In Contention

THE LISTS: Top 10 performances in Terrence Malick films

Posted by · 9:40 am · May 24th, 2011

If you can believe it, it’s been since Halloween that we kicked the dust off this feature at In Contention. We made it all the way through the Oscar season without feeling compelled to go there. Odd. So, with Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” opening in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, before expanding to other cities throughout June, it seemed a good time to dig back in and cook up a collective that might drive a little more interest in the discussion.

The easiest thing I could think of was a list of the best performances from Malick films, and as I sat down to revisit all five of the director’s works last week, it became clear it was as good a choice as any. There is, after all, plenty to choose from.

Malick films contain a wide-ranging array of performances, all of them proving to be singular feathers in the caps of many actors. Indeed, when an actor stars in a Malick film, he or she is met with direction unique to any other experience, and it can yield great, unexpected work. Naturalism and a sense of authenticity are hallmarks of these portrayals, as Malick likes to scrape away the dishonesty of “performance” and get to something truer, with all the imperfection that comes with it.

For my money, the following 10 represent the best of the lot. Let’s dive in…

10. Elias Koteas, “The Thin Red Line” (1998)
It ended up being a toss-up between three graduates of Malick’s third film, “The Thin Red Line,” for the bottom slot on the list. But while Dash Mihok gave a unique but natural portrayal, and while Jim Caviezel proved a zen narrative and emotional anchor, I settled on Elias Koteas’s Capt. James “Bugger” Staros. And a fitting pick it might be, seeing as his work encapsulates so perfectly a current that runs through many Malick characters, namely a profound sense of inner conflict. Koteas carved out a supporting character of great honor but undeniable frailty (as in, humanity), a man who’ll bite his lip until it bleeds.

9. Sissy Spacek, “Badlands” (1973)
Malick began experimenting with narration from the beginning, juxtaposing the lofty romantic thoughts of 15-year-old Holly Sargis with the grisly visual fallout of her life on the run with a sociopath as empty as she is in Malick’s first film, “Badlands.” Holly was surely a challenging persona to translate to the screen, and Sissy Spacek, in just her second fleshed-out role on screen, with that soft, unassuming Texas accent, took to it like a duck to water. In some ways, her detached amorality makes for a character as unsettling as co-star Martin Sheen’s cold-blooded ne’er-do-well.

8. Colin Farrell, “The New World” (2005)
Colin Farrell gives one of the great quiet performances in Malick’s fourth film, “The New World.” There’s plenty of dialogue, but what I take away from Malick films are the moments when he forces you to observe behavior. And there is something transcendent about how Farrell took to that direction, particularly when the Native Americans of what will be Virginia take his Captain John Smith in for an exchange of cultures. He also navigates the emotional terrain of the film’s love story with authentic flare where melodrama could have crept into his sense of motivation. It’s a wholly complete performance, one of his best.

7. Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life” (2011)
Malick’s latest film, “The Tree of Life,” owes much of its existence to actor Brad Pitt, who co-produced the project with his Plan B partner Dede Gardner. Pitt should be commended for that bravery behind the camera, but in front of the camera, he is no less committed, digging into stern patriarch Mr. O’Brien with passion and conviction. The character is meant to be symbolic, representative of a way of life — “nature” and “fierce will” — but the actor pumps a considerable amount of real emotion into it, running hot and cold throughout, ultimately offering some of his finest work to date.

6. Nick Nolte, “The Thin Red Line” (1998)
Nick Nolte fully owned the role of Lt. Col. Gordon Tall in 1998’s “The Thin Red Line.” Digging under the skin of a soldier-for-life type desperate to finally have “his war,” the actor mined fascinatingly contradictory rhythms throughout, offering the best of the film’s three showcased performances (the other two coming from Sean Penn and Jim Caviezel). But outside of a Chicago Film Critics Association nod for Best Supporting Actor, the awards season passed him up entirely. He spits fire one minute and calmly waxes philosophic the next, putting out perhaps the most complex character of the piece.

5. Q’orianka Kilcher, “The New World” (2005)
Seven years after his big return to cinema, Malick tried to keep a stride of some sort going with the Pocahontas story in “The New World.” And in the pivotal role, Malick cast Q’orianka Kilcher, an unknown — aside from being singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher’s cousin — and a happy surprise. In the extended cut of the film, much of the material, including the character, has more room to breathe. So I consider that when sizing up Kilcher’s lived-in portrayal of a complex woman confronted with love, duty and ultimately, the real “new world” of the film’s title: civilization.

4. Woody Harrelson, “The Thin Red Line” (1998)
I surprised myself when ordering this list to find that what I felt to be the best performance in my favorite Malick film is the one that amounts on screen to little more than a cameo. But that’s also kind of the nature of “The Thin Red Line,” a film edited mercilessly into a potent mixture and a perfect storm of imagery and performance. Woody Harrelson gets precious few moments to shine as Sgt. Keck, but in a random, tragic instance (I won’t bother spoiling it in case some have not see this 13 year-old film), he exudes the most believable, passionate horror, shame and epiphany of anyone in the cast.

3. Linda Manz, “Days of Heaven” (1978)
Richard Gere’s hothead worker and Sam Shepard’s shy farmer were both close to making the list from 1978’s “Days of Heaven,” but when it comes to Malick’s second feature film, I’m always reminded of Linda Manz. The events of the film are told from her perspective, one of innocence, and Manz, 16-years-old when the film was made, gives a strikingly assured performance. Much of its power comes from the character’s matter-of-fact, sometimes misspoken narration throughout, capturing the hard realities of adulthood through the lens of unconditioned youth, playing on a typical Malick theme: contradiction.

2. Martin Sheen, “Badlands” (1973)
In Malick’s debut feature, Martin Sheen really burst onto the scene in a star-making performance as alluring as it was dangerous. The actor has said he was greatly inspired by James Dean early in life, and in “Badlands,” he was able to tap the kind of charisma that made Dean an icon and bend it around the intriguing character of Kit Carruthers. Sheen exuded all the elements necessary to make it a portrayal organic to Malick’s vision: boredom, delusion, obsession, passion, kindness, coldness, etc. It was a seemingly irreconcilable blend, a tightrope Sheen walked to perfection.

1. Hunter McCracken, “The Tree of Life” (2011)
For “The Tree of Life,” Malick sought out non-actors for most of the characters and gave very little direction (as is his way). In his view, the worst thing you can do is cast someone who is naturally perfect for a particular role and then tell him or her to be someone else. In Hunter McCracken, Malick got a treasure trove of genuine actions and reactions, and I’ll be honest, I surprised myself when I settled on him for the top spot. The young actor was tasked with taking his character, Jack O’Brien, through the awkward years of preadolescence, struggling with a contradictory world (external and internal), balancing aggression and compassion along the way. And, quite frankly, he’s perfect in the role. Pitch perfect.

What are your favorite performances from Terrence Malick films? Sound off in the comments section below!

[Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures]

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64 responses so far

  • 1 5-24-2011 at 9:51 am

    Andrew Rech said...

    Great list Kris, I’m especially excited to see Hunter McCracken’s work now in The Tree of Life.

    For me Elias Koteas is the best in the ensemble by a nose in The Thin Red Line. The phone conversation between him and Nolte is just explosively good. John Cusack is great in it too. I also think Miranda Otto is amazing in the film, even though she doesn’t have any dialogue and only a single monologue. Still, she haunts me, and her segments are what get a lot of my emotional response. Anyone else a big fan of her small but fantastic work in the film?

  • 2 5-24-2011 at 9:58 am

    Tyler said...

    Great list Kris, really excited that McCraken came in number 1. Too bad you couldn’t make room for Caviezel though, overall I’m fine with it though.

  • 3 5-24-2011 at 9:58 am

    Davin Lacksonen said...

    “Colin Farrell gives one of the great quiet performances in Malick’s third film, ‘The New World.'”

    Fourth film?

    Great list and I am rather alarmed by your number one. All the more reason to be excited for the film, I suppose.

    Having not seen ‘The New World,’ should I see the original cut first or just go for the extended (which you heavily praise as the superior version)?

  • 4 5-24-2011 at 10:08 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Thanks Davin. Fixed it as soon as I published.

    I vastly prefer the extended cut of The New World, which is 20 minutes longer than the 150-minute cut (which was screened to press in 2005) and 40 minutes longer than the cut released in theaters (which I haven’t seen to this day). The flow of the film just feels more natural to me.

