20 JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Commodus in GLADIATOR (2000)
I have often wondered if Joaquin Phoenix resents Russell Crowe for stealing his thunder in Gladiator. Crowe was so good in the title role that Joaquin tended to be forever in his shadow which must have been frustrating because Phoenix really gave an outstanding performance. When he suddenly bellowed, ‘Am I not merciful?’ in Connie Nielsen’s face, she was visibly startled for it was not in the script. Both Russell and co-star Richard Harris helped him overcome his nerves by getting him drunk and hanging out with him. In the end his performance was strong enough to earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
19 DONALD SUTHERLAND as Henry Faber in EYE OF THE NEEDLE (1981)
Donald Sutherland did not often play a villain, but his turn as the German World War Two spy Henry Faber in the movie interpretation of the Ken Follett novel was terrific. The plot has more holes than a Swiss cheese, but Sutherland holds it all together, coming across as an odd combination of ruthless assassin and gentle lover. Eye of the Needle is a taught thriller/romance set on an isolated island off the Scottish coast. Kate Nelligan plays his love interest.
18 JOHN MALKOVICH as Mitch Leary in IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993)
John Malkovich is such a versatile actor. This movie sees him as an obsessed assassin bent on murdering the President of the United States while he is being guarded by 62 year-old Clint Eastwood’s Secret Service bodyguard. Clint is simply too old for the part, not to mention a romance with the much younger Rene Russo. Malkovich’s heavy is quiet-spoken, always one step ahead of the game because it is, after all, his game. He steals the picture.
17 LEE VAN CLEEF as ‘Angel Eyes’ in THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966)
If ever there was an actor whose face was his fortune, it would have to be Lee Van Cleef. He more or less resembled a human version of a rat! He was perfectly cast as ‘Angel Eyes’ in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, the picture that catapulted Clint Eastwood into the big time in 1966. Lee may have looked like a rat, but in reality he was a gentle man of principle. He flatly refused to physically strike Rada Rassimov who played a prostitute in one scene, so a double was substituted to do the slapping. ‘There are very few principles I have in life’, he told Leone. ‘One of them is I don’t kick dogs…and the other one is I don’t slap women in movies.’
16 AL PACINO as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER (1972)
Most of the raves about The Godfather centered on Marlon Brando’s performance, the one that scored him another Best Actor Oscar, when all the heavy lifting was done by Pacino. Personally, I thought Al was far superior to ‘the mumbling one’, but the ‘experts’ felt differently. When it was decided that Al, regardless of his far lengthier screen-time, would be nominated as a supporting actor, he refused to attend the ceremony in protest. And to add insult to injury, his co-stars James Caan and Robert Duvall were nominated right alongside of him. Historically, that usually meant none of the three had a prayer and the Oscar went elsewhere.
15 RICHARD BOONE as Cisco Grimes in HOMBRE (1967)
Really top class westerns are a bit of a rarity and the cinema ‘experts’ usually look down their collective noses at them. So do the critics. I have always liked westerns and the grossly under-rated Hombre is, in my opinion, an exceptional drama in every way. The reason for this is twofold. It is blessed with a very sharp screenplay and a cast to die for – Paul Newman, Diane Cilento, Fredric March, Barbara Rush, Martin Balsam and the wonderful Jamaican-born Frank Silvera. And it also had Richard Boone as the main villain, a gunfighter, a bully and a robber. In a picture where everybody is good he is exceptional.
14 STEPHEN BOYD as Messala in BEN-HUR (1959)
What can I say about Ben-Hur? Well, nothing much good anyway. In fact, it had one thing going for it, in my opinion, and that was Stephen Boyd’s Messala. Somehow this over-long, Bible-bashing sandals epic won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Actor for the original cigar-store wooden Indian Charlton Heston. Yet the best thing in the picture, Boyd, did not even get nominated! Hollywood.
13 JOSEPH WISEMAN as Dr. Julius No in DR NO (1962)
Of all the Bond film villains Joseph Wiseman as the title character in Dr. No (1962) came across as the cleverest and the most sinister. Canadian-born Wiseman first came to my attention in the 1952 classic Viva Zapata! He was primarily a stage actor and was enormously surprised by the public’s response to Dr. No and his part in the film. Personally, I enjoyed his unique approach to the characters he played and his rather odd way of delivering a line. His was a unique talent.
12 ALAN RICKMAN as the Sheriff in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)
Only one actor appears twice on my list and that is the late Alan Rickman. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a very silly movie but did good business at the box-office. Kevin Costner was at the top of his game in 1991, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had a following (me among them) and Morgan Freeman was effective as always. But it was Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham who stole the show. He had most of the best lines to speak and he happened to possess a marvelous voice that could make ‘Pass the sugar, please’ drip with malevolence should he choose to make it so. And if someone ever asks – the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Christian name – was George.
11 LEE MARVIN as Liberty in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)
Lee Marvin had little idiosyncrasies he repeated in many of his roles. For instance, whenever he handled a revolver, more often than not, at some stage, he would extend the little finger of his right hand as he did so. That aside, he was blessed with the ability to draw focus in pretty much every scene he was in, usually courtesy of his powerful, expressive speech. In this picture he proves to be a worthy adversary for John Wayne.