I’ve always liked lists of great villains, great heroes, great comedic performances, and the like, but I can never quite put my favourites in a coherent enough order to make such lists myself. So I’ve decided to start my own lists of my favourite show stealing performances in movies. These lists will not only feature supporting roles – some of them do feature some of the main characters who managed to leave an impression on me or entertain me a great deal to the point where I found myself invested in the character (even if the film was crap). These will not be limited to live-action performances – depending on the film, some of the performances may be spread out through animation, both traditional and computer animated. These are not “greatest performances of all time” lists. I have alot of admiration for many actors, but I find it really hard to rank or even narrow down what I consider to be the “best of all time”. I am here to pay tribute to the characters, actors and roles that made the movie they were in memorable. So with that, lets get to the list: F.J.’s favourite show stealing performances!
Tom Waits in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
It is always a treat to see someone from a musical background to give a great acting performance, and Tom Waits is one of those musicians who consistently delivers. He is no stranger to film and has appeared in the films of Jim Jarmusch, Terry Gilliam, Tony Scott and Robert Altman. In Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the classic Bram Stoker novel, Waits gives a great performance as a man gone insane under the mystical influence of a vampire – the character being Thomas Renfield. Waits does not hold back at all. He is unshaven, he eats insects, he changes his voice tone but still keeps the same hint of madness throughout, and he is just bat-shit crazy! He really is very comical and over the top, but it works in the context and overall tone of the film. A very small room in a mental asylum provides the perfect location for a such a character thrive. And man is he creepy. He really is one of the scariest mental patients to ever grace the silver screen. The character’s obsession with life is well captured and Waits does a terrific job displaying a form of instability associated with the character’s fear and loyalty to Count Dracula. I was very impressed by his acting, and he really does stand out in a film with a great ensemble cast (save for Keanu Reaves). Kudos to Tom!
Kevin Smith in Clerks (1994)
Before you roll your eyes, you shouldn’t be surprised that a small performance like this would be mentioned. Kevin Smith’s very low-key performance (he himself admittedly said that he cannot act) stood out for me in Clerks. It works. Smith cast himself in his first film, just in case it would have been in his last film, but he carefully chose a role where not much would be required of him. I know the obvious actor to talk about here is Jason Mewes (as Jay) but I have to give some acknowledgement to Kevin Smith. This character may be minute and unimportant without his loudmouthed, crude counterpart, but to me, his silence and appearance are golden. In the whole movie, Silent Bob gives the troubled character, Dante, one piece of advice, after his crazy sidekick gives him some very useless attempts at guidance. That, to me, is good enough to be a showstealer as far as that film is concerned – Silent Bob basically says the one kernel of truth in the whole movie. Smith plays the character well, probably because he does not have much to do, but it still adds something to the essence of Clerks and sets up the iconography and the mythology that would come to be associated with the View Askewniverse. One important thing that one should note is that Smith is, in reality, a real chatterbox and is the complete opposite to the very isolated and stoned Silent Bob. Jason Mewes does a good job, but Kevin Smith is the better of the two.
Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (1994).
I know, you saw this coming. Can you blame me, though? Jules Winnfield is one of the best characters of Tarantino’s classic throwback to the pulp fiction magazines of the past. I have no idea how this role could have been played by someone other than Samuel L.Jackson. This was his time to prove his worth to Hollywood, and he did it. Jackson takes us on a journey through his character as we get to see Jules’ character change throughout the film. Although a lot of credit has to go to Tarantino’s writing, it is Jackson’s tone and reactions that make his portrayal of the character priceless. From the “let’s get into character” dialogue to the “Ezekiel 25:17” recitation to the religous discussion he has with his partner, Vincent Vega, Jackson displays his range as an actor as he portrays the emotions of the character and gives the audience enough reason to like him as much as we would hate him. I don’t think I can say anymore about the character that has not been talked about before, but I will end by saying that his Oscar nomination for that performance was well deserved.
Greg Dunham in The Lookout (2007).
