I don’t know why, but I’m in this 90s movie phase this week. But undeniably, if you know your movies well, it’s hard to deny that this decade had some of the finest leading man performances ever. I wanted to create a list of my favourites for every year of my birthday decade. The hardest thing about it was choosing out a single lead male performance in a year where there were so many. So after my little write-up, I decided to include the runner-up. If you haven’t seen any of the performances on this list, I suggest you find a copy immediately. Most of these actors (if you know the movies, it’s actually quite obvious) carries the entire movie on their shoulders. That’s actually one of my main points in choosing these ten terrific artist. Enjoy! Thanks for putting up with my randomness!
RAY LIOTA in “Goodfellas” (1990) – It’s funny that in Martin Scorsese’s best film (plus he’s like my favourite director of all time), the leading man ins’t found in Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCapio. Though De Niro has a supporting role in the film, the movie was really Ray Liotta’s. Liotta plays Henry Hill, a young man allured into the “glamorous” and yet-violent life of the Mafia. In the span of his Mafia career, Henry experiences a life of crime that includes murder, drugs and sex. Hill’s life decisions ultimately compromises his family’s safety. In the film, Liotta is so good and so believable, that it seems like he’s lived the character his whole life. Just the fact that he was forever type-casted after this performance just proves my point. It’s such a shame that he was ultimately snubbed for a Best Actor nomination, but his performance stays iconic in cinema.
Runner-Up: Johnny Depp in “Edward Scissorhands”
RIVER PHOENIX in “My Own Private Idaho” (1991) – Phoenix was always a ballsy actor. At only 21 years old, he decided to do “My Own Private Idaho”, in which the subject matter may not be the best choice for a rising star that he was back then in Hollywood. But I’m sure glad he made this movie, because he out shined many Hollywood heavy weights in his performance as they gay prostitute, Mike Waters, in the Gus van Sant motion picture. Mike, who suffers from narcolepsy, travels around America (and beyond) with his fellow hustler friend, Scott (a young Keanu Reeves), in order to find his mother. Young actors don’t take big risks like this anymore. I commend Phoenix for delivering such an emotionally heartbreaking performance of a lost kid of the streets. Though everybody knows about Phoenix’s untimely death just two years later, “Idaho” stands as one of his greatest films, that will surely be hard to top by any new risk taking young actors today.
Runner-Up: Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs”
ROBERT DOWNEY JR. in “Chaplin” (1992) – Today, everybody knows Robert Downey Jr. as either “Iron Man” or “Sherlock Holmes”, but back in the day, Downey was taking major film chances. I will say that I’m glad he’s stepping out of his franchise films. I’m hoping that he finds a new identity as a serious film actor. Back in 1992, Downey played the legendary Hollywood comedian Charlie Chaplin. The film portrays the ups and downs of Chaplin’s career and personal life, as he reminisces about the ole Hollywood days to a reporter played by Anthony Hopkins. Though the film may have it’s flaws, the young actor was able to capture the Chaplin that we knew and also a Chaplin that we didn’t. Obsessive, womanizing, Hollywood mogul with a heart? Not exactly words that go together, but Downey meshes it up all together just on the dot.
Runner-Up: Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman”
LIAM NEESON in “Schindler’s List” (1993) – Oskar (you guessed it!) Schindler, a German who is concerned about the treatment of his Jewish workers, begins to slowly save them. This, of course, is unheard off, especially for a German “nationalist”! Though I make the plot of “Schindler’s List” sound less complex then it really is, Neeson leads the superb cast in one of the most heartbreaking stories ever told on the silver screen. Neeson is absolutely perfect for the title role of Oskar Schindler because not only does he have that kind face and compassionate eyes, but he has the acting chops to match it. Though a lot of people may argue that Ralph Fienne’s performance as the evil General Amon Geoth steals the show, I wouldn’t say they are entirely wrong. But in the end of the day, this is really Oskar Schindler’s story. Without Liam Neeson bringing him to life so well, there wouldn’t be the timeless Spielberg classic. His performance was kind and subtle, but still so very powerful.
Runner-Up: Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia”
TOM HANKS in “Forrest Gump” (1994) – This is a very cliche choice, but it’s cliche for a reason. It being cliche is the reason why it’s so true. If you don’t know the story (meaning you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 or so years), Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a rather slow Southerner who lives an extraordinary life, despite his many mental incapacities. Surviving the Vietnam war, becoming a ping pong champion and starting his own million dollar shrimp business (which his partner sooner or later invests in Apple), is nothing to him, as compared to his love for his Momma (Sally Fields) and his childhood sweetheart Jenny (the then-known Robin Wright). Though Forrest’s character “isn’t the smartest man in the world, but he still knows how to love” (see what I did there?), cinema audiences accepted him immediately and loved him right back. Today, Forrest Gump the character and the movie still remains as one of the most iconic pictures of all time. Even him sitting on the bench has become some sort of a iconic image. If I really want to push it, the Bubba Gump restaurant at the nearby Greenbelt Mall is probably one of my guiltiest culinary pleasures. All of this is because of a performance that could bring people to laughter, tears and heart break that is found in Mr. Hank’s Forrest Gump. Till today, he hasn’t produced a performance that tops this one.
