Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde in Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986, USA):
Noonan is absolutely incredible as a serial murderer in this underrated adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. With all respect to the talented but miscast actors involved in Brett Ratner’s 2002 adaptation Red Dragon (USA), with the exception of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, the acting in this earlier, superior version of the book exists on a much higher level. Most notably, there’s nothing resembling a comparison between Noonan’s Francis Dollarhyde and Ralph Fiennes’ interpretation. This role is by far Noonan’s finest film work to date and should not be missed.
Other notable Tom Noonan performances: Phoenix (Danny Cannon, 1998, USA).
Christopher Walken as Brad Whitewood Sr.in At Close Range (James Foley, 1986, USA):
Having once described his role in this film as “the hillbilly Lucifer”, Walken is incredible as a rural crime boss bringing his son, played by Sean Penn, into the family business. At Close Range is a curiously underrated film with excellent acting across the board. An Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978, USA) and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002, USA), Walken’s performance in At Close Range is definitely one of his very best.
Other notable Christopher Walken performances: The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978, USA), The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, 1983, USA), The King of New York (Abel Ferrara, 1990, USA), True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993, USA).
Will Patton as Scott Pritchard in No Way Out (Roger Donaldson, 1987, USA):
Regardless of your feelings about the acting prowess of Kevin Costner or lack thereof, Will Patton is absolutely amazing as Costner’s slick, ruthless boss at the Pentagon in this political thriller. Of course, Costner and the film’s twist ending got all the attention and that is a cinematic crime in view of Patton’s tremendous performance.
Other notable Will Patton performances: Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998, USA), Gone In Sixty Seconds (Dominic Sena, 2000, USA).
James Woods as Cleve in Best Seller (John Flynn, 1987, USA):
Woods, a Best Actor Oscar nominee for Salvador (Oliver Stone, 1986, USA) and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Ghosts of Mississippi (Rob Reiner, 1996, USA) delivers a real career highlight in this overlooked thriller written by Larry Cohen. In this film, Woods plays a slick professional killer seeking revenge on a former employer. For my money, this performance blows his more high-profile Oscar nominated work, and everything else he’s done do date, out of the water. The bar scene with Brian Dennehy’s character that reveals a past meeting is a classic piece of confrontational acting. Seek out Best Seller to see the absolute perfect use of James Woods in a movie.
Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988, USA):
Without doubt, Rickman created a classic screen villain in a performance that stands the test of time. Rickman’s Hans Gruber was the prototype for all future European screen villains of the smooth and dapper variety. Interestingly, the well-known scene where Hans Gruber fakes an American accent to fool Bruce Willis’ John McClane character into thinking he’s actually a hostage didn’t play in a number of foreign territories that don’t differentiate a British accent from an American one. While forever connected to the box-office juggernaut Harry Potter films series for his role as Professor Snape, all conversations about Rickman’s big screen performances must start here with Die Hard.
Other notable Alan Rickman performances: Quigley Down Under (Simon Wincer, 1990).
Sean Penn as Sgt. Tony Meserve in Casualties of War (Brian DePalma, 1989, USA):
Penn, a two-time Best Actor Oscar winner for Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003, USA) and Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008, USA) and Best Actor Oscar nominee for Dead Man Walking (Tim Robbins, 1995, USA), Sweet and Lowdown (Woody Allen, 1999, USA) and I Am Sam (Jessie Nelson, 2001, USA) will go down in history as one of the best screen actors of all time. All of his awards and critical attention aside, some of his earlier performances tend to get overlooked. His horrifying turn as male monster Tony Meserve in director DePalma’s Vietnam War drama is one such case. While it might be difficult for some to look at Penn as a supporting actor at this point in his career, he definitely is in this film. With the entire story centered on the Eriksson character, who appears in almost every scene, Michael J. Fox is the lead actor in Casualties of War.
Other notable Sean Penn performances: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982, USA), Bad Boys (Rick Rosenthal, 1983, USA), At Close Range (James Foley, 1986, USA), State of Grace (Phil Joanou, 1990, USA), Carlito’s Way (Brian DePalma, 1993, USA), Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003, USA), MILK (Gus Van Sant, 2008, USA).
J.E. freeman as Eddie Dane in Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen, 1990, USA):
As the imposing henchman of a Prohibition era crime boss, Freeman turns in a highly memorable performance in this Coen Brothers’ classic. This is one of those roles that an actor fits so perfectly, you can’t imagine anyone else in the part. Freeman has yet to equal his Eddie Dane on the big screen.
Nick Nolte as Captain Michael Brennan in Q&A (Sidney Lumet, 1990, USA):
A masterful performance in a film that’s not talked about nearly enough, Nolte is incredible as a racist, homophobic (or is he?) dirty cop. Oscar nominated for Best Actor in Prince of Tides (Barbra Streisand, 1991, USA) and Affliction (Paul Schrader, 1997, USA), this is Nolte’s finest big screen work. Why this performance has never gotten the critical attention it so richly deserves is a true mystery.
Other notable Nick Nolte performances: Affliction (Paul Schrader, 1997, USA).
Armand Assante as Roberto “Bobby Tex” Texador in Q&A (Sidney Lumet, 1990, USA):
Along with Nick Nolte, Assante also does his best film work here as a Puerto Rican crime boss being hunted by Nick Nolte’s character. The interrogation scene early in the film between Assante’s character and a detective character played by Luis Guzman is amazing and should be sought out by all fans of confrontational acting.
Other notable Armand Assante performances: The Mambo Kings (Arne Glimcher, 1992, USA).