The movies of the 90's were chock full of high caliber acting. The list of great performances from that decade is long and varied, and to rank the best of the best would be a taxing feat. But I, having no interest in tackling a job that heavily official, will not attempt such a definitive ranking. So instead here's a list of...
Brad Pitt brings the crazy real good in 12 MONKEYS
MY TOP 10 FAVORITE PERFORMANCES OF THE 90'S
10-BRAD PITT in 12 MONKEYS
Brad Pitt is all quirks and ticks in Terry Gilliam's surreal time travel tale. He plays insane with the subtlety of Jerry Lewis, but I still love the hell out of what he does. Because the movie takes place in a fractured Looking Glass universe, his cartoonish, over the top method works.
As his deranged revolutionary, a charismatic psychopath, leads the titular band of renegades through a morass of mayhem and madness, Pitt manages to make the ambiguous villain alternately frightening and amusing. And he infuses his performance with just enough sanity to keep you guessing through the entire film as to just how much relevance his character actually has to the story's bigger picture. And the movie makes clear that while Brad Pitt has a penchant for playing cocky, egocentric crazies, he brings to each role a unique take on their lopsided lunacies.
9-BILL MURRAY in KINGPIN
As Big Ern, KINGPIN'S smarmy, snarky bad guy, Bill Murray has some of the best lines to ever grace a Farrelly Brothers production or any other comedy. Nobody plays a wisecracking, smartass hero better than Bill Murray, and as it turns out, those smirking charms work on the other side of the dynamic as well. Murray makes one fantastic bastard.
Like most Farrelly movies, Kingpin has a sweetness and a homespun heart at its core, but Big Ern is a refreshingly unsentimental, amoral asshole who not only repents not one bit for the wrong he's done in the world, but...(SPOILER ALERT!) he actually wins in the end. And Mr. Murray relishes playing the heel, bringing to the screen perhaps the funniest evil bowling champion we are ever likely to see. Bill f*#$in' Murray indeed!
8-RUSSELL CROWE, GUY PEARCE, and KEVIN SPACEY in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL
The three men at the apex of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL'S pulpy cop drama have their hands full with a trio of characters who
are not what they first appear to be and who each go through a significant transformation over the course of the film. And each actor deftly displays every complex angle and every blemish of the soul as their characters deepen, self-destruct, and evolve.
Russell Crowe comes barging in in LA CONFIDENTIAL
Russell Crowe is outstanding as a brute who yearns to do real detective work, Guy Pearce is brilliant as a political climber who loses his way, and Kevin Spacey shines as a Celebrity Cop who has a crisis of conscience. Arguably the best portrayals of cops as flesh and blood human beings the silver screen has seen.
7-ANNETTE BENING in AMERICAN BEAUTY
As Beauty's frazzled and frustrated matriarch, Annette Bening delivers a tragicomic, bittersweet performance that gets better every time I see it. Whether the scene calls for the character to be wound tightly or falling giddily out of control, Bening brings an intensity to the role that few others could muster. She plays to both the Absurdist bent of Sam Mendes' direction and the nihilistic darkness of Alan Ball's script, rendering a train wreck of a mid-life crisis that is mesmerizing in its disintegration yet relatable in its details.
She deserves additional recognition for not allowing the character to become the villain of the movie. Though Chris Cooper's repressed neighbor is the obvious antagonist in the ultimate scheme of things, in a story that focuses most on the struggles of a man at mid-life, the wife could have easily been drawn as shrewish and shrill. But in Bening's hands, the role is never a caricature and never insulting.
6-MARK WAHLBERG and JOHN C. REILY in BOOGIE NIGHTS
In Paul Thomas Anderson's whacky Porn Industry family, we're given Burt Reynolds as the kind but misguided father, Julianne Moore as the sweet but damaged mother, Heather Graham as the naïve sexpot little sister, and Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly as the goofy, high energy/low IQ brothers.
Their portraits of dumb angel innocence against a backdrop of seedy adult movie culture is an ingenious conceit, and both actors follow on that promise by taking their respective roles from doofusy kids to hardened, desperate drug addicts and back again. Wahlberg is allowed to exercise more dramatic muscle and shines playing against solid vets like Moore and Reynolds, but it's
his scenes with Reily that provide some of the film's best loved quips, hardiest laughs, and charming moments.
Cate Blanchett steals the show in RIPLEY
5-CATE BLANCHETT in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
In a movie that teems with great performances and perfect casting, Cate Blanchett still manages to steal every scene she breezes into. Her take on Meredith Logue, a young, insecure American heiress adrift in a post collegiate malaise, is simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious. Bringing the same balance of obviousness and vulnerability that she brought to "Katherine Hepburne" in THE AVIATOR, Blanchett makes her supporting role a flawless delight.
