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6 Good Actors Whose Careers Confound Me

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There are times when I’d like to take certain good actors aside and simply ask them, “What the hell is going on with you?” Clearly, something has happened to pull them into a lengthy rut of bad or mediocre projects. I’d just like to know what it is.

MATTHEW BRODERICK

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At some point, several years ago, Broderick’s film work downshifted from intelligent/neurotic to intelligent/low-key. Then he continued on to intelligent/wake-me-when-my-scene-starts. Perhaps the former star of such brilliant films as “Election” and the iconic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” decided to confine his charisma to his much-lauded stage work. Even so, I’d love to see him fully engage in a movie part that offers a wider range of emotions than self-loathing and ironic detachment.

ANDRE BRAUGHER

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I’ll start by acknowledging that Braugher, one of my favorite actors, continues to do fine work, primarily on TV. He was excellent in “Men of a Certain Age,” and some guest appearances on “House,” for instance. My quibble is that this guy has the gravitas to do Shakespeare, “Death of a Salesman” – or at least a big-time project on HBO. Anyone who saw even one of his scenes in the old “Homicide” series knows what I mean.

WINONA RYDER

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It pains me to think there are people who know Ryder more for her personal problems (shoplifting and the like) than for her excellent performances in such films as “Heathers,” “Reality Bites” and “Little Women.” Her talent back then was considerable, and presumably it still resides within her. Why, then, was she playing Spock’s MOM in the “Star Trek” reboot?

ADAM ARKIN

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I think Arkin is a brilliant actor, a rare combination of intelligence, sarcasm, physicality and soulfulness. Yet he seems to pop up only fleetingly, such as his wonderful character work in last year’s “The Sessions.” He tends to play smaller roles as bosses, husbands, lawyers and shrinks. Just once, I’d like to see a project that revolves entirely around him.

PAUL RUDD

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You know what I can’t figure out about Rudd’s career? It’s that he’s terrific in splashy, supporting roles (“Anchorman,” “Knocked Up”) but kind of bland in leading roles (“Admission,” “Dinner for Schmucks”). There has to be a way to take his supporting actor spark and expand it when he’s carrying a whole movie.

JOHN CUSACK

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I watched “The Grifters” not long ago and found myself wondering what happened to that John Cusack guy. The guy who was amazing in “High Fidelity” and “Being John Malkovich.” God knows I have a ton of respect for Cusack’s disdain for conventionality, but I humbly think it’s time for him to move beyond stuff like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “The Raven.”

Fingers crossed that better films and TV projects are in the works for all of them.

Memorable Moments in Lip Syncing

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Lip syncing gets a bad rap, but it’s not always deserved. Over the years, many directors, actors and comedians have used it as a device that amplifies the emotion of a particular character or scene. There’s no logical reason for it to work – but it does. Consider these examples of good (and bad) lip syncing, and see if you don’t agree.

ASHLEY SIMPSON ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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We’ll start with an infamous example from 2004. Simpson was the musical guest on SNL one night, and at the beginning of her second performance a vocal track of the previous song began to play loudly. Clearly flustered, Simpson did an odd little dance for a few seconds, then she fled the stage. She later said she used a vocal “guide” track to help her sing because she had severe acid reflux. That’s why I take Pepcid.

DEAN STOCKWELL IN “BLUE VELVET”

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Everything you need to know about “Blue Velvet” is right here in this scene, in which Dean Stockwell, cigarette holder and all, mouths the words to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” It’s weird, mesmerizing, frightening and inviting.

JEAN HAGEN IN “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”

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Who can forget the climax of “Singin’ in the Rain,” where evil Lina Lamont (Hagen) forces Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to sing for her from behind a curtain at the premiere of her new movie? It’s one of the great moments in movie history – especially when Lina gets caught.

THE CAST OF “THE COSBY SHOW”

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Everyone knows this scene and for good reason. It has an enduring sweetness that speaks volumes about those moments when family life is transcendent. The entire Huxtable clan gets together on a lip sync version of “Night Time is the Right Time,” by Ray Charles. Each person gets his or her moment in the spotlight and each one is happy to be part of the whole. And then, of course, you get Bill Cosby’s perfectly timed facial contortions. Well done!

MATTHEW BRODERICK IN “FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF”

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There is no better expression of self-aware, youthful cool, than this scene in which Ferris takes over a parade in downtown Chicago. Of course, a huge amount of credit also goes to the juxtaposition of the two songs, “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”

BEYONCE AT THE INAUGURATION

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Let me just say I’m a big admirer of Beyonce as a performing artist. However, I’m also something of a purist when it comes to the presidential inauguration. I’d rather have heard a sour note or two of the national anthem in a live performance than a lip sync rendition. But that’s me.

ANDY KAUFMAN ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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Kaufman was sort of the King of Comedic Absurdity in the 1970s and 1980s. A key, early example was his lip syncing take on the theme to “Mighty Mouse.” It was too strange for words, but it was funny, as well. Definitely one of the best moments of the early years of SNL.

