Underrated Performances

By Cecilia Cygnar

All of these films were nominated for acting Oscars but lost. I'm not saying that these actors and actresses were more deserving than the winners, but these are still some fabulous, though overlooked, performances.

  • A Better Life

    2011 by Chris Weitz

    The film itself is a dramatic masterpiece with its doomed tale of a father and son. But Demian Bichir’s acting as the father really reinforces what acting should be. Bichir reaches into his soul for this performance as a lost, sad man who brings a lot of his problems on himself just by trying to make a better life for his son.

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  • Happy-go-lucky

    2009 by Mike Leigh

    Famed British director Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky has to be my favorite of his films; a wonderfully sweet story that warms the heart and leaves the moviegoer feeling good about the future of filmmaking. British actress Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, a light-hearted, perky young Londoner who really does look at the world through those proverbial "rose-colored” glasses. Her continually charming demeanor is a pleasure to watch. It might seem that too much of Poppy would be a bad thing, but in the way Hawkins plays her there are never any forced emotions. It’s just impossible not to love her.

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  • The Last Samurai

    2004 by Tom Cruise

    I am not an "epic" movies person and this would--in my opinion--qualify. But, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe takes this long, tedious film to the next level with this phenomenal performance as Katsumoto, the leader of the samurai rebellion. Watanabe is fierce one moment and honest and true the next. It's a brave, unflinchingly real performance.

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  • The Straight Story

    1999 by David Lynch

    In a very un-David-Lynch-like David Lynch like movie, Richard Farnsworth--who appeared in more movies as a stuntman than an actor--plays Alvin Straight, who wants to travel to visit his ailing brother on a riding lawn mower. It's a highly understated performance, but that can be harder to play than a wild, audacious role. Farnsworth gives Alvin a level of truthfulness, humor and passion that is never too much and never too little.

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  • Deux Jours, Une Nuit = Two Days, One Night

    2015 by Jean-Pierre Dardenne

    With Two Days, One Night, there is not much plot to speak of. Cotillard transforms what is a simple, almost boring movie into an emotional, intense ride. We look at her face, her eyes, and we see a woman who is grieving the loss not of her job, but of her will to live. Her survival and that of her family is on the line here. She doesn’t need to say it--she shows it. Cotillard brilliantly walks the line between emotional wreck and a weak, fragile woman who must be pitied.

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  • Unfaithful

    2002 by Adrian Lyne

    This seemingly predictable movie about a wife who has an affair becomes an entirely different sort of film through the remarkable performance of Diane Lane. She takes this marriage-gone-wrong movie and creates an intense, psychological drama. The scene on the train after Lane first has her extramarital encounter showcases what a brilliant and underrated actress she really is; she's ecstatically happy and in extreme pain all at the same time.

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  • Vera Drake

    2005 by Mike Leigh

    An unassuming little British film turns into a power-house of emotion and impact with one of the most powerful performances on film in years. Imelda Staunton delivers a tour-de-force turn as a 1950 London abortionist. Staunton brilliantly transforms Vera from a strong-willed woman to a helpless victim of an unjust system. Yet, the sparkle in Vera’s eyes never dies, no matter how hard the fight. It’s a depressing story but the performance of Staunton gives the audience something to hope for.

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  • The Visitor

    2008 by Tom McCarthy

    The Visitor is simply a touching story that is perfectly acted by veteran character-actor Richard Jenkins. The main character, Walter, is a stuck-in-a-rut professor and widower who craves some “music” (meant both figuratively and literally) in his life. One day, he finds a couple living in his apartment who, though he does not know it in the beginning, are Walter’s salvation. Jenkins has to walk a tightrope of emotions. He needs to be agitated and dismal, as well as relieved and confident. A lesser actor here might not have allowed Walter’s transformation to be so gradual and deliberate. Jenkins is patient with Walter and, for that, the audience is rewarded with a great performance in a great movie.

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