The top 10 movie performances of all time...for this week

Mar 22, 2006

The Bottom Line These lists are always so ethereal and tentative...but read mine anyway

In another of those it's-a-slow-news-month puff pieces, the April 2006 issue of Premiere magazine heralds their declaration of "The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time."

Even if you begin with the premise that such things are subjective, you have to wonder about the wisdom of a "great performance" list that includes Steve Martin in The Jerk and raves about chameleon-like Johnny Depp's turn in...Pirates of the Caribbean??

Available space permits me a rebuttal for only the top 10, which I thought long and hard about -- this morning, at least. Which is just the point, of course -- even if you research such an ethereal topic thoroughly, you'll probably have a different opinion next week.

That said, here are my choices for indelible movie roles. When they coincide with Premiere's choices, I've listed Premiere's ranking beside mine.

10. Groucho Marx, Duck Soup. Forgive this indulgence, but if you're going to name a low-comedy great, best that it be one that has made its mark upon the ages. As passive-aggressive dictator Rufus T. Firefly, Groucho provided a seeming role model for every politician who was two-faced and dared someone to call him on it.

9. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote. Hoffman dug past the familiar high-pitched, talk-show persona of writer Truman Capote and showed the ruthlessness Capote wielded like a knife to obtain his high reputation. They might as well have issued Hoffman's Oscar to him on the day of Capote's release. (# 35)

8. David Prowse (body) and James Earl Jones (voice), Star Wars. It's not every popcorn movie that pulls an iconic villain out of its hat. Nowadays, it takes only a deep breath and a beetle-like shell to invoke the guy's memory. And when he turned out to be the hero's father in the sequel, audiences around the world gasped.

7. Jodie Foster, The Accused, Little Man Tate, and Contact. I can't choose just one movie because they're all facets of the same person: a woman whose vulnerability and toughness are both so naked, you don't know whether to grab her to hold her back or to embrace her. (The Accused," # 56)

6. Victoire Thivisol, Ponette. The titular girl of this French film rode has lost her mother and has no wherewithal (or any help from adults) to come to terms with it. And Thivisol plays her just that way, with no affectation to be found. Hold your child close while watching this.

5. Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. As mental-asylum patient R.P. McMurphy, Nicholson plays his full-tilt-bozo routine -- which often later devolved into self-parody -- as a weapon against hypocritical repression. A perfect statement for the 1970's. (# 47)

4. Albert Brooks, Lost in America. As a newly-fired ad exec who sees no irony in wanting to "touch Indians" from the wheel of a 40-foot Winnebago, Brooks is American indulgence incarnate. This masterful comic performance has been overlooked since the movie was first released, and I will continue to campaign for it until the day I die.

3. Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver. As loner taxi-driver Travis Bickle, DeNiro illustrated all too well the price our society pays for ignoring the outsiders who can't quite find their niche in life. (# 42)

2. The male leads of The Godfather. Sure, I'm cheating. But is anyone of the ensemble of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, John Cazale, and Robert Duvall really better than the other? And do you have the nerve to deliver that news to a Corleone? (Al Pacino, # 20)

1. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane. This landmark movie illuminated the many sides of Hearst-like mogul Charles Foster Kane, but let's not forget that all of those sides were played by the same 25-year-old man. By showing everyone what he was like, Kane really showed himself to nobody -- which is why Welles' characterization remains enigmatic and fascinating 65 years in.

Read all comments (1)

About the Author ID:
Member: Steven Bailey
Location: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Reviews written: 689
Trusted by: 86 members
About Me: I'm # 55, but I try harder.