William Hurt has been a fierce cinematic presence for decades, and now he’s slowly embarked on making his mark in television. He was the epitome of a sex symbol in the 1980’s, a uniquely handsome movie star who brought an abstract and fresh approach to each role he consumed. Sex symbol status aside, Hurt was nominated three years in a row for Best Actor, winning his first nomination for KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN. He has been able to navigate the waters of blockbuster films like CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, independent dramas like THE KING, and television. His first prominent turn on the long form medium was in FX’s DAMAGES where he played a former lover and father to Glenn Close’s son. He then starred as Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK and most recently he gave an eccentric turn as Donald Cooperman who is the big bad in Amazon Studio’s GOLIATH that recently yielded Billy Bob Thornton Best Actor at this past year’s Golden Globes. Hurt has been around since the late 1970’s and has always delivered fine performances even when the film itself paled in comparison to his performance.
THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST 1988 Dir. Lawrence Kasdan
This film marks the third collaboration between Hurt and writer/director Lawrence Kasdan as well as the two being reunited with Kathleen Turner. Here, Hurt gives a very sensible turn as a man in constant mourning over the death of his son; the grief is crippling. He navigates the waters of the film with a reserved sense of humor, yet the audience becomes absorbed by the sadness in his eyes. As the film progresses, and his life is renewed with the love and affection from Geena Davis, his reserved and heavily introverted Macon Leary begins to breath life and flourishes.
ALTERED STATES 1980 Dir. Ken Russell
Hurt made a huge splash with his first film role. This is a film that pushes every boundary possible while exploring the themes of obsession and the human psyche. He is absolutely perfect as the young and sexy scientist looking to push our reality into new realms. Being his first film, this allowed Hurt to tackle thematic subject matter that even to this day would be rendered taboo.
THE BIG BRASS RING – 1999 Dir. George Hickenlooper
This film is a cinematic anomaly. Based upon an unproduced screenplay by Orson Welles, the film follows Hurt as a gubernatorial candidate who has a very dark and very secretive past that’s exposure hinges upon his former mentor. Hurt has always played these types of characters well. Men who try their best to be noble, but are completely shrouded by their past transgressions. This is a film that is difficult to track down, but well worth it.
THE BIG CHILL 1983 Dir. Lawrence Kasdan
There are few actor/director relationships that were so fertile and rewarding as William Hurt and Lawrence Kasdan. In this film, Hurt plays Nick, the drug addicted intellectual who was psychologically changed by his tour in Vietnam. While each character in the film was written and performed with such care, Nick was the one role that all the male actors lobbied Kasdan for, but he wrote the part specifically for Hurt.
BODY HEAT – 1981 Dir. Lawrence Kasdan
Kasdan’s first feature was an unofficial remake of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and it was also the genre setter for the steamy and sweaty erotic thrillers of the 1980’s. There are not many films sexier and more dangerous than BODY HEAT. With John Barry’s silky score, to the constant sweaty sex between Hurt and Kathleen Turner – this film will always be unmatched. The arc of Hurt’s character is fantastic. He plays the role perfectly. He’s the sleazy lawyer turned obsessive lover turned the ultimate dupe.
BROADCAST NEWS – 1987 Dir. James L. Brooks
Nominated for Best Actor by the Academy, Hurt portrayed the bubble headed blonde anchorman who had a complete and utter lack of understanding of what he was reading into the television, but that didn’t matter because he looked great doing it. He plays this character with as much gusto as he does with moral ambiguity. He’s not a bad guy by any means, but he’s not nearly as noble as he is propped up to be.
