5 Incredible Acting Feats That Should Have Their Own Awards
Between the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and the presidency, we have a lot of ways to reward people for lying convincingly on camera. It's not enough, though. I don't mean that no award will ever make an actor feel okay about the stuff they let that casting director do to them to get their big break. I mean that there are still types of acting awards we should be giving out but aren't. Someone should do something about it. Hey, that's a great idea. I'm going to give myself an award for thinking of that.
And while I'm at it, I guess I will just go ahead and also give out awards for the most underrated kinds of acting, including ...
Speaking A Made-Up Language
A conlanger is someone who invents fictional languages for movies and TV shows, languages like Dothraki, Na'vi, Klingon, or Pornese. Besides turning our escapism into subtitles-ridden reading assignments, the biggest problem with conlanging is that your linguistic baby will ultimately have to be delivered on screen by actors, some of whom will end up dropping it on its head.
For example, in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Christopher Lloyd plays Kruge, a Klingon commander trying to simultaneously murder Kirk and the Klingon language.
Lloyd's Klingon delivery is so wooden and features so many unnecessary pauses between each word that I'm shocked the movie's big twist wasn't that Kruge and Kirk were long-lost twins. Does this make Christopher Lloyd a bad actor? Let me answer that with another question: How dare you? Christopher Lloyd is a goddamn treasure and a powerhouse performer. He just has trouble putting his heart into made-up lines that must sound to him like a jammed printer.
They don't prepare you for this kind of stuff in acting school. Just ask Dan Hildebrand whose Valyrian on Game Of Thrones sounds like, well, like a jammed printer: Clunky, forced, and it makes me want to hit him.
"Could you give me some pointers?"
You see the same problem with Neytiri's parents in Avatar or with pretty much every Martian in John Carter. All of them needlessly accentuate every word in their lines because to them it's just random noise that they had to memorize by ear.
But now check out Alycia Debnam-Carey speaking Trigedasleng, the fictional language from The 100.
She sounds pretty good, right? Maybe it's because she's young and therefore grew up in geekier times, so her brain doesn't subconsciously want to give itself a wedgie for trying to master a made-up language. This would certainly explain Emilia Clarke's excellent Valyrian or Zoe Saldana's fluent Na'vi.
Then there's Elyes Gabel, who played Rakharo on Game Of Thrones.
He was the one who died horribly and out of nowhere.
Gabel speaks Dothraki like I hate myself: effortlessly and without a hint of hesitation. He sounds so fluent and natural that you often know what his character is saying even without subtitles. A brilliant performance like that should be rewarded with more than a lame off-screen death. I hope that this will suffice:
Acting In A Mask
Acting with just your body is hard. Case in point: Julian McMahon's "Doctor" "Doom" in Fantastic Four (2005).
Yes, those quotation marks were necessary.
Doom is one of my favorite villains ever so I might be biased but whoever cast McMahon in the role is definitely going to hell. He's not a bad actor. He just projects very little confidence, which makes all his movements look exaggerated and unnatural, from how he fixes his coat (0:25) to how his lightning attack looks like him orgasming from hugging the Kool-Aid Man (1:32).
The problem is that most actors learn to act with their face and ignore the body because they don't want to be mistaken for mimes. So when you put a mask on them, it's like they're learning to walk for the first time. It accidentally works with, say, Jason from Friday The 13th because his awkward body language emphasizes his lack of humanity. But with General Klytus in Flash Gordon or The Humungus in Mad Max 2, their awkward body language is just that: awkward.
He can't even die convincingly.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool. The mask's CGI might have had a tiny, baby hand in it, but it never felt like you were looking at a faceless character with him, probably because the masked and unmasked versions were so in sync. They moved the same way, they sounded the same way, so whenever you saw Deadpool, you automatically saw Reynolds underneath the mask.
No, no, that's a compliment!
On the other hand, Adam Driver's masked and unmasked Kylo Ren are very different characters. One is a lost child, and the other is basically a young Darth Vader. (And despite what Lucas tried to do with the prequels, the two are not one and the same.) While wearing his mask, he's swift, intimidating but also sort of unbalanced, while without the helmet, he transforms into a reserved kid. Each performance tells a different story, but together they make up the complex whole of the character.
Still, though, the award for best masked performance can only go to Hugo Weaving as V in V For Vendetta because with him you can always feel every emotion that he's going through underneath the mask.
Like here where he's clearly thinking: "I hope this mask won't get co-opted by neckbeards."
When he laughs, you feel him laughing. When he's angry, you feel his anger as he connects with you on an emotional level using just his voice and sophisticated body language. I think that deserves an award:
Acting With Nothing There
Here's why I hate The Hobbit: it made Ian McKellen cry.
OK, movie *cocks shotgun* Out back.
While filming The Hobbit, Peter Jackson relied heavily on green screen to make the dwarves and hobbits look fun-sized. During one such shoot, McKellen was sitting alone at a table surrounded by lamps with picture-cut-outs of his co-stars glued to them (to be replaced by the scaled-down actors in post), when he just broke down and started crying. "It's not what I do for a living," he lamented. "I act with other people, I don't act on my own."
"Also, the lamps remind me of Pixar, which reminds me of Up!"
