Ben Stiller in 'Greenberg'
A lot of people will tell you that for a movie to work, the lead character has to be likable. Well, they're wrong. To prove my point, check out Ben Stiller's performance in this underrated film. There were moments when I wanted to jump into the story and punch him in the face. Yet the movie still works, and that's because Stiller finds subtle ways to make us care for his abrasive character. It's all in his physical responses to the world around him. This is a terrific, understated performance that will surprise anyone who thinks of Stiller as the funny guy and nothing else.
Catherine Keener in 'Please Give'
In Nicole Holofcener's latest film, Catherine Keener plays a neurotic New Yorker trying her best to be a good person in an imperfect world. Without giving too much away, this is the kind of character that's easy to dismiss, but Keener's a good enough actor to keep us connected from the get-go. I'm not sure how she does it, but I don't think I've ever seen this woman give a bad performance.
Bill Murray in 'Get Low'
This period piece is Robert Duvall's film from start to finish, but Bill Murray's performance is the one that stuck with me after the lights came up. I can't figure out exactly when it happened, but somewhere between "Saturday Night Live" and "Lost in Translation," Murray became an excellent actor. Just like Buster
Keaton, the man has mastered the art of doing nothing. Less really is more when he's on screen—and there's a lesson there for every actor who's just starting out.
Jeff Daniels in 'Paper Man'
This is a deeply flawed film, way too precious for its own good. All the characters are quirky in a self-conscious way. So why did the movie make me smile from start to finish? The credit goes to Jeff Daniels, another actor who has been around forever but who never gets the credit he deserves. The only reason this film works is because Daniels manages to find the truth behind the quirks. He actually picks up the entire movie and carries it to the finish line. There aren't a lot of actors who can do that. So this film is definitely worth a look, just to see how one performer can save an entire project.
Ryan Reynolds in 'Buried'
It kills me that so few people saw this amazing film. It's the ultimate one-man show. The entire movie takes place inside a coffin. Ryan Reynolds, who started his career on a sitcom, plays an independent contractor in Iraq who finds himself trapped six feet under, running out of air and hope. Once the movie fades up from black into more black, the story never cuts away from the inside of that box. Not once. For 90 minutes, we're locked on this man's face. That's a lot of pressure for an actor, but the Green Lantern pulls it off with ease. Without a doubt, it's the must-see performance of the year.
Do yourself a favor and add these movies to your Netflix queue. Make it a point to catch these overlooked performances. I promise you'll have a great time watching these films, and you might just pick up a few tips on how to become a better actor.