GOLIATH – 2016 Amazon Studios
This is a television show that didn’t make any wakes when it was dropped in October of 2016. Hurt plays the big bad of the show, he’s the archetypal noir villain who sits in an office that is shaded by his own shadows and web of secrets. The right side of his body is cover in horrid burn scars, from the top of his head to his hand; that only adds to his mysterious intrigue. He speaks in riddles and poetic fables in a cadence that only he is capable of. Billy Bob Thornton won the Golden Globe for his performance in the film, but it’s an injustice that Hurt’s performance seems to have been left by the wayside.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE – 2005 Dir. David Cronenberg
In this film, Hurt gives one of the best performances of all time. His total screentime is less than fifteen minutes, and he strategically brought in to close the third act of the film. He is absolutely menacing in this film, from Cronenberg’s use of eye light on him to his rustbelt accent – Hurt owns the entire picture that was already great before he shows up. This film also highlighted Hurt’s cinematic return. He won Best Supporting Actor from the New York and Los Angelos film critics association, and he was nominated by the Academy for his role, only to lose out to George Clooney.
I LOVE YOU TO DEATH – 1990 Dir. Lawrence Kasdan
This marks the last collaboration between Hurt and Kasdan. In this film, Hurt takes on a completely zany and hysterical role as a drunkard pool player who gets roped into killing a man for a couple hundred dollars. His role is very small, but his long hair, John Lennon esque sunglasses, and obsession over Reggie Jackson marks this an incredibly unforgetable performance.
KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN – 1985 Dir. Hector Babenco
Fresh off his two collaborations with Lawrence Kasdan, Hurt risked his movie stardom gigantically by taking on a role in a small film where he played an imprisoned, flamboyantly gay sex offender in a South American prison. He strips himself of every single masculine quality and becomes this very feminine and fragile character who copes with his horrible life by retelling the love story from a Nazi propaganda film to his freedom fight cellmate, Raul Juila. Hurt won Best Actor from the Academy for his fearless performance, further lamenting this as one of the best performances in cinema history.
Many of us love Quentin Tarantino films for a multitude of reasons; the story, his use of popular music, his dialogue, and especially his casting. He resurrected the careers of John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Jamie Foxx, David Carradine and introduced Michael Fassebender, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman into the mainstream of cinema. Along the way he has also brilliantly used Kurt Russell, Michael Parks, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Madsen, and many other great actors that have given some of their best performances in a Tarantino film. There are so many actors that Tarantino should work with, so making a list of just ten is nearly impossible. But this is my dream list. Some are more realistic than others.
Most recently, Bisset gave a show-stopping performance in Abel Ferrara’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK. Not only was it great to see her work with such compelling material, but it was also incredible to see her work with Abel Ferrara, a director that’s transgressive works wouldn’t normally attract an actress of that clout and cinematic reputation. She gives a fierce performance in the film, and I could only imagine what she would be capable of in a Tarantino film.
Russell Crowe is in prime career transition. His days of the young, muscular cinematic asskicker are long gone. He’s currently floating between the mentor, the heavy, and the middle-aged leading man. His performance in THE NICE GUYS is one of his best in recent memory, and his turn in LES MISERABLE is one of the most underrated performances within the last ten years. He’s more than suited to headline or sidestep back into a Max Cherry-esque role.
Daniel Day- Lewis
It’s widely noted that one of the only roles that Day-Lewis has ever sought out was the role of Vincent Vega in PULP FICTION. First of all, I can’t imagine what DDL would have done with that role, and secondly, I can’t imagine Tarantino, hot off his indie hit of RESERVOIR DOGS telling the studio and DDL no, I’m going with John Travolta. Day-Lewis can take a role, even in some of his more mediocre films, and knock that role out of the park. He’s showy when he needs to be, and knows when to reign in a performance to make it so slight and subtle. Imagine what he could do with the colorfulness of Tarantino’s dialogue.
Whatever is left of cinematic royalty, it’s Jane Fonda. Throughout the years, she has continued to stay relevant in both film and not television with Netflix’s GRACE AND FRANKIE. Recently, she gave a briefly pulverizing performance in Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH. Casing Fonda would not only be a callback to some her earlier performances, but she would also bring an air of golden movie star cache that we rarely see on film anymore.
Let’s face it, Harrison Ford is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Jack Ryan – yet for the past twenty years or so, he hasn’t been as compelling as he used to be. Yet, his return as Han Solo in THE FORCE AWAKENS is one of the best things he’s ever done. The return was phenomenal, thrilling, and heartfelt. His performance was organic, and there wasn’t one moment in the film where it felt as if he were phoning in the performance. Ford has had quite the ride as a movie star, and his persona would go a hell of a long way inside of a Tarantino film.
