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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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