Tag Archives: actor

In memorial: Nate’s Top Ten Max Von Sydow Performances

Roger Ebert once referred to Max Von Sydow as a “mighty oak of Swedish cinema” and the same can be said of his career as a whole both in his home country and Hollywood too. Max was an actor of tremendous presence, a noble spirit with the kind of line delivery that was immersive and drew you right into the scene. He has passed away this week at age 90 and will be missed by countless people who loved his work, but he leaves behind a multi decade legacy of brilliant and diverse acting work, and these are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Blofeld in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again

Might be controversial to say but Max was the coolest Blofeld in my book. Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas had a businesslike, robotic vibe to their interpretations but Max gave this mega villain a decidedly sardonic, playful edge. Plus that hair makes him stand out from the classic bald image we’re used to. He isn’t in the film much but his scenes are super fun.

9. Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things

Malevolent, ancient and evil, Gaunt is a demon in human form hellbent on reaping souls. Setting up a curious antique shop in fictional Castle Rock, he goes up against suspicious Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris) and seems to have an unnatural knowledge of the town. Von Sydow makes keen, charming and ultimately super creepy work of this guy, one of the most well portrayed King antagonists put to film.

8. Dr. Kynes in David Lynch’s Dune

A longtime resident of the planet Arrakis, Kynes is an intuitive fellow who senses the buried potential within Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan) and admires the resolve and integrity of his father Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). He gets some interesting, atmospheric moments in the film’s trademark voiceovers and makes a magnetic presence.

7. Judge Fargo in Judge Dredd

Fargo is one of the few high ranking judges of mega city who hasn’t been swayed by corruption, and that unconverted resilience is nicely embodied by Max. I know this isn’t the most well organized film and it hasn’t aged all that amazingly but there’s a lot to love, a bunch of dope production design and one hell of a cast, our man included. When he’s banished from the city for helping Dredd, there’s no sight quite as epic as a duster clad Max sauntering out into the desert like some intergalactic gunslinger. Good times.

6. Dr. Paul Novotny in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

This underrated 80’s SciFi fantasy palooza sees clairvoyant Dennis Quaid get recruited by Max’s government researcher to infiltrate people’s dreams and uncover a conspiracy. He’s a good, kind and decent man here who has no idea how far up the chain this pseudoscientific mutiny goes, Max imbues him with a genuine curiosity for his field, an easygoing camaraderie with Quaid and steals the show.

5. Dr. Nahring in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

Nahring is one of a few psychiatric professionals who heads up the austere institute that Leonardo DiCaprio’s federal marshal is snooping around in. If you know the twist and remember the dialogue, you get just how ingenious Max’s line delivery is here when he asks Teddy “if you see a monster, you should stop it, no?” It’s a great callback to the end of the film. At one point Teddy berates Nahring for being German because of his experiences during the war and one gets the sense from Max’s performance that he wasn’t on the side of conflict that Teddy assumes, it’s a terrific supporting performance that doesn’t intrude yet speaks volumes.

4. Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

The slick CEO of a futuristic murder investigation unit, Burgess has everything under control and then some.. until his plan unravels. This is a fantastic performance that follows the Hollywood beats of a hidden antagonist but allows Max to have one final beat to the character that he nails perfectly.

3. Lancaster Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

This is one of the films that bridged the gap to Hollywood for him and has since become infamous. Merrin is a world weary, knowledgeable yet reluctant crusader who joins forces with Jason Miller’s Father Karras in doing battle with an ancient entity he encountered in Africa before. For all its razzle dazzle and pop culture iconography, this film has two very centred, humbled and down to earth performances from these two actors.

2. Jakob Bronski in Emotional Arithmetic

This soulful indie drama sees a group of people from various backgrounds gather on Quebec farmland to heal old wounds, resolve traumas from the past and roust the kind of bittersweet situational kerfuffles that only quaint independent stuff like this can brew up. Max’s Jakob is a Holocaust survivor with deep scars that aren’t immediately apparent and has a complicated relationship with Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne’s respective characters. This is a tough film to track down but worth the haul as it showcases an excellent cast in earnest performances.

