PG Cooper: Top Ten Under-Rated Performances

Posted: April 25, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. All brilliant performances that have captivated audiences and critics world-wide. They’ve received all sorts of awards and honours, and all are held on high pedestals of quality. But what about the performances that don’t captivate audiences? The ones that, well they may be good, have been forgotten, ignored, or unfairly criticized for various reasons. I decided to put together a list of ten performances that never received the acclaim I feel they deserved.

10. Paul Freeman in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders has always been considered a classic adventure film. Jones himself is considered to be one of the best action heroes of all time, and the film’s script and direction has constantly been praised. But the thing that really elevates Raiders from the other Indy sequels is almost always ignored. That thing being Paul Freeman’s performance as the villain Belloq. Belloq is a cool villain because he’s not down right evil, he’s just more of a selfish bastard. Every time Indy thinks he’s achieved something, Belloq’s always there to take it away. Freeman plays the part very well, with a fine balance of class and ruthlessness. The main reason I think he isn’t well-remembered is because he’s playing a fairly down to earth character in an extravagant adventure. Indiana Jones is a classic hero, but like all heroes, they’re only as good as their best villain, and Jones wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome had it not been for Belloq.

9. Mark Hamill in the Star Wars trilogy

It’s hard to argue something from the Star Wars films under rated. The original films are all considered classics and the prequels just suck too badly to argue for. But one element that’s always been wrongfully ignored is Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Of the three heroes of the original films, nobody got it worse than Hamill. People always ignored him and would talk about Han Solo instead. And today people accuse Hamill of having a weak performance and being a poor actor. I’ve never understood this. Luke may not be as cool as say Han Solo, but he’s not suppose to be. Luke was a character the audience could relate to and sympathize with. Someone trapped in a mundane life who gets swept up in an adventure bigger than himself. Hamill did a good job making the character likable and making the audience wanting to go on an adventure with him. Luke also has to go through an interesting character arc. In the first film, Luke is a young man trapped in a situation he doesn’t want to be in. He goes through a tragedy which forces him to stand up against the empire and do what is right. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke begins to learn the ways of the Jedi and his pushed to his limits, before Vader reveals the ultimate truth to him. Finally, in Return of the Jedi, Luke accepts who he is and effectively becomes a true Jedi Knight. Basically the trilogy was Luke’s journey from boy to man. With all the spectacle, Mark Hamill’s performance has always been the heart of the original trilogy. It’s a shame he hasn’t got the respect he deserves.

8. Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate

When people credit the acting in this movie, they usually say how it’s Frank Sinatra’s best performance and that Angela Lansbury created one of the most classic villains of all time. Nobody ever talks about how great the now deceased Laurence Harvey was. Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, a soldier captured and brain washed by the Soviets. Shaw’s a total enigma in the film. At first, he seems a cold and very distant person,  but as the film goes on we learn more about his history. We understand why he’s so cold and we actually really sympathize with him. When he’s under Soviet control, Harvey brings a real sense of terror and menace to the screen. There is a certain element of tragedy to his character. It’s very sad watching his downfall and the actions Shaw takes toward the film’s end are quite emotional. Laurence Harvey brought a lot of depth to a character that could have come off as boring if played by someone else. It’s just a really captivating performance.


7. Ken Watanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima

Watanabe would have been higher in the list, but I think the main reason his performance his unappreciated has less to do with him and more to do with the fact that not many people saw this film. Still, I feel Watanabe does not receive the respect and acclaim he deserves. Watanabe plays Tadamichi Kuribayashi, a general stationed on Iwo Jima during World War Two. When we first see Kuribayashi, we can see he’s a smart man and an efficient general, but as the film goes we see he’s more than that. He’s a caring and compassionate person, and someone dedicated to his country and more importantly, his family. Through flashbacks, we also see that Kuribayashi had a strong relationship with Americans and we see a more torn individual. Watanabe brings so much depth and emotion to the screen and he does it in a subtle way. It’s also worth noting that Watanabe’s dialogue is almost all Japanese and subtitled and yet he still manages to completely pull you in. There’s two scenes in particular that really stick with me. One is where he explains to Saigo why thoughts of his family making dying for his country difficult, the other being a scene where Kuribayashi is listening to children of his home town sing. The camera circles Watanabe and he says so much just with his facial expressions. It’s shocking to think Watanabe didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.