If there is any actor at this moment in time who is due to make a cinematic resurrection, it is Mel Gibson. His most recent leading turn in BLOOD FATHER shows, without a doubt, that his screen presence is still an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. His smaller roles in MACHETE KILLS and THE EXPENDABLES 3 further prove that he and Tarantino are a perfect match. Regardless of how outlandish or low key that theoretical role would be, Gibson would absolutely kill it.
Stephen Lang is much like Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s a cinematic chameleon. Decade after decade the guy has disappeared into so many memorable roles in so many memorable films. Most recently, Lang has taken a career transition as a muscular badass in James Cameron’s AVATAR and this year his gives a tour de force performance in Fede Alvarez’s DON’T BREATHE. He owns Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES, outshining both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Mann knew exactly what he was doing casting Lang, bringing in a skilled actor to bring the film to an absolute stop during the final moments of his epic gangster saga. The merging of Tarantino and Lang is a cinematic match made in heaven.
I can’t think of many current actors who has been in so many great films in such a short time span. KILLING THEM SOFTLY, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, ANIMAL KINGDOM, SLOW WEST, and his next two films are polar opposites: UNA based off of the transgressive and acclaimed Broadway play, BLACKBIRD and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY where he is cast as the evil Imperial Director Orson Krenick, the man in charge of the Empire’s military. A lot of Tarantino’s work is cast in moral ambiguity, and there isn’t anyone better at playing that, than Ben Mendelsohn.
Thankfully, Vince Vaughn has successfully shaken off his prolific comedic career and has heavily vested himself back into dramatic works. The amazing second season of TRUE DETECTIVE reset Vaughn’s path as an actor. His next film is Mel Gibson’s long anticipated World War II film, HACKSAW RIDGE where Vaughn plays a rough and tough commanding officer. After that, Vaughn is going to be in BONE TOMAHAWK director S. Craig Zahler’s BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 that sounds as dark and gruesome as BONE TOMAHAWK did. Vaughn, who can play both humor and drama would be an excellent mesh with Tarantino’s words and look of his films.
Whether she’s killing aliens or emotionally breaking Kevin Kline, or romancing Bill Murray; Weaver has always had a unique and powerful presence on screen. Her work is always solid, regardless of the end result of whatever project she is working on. She belongs to the same class of actresses like Pam Grier, Daryl Hannah, and Jennifer Jason Leigh – those actors who had at one point were A list actors due to not only their sex appeal, but also their carefully crafted performances. Whether she’d be a femme fatal, or a badass hero – she would fit perfectly into Tarantino film.
Harvey Keitel is one of cinema’s most valued actors. His brand: tough alpha male, career criminal, and the all-around bad motherfucker. His filmography is unique; he has been a mainstay in the works of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Toback, Abel Ferrara, and most recently Wes Anderson. While his hallmark is the tough guy, he’s been able to transform that archetype into colorful dimensional characters that only he could have portrayed on film. Whether he’s in a crime film, a big budget opus, or an incredibly small independent film, Keitel is always on the mark and he is always fascinating to watch.
ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 1974 Dir. Martin Scorsese
In his third collaboration with his friend Martin Scorsese, Keitel gives a dual layer performance. He starts out being the affable and charming suitor of Ellen Burstyn’s Alice – until he isn’t. He’s the all too real sociopath that is able to cover his anger and inner frustration with his charm. Keitel is frightening in this film, the way he’s able to camouflage the character’s actual motivations and drive is unique to the range he has as an actor.
BAD LIEUTENANT 1992 Dir. Abel Ferrara
There has never been a performance like Keitel’s turn in BAD LIEUTENANT. It is as pulverizing as it is soul bearing. He removes the audience from their comfort zone, and takes them into the heart of darkness, watching a man spiral out of control. He’s a killer, a gambler, a junkie, a cop – yet he accidentally finds a reason to live through redemption. While the Bad Lieutenant is incredibly vile, the subtle vulnerability that Keitel graces makes this performance all that more tragic. Aside from being one of Keitel’s finest performances, this remains one of the best performances in cinema history.
