Friday, February 12, 2016

Top 10 Underrated/Overlooked Performances of the '90s

The '90s brought us a lot of great movies filled with great performances by great actors shot by great cinematographers written by great writers and directed by great directors. To put it simply, the '90s were alright. But seriously, this was a good decade for movies, and there were a crapload of great performances to be found in them. And sometimes they were even in extremely popular movies surrounded by acclaimed performances. The Silence of the Lambs, for example, won Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster Oscars, while Ted Levine walked away totally empty-handed, despite possibly giving the best performance in the film. So, instead of focusing on the "best" performances of the decade, I would rather take a look at the ones that never seemed to get enough attention. No, this isn't just a list dedicated to the poor "other guys" in movies that people love, but just focusing on performances that stand out to me, despite not quite earning the attention or acclaim I feel they deserve. So here they are, my picks for the most underrated and overlooked performances of the 1990s. Oh, and I have decided to leave Ted Levine off this list, because spoilers. Sorry dude, you aren't allowed to win anything. EVER.

10. Nicolas Cage - Deadfall

Okay, so my first pick goes to this...thing. Though I would hesitate to call this a good performance by any definition of the words "good" or "performance", by Nicolas Cage standards, this really is something to behold. Behind possibly only Vampire's Kiss, this is the most insane and over-the-top performance of his career, and to fans of his antics, this really is not one to be missed. Which is why I call it underrated: everyone knows The Wicker Man, and though people may not recognize the film by name, people know him in Vampire's Kiss. But for some odd reason, this movie has slipped through the cracks and no-one ever seems to acknowledge just how balls-ass crazy this performance is.

9. Anjelica Huston - The Addams Family

This one was a hard performance for me to put on here, because of how great the entire supporting cast was in this film. From Raul Julia's Gomez to Christopher Lloyd's Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci's Wednesday, this movie was just totally full of iconic, career-defining performances. But Huston is the one who really stood out the most to me here. This is possibly because I see Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, etc. etc. as the actors themselves playing these iconic characters very convincingly. But when I see Anjelica Huston in this film, despite having seen her in a dozen other movies, all I see is Morticia Addams. The ultimate, uncontested Morticia Addams. She got herself a few award nominations here, and they were obviously merited, but when people talk about this movie nowadays, it seems to be Christina Ricci who gets all the attention. Granted, she was very good, but not the highlight for me. Nope, it's all Huston.

8. Glenn Close - 101 Dalmatians

Although Glenn Close earned herself a (very well-deserved) Golden Globe nomination for this movie, because of how bad and stupid this remake was, it's not really a movie that anyone gives a crap about anymore -- or, well, ever. Most people have even forgotten this movie was made in the first place, and that is largely a good thing. But the one thing that still remains intact about this otherwise annoying movie was just how perfect Close was as Cruella de Vil. Recreating a famous villain is really really hard, but thanks to her uncanny ability to sink into crazy roles like this, Glenn Close gives what I would have to call the best (or, at least, most entertaining) performance of her entire career. It's so obvious that she was having a blast in this role, and that shines through in every scene. Between the look, the laugh, and the body language, she had this character down, and nearly single-handedly saved an otherwise stupid and unnecessary remake of a classic Disney film.

7. John Hurt - Love And Death On Long Island

Quite possibly the best movie of the '90s that no one has ever seen, featuring John Hurt (one of my all-time favorite actors) in one of the best performances of his career. The thing that separates this performance from a lot of the others on this list (especially the ones I've already named) is just how subdued everything about this whole movie is. Hurt is a very reserved actor when he needs to be and his performance here, as a man who has just had some kind of sexual awakening at a relatively advanced age, he puts that inimitable skill on display. Funny, charming, introverted, and tragic in a way that only John Hurt could shape a character, this performance (and movie in general) is just one that needs to be seen by more people. I'm sure in certain circles there are a lot of fans of this movie, but I am yet to discover this circle. So until then, I'll be here, preaching the word of Hurt.

