Let's attempt to start a meme, shall we? Listed below are some actors, and what I consider to be their career performances - the best, most skillful acting they've ever done. Should you care to pick the meme up, simply replicate the list, add your choices, and, if you care to, slap some more actors on the thing. Shall we begin?
Tom Hanks - Forrest Gump
It's fashionable to slag on Forrest Gump, I know, but what seems to get lost in the shuffle is that when it was released, the critics were pretty impressed. What also gets lost is Gump is a difficult role. It seems like an easy role--just talk slow and silly and keep them eyes wide open at all times. But ask anyone you know to do an impression and you'll see that it's not--they sound like cartoon characters, and bad ones. Hank knew just how far he could stretch his Gump without crossing over into caricature, and that's a much more difficult line to tread than you might think.
Robert DeNiro--The Godfather Part II
Do a Brando impression, but not so that it's obvious that it's a Brando impression. DeNiro creates a younger version of a character we know that's more than just a spryer version of the man we know, but truly that same old man as a young man.
Al Pacino - The Godfather
He charts the procession from man of peace to head of mob family with a precision so detailed that you can't see any of the baby steps he takes.
Dustin Hoffman--Death of a Salesman
The makeup is nice, but it's through the performance that a then-relatively-young Hoffman makes us believe in his Willy Loman. A heartbreaking performance.
Harrison Ford--The Mosquito Coast
The film flopped, and Ford swore off playing anything but the slightest of variations on the "Harrison Ford" stock character forever. 'Tis a pity, for here he was extremely good as an unhinged man who takes his family into the jungles of South America to live.
Williams is good when he does serious, but can trend to the treacly, and his manic comedic persona can be a bit one-note. But as Popeye he was pretty much perfect, completely and wholly inhabiting the character.
Morgan Freeman--The Shawshank Redemption
Roger Ebert called it--Freeman does more with stillness than most actors can do with movement. Here, his brilliance lies in the very subtle way that he always keeps his Red present as a man who has done real evil. It's not showy, it's not a big plot point, but without that omnipresent reality Red becomes a very bland mentor-type figure.
Bill Murray--Groundhog's Day
The dilemma. If Phil's dadaist predicament doesn't feel real we're not invested in the character or the situation. It's just a long, long sketch. But if it feels too real, we're turned off by the horror of what the situation would actually be like. Acting is often about balance, and here Murray balances between those two poles with a circus performance's skill.
Tom Cruise--Jerry Maguire
Jerry feels real, and not like a construct, or a collection of Tom Cruise poses and modes.
Russell Crowe--Master and Commander
Crowe never seems like a modern man playing dress up, but like an actual 18th century captain. A difficult trick to pull off.
Johnny Depp--Ed Wood
The mask never slips.
Gene Wilder--Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
One of the most distinct performances ever captured on film.
Jeff Bridges--The Fisher King
Bridges plays an arrogant man made humble by circumstance wonderfully, by never fully redeeming him.
Jim Carrey--The Truman Show
A tough role to crack and one he nailed. A man whose paranoia turns out to be 100% justified.
John Travolta--Pulp Fiction
What's amazing about the performance is how it's a rare example of John Travolta not playing the John Travolta character, and yet in a role that makes rich hay of the standard John Travolta chacter quirks.
Foster shows she can do light and charming as well as serious.
Nicole Kidman--To Die For
Another impressive balancing act--the character needs to be repulsive, but not too repulsive.
Julianne Moore--Boogie Nights
She gets all the dichotomies just right.
Gweneth Paltrow--Shakespeare in Love
This film seems to be thought of poorly now, but it was a sweet and tender trifle (in the good sense) of filmmaking--in large part duue to Paltrowe's ability to be luminous and real.
Kate Winslet--Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
One of those performances where you just marvel at what a real person you are seeing up there on the screen.
Julia Roberts--Erin Brokovich
A canny and wise combo of earthy realness and Julia's stock persona.
That we kind of feel sorry for Annie is a testament to how well Bates plays her.