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Notable Scene Stealers

Ben Falcone (Joey). The life span of NBC’s wan Friends spinoff may hinge on less Kelly Preston and more Falcone, as Joey’s sweaty neighbor Howard. His arsenal of tics, mewls, eye pops and twitches is one of the most cringe-inducing characterizations of a loser hanging onto the bottom rung since Mark Borchardt in American Movie. Falcone’s weasely antics even make those Washington Mutual commercials bearable.

Bokeem Woodbine (Ray). A criminally underrated actor, Woodbine (Dead Presidents, The Sopranos) holds his salty own with Jamie Foxx, utilizing his sandpaper croak to portray Ray Charles’ longtime reedsman David "Fathead" Newman. Alternately cruel and kind, it is Fathead who warns Young Ray about the dangers of heroin (as he shoots it up, no less) and later confronts Older Ray with a much-needed dose of street-spade attitude, standing up to the polished, ascot-wearing pretensions of Charles’ new band manager.

Michael K. Williams (The Wire). Picking a standout performance on HBO’s police drama is like picking the best piano out of a Steinway showroom, but Williams’ stickup artist Omar is an exhilarating presence every time his scarred face emerges from the shadows, cig smoke curling dragonlike from his mouth. He’s sort of a ghetto Doc Holliday–meets–Robin Hood — cunning, deadly and incredibly funny when he’s not dropping bodies and taking great pleasure in humiliating the drug lords of West Baltimore, taunting their machismo by openly flaunting his homosexuality.

Lila Lipscomb (Fahrenheit 9/11). This Michigan war mom’s on-camera meltdown, forlornly standing before the White House protesting the death of her son Michael in Iraq, reminded me of the doom-riddled closing moments of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, when you realize it’s open season on the powerless, everywhere. No wonder Michael Moore kept more of his tubby gait off camera: How could he compete with that?

Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village). In the disappointing M. Night Shyamalan "joint," the once great William Hurt was reduced to uttering lines that seemed written by Bono channeling Cotton Mather. Then there was that subpar Night Gallery ending. Yet Howard took a page from the ethereal Emilies (Watson, Lloyd), and her debut as blind heroine Ivy seemed to come in wholesale from some other, better Merchant-Ivory film.

Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State). Since he underplayed both Val Kilmer and Vincent D’Onofrio in The Salton Sea as the sweet, simpled-minded tweaker Jimmy the Finn, Sarsgaard has stolen every movie he has been in (Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass). In Zach Braff’s lithium-surreal romantic comedy, he returned to his rounded-shouldered roots as a prickly Jersey loafer who performs dueling bong hits with his mom. Sarsgaard’s subtlety was a match for Natalie Portman’s hyperactive space-pixie; he seemed to exist fully formed before the cameras started rolling.

Robin Weigert (Deadwood). Calamity Jane as essayed by a little-known New York stage actress is pure, salt-cured Method, owing nothing to Doris Day’s or Ellen Barkin’s boutiquey portrayals of the infamous gunslinger-slash-feminist icon who had a red-hot love itch for "Wild Bill" Hickok. Weigert’s Calam is a foul-mouthed, odiferous, elbow-bending brawler — someone you’d find yourself next to in a bar and eventually think you might need to move away from, slowly and carefully.

Cody, Scout and Sashmo (Collateral). It’s a measure of admiration that, despite strong performances by Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Javier Bardem and Barry Shabaka Henley, Michael Mann’s L.A.-after-dark nightmare was stolen by a trio of coyotes. When Foxx’s taxicab stops on a dark L.A. street to allow them passage, the animals — wards of Hollywood animal trainer Gayle Phelps (Dances With Wolves) — look both wary and unimpressed as their eyes flash in the headlights. The moment is so mysterious and unexpected that it haunts the rest of the film.


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