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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Five Best: Comedic Actors, Dramatic Roles

Albert Brooks in "Drive" courtesy of
This weekend is the release of Nicolas Winding Refn's highly anticipated drama Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. The film, about a stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman, stars these typically dramatic actors (plus Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks) and the usually hilarious Albert Brooks, making a dramatic turn. This got me thinking - what dramatic performances that really stood out over the years have actually come from, up to that point, almost expressly comedic actors? Well, here are the ones I prefer, in chronological order.

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Tom Hanks

Philadelphia (1993)

Before you complain, remember that, up until this point, Hanks was almost completely a comedic actor. In the 1980's, he starred in plenty of slapstick comedies, like Splash, The Money Pit, and The 'Burbs. It wasn't until 1993 that Hanks broke into his mold as a terrific dramatic actor with his work as AIDS inflicted lawyer Andrew Beckett in his first Oscar-winning performance in Philadelphia. Obviously, this was just the start of an award-fueled career of dramatic work, but this was really his first legitimate jump into that world.
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Adam Sandler

Punch Drunk Love (2002)

From his first film on, it didn't look like Sandler would be anything more than an idiot man-child in every film. Though he's stayed pretty true to that expectation, in 2002 he starred in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love and turned plenty of heads. Though he is still in that man-child persona, this time it's a surprisingly spirited and well-rounded performance against a group of talented women. A small-business owner with seven sisters, his struggle to escape from their psychological abuse to find love is a wonderfully strange trip to behold.
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Robin Williams

One Hour Photo (2002)

Most people would jump to Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting, but for me, the first real indication that Williams could be "go for broke" dramatic was 2002's independent thriller One Hour Photo. It's not a great film, but Williams is eerily quiet - a far cry from his overblown personality. His silent (and eventual literal) desire to fix the pain of a middle class, suburban family he sees through their pictures is terrifyingly methodical, evoking some Norman Bates level creepiness. It may not be his best film, but it's certainly his most interesting performance.
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Jim Carrey

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

In my opinion, the grandest of them all, Jim Carrey's turn in Michel Gondry's mind-bending, brilliant story of love, loss, and memory is the best example of an always comedic actor turning in a spot-on dramatic performance. As Joel Barrish, Carrey is a normal guy, falling for a wacky girl (Kate Winslet), and having his life ripped apart when he finds out she has removed him from her memory. It's bad enough to be dumped, but to be erased? Carrey is magnificent as he navigates Charlie Kaufmann's inventive screenplay and his own mind, alongside a stellar cast.
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Jamie Foxx

Collateral (2004)

Most people would pick Ray, if only because he won the Oscar. But, Foxx was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar here (though I maintain he was the lead to Tom Cruise's supporting part). In Michael Mann's Collateral, Jamie Foxx plays a taxi driver dreaming of bigger things, found in a dangerous situation when he picks up Vincent (Cruise) and they go for an action-packed, violence-fueled ride. Cruise has never been better and Foxx is a wonderful foil to his anger, as a quiet man who is a little more together than you'd think.

Others that were in the running and why I didn't choose them:

Jackie Gleason in The Hustler (1961): I haven't seen the movie for a while and it doesn't imprint on me as much as it could.

Marlon Wayans in Requiem for a Dream (2000): His part just isn't as vital to the film as those above.

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (2003): Honestly, I just don't care for the movie all that much.

Monique in Precious (2009): Same as Murray, as good as this performance was, I just didn't like the movie as much as most people.

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