6. Elizabeth Moody - Dead Alive

By now, you can probably tell that I enjoy some over-the-top performances -- but only when the movie calls for it. And Dead Alive, which is one of the most insanely awesome and hilariously gory movies ever made, called for it. Elizabeth Moody, who plays the role of the lead character's domineering and psychotic mother, gives a performance here that can only be described as perfect. When she isn't going into angry fits and weird rampages, she is basically catatonic and/or turning into a disgusting undead demon monster. Seen largely through a wide-angle lens, this performance is simply disturbing and surreal. But people only seen to love talking about how fun and creative the gore is in this movie, and that is entirely justified. But no one ever focuses on any of the performances, which from the two leads are pretty weak. But between the horrible mother and the creepy uncle (played gloriously by Ian Watkin, I might add), there are a pair of suitably over-the-top, hilarious, and underrated performances that are just perfect for the most entertaining horror-comedy ever made.

5. Tony Jay - The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

I know some people would probably have a problem with my inclusion of this performance, but those people can shut up. Voice acting is real acting. Anyone who says otherwise has no idea what "acting" means. And no, that is not just my opinion, it's a fact. Now, with that bit of unpleasantness aside, Tony Jay's performance as the deeply conflicted Judge Frollo is not only one of Disney's greatest villains, but stands as one of my all-time favorite villain performances. The inner turmoil this character suffers from is so deeply human, it's hard not to feel the struggle and pain he is going through in every scene. As a man of God who finds himself lusting after a voluptuous gypsy, he does what any person in a position of incredible power might do; instead of placing any of the blame on himself, he damns the woman to Hell and curses her immortal soul for tempting him down a path away from God. AND THIS IS A DISNEY MOVIE. Featuring my favorite use of a song in probably any film ever, this entire range of emotions is captured by the incomparable Tony Jay, who may very well have possessed the coolest voice in the history of mankind. The movie, as a whole, is just okay. It's gone by mostly unnoticed over the years, and the same could be said of Jay's incredible performance. And that is a damn shame.

4. Dylan Baker - Happiness

Probably the most universally-acclaimed performance on this list, I almost feel wrong for putting this on here, but ultimately he just needed to be included. Happiness is a disturbing type of movie that I wouldn't be able to recommend to most people, thanks to its challenging subject matter and creepily comedic execution. And right at the heart of this twisted film is one of the most heartbreaking and terrifying performances of the '90s. Dylan Baker plays a pedophile and...well, I can't even talk about it without getting a creepy feeling, so I can just say if you haven't seen this movie, don't watch it unless you're cool with an NC-17 movie about sexual obsession and rape. Most people have never seen this little picture, which is what I feel qualifies it for this list. But to those of you out there who have seen it, you will undoubtedly recognize Dylan Baker's performance as, quite simply, Oscar-worthy. Equal parts sympathetic and chilling, this is one of those rare performances that leaves you incapable of knowing how to feel about the character (apart from the obvious disgust), and just seeing it as one of the most revealing, intimate, horrifying, and flawed characters you'll ever see in a movie.

3. Alan Rickman - Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

Okay, this one is kind of a two-part choice. On one hand, Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest doesn't seem to get much attention despite being EASILY the best thing about the movie. But on the other hand, his performance in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is quite simply one of the most entertaining performances in the history of film. So, point goes to Robin Hood here, and Galaxy Quest is just going to have to take a back seat. In this movie, he takes on the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, who in this bizarre adaptation, is more of a Prince John hybrid. Which, for the movie, works out well, because that just means he gets more screen time. He is a very physical, wiry character, and you can tell Rickman put his all into every scene here, as he leaps around like a grasshopper and sneers and lashes out at anyone or anything that he finds slightly bothersome. His snide quips and overt physicality give off this bizarre vibe, as if he's someone who desperately wants to be a threatening, suave badass (which, if you've seen Die Hard, you know Rickman can easily pull off), but is quite simply too weird and awkward to be seen that way. The movie as a whole is pretty terrible, even winning Costner a Golden Raspberry for his performance as 'da Hood. Ultimately, that is the only reason I feel this performance didn't get enough attention. Because, as a standalone performance, it is hard to match the energy, arrogance, and absolutely perfectly-timed line delivery of Rickman in this role. In anyone elses hands, this could have been as catastrophic as...well, the rest of the movie is. But thanks to Rickman, it becomes addictively watchable.

2. Jason Robards - Magnolia

Robards is one of my favorite classic actors, and though he won 2 Oscars back in the '70s, he still hasn't ever seemed to garner the attention I feel he deserves. And that goes double for this difficult and incredible performance. Magnolia is a big movie. It's somewhere around 200 minutes, and the story is so fragmented that it is hard for almost anyone to stand out. But for whatever reason, it is Tom Cruise who winds up getting all the attention for this movie (my thoughts are because he is A) the most famous cast member, and B) the guy who gets to do all the screaming and shouting), even going so far as earning himself an Oscar nomination. But what about Robards? Though he is only prominently featured in a handful of scenes, his screen presence and struggle with his inner demons is by far the most compelling part of the film. He is an old, dying man with pain and regret in his heart, and that pain and torture is evident in every frame. His monologue on regret would have to go down as my all-time favorite monologue, as the heart-shattering anguish and devastating turmoil takes him over at every line. Between the crackle and despair in his voice to the sorrow and biting anger seen in his eyes, Robards takes a supporting role in a massive film and manages to pull you in to the point where I didn't really care about most anything else that was happening in the movie. I was just focused intently on him. A complex and emotional performance if there ever was one, delivered by one of the greatest actors who has ever lived. But no one ever talks about it. Ridiculous.

1. Vincent D'Onofrio - Men In Black

What a difficult choice it was to decide on my #1...but here it goes. This is one that seems to have mostly slipped by due to the star power surrounding him and the misconception that thick makeup doesn't require an actor to have to actually "act". Between Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and even Rip Torn in a fun supporting role, no one seemed to notice the effort and genius that went into D'Onofrio's performance here. Multi-layered in the most literal sense possible, it's hard for people to see this as a performance as much as just a giant bug hiding inside a human body. He isn't an actor playing a guy whose body is turned into a Buffalo Bill-style skinsuit worn by a giant space bug; he's just a space bug, no questions asked. the hell did he manage that? I can safely say that not a single person I know, nor have EVER known, could say they know what that would look like, but by some miracle, D'Onofrio pulls it off in a way that goes by unquestioned by everyone. And this, somehow, didn't catch anyone's eye. If he had done a bad job, it sure as hell would have gotten attention, would have shattered the illusion, and ultimately turned the film into a total disaster... but hey, just because he kinda saved the movie by giving a near-impossibly great performance doesn't mean he deserves any recognition for it, am I right? It's odd, too, because of how flashy and brilliant he really is here. Granted, to give credit where credit is due, the makeup and costume design helped to sell this character as well, but if the actor underneath it couldn't pull it off, it wouldn't matter how great the character design was; it would still suck. Put a less competent actor than Andy Serkis in that green suit with the little balls on it and you wouldn't have wound up with the classic Gollum performance we all know and love. It's the same thing here. Regardless, D'Onofrio knocked it out of the park, and though he may have been ignored for this movie, people still seem to love him in Full Metal Jacket and Daredevil, so at least he's gotten something for his trouble.

And there we have it, my top 10 underrated/overlooked performances of the '90s. Thoughts? No? Didn't think so. But if you agree or disagree with anything on the list, don't be afraid to add any questions or comments to the box below. Or even shoot me an email at "RT_JEFF_SC@YAHOO.COM". Thanks, and good night.

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