  • 5 5-24-2011 at 10:23 am

    DylanS said...

    I don’t typically think of Malick as being an actors director, often treating them more like subjects to photograph than real people, which is mostly the way I felt while watching “The Thin Red Line”. I know he cut a multitude of big names out of the final cut, ranging from Billy Bob Thornton to Gary Oldman (also, I’ve heard that Adrien Brody’s cameo perfromance was originally a lead in the script. But having recently seen “Days of Heaven”, which I liked a great deal more, I was struck but something in the acting. The characters are still a part of the scenery and are mostly symbolic (which I’m not opposed to), but he has a knack for capturing brilliant facial expressions. I think Shepard should be on this list personally.

  • 6 5-24-2011 at 10:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Shepard is superb, no doubt. It’s a fantastic quiet performance. Alas, I couldn’t find room.

  • 7 5-24-2011 at 10:31 am

    Mike_M said...

    Great list, however, I think Q’orianka Kilcher is Jewel’s cousin, not sister.

  • 8 5-24-2011 at 10:32 am

    Raj Himself said...

    Kris: Do you consider Pitt’s performance in Jesse James to be his best or has this surpassed it?

    For me Jim Caviezel is way out ahead in terms of performances in Malick films and I would probably have to put Penn near the top too for The Thin Red Line. I think about those two characters almost every day, as a kind of representation of my personal struggle with which path to choose (kind of similar to Tree of Life maybe?).

    Possible correction: I think Pitt’s shingle is called Plan B and Section 8 was Clooney’s.

  • 9 5-24-2011 at 10:34 am

    Rashad said...

    I actually though Woody was quite poor, and that Nolte was much superior. In fact, i would say Nolte was most effective in any of his movies so far.

  • 10 5-24-2011 at 10:34 am

    Mike_M said...

    Correct Raj, just going to post the same thing. Brad’s company is Plan B which produced Tree of Life, while Section 8 is (err, was) Clooney/Soderbergh company, until Clooney formed Smokehouse.

  • 11 5-24-2011 at 10:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ooh, you’re right about Plan B. Thanks.

    I appreciate the different takeaways from TTRL. It’s a wonderful Rorschach of a film. I was just more moved by the authenticity of the three I chose than the rest, I suppose.

  • 12 5-24-2011 at 10:38 am

    Brian Duffield said...

    Is the DVD release the long cut for New World that you’re talking about?

  • 13 5-24-2011 at 10:39 am

    Brian Duffield said...

    Also my mind just got blown apart that Q’orianka is Jewel’s sister.

  • 14 5-24-2011 at 10:41 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Brian: The one released in 2008, yeah. And somehow it’s cheaper on Amazon than the regular cut:

  • 15 5-24-2011 at 10:41 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    I think the most surprising aspect of this list is that you chose top performances as the subject for Malick, as the previous poster mentioned he is not really an actors director.

    I would have had Nolte and Spacek lower along with Shepard on the list.

  • 16 5-24-2011 at 10:42 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And Q’orianka is actually Jewel’s cousin.

  • 17 5-24-2011 at 10:43 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “…he is not really an actors director.”

    I don’t believe this. In the slightest.

    Also, Matt: Spacek lower? She’s already at 9. Maybe you’d have nixed her for Shepard?

  • 18 5-24-2011 at 10:52 am

    red_wine said...

    I think Manz was kinda awful.

    10. Sissy Spacek in Badlands
    9. The grass from Days Of Heaven
    8. The sparrow from Thin Red Line
    7. The breeze from The New World
    6. The flies from Days Of Heaven
    5. The trees from Thin Red Line
    4. The sand from Thin Red Line
    3. The scarecrow from Days Of Heaven
    2. The leaves from The New World
    1. The pebbles from The New World

  • 19 5-24-2011 at 10:53 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    I always misuse lower and higher especially when it comes to say NBA and NFL draft time. I always assume a lower pick means a pick closer to #1 because 1 is a lower number.

    Anyways I meant I would move Spacek and Nolte into my top 5 and make room for Shepard and Caviezel as well on my list. The look on Jim’s face when he sees the tribal people have started fighting and are not as perfect as he once thought is enough to get him on the list for me.