DANGEROUS GAME 1993 Dir. Abel Ferrara
Off the heels of BAD LIEUTENANT, the seminal trio of Abel Ferrara, Harvey Keitel, and cinematographer Ken Kelsch embarked on one of the most daring and transgressive pseudo autobiographical films, DANGEROUS GAME. Like Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ or Felini’s 8 ½ Abel Ferrara uses his actor as a vessel to tell his own story on film. Keitel completely shakes his gangster vibe but leaves his darkness and intensity completely intact to play filmmaker Eddie Israel in a movie within a movie.
FINDING GRACELAND 1998 Dir. David Winkler
In the vastly underseen FINDING GRACELAND, Keitel plays a quietly broken drifter who claims to be Elvis Presley. While on the road to Graceland, he gives his most quietly heartfelt performance with an incredible amount of soul and reach. We’ve seen characters like this before in cinema, but seeing Keitel playing a man claiming to be Elvis, along with singing SUSPICIOUS MINDS, is a one of a kind performance. Yes. Harvey Keitel sings Elvis. That’s worth watching it on its own.
FINGERS 1978 Dir. James Toback
Somewhere there needs to be a theatre showing a double bill of FIVE EASY PIECES and FINGERS. This is a key performance from Keitel, where he plays the gangster and the intellectual. He’s a brutal enforcer for his father, yet doubles as a piano prodigy. Both sides of himself have one thing in common: sexual addiction. FINGERS is Toback’s finest hour as a filmmaker, and is yet another performance of Keitel’s that is chalked up in the underseen category.
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST 1988 Dir. Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s most seminal film, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is controversial and monumental for a variety of reasons. One of the most enamoring aspects is Keitel’s reinvention of Judas. He’s an insurgent warrior, he’s the loyal follower, and then he becomes the voice of reason while Jesus is being guided through his final temptation. Keitel’s turn earned him a Razzie nomination, and that is completely off base. Keitel is brutish and forceful; purposely directed to speak with an overt Brooklyn accent with a new take on the Biblical character.
MEAN STREETS 1973 Dir. Martin Scorsese
MEAN STREETS is often mentioned as the film that birthed the brilliant collaboration of Scorsese and De Niro, but the film is much more than that. Keitel takes the lead, as the morally conflicted Charlie who is set to take over for his gangster Uncle, yet having to constantly juggle his wild card best friend Johnny Boy (brilliantly played by De Niro). De Niro has the flashy role, but Keitel is the foundation of the film. He’s Scorsese’s alter ego; he is struggling with his faith, his family, and his identity. Keitel gives an incredibly soft and vulnerable performance as a man who is stuck in his own quagmire, having no way out.
RESERVOIR DOGS 1992 Dir. Quentin Tarantino
This is the performance where everything Keitel has done before comes to a perfect culmination. There isn’t an actor who has delivered Tarantino’s dialogue with as much weight as Keitel. Keitel walks Tarantino’s walk, and in particular talks his talk. There is a Shakespearean quality to Keitel’s performance in this film. From the start of the film, we know he’s heading for impending doom, and he does it all with gravitas and honor.
TAXI DRIVER 1976 Dir. Martin Scorsese
Originally, Scorsese wanted Keitel to play the campaign staffer Tom (the role Albert Brooks knocks out of the park), but instead Keitel wanted to play the pimp who had only a few lines of dialogue in the original screenplay. Keitel transforms into a smooth and funny character, yet in his private encounter with Iris (Jodie Foster) we see what a master of manipulation and control he is in a creepy and quiet way.
SMOKE 1995 Dir. Wayne Wang
SMOKE is another one of those quietly underseen gems of independent cinema. In a very low key way, we see Keitel in a new light. He’s himself, in a certain regard, a brash New Yorker who smokes, runs a tobacco shop, yet he has an undying pension for art. In this film’s case, he’s a photographer, who has taken the same photograph in the same intersection every day for the past twenty years. This is a very touching film, and Keitel gives one of his sweetest performances.
