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   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Over the top performances and the people who love them

Jim Emerson asks:

What are some of your favorite "over-the-top" performances -- drama, comedy, both, neither -- and what makes them work for you? What performances, characters or movies are just too excruciating for you to stand? Can you think of a fingernails-on-a-blackboard performance that makes you seriously uncomfortable and that you admire?

Some of my favorite over-the-top performances:

Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda -- One of my all-time favorite comedic performances. Every time I catch the movie on cable, I notice that Kline seems to get funnier even as the rest of the movie seems to fade. My theory is that Kevin Kline foresaw how future audiences would cringe every time John Cleese makes goo-goo eyes at Jamie Lee Curtis and he was determined to give a performance that screamed, "Hey, look over here! Pay no attention to that absurd romantic duo behind the curtain!" And the beauty of the performance is that he does distract us . . .

Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace -- I don't know whether this performance technically qualifies as "over-the-top," but it's as over-the-top as Cary Grant ever got, and I simply wanted to put Grant on the list.

Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain -- Again, I'm not sure whether this qualifies, but surely O'Connor performed one of the most brilliant and over-the-top numbers in movie musical history here.

Some least favorite over-the-top performances:

Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman -- Not an inspired choice, to be sure, but a solid one. I love Al Pacino, but he seemed to be mocking the critical establishment here, daring them to give him an award for his most obnoxious performance when they had failed to do so for his most subtle and compelling ones.

Sean Penn in Mystic River -- Okay, I haven't actually seen this movie, but on the basis of the "award bait" clip that played endlessly during Penn's championship season, I'm comfortable putting this one on the list.

Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas -- The only movie I've ever walked out on, but based on the fifteen minutes I did see, Cage's performance easily qualifies as over-the-top. Again, I love Nicholas Cage, and I may be the only person alive who appreciates his inspired performance in Peggy Sue Got Married, but I wish Cage had stuck with the old "dying is easy, comedy is hard" school of acting.

Chime in with your own favorites and least favorites in the comments.

9 Comments:

Blogger stewdog said...

Good choices, KM. I especially agree with Kevin Kline from Wanda (Ke. . ke. . ke. . ken).
For negative over the top. . how about EVERYTHING Pauly Shore has done.

February 19, 2008 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

How about most of John Travolta's performances since his comeback? Whether he's playing an alien, or the psychotic bad guy, or a politician, or whomever, I always find him a terrible, hammy, unconvincing actor, one incapable of subtlety. Often I get the sense that he doesn't even understand the lines he's reciting.

February 19, 2008 1:49 PM  
Blogger stewdog said...

John Travolta should have been "hit by a truck" after Saturday Night Fever. I can't stand the guy.

February 19, 2008 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Vinnie Barbarino said...

Dear Jeff and Stewdog,

Up your nose with a rubber hose!

February 19, 2008 3:12 PM  
Blogger stewdog said...

Hey Vinnie, although I never much appreciated Kotter, your character DID predate Sat Nite Fever, so you are ok. But are you really proud of Stayin' Alive?

February 19, 2008 3:46 PM  
Blogger Tempelton Peck said...

Kline was absolutely hysterical in that role...one of my favorites. Absolutely Pacino in Sent of a Women. What happened to the guy who did Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico...who accomplished so much with his use of filled silence? Sad.

February 19, 2008 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Al Pacino said...

If I were the man I was ten years ago, I'd take a flame thrower to this blog post! Hooooooahhhhhh!

February 19, 2008 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin Spacey - The Life and Times of David Gale

February 20, 2008 7:17 AM  
Blogger Wonderdog said...

One favorite over-the-top performance:

Robert Duvall as Joseph Pulitzer in "Newsies".

If you haven't seen it, well then...You're probably a bit more normal than I am.

February 23, 2008 5:36 PM  

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