Movies

3 Terrible Films Saved by Amazing Performances

We’ve all seen them. In fact, you might be watching one right now, killing some time reading this until your favorite actor pops back up in that piece of celluloid crap you’re sucking through your eyes for sake of nothing else better on TV.

There are libraries filled with cinema stinkers interspersed with just a few pieces of minable gold hidden throughout their shaky and unstable foundations of bad writing, acting, and production values.

And yet, sometimes, those little gold rocks shine so bright and so blindingly, that their glare whites-out those unenviable elements, allowing for a perfectly fine cinematic experience. Here are three of those films.

This is one of those films I find myself enduring no matter the minute-time (I’ve watched it on Starz about 5 times now, almost never from the beginning). Just let me start by asking this: how the hell did Jonah Hill get nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Pitt’s number’s guy?

Is the Academy that desperate for nominees that they’ll pick whoever is standing next to Pitt and put his / her name on the ballot? Hill does the minimal amount work an actor can do on a film without being considered an extra, and for it, he gets an Oscar nod. OK, rant over. Now that I got that out, you can already guess as to whose performance saved this.

I’m not in any way a huge Brad Pitt fan. I think he’s a good-enough actor but if it wasn’t for his looks, his talent certainly wouldn’t have propelled him to the top of Hollywood’s A-list. But in Moneyball, Pitt carries himself like a wise veteran of the cinematic community, focusing more on using director Bennett Miller’s framing of tight office spaces to his advantage, with subtle tics and gestures that materialize his character’s anxieties and emotional repressions.

It’s no tour-DE-force performance, like the next two on this list, and the film’s narrative isn’t all that exciting, but it’s what Pitt doesn’t do in this film that makes this flick so enthralling.

When his character Billy Beane finally shows some semblance of full-hearted emotion, in the film’s final scene, it’s almost as if we’ve finally watched Pitt mature into his idol Robert Redford (Pitt’s Beane even physically emulates Redford; down to the hair and gestures and all). Did Hill deserve a nomination for this film? Hell no. But Pitt certainly did. And maybe even a win.

Not happy that I put this on this list, are you? Let’s do an experiment. Take away Denzel’s performance as a super-charged, manipulative monster of a public-servant-gone-psycho, and what’s left to chew on? Ethan Hawke’s performance? Get real. Sub-plots filled with the likes of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Eva Mendes? Try again. Oh, I know: the ten-minutes of screen time actor Scott Glenn gets as Denzel’s criminal friend? Ding-ding-ding! You got it.

The only thing worth watching other than Denzel’s Oscar-winning performance is the small amount of time we get to spend with the lead from the original Man on Fire (1987).

Despite all that, Denzel gives such a motivated performance—director Antoine Fuqua lit a serious fire under his ass for this project—that the film’s shortcomings just melt aside to make way for, easily, Washington’s most fiery performance of his career.

It’s the film that spurred The Notorious B.I.G’s (po’ out a little Steel Reserve for the fallen, son) nickname, Frank White. I never understood Big Poppa as a connoisseur of fine visual-art, but there’s something to this film’s appeal, not only to the hip-hop culture—the film is reminiscent of Scarface, another urban favorite—but to the realm of cinema as a whole…and it sure as hell isn’t because of the script.

KONY (not the African warlord, the movie), is a bit of a mess that seems driven and motivated well-enough until the entire thing begins to unravel by the film’s second act. The narrative drives off a cliff, most of the performances—including David Caruso’s—are over-the-top or completely unmotivated, and the finale certainly leaves something left to be craved. And yet, I love this film for one reason: Christopher Walken.

Walken gives one of my favorite performances of his career (Catch Me If You Can also springs to mind). And, it’s not because Walken is doing anything out of his range. The squinty, intense eyes. The sly, smug grins. Both, ways of revealing his inner-trading knowledge of you; and he knows that you know that he knows.

It’s the Walken way. This is how he plies his craft. It’s just that in this film, he does it better than any other project. This is Walken in full-bore, head-cocking dance-crazy form injected with a dose of poisonous danger that’s a boatload of fun to watch. Sure, he’s been in better films, and maybe has had better performances, but none are as captivating and all-together enjoyable than this one.

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