Who? What? I looked at this guy’s IMDb profile, and was shocked to see that he has not been in many films. The Lookout, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode, is a film about a man who experiences short term memory loss because of a car crash, and who then becomes involved with some criminals who want to rob the bank where he works. Among these thugs is a goon known simply as Bone, played by Greg Dunham. I have to say, after seeing this guy, I am surprised that Goode’s character is the leader of the gang. I really feel like Bone was the true brains behind the operation based on his appearance and mannerisms. The guy barely talks, he sports a badass jacket, and just stares through his cool pair of shades, judging everyone. As obscure a character as he may be, he is just cool. Honestly, this character could have just been some random criminal in the film, but Dunham plays him so well. He creates an air of mystery surrounding the character. He really is one of the gems of the film and I was disappointed the movie ran for only about 100 minutes because I would have gladly watched the guy roll for another 20. This guy is the essence of badassery and I really want to see Dunham get bigger roles in the future, whether he plays a bad guy or not, because I am convinced that he will blow people away no matter who he plays.
Bobby Cannavale in The Station Agent (2003)
I have seen Cannavale in a few other films, but none of them contain a performance as vibrant and as heart-warming as his performance as Joe in The Station Agent. All he wants to do is be friends with everyone who passes his vending truck (where he sells hot dogs). Unfortuanately, it is a hard task when it comes to the title character, Finbar Mcbride, played by Peter Dinklage, a short man who inherits a small house in the Jersey countryside and wants to be left alone. Cannavale shows how fun his character can be, but also knows his limits. The character is so likable that you find yourself more on his side than on the protagonist’s. With Finbar’s mood and mentality, one can understand why he wants to be left alone and to not socialize with someone like Joe. At the same time however, with Joe’s fun personality and extreme zest for life, one cannot help but bash Finbar for his lack of courtesy and respect for Joe. This is definitely an underrated performance just as much as Dinklage’s performance. Bobby Cannavale should definitely get more acclaim for his acting abilities.
Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass (2010)
Niccolas cage is a very interesting actor. He obviously has talent, but does not always do a good job in every film. Each year, there is usually about one film where he turns in a good performance (it’s probably a good idea to ignore 2007). Even in the not-so-great cases, however, he still manages to entertain for laughs at the very least. In his role as Big Daddy in the comic book adaptation known as Kick-Ass, Cage manages to get the audience on his side even though his character is basically insane. Honestly, this is one of his best acting jobs ever. The character of Damon Macready seems to have a happy attitude and a nerdy appearance. When he dons the “Big Daddy” guise, he becomes darker and more serious, and he is out to take revenge on the mobsters who once framed him for a crime he never committed while on the police force. Cage captures both the seriousness and goofiness of the character perfectly. I find his constant use of the word “child” when referring to his daughter Mindy, a.k.a. Hit-Girl, hilarious. Cage also employs a voice that parodies Adam West’s Batman but he manages to make it his own. He even blurts out lines that can be viewed as comical but are also very serious and sentimental. Basically, Cage keeps his character in focus, and because we find the character funny, we feel for him when he is in distress. Overall, Cage nails a great performance in both the comedic and dramatic sense, and we hope he avoids doing more movies like Ghost Rider and more movies like Kick-Ass in the future.
Omar Metwally in Rendition (2007)
Rendition is about the practice of governments to kidnap, interrogate and torture (if necessary) terrorist suspects. Omar Metwally gives a very impressive and mind- blowing performance as a victim of this suspicion, Anwar El-Ibrahimi, except that in his case he is wrongfully accused. The misunderstanding is ignored by American and Egyptian government officials as they continue to torture him for information. While the film itself is not very successful in getting its points across to the audience (in my opinion) and does contain many flaws in its story, the strong point of the film is the performances of the ensemble cast. Metwally himself met with victims of rendition and their families in order to prepare himself for the task of becoming a man who is helpless against a corrupt force. I cannot emphasize the quality of his performance enough. You really become involved in the film because of this actor and you sympathize greatly, especially knowing that he has a family in the United States who is worried sick about him. The torture scenes are very convincing, and the claustrophobic setting of the “dungeon” where Anwar is imprisoned becomes very hard to bear. You cannot stop rooting for this character and hope he gets out of this mess. A possible Oscar snub for Metwally? I think so.
