Every dog has its day
5) Channing Tatum: Foxcatcher (2014)
Channing Tatum has got a bright future ahead of him. You might be wondering why he’s on this list if this is the case. The reason is simply that he hasn’t found his niche yet. He flitters between genres, never comfortably establishing himself as an actor of any particular style. He’s done comedy with the middling 21 Jump Street and sci-fi with the abysmal Jupiter Ascending. However, it is a more serious role in Foxcatcher where he’s displayed the greatest potential and has uncovered the direction he needs to head in.
Tatum for me in his efforts before Foxcatcher was rather bland. He seemed to merely sit there, a piece of eye candy not trying to even act. However, when given a role with some emotional depth he proved me wrong. I concede that the issue wasn’t Tatum not acting, it was that he just wasn’t bold enough to suit over the top cinema. His subtlety fits perfectly with his role as aspiring wrestler Mark Schultz. He conveys the depressive and weary state of Mark perfectly, showing his lacking motivation and will-power. Although he has to fight to make it to the 1988 Olympics, he can’t conjure up the physical or emotional strength, despite his large build. Tatum displays his jealousy towards his charismatic and upbeat wrestler big brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who he feels inferior to. Tatum acts with the same style he’s always acted with, but as a character in a sardonic state, his acting style finally translates convincingly. He can play characters with great believability, given that these characters and the tone of the film accommodate his particular skills.
Tatum is, regardless of my lack of approval of his overall efforts, a megastar. You don’t work with the Wachowski’s or Tarantino if you’re talentless. There’s obviously something there, and for me, this something is a serious actor who needs to challenge himself. If Tatum stops trying to play a dopey idiot like he does in 21 Jump Street, or a blockbuster action star like he does in Jupiter Ascending, then I have no doubt that he can push on and make himself not just a good actor, but a great actor. His career is young, and as he is a popular star he will have plenty more chances to prove himself.
4) Tyler Perry: Gone Girl (2014)
Tyler Perry is best known for his horrifically unfunny, pandering, offensive and mean-spirited Madea films. They really do scrape the very bottom of the barrel in terms of comedic creativity, and Perry just comes across as obnoxious, idiotic and irritating. That’s why when I saw him in Gone Girl I was pleasantly surprised and shocked. I never thought that the brainless moron behind the Madea trash could pull off a more serious role outside the context of a comedy film. He proved me wrong.
Perry’s role in Gone Girl isn’t particularly pivotal, but he gets enough screentime to flex his acting muscles. The film is a mystery thriller full of twists, about a man, Nick (Ben Affleck), who is accused of murdering his wife. Perry plays this man’s attorney, Tanner Bolt. He retains an element of his traditionally comedic persona, playing a rather cheeky character, but he is also intelligent and emotionally adept. He cares for Nick, who he knows is innocent. He is sympathetic, and fully immerses himself in the case, using his intellectualism and ingenuity to fight for him, and is sincerely pained when Nick is in trouble. He is a character we grow to like, and this is down to a mixture of good writing, but more due to Perry himself. He uses the wit and charm he had shown very small traces of in his monotonous Madea franchise, to create a believable and relatable character.
Unlike the one-dimensional Madea, Perry portrays a 3-D character as Tanner Bolt, showing that he is an actor with range and diversity. He is clearly able to play characters who don’t just boil down to being the stereotypical angry sassy black woman cliche we’ve all grown so tired of. Perry, like Tatum, is still young, and with this film being so recent I hope to see more performances of this calibre. Who knows, maybe some more ambitious cinematic exploits will serve as a worthy penance for the torture inflicted upon audiences through his Madea series.
3) Arnold Schwarzenegger: Terminator 1 & 2 (1984 & 1991)
Whilst Arnie is from a technical standpoint a horrible actor, he is incredibly endearing. He consistently puts his all into his roles and makes them fun. A film like Jingle all the Way, whilst corny and badly written, is at least enjoyable because Schwarzenegger always tries his best. The problem is that he’s so wooden. His lines are stilted, his body language is awkward and his facial expressions non-existent. Well, considering how robotic his acting seems, it’s no surprise that his genuinely good performances came when he was playing a robot.
It always helps when you have a director of the pedigree of James Cameron directing your film, and Arnie really did benefit from this. The Terminator is the perfect role for him. He manages to take what usually makes his acting terrible and convert it into a fantastic performance. The first two Terminator films, by far the best ones, see John and Sarah Connor enduring attacks from robots sent from the future by Skynet, a company controlling humanity through its artificial intelligence, as John Connor will lead the resistance and bring them down. Arnie is in both films one of these robots, firstly sent to kill, but then to protect John and Sarah. Through his lack of fluidity in terms of movements and dialogue and his lack of facial expressivity, he perfectly mimics an expressionless, non-sentient robot, and his hulking physique makes him an intimidating prospect. Yes, he doesn’t really have to act all that much here, but he deserves credit for using his limited abilities effectively. And who doesn’t love such classic catchphrases as ‘I’ll be back’ and ‘Fuck you, asshole’.