JON CRYER IN “PRETTY IN PINK”

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You have to give the young Jon Cryer a lot of credit for absolutely putting it all out there in “Pretty in Pink.” His character, Duckie, is just trying to be noticed – leading him to a heartfelt, over-the-top rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness.” Lip synced, of course.

ALLISON JANNEY IN “THE WEST WING”

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If you’re not familiar with Janney’s lip sync version of “The Jackal,” then I suggest you click over to Netflix and toggle down to Season One of “The West Wing.” It comes out of left field, but anyone who spends a lot of time with co-workers understands that it’s just the sort of nutty thing that people do when they unwind.

Any more lip syncing highlights? Add them to The List!

And one more thing…

You Lookin’ at Me? Breaking the Fourth Wall

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There’s no better way to add some zing to a TV show or movie than to have a character suddenly turn and talk to the audience. Sure, it’s cheating. But if the character happens to have some charisma, it’s also fun. Here’s a toast to the best instances of breaking down that fourth wall.

IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW

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In his innovative 1980s comedy series, Garry Shandling made breaking the fourth wall the centerpiece of the whole show. He’d ask the audience questions and solicit their advice. The other characters on the show also were in on the trick. Garry treated the sitcom as the artificial absurdity that it is, but always with his trademark light touch. Even his theme song, “This is the Theme to Garry’s Show,” acknowledged the audience.

HIGH FIDELITY

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This was one of John Cusack’s best roles, and it worked precisely because of his interaction with viewers. Every eye roll, aside and bit of rage revealed that this guy wasn’t just a sarcastic slacker. He had depth.

THE BERNIE MAC SHOW

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Bernie Mac didn’t just talk to his sitcom viewers, whom he simply called, “America.” He cajoled them. He persuaded them. It allowed him to be as gruff as he wanted to be in the rest of his scenes. We still knew he was a pushover.

GROUCHO MARX, IN EVERYTHING

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Quite possibly the most devastating comedian who ever lived. Groucho was a verbal master, slicing up his conversational victims with glee. He had so many great lines, there were always extras to be tossed right at the camera. Here’s one from “Animal Crackers”: “This would be a better world for children if the parents had to eat the spinach.”

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF

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“Ferris Bueller” is a cultural touchstone of the 1980s – something it owes to both Matthew Broderick and the way he made his case directly to moviegoers. It was like having lunch at the cool kids’ table, all day long.

HOUSE OF CARDS

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The current king of this category is Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards,” hands-down. He absolutely commands the TV screen, spinning his intricate web of politics and power. When he turns to the camera, you know you’re about to hear something hideous AND hilarious.

ANNIE HALL

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In “Annie Hall,” you have Woody Allen at the top of his game. At various points, chosen very shrewdly, he tells the audience what he thinks about relationships, therapy and the work of Marshall McLuhan.

MOONLIGHTING

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“Moonlighting,” the popular TV romantic comedy of the 1980s, spent almost as much time beyond the fourth wall as it did in its own world. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis were naturals at it. I loved when they took a few moments to answer their viewer mail.

30 ROCK

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Tina Fey and Co. broke the fourth wall a bunch of times, but one particular instance was sublime. It’s from the Season Four premiere, when the show aired just before Jay Leno’s ill-fated 10 p.m. variety show. Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy are watching a crass promo for “Tennis Night in America,” when Donaghy says, “There’s nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want.” Then he stares into the camera and purrs, “Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Leno.”

SLEEPWALK WITH ME

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Mike Birbiglia perfectly blends his comic persona with the needs of a feature film by personally narrating key portions of “Sleepwalk With Me,” which is based on his own life. One of his best quips is, “I know! I’m in the future also!”

MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE

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Young Malcolm, the genius child in a family of nutjobs, constantly sought comfort by talking with his TV fans. It was a way of saying, “Is it just me, or are these people crazy?”

JFK

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This example is brief, but powerful. It comes at the end of the film, as Kevin Costner’s prosecutor character tries to make a jury believe there was a hidden conspiracy at work in the Kennedy assassination. With one final move of the camera, the audience suddenly becomes Costner’s jury.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE

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Perhaps this isn’t appropriate, since I’m not including other TV hosts on the List. Oh, hell. I simply have to mention the great Rod Serling. He wasn’t just a host – he was our guide, giving us fair warning about the weird stuff heading our way.

ALFIE

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For me, there’s never been a better fourth wall breakdown than Michael Caine in “Alfie.” With his cold stare and heavy eyelids, Caine is a predator in search of sexual conquest. His confessions to the camera show us his cruelty, his self-delusions and his failure as a human being. It’s brilliant.

Of course, this is a mere sampling of great examples. You also have “Airplane,” “Animal House” and so many others. What are your favorites?