Runner-Up: Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption”
ETHAN HAWKE in “Before Sunrise” (1995) – It seems that every year, “Before Sunrise” ages even better and better. The thing that makes the films in the series work so well are the actors that they cast as the lead roles of Jessie (Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Telling a simple tale of how an American falls in love with a French girl after meeting on a train in Europe, the movie dives into the romantic minds of two people in their twenties, for one unforgettable night in Vienna. Ethan Hawke is certainly superior between the two, performance-wise. His performance as the rather cynical Jessie, is believable, effortless and entertaining to watch. For a movie about two people talking, “Before Sunrise” is certainly one of the most entertaining pictures of that year, and the charismatic Hawke is the main reason why I consider it to be.
Runner-Up: Roberto De Niro in “Casino”
TOM CRUISE in “Jerry Maguire” (1996) – When I asked my friends and family members what they thought Mr. Cruise’s best performance was, it always varied. From “Magnolia” (1999) to “Interview with the Vampire” (1994). Heck, even “Top Gun” (1988) was mentioned. But I personally begged to differ. I mentioned Cameron Crowe’s “Jerry Maguire”. My Uncle argued “but it’s too sappy and melodramatic”! But what he doesn’t see is that is exactly what makes the performance work so well. Let me explain further. Cruise plays Maguire, a ballsy sports agent who must rebuild his life when being fired by the large company he works for. To his surprise, a young secretary named Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) is the only one who comes with him to build his own empire. Unfortunately, the only client who sticks with him is an obnoxious (and horrible) football player, played by the charming Cuba Gooding Jr. Together, they must work together and start from scratch. The film is inspirational, and Cruise is inspired. You’ll never find him in his best until you find “Jerry Maguire”. Like my uncle said, yes it is sappy and melodramatic, but life is too isn’t it? And if you lost everything, wouldn’t you you be sappy and melodramatic? Cruise is pitch-perfect for the role. He shows us a brighter, more compassionate side to him that works so well in this film.
Runner-Up: Ewan McGregor in “Trainspotting”
MATT DAMON in “Good Will Hunting” (1997) – This is actually one of my favourite performances of all time. Matt Damon plays Will Hunting, a janitor (who is also a juvenile delinquent) at MIT who has a special gift for mathamatics. When he is is discovered by a top professor (Stellan Skargard) who wants to hone his gift, he must now see Therapist Sean Maguire (Oscar winner Robin Williams) as a part of the deal to keep him away from jail. You will never see Matt Damon more raw and emotional then he is in “Good Will Hunting”. The film is truly a masterwork of acting, with not only great performances by Damon, but an equally amazing performance by Robin Williams. Damon, who also co-wrote the screenplay with buddy Ben Affleck, won an Oscar for his writing. But though that Oscar is 100% deserved, to me, this performance not garnering him a Best Actor statuette is one of the most unfortunate snubs of the 1990s. By far my favourite performance of the entire decade. Run out and see this movie immediately!
Runner-Up: Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets”
JIM CAREY in “The Truman Show” (1998) – Today, a lot of people forget that Jim Carey is actually one of the most special talents out there. They think he’s just the funny guy playing with penguins or getting into awkward situations with rhinos. However, people need to remember that Carey has produced some acting gems in his terrific career. Apart from 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, Carey’s best performance is most certainly in “The Truman Show”. A mix of both comedy and drama (so it really brings out Carey’s range), the film tells the story of Truman, a living experiment whose whole life, ever since birth, has been shot and produced for reality television. When Truman begins to notice how weird his life is, his curiosity runs wild, leaving him to look for answers of what may be beyond the small town he’s never left. Carey produces a career best here. He is the right amount of funny, dramatic and raw. The film is most definitely a showcase of what Carey can do as an actor, and that is almost infinite.
Runner-Up: Jason Shwartzman in “Rushmore”
EDWARD NOTON in “Fight Club” (1999) – The Norton-Pitt team that has come out of the cult film “Fight Club” is certainly one of the most iconic movie duos of modern day cinema. Though Brad Pitt was absolutely a thrill to watch in the film, the movie really belonged to the talented Mr. Edward Norton. Norton plays an unnamed character (but he’s the lead), who breaks out of his boring, conventional life after meeting the eccentric Tyler Durden (Pitt) on an airplane. Together, they come together and create “Fight Club”, which I’m obviously not allowed to talk about. This club of depressed, egotistic men begin to run havoc in the city and start a society that is hard to run away from. This role is so far, the role Norton was born to play. His on-screen persona was perfect, and he fit the character so well. Its place as one of the most unforgettable, icon performances of the 90s has reason to be considered this way. Because yeah, it really is unforgettable and iconic. Not to mention fun, as well. And so much more.
Runner-Up: Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty”