Sunday, August 31, 2008


Speaking of great film performances. (And of a little too much politics here and everywhere lately) a lot of wake-up noise last night, from teenagers in the parking lot not far from the back of this building my apartment is in at 2 and 3AM, etc.

A restless time getting back to sleep. As always (until lately when I’ve spent way too much time thinking about the presidential race) I tried to come up with a new alphabet list to work on to help me fall back to sleep.

I got to thinking about Graham Green’s film acting (see yesterday’s post) and then other film performances that delight me, whether the film is delightful or not.

So here’s an alphabet list of movies I re-watch often just to enjoy the performances because they delight me so much (which means I left off some films like ON THE WATERFRONT, which is on my all time top three favorite flicks list as well as on my list of great movies and great performances, but I can’t say the performances in it “delight” me when I watch it—impress me, move me, amaze me, yeah, but too heavy to find “delightful” in the sense I mean here):

AFRICAN QUEEN (Bogie and Katherine Hepburn, great acting chemistry, comic and poignant)
BIG SLEEP, THE (Bogie and Bacall of course, but also Martha Vickers as the messed up little sister, whose performance is definitely worth the admission to this classic film noir)
CASABLANCA (Bogie, the young Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains at their best)
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (Don Cheadle as “Mouse”—one of the great star making roles in film history—and Denzel at his charismatic movie-star best)
EASY RIDER (I still think the movie’s mostly a mess, but Jack Nicholson’s star-making breakout performance is still a delight to watch)
FARGO (so many great breakout performances in this, Steve Buscemi for instance does his usual great job, but Frances McDormand and William H. Macey were, and still are, the revelations)
GODFATHER, THE, I & II (Brando at his greatest, as well as Pacino, Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Robert DiNiro, Bruno Kirby, et. al.)
HOLIDAY (maybe the most delightful performances Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn ever gave, even lighter than THE PHILADELPHIA STORY)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (maybe Jimmy Stewart’s greatest film role, and so delightful to watch I can still see it anytime, even after hundreds of viewings over the years, and the rest of the cast is mostly fun to watch too, especially Donna Reed and Gloria Grahame, in one of her most delightful roles as the young vixen —“what? This old thing” as she swirls her new dress around her legs, or at least as I remember it)
JUNO (Ellen Page, and everyone else, but especially Ellen Page)
KING CREOLE (Elvis’s most realistic and best film performance as far as I’m concerned, and a delight to watch as he tries to control his natural charisma and really “act” and ends up being a lot of fun to watch)
LAST PICTURE SHOW, THE (a little heavy, but with time it’s become for me more about the performances, so many breakout star-making ones, including Cybil Shepperd’s a much underrated actress in my opinion, but also Jeff Bridges’s first real star-making role and a delight to watch, especially knowing he will become one of film’s all time greatest actors, I still wonder when AFI or the Oscars or some film institution is going to give him the tribute he deserves for a lifetime of amazing, and often amazingly subtle, film performances)
MALTESE FALCON, THE (Bogie and Mary Astor in particular, but the scenes with Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet can’t be beat either)
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (great performances by everyone, but especially John Heder’s breakout star making triumph, and John Greis as the uncle without a clue)
OUT OF THE PAST (Mitchum’s best in my opinion, and early Kirk Douglas as a wealthy bad guy is compelling too, but Jane Greer steals the show as the baddest bad girl ever on film as far as I’m concerned)
PHILADELPHIA STORY, THE (romantic-comedy film performances don’t get any better than Hepburn, Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey—and Virginia Weidler as the little sister—in this classic) (and can’t leave out Johnny Depp’s so delightful performances in all the series but especially the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN)
QUIET MAN, THE (I know I put this on a lot of lists, but deservedly so I think, one of the top performances by John Wayne, as well as Victor McLaughlin and Maureen O’Hara, as well as an amazing cast that includes the repertoire acting company of Dublin’s Abbey theater at the time, in mostly minor roles)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (everyone, especially Harrison Ford of course, but mostly Karen Allen as Marion Ravenhood, who pretty near steals the movie for me—the latest sequel too)
SOME LIKE IT HOT (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in maybe all three’s best, or at least most delightful, performances)
THAT THING YOU DO! (everyone in this Tom Hank’s production is terrific, but Liv Tyler’s performance is so beautifully nuanced it kills me every time I see it, I mean knocks me out with delightful appreciation of the acting job she pulls off that to my mind holds the film together and makes it worth re-watching)
USUAL SUSPECTS, THE (no matter if you are one of those who gets the story and digs it, or one who finds fault with it, the performances were all some of the most fun-to-watch film acting ever, but Benicio Torro’s breakout star-making performance topped them all and is still a delight to watch again)
VERDICT, THE (maybe Paul Newman’s best, certainly one of the most subtle and sustained, and the whole point of the film, it seems to me, is to just give Newman the venue to achieve that)
WHITE HEAT (maybe Cagney’s heaviest performance, but so Hollywood contrived in many ways that I can take delight in how over-the-top it is and yet he still makes it work perfectly in the context, a masterful film acting lesson about working with what you are given) [and as I added in a comment, possibly the most delightful performance in the last few years, for me, was William H. Macey as "Dudley" in WILD HOGS, unbelievably funny performance, backed up by the much under-used Marisa Tomei, whose performance in MY COUSIN VINNY is another most delightful one]
X-MEN (not that re-watchable actually for me, but there’s a lot of fun performances, especially Ian McKellan’s, who is always a delight to watch act in anything)
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (Cagney’s lightest performance, and as such, a total delight, at least for me)
ZOOLANDER (another movie I don’t want to re-watch that much, but every time I stumble on it while channel surfing, it draws me in with the performances, including the star cameos, but mostly Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s, who may be better in other films, but rarely have been funnier in that contemporary dumbed down way that I often find too dumbed down but in this one is mostly, for me, just pretty silly in an almost old fashioned kind of way—ala Danny Kaye and Red Skleton and other physical and silly comics of early Hollywood)


