain ever put to screen (sorry Jack Nicholson and Joaquin Phoenix). As Batman’s alter ego, Ledger managed to create a whole new Joker – an intimidating psychopath – while maintaining a slight sense of goofiness and comedy.
7. Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Character-driven dramas are usually a hit-or-miss, solely relying on one or two performances to anchor an entire movie. When I heard McCarthy – a comedic actress – was starring in a drama about an alcoholic writer plagiarising letters – I thought it was a recipe for a disaster. Instead, she managed to go against her type, and portrays a bitter and miserable author into a sad, lonely woman who goes to desperate measures in desperate times. She deserved the Oscar nomination.
6. Nicole Kidman – The Others
The Other is a so-so gothic horror with so-so performances from actors such as Christopher Eccleston. Kidman, however, essentially turns the movie from a forgettable (albeit harmless) ghost story into a chilling and compelling character study. She excels as Grace, an unstable and protective mother on the brink of madness, pushed further towards the edge due to strange happenings in her home. A rare great performance in a horror film.
5. Robert DeNiro – Taxi Driver
If I’m being completely honest, I thought Taxi Driver was very flawed. I still thought it was a good movie, but it definitely wasn’t perfect. DeNiro made the movie good, I’d say, as a miserable taxi driver who gets involved in the issues of a young prostitute (Jodie Foster). He also plans a big political shootout. The ending was anticlimactic, and some scenes struggled with pacing, however, DeNiro was consistently engaging and amazing throughout.
4. Dustin Hoffman – Rain Man
Another character-driven drama, casting a non-autistic actor in an autistic role is a huge gamble. Will they make their portrayal understanding and sympathetic, or will it be a disastrously offensive performance on the lines of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Dustin Hoffman pulls it off. He makes the titular character into a very compelling, sympathetic and realistic character, rather than a stereotype. While it was down to writing too, Hoffman’s performance, in my opinion, is equally responsible.
3. Edward Norton – Primal Fear
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS SECTION
The fact Edward Norton’s debut movie was Primal Fear blows my mind. In my opinion, he hasn’t been able to top one of the most memorable performances I’ve ever seen. Richard Gere (who is great, too) plays a lawyer defending young altar boy (Norton) for a brutal murder. He goes from a stuttering, sympathetic victim to a man with a violent split personality to a criminal mastermind and brilliant liar – all in one movie. He displayed an enormous amount of range for a single actor, pretty much playing 3 different roles in one film – a rare thing someone is able to pull off. Norton managed to do it though. He was also brilliant in films such as Fight Club and American History X, but he never managed to deliver a performance that blew me away like he did in Primal Fear.
2. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino – Heat
Without these two stars, Heat is an above-average crime thriller which is a tad overlong. With the two acting legends, Heat is a brilliant and enthralling crime thriller, that, is still slightly overlong, but manages to be captivating due to the two lead performances from DeNiro and Pacino. Pacino’s a cop, pursuing bank robber (DeNiro). The diner scene just shows how much two actors can change a film for the better.
1. Kathy Bates – Misery
Kathy Bates is what makes Misery so brilliant. A thriller that relies on mainly two actors (for the majority of the film) needs those two actors to be amazing. James Caan is exceptional; Kathy Bates is absolutely phenomenal as the psychotic Annie Wilkes, a mentally disturbed superfan of author Paul Sheldon. Bates portrays Annie as a despicable villain who tortures him for the majority of the film, someone we should root against, someone we should hate. But we don’t. There are moments – subtle moments – throughout the film which humanises her character. The scene that first comes to mind is when Wilkes reveals she’s suicidal. It’s a surprisingly heart-breaking scene that says a lot about Kathy Bates’ acting abilities.