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Top Ten Underrated Acting Performances- A Mexican Standoff

Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, future writer of movies and TV and current writer of Walking Dead/ Arrested Development slash fiction. God, I hope that’s not a real thing…

It’s easy to reward Meryl Streep over and over again. That’s easy. What’s difficult is sifting past the easy choice and looking at those who are doing great stuff that we forget about come time to hand out naked golden people holding things.

April Ludgate Aubrey Plaza

10) Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec was conceived as the Amy Poehler show, and the Internet will always belong to the boys, but there’s something special about Plaza’s interminably wonderful April Ludgate. Her arc from stubborn intern to stubborn-but-willing full-time employee is one of the show’s biggest and most notable, and there is very little better than a Ludgate deadpan. Especially a Ludgate deadpan imitating that classic Leslie Knope pep. Emmys. Emmys for everyone!

Kerry Washington Django Unchained

9) Kerry Washington as Broomhilda von Schaft in Django Unchained

Poor Washington finds herself in an almost entirely thankless role. She has to compete with four astounding male performances that all deserved Oscar noms, and she only has one or two real scenes with much dialogue, one of which is mostly in German. And yet, the moment she enters the frame, you understand exactly why Django has been trying so hard to get her back. You know that the lengths he has been to are all worth it and how much more he could keep fighting for this woman. To have an entire audience fall in love with you instantly is about as good as any monologue about skull dimples, no disrespect meant either to the field of phrenology or the laudable Mr. Leo Dio.

Marge Simpson

8) Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson on The Simpsons

It’s hard to be the voice of reason. It often means you’re a buzz kill or a fun vampire. To make the stock moral mother character something not only memorable but immortal is entirely due back to Kavner. She imbues the tower-haired Marge with not only humor but such incredible heart (like her utterly heart-smashing to-camera monologue towards the back end of The Simpsons Movie) that you can’t help but wish she were your mom as well. And no one can duplicate that voice.

Ben Affleck Dogma

7) Ben Affleck as Bartelby in Dogma

Affleck has recently proved himself over and over again as a strong and reliable director, but the impression of his acting career has curdled a bit. I don’t think this impression is entirely fair. He’s not a spectacular actor by any stretch, but with the right material he can really shine. As the banished angel Bartelby, Affleck brings true gravitas to a meaty actor’s role. You feel his frustration, his pain, and his desire to get back into Heaven at any cost. His angry and passionate breakdown in a parking garage is particularly arresting.

Picture Above: Not Draco Malfoy

Picture Above: Not Draco Malfoy

6) Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones

It takes real talent to make everyone hate you as much as we hate Joffrey. Seriously. Real, unabashed performance gravitas is necessary to make every HBO-fearing man, woman, and child despise you in this way. Gifs upon gifs decorate the Internet, glorifying in the destruction of Jack Gleeson’s terrible, vengeful king of the realm. Apathy is easy. Real hatred is hard.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Almost Famous Lester Bangs

5) Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous

Hoffman is one of our most endlessly watchable actors, never leaving a dull moment on screen. He’s received accolades for his turns in films like The Mater and Doubt, and got a much-deserved Academy Award for his titular role in Capote. His stop as aging rock journalist Lester Bangs in the Cameron Crowe masterwork Almost Famous is no different. He acts as the perfect mentor for Patrick Fugit’s burgeoning Rolling Stone writer and delivers a fine monologue about rock stars ruining rock and roll. It’s really something special.

Sterling Archer

4) H. Jon Benjamin as Sterling Archer on Archer

As could be expected, Benjamin absolutely kills it in the laughs department on FX’s wonderful animated program Archer, but I want to acknowledge him here because of the surprising amount of pathos he can bring to the most narcissistic person ever conceived. Whether it’s his kindly relationship with a Regis-loving cancer patient named Ruth or the feeling of true sorrow you get when his fiancée is murdered on their wedding day. The most recent example of first class acting came in the show’s third season, when the man most likely to be his estranged father meets an untimely end. Whether it’s on Bob’s Burgers, Archer, or his big break on Home Movies, it really is astounding what he can convey with is voice.

Sam Rockwell Seven Psychopaths

3) Sam Rockwell in pretty much everything but mostly as Billy in Seven Psychopaths

Rockwell is an absolute joy to watch, imbibing such life into every role he takes on, from Galaxy Quest to Frost/Nixon. Though he has never been nominated for an Academy Award, Rockwell took my number one snub spot this year for his standout turn as Billy Bickle in Seven Psychopaths. The part of the deranged and homicidal Billy could have gone off the rails in the hands of a lesser actor, but Rockwell turns it into the heart of the film, ultimately giving it much needed light and bluster in an otherwise contemplative but fantastic film.

Britta Community Basically a Therapist

2) Gillian Jacobs as Britta Perry on Community

Everyone loves Annie. Her gifs decorate the Internet. She has the fandom’s love, and Jeff Winger’s, but Britta provides something Annie never has. She’s the self-diagnosed heart of the group, therapizing because she cares. Everyone knows someone like Britta. Someone who throws her full heart into everything she does and fails repeatedly at just about all of it. She’s goofy, and wonderful, and we’ve never seen anyone like her on television before. Britta (and Gillian) are a welcome addition. Also, I love her.

Seen Here: Iron Man Flying Dangerously Close to the Sun

Seen Here: Iron Man Flying Dangerously Close to the Sun

1) Robert Downey, Jr. as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder

I understand that Downey was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, but I don’t think losing an award to Heath Ledger’s ghost is praise enough. He plays Australian character actor Kirk Lazarus, who in turn plays Sergeant Lincoln Osiris- a militant black army sergeant. Never dropping character for a second, Downey then plays a black military sergeant playing a Vietnamese rice patty worker. As if that weren’t enough, he also dons the guise of both the Irish Father O’Malley and History Channel’s Neil Armstrong. Downey is a dude, playing a dude, disguised as another dude (as the trailers so wantonly repeated). The dudes were emerging, and, unfortunately for Iron Sherlock Holmes, none of them were naked men dipped in gold.

Kevin can be found all over the Internet, from Twitter to right here. He posts a Movie and TV essay right here once every two weeks. There are also regular reviews of Community and Game of Thrones, and one of these Mexican Standoffs every Wednesday.

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16 thoughts on “Top Ten Underrated Acting Performances- A Mexican Standoff

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  10. Lester Bangs, indeed! Seriously one of my absolute favorite characters/performances of all time. “You’ll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle.” Doesn’t get better than that IMO. His spot in The Big Lebowski is terrific too. I also can’t get enough Sam Rockwell. He was incredible in Moon, and I even liked him in The Winning Season — the movie was pretty unoriginal and could have been unwatchable w anyone else in that spot. He’s in a coming of age movie this summer (The Way Way Back) that I’m pretty interested to see.

    The one name I would add to this list is Peter Krause. Krause is, in my opinion, the single most underrated performer in the whole TV Golden Age period …. period. Between Six Feet Under – whose significance and brilliance has been wrongly reduced to footnote in the Golden Age narrative –, Parenthood, and Sports Night — this dude is the central spoke of some hugely important and awesome stuff. Not to mention, he is incredible in each role. Sure he relies on a certain Peter Krause-ness and may not be a chameleon like DDL or Hoffman, but he brings serious heart and charisma to these nuanced roles.

    Great topic though!

    • Only reason Krause was excluded would be because I haven’t seen any of those things you just listed so… Oops.

      But Rockwell and Hoffman earned the same spot on this last that they have earned in my heart: The Biggest One.

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