Monday, September 24, 2012

Small Roles… Big Performances Blogathon


Ruth from FlixChatter has cooked up an ingenious blogathon titled Small Roles… Big Performances. The objective is simple: highlight the best performances by actors we don’t talk enough about.

Here are Ruth’s rules:
  • Highlight a supporting or cameo performance that did not garner awards attention
  • Not well-known actors are preferred
  • Highlight three performances max

So, essentially, Ruth wants us to call out great performances by character actors, which is one of my absolute favorite things to do on this blog. Currently, I’ve run 35 editions of In Character, so I saw Ruth’s blogathon as an opportunity to truly highlight the best of the best. Here are the rules I set for myself:
  • Highlight three scenes from the careers of three different actors I have covered in my In Character series
  • The scenes in question must be the ONLY scene that the actor has in the entire movie

Three actors, three scenes, three remarkable cameos. Of the actors I’ve covered, here are the best three cameo-specific performances I have witnessed.

Eva May
Eva May is the most important character in Denzel Washington’s criminally overlooked Antwone Fisher. She’s the mother that the titular character spends his entire life longing for, and when confident Antwone finally finds himself standing before his birth mother, she reacts not unlike people we have romanticized visions of.

To explain. Eva is Antwone’s goddess. She gave birth to Antwone while she was in prison, so he was thereby declared a ward of the state. And after spending a cruel number of years with sadistic foster parents, Antwone found himself homeless before joining the Navy, his mother on his mind constantly. To him, his mother is a personification of perfection. A woman he so desperately wants (no… needs) to meet in order to fully understand himself. In short, he’s glorified her in his mind (and ours), to the point of certain letdown.

So when Viola Davis opens the shitty door to her shitty apartment, Antwone steps into a shitty kitchen and stares at a woman. A woman who looks like she’s never slept and hasn’t step foot in a shower in weeks. He introduces himself, and she flees down her hallway.

What soon follows is as heartbreaking a monologue as I’ve ever seen. Antwone and his mother sit on a couch, and he slowly tells her the man he’s become. He sits next to her, talking at her (she’s looking away, because how can she not?), and when the scene is finished, Antwone exits the living room just as a single tear falls from Davis’ eye.

That, my friends, is how you steal a movie.

Andrew
Nine Lives: a brilliant anthology film in which nine separate stories are told, each taking place during one extended shot that lasts precisely nine minutes. The best of the bunch (and there are many) must be the one between hopeless deaf mute, Andrew (Fichtner) and his ex wife, Lorna (Amy Brenneman).

While attending Andrew’s current wife’s funeral, Lorna is shocked to find that not only is Andrew still in love with her, but that he’ll do damn near anything to win her back. When she says that isn’t possible, the scene goes where you possibly think it cannot.

It’s dangerous territory, quite frankly. Push too hard, and your hyperbole. Hold too much back, and your invisible. Fichtner (and, it must be noted, Brennenman) achieves a perfect balance of desperation and regret. A remarkably devastating nine minutes of film.

Justin
To end things on a light note, Shea Whigham’s brief performance in Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant is one of the most hilariously scene-stealing scenes from any film I can recall.

To be fair (because I’m always one to break my own rules) Whigham appears twice in the film, but his first moment on screen is pitch perfect. After roughing up Nicolas Cage’s prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), Cage corners Whigham’s Justin and insults his heritage, which sends Justin into a nonsensical rant of intimidation consistently mostly of variations of the word “Whoa.”

Sound absurd? You bet. In the best possible way. This scene kills me every time.

Honorable Mentions

26 comments:

  1. I haven't seen the second two movies you picked, but the title character's biological mom in Antwone Fisher is haunting! I agree that this scene was heart-wrenching, and she did it in such an understated way. Perfect.

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    1. Ah, she just kills me in that movie. Really glad to hear you appreciate that one!

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  2. Great post man. I just wish I'd seen ONE of those films. One day...

    Oh, I rewatched The Lost Weekend. It's a solid entry in Wilder's catalog, but I felt it went a little overboard. Halfway through the film it's obvious that Don will do anything to get his fix, yet it continues to reiterate his position. Granted, it has to do with his character's arc (falling and rising back up). Still, many of the scenes made me think "Ok, I get it." It's a great film, but I wouldn't say it's one of Wilder's best. Done rambling now.