1. The Tracker in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

The afterlife holds many mysteries for Robin Williams in this stunning, overlooked classic, some of which are navigated by Max’s tracker, a mysterious being who helps him find his deceased wife in the underworld. There’s more than meets the eye to this character, bestowed with an arc that Von Sydow gives sly, heartfelt talent, his inherently angelic nature just adding to the overall tone.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Massee Performances

Not too many people remember or could name a lot films in Michael Massee’s career, but to me he was always an electrifying, charismatic and often quite scary character actor accustomed to villains, tough guys and supernaturally malevolent roles throughout his varied career. With sad, cold eyes, gaunt frame and a voice that seemed to both annunciate clearly and blur mercurially with his mannerisms, he always stood out no matter the role. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances!

10. Leroux in Sahara

This African set war film is a remake of an old Humphrey Bogart picture and sees tank commander Jim Belushi leading troops through a desert gauntlet of fierce combat. It’s a serviceable TV movie and Michael steals scenes believably playing a French soldier who joins forces with them and turns on the charm even when things get tough.

9. Jacob Dawes in Criminal Minds

A vicious, manipulative serial killer who sits on death row giving everyone the crazy eyes, Jacob is not only responsible for murder but for corrupting an innocent woman and convincing her to join him in the atrocities. Michael makes this one episode arc count with sinister magnetism.

8. Casey Steele in CSI: NY

Casey is a mysterious and sadistic trucker who is transporting several kidnapped women in his rig across many state lines, likely for human trafficking. Michael gives him a sardonic edge and just the right amount of dark humour. When apprehended and in custody instead of talking he just curtly tells the cops: “If you gentlemen are done here I’d like to go to prison now.” That line delivery is note perfect.

7. D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost in FlashForward

This excellent and painfully short lived show saw the entire world experience a collective metaphysical phenomenon and try to deal with the aftermath as well as all the mysteries it brings about. Frost is one of those mysteries, an elusive scientist of dark proclivities out for nefarious ends and appearing here and there like an evil force of nature. Massee gets a solid arc here as basically the show’s main baddie and proves a force to be reckoned with.

6. Andy in David Lynch’s Lost Highway

Lynch’s trippy psychological shocker is chock full of fascinating personalities including Marilyn Manson, Gary Busey and a terrifying Robert Blake in his final acting role. Michael’s Andy is a sleazy socialite who hosts weird cult parties and, like most characters that Bill Pullman’s protagonist comes across, perpetually seems to be keeping some kinky secrets to go along with that unsettling pencil thin moustache.

5. Man In Massage Parlour Booth in David Fincher’s Seven

Another dark film full of interesting cameos, Michael plays clerk at essentially a brothel where one of the film’s central murder set pieces occurs. When asked cynically by Brad Pitt’s detective if he enjoys his work and likes what he has to watch happen there every day he replies “No, I don’t. But that’s life.” It’s a minuscule portion of dialogue but Michael gives it all the gravity, sorrow and resolute melancholy in the world.

4. Gustav Fiers/The Gentleman/Man In The Shadows in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I’m not really familiar with Fiers as a villain in the comics but her he’s essentially a shadowy figure who manipulates Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) for unseen purposes and hovers over the events of these two films like a dark entity, actually ending up being the most effective antagonist in either entry, as most of the other efforts are pretty silly. Michael gives him a ghostly noirish vibe and gets the spotlight in the first film’s tantalizing post credits scene.

3. Lucius Belyakov in HBO’s Carnivale

This is a tricky role and it doesn’t belong entirely to him but he’s basically a Russian soldier who serves as avatar for darkness in this show’s complex, slowly revealed mythology. Michael doesn’t speak a word here (the role is later given the voice of Linda Hunt, of all people) but the sight of him spectrally hunting down a wild bear in a smoky battlefield is pretty haunting, as are the surreal dream sequences where he stares menacingly at his adversary Scudder (John Savage).

