Tag Archives: Oscars

The best Al Pacino performances

In the beginning a Method-ized actor as serious as a bishop but with a sensual glower. Yet already he had Paul Muni tendencies: looking “dark” opened him to casting as every ethnic role on a Hollywood casting director’s list, and when he felt himself lost he overacted. For fans of his penchant for chewing excitedly on ham bone, I offer The Devil’s Advocate, in which as Satan he makes goo-goo eyes at a fetching Keanu Reeves, and as Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, where his stresses would confound every poet since Sappho. His devious comic work in the forgotten Warren Beatty vanity project Dick Tracy through a rubber mask deserves a look too; then the mask became the face in disgraces like Scent of a Woman, one of the more humiliating Oscar wins of my lifetime.

But Al Pacino could be so subtle that he was almost lyrical: his desperate queer bankrobber in Dog Day Afternoon; the erotically galvanized palooka in Sea of Love, still the only time I accept him with another woman; his Shakespeare performances; and the schmuck in Donnie Brasco. Above all, his work in Francis Ford Coppola’s first two Godfather pictures is the grandest example of soul rot in American movies.

Then after The Merchant of Venice the list grows longer. And longer. I offer these fourteen: Continue reading

Ranking Jack Nicholson movies

In a filmography studded with performances consisting of arched eyebrows, oil-covered sneers, and raucous laughter, Jack Nicholson also gave performances of touching quietness. He also was good in hellion roles and boring in quiet roles. This made Nicholson the American actor-star well into the nineties – and beyond. It’s impossible to think he’s retired, not when he’s one of the few “old” actors my students recognize.

Whether you think Nicholson “works” in The Departed depend on your weakness for this kind of look-at-me-Ma performance that can’t stop doing bits of business unrelated to his character, intended to wrench the spotlight from whomever he’s acting with: slamming a hand down on a sketch, smacking his lips, imitating a rat, that sort of thing. On the other hand The Departed is so purple anyway, so far from its origin as a taut Hong Kong police thriller, that the picture needs him like Marty finally needed that Best Director Oscar.

Below is how I’d rank the films I’ve seen; it’s a vast corpus, extending back into the sixties when he tolled as a writer for the likes of Roger Corman and Monte Hellman. I’ve included lead and supporting performances.

The Hague

As Good as It Gets
The Shining
Goin’ South


A Few Good Men
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Departed
The King of Marvin Gardens
About Schmidt
Something’s Gotta Give
Blood and Wine

Sound, Solid Entertainments

Easy Rider
Mars Attacks!
The Witches of Eastwick
Drive, He Said
Terms of Endearment
The Missouri Breaks
Broadcast News
Carnal Knowledge
The Crossing Guard

Good to Great

The Last Detail
Five Easy Pieces
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Border
Prizzi’s Honor
The Passenger
The Pledge

Ranking Best Director, 1970s edition

As I’ve pointed out thrice, the seventies were strong enough that readers will wonder what William Friedkin is doing in Sound, Solid and not in Good to Great and chastise me for sticking him in Meh for bringing nothing to The Exorcist except momentum. Who knows? Maybe George Roy Hill would’ve given it bounce. Ingmar Bergman would have turned it into The Virgin Spring. Imagine John Cassavetes in charge — long chats between Megan in devil mode and the priest. Continue reading

Ranking Best Director nominees, 1980s

During the Respectable Eighties, the Academy nominated David Lynch twice, Louis Malle and Akira Kurosawa once apiece, and sneaked Martin Scorsese into the final lineup for The Last Temptation of Christ. Not bad, almost compensating for rewarding Alan Parker, writer-director of a film in which an FBI investigating the murders of black men in the South of the sixties emerges as heroic. Continue reading

Ranking Best Director nominees, 1990s

Prepared to hold my nose at the memory of Mel Gibson wiggling a bare ass in the same film where a king throws his homosexual son’s lover out a turret for laughs, I anticipated further horrors in the director nominees of the 1990s. Instead, I remembered Krzysztof Kieślowski, Mike Leigh, two Robert Altman nods, and Atom Egoyan. Still, I hold Robert Zemeckis in special contempt for introducing Forrest Gump to not a kiloliter of his blithe spirit.

The Hague

Robert Zemeckis – Forrest Gump
Mel Gibson – Braveheart
Sam Mendes – American Beauty
Martin Brest – Scent of a Woman
Lasse Hallström – The Cider House Rules


Miloš Forman – The People vs. Larry Flynt
John Madden – Shakespeare in Love
Barry Levinson – Bugsy
James Cameron – Titanic
Peter Cattaneo – The Full Monty
Anthony Minghella – The English Patient
Kevin Costner – Dances with Wolves
Michael Radford – Il Postino: The Postman
Scott Hicks – Shine
Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather Part III
Mike Figgis – Leaving Las Vegas
Gus Van Sant – Good Will Hunting

Sound, Solid Entertainments

Woody Allen – Bullets Over Broadway
Robert Altman – Short Cuts
Joel Coen – Fargo
Barbet Schroeder – Reversal of Fortune
Robert Redford – Quiz Show
Curtis Hanson – L.A. Confidential
James Ivory – Howards End
Clint Eastwood – Unforgiven
Steven Spielberg – Saving Private Ryan
Ridley Scott – Thelma & Louise
Peter Weir – The Truman Show
John Singleton – Boyz n the Hood
M. Night Shyamalan – The Sixth Sense
Neil Jordan – The Crying Game
Chris Noonan – Babe
James Ivory – The Remains of the Day

Good to Great

Krzysztof Kieślowski – Three Colours: Red
Martin Scorsese – Goodfellas
Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction
Jonathan Demme – The Silence of the Lambs
Atom Egoyan – The Sweet Hereafter
Oliver Stone – JFK
Robert Altman – The Player
Stephen Frears – The Grifters
Spike Jonze – Being John Malkovich
Jane Campion – The Piano
Jim Sheridan – In the Name of the Father
Tim Robbins – Dead Man Walking
Mike Leigh – Secrets & Lies
Terrence Malick – The Thin Red Line
Steven Spielberg – Schindler’s List
Michael Mann – The Insider

Ranking Best Director nominees, 2000s edition

If I asked my readers, “What has Stephen Daldry directed?” most would stare at me. If said, “Well, he’s been nominated three times for an Academy Award, for every film he’s directed,” I’d get open mouths. Other than a serviceable job helming Billy Elliott, which is to say, someone had to direct it, Daldry’s career has been worthless or worse. Blame him for Kate Winslet’s pre-Iron Lady moment, for example. Not much better are Ron Howard’s nods for No Mind at All and Ham/Hammier. Continue reading