6. Ben Affleck in Chasing Amy/Dogma

There are two reasons why Affleck’s performances in Chasing Amy and Dogma do not receive the respect they deserve. The first is that people just don’t like Ben Affleck, and will take any chance they can get to make fun of him. The second is because these two films are raunchy comedies written and directed by Kevin Smith, someone most people don’t take seriously. Regardless, I say Affleck gives great performances in both films. In Chasing Amy, Affleck plays a comic writer named Holden McNeil who falls in love with a lesbian. Affleck manages to find a balance of comedy, as well as playing a character that goes through some pretty tough emotions. He’s very likable, despite his mistakes. And when he does something wrong, you aren’t really mad at him, you just want him to see the error in his ways. Affleck proved to be even better in Dogma, playing the angel Bartleby who, along with Loki, were kicked out of heaven. Affleck starts off playing something of a straight man to Matt Damon’s Loki. He is very funny and likable through most of the film, but at about the third act he takes a turn and becomes a very scary character. He went from being a comedic characer to being someone with a lot of depth and motivation. His best moment is a scene in a parking garage were he argues with Loki over what to do with their enemies and about human beings in general. In recent years, Affleck has been making a come back both in front of and behind the camera. But for me, his best work as an actor will always be the early work he did with Kevin Smith.

5. Ted Levine in The Silence of the Lambs

Ted Levine played a terrifying and grotesque villain in The Silence of the Lambs. The problem is, he had to compete with Anthony Hopkins chilling performance as Hannibal Lecter, one of the greatest villains in the history of film. It’s a shame, because Levine really is fantastic as Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who kills and skins young, overweight women. Levine manages to be a character who is both horrifying yet also someone the audience can’t help but pity. There’s not much I can say about this performance, just that I’ve always loved it, and while Lecter may be the star, Levine plays the truly scary character.

4. Val Kilmer in Batman Forever

A lot of you reading this might think I’ve lost my mind. Val Kilmer from Batman Forever? One of the worst comic book films of all time? Well yeah. Why you may ask? Well, as flawed as Batman Forever is, and boy oh boy is it flawed, none of it is really Kilmer’s fault. In fact, the man played a decent Batman. But it seems the film’s awfulness seems to have brought down everyone in it, including Kilmer. In fact, I’ve even heard people say Kilmer was the worst live action Batman by far. I’m not saying the man was amazing in the role, but he did do a pretty good job with the material given to him. He drew a distinct line between Bruce and Batman, and he also did some genuine acting (unlike George Clooney in the next Batman film). And I wanna make something clear, I hate Batman Forever. The film is a total mess and to me is a total insult to Burton’s films and the Batman I love. But you can’t blame Kilmer for that. He did the best he could with the material he was given, and for that, he deserves some credit. Who knows, in a different Batman film, with a different script and director, we might be calling Val Kilmer one of the best to don the cape and cowl.

3. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

The double-edged sword of action films. On one hand, the films tend to bring in tremendous box office success. On the other, no matter how good the films are, most dismiss them as just action films, nothing more. But every so often, a film does come along that goes well beyond the genre trappings, Terminator 2 being one of those films. For me, one of the elements that makes T2 such a great film is the performance from Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. In the first film, Connor was a young vulnerable girl who with some luck (and help from Kyle Reese) managed to take out the terminator sent to kill her. In the sequel, Connor is a much stronger force. Physically, she’s in excellent shape and has become something of an expert with firearms. Mentally is a whole other story. Connor’s knowledge of the future has pushed her to the edge if insanity. It’s in this area that Hamilton really shines. Hamilton is fantastic in the role and is someone who is actually really scary. Even better is watching her relationship with John develop. While at first there seems to be a distance between them, the two come closer together as she stays with him longer. She has so many great scenes in the film. My favourites include her describing her dreams of the future, her threatening to kill Dyson, and her crying in her son’s arms. Hamilton does the near impossible in balancing both a badass action hero, as well as an emotionally deep and three-dimensional character. People praise the amazing action, the ground breaking special effects, and the elements of horror in the Terminator franchise. But for me, the brightest spot will always be Linda Hamilton’s incredible performance in T2 which in all honesty, I think she should have got an Oscar nomination for. I mean, if Sigourney Weaver can got nominated for Aliens, why can’t Linda Hamilton?

2. Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love

Talk about great James Bond villains, who do people talk about? Goldfinger, Oddjob, Bloefeld, Jaws, maybe even Dr. No. Talk about the late Robert Shaw, people talk about him in A Man for All Seasons, The Sting, and Jaws. Everyone seems to forget that Robert Shaw played the best Bond villain of all; Red Grant in From Russia With Love. And I make no hesitation in saying Grant is the best Bond villain, or at least my personal favourite. I’ve seen every Bond film, and while there are some great villains in the series, none of them come close to Grant. What makes Grant such a good villain you may ask? Well, it’s hard to really say why. For one, the guy isn’t in the film a lot. You see him lurking in the background throughout, always guiding things into motion, but he doesn’t take center stage until late in the film. In fact, Grant doesn’t have a single line of dialogue until well over the first hour. But despite this, you makes an undeniable mark in the film. Every time you see Grant, you feel a sense of menace and danger. He manages to say so much with just his body language and mannerisms. And when the guy finally does have a confrontation with Bond, it’s the best scene in the film. Red Grant is also the only Bond villain who truly felt like the mental and physical equal to Bond. That alone makes him someone of note worth.He may not be as flashy as Oddjob, or as diabolical as Bloefeld, or as crasy as Goldfinger. But Red Grant is the most threatening, most interesting, and most down to earth Bond villain of the series. This would not be true had Grant been played by an actor lesser than Robert Shaw.

1. Ray Liotta in Goodfellas

Easily my number one choice is Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. It blows my mind that his performance was over looked. Nearest I can tell there are two main reasons. One, he has tough competition from the other actors in the film. Joe Pesci won an Oscar for his supporting role as the foul-mouthed and violent Tommy. Tommy was such an energetic and entertaining character that I suppose for some he stole the spot light. Another important supporting character was Robert De Niro as Jimmy Conway. I mean, it’s Robert De Niro, and when the man is on, he’s on. P So having two great performances from your supporting cast probably hurt Liotta, especially when they’re veterans like Pesci and De Niro. The other reason is Goodfellas is directed by the brilliant Martin Scorsese. Scorsese brings so much style to any film he does, that it becomes as strong as any performance could possibly be. So Liotta also has to compete with Scorsese’s direction. But with all that said, Liotta definitely manages to keep up with all the talent around him. Liotta plays Henry Hill, a man who from the time he was a kid, wanted nothing more than to be a gangster. Essentially, Goodfellas is all about watching Hill’s downfall. This story wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting had Hill been played by anyone else but Liotta. It’s the kind of performance that draws you on and makes you feel like you’re going through the same experiences the character is. During the high points of Hill’s life, you’re having fun with him. You’re laughing, smiling, and in general having a good time. The same goes for the low points, where we feel the fear and desperation Hill fears. Despite Hill being criminal, you do grow to really like his character and feel bad for him when things go bad (and boy oh boy do things go bad). Bottom line, it’s a great performance, and I’d even say it’s better than Pesci’s or De Niro’s. And that’s hard for me to say as a De Niro fan.

So those are my top ten most under-rated performances. I hope you enjoyed it. Agree or disagree with my entries? Tell me in the comments, and feel free to share your own under rated performances.

Comments
  1. ianthecool says:

    I think you’re giving some people a little too much credit. Especially Val Kilmer.

    I always thought Hamilton was well-received fr her Sarah Conner, but perhaps that’s within the circles I travel.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      It’s not that she was poorly received, it’s just that people always over look her when they discuss the Terminator films. The only actor they seem to give any credit to his Arnold.

      Oh, and the reason I have Kilmer here is because I’ve heard more hate for him than for anybody to wear a Batsuit in live-action (I don’t even hear Clooney get as much flack), so I feel like he was worth sticking up for.

  2. SeanC says:

    Finally, Ray Liotta’s performance is given the credit it deserves. The first time I saw Goodfellas I thought he was so cool, and the narration was magnificent! To say his performance was under-rated would be an under-statement.
    Oh, and that was a pretty brave decision to put in Val Kilmer and Ben Affleck. I’d agree with the Affleck decision but not Kilmer (although you do make a valid point).

  3. […] Cooper has a great list of the Top Ten Under-Rated Performances. Ray Liotta was my favourite bit of […]

  4. A lot of you reading this might think I’ve lost my mind. Val Kilmer from Batman Forever?

    Yes. I do think you had a mental lapse.

    :D

    Red Grant huh? I’ll give you this, he’s that movies biggest selling poit, to me. He and Klebb. Shaw IS great, as always there, I just think the Bond series is best when there’s a bit of color to the characters. They don’t have to go full out cartoon, like some of them do. But Odd Job is Awesome, and so is Jaws.

    Like the rest of the flick, its a bit too understated for me… Not that I dont think its classic, certainly not. But its just not as high up in my list of faves as everyone elses.

    Liota WAS awesome in Goodfellas, you were spot on on that one.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I hear Kilmer get so much unnecessary flack. Batman Forever is complete trash, but it’s not Kilmer’s fault.

      I love villains like Odd Job and Jaws, but I always come back to Grant. I’d have watched a movie just about Grant.

      And yeah, I love Liotta.

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