Al Pacino in Dick Tracy (1991)
Seriously, fuck Dick Tracy. Who needs that guy? Warren Beatty’s adaptation of the classic comic strip is visually stunning and atmospheric and is entertaining to a certain degree, but the director does a poor job of putting the proper focus on the title character (whom he portrays himself, but to be fair, he did ask Robert De Niro at one point). This is the film where all the other characters from the original stories get their chance to shine. I mean, there are about twenty five villains in this film and they are all darkly grotesque and very colourful. Among these goons is their leader: mob boss Big Boy Caprice, played by none other than Al Pacino. This film is essentially a cartoon, as seen by the comical performances and by the blandness of the main protagonist. And that’s what Al Pacino succeeds in doing in this film: playing a cartoon character, and playing him well. He really lights up the screen with his performance, as do many of the other eccentric characters you get to see in the film. He can be threatening, though, of course more so in the very old fashioned moustache-twirling villain sense, but he still gives a very funny and entertaining performance at the same time. I actually wanted him to beat Dick Tracy. I’ll even go a step further: I wanted him to kill Dick. Again, who’s gonna miss him? Beatty devoted too much time to the film’s visual aesthetics, supporting characters and the musical interludes that he seemed to be rather apathetic towards the story. This could have been a great film had it been helmed properly, but that aside, Pacino is one of the best actors in the film, and does a great job of capturing a cartoony character. This film is worth a rental at least, and should be fun to watch once, if not only for the visuals and Al Pacino’s fun performance.
Jeffrey Jones in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of this film. I just don’t get it. I am not engaged by the humour and I do not like its pacing. It could have easily been a good 25 minutes shorter. Maybe I will learn to like it and appreciate it better someday. For now, however, I will talk about what I feel is the best thing about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Principal Rooney. While his whole story about trying to catch Bueller faking his illness in order to ditch school is greatly exaggerated, it is still very fun to watch. Jones, an actor of theatre, really knows how to move between subtlety and complete overtness and he turns what is basically a gimmicky, stereotypical villain into a very memorable one. I just love how serious and determined this guy is to get one of his students in trouble. What’s even funnier is that he’s actually right to be doing so. How many principals in the American public school system do you see go out of their way to prove to a student’s parents that their child is skipping school? I can only give you one name: ROONEY. I also love how Jones exaggerates his facial features at times, making him a very evil character, and yet one that you enjoy watching. Even though I do not like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as much as most of the world does, I still recommend it for a viewing. Also, try to forget that Mr. Jones has been arrested as a sex offender and appreciate him for the artist within.
Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Marisa Tomei really is a good actress and knows how to balance being cheeky and insightful. She does a great job as the girlfriend of title character, a lawyer named Vinny (played by Joe Pesci). She assists him with a case where he defends his cousin and his friend from a murder charge for a crime they didn’t commit. As Vinny tries to adjust to the otherworldly town while working through the case, Lisa tries to keep him balanced and occupied so that he does not collapse mentally. She tries to support him and keep him grounded. Tomei gives a very passionate performance as Lisa and has impressive comedic timing. She really is a funny and cute person, and it’s just wonderful to see her behave the way she does with Pesci, who also nails his role. The great thing is, Tomei plays things straight – or rather, straighter than Pesci, anyway. We get to see her happy, angry, loud and really excited throughout, and Tomei avoids becoming one of those cliched stock characters that are just there to show off the movie studio’s star power. This character is well-written and well-explored, and Tomei does her justice. She makes a very memorable character out of something that could have easily been forgotten, and for that she deserves praise.
Coming Soon: F.J.’s Show Stealing Performances, Part 2!