Whilst there are infinitely better actors out there than Arnie, and whilst he hasn’t really delivered a truly great performance outside of these movies, no one could have played this specific role better than him. He perfectly embodied The Terminator, using his limited talent to staggering effect. If anything, actors who try and overstep the limits of their ability or range could really take a valuable lesson from Schwarzenegger. He seems to be very self-aware, and never embarrasses himself by being overly ambitious and falling short. Arnie is such a likeable guy because he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and established himself as a household name with these performances.
2) Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Some may disagree with calling Carrey a ‘bad actor’. The majority of his film’s don’t call for a serious, down to earth performance. However, regardless of how you perceive his style, the majority of his film’s are throwaway comedies made for people with a low mental age. Whilst he plays an idiot well, playing an idiot isn’t really something commendable, and therefore I feel he qualifies for a place on this list.
I could easily have included The Truman Show instead, but Eternal Sunshine is for me a better film, largely due to the genius writer, Charlie Kaufman’s, contribution. The premise is that Joel (Jim Carrey) falls in love with Clementine (Kate Winslet), but after they are out of the honeymoon phase, they constantly fight. After breaking up, Winslet pays money to have any memory of the relationship wiped from her mind. Carrey tries to come to terms with this and win her back. It’s a beautiful, genuinely heartbreaking story. The visuals are mindblowing, my favourite moment being when the house on the beach falls in, and it’s funny, yet bittersweet. As this is a romantic comedy, Carrey gets somewhat of an opportunity to display his comedic ability, but it is more grounded. He finds the perfect balance between humorous and sombre and manages to break away from his typecasting as a mad moron. He plays Joel with introspection and sardonicism, not words usually associated with a Carrey character. Because of his melancholic, downbeat performance, we feel real sympathy for him, which contributes massively to the overall success of the film. The traces of his comedic charm which creep through also make him a likeable character who we want to see end up with Clementine. He doesn’t overdo it at any point, and instead, we see a side to Carrey we hadn’t seen before.
Carrey never really established himself as a serious actor after this film, continuing to press forward with his unique brand of physical comedy. He starred in some really bad films, most notably Dumb and Dumber To, a painful sequel following on from an already rather painful first film. He also starred in some okay efforts like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. However, he never really hit the same heights as he did here. Either way, wherever he goes with his career, – and I do feel he could produce another surprising performance due to his enthusiastic nature – we’ll always have this fantastic example of a marvellous Carrey to look back upon.
1) Adam Sandler: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Yes, you’re really seeing this. Adam Sandler has actually been in a good film. I’m not lying to you. This is the same Sandler who brought us such cinematic abominations as Jack and Jill and Grown Ups. Your confusion will probably be somewhat cured when I tell you that one of the greatest living active American directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, directed this film. Whereas Carrey’s brand of comedy tends to be rather divisive, I think all cinema lovers can readily agree that Sandler is just plain bad. He undoubtedly deserves the top spot on this list.
Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love plays a socially awkward, lonely and angry man. Whilst we’ve seen Sandler play outcasts before, we’ve never seen it done with such moments of poignancy, vulnerability and subtlety. Thomas-Anderson seems to almost be playing on Sandler’s comic persona, finding deeper, ingrained elements to him that had never quite come to the surface whilst working with less talented directors. The story essentially boils down to Sandler’s newfound love for Lena (Emily Watson), the first girl he’s had a romantic connection with, being threatened by a sex line business – ran by Dean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – demanding money off of him and harrassing him. It’s not a particularly complex story narratively, but Sandler makes it engrossing. We feel his timidity when he is bullied by his sisters or pursued by Dean’s men. We have moments where his anger boils over and he assumes a sense of control he had never previously had, whether it be him spontaneously smashing a window or brutally beating Dean’s goons, resulting in shocking, rather distressing moments. We see the same child-like Sandler we’ve always seen in some ways, but Thomas-Anderson allows him to deliver a cathartic and nuanced performance, where his character develops and displays several varying emotions. The Sandler ‘comedy’ and immaturity is thrown out of the window, and it is proven that he is a man with genuine talent if handled properly.
Sandler is a frustrating actor. You get the feeling with the majority of his film’s that the premise is there, like Pixels, but that he can’t be bothered to flesh it out. Whilst his earlier film’s like Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer are by no means classics, they at least have a few funny moments, and Sandler genuinely seems to be trying. Nowadays he’s become tired and cynical. Every time you see him he just seems to be waiting on his paycheck. His films have just become an excuse to dick around with his buddies whilst making a few bucks. Unlike Carrey, I don’t think there’s a chance of us seeing a Sandler renaissance, as he seems contented with his current underwhelming career trajectory. And I think that’s a great shame, as beneath his lazy and childish persona, there’s a talented actor trying to get out.