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The Friday Five … Favorite Underrated Performances
October 28, 2011Posted by on
This week at the Culture Cast, I’ll be giving you my thoughts on five of my favorite sorely underrated film performances. These are fairly recent performances that are either somewhat forgotten or were ignored by the Academy or other film recognition institutions. Here goes:
5.) Jamie Foxx as “Steamin'” Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday
The past ten or so years have revealed director Oliver Stone as almost a complete fraud. He somehow managed to convince the world in the late 80s and early 90s that he was a great writer and an even better director. His last few films have been fairly disastrous, culminating in the box office flop and would-be prestige film W. Stone has, however, been able to consistently coax great performances out of his actors. In a film featuring James Woods, Dennis Quaid, Charlton Heston, Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J, and Al Motherfucking Pacino, who would have expected that Jamie Foxx, in one of his first major roles, would out-act all of them as back-up quarterback “Steamin'” Willie Beamen in Stone’s other-wise just decent football drama Any Given Sunday? It’s unfathomable, but at one time Foxx was a respected, unpretentious actor. Though he’s lately redeemed himself with funny supporting roles in films like Horrible Bosses, I would love for Foxx to go back to a smaller, quieter supporting role in an ensemble drama.
4.) Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine in Avatar
I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not going to address it directly. No, Avatar is not a movie known for either its originality nor its performances. Yes, it is a film that is best known for its fantastic special effects as well as ushering in the age of 3D (and it’s still the best of the 3D films by far). But overlooking the human element of Avatar would be overlooking Sigourney Weaver’s excellent turn as the downtrodden, sarcastic, world-weary Dr. Grace Augustine. Though her performance is minor in the grand scheme of the film, she is an important character who brings a “lived-in” quality to the film and serves as an anchor between the lead hero and lead villain. James Cameron is not known for being an actor’s director, but he has so far been able to coax fantastic performances out of Weaver, and I’m hoping for future collaborations between them as well.
3.) Nick Stahl as Frank Fowler in In the Bedroom
Nick Stahl seems to have squandered some of his potential, but his performance in 2001’s sorely under-seen In the Bedroom is magnificent. Though he is only in a supporting role, Stahl brings his character to life in ways rarely seen in film. His character, anchored by a performance more mature than his age might suggest, is a catalyst for the most important events of the film as a whole. If I sound vague, it’s only because I don’t want to spoil what would be an emotional, tense surprise for anyone who has not seen In the Bedroom (which is probably most people unfortunately). Also fantastic in this movie: Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei, who were both nominated by the Academy for their roles in this movie.
2.) Cillian Murphy as Robert Capa in Sunshine
Though somewhat critically praised, Danny Boyle’s 2007 foray in to science fiction Sunshine went reviled by most who saw it. Those of us who enjoyed the film, despite hefty third act problems, were treated to a great performance from the always reliable Cillian Murphy. Murphy, who had previously starred in Boyle’s horror film 28 Days Later, is a haunting lead. A man suffering from the isolation, deadness, and cold of deep space, Murphy seems weary, hopeless, and utterly lost as his ship lumbers toward the sun in a last-ditch effort to save humanity. In a great cast, Murphy stands out, lending tremendous gravitas to such a high concept beautiful mess of a movie.
1.) Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, released in the fall of2003, is a fantastic film with a gritty sense of realism, great direction, and an outstanding performance from Russell Crowe (who has arguably not been better in any film since). It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, ultimately winning two for technical achievements. While not a huge box office hit, it was seen as a prestigious film and did well overseas at release. Unfortunately, Master and Commander seems somewhat forgotten. What is more forgotten is how well Paul Bettany played the skeptical ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin. His performance is simply riveting, and perhaps as strong as Crowe’s domineering Captain Jack Aubrey. Though overlooked by the Academy, Bettany’s performance stands as one of the finest supporting performances in all of film. Check it out and be impressed. It’s unfortunate that his filmography as of late hasn’t been good at all.
I don’t know what Nick has in store for next week, but I’m sure it’ll be exciting!