2. Isiah Haden in Revelations

This miniseries sees him play a maniacal prophet of doom heralding the apocalypse while a priest (Bill Pullman) and a nun (Natascha McElhone) investigate both his claims and his sanity. Michael often reined it in for quieter portraits of evil but he lets it fucking rip and goes absolutely ballistic here, all fire, brimstone and biblical fury. It’s also one of his largest roles in a career spent mostly in fringe supporting appearances.

1. Ira Gaines in 24

Gaines is a sterling badass psychopathic bastard and straight up my favourite villain that Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has ever done battle with. He isn’t even a top tier baddie either, he’s one of the early season middle men that is clearly working for someone else (as is always tradition with 24) but there’s something about how cold, nasty and calibrated his operation is that sticks with you. He orders countless people killed and when one of his henchman asks where to bury one he hisses back “In the ground.” When Jack eventually corners and has the drop on him he calmly wishes him “good luck” and casually goes for his gun without hesitation. He was a beast of a villain played expertly by Michael and the show has never matched that level of icy malevolence since.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Jon Polito Performances

Many people saw Jon Polito as the effervescent, rambunctious mafioso character actor, a playful scene stealer never short on buzzing bumblebee characteristics and zesty Italian American energy, and indeed some of his greatest roles showcased that. But given the right script he was also capable of a disarming centre of gravity, a melancholic, thoughtful presence in certain key projects that to me was just as compelling as his loopy side. He has passed on now but here are my top ten performances from this incredible actor:

10. Officer Sherman in Stuart Little

A classic NYC beat cop, Sherman warns the Little family about an incident involving their… littlest member with deadpan comic relief, and Polito shows off his skill for situational comedy nicely. I have fond memories of this film from my childhood and him being a brief part of it was always cool to see.

9. Agent Chester Hymes in Big Nothing

This indie cult comedy sees two hapless conmen (Ross from Friends and Shaun from Shaun Of The Dead) try and pull off a bunch of dummy level schemes and constantly get thwarted by Ross’s cop wife (Natascha McElhone). Jon plays an eccentric, Colombo type FBI forensics guru who appears to be thick as hell at first but proves to be anything but. With hysterical coke bottle glasses and a spluttering line delivery he makes the character stand out.

8. Ashcan in Homeward Bound II: Lost In San Francisco

Ashcan is the belligerent villain of this urban set sequel, an obnoxious boxer dog who makes life difficult for the heroes with his sidekick Pete (Adam Goldberg). Jon’s trademark gravelly voice lent itself to lots of cool voiceover work in his career, this being one of the most memorable.

7. Rossi in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster

A brief but affecting cameo, Italian crime boss Rossi reflects to Denzel Washington’s Frank Lucas in regards to the changing of the times, the way the mafia operates and essentially laments that things ain’t what they used to be. It’s an important scene because as he speaks we can see the wheels turning in Frank’s mind and this interaction could have largely spurred the now legendary actions of Lucas and his organization. Who better than Polito to carry such a pivotal scene.

6. Montesquino in Masters Of Horror: Haeckel’s Tale

This wonderful horror anthology series saw many of the biggest names in the genre get to play in the sandbox for various mini movies. This one sees Jon play a demented necromancer who brings back people from the dead, at a high cost. Adorned in a top hat and more hair than we ever saw him have in his career, he gets to ham it up and lay on the creep factor big time in one of his showiest genre turns.

5. DaFino in The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski

Another quick cameo, he’s been in nearly half the Coen’s filmography and always amps up the scene. Da Fino is a ‘private snoop’ in his own words, a ‘brother shamus’ to which Jeff Bridges’ The Dude aloofly replies ‘Your mean like an Irish monk?’ It’s a priceless little exchange of dialogue between the two actors that allows Jon to impart some important exposition in the highly convoluted plot and have some cheeky fun while he’s at it.

