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2008-06-10 05:28
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Last Friday I went to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I didn't expect much even though I like Jason Segel. The thought of another comedy about a self-loathing/pitying sensitive meathead turned me off, and I thought the trailers were shaky. But Segel is ideally suited for the role, he was shrewd enough not to over-play it (his woe-is-me rendition of "The Muppet Show" had me in stiches) and I enjoyed the movie a good deal. Russell Brand and Kristen Bell were both winning and Mila Kunis was fine as the down-to-earth wild child. But there was something missing in Kunis' performance. Like I said, she was fine, but not inspired.

The part was limiting--it was more of a fantasy than a real-life character--but she didn't add anything to it. If anything, it showed her limitations as an actress--she's all big eyes and pursed lips, like a young girl, not woman. Which is a shame because there was an opportunity for something more. At first her character seems innocent, later it turns out that she's had a volatile past. But the movie doesn't turn--like it did when Ray Liotta showed up in Something Wild and the movie really became threatening, wild. Which is also fine.

But it got me to thinking about actors who go beyond the limitations of the script, who bring more to the table. I'm thinking of Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy or Officer and a Gentleman. Maybe there should be a VORS (Value Above Replacement Script) award. For me, no actor has consistently been better than his material than Gene Hackman. Some great actors can be miscast, but that never seems to be the case with Hackman. But he's been in some lousy movies. Still, he is always credible, authentic, and has the ability to make magic out of bad material. Not every great actor can do that.

Who are some others? Spencer Tracy. Who else?

Comments
2008-06-10 06:37:22
1.   Felix Heredia
Lance Henriksen. He's always credible - even in some truly horrible movies.
2008-06-10 06:43:38
2.   rsmith51
I think that Chris Cooper always seems to be very good.
2008-06-10 06:46:32
3.   Sliced Bread
Good call on Hackman. Jerry Orbach was another guy who could sell just about anything without overdoing it.
2008-06-10 06:57:15
4.   yogifan
John Turturro and William Hurt come to mind.
2008-06-10 06:57:50
5.   Mr OK Jazz TOKYO
Great call on Hackman! always one of my favorites and always brings it. Cate Blanchett is heading that way, William Hurt another one, also Alfre Woodward.
2008-06-10 07:11:09
6.   JasonO
Jean Reno.
Gary Oldman.
Dennis Farina.
2008-06-10 07:12:21
7.   Chyll Will
If you say Spencer Tracy, you also have to say Henry Fonda and even Joseph Cotten to a lesser extent. Agnes Moorehead... how about Jack Lemmon? I love Hackman, he's the guide for all character actors who want top become big stars.
2008-06-10 07:19:09
8.   dianagramr
Christopher Walken
Alan Rickman
2008-06-10 08:30:10
9.   Bagel Boy
I'll get crap, but I've recently come to see Dicaprio in this way. Blood Diamond was a movie I was loathe to see, but he made it. The Departed itself was okay, but he made that movie even as it would have gotten similar box office/reviews with Mark Wahlberg in the part.

DiCaprio has gotten some critical recognition through the years, but I think it's still a few years before he's truly recognized.

Great call on Hackman.

2008-06-10 08:36:21
10.   OldYanksFan
I've always like Brian Dennehy. I'm still pissed he wasn't McMurphy in Cuckoo's Nest. Charming, funny, potential violent, and always one step from the ledge.

Michael Keaton is great. A great comic and a great psycho.

2008-06-10 08:49:58
11.   Schteeve
Ray Liotta's performance in Something Wild is one of my favorite acting jobs ever. I LOVE that movie.
2008-06-10 08:53:20
12.   Schteeve
Great call on Keaton. If you've never seen the movie The Paper, you are missing out on some great acting and writing.

Also, and this will be potentially controversial, Angelina Jolie had a shot at being a really compelling actress. She did a film early in her career called Playing By Heart, and Altman-esque ensemble thing, and she was wonderful in it. Unfortunately she bacame larger than life, and it's hard to watch her act without just seeing Angelina Jolie. Also, she's in a lot of dopey or half baked movies. But Playing By Heart is a superbly written movie.

2008-06-10 09:21:35
13.   Chyll Will
9 I won't give you crap. I listened in on a conversation among industry folk and he gets a lot of respect for his effort to build the characters he portrays. I didn't list him, just as I didn't list Johnny Depp because I figured this was a question about below-the-title character actors, though as I alluded Hackman is an exception.

Good call on Dennehy as well. I heard about his performance in Death Of A Salesman; people were really impressed about how small and deconstructed a big man like him made himself as Willy Lohman. Would have been interesting to see as an acting student.

I wish to add Jeffrey Wright to the list, please...

2008-06-10 09:25:35
14.   Chyll Will
Hal Holbrook... Bruce Dern?
2008-06-10 09:39:22
15.   Matt B
Richard Boone. Quietly walks off with every scene he's in.
2008-06-10 10:03:32
16.   Bagel Boy
13 Thanks. It's true about the top-billing, and I thought about Depp as well. But Dicaprio, for me, is really in his own league at this point. Blood Diamond was a perfect example of that. He made it watchable. And I guess that's the difference. Some actors may guarantee returns for for their investors. But he does that while improving the art. Hard to beat that combination (Depp comes closest - any one else of this generation?).

Departed is also a fine example. In a movie of heavyweights, he stole the show. By contrast, Nicholson was hamming his way through the part. And Damon showed no real affect. It would have been a ridiculous movie without Dicaprio grounding it (even as I suspect the box office and critics wouldn't have noticed).

Off-topic (and spoiler alert): What a horrible movie the new Indiana Jones is. Butchers the character (Col. Jones? WTF?). Awful script. Terrible direction (might be Spielberg's worst). Ridiculous conclusion. I can't believe so many critics gave it good marks. My wife and I just recently watched the National Treasure two-parter and at least that manages to get the genre right. I mean, is it really that hard?

2008-06-10 10:55:58
17.   Chyll Will
16 You expect too much of the popcorn crowd, my friend >;) And I hated The Departed; rote Scorcese and a waste of so much talent. I think even Marty was a little embarrassed for winning the Oscar on that as opposed to others he could've won with...
2008-06-10 11:51:11
18.   Bagel Boy
17 Probably - but Indiana Jones!? It was the Phantom Menace but with Spielberg directing and Ford starring!? Most annoying to me is the critics were in collective fanboy mode. Probably for Departed too. But at least the latter was watchable (because of Dicaprio IMHO).
2008-06-10 12:11:36
19.   AbbyNormal821
Daniel Day Lewis - I don't know, I'm just mesmerized when I watch him act.
2008-06-10 13:12:40
20.   Nick from Washington Heights
Tom Wilkinson, especially of late. He stole the show in two recent HBO features, which I generally was unimpressed by: John Adams and Recount. He's the best part of both, and he's always good, no matter the role.

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