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The Best Batman

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Everybody loves Batman. If asked, most people would probably not trust an ultra-wealthy vigilante with sadistic tendencies who spies on people. But if Batman asked you help him, you know you would. Herein I will address the cinematic Batmen only. This means that Frank Miller’s Batman versus Scott Snyder’s Batman and Kelley Jones’ Batman1 versus Neal Adams’ Batman will not be addressed here. Someone else probably made those lists and once I finish writing this I will probably try to find them.

 

BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN (l) Michael Keaton in Batman; Val Kilmer in Batman Forever; George Clooney in Batman & Robin; Christian Bale in The Dark Knight

BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN
(l) Adam West in Batman: The Movie; Michael Keaton in Batman; Val Kilmer in Batman Forever; George Clooney in Batman & Robin; Christian Bale in The Dark Knight.

Chronologically:

Adam West (1966-1968) – This was my first Batman so it is hard to be overly critical of the version of a character that made me fall in love with said character. As an actor, West’s performances were amazing. He never let the absurdity of the scripts crack the crucial veneer of the caped crusader’s crime-fighting career. By playing it so seriously and so whole-heartedly, children bought in and parents loved to watch it with them. Still, as far as Batmen go, he was extremely lame, like a more physical Jeff Goldblum character from the 90s.

Michael Keaton (1989-1992) – Michael Keaton’s Batman sometimes felt less like Batman than Adam West’s did. Revisiting the movies his Bruce Wayne was a very good character, but his Batman was kind of a schmuck. Planes with machine guns mowing down a crowded Gotham street seems like something people trying to kill Indiana Jones might have second thoughts about. And they were nazis. Plus, Batman gets upstaged by his villains in both movies. He lacked the detective skills that help make Batman a well rounded borderline sadistic sociopath.

Joker and Batman fighting in Batman: Mask of The Phantasm, © WB 1993.

Joker and Batman fighting in Batman: Mask of The Phantasm, © WB 1993.

Kevin Conroy (1992-present) – The voice actor behind the Batman from “Batman: The Animated Series” and the resulting movies, such as Mask of the Phantasm. After Adam West got me to fall in love with the character, Conroy shaped my conception of the ‘true’ Batman. Thus I am biased towards Conroy and want to put him at #1. His Batman looked amazing. He looked tough, yet human. Solved crimes as well as used violence. He had the style of Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and Tim Burton’s Gotham, but with good storytelling, character development, and a fully formed reality. This Batman taught lessons like Adam West’s, but in a less ridiculous fashion.

Val Kilmer (1995) – Physically he was the first to fit the description of a Batman. His fighting skills were good and he improved the deep Keaton voice. His Bruce Wayne was less convincing, but almost no points deducted for that. He did lack some of the brutality helpful to the role of Batman. Also, Robin stole his batmobile. Maybe he should get credit for hiring a 25 year-old instead of a young teen, though. It may fly in the face of tradition, but seems much more reasonable than a 13 year-old fighting crime.

George Clooney (1997) – Bat nipples + Joel Schumacher = the incorrect assumption that Batman & Robin had killed comic book movies stone cold dead.2

Christian Bale (2005–2010) – Oh Dark Knight Rises…how many points does Bale lose for quitting his crusade against crime? Even with that flawed premise, he does make a great Batman. His Batman had the right balance of fun and rage. While he is not the darkest Dark Knight, he does show the most fascism (in Dark Knight). He also cracks some jokes, which show how his Batman is not really as far from Val Kilmer’s, as it might have seemed. Lastly, I liked the Batman voice,3 despite the parodies it engendered.

THE LEGO MOVIE. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2014.

THE LEGO MOVIE. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2014.

Will Arnett (2014) – I love Will Arnett and I love Batman. I do not love Will Arnett as Batman. He has a low voice which helps, but he mostly sucks in The Lego Movie. But the movie was pretty good, unlike Batman & Robin.

Ben Affleck (2016) – I know that if I pick Affleck as my number one Batman that it will elicit an angry response from most readers. My biggest complaint with Affleck’s older Batman is that I do not have enough Batman to work with, since he has not had an entire film’s worth of Batman-ing under his belt. Still, he convincingly plays a Batman who has been through years and years of a crusade. He beats Superman down. Like, more so than even in The Dark Knight Returns. The difference is that Dark Knight, in that graphic novel, has an endgame more elegant than killing Superman.4  Some people do not like how Batman could kill or be tricked, but he has done both in his long history—including in Dark Knight Rises.