4. Steve Crosetti in Homicide: Life On The Street

One of the most well rounded characters he got to play, Steve is a Baltimore cop trying to keep the pieces of his life together in between tough job stress and the serious injuring of a friend and fellow detective (Lee Tergesen). He’s got a daughter he fights to see and the twilight of his arc sees him leave to Atlantic City where he apparently commits suicide. It’s a tragic turn of events that ends on a bittersweet note in the follow up film where we see him return in an epilogue that can only be described as heaven for cops. It’s so touching to see him sitting by his wounded friend’s side in the hospital, putting the man’s Walkman on for him with his favourite music even though the fellow is unconscious and listening in himself so that he might share a moment with someone he cares about a lot. Polito plays this character beautifully and I wish he got to play more like him in his career.

3. Johnny Caspar in The Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing

A feisty Italian crime boss constantly at odds with his two Irish rivals (Albert Finney and Gabriel Byrne), Johnny has a short fuse, volatile nature and has simply had enough bullshit or, as he idiosyncratically puts it, “I’m sick of the high hat!!!!” The amount of energy and frenzy Jon could whip up in his work was really something else, and this is a prime example.

2. Gideon in Alex Proyas’s The Crow

Motor City’s meanest pawnbroker, Gideon is a sleazy, amoral, nasty piece of work who serves as conduit between ill gotten goods and dirty money to a pack of savage local thugs. Fast talking, profane, volatile and ultimately a straight up fucking coward, he gets all the films’s funniest lines and Jon delivers them with effortless, scummy magnetism and milks the character for all its worth. “You’re lookin for a coroner, shit for brains!!”

1. Eddie Scarpino Giannini in Millennium

Eddie is a low level mobster who thinks he’s about to kick the bucket when he finds himself in the middle of the woods on the wrong end of an assassin’s gun. Then something very special happens to him. This is not only the finest work he’s done as an actor for me but the best guest arc on the fantastic Millennium. Eddie transforms from a selfish, murderous criminal into a fiercely protective guardian angel with something and someone to live for. It’s a beautiful performance that might have been nominated if it wasn’t just one episode. Plus we get to see him act alongside Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black as the two share a quiet moment at Christmastime.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten John Hurt Performances

John Hurt was recognizable, prolific, immensely talented, stage trained and an all round terrific artist. To me in observing his work I always saw a calculated, measured style, he never showboated or filled up the space in the extroverted sense but in that deep set gaze, his quietly intense eyes always found the core of whatever character he was bringing to life, not to mention that steady, delicate yet brittle speaking voice. Here are my top ten performances from this extraordinary actor!

10. Old Man Peanut in Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest

This is one of those hard boiled British gangster flicks with a weirdo edge that I can’t quite describe. Anyways, every character in the ensemble has an oddball quirk, Peanut’s being that he’s a near biblical level, savagely misogynistic, chauvinist piece of shit. It works for the role and the film and there’s nothing quite like seeing this good natured actor spout off sexist rhetoric like a teapot full of fire, brimstone and rancid piss.

9. Hrothgar in Howard McCain’s Outlander

A noble Viking king in times of great turmoil, Hrothgar and his people join forces with a strange being (Jim Caviesel) from a distant galaxy to fight off a nasty neon space dragon that followed him there. Hurt makes this guy a fair but pragmatic king who fights tooth an nail to protect his settlement from the creature.

8. John Merrick in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man

A gentle soul with an unfortunate facial disfigurement during a less enlightened time than we now live in, Hurt got an Oscar nomination for his compassionate, heartbreaking and researched role here.

7. S.R. Hadden in Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

I’m not a huge fan of this film overall but John is one of the factors that help it, playing an eccentric billionaire who secretly funds Jodie Foster’s search for alien life and when his cancer advances he just fucks off to space because the zero gravity helps his symptoms. It’s a sly encore supporting turn that undermines some of the more show-boaty performances (I’m looking at you McConaughey) with wit and genuine inspiration.

6. Jellon Lamb in John Hillcoat’s The Proposition

A cantankerous, half mad old British fuck marooned alone in the Australian outback, Jellon provides acidic, dark comic relief to this grim, no nonsense western when Guy Pearce’s stoic outlaw comes across his hovel in the middle of nowhere. After being told not to insult Irish people he promptly makes a potato peeling joke that causes Pearce to draw both guns, then swiftly talks the man down. Hurt was just so good at backhanded, knife-in-the-ribs dialogue like this.

5. Lawrence Fassett in Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend

This is a near incomprehensible spy film with a terrific cast stuck in the world’s most over complicated plot, revolving around John’s rogue MI6 agent who is up to something, exactly what isn’t clear. He’s steely, cold and ruthless though as his intentions sort of become clear and his performance, calibrated just right, is the films strongest point.

4. John Schofield in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man

The most patronizing and sarcastic factory clerk in the old west, Schofield is personal assistant to Robert Mitchum’s thunderous metalworks tycoon and insults anyone who walks into his office with an attitude. Wry, thinly veiled cynicism play at the edges of his performance, and his semi-alarmed, morbidly curious expression when Mitchum barks at someone to shut up is just priceless. Also the fact that Jarmusch chose to cut to Hurt mid conversation when the scene didn’t really even have anything to do with him just cracks me up big time too.

3. Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm in Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy

“In the absence of light, darkness prevails.” I remember his words in the trailer for this film so clearly, his character is the perfect harbinger of paranormal events, mentor and surrogate father to Ron Perlman’s Red, classy gentleman of otherworldly knowledge and one of the last individuals standing between our world and oblivion.

2. Garrick Ollivander in Harry Potter

“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter..”

His appearance in the Philosopher’s Stone as the placidly intense wand maker is a scene of terrific gravity that lulls both Harry and audience alike into a hypnotic place as he outlines important historical events. It was nice to see him again so many years later in The Deathly Hallows as well, still with a keen, observant edge.

1. Kane in Ridley Scott’s Alien

No other scene is as synonymous with cosmic dread as when we see that horrific little Xenomorph pup burst out of poor Kane’s chest at the dinner table. Hurt sells the scene with adept terror, wide eyed disbelief and heart stopping panic with his work. The fact that his fellow cast members weren’t aware of what was going to happen in the scene prior to shooting it just makes his performance ring all the more clear. An iconic moment, character and film.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Billy Drago Performances

Some actors were just born to play villains, they just had that aura of menace, animalistic charm and the kind of personality that lent itself to baddies. That can definitely be said of Billy Drago, a reptilian character actor with a slinky, measured voice and a gaze that could pierce walls. Of the hundred or so credits he racked up over his career I’d say about three to five were not antagonists, he made a living and legendary work out of embodying badasses and troublesome dudes. He’s passed on now but these are my top ten of his performances!

10. Drake in Seven Mummies

This is a pitiful From Dusk Dawn rip-off that doesn’t even have one mummy in it, never mind seven. However, Billy hams it up spectacularly as the maniacal ghost of an evil sheriff, decked out with supernatural powers, cackling like a madman and having a ball.

9. John Bly in The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr

He takes centre stage as the main villain in this cult SciFi western series as Bly, a deadly, treacherous outlaw gang leader who proves to be quite the adversary to Bruce Campbell’s hero.

8. Edward Anthony Heller in Freeway

A frightening, bible quoting mass murderer, Heller prowls the urban highways in a big black Lincoln looking for victims to maim and authorities to fire his rocket launcher at while hard boiled detective James Russo races to find and stop him. This is one of those villains who is heard for awhile before being seen, and Drago’s evil zealot’s fervour in delivering fire and brimstone passages before brutally killing people is something else.

7. Barbas The Demon of Fear in Charmed

Charmed was a dope show from what I saw, and benefited greatly from Billy’s intermittent presence as a spooky, otherworldly entity who controls the very essence of fear. Clad in black and scenery chewing like nobody’s business, it’s one of his most memorable TV guest arcs.