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    1. Thanks dude.

      The Lost Weekend definitely hammers its point home. And damn hard, too. I dunno if it's because Wilder was seeing how far he could take it or what, but for whatever reason, that film works for me on so many levels.

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  3. I haven't seen the first two movies you picked(i'll see if i can find them myself), but i did watch Bad Lieutenant...although i can't say i remember the movie well enough to comment on Shea's bit.

    Btw i have my post for this blogathon up in case you are interested :)

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    1. Good stuff, hope you have a chance to check those two out sometime! Gonna hop over to your site soon.

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  4. I watched Punch-Drunk Love the other day, and it was fun seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman's role. "Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut! Shut up!" Gets me every time :)

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    1. Definitely one of my favorite roles by him ever. Only PSH could play that role in that way. Perfection.

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  5. VERY cool, Alex!! I haven't seen all of these so this blogathon serves as a good recommendation tool as well, ahah. I had hoped that someone would mention William Fichtner!! He's done a lot of great supporting roles. He was good in Equilibrium as well, quite an underrated sci-fi movie. Glad you took part in this, I'll add your post when the main one is up :)

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    1. Thanks so much Ruth for setting this blogathon up. I'm sure it's a lot of work, but anything that highlights character actors is most definitely a good thing!

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  6. I think William Fichtner elevates damn near everything he does. Thanks for including him!

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    1. That's damn right! Thank YOU for reading.

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  7. I don't think I've seen any of the movies you mentioned. I think I'd have a really hard time with this blog-a-thon as much as I'd like to contribute.

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    1. Yeah man, it's a tough task indeed. Ruth did I good job thinking this one through.

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  8. Excellent shout for William Fichtner. I haven't seen the film but I'm a big fan of his. Albino Alligator is one that sticks in my mind from him. Shea Wigham also. What a brilliant actor and I'm glad we're starting to see more of this guy. He was great in The Lincoln Lawyer as well.

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    1. Dude, I LOVE Shea Whigham in The Lincoln Lawyer: "Uhhh, I don't read so good." Haha, priceless.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  9. John Hawkes in From Dusk Till Dawn...I should have thought of that myself! Tarantino seems to write a lot of small role, big performance-type characters!

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    1. Oh for sure. Hawkes is priceless in that movie.

      "I NEVER SAID HELP USSSSSS!"

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  10. Viola Davis was really terrific in Antwone Fisher, but when is she not good haha? Great pics in general, I just finished doing this.

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    1. That's damn right. Davis rooocks. Gonna check yours out now...

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  11. How about Donnie Wahlberg in The Sixth Sense!

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    1. Oh shit, that is a GREAT choice. Perfect performance right there.

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  12. One honorable mention I'd add is Rooney Mara in The Social Network. May have only had about three scenes, yet she left me wanting to see more of her. If I had an Oscar ballot, she would've made my Best Supporting Actress lineup from that year without thinking thrice.

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  13. There are two performances I credit

    Lee Grant in In The Heat Of The Night

    She's only in one scene. She comes into a room, She sees Sydney Poitier. She's a racist so she doesn't want anything to do with him. He tells her her husband is dead. She goes quiet. He goes to comfort her. She pulls back. And you can tell she just wants to cry into his arms, but she refuses to let herself stoop to that level. I remember basically nothing else from the movie, but I remember her.

    Kristen Stewart in Zathura: A Space Adventure.

    What's surprising is that Kristen Stewart has roughly 8 minutes of screen time in the film and yet she's one of the best parts of the movie. The scene that cinches it is when she goes downstairs for the first time in the film and sees what her brothers are doing - I won't spoil it, but watch that scene and 'then' tell me that Kristen Stewart can't act. And then later, there's a scene with a piano. Just... wow. She's funny but also a three dimensional character. And all with eight minutes of screen time. That's talent.

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    1. GREAT call on Lee Grant. Haven't seen that film in a while, but her scene does stick out to me. Have yet to see Zathura, but I love your praise for Stewart's brief work in it.

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