Ben Affleck as Batman, calling out Superman in the aptly titled Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, © WB 2016.

Ben Affleck as Batman, calling out Superman in the aptly titled Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, © WB 2016.

Rankings:

8. George Clooney
7. Will Arnett
6. Michael Keaton
5. Adam West
4. Val Kilmer
3. Ben Affleck
2. Kevin Conroy
1. Christian Bale

 

1 I wrote Kelley Moench first, which is amusing because the writer/artist team was Dave Moench and Kelley Jones.
2 June 20, 1997 Batman & Robin is released. August 21, 1998 Blade is released. So assuming Blade took only 8 months to make, give or take 3 months, comic book movies were “dead” for at most 9 months. 
3 I also loved Tom Hardy’s Bane voice. Although not casting a Latino for the role was close-minded of Christopher Nolan, since the character is South American and the only Latino/a I can recall from the trilogy was Det. Ramirez.
4 People generally use the term “graphic novel” to mean respected comic books. It has been wildly overused. Comic books are light and thin. Trade paperbacks are softcover collections of comic books. Hardcovers are trade paperbacks, but with a hardcover. Graphic novels initially meant a hardcover/trade paperback that contained new material, thus skipping the comic book phase. It has been expanded to include works that are initially released as comic books, but meant to be read together. Thus a mini-series can qualify, but a story arch in an on-going series would be less likely to meet that criterion. Anything more than that, would be uncivilized. 

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Under Appreciated Supporting Actors III

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What qualifies an actor as underrated? I hope this explains it—Paul Giamatti. There was a time, at around Almost Famous, when he was underrated, but now he is considered one of the best character actors ever, right? So that’s not underrated! And he went from being a supporting actor to a leading actor in 2004 with American Splendor. So he ditched both qualifications of being an under appreciated supporting actor.1

MaryMaceachran

Kelly Macdonald as Mary Maceachran, stuck in the rain outside of Lady Constance Trentham’s car in Gosford Park, © 2001 Universal Studios.

Sometimes an actor or actress comes along who the world knows will be great. In The Princess Bride they “introduc[ed]” Robin Wright, and they were right to have done so. The same came be said for Kelly Macdonald. She gets the “introducing” credit in Trainspotting. The way she played what in American slang is known as “jailbait” was riveting. You could not blame Ewan McGregor’s Renton for being overpowered by her young alpha female Diane. She immediately showed acting range by then portraying–four years later–Mary, the best maid Dame Maggie Smith ever had—no offense, Downton denizens. Macdonald’s great Scottish accent continued to come in handy, particularly when voicing Princess Merida in BraveBut she can do a fine American accent too, just watch her play Josh Brolin’s wife in the Academy Award winning No Country for Old Men. Her amazing credits continue from Anna Karenina, Harry Potter2, through Tristram Shandy, Finding Neverland, Elizabeth and the BBC’s State of Play. But this is not intended as an essay solely about how wonderful Macdonald is.

Captain Dudley's men in L.A. Confidential (Michael McCleery & Arana), © 1997 Warner Bros.

Captain Dudley’s men in L.A. Confidential (Michael McCleery & Arana), © 1997 Warner Bros.

Macdonald had a wonderfully expressive, yet subtle face. Our next actor, Tomas Arana, has mostly been called upon to express stoicism throughout his roles. Under that stoicism burns something. It can be indignation, fear, or hatred. He has probably been cast so many times, that when you spot him, you know his character is a man who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. He elicits fear that his slender 6′ frame should not generate. Yet he has stood up to a Roman Emperor (Quintus, Chief Praetorian – Gladiator), sabotaged a nuclear submarine in a suicide mission (cook’s assistant/KGB agent Loginov – The Hunt for Red October), tried to reason with the mad, violent Ronan the Accuser (Kree Ambassador – Guardians of the Galaxy), fought the Nazis (Ben Zion Gulkowitz – Defiance), tried to have Jason Bourne captured (Deputy Director Marshall – Bourne Supremacy), fought against good acting (the JVCD Derailed, not the Jennifer Aniston one), enforced corrupt LA police plans (Det. Bruening – LA Confidential), tried to kill Wyatt Earp (Frank Stillwell – Tombstone), valiantly tried to save a later season episode of Miami Vice as a hitman, and firstly rose from the dead as Lazarus in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Seaman Jones (Courtney B. Vance) and his captain, Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) on board the US Dallas, The Hunt For Red October, © 1990 Paramount.