    As far as Malick it’s a very different type of acting in his films than everything else and actors are also never guaranteed any air time in the final product hence why I found it surprising you did this list as opposed to say best shots or something.

    For all we know Adrien Brody might deserve to be on this list.

  • 20 5-24-2011 at 10:54 am

    Speaking English said...

    I think you mean the wheat from “Days of Heaven,” which should be much higher anyway.

  • 21 5-24-2011 at 10:54 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Red Wine, if you are going to make a list like that do it right and include the alligator from The Thin Red Line and the locusts from Days of Heaven.

  • 22 5-24-2011 at 10:56 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    A best shots list is in the cards. I need time with that one, though.

    “For all we know Adrien Brody might deserve to be on this list.”

    The final film is the final film.

  • 23 5-24-2011 at 11:02 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Definitely looking forward to that then and if you could get Lubezki and Toll to comment even better.

  • 24 5-24-2011 at 11:04 am

    mikhael said...

    I was looking for the boy who plays Young Jack on IMDB like maybe months before and they didn’t have him. Thanks for putting him on top of this list. Super!

    I can’t be more excited to see this film this weekend.

  • 25 5-24-2011 at 11:11 am

    julian said...

    Surely McCracken is in the number one spot. I can’t think of a better performance by a child actor ever! I was blown away…
    But, other than that, I tend to agree with redwine…the sand, the grass, the leaves, the pebbles etc. play more prominent roles in Malick’s films than real life actors:)

  • 26 5-24-2011 at 11:15 am

    Chris138 said...

    After re-watching Badlands last night I can’t complain with the choices of Sheen and Spacek on the list, they’re both great. Sam Shepard gives my favorite performance in Days of Heaven, although you make a valid point about Linda Manz. I agree that Nick Nolte gives the most complex performance in The Thin Red Line, although I’d put Jim Caviezel right behind him since he is the heart and soul of the film. And I actually like Bale more than Farrell in The New World, although he is excellent as well. The same goes for Q’orianka Kilcher.

    And that best shots list sounds great, I hope it can happen.

  • 27 5-24-2011 at 11:15 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m slightly disturbed by these hastily dismissive comments about actors in Malick films. There is no doubt he’s a visual director who offers visceral imagery, but a number of actors have approached their best work with him.

  • 28 5-24-2011 at 11:47 am

    RichardA said...

    #18 is hilarious. I’m surprised ScarJo in her Lost in Translation mode of acting hasn’t been casted.

  • 29 5-24-2011 at 11:57 am

    The Dude said...

    I almost didn’t want to look at this list…not because I have any doubt that Malick is able to get the best work out of his actors, but because I can be so torn with ranking these performances. So many people put their career-best in a Malick film, and I can’t see myself saying one is better than the other.

    Having said that, I will say that I frequently reference Kilcher’s performance in “The New World” as one of the best of the decade and one of my all-time faves.

  • 30 5-24-2011 at 12:27 pm

    Billyboy said...

    I would add Sean Penn’s performance on The Thin Red Line.

    Can’t wait to see what Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem and Ben Affleck brought to Malick’s next. I guess we’ll have to wait a couple of years for that…

  • 31 5-24-2011 at 1:13 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “I’m slightly disturbed by these hastily dismissive comments about actors in Malick films.”

    Easiest to refer to others as an actor’s director when the performances are front and center.

    Malick is no Woody in this department.

  • 32 5-24-2011 at 1:32 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I guess the performances are very much in the foreground of Malick films to me, and not the afterthought others seem to think they are. I think a lot of profound acting has emanated from his work, so for me, he is very much an “actor’s director.”

  • 33 5-24-2011 at 1:40 pm

    DylanS said...

    I’m not saying Malick is bad with actors, and I understand why great actors line up to work with him. I think of him in the same way I do Kubrick (not to get into “2001” “Tree of Life” parallels) in that with a highly capable actor (like Shepard in “Days of Heaven” or Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange), they can craft some of the most memorable performances i’ve seen, but I see both of them as being more technical craftman/visionaries than actors directors.

    When I say Actors director, I think of Directors who show an incredible sympathy for the individual actor and to their character. That does not define Malick at all, seeing that he has trimmed perfromances from signifigant to cameo and in some cases, cut performances out entirely. He has skill with actors, but not always sympathy, as his vision sometimes eclipses them.

