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Former First Ladies' Men
by Luz Hernandez

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Sorry, Ben.  You're just too beautiful for this list.

Sorry, Ben. You're just too beautiful for this list.
Two weeks ago, I wrote the female version of this--now it's time to throw a little testosternone into the mix by sharing a sampling of the men who have made powerful and memorable first big-screen impressions on me... not because of their dashing good looks or their sexy rear ends (qualities that don't amount to much in the long run anyway), but because of their outstanding Hollywood performances.

The first of these is GĂ©rard Depardieu in Green Card. Yeah, okay. So he has an abnormally large olfactory appendage, but everybody knows what that means, right? Yep, it means he had to work extra hard to bring out the charm, and by the end of that movie, heck, even I would've married the guy to give him his green card. He made an adorable oaf.

My second Ladies' Man appeared in the movie La Bamba, but it wasn't the goody-goody Lou Diamond Phillips. Nope, back in 1987, it was his motorcycle-riding, leather-jacket-wearing older brother, played by Esai Morales, who stole my heart. He was the epitome of rage and jealousy, but Morales also showed an inner tenderness hidden within that down-on-his-luck bad boy whose own talent had been overshadowed by his brother's fame.

The first time I saw Lucas Black was in a film called The War (starring Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood) when he was barely twelve years old. He played a minor role as a scrawny and neglected little country boy, but he had an undeniable energy and liveliness that just sparkled... and the most endearing Southern drawl I'd ever heard.

Two years later I fell in love with Lucas Black all over again in Sling Blade, but the most amazing performance of that film by far belonged to Billy Bob Thornton as the mildly retarded Karl Childers. Utterly amazing, totally believable, and emotionally moving, Thornton
The Dynamic Duo

The Dynamic Duo
absolutely nailed that role. I can't imagine anybody else filling it with such perfection.

Cuba Gooding Jr has appeared in a pretty wide variety of movies, but although almost all of them have been wholesome, uplifting or otherwise "feel good," most of them (with the exception of Men of Honor) have not ranked very high on my list of all-time favorite movies. What's strange, though, is that the first impression I had of Gooding wasn't as a sweet and innocent do-gooder, but as sort of a tough guy with heart in the 1991 "gansta flick" Boyz n the Hood. I loved his smoothness in that film, his demeanor, his hair, and his colorful wardrobe... but most of all I loved his lips.

The movie Gladiator was great all-around, and it caused me to see Russel Crowe in a whole new (and naughty) way, but Joaquin Phoenix was its true star. His performance as the power-hungry and psychologically disturbed Commodus was powerful and real. You hated the guy! You were able to see into his mind and his freaky little heart, and even though you knew that Joaquin Phoenix was a decent fellow in real life, as Commodus he made your skin crawl. Brilliant.

My next Ladies' Man, Don Cheadle, has in the past been confused with Saturday Night Live's Tim Meadows (who, coincidentally, used to play a recurring role as Leon Phelps, "The Ladies' Man"). But Cheadle's acting career has traveled a more serious path. To be honest, I can't recall the very first time I saw him on screen, probably due to the fact that he played many supporting roles before starring on his own. By the time I saw Rosewood in 1997, I was vaguely familiar with his name and face, but that was the film in which he really made a tremendous impact on me. He showed determination and strong will as a son, a father, and a friend, despite
More pliable than silly putty

More pliable than silly putty
unbelievably difficult obstacles and injustices.

Next on my list is the loveable and charismatic Geoffrey Rush. Come on, admit it. He does have a certain charm, even as the rough-faced Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean. But what strikes me the most about Rush is his versatility as an actor. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who played the Marquis de Sade in Quills, the gifted pianist David Helfgott in Shine, and the evil but unwavering Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. It takes a lot to be a talented actor in Hollywood, but to be talented and as diverse as Rush is a feat most actors strive to but never accomplish.

And finally, my very last Ladies' Man is also the only non-actor of the bunch. But he does have questionable good looks. I remember very vividly the first time I saw the movie Pulp Fiction. It was in a small theater, and as the opening credits rolled, someone up in the front was bouncing a laser pointer on the screen in rhythm to the music. Fortunately, they put it away during the opening scene and didn't take it out again after that--probably because they were as dumbstruck as I by the movie's absolute genius. From start to finish, Pulp Fiction had it all. The music, the acting, the dialogue, the way it was filmed, the order of the scenes, the interwoven storylines... it was total perfection in film, and the orchestrator was this big-chinned, eccentric weirdo named Quentin Tarantino. That was the very first time I had ever even taken notice of a director's impact behind the screen, and I'll be forever greatful to him for opening my eyes. And ears, and mind.

Well, happy June to all of you. Thanks for letting me reminisce about all of my former first Hollywood loves. July will bring about a whole new set of fresh faces on the screen and behind it.

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Other columns by Luz Hernandez:

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Jason Statham: A Job Well Done

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Luz Hernandez
Luz Hernandez is a devoted movie watcher with a background in creative writing and translation.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Luz Hernandez by clicking here.

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