Another time, when Ewan McGregor recalled what he didn't like about playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, he went with having to act at tennis balls on sticks. Think about it; he actually hated all the green/blue screen shoots more than having to participate in the total butchering of Star Wars mythology.
Why yes, I am still pissed off about the Midi-chlorians.
The reason McKellen and McGregor feel that way is because acting is just like sex. Unless you have someone to do it with, it looks kind of sad and weird. And although they were able to pull it off beautifully, most actors don't have the chops to deliver a good performance with a color for a partner. This brings us to Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow in such a natural way, I'm going to give myself another award for that segue.
Scat-Wot stars Gwyneth Paltrow supposedly investigating giant maybe-Nazi robots while looking like I do when I see vegetables on my dinner plate: she just doesn't believe that shit. And if she doesn't buy that the CGI robots are really there, how can we?
But now let's look at Naomi Watts' performance in King Kong (2005). It was brilliant. Here's why that's more impressive than you think:
Every scene where Kong held Watts in his giant hand, Watts had to wrap a huge moldy wiener around her waist, and I've been laughing at this for hours now. The neighbors have complained. You have to understand, Watts had to cry and scream out of pants-wetting fear while looking pants-wettingly hilarious, and I respect the hell out of her for being able to do that.
In the end, this is what "acting with nothing" really is: the ability to tune out the sad, sometimes silly reality of working with green screen. As such, I think this belongs to Watts:
Saying A Catchphrase In A Seamless, Meaningful Way
I'm a psychic. I know some of you don't believe me (see? How did I know that? Psychic!) so I'll prove it. Think of a movie catchphrase that didn't sound like shit being forcefully shoehorned into ass. Did you think of "I'll be back"? Of course you did.
Everyone else: You must have done it wrong.
Why that line, though? Well, catchphrases in general sound faker than a hooker's orgasm. But put one in the mouth of a fake-human, like a killer robot from Austria, and it all sort of makes sense, you know? And if you don't know, let's look at some examples of catchphrases that don't work.
From Joey's "How you doin'?" to Sheldon's "Bazinga!" or Balki's "Don't be ridiculous," bad catchphrase deliveries have one main thing in common: they sound like catchphrases. Every time we hear them, we can also hear an executive boardroom ordering screenwriters to come up with something they can slap on a T-shirt, and in the end, it just comes off as disingenuous and cringy.
Then again, Neil Patrick Harris has a number of really bad lines on How I Met Your Mother but you never hear anyone complaining about his character on the show.
Usually, the opposite is true.
What's NPH's secret? Mostly it's him throwing his catchphrases out there nonchalantly. By their very nature, TV catchphrases are audio prompts telling the audience "This is the goofball/nerd/drunk character," but Harris doesn't say it like that because he knows his character is more than that. Perhaps that's the key here: saying a catchphrase in a way that doesn't sound like: "EXPOSITION TIME, BITCHES!"
Two actors were really good at that: Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Leonard Nimoy's Spock with his "Live long and prosper." In the end, I think Nimoy was better because, unlike movies, TV jams catchphrases down your mind-throat numerous times, and it's only fair to reward an actor who did it with a gentle hand and some acting-lube. Yeah, there probably was a better way of phrasing that.
Speaking With An American Accent
There are two things you need to know about me: 1) I actually speak English with a noticeable accent, making me the last person to criticize how other people speak the language. 2) I'm a hypocrite.
Now let's criticize some non-American actors for their horrible American accents. We will start with Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules.
Michael Caine is why Nolan's Batman movies will always have a leg up over any other version. The man can basically do it all: comedy, drama, kids' films. But not an American accent. He ... really can't do that. I'm not even sure what to call that thing he's doing in The Cider House Rules. I have a theory that the director stuck a piece of apple pie in his mouth in the hopes that it would help his performance. He was wrong.
Maybe this was revenge for Dick Van Dyke's "cockney" accent?
And yet, that was still miles better than Jean-Claude Van Damme's American accent in Street Fighter. I honestly believe every actor in Street Fighter should be awarded an Oscar for not bursting out laughing whenever they heard him speak.
Then of course you have Gerard Butler in The Bounty Hunter but let's not talk about his attempt at an American accent because it's such a lovely day today, and why would you want to ruin that? So instead, let's talk about Christian Bale.
Show of hands: How many of you have forgotten by now that Bale is British? Well, he is. But you'd never know it if you went by his movie accents. They can be kind of generic, but they're always unmistakably American, especially in American Hustle.
"It's all about channeling your inner-asshole."
The same can be said about Idris Elba, a man more British than the Queen drunkenly eating a kebab at 3 in the morning, who nonetheless convinced us he was a Baltimore gangster on The Wire. But you all know who ultimately gets an award for best American accent: Hugh Laurie for House. Hell, he hides his Englishness so well that even the show's producers were initially fooled into thinking that Laurie was American, and I cannot pronounce the word "three" properly enough to argue with them. So, I think that this belongs to Laurie:
Hey, look at that. Finished another column. I'm going to give myself another award for that.
For our picks for best real-life (non)performance check out 5 Actors Who Weren't Acting In Their Most Iconic Scenes and 5 Great Performances By Actors (Who Weren't Acting).
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