Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some mini-arguments

I'm still working out my top ten lists. I have done a little bit of work, though.

1. Robert DeNiro
I can tell you right now that this cat should be on top. Perhaps not the most talented among the bunch (you could say that Brando had more raw sexuality and chops), but definitely the best all around candidate with range and an amazing list of films (by far, the best out of the top 300, imho).
Check these out: Raging Bull, Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America, Mean Streets, Deer Hunter, and King of Comedy and Casino somewhere in the top 500...
If we needed a tiebreaker between him and Brando (more on him in a sec), check out GF II where I think ONLY he could have pulled off a performance as the young Brando-Corleone.

2. Brando
Influence? Hear it. Strength/quality of individual performances? Okay. The breadth just isn't there though. Sandy Koufax of acting. He's hurt by the fact that he only has two leading roles in Top 100 flicks. He's at best a bit player in Apocalypse, something akin to Welles in Third Man (though not as good as Welles's turn as Harry Lime). Incidentally, the lack of great FILMS to support the great PERFORMANCES is one reason why I've rethought Nicholson and Hoffman. Just not there.

3. Cary Grant
WTF? Why isn't he on our top list...maybe top 5? Talk about no respect! Look at this guy's list from the top 300:
North by Northwest, Notorious, Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday, Philadelphia Story, Only Angels Have Wings, The Awful Truth, Gunga Din...
We have range and quality in spades.

4. Intriguing also rans (those who won't quite make it but who are analogous to Oldman as best supporting nods...)
a. Joseph Cotton
b. Sterling Hayden
c. Gene Hackman
d. William Holden


T. Azimuth Schwitters said...

Okay, I hear you about Brando, and I can at least consider a swap-a-roo at the 1-2 spots...but I think the kicker for me--the tiebreaker--is personal experience: ON THE WATERFRONT was the movie that first made me realize how much acting meant to a story. It changed the way I looked at movies. So...weak evidence? Sure. But dammit, that's how this thing works sometimes.

Now, as for Cary Grant, you mention the 'range' factor as a given for him, but I just don't see it--whether playing it 'straight' or playing it funny, Grant was always a variation of Cary Grant. I put him in the same boat as John Wayne: occasionally amazing, always worth watching, consistently in good films...but always a variation on a theme, which keeps him (them) off of my list.

On the also-rans:

I love the Joseph Cotton pick--he's a favorite of mine. I also thought about Gene Hackman, but eventually, he had the same vices an actor like Cotton had: great in what he did, but not enough range and too many bad movies on the resume. William Holden might actually deserve more serious consideration, however--he's got the range and the breadth...if he's hurting somewhere, its in the 'singe revelatory performance' category. Other names to consider:

Javier Bardem
Peter Sellers
Peter O'Toole (no breadth, but damn, L. of Arabia is an amazing performance)
Kirk Douglass
Mary Pickford

Gaston Monescu said...

I really don't understand the "variation" critique. I'm sorry, but Notorious Grant is different than His Girl Friday Grant which is different than Bringing Up Baby Grant. Wayne doesn't do comedy. He's does westerns and war pics, all with the same style. Grant did suspense, action, and comedy...all at a peak...and all where the pictures were awesome. If you need a rec, consider that Hitchcock AND Hawks kept using him. Wayne just stuck with Ford.

Again...Hackman has range! Juxtapose French Connection, Unforgiven, The Conversation, and Royal Tennenbaums...and oh yeah, Young Frankenstein.

My question about OTW is this: why isn't it higher up Top Movies lists? That is, what is it's weakness, where is it missing something?

I would also demand that Streep and Davis undergo a thorough search, 'cause my feeling is that there reputation comes from the academy and not a series of GOOD, much less GREAT films.

Gaston Monescu said...

BTW - Holden's defining roles only came after he was older and he had lost his amazing looks. See: Wild Bunch and Network, two very different films that Holden holds together.

T. Azimuth Schwitters said...

I'll grant you Hackman's 'range,' but I think what's happening here is we're disagreeing about what 'range' means. For you, range seems to have more to do with shifting genres effectively than it does anything else--I get this, but I think I would call it 'versatility' instead of 'range,' because it doesn't indicate that the actor is changing the methodology or tenor of the characters s/he is channeling, but rather, conscientiously situating that/those character/s in a different situation. This is the first of my bones to pick with Cary Grant: he's always some version of glamorous, handsome, sophisticated Cary Grant, just put in different situations. Is there a fundamental difference in the Cary Grant of Notorious and the C.G. of His Girl Friday, or are they both Grant, but in a different situation. Even his 'boobs,' like the characters he plays in Bringing Up Baby and (to a dramatic rather than comedic extent) North By Northwest are still "Cary Grant as a boob"--never different in the way that, say, Dustin Hoffman is in Tootsie, Midnight Cowboy, Rainman, or The Graduate. I'm not necessarily knocking this style of acting (hence the favorable comparison to John Wayne, who I really like)--it's just that it's like being George Clooney or Denzel Washington now: you're always the ACTOR, not the PART.

Okay, as for Hackman, outside of The Conversation, Hackman is always playing the smarter-than-he-needs-to-be strongman: in F.C., Popeye Doyle's penchant for violence overwhelms his sense of moral order; in Unforgiven, you get a variation of the same theme; in Tenenbaums, you get a slightly different hooligan on a reformist bent...and should we even bring up his OTHER stint as a "Popeye"?

A run-down of great Streep performances will be forthcoming.