10 Brilliant Acting Performances Defined by One Look

I LOVE LOVE this idea from Brittani that I came across earlier this week that I had to take part.

“Sometimes a simple look an actor gives is nothing short of brilliant,”

I totally agree with her sentiment. Sometimes the quietest, most subtle look or gesture has the power to generate the most emotional response, no words necessary.

It made me think of some of those scenes and really, there are SO many examples that it’s tough to narrow it down to just 10. The fact that I remember these scenes despite the length of time that’s passed since I’ve seen it means they definitely left a big impression on me. In fact, from time to time I still look on youtube to watch that particular scene again. Ok so technically there are 11 here, as I paired up one of them, but I think it still count as one as it happens in the exact same scene where the two actors interact with each other. Anyway, here goes:

Christian Bale in Equilibrium

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I always have a fondness for this dystopian sci-fi thriller despite its flaws. Bale’s Preston came too late to save the woman he loves from being incinerated… and he had to watch her die right in front of him. Bale’s expression of utter despair just breaks my heart. It’s one of my favorite Bale performances from all the amazing work he’s done, even if the film itself is far from perfect.

Emily Blunt – Jane Austen Book Club

Blunt_JaneAustenBookClub

I LOVE miss Blunt and she adds so much gravitas and emotional complexity to her character of a French teacher going through an unhappy marriage. She’s just about to have a rendezvous at a motel with a hot, young student but something precludes her from taking another step. I don’t remember much about the entire film but I always remember this scene.

Toby Stephens – Jane Eyre (BBC – 2006)
Toby_JaneEyreI have to include at least one out of a plethora of Toby’s masterful scenes as Rochester. The no-wedding scene is definitely one of the most emotionally-charged. Rochester’s anguish is so palpable here when ‘bride in the attic’ secret’s been revealed. He was so close to finally be with the woman he loves, but in a single moment, that elusive happiness is snatched away again. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s such mesmerizing beauty in his look of pain and agony. It takes a real craftsmanship to bring such tortured soul persona so beautifully and Toby does it with aplomb.

Angela Bassett in Waiting To Exhale

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Fireman: Ma’am, were you aware that your car was on fire?
[Bernadine nods her head while smoking a cigarette]

Fireman: Ma’am, did you start this fire?
[she puffs smoke and plainly looks at him]

Fireman: You know, it’s against the law to burn anything except trash in your yard.

Bernadine: [flicks off ashes from her cigarette] It is trash.

Miss Bassett is simply awesome, period. It’s been over a decade since I saw this film but I never forget Bernadine’s rage and heartache when her husband leaves her. She’s crestfallen, but yet she never loses that bad-ass sensibility. Her look says it all, ‘Don’t mess with Bernadine.’

Russell Crowe in The Insider

Crowe_TheInsiderI’ve always believed that Crowe got robbed of his Oscar in this film. As fantastic as his portrayal of Maximus was, the way he completely disappeared into Jeffrey Wigand is nothing short of astounding. This scene at the hotel room is mesmerizing, powerful and heart-wrenching and Crowe only communicates with his body language. There’s a bit of a dream sequence here that was crafted masterfully by Michael Mann, but it’s Crowe’s stillness and inner tumult that you won’t soon forget.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave

Chiwetel_12YearsASlaveThis scene is one of the most haunting, which is saying something given how many heart-wrenching scenes there are in this film. At first Solomon didn’t join the other slaves singing Roll Jordan Roll, but somehow, halfway through the song, he started singing. His facial expression stirs up so much expression as I watched it. It’s as if he’d reached the lowest point of his life, losing all hope of ever escaping his fate as a slave… all the grief, desperation, anger and sense of helplessness is all there. Yet there is a glimmer of defiance in him, a flicker of hope still left in him that gets him through another day. Ejiofor deserved an Oscar win just for this scene alone.

Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday

Peck_TheHolidayThe finale remains one of the most beautiful and poignant film endings ever. And I think Peck’s facial expression conveys so much. The restrained tears in his eyes, the rigid way he’s standing, it takes so much out of Joe not to say how he feels about Ann. Yet his expression speaks louder than words could ever do.

Kate Winslet in Titanic

Winslet_TitanicIt’s been ages since I saw Titanic but for some reason, this subtle scene of Rose during dinner with her family and Cal still stands out to me. There’s this glazed look on her face, like she finally stops caring about her privileged life that feels more and more like a prison. “That fire is gonna burn out,” Jack tells her at one point and it’s as if it finally sinks in that he is right and she wants out.

Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator

Joaquin_GladiatorThis is truly one of the greatest scenes in film history IMHO. There’s just so much going on in this scene on psychological and emotional level. Of course Crowe is simply astounding in his ‘Maximus Decimus Meridius’ monologue but one thing that always struck me is Commodus’ stunned reaction. His lips quiver, eyes wide open with shock and his whole body trembles with a combination of rage and fright. It’s like ‘WTF! How could you still be alive?’ He knew at that moment, everything he’s planned so carefully is in shambles. As Lucilla said, at that moment, a slave did become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome, and it’s all written in Commodus’ face.

James Cromwell & Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential

Cromwell_LAConfidential

Spacey_LAConfidential

There are certain phrases in movies that will forever be stuck in my head. “Rolo Tomasi” is one of them, and thanks to both Cromwell and Spacey for creating such an iconic and chilling scene. That’s the name Exley (Guy Pearce) gives the unknown murderer of his father just to give him a personality. “Have you a valediction, boyo?” Capt. Dudley Smith asked the dying Sgt. Jack Vincennes. It’s a powerful and totally unexpected response, and one he never thought would eventually lead to his own demise. Even nearing death, Jack still manages to deliver quite a blow to Dudley.


Well, what do you think of my picks? Please share your own picks of great acting defined by one look.