6. Asmodeus in Demon Hunter

Another demon! This time instead of fear it’s sex, and although in classic mythology the physical manifestation of this guy isn’t exactly Billy’s type, he rocks the charisma here, hanging on every hissed syllable and seductive boob grab. This is a terrific little TV B movie produced by the legendary Stephen J. Cannell and starring one half of the Boondock Saints, Sean Patrick Flanery as a sort of Constantine like badass.

5. Charles Thibodeaux in Dark Moon Rising

Finally a good guy!! This is a low budget but fun werewolf flick set in the New Mexico desert. Billy plays an ex homicide detective gone rogue, hunting down the vicious beast that murdered his wife years before. There’s a mournful, nothing to lose attitude to his character here, even in more heroic roles he always inflected the work with a trademark edgy darkness.

4. Ramon Cota in Delta Force 2

Billy played villains opposite Chuck Norris a few times but none were as terrifying and over the top, WTF crazy as Cota. Columbia’s nastiest drug lord, he’s got a fucking gas chamber in his living room that he uses to dispatch enemies, disloyal cohorts and basically anyone he doesn’t like the sight of, and he watches it go down too.

3. Frank Nitti in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables

Slick, evil enforcer to Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone, Frank is a straight up psychopath who laughs in the face of Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) after killing one of his best friends and taunts him like a true monster. It’s a supremely evil turn that outshines every other villain on scene including DeNiro’s cultured Capone.

2. Orel Peattie in The X Files

He’s an antagonist here but one with an understandable perspective and tragic backstory. Orel is a Gypsy with mysterious voodoo powers who has targeted a Doctor (James Morrison) that he deems responsible for the death of his daughter years before. Both these characters are hurt, Orel lashes out by casting creepy spells on the guy and one can sense the seething hatred and sorrow in Billy’s excellent performance.

1. Danny Bench in Cyborg 2: The Glass Shadow

Man this sequel is just so much better than the shitty first one with Jean Claude Van Damme. Bench is a psychotic renegade bounty hunter employed by a corrupt corporation to hunt down their asset, a rogue cyborg (Angelina Jolie) and the army man (Elias Koteas) she’s run away with. He’s a scary, imposing villain with ties to Asian occult, an arsenal of savage weapons and a bad case of the crazy.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Scott Wilson Performances

Scott Wilson was one of those actors who showed up on screen and before you even heard him speak you wondered what thoughts, feelings and history were behind those introspective features. Whether playing cowboy, cop, criminal, family man, mayor, general or anyone else he always brought a measured, contemplative grit and grace equilibrium to his his work and consistently stood out. Here are my top ten favourite performances!

10. Frank Reasoner in FX’s Justified

Amidst a rogues gallery of fantastic character actors playing criminals, creeps and rapscallions, Scott stands out as a senior citizen tethered to an oxygen tank with one last heist in him, do or die. He’s essentially a decent guy whose plan goes pretty disastrously and he’s inevitably collared by Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) after a, shall we say, leisurely chase. He wistfully outlines his intentions, regrets and and eventually concedes to the law in a very memorable one episode guest arc.

9. General George C. Marshall in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour

He’s basically here in a cameo delivering military exposition to President Roosevelt (Jon Voight), but it’s one of the first things I remember seeing him in as a kid, his grave demeanour and poised line delivery steals the scene from a room packed with venerable talent.

8. Abel Johnson in Netflix’s The OA

This was his last role before passing on and indeed he can be seen in one last season two episode that aired in 2019 a year after his death, which is a nice touch. He and the great Alice Krige play adoptive parents to protagonist Prairie Johnson (series co-creator Brit Marling). Their journey is a complicated, elliptical and metaphysical one that’s often sad and fraught with suffering but he blesses this character with a gentle paternal energy. I’m still so pissed that they cancelled this after only two seasons but that’s another story.