Seaman Jones (Courtney B. Vance) and his captain, Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn) on board the US Dallas, The Hunt For Red October, © 1990 Paramount.

Keeping in the realm of cool supporting performances in The Hunt for Red October, Scott Glenn’s Captain Bart Mancuso has to do everything, fortunately, he is Scott Glenn. He plays the serious submarine captain, he plays the annoyed you made us stop following the target you want us to find to come pick you up type, he gets in a few deadpan jokes, and he eventually learns to trust his lifelong foes. His most recent role was appearing as “Stick” on “Daredevil.” I recognized him by his hands and his voice…and he was speaking a Chinese language at the time! That said, his worst performance/roll was in the underseen and underappreciated Sucker Punch. He shows up to spout fortune cookie wisdom in the fantasy sequences, and again as the bus driver who takes Baby Doll to freedom. If he could not make those lines sound good, then no one could have, not even Irrfan Khan, not even Benedict Cumberbatch. For a good movie in which he is given a good role, check out Training Day. As Roger, he has an easy rapport with Denzel Washington, and manages to have dignity as he tries to weasel his way out of a death he is mostly incredulous of.

Crowe & Zurer as Superman's birth parents in Warner Bros. Man of Steel, © 2013.

Crowe & Zurer as Superman’s birth parents in Warner Bros. Man of Steel, © 2013.

Glenn only has one appearance so far on “Daredevil”, whereas our next actress, Ayelet Zurer, has nine. Does that mean she is nine times the actor that Scott Glenn is? I do not think so, but she has certainly kept a lower profile than Glenn has—in my view at least. I was surprised to recognize her while rewatching Man of Steel as Jor-El’s (Russell Crowe’s) wife Lara Lor-Van. She has a nobility in that role, a nobility that also appears in Vanessa on “Daredevil”. As an Israeli she did an excellent job of seeming like an Israeli in Munich, as Eric Bana’s wife. Her realism lent credibility to his. Munich is a great movie, while Angels and Demons is not, however, she did every bit as good of a job as Audrey Tautou did in the female lead next to Robert Landgon–Tom Hanks–in this European mystery adventure role.

Lindsay Duncan as Servilia on Rome.

Lindsay Duncan as Servilia on Rome.

Angels and Demons took place in Vatican City, inside Rome. Another work set in Rome was HBO’s appropriately named show “Rome”. On “Rome” Lindsay Duncan’s Servilia manages to make you, at times, pity her, loathe her, be wary of her3, and fearful for her. She has several career highlights on TV, “Rome” being just one of them. She was on an episode of “Sherlock” where she solicits Sherlock’s aid in the return of compromising documents. She gets to be fun, and light, and potentially a murderer on “Poirot” with the “Murder on the Blue Train”. Her husband is 20 years her junior, but they seem evenly matched because of her vitality. In a much more dour role, she plays Lady Elizabeth Longford on the excellent made for TV movie Longford. If you long to see her in something on the big screen she certainly provides gold in Birdman as The Critic. She pours all of her bitterness and bile into one character—an imperfectly conceived straw man who gets Michael Keaton’s and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s fury unleashed upon her. If her performance had been only fractionally less excellent then the most important scene falls flat. González Iñárritu receives at least one fewer Oscar. Or maybe he receives none at all. All of that resting on the shoulders of the eighth billed actor!

It was so hard to find a shot of her from the movie. The Internet pretty much failed me.

Inara Serra (Baccarin) in Serenity, © 2005 Universal.

As infrequently as I have thought of the above two actresses, I have frequently thought of Morena Baccarin. She was enchanting as Inara on “Firefly”, and wonderful again reprising that role in the film adaptation, Serenity. I felt bad not watching shows like “V” when she played a short-haired alien leader. In the trifecta of Spy, Deadpool, and “Homeland”, she plays the wife of a traitorous soldier, the girlfriend of an assassin, and a traitorous CIA Agent. Someone get this woman a role playing a nice woman who spends time with nice people!

Bill Murray & Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson, in Groundhog Day, © 1993 Sony Pics.

Bill Murray & Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson, in Groundhog Day, © 1993 Sony Pics.

Stephen Tobolowsky has had a 40 year career without ever getting a leading role. He has 243 acting credits on IMDb! To pick and choose from that long of a career is challenging, so instead I will list his performances that instantly come to mind: Groundhog Day, “Deadwood”, and Sneakers. He uses his eyeglasses in a way that makes it seem impossible for anyone else to have tackled these parts. Every time he touches them out of frustration, fear, arousal, etc…he conveys so much about who his character is, even when given only a scene or two in a movie.