douglang said...

Michael, a very enjoyable list, especially for the ways in which your preferences and mine coincide and differ (I don't like the term "taste"). I loved Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects, and also loved the greatly under-appreciated Stephen Baldwin's work in that film.

Lally said...

Yeah, everyone was great in that flick, including Stephen, who first impressed me as one of the j.d.s in the film version of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN. Another incredibly delightful performance I forgot to mention (and will add to the list because it's so good) was William H. Macey's in WILD HOGS. Every line or action he has in that flick makes me laugh out loud.

Anonymous said...

I caught "The Rainmaker" on TCM Saturday night, and what a strange and enjoyable film. K. Hepburn as the farm daughter who can't get married, Lloyd Bridges as the protective, anal older brother, and Burt Lancaster as Starbuck, the rainmaker who's life is a dream that he encourages others to share (for a buck). It's written and choreographed like a musical without music, and over the top in a delightful way. Not on anyone's greatest list, but worth a look. And as usual, you can't take your eyes off Burt Lancaster. He moves like the acrobat/hoofer he was. And that grin. Couldn't help but think of "The Swimmer," when he'd aged but his body hadn't. And of course "Atlantic City."

Anonymous said...

One shouldn't overlook or underestimate Burt Lancaster's roles in two film at the opposite ends of his career: a convict in a jailbreak scheme in "Brute Force," and the old doctor, Archie, in "Field Of Dreams."
Bob Berner

Lally said...

Yeah Toby, Lancaster in THE RAINMAKER was terrific to watch. That performance always reminded me of his role in ELMER GANTRY. I learned a lot of early moves from watching him in those two flicks when I was young. He is always a gas to watch on screen, including as you say Bob in BRUTE FORCE and FIELD OF DREAMS and as Toby said ATLANTIC CITY.
I also just caught A FAMILY THING on one of the cable networks, another bunch of delightful performances, of course from the always terrific James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall, but Irma P. Hall as the aunt stole the movie. One of those performances that was so real, she was probably overlooked for an Oscar because people just accepted her as the actual aunt. A total tour de force performance. If you never saw that film, check it out, you won't be sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'll add 'Monsoon Wedding' as a movie I can watch over and over, and which I know will become one of your favorites, too.