7. Hershel Greene in AMC’s The Walking Dead

Sometimes you don’t get international acclaim and ComicCon level attention until you’re in the vicinity of like 80 years old but hey better late than never. His stoic, vulnerable yet badass turn as farmer and family man Hershel blew up his career as an actor, prompting him to make many visits to conventions all over the world, including my city of Vancouver. I was able to meet him and he was every bit the gentleman, sage and class act I always knew he’d be.

6. Horton/Last John in Patty Jenkins’ Monster

Another brief cameo but one that speaks volumes. Serial killer Eileen Wuornos murdered many men in her spree, some that probably deserved it and others that were total innocents. Horton is just an old man driving across country to visit family when he has the unfortunate luck to run into her. His tearful pleading and telling her he has children is one of the most haunting, heartbreaking scenes of the film and even brings out a note of chilling complexity in Theron’s performance too.

5. C.O. Salem in Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane

One of the all time great drill instructors in cinema, Salem is a sassy, back talking prick with a wry sense of humour and an unwillingness to take shit from anyone, even a manipulative bitch senator (Anne Bancroft) who tries to give him the gears. With a snappy comeback for everything and no shortage of attitude, he’s tough but ultimately fair on Demi Moore’s character who has quite the gauntlet of a character arc to get through.

4. Norman in Krzysztof Zanussi’s Year Of The Quiet Sun

This melancholic postwar romance sees an American soldier (Wilson) stationed in a decimated Polish village sometime after WWII where he falls in love with a local woman (Maia Komorowska). They seem destined to meet yet challenged by circumstance and the still felt affect of the war. He approaches this character dutifully, quietly and with care, it’s worth seeing as it was one of his only romantic lead roles.

3. Eugene in Phil Morrison’s Junebug

This small town family drama sees him play a quiet husband and father who exists mainly in his own headspace, and in his secluded woodworking shop. This is during a time when things begin to change for the clan and his son (Alessandro Nivola) brings home his new wife (Embeth Davidtz). The dynamic is fascinating but most so in Wilson’s work, especially when he makes a wood craft for his daughter in law, doesn’t end up giving it to her and leaves us wondering what it’s like for him internally. One girl at the convention I was at asked him about this part of the arc and his response was as astute and intuitive as this perfectly calibrated performance is, an answer which I’ve provided a YouTube link below so that you might hear it from the man himself:

2. Dick Hickock in Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood

Based on Truman Capote’s infamous true crime novel drawn from knowing these two real life killers for a time, Wilson and Robert Blake have magnetic, chilling chemistry as these two wayward men who commit an unforgivable crime seemingly because they just have nothing else better to fill their time up with. Blake is the intense one while Scott brings a sort of breezy, nonchalant vibe that just barely masks the raging turmoil beneath.

1. Judd Travers in Shiloh, Shiloh 2 and Saving Shiloh

This is the performance I grew up watching and the one that made me such a fan of Scott’s work. Judd is a mean, broken down man with a drinking problem, a violent streak and no end of troublesome behaviour in him. But he’s also an abuse survivor himself and as this surprisingly mature and adept trilogy of children’s films unfold we see the man at his worst and also what’s left of his best, we see how local kid Marty Preston and his dog Shiloh can somehow find some kindness and compassion in Judd by showing him some of their own. It’s a tragic, overlooked performance in American cinema and perhaps the most affecting work he did his whole career.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten James Gammon Performances

James Gammon May not have been a household name but as consummate Hollywood character actor and grizzled veteran of cowboy westerns his presence was near unparalleled. With a raspy drawl and an essence that was one part hunter killer, one part leathered frontiersman with a touch of endearing teddy bear (he actually did voice a bear in one film, though it didn’t make this list) he always made a terrific impression and became one of my favourite ‘that guy’ actors as I began to discover cinema in my youth. Here are my top ten performances from his varied and fascinating career:

10. Roger Wayne in Luiso Berdejo’s The New Daughter

I included this moody Kevin Costner horror thriller because it was Gammon’s final film appearance before passing a few years ago. Costner plays a rural father whose adopted daughter (Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero) begins to exhibit weird, possibly supernatural behaviour. He digs a little deeper into the mystery and comes across Roger, a man who dealt with the very same issue in his own children years ago and whose methods were… questionable. Gammon gives this homeless old dude a chilling edge in his curtain call appearance.