Eater's of the Dead is my favorite Michael Crichton book.

Olga (Maria Bonnevie) tends to Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), in The 13th Warrior, © 1999 Touchstone.

Now I am going off the board with an actress whom I have never recognized, but who has impressed me in the three things I have seen her in. This past year I went to Seattle’s International Film Festival (SIFF) and the first movie I saw was A Second Chance. Therein Maria Bonnevie stole the show as a mother whose baby dies one night, and whose detective husband replaces said baby. There is something off about her and I could not take my eyes off her in any scene. Also, back in her twenties she had two good performances in 13th Warrior, and Insomnia.4

The Nihilists in The Big Lebowski (Torsten Voges, Stormare & Flea). © Universal Studios, 1998.

The Nihilists in The Big Lebowski (Torsten Voges, Stormare & Flea). © Universal Studios, 1998.

As I mention below, Bonnevie’s films have been unfairly criticized. On the other hand, Peter Stormare’s films have been criticized on an amazingly accurate level. Think about his crappy films: Bad Boys II, Armageddon, and Mercury Rising. All correctly mocked. Now think about his okay films: Minority Report, The Last Stand, The Brothers Grimm, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. They elicit mixed feelings, yet each has at least one undeniably positive attribute. And lastly think about his great films: The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Those two are justifiably ranked in the pantheon of great films. I have mentioned before how I doubted that I had ever heard Stormare’s actual accent since every five people who read this probably conjure him using a different accent. Today I hear his Russian accent from on the Mir5 space station in Armageddon.

This lost to Braveheart? Come on!

Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) threatened by McManus (Stephen Baldwin) & Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) in The Usual Suspects, 1995.

Another supporting actor with a variety of accents who was in The Lost World is Pete Postlethwaite. He is our last actor in this installment of Under Appreciated Supporting Actors. His passing shortly after the release of The Town made our loss the more poignant for having seen that he still had his acting chops. It is impressive how many films of his I had forgotten him from: Inception, The Constant Gardener, Amistad, Romeo + Juliet, and Dragonheart. As the only Englishman on this list he has done his nation justice by upholding the tradition of the versatile English character actor. Our collective corpus of communal culture would be less colorful if it lacked the corps of classically trained English actors, like Pete Postlethwaite.6

I hope you have enjoyed my most recent list and give one/some/all of these actors a chance. And try keep an eye on the supporting actors who may lack Daniel Craig’s stare and stature, but are crucial to their Bonds nonetheless.

 

1 According to me.
2 She plays the Grey Lady. Seriously, I had to look this up.
3 I tried to find an appropriate verb for parallel sentence structure, but failed. If you have one, let me know, so I can edit this post to make glorious benefit (to paraphrase Borat).
4 Since she is Swedish she was in the 1997 Swedish original version of Insomnia. It appears that A Second Chance and 13th Warrior are victims of unfairly harsh criticism. Regardless, she is great.
5 Mir, or Мир in cyrillic, means “world” and “peace”, which is a wonderful dual meaning, much better than Aloha/Shalom.
6 I’m sorry, but once it started I couldn’t stop myself.

On the passing of Robin Williams

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Robin Williams reminds me of my family. At Thanksgiving and Christmas our family tends to gather together. At these times we like to watch movies. But it can be difficult to find movies that two to three generations at a time want to watch the same thing. Or consent to seeing the same thing, even. Robin Williams helped by being in five of the finest family movies of the early 1990s: Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, and The Birdcage. He was also in one of the worst “family” movies of that era, Toys. So before he blew me away as a young adult with Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, before I knew he used a ton of cocaine, and before he redeemed my impression of him as an actor with Insomnia and A.I., he was someone who signified laughter and family to me.

His death, which has been described as an apparent suicide, did not come as a shock. Sadly, for him that seemed as likely a cause for an early death as an accident, and more likely than a murder. I believe these things because Robin Williams made his extroversion clear. His high energy could be connected to his drug use, but I think that only heightened his frantic self. He wanted and needed the eyes, ears, and laughs of his audience. And the world was his audience, seemingly all the time. As his comedic genius became less relevant he turned to more dramatic roles, or perhaps he just wanted to be loved for a different side of himself. He suffered from depression and spent years feeding off of the laughter and adulation, but that clearly was not enough. Drugs, both cocaine and anti-depressants, did what they could for years, but were not enough. The recognition of he who was once Mork as an Academy Award winning actor wasn’t enough either. Depression can take your successes and turn them on you, it just might take a little longer to do it than if your life objectively sucks. Instead of mourning our loss, this has helped remind me of the great body of work he produced, of his legacy. We should not be sad that we have lost him, but thankful that we ever had Robin Williams in the first place.

