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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Five Best: Short, but Sweet Performances

courtesy of

Sometimes, a brief performance by an actor in a film can be mind-blowing. It could be for less than five minutes, take the entire film by the neck and choke it into submission. This week, let's look at the five performances that are certainly more than cameos, but are, for sure, less than a "top billed" role, in terms of screen time. These aren't all one scene wonders, but they're pretty close. Without further ado, here they are, in chronological order.

Ned Beatty in "Network" courtesy of

Ned Beatty - Network (1976)

Link to Scene:
Sidney Lumet's film and Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay are epic in their treatment of the TV industry, highlighted by standout performances from Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden. But Ned Beatty's brief entrance as the studio head is one of the more impactful one-scene appearances we've ever seen. Beatrice Straight won the Oscar for Suppoting Actress for a performance almost as limited in screen time, but Beatty's time on screen is a sonic boom.
Note: I actually performaned this exact monologue in high school as part of a drama class. I don't think I had any clue what I was talking about.

Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross" courtesy of

Alec Baldwin - Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Link to Scene:
Based on the David Mamet play (and screenplay), this look at the inside of a real estate office is packed with talented actors. But, as good as Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey are, Baldwin's entrance and quick exit is ripe with so much vigor and bravado that it takes the entire film by storm. It's a pretty "talky" movie, with a lot of dialogue, but Baldwin's famous speech is the cream of the crop.

Christopher Walken in "True Romance" courtesy of

Christopher Walken - True Romance (1993)

Link to Scene:
Quentin Tarantino's screenplay created two extremely interesting characters, facing off in this scene and portrayed by Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. It's Walken's only time on screen and Hopper's work in the scene is brilliant. But Walken's control and slow burn of anger and emotion is so intriguing and creepy that you can't help but take your eyes off of him. These are two heavyweight performers facing off and eating up all the scenery. I originally thought about using Walken's scene in Pulp Fiction, but decided instead to go with...

Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino in "Pulp Fiction" courtesy of

Harvey Keitel - Pulp Fiction (1994)

Link to Scene:
"The Wolf" - the man who solves problems. Brought in when Vincent (John Travolta) accidentally shoots an accomplace, Keitel uses his wit, intelligence, and creativity to get control and remedy "the Bonnie situation" as quickly as possible. He comes in like a quiet storm and leaves just as low-key. He doesn't play up for impact - his facial expressions and voice alone are enough to rule the entire scene. And remember - just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

John Carroll Lynch in "Zodiac" courtesy of

John Carroll Lynch - Zodiac (2007)

Link to Scene:
In David Fincher's undervalued story of San Francisco cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his obsession with finding the Zodiac killer, Lynch plays the prime suspect in his eventual quest. Somehow, Lynch manages to play the everyman with an underlying menace that is so terrifying that you can't keep from pinning it all on him. Lynch is a terribly underrated actor - this short, but silently menacing turn is enough to turn anyone's head.

Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs" courtesy of

Honorable Mention

Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Link to Scene:
He's in the movie a little bit too much for this specific list, but Hopkins earned the Best Actor Academy Award for his work in this masterpiece by only appearing in 16 minutes of the film. The film is 118 minutes long, so he is really only in about 1/8 of the movie which he was a "leading actor." That's just flat out brilliant acting.
Note: I found out over the weekend that my wife has never seen this film. A sad moment for the family, indeed. I will work to remedy it.

So, as this list proves, it's not how long you're on screen. It's what you do with that time.

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