09/10/2006: "Ten Great Acting Scenes"

(No order)


1. "I'm Sorry", Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant- The Lieutenant has reached the end of the line. Investigating the horrific raping of a nun, he continues his rapid breakdown into gambling, drugs, and sex. It comes to a climax when he returns to the Nun's church, and sees a vision of Christ. He falls to his knees and talks to the vision, first angrily, then pleads deserately for forgiveness. With Keitel's trademark crying, this scene is agonizing, real, and hard to watch- just like the movie itself.

2. "I'll never understand the truth about you", Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris- Brando plays an enigma himself, a middle aged American who turns for reasons unknown (not lust, however) to anonomouys, brutal sexuality with a young Paris woman. It is a relationship deprived of names, rationale, or even eroticism. Though the arrangement they have, sexual though it is, is a seemingly adult one, in the apartment where they meet, they forget all the rest of the world and often regress into childhood. But this scene shows Paul at his most mature and connected. His French wife of five years has recently commited suicide, and here he is alone with her body. He lets out a long speech about how he could never understand her, accuses her, breaks down. Raw, painful emotion. The finest of actors at his finest.

3. "It'd be a shame to see a lifetime of work go to waste", Robert De Niro and James Woods in Once Upon a Time in America- Robert De Niro's "Noodles" has had a lifetime of guilt. A upstart gangster when he was younger, he feels that his concern for his friends caused their deaths. Max (James Woods) planned an impossible heist, and Noodles, sure that they would get killed, phoned in a tip to the police. He figured they would spend a little jail time, rather than get killed. But when he gets to the scene of the crime, he sees their bodies in the street. His thinking= The Police were ready. He spends the next thirty years of his long life remenesing on their deaths, indulging in opium, wishing he would forget, but not letting himself. Then, Secretary of Commerce Baliey, about to stand trial for corruption, wants to see him. Noodles stands in his office, waiting. The shot of James Woods coming up into the room, his face first seen through red glass, is one of the most beautiful in all film. Max, now Secretary Bailiey, is in trouble, he fears for his life. He says "I took away your whole life from you. I've been living in your place. I took everything. I took your money I took your girl. All I left for you was 30 years of grief over having killed me." He gives Noodles a gun and asks him to shoot. We get the sense that this is desperation, cowardice, but also, in a "too little too late" sort of way, Max's final attempt to reconcille. The nature of his corruption is never made explicit, but we do get the sense that death is coming to him, somehow. Noodles is the only one he can accept it from. But he won't. He would rather keep his life, the memories, the guilt, than kill a man who's already dead. Through the whole conversation, Noodles never refers to Max as Max, but as Secretary Bailiey, never accepts it.

Noodles last words, the last of the movie: "You see, I have a story too, Mr. Bailey. I had a friend once. A dear friend. I turned him in to save his life. He died. But he wanted it that way. Things went bad for my friend, and they went bad for me too. Good night Mr. Bailey. I hope the investigation turns out to be nothing; it'd be a shame to see a lifetime of work go to waste."

4. "Like Tears in the Rain", Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner- Rick Deckard finally tracks down the last Replicant, Roy Batty, and a wet, gritty, and violent battle insues. Batty has the upper hand, and at the end, Deckard is trying to hold on the the raining ledge of the building they ended up on. In a surprise, Batty takes his arm, and lifts him back onto the roof, saving his life. Knowing his time is up, Roy Batty gives one last, brief speech on fear, slavery, life, and the amazing things he has seen. His last regret is that all these moments (memories) will be lost in time, "Like tears in the rain". Although Rutger Hauer is the main actor in this scene, Harrison Ford's reactions, even as far as hanging his head for Batty, also contribute to the greatest Science Fiction drama.

5. "I knew these people", Harry Dean Stanton and Natassa Kinski in Paris, Texas- Directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard, Paris, Texas is a film in two parts. The first deals with an amnesic man Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) who has been missing for four years, and his brother (the guy from Quantum Leap who wasn't the leaper). We, like the brother, want to know the secrets, where's he been? Why did he go missing? The man meets his 6 year old son (living with his Aunt and Uncle because his mother also went missing, and attempts to come back into the world. The mystery is intriguing, and the movie would be a visual/cerebral/viseral masterpiece even if it was never resolved. But it is, and it doesn't disapoint. Travis looks for his wife (Natassa Kinski), and discovers her working in a peepshow. He goes to her booth, and she starts talking to him (In the booths, he can see and hear her, but she can only hear him) like any other customer. But he is something else, and her gradual realization of who he is show Kinski's subtly and contribute to the scene. Under the guise of just telling the booth girl an anecdote, Travis starts with "I knew these people..." and proceeds to tell, in third person of their passionate and ill-fated relationship, of how he, a much older man, came to love her greatly, the birth of their child, and how that love turned to suspicion and jealously, how he was cruel, and when she finally left him and took their son (to his Travis's brother). In Stanton's voice there is sadness, affection, whimsy, and regret, and yet his tone never gives him away. She does find out it is him. But there is no loving reconcillation between the two. As she says, speaking of her customers, "They always sounded like you, Travis." Mother and Son are reunited, but Father must drive away, back into the unknown.