Her part, small but crucial, may have fallen prey to a more traditional reading in the hands of a less gutsy actress (she's my favorite modern actress by the way). She finds a way to make Meredith instantly recognizable to modern audiences yet specific to the noirish and nostalgic world of MR. RIPLEY.
4-ED NORTON and HELENA BONHAM CARTER in FIGHT CLUB
TYLER DURDEN gets all the press, but it's Norton's nameless narrator and Bonham-Carter's pitch black MARLA SINGER who give FIGHT CLUB its relatable human heart. Their sardonic banter is like some weird warp on the THIN MAN or HIS GIRL FRIDAY, recast in a smear of hipster irony. Between his laconic voice over (dripping with self-denial) and her deadpan sarcasm (reeking of genuinely suicidal tendencies), these two actors give us the quintessential 90's couple. And their dual portrayal of dark depression colliding with festering insanity is, at its core, as sweet as any romantic comedy cranked out by the Hollywood Hit Factory.
Additionally challenging is the fact that Norton and Bonham-Carter each had to play two levels at once; upon first viewing, the Narrator seems the sane one to her whack-job girlfriend while those roles become fully reversed on rewatch. It's amazing how well each performance holds up when you see Fight Club a second time and see each role in a whole new light. And it works!
3-PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
As much as I adore PSH's turn as the nice guy nurse in MAGNOLIA, it's his portrayal of old money cad FREDDY MILES that ranks as my favorite Hoffman appearance. He literally blows into the movie and takes it hostage for every moment he's on
screen. His bemused smirk, his contemptuous delivery, and his sensational crudeness all serve a role that he infuses with intelligence and dark humor.
Mr. Pink finds himself in a pickle in RESERVOIR DOGS
Nearly every line he delivers is guffaw worthy (I quote this character as often as any in film), and when he finally starts to see through the sinister veil of Mr. Ripley's ruse, Hoffman finds one more layer in his ruthlessly rude jackass.
2-STEVE BUSCEMI in RESERVOIR DOGS / SAMUEL L. JACKSON in PULP FICTION
Buscemi's MR. PINK and Jackson's JULES WINFIELD have much in common: they both lead sinful lives, they both end up being the voices of reason in their chaotic, crime ridden worlds (and each survives their story because of it), and they're both (within their respective films) the voices of their creator Quentin Tarantino. And each actor does some of the best work of their careers.
Mr. Pink is a hyperactive, fast talking hipster who sells his ideas with an elaborate triple-speak that mirrors the director's own penchant for colorful, wordy descriptiveness. Jules is a cut-out from 70's Blaxploitation films (the kind Tarantino was raised on). Both actors manage to spin their parts with the sheer force of their personality and talent, each actor finding relatable, comedic, and human elements in their over the top meta-movie stereotypes. And for my money, Buscemi and Jackson are the best actors to ever deliver that specifically "cool" Tarantino lingo.
1-REESE WITHERSPOON in ELECTION
Easily one of the best comedic performances of the 90's. Witherspoon's Tracy Flick is an obsessively overachieving, ferociously determined Type A student striving to take her rightful place as Senior Class President. Her journey from wound up workaholic through a slowly boiling rage into an explosive ball of wrath is one of my favorite performances in all of American Cinema.
But the impressive part isn't how convincingly Witherspoon inhabits Tracy's forced optimism or her off-handed adultness. What's most impressive is that the actress is able to remind us continually that under all that broken bravado, Tracy Flick is always just a disappointment away from revealing that she is, in truth, a pouting, tantrum throwing kid. Watching Witherspoon portray Tracy's Act II unraveling is as good as it gets for a night at the movies.
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May 16, 2012 2:28 AM
|I had to read your column several times before I could comment. |
I agreed - mostly - with your choices of movies, but not necessarily your choice of actors:
- Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly in BOOGIE NIGHTS gave solid performances, but Philip Seymour Hoffman's pathetic Dirk Diggler wannabe gave an emotional performance. You really felt sorry for the poor slob!
- I felt Norton's performance in FIGHT CLUB was almost a spectator in his own movie. Pitt gets all the credit because I felt he was the movie.
- Jackson's signature Tarantino performance in my opinion was Ordell Robbie in PULP FICTION. He went from the top of his game to being put down like a dog. Great range.
- and Reese Witherspoon??? No Comment.
Anyway, that's my two cents. This made a good read. I had forgotten that some good cinemage did come out of the Nineties.
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|They Called Them The Rebel Kind|
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The 90’s was one of the great decades in American Cinema, and I intend to explore it one film, genre, or director at a time.
Matt Berry is a copy writer, music journalist & occasional author of Weird Tales-inspired short fiction from Illinois who loves talking and writing about movies and music almost as much as he loves the music and the movies themselves. And the more coffee, pie, and cigarettes consumed during those discussions, the better!|
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