On the passing of Bob Hoskins

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I loved Bob Hoskins before I knew who Bob Hoskins was. That was due to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And due to Hook.

Smee (Bob Hoskins) in Hook, © 1991 Amblin Ent.

Smee (Bob Hoskins) in Hook, © 1991 Amblin Ent.

Last week at trivia one question was, “Of all the films Steven Spielberg directed, this one, from 1991, has the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes.” Hook was the answer and no one from my generation has guessed that, or has even been able to accept that. I was nine when I saw Hook in theaters and bought the comic book after that. Hoskins was great as Smee, but back then he was just Smee. Just as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit he was just the private eye. Eventually I learned who Bob Hoskins was.

I had also seen him in Mermaids and Spice World but I don’t really remember those movies very well. Which is probably for the best, although there were some very popular singers in those movies. As an adult I watched Hollywoodland and was blown away. The simplicity of his character and how it transcended good and evil was one of the rawest displays of power that a soft spoken, short older man has even shown. Here is a scene where he faces down the accusations of a private eye played by Adrien Brody. Thence I moved on to Brazil and Mrs Henderson Presents. He was cruelly funny in the one and oafishly funny in the other. And I have gone back to Roger Rabbit and Hollywoodland several times. I was saddened to learn that he had cancer, both because of his impending suffering and for the selfish reason that I wanted him to keep acting. Instead of the traditional “rest in peace,” I hope he rests with a smile on his face and laughter in his voice. He deserves that.

National Treasure 2 or The Rock

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Was National Treasure: Book of Secrets trying to make a sequel to the original, or recreate the magic of their action classic The Rock.

**½

Oh look. My tax dollars at work, coming to arrest me.

In The Rock Nicolas Cage plays nerd who needs to solve some riddles to get into an impregnable American landmark, while Ed Harris plays the villain with armed men to help him. National Treasure had a more traditional villain than that with Sean Bean’s Ian Howe. Harris seems to pick up the “Ian Howe” role with Mitch Wilkinson. But instead of a motivation of greed, Harris just wants to give value to his family’s name by finding El Dorado, so he needs Nicolas Cage’s help. In The Rock, Harris held San Francisco for ransom with some stolen poisonous gas and a few rockets, which he had stationed on Alcatraz. He wanted money for himself, his comrades, and his deceased soldiers’ families. He was a general who oversaw classified missions, after which those who did not make it back, but died for their country, were disavowed. When push came to shove, Harris was no murderer. Wilkinson seemed to have no compunctions against taking human life, but then later he did. He was a much less internally consistent character.

Ed Harris, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Nick Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, © Disney 2007.

Ed Harris, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and Nick Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, © Disney 2007.

Nicolas Cage gets all worked up and yells in both of these movies. He worries about a woman in them. Needs the help of an old man. Learns a national security secret from a hiding place known only by a few living people. Gets to be with that woman from earlier, who was briefly really mad at him. Wears a wet suit. And acts like an insufferable know-it-all.

Bartha as Riley Poole, © 2007 Disney

Bartha as Riley Poole, © 2007 Disney

The major difference between these two movies, is the wonderful Justin Bartha. While his material was not as good in this movie, he still brought the “Barth,” as I like to call it.* If only the side story of his financial troubles had been excluded he could have had, well, a more interesting side story. On the bright side, at least he did not get “Terrence Howard-ed.”**

*Okay, I just made that up now, but going forward I might use it again if a) Justin Bartha acts in another thing I see, and b) I remember the word “Barth.”

** I did not just make up that term. There is absolutely one legitimate hit on Google for “Terrence Howarded”. Unfortunately, if you search for “Terrence Howard-ed” you get a lot of sentences that say “Terrence Howard, Ed Norton.” I guess I should explain it then, Terrence Howard played Rhodey in Iron Man, but then Marvel replaced him with Don Cheadle without even making an insulting low offer to continue to play his character in Iron Man 2. The same thing happened to Ed Norton, except Marvel smeared Norton’s name in order to justify going cheaper with Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner in Marvel’s The Avengers.