9. Ironbutt Garrett in Running Cool

This is the most lighthearted, benign biker flick you’ll probably ever see. Drifter Bone (Andrew Divoff) reunites with old pal Garrett to take down evil, prejudiced land developers threatening both their land and biker way of life. The camaraderie and friendship between the two is nicely illustrated with both, two epic cult actors sharing the screen. Plus, his name is fucking Ironbutt, how can you go wrong with that.

8. Sheriff Henderson in Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered

The creator of Blair Witch Project brought us this little seen alien horror flick combined with the classic cabin in the woods setting. Gammon plays a county Sheriff (one of many throughout his career) who comes knocking when weird sounds are heard and has what you’d call a ‘close encounter.’ His reaction upon being told that the thing that viciously attacked him is an extraterrestrial? “Shit. That’s fucked up.” He was capable of such wry, deadpan line delivery even in a tense, unnerving situation.

7. Esco Swanger in Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain

A frontier family man before the civil war, Esco resents the rabble rousing in his town and brings a subtle antiwar perspective to the large and varied cast. When one of of his kids declares proudly that he’s going to fight for the south, his boisterous retort: “Last I heard, the south was a direction!” He steals any scene he’s in here from a huge roster of supporting characters and makes a vivid impression in this beautiful but uneven war epic.

6. Sam Parker in Outlaw Trail: The Treasure Of Butch Cassidy

This is a low budget made for TV kids flick about a group of youngsters searching for gold buried by the legendary bandit. Gammon plays the grandfather of one of them and their lineage can be traced right back to Butch, which he’s none too pleased about. He resents illegal activity and sees his legacy as childish and pointless, until his grandson makes good on the treasure hunt and brightens everyone’s day. Silly flick overall but he gives his scenes a stormy, melancholic aura and plus it’s one of the only appearances in his career where he’s not sporting that moustache, kinda like Sam Elliott.

5. Nick Bridges in Nash Bridges

A flashy Don Johnson cop show, James plays his lovable but troublesome father, a retired longshoreman with slight dementia, an affinity for get rich quick schemes and the kind of rebellious nature that gets passed from father to son.

4. The Texan in Tony Scott’s Revenge

Kevin Costner’s bloodied up antihero meets many people on his journey to recovery and retribution in this sweaty, seedy south of the border melodrama, one of which is Texan, a mysterious horse trainer who meanders across Mexico, dying of some undisclosed illness and acting as a kind of soldier of fortune in between breaking colts. He helps Costner out in that laconic, weathered fashion that’s just south of nice guy and just the this side of badass.

3. FBI Agent Teddy Lee in Tarsem Singh’s The Cell

The hunt for elusive, spectral serial killer Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) has many procedural moving parts but Teddy essentially spies the clue that leads them right to his doorstep. The film is an austere, surreal and often heavy mood piece full of intense, hushed and introspective performances. It may seem counterintuitive of Singh to cast rambunctious, rowdy Gammon in a key supporting part but the offset works beautifully and he livens up an otherwise grim series of events in his brief screen time.

2. Lou Brown in Major League

Sassy coach to the dysfunctional Cleveland Indians, Lou is coaxed away from his apparently way more interesting job selling tires to put together a winning roster and kick the team out of a royal slump. He’s a take-no-shit, old school dude with enough grit and attitude to both get them into the winning streak and stir up all kinds of political trouble within the league while he’s at it.

1. California Joe in Walter Hill’s Wild Bill

A moody, fragmented look at the final few years in the life of Bill Hickock (played with sterling charm by Jeff Bridges), Gammon embodies Joe perfectly. He’s a hell-raiser, gunslinger, sidekick, friend and confidante to the legendary figure and provides many a memorable moment, in one of the most dynamic, front and centre roles he got in his career.

-Nate Hill