The 87th Academy Awards air February 22, 2015 and the big night got us thinking about some of our all-time favorite performances that earned someone a golden statuette. Here are just a handful ...
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Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris Best Actor | Training Day, 2001
I’ve always been drawn towards the antiheroes and villains in movies and books. The bad guy is just more interesting than the protagonist – think Darth Vader, Heath Ledger’s The Joker and a slew of others who are way cooler than their heroic counterparts. Washington, rightfully, took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2002 for his portrayal of detective-turned-criminal Alonzo Harris in the Antoine Fuqua film Training Day. The movie portrays Harris training a rookie detective (played by a scrappy Ethan Hawke) over the course of a day in rough Los Angeles neighborhoods. The LAPD Rampart scandal and Rodney King case were still very much in the zeitgeist in ’02. Washington’s performance latched onto the real-life anxieties about police corruption and ratcheted it up to an almost over-the-top level. A lesser actor would have chewed the scenery, but Washington’s effortless charisma keeps his monster of an antagonist just grounded enough. It’s frightening how likable he is able to make such a predatory character.
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector Best Actor | Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Speaking of bad guys, John Demme’s 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs spawned one of the most infamous movie characters ever put on film. Hannibal Lector, the cannibal serial killer savant first made famous in Thomas Harris’ series of novels helps a young FBI agent, played by Jodie Foster, solve a murder case. Brian Cox portrayed Lector in an earlier film, Michael Mann’s excellent Manhunter, but it’s Hopkin’s performance that elevated him to cultural sensation. Best Actor Winner, Hopkins plays the killer with such a subdued menace that it seems strange that the prison guards and police treat him like a rabid animal – muzzling him and wheeling him around strapped to a hand truck. That is until he escapes custody and how dangerous he truly is becomes evident. Hopkins is not a scary physical presence, but through his subtle acting choices he makes Lector the stuff of nightmares.
Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta Best Actor | Raging Bull, 1980
Full disclaimer, I’m a Martin Scorsese fan boy. I love all of his work, from his concert movies to his documentaries and, of course, his feature films. Raging Bull, the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta, is one of his masterpieces. One thing that Scorsese excels at is getting fantastic performances from actors – in the 70s and 80s Robert DeNiro was his muse and I think that DeNiro’s post-Scorsese work shows just how important good direction is. In Raging Bull DeNiro, who won best actor, plays the unstable boxer with incredible nuance and grace. He perfectly portrays the pain of the boxer’s failed marriages and the exhilaration of his victories in the ring. DeNiro faced an incredible physical challenge for the role, training with welterweight boxers. LaMotta himself considered DeNiro to be one of the 20 best boxers of all time in that weight class. To play an older and heavier LaMotta shooting was halted for months so DeNiro could go on a binge-eating tour of Northern Italy and France, rapidly going from 145 to 215 pounds. That’s dedication to the craft, and also sounds like an awesome trip.
Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes Best Actress | Misery, 1990
The 1990 adaptation of the Stephen King novel is one of the few King-influenced genre films that gets much respect. Part of the reason for that is Rob Reiner (who also directed the King adaptation Stand by Me in the director’s chair. But, I think the reason Misery was a critical darling is Kathy Bates performance as super fan/nurse/complete maniac Annie Wilkes. After an author played by James Caan is injured in a car accident, seemingly kind and benevolent Annie Wilkes takes him in. Caan’s character soon learns that he is now the prisoner of a violent and obsessed reader. Bates’ ability to swing from motherly and sweet to angry and terrifying is something to behold. Annie Wilkes also performs one of the most disturbing acts I’ve ever seen in a horror movie – affectionately known by fans as the “hobbling scene.”
Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh Best Supporting Actor | No Country for Old Men, 2007
The Coen Brother’s excellent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men took home the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2007. The movie introduced the world to ruthless and methodical contract killer played by Javier Bardem, who picked up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It is incredible how much life Bardem brings to a largely silent role. The Coens made so many odd choices in regard to how Chigurh should look and act, that it’s hard to imagine any other actor being able to personify the hit man so stoically while rocking such a goofy haircut. (according to IMDB trivia “ When he first saw his new haircut, Javier Bardem said "Oh no, now I won't get laid for the next two months". The Coens responded by happily high-fiving; Bardem's response meant Chigurh would look as creepy as they'd hoped.)
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers Best Actress | Black Swan, 2010
I love this film. It's a psychological mind-bender for sure and Natalie Portman's portrayal of high-strung ballerina Nina is, by Nina's own admission, perfect. After being chosen for the pivotal role in Swan Lake, Nina's pressure on herself sends her spiraling into bizarre hallucinations and paranoid behavior. Obsessed with perfecting the role of a lifetime, the role of the black swan completely encompasses her life with alarming consequences.
Heath Ledger as The Joker Best Supporting Actor | The Dark Knight, 2008
Ledger's disturbing performance in the role of Batman's nemesis is what some claim took his life. The 28-year-old Aussie succumbed to an accidental overdose in 2008 not long after completely immersing himself into the mind of the deranged character. To sum it up in a word: Chilling.
Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell Best Actress | Silver Linings Playbook, 2012
In a year that was rather light with award-worthy films, I don't necessarily think Lawrence deserved to take home the gold—but I'm a huge fan of hers and I think she's awesome and her diner scene (below) was so much fun to watch.
Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump Best Actor | Forrest Gump, 1994
I adore Tom Hanks. He's been one of my very favorite actors for most of my life. I mean, he's Woody. Come on. While I find it appalling that some people don't like this film (JOE KORBA), I think it's some of his finest work. The scene below always brings a tear to my eye. He gave incredible emotional depth to a rather simple man.
Anne Hathaway as Fantine Best Supporting Actress | Les Misérables, 2012
Anne has proven herself to be so much more than just the Princess of Genovia—but she'll always be Mia to me! She nabbed the role of Fantine in the classic musical Les Mis and while her screen time was short, she packed a powerful punch with a gut-wrenching rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream." (BELOW) Filmed all in one take and LIVE on camera, her performance was staggering even if you're not a fan of the actress or the play/film. I believe it's the sole reason she won the Oscar. It is unflinchingly uncomfortable to watch. Do it and just try not to get chills. Can't be done.