YOUTH 2015 Dir. Paolo Sorrentino
In a character that is fusion of Charles Bukowski and John Cassavetes, Keitel plays writer/director Mick Boyle who is on his annual holiday in the Swiss Alps with his best friend, Michael Caine. This was a role that Keitel was born to play. He’s the artist that is overflowing with creativity and inner torment. He’s being torn apart by his own emotions and ego, and he gives is a bittersweet showboat of a performance of what it is truly like to be an artist.
Honorable mentions: BAD TIMING, BLUE COLLAR, BUGSY, CITY OF INDUSTRY, COP LAND, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE PIANO
Tommy Lee Jones has had a uniquely interesting career. He’s made a career out of playing the authoritative Gary Cooper-esque strong silent types; yet Jones has embraced his stoic calling to cinema, freely admitting that some of his turns are because people pay him a lot of money. Even when he’s walking through a role that he’s done before, like in CAPTAIN AMERICA, he’s always a joy to watch. Jones is incredibly sharp; his IQ is astronomic. He’s best friends with Cormac McCarthy, and spends his free time on his ranch in Texas. Jones is also a PR nightmare. He only does interviews because he is contracted to, and he makes it very apparent during them, and you can’t help but feel bad for the person who is interviewing him. His career is has been split into three different factions: staple Tommy Lee Jones, wildly hammy and outrageous Tommy Lee Jones, and the quiet auteur behind the camera who has become one of cinema’s most quietly treasured filmmakers.
BATMAN FOREVER 1995 Dir. Joel Schumacher
Cashing in on his recent Oscar win for THE FUGITIVE, Jones embarked on a crash course of over-the-top shtick. In an interview, Jim Carrey recalled meeting Jones for the first time prior to filming. Carrey was sitting at a bar excited to meet Jones. Jones walked in, went up to Jim Carrey and looked at him dead in the eyes and said, “I hate you. I really don’t like you. I cannot sanction your buffoonery.” As cold and outright awful a thing that is to say to someone, I can’t help but picture that situation in my mind and laugh. Jones spent the entire production in ridiculous costumes and makeup, doing his absolute best to out Jim Carrey, Jim Carrey. Whilst the film is a far cry from the Burton films, it is still a lot of fun. The fun is attributed to the ironically great chemistry between Jones and Carrey.
COBB 1994 Dir. Ron Shelton
COBB is a unique film. It’s a very unorthodox sports biopic by Ron Shelton, yet it almost feels incomplete. For any flaws this film has, it has nothing to do with Jones’ performance. He is remarkable in this film. Shelton did some of the best writing of his career with the overly colorful dialogue that he provides for Jones. He blends his stoicism with a very hammy performance. It is easily Jones’ most understated performance. He plays two Ty Cobbs, the young and ruthless baseball player in flashbacks and then for a majority of the film, a mad old genius that is very reminiscent of Howard Hughes. He’s brilliant, he’s crazy, he’s outrageous, and yet Jones shades this unlikable character with an amount of vulnerability that you cannot help but identify and sympathize with.
HEAVEN AND EARTH 1993 Dir. Oliver Stone
In Jones’ second collaboration with Olive Stone, he portrays the most frightening character in his career, the affable Steve Butler who falls in love with a woman while serving in Vietnam. Throughout the course of the film once he enters, Jones takes a back seat in more of a supporting role, but while watching the film unfold, you feel the pressure of his performance whenever he’s not on screen. His character is brutal, a psychological villain that has nothing to give the world but overt brutality.