6. Russian Roulette, Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter- Michael (Robert Di Niro) and his friend Nick (Christopher Walken) went to Vietnam. Nick didn't come back. Michael discovers that Nick is not dead, but alive and playing Russian Roulette, a game they were forced to play in a POW camp, in Saigon. Michael goes there to get him, but Nick doesn't reconize him. The savagery and traumatization has gotten to him. Frustrated, frightened, and desperate, Michael challenges Nick to a game. He tries to get Nick to remember, bringing a quote from their deer hunting days, "Just one shot" Nick repeats it, and pulls the trigger for the last time. Michael screams in agony and rushes up to his fallen friend, but it's over. Truly a mind-blowing scene.

7. Ratzo Rizzo, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy- Midnight Cowboy is one of the greatest movies about lonelyness, all the more ironic for is bleak urban setting, ever made. Joe Buck (Jon Voight), the naive yet hopeful would be Cowboy Hustler, and Enrico "Ratzo" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), the streetwise, cynical sickly conman, are two of the most pathetic, yet strangely loveable characters in all film. Although on the surface it's about Male prostitiution, Midnight Cowboy is really about lonleyness, and friendship, and about these two unlikely characters and how they encounter each other. There's a scene late in the movie, in their apartment, when Ratzo is trying to tell Joe he can't walk anymore. Ratzo is dying, and not even Joe's doomed optimism can change that. Miserable, Ratzo says, "I don't want you to be sore at me...but I don't think I can walk anymore. I'm afraid. You know what they do to you when they find out you can't walk?" We don't know quite what Ratzo's referring to, but Hoffman says it with such genuine fear and pain that we feel for him. Joe reacts earnestly, trying to get him to cheer up, knowing he must get his friend to Florida, where all their problems will be solved.

8. "Am I Lying?", Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper in True Romance- Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) is surprised entering his trailer by Mob enforcer Vincenzo Conocotti (Christopher Walken) and his thugs. Worley's son Clarence and his new wife Alabama have made off with a suitcase containing a huge supply of Mob cocaine. Walken wants answers to their whereabouts. First, Hopper denies he knows. He's tortured, and Walken says that he's a master Siccilian liar, and he can tell from 18 signs that a man is lying. Hopper asks for a cigarette, starts to smoke, and repeats, "So you're Sicilian?" Walken nods "Sicilian". Hoppers says that he likes to read, especially about things in history. He says "Did you know, that Sicilians were spawned by **s?" This takes CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, COMPLETLEY OFF GUARD. Walken blinks, opens his mouth, blinks again, tries to say something, then finally, "Come again?" They laugh, and Hopper goes into the history of how the Moors conquered Sicily and interbreed so much it changed the bloodline forever. Then, in the ultimate slap in the face to Concotti, Hopper asks, "Now if all this is true, tell me, am I lying?" Walken does more of his fake laughing and kisses Hopper, before shooting him in the head, saying "I haven't killed anybody...BANG...Since 1984." Perhaps the greatest confrontation/death scene in movie history, or, as my firend Mike Glassner put it, the best "F-You, I'm dying anyway" speech ever.

9. "Pray with Me", Anthony Hopkins, Paul Sorvino in Nixon- Oliver Stone's Nixon is a surprisingly compassionate look at the president. While Antony Hopkins doesn't look and sound exactly like him, he brings all the complexities into his best performance (yes, even better than when he played the guy who ate people). His Nixon is tough yet vunerable, arrogant yet insecure, corrupt yet attempting to be moral. In this scene, near the end, Nixon has just decided to resign, and is contemplating in a room with a fireplace, a bust of Lincoln, and Henry Kissinger. Paul Sorvino is suprisingly perfect as Kissinger, looking and sounding exactly like him, and able to convey the sneakiness Stone aims for. Nixon says, "You ever pray Henry? Believe in a supreme being?" Kissinger says no, and Nixon goes on about his religous mother and how he hasn't really prayed for a long time before suggesting, "Let's pray Henry. You and me, right now." They get down on their knees, and Nixon starts to pray, before trailing off in tearful mumblings, shielding his face so Kissinger can't see. Kissinger is unsure what to do, he holds out his hand, but never touches the president.

10. Why The Rain Man was sent away, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man- After his estranged father's death, Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) is shocked to discover he has an autistic older brother he didn't know about. He "kidnaps" Raymond from the institute to take him to L.A. to find out about the inheritence. Hoffman sinks completly into this character, as he always does, and it is exactly his little quirks and says ("Definitley", "Of course") that bring Raymond to life. At first Raymond and his routines annoy Charlie, but gradually they bond. In a hotel bathroom along the way, Raymond won't stop brushing his teeth, and it bugs Charlie. He asks Raymond to knock it off, but Raymond says Charlie use to love it when he was a baby, saying something like "Rain Man funny teeth". Charlie realizes that The Rain Man, his young childhood imaginary friend was actually Raymond, and he mispronounced Raymond as Rain Man. It dawns on Charlie and when he starts to draw the bath Raymond screams "Hot water hurt baby!" Charlie realizes that Raymond was sent away because he almost accidently scalded him when he was a toddler. This is the first time Charlie really connects to Raymond as his brother, and it is a fine acted and unexpected piece of cinema.