  • 34 5-24-2011 at 1:40 pm

    Fitz said...

    I’m most interested in seeing what performance Ben Affleck turns in for Malick’s next film. Bardem has proven himself, but Affleck hasn’t hit his peak yet and I think like Farrell, Malick will get him there.

  • 35 5-24-2011 at 2:15 pm

    DylanS said...

    Kris: Also, props for putting Elias Koteas on this list, even if it’s at the bottom of the list and beneath two of his co-star’s, one of whom (Nolte) I think gives a weak peformance. There’s just something about Nolte’s voice and delivery that seems incredibly forced and inauthentic to me. Elias, however, is the true gem of a perfromance in that muddled movie. He and Shepard would be at the top of my list.

  • 36 5-24-2011 at 2:23 pm

    tony rock said...

    This reminds me…what the hell happened to Jim Caviezel?

  • 37 5-24-2011 at 2:40 pm

    John said...

    For me the best performances of Ttrl are Caviezel and Penn and third would be Nolte. And from Badlans I prefer Brooke Adams and Shepard. I especially love how natural acts Adams.

  • 38 5-24-2011 at 2:41 pm

    John said...

    Days of heaven, not badlands, lol.

  • 39 5-24-2011 at 2:41 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I’ll second the Colin Farrell shout-out in The New World. Farrell can be hit or miss, but when he hits …

  • 40 5-24-2011 at 3:31 pm

    daveylow said...

    Did Linda Manz do much other film work? I agree she was remarkable in Days of Heaven.

  • 41 5-24-2011 at 4:05 pm

    julian said...

    I have to agree with dylan s, Malick is in no way your typical actor’s director. That ought to be quite obvious. That has nothing to do with the actual performances in his films, more about his method of approaching his work.

  • 42 5-24-2011 at 4:14 pm

    Casey Fiore said...

    I am in the Sam Shepard fanclub apparently. And I’m glad it exists because he’s terrific in Days of Heaven. He probably would’ve come second on my version of this list after Sheen.

    I must note that I think Richard Gere is particularly awful in Days of Heaven. I am, indeed, one of those people who thinks Gere can’t act his way out of his own shirt, but nonetheless I feel he did the film a great disservice. I think it suffers badly because I have no reason to feel anything but contempt for a morally ambiguous character who completely lacks charisma, especially when I’m basically watching him compete with a genuinely good guy.

  • 43 5-24-2011 at 4:40 pm

    James D. said...

    Sean Penn was really good in The Thin Red Line.

    I have to agree with Kris that performances in Malick films are very good. I think actors give their best when they are with him. I read about the huge list of names that tried to get in The Thin Red Line when word came out that he was making another film.

  • 44 5-24-2011 at 5:40 pm

    sckofrtwngbs said...

    I think Malick is a terribly overrated director, he a very visual director, but the list of shots, grass, flies, wheat, etc. are really more vibrant than the actors or characters in his movies.
    Oddly, I think his most affecting, interesting movie with lovely stunning characters who are the center of the movie and are very affecting, are in “Badlands” his first movie. Sissy Spacek is just so elegantly simple and complex and transparent, a stunning piece of work. Martin Sheen is good, but for me it is Spacek who steals the movie with her presence, and her transparency which communicates complex emotions wordlessly. She is captivating. I think the rest of his movies, (” The Tree of Life” excluded) are flat, dull, pretty, and convoluted. His love of cinematography is obviously more important to him, than the the characters. I think that cripples his work and their emotional impact. I think for 40 years, we should have 3 better movies, out of his total of 4, to choose a list of best 10 performances.

  • 45 5-24-2011 at 5:47 pm

    Kokolo said...

    Not having seen The Tree of Life, Nick Nolte in The Thin Red Line wins easily for me.

  • 46 5-24-2011 at 5:47 pm

    Glenn said...

    Koteas and Nolte from THIN RED LINE are my two favourites. Then I’d rank Manz, Dash Mikok (from THIN RED LINE), Sheen, Kilcher, Farrell… haven’t seen TREE OF LIFE yet so can’t comment on those.

  • 47 5-24-2011 at 6:16 pm

    GJB said...

    It would have been an odd experience for an actor on THE THIN RED LINE to watch the film for the first time, not knowing how much of their performance would make it into the cut and how they’d come across on screen.
    Adrian Brody would have been gutted.
    John Cusack must have been stoked.

  • 48 5-24-2011 at 11:02 pm

    SJG said...

    I’ve actually never seen a Malick film so I shouldn’t comment at all, but regarding the idea that Malick isn’t really an “actor’s director”, the comments I’m seeing suggest to me that there’s a preference for “stagey” performances in films, whereas Malick probably goes for something more natural and honest.

    I don’t know how best to articulate the distinction… but it’s sort of the difference between Margaret Rutherford in “Blithe Spirit” and Sessue Hayakawa in “Bridge on the River Kwai”, to use two David Lean-directed examples.

    The former is “stagey” in the sense that the expressiveness is heightened, the dialogue is always pointedly delivered, the performance is clearly directed at the audience: much in the way that performances for the stage exaggerate their manners and focus their performances in such a way to create the greatest rapport with their audiences. (Which makes sense for a film adapted from a popular British theatre production.)

    The latter performance, though, is muted, indirect, and at times almost unintelligible, much as real human interaction often is. When Hayakawa remarks to Guinness “Beautiful” when he looks at the sunset, his reaction at having Guinness mistake him for talking about the bridge raises a lot of questions that a real-life miscommunication might give rise to: Are these two men irreconcilably different, appreciating different things and ultimately having an incompatible view of truth, beauty, and goodness and the purpose of life? Or in this moment when they both let their guard down, do we really see how alike they are, even though the one finds beauty in the sunset and the other finds beauty in the bridge? Hayakawa’s undecipherable reaction, along with Lean’s cock-blocking of Guinness’s performance by having his back to the camera, puts the performances on a level of human interaction that’s much more real than what you’d find in “stagey” performances.

    I think both approaches have their place, and certainly both approaches are to be found in a lot of mainstream cinema, but the clear preference in American films is for the “stagey” performance, to the extent that I think naturalistic performances often get dismissed as aloof, or “pretty”, or somehow non-actor-y. Understatement and subtlety, broadly speaking, are not highly valued in America.

    “Stagey” performances definitely get more of a reaction from the American movie-going and film-making community: it’s why Meryl Streep has a gazillion Oscar noms and it’s why Best Actor would have never gone to Richard Jenkins in 2008. Not that I’m complaining. (Okay, I’m complaining a little about the Jenkins thing, because he totally should have won.)

    So, even though I’ve never seen a Malick film and I probably shouldn’t speculate, I’m going to guess that the dismissiveness of the performances in his films have less to do with the performances not being meaty and more to do with a hermeneutic of acting that’s largely foreign to American movie tastes.

  • 49 5-25-2011 at 12:35 am

    red_wine said...

    As a recent review said, Malik cares less about his actors than the grass they are walking on.
    Lubezki said that suppose actor’s are acting out a scene and a woodpecker in the background starts acting wildly ruining the shot and distracting from the actors. Most directors would call cut and have the bird removed before the actors can resume. Malik would yank the camera away from the actors and point it at the woodpecker, capturing I’m sure what he think is the “poetry and grace and the natural splendor of this whole wide world, a paean to existence and the great mysteries of life.”

    The landscape is the star in Malik’s films. Not every great director (and I am not even calling Malik that) is a great actor’s director. Not every actor’s director is a great image-maker.

    Some are both, many are either one of them, many are neither.

    Malik’s films (save for Badlands) don’t speak at all in human terms to me, in fact human interaction does not even enter my head while watching a Malik film. His films seems to me to be primarily about the transience of time, and nature and landscape hanging like totems upon existence.

    To call him an actor’s director or to say that he does really awesome characters with actors, I find to be patently absurd.

  • 50 5-25-2011 at 12:50 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “As a recent review said, Malik cares less about his actors than the grass they are walking on.”

    Must have been a myopic, idiotic review.

  • 51 5-25-2011 at 6:06 am

    Heather said...

    Even though Spacek might have been simply “being” rather than necessarily acting (I think even she said she was too new to the biz to know exactly what she was doing), it was such a unique, startling piece of work that I’d give her the prize. And as with Carrie, she was portraying a significantly younger character than her actual age which could present a challenge.

    Fascinating that she was able to parlay a series of decidedly odd, on the edge of society type characters (her most famous 70s roles were in Badlands, Carrie & 3 Women) into critical acclaim, box office clout, and 2 leading oscar nominations and an oscar by 1980.

  • 52 5-25-2011 at 9:15 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I guess if I have any quibbles about this list, I would have placed Nick Nolte WAY higher (thrilled to see that I’m not alone on that, based on the comments), but I like the rest. Very excited to see Hunter McCracken – who looks unsettlingly similar to Sean Penn, doesn’t he? – in The Tree of Life.

  • 53 5-25-2011 at 11:34 am

    Speaking English said...


    Malick. It’s Malick. It’s only the title of the damn post.

  • 54 5-25-2011 at 6:47 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yes, at least grant Malick the courtesy of not repeatedly misspelling his name as you take him apart!

    (He’s of Assyrian blood, which presumably means his family name was Malik a few generations back, but it’s been anglicised since.)

    Good list, though I’m obviously not as taken with McCracken as Kris. (I see now I didn’t even mention him in my review, though he does strong work.) Martin Sheen would take my top spot. Come to think of it, Sissy Spacek would probably be runner-up.

  • 55 5-27-2011 at 11:36 am

    ryan said...

    You have no idea how thrilled I am that Woody Harrelson showed up on the list. He was barely in it, sure… But his scene is incredible.

    Also glad that Elias Koteas wasn’t forgotten… Casey Jones forever!

  • 56 5-27-2011 at 11:38 am

    ryan said...

    Also, Nick Nolte got passed over for a lot of awards, because he was already getting attention for Affliction, which I’m sure someone has already mentioned, but I didn’t read everyone’s comments, haha.

  • 57 5-30-2011 at 12:26 pm

    ryy said...

    Ben Chaplin, Elias Koteas & Nick Nolte from – The Thin Red Line.
    If I had to choose one it would be Ben Chaplin, I’m surprised no one else mentioned him.

  • 58 5-30-2011 at 5:35 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Having just re-watched ‘The Thin Red Line’ for the first time in years, Ben Chaplin most definitely stood out.

  • 59 5-30-2011 at 6:13 pm

    DylanS said...

    Having just watched “The New World” in full for the first time, i have to agree with Kris about Farrell and Kilcher, both excellent, rich and layered performences. I would also myself shout out one of my favorite Actors, Christian Bale.

    The film needed a leading man prescence after Farrell is dropped from the narrative, and Bale is able to provide that even though his character doesn’t appear at all in the movie before then. I was impressed by that ability to just slip right into the shape of the narrative like that. He really saves the movie in my opinion.

  • 60 5-31-2011 at 10:03 am

    Yonatan said...

    Tony (36, what the hell happened to Jim Caviezel?)-
    Mel Gibson killed Caviezel.
    And, he won’t do nude scenes, and he’s starring in a new TV series called “Person of Interest”.

  • 61 5-31-2011 at 10:44 am

    Shawn said...

    Haven’t seen Tree of Life, but among the others Nolte to the top of the list, followed by Kilcher.

    I would bump Harrelson in favor of Caviezel.

    Nolte’s Colonel Tall is so angry you almost wonder if it’s over the top. In the end it isn’t. He could have been a much stupider character. If he’s stupid at all, he’s profoundly stupid, or, better, sublimely stupid. On the surface he has an aggressive intelligence. Speaking as a man who’s perhaps too fond of philosophical disputation, I was sympathetic to the way he argued–rather to my chagrin.

    Also there was some horrible irony in some of his lines, and in his pleas for empathy. Nolte really managed to deliver those lines convincingly.

  • 62 9-02-2011 at 8:06 am

    Dominik said...

    I loved the John Travolta’s dancing on the deck.

  • 63 9-02-2011 at 8:22 am

    Christoph said...

    As far as the supporting performances in The Thin Red Line go, I thought Cusack was the best – relatively, I’d say he’s best in the entire film though Caviezel, Koteas and Nolte had more screentime and ultimately had more to do, which led to better overall performances. Ben Chaplin and Sean Penn were also good.

  • 64 8-23-2012 at 3:37 pm

    bets77 said...

    How can Jessica Chastian not be here? She was angelic in Tree of Life.