JFK 1991 Dir. Oliver Stone
There is not enough that can be said about Oliver Stone’s masterpiece about obsession. It is one of the most engrossing films ever made; it has the most unique ensemble ever. The casting of Jones as a flamboyantly gay, ex CIA man who lives in the public of New Orleans as well as the dark shadow world of conspiracy, and underground sex parties is one of the most brilliant casting strokes ever. Jones plays two characters in this film. Clay Shaw, the upstanding citizen, business man, and community leader of New Orleans. He’s the epitome of a straight man; he’s regarded and respected, he’s a class act. And then. And then we see him as Clay Bertrand, in all gold body paint, with a cap on making himself look like the Greek God Apollo, snapping poppers and inhaling excessive amounts of cocaine and acting in a way that is so repulsive, you are completely mesmerized by his performance.
LINCOLN 2012 Dir. Steven Spielberg
Daniel Day-Lewis playing the most admired President in US history wrapped with Tommy Lee Jones’ turn as the civil rights champion Thaddeus Stevens is an absolute Godsend to cinema. While Day-Lewis’ performance flat-out dwarfs everyone else in this film, Tommy Lee Jones goes toe to toe with him. His screen time is smaller than it probably should have been, but Jones gives a standout performance not only in the film, but also of his career. His apathy for anything other than what is right, is brutally honest in this film. His sunken and worn down physicality only adds mileage to a performance, which if anyone else played could have most certainly been a one note role.
NATURAL BORN KILLERS 1994 Dir. Oliver Stone
In their third and final collaboration Oliver Stone and Tommy Lee Jones brought to life one of the most excessively outrageous characters in a film that was already chalked full of excess. In the third act of the film, we are introduced to the vile Warden Dwight McCluskey, and my God is the Warden a vile human being. His greasy hair is perfectly slicked to the side, his crusty pencil thing moustache is all you can look at, and his zany attire is obnoxious. Jones plays this part perfectly. He outdoes anything he has ever done. His performance is out so out of control it makes Mickey and Mallory look tame.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN 2007 Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
No one could have played Sheriff Ed Tom Bell like Tommy Lee Jones. The horror and cruelness of Cormac McCarthy’s world is in every crack and crevasse of this man’s face. The brutality of it all has worn this man down, more so than almost any other character we have seen on the screen. He’s a man who as seen it all, until the events of the film unfold, and his apathy is swiftly shaped into caution and disbelief. His low key performance is criminally overshadowed by the flamboyance of Javier Bardem. This performance remains on the highest tier of his filmography and is one of his most underrated.
THE SUNSET LIMITED 2011 Dir. Tommy Lee Jones
HBO deserves all the credit in the world for allowing Tommy Lee Jones to adapt Cormac McCarthy’s brutally heavy two man play for a Saturday night premier. It is one of the most emotionally draining experiences anyone can endure. The dark philosophy of life is on full display in a two hour conversation between a suicidal intellectual played by Jones and a killer turned born again savior played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson. McCarthy’s razor sharp dialogue is made even more protruding by Jones’ linguistic abilities as well as his physical acting.
THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA 2005 Dir. Tommy Lee Jones
The honestly of Jones’ performance in this film is absolutely haunting. The hardened vulnerability of his performance is what won him Best Actor at Cannes, and it is a performance that will always stick with you after seeing it. Out of his entire filmography, his performance in this film is the one that is criminally underseen, underrated, and understated. I implore anyone and everyone to seek this unique film out and watch it. This is the film that put Jones on the map as a not only a brilliant filmmaker, but in that unique class of actor/filmmaker that rarely works to the degree that it does with this gut-wrenching film.
UNDER SIEGE 1992 Dir. Andrew Davis
Whoever was behind casting Tommy Lee Jones against Steven Seagal is a genius. Jones capitalizes on his quick wit and intellect and amazingly holds his own against Seagal in their blistering knife fight during the climax of the film. Jones is at his absolute finest in this film, delivering darkly humorous dialogue that is strangely understandable. Not only is Jones on fire in this film, he also gives us one cinema’s best villains. What makes his performance so great in this film, is how much fun he’s having.
Honorable mentions: THE FUGITIVE/US MARSHALS, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, THE HUNTED, BLOWN AWAY, SPACE COWBOYS, LONESOME DOVE, BLUE SKY, THE CLIENT, ROLLING THUNDER.