Funniest Actresses of the Past Ten Years

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Recently IMDb posted an editorial called “Funniest actresses of the past 10 years.”  Typically actresses receive far less attention for their comedic prowess than actors do, so this intrigued me. While a majority of the choices seemed fine to me, my gut told me that some people had been overlooked. I only retained two of the ten, but I still think that Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, and Emma Stone are extremely funny. They just did not make my top ten.

1. Jane Lynch – Over the past ten years, there has been no woman as funny as Jane Lynch. To say she keeps busy is to say LA traffic gets congested on the I-5! Probably not the best reference to make from Albany, NY, but I do hear that it gets quite gridlocked. Amongst her traditionally humorous performances, like on “Glee,” she has placed herself into a class of her own. I do not know how anyone can choose his favorite Jane Lynch character, but her roles in 40 Year Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, “Party Down,” and Role Models all made me laugh out loud repeatedly. She says things in a way that no other actress, or comedienne/comedian, has over more than the past decade. My favorite speech of hers is the cocaine one from Role Models.

Tina Fey & Jane Lynch at the 2012 Golden Globes, Photo by Handout – © 2012 NBC.

Tina Fey & Jane Lynch at the 2012 Golden Globes, Photo by Handout – © 2012 NBC.

2. Tina Fey – Remember when Tina Fey was underappreciated? This was about ten years ago, until Mean Girls came out. Since then I believe that people began to take Tina Fey for granted, since she anchored the consistently clever “30 Rock” for year after year, since she failed to deliver another humorous film. But once I considered her Weekend Update appearances and Sarah Palin impression I believe that she leads the second tier of funniest women in the past decade.

3. Kristen Wiig – She is almost as funny as Tina Fey, and she has had a meteoric rise—Kristen Wiig. She anchored the funniest movie in the past 5 years, Bridesmaids, but she also provided good laughs in Paul and Adventureland, while she excelled on “Saturday Night Live” before her characters took off.

This is the only picture of them together I could find.

Nasim Pedrad looks on as Kristen Wiig “motorboats” Helen Mirren. © 2011 NBC.

4. Helen Mirren – Helen Mirren has had a fascinating career. She began as a sex symbol. Then she moved to the level of esteemed actress of the highest level. The one aspect that has not been as fully lauded is her sense of humor. Clearly, casting directors, directors, and screenwriters know that she is hilarious, although the roles she takes have rarely been openly comedic.  While Red and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, plus the piece of crap Arthur, were comedies, The Queen, Hitchock, The Last Station, and State of Play are serious fare. But Mirren elicited laughs and smiles with each of these roles.

5. Zooey Deschanel – A few years ago I could not have fairly evaluated a “dream girl” like Deschanel. I had low expectations for Elf and she turned that into an amusing holiday classic. Seeing that she would be in Hitchhiker’s Guide excited me more than seeing that Martin Freeman–The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey–would star in it. I know that she has been in piles of garbage like Yes Man and The Happening, but I doubt that she was unfunny in those, just as I doubt that she is unfunny in “New Girl.” She also showed a sly sense of humor in (500) Days of Summer.

Christine Taylor in leather gear for the Average Joe's in Dodgeball, © 2004 20th Cent. Fox.

Christine Taylor in leather gear for the Average Joe’s in Dodgeball, © 2004 20th Cent. Fox.

6. Christine Taylor – I felt like Zoolander was about ten years old, but it turns out that I was mistaken. Fortunately, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was. And she is great in that. She makes Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller seem hilarious with her great facial expressions and perky exhaustion with their shenanigans. Solidifying her position in this second tier of funniest actresses are her other highlights, as Sally Sitwell on “Arrested Development,” the winner of season -1 of “Burning Love,” and as a rich suburbanite in Kabluey.

7. Ellen Page – Finishing up the second tier is Ellen Page. She is more than just Juno. She was amusing in Inception. She was cute in Super. And she was almost foregettable as Kitty Pryde in X-Men: Last Stand.

Isla Fisher as Gloria Cleary in New Line Cinema's Wedding Crashers.

Isla Fisher as Gloria Cleary in New Line Cinema’s Wedding Crashers.

8. Isla Fisher – To think of Isla Fisher as only in the third tier of funniest actresses implies something that I do not wish to imply—that she is anything other than hilarious. I first realized that she was hilarious as the sexy younger sister in Wedding Crashers. Unfortunately nothing has let her reach that level again. It was nice to see her as Rebel Alley in the 4th season of “Arrested Development.” And she brought some color to her character in Great Gatsby. She is also my favorite Omanian actress alive, nay, perhaps ