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Tag Archives: Al Pacino

11 Little Big Men of Cinema

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Some of the roughest customers in cinema have been surprisingly small in stature. From the earliest talkies to today’s 3D extravaganzas, they’ve used their moxie and personal magnetism to project a powerful screen presence. Here are my favorites.


Duvall, one of the best actors in film history, has this way of strutting around like a banty rooster. Two examples: the insane American officer in “Apocalypse Now” who marches along a beach oblivious to the explosions going on around him; and the overbearing father in “The Great Santini,” who wreaks emotional havoc on his family.


Even decades later, the action sequences in “Fists of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon” remain truly astonishing. Lee’s intensity and charisma are unrivaled in action films, and countless movies since have tried to copy his unique style.


James Cagney was a bull terrier of an actor – a compact package full of charm and snarl. In pictures such as “White Heat” and “The Public Enemy,” he lit up the screen with an electric energy. I hear he could dance, too.


Caesar’s turn as a sadistic U.S. Army sergeant during World War II is an amazing bit of work. It is full of bitterness, frustration and power. The movie (and the play it is based upon) wouldn’t hold together if the audience didn’t feel threatened by little Caesar.


Speaking of “Little Caesar,” there’s the great Edward G. Robinson. Here’s a guy who isn’t big – isn’t even muscular – yet everyone is rightfully afraid of him. Robinson had a mug on him that could stop traffic, plus an imperious, dead-serious aura that made him oh-so-dangerous.


Whether he was playing Tony Montana in “Scarface,” or Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” Pacino’s eyes were always a window into a volcano of violence. He may not be tall, but his reputation as an icon of American movies looms quite large.


Hang on now – what is this? Why is “Gandhi” on a list of Little Big Men of the movies? All I can say is, go and watch a dandy, 2000 British crime drama, “Sexy Beast.” Kingsley got an Oscar nomination as a deliciously brutal thug who wants his old crew to do one last job. He’s utterly convincing.


Haley was dynamite as the psycho superhero, Rorschach, in “Watchmen.” But if you think about it, he’s been playing spunky fighters for years, going back to “Breaking Away” and even “The Bad News Bears.” There’s a fearless edge to his acting that takes him to some dark places.


He’s unlike anyone else on this List, in the sense that his persona is rather sunny. He brings a joy to his fight scenes that jumps out at you as much as the acrobatics. Yet even so, you come away very much aware that this is one tough dude.


I loved Foster’s deranged gunslinger in the remake of “3:10 to Yuma.” His emotionally wounded soldier in “The Messenger” was even better. Though wildly different characters, both of them were capable of sudden violence at any moment.


No disrespect to Jimmy Cagney & Co., but Pesci has to be my No. 1 Little Big Man of movies. His Tommy DeVito in “GoodFellas” is a crazy gangster for the ages, and just about every guy I know has done that “Funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?” riff multiple times among friends. Then you have “Casino,” “Raging Bull” and “My Cousin Vinny.” Great roles, and he made them look easy.

But that’s just me. Who are YOUR favorites?

Classic Oscar Make-Goods

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Now that the Oscar nominations are out, we all have an excuse to rummage through our vast knowledge of Academy Awards minutiae. For instance, what are the most blatant cases of Oscar make-goods? You know, instances where the Academy tried to make up for a previous error in judgement. It never works, as you’ll see.


Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors, but he just didn’t deserve the Oscar for lead actor in 1940. He was great in the part, as a news reporter sent to cover a society wedding and getting in over his head, but he wasn’t even the lead actor in his own film – Cary Grant was. Plus, Henry Fonda gave a terrific performance in “The Grapes of Wrath” the same year. Most likely, Jimmy got the nod because of the previous year, when he didn’t win for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Shucks.


By most accounts, Liz was a lock for the best actress Oscar in 1960 because she’d taken seriously ill just before Academy members did their voting and she got lots of sympathy support. She’d certainly been in better movies than this one, about a woman who sleeps around and pays emotional consequences. In particular, there was “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 1958.


It bordered on criminal that Newman hadn’t won an acting Oscar before “The Color of Money,” where he revisited the character of Fast Eddie Felson from “The Hustler.” You had “HUD,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” and “The Hustler” itself in previous years. Not only that, but just one year earlier, Newman had received an honorary Oscar for his body of work. When it came to Paul Newman, the Academy never got the timing right.


This is the example most people remember, because it was so ridiculous. Seriously? Pacino gets best actor for his blind Army officer in “Scent of a Woman,” rather than for “Godfather II” or “Dog Day Afternoon”? Clearly, this was a bid to honor Pacino’s entire career. The problem is, it robbed another fine actor, who would need a make-good Oscar of his own in our next example…


Back in 1992, when Pacino was chewing up the scenery in “Scent of a Woman,” Washington was earning raves as the lead in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” Washington lost that Oscar race, obviously. Several years later, he lost again despite a great performance in “The Hurricane.” So along comes the less ambitious “Training Day,” and he wins. Although I liked “Training Day” very much, I thought the Oscar here was a sentimental choice.


Don’t get me wrong. “The Departed” is a good film and Scorsese deserves to have a directing Oscar. But no one in their right mind believes “The Departed” is a better film than “Raging Bull” or “GoodFellas.” This was just a matter of course correction.

So those are my Oscar make-goods. What are yours?