The Oscars are upon us again, taking place tomorrow evening, a four-hour extravaganza of great actors, right? Well, sort of. The weekend is so much more about glitz and style over substance and acting chops. While there are plenty of great and good actors who’ve turned in solid to spectacular performances over the past year, most of them aren’t even in the running, as is the case every year.
Who’s a great actor, and not just someone whom men and women get autographed pictures from or make screensavers out of? Don Cheadle is a great actor. Charlize Theron is a solid actor who can turn in a great performance. Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, even Patrick Stewart turn in many more great performances than bad ones. Not to mention folks like Terrence Howard, Kerry Washington, Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell, Hilary Swank and so many others. Of course, there are the regular standbys who open movies every year, like Will Smith, Michael Caine, Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, but this is where the distinction between solid, consistent and good acting ends and where acting to a money-making formula begins.
I could name so many others who’ve turned in wonderful performances over the years, ones whose abilities to put me in the moment have made me laugh until I choked, or made me cry like a baby or left me with an anger that brought me back to my teenage years. Even in bad movies, like Dreamcatcher (2003) and Road House (1989), Band of Brothers star Damian Lewis and late actor Patrick Swayze turned in such great performances that they rose above a bad script and the other poor acting performances turned in by others. Still, there aren’t very many actors who have the ability to act, to deliver a realistic performance on film — or as the case may be — on stage or TV or in other settings.
This is why a few years ago I began to play a game with my occasionally movie-obsessed wife that I call “Who’s a worse actor?” It started originally with Halle Berry, Steven Seagall, Treat Williams and Dolph Lundgren, but it has expanded over the years. Sir Laurence Olivier (especially in The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond), James Cagney, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Rutger Hauer (who actually can be pretty good sometimes) Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Quinn and James Woods, among many, many, many others. They’ve chewed the scenery so much that they’ve left teeth marks all over the upholstery. Or they’re of such low talent that porn stars look like Meryl Streep as an actor by comparison. Plus, these bad actors look worse with lousy plots and scripts, and present less emotion than I did in six years of Humanities.
But the absolute worst, unbelievably horrid acting that me and my wife have both witnessed we wholeheartedly do agree on. Vin Diesel, Ice Cube, Megan Fox and Jessica Alba should never be allowed near a movie, TV or theater set. Heck, I’m not sure if any of them should be allowed out in public. Vin Diesel lost me in his xXx (2002) action flick, in which he could barely express anger (the easiest emotion to emote in an action movie), much less anything else. Ice Cube, well, he hasn’t turned in a decent performance since Boyz N The Hood (1991), and probably hasn’t attempted to improve his performances in the same amount of time. His work in Ghosts of Mars (2001) was beyond abysmal. There are no words to describe how bad his acting was. All I know is that I would’ve done a better job as a third-grader. As for Fox and Alba, one has zero potential to act (or think, apparently), the other has apparently forgotten how to act. But they are also cashing in. So sad, so sad.
In the process of figuring out the worst of the worst, we also managed to think about the overrated in the acting world, folks who have awards for turning in a good performance in a good film — but seem as great by the overly-made-up-Hollywood elite. Like Sean Penn in Mystic River (2003) or in Milk (2008), both of which were good, but not great films. Or, much more often, like Jolie or Brad Pitt in anything, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy since he became Disney-fied, Renee Zellweger, Kirsten Dunst, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Sometimes folks in the business see through the hype, sometimes they don’t, but all are thought of much more highly than they likely deserve.
Surprises as actors tend to be folks with a bit of a comedic background, if not as stand-up comedians, then as folks who’ve used comedy in their work in music or in other fields. Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Jim Carrey, Whoppi Goldberg, Greg Kinnear, Ludacris, all good, all consistent in their work, all hard workers in the craft. Of course, there are many more from the world of comedy or connoisseurs of it who have as much business being on film as I have working in construction.
I have no opinion on this year’s prime Oscar awards. I haven’t seen most of the movies, and those I did make it to see I didn’t like all that much. But between taking tequila shots for each time you hear the word “fabulous” or the phrase “…and the Oscar goes to,” you may want to play the game “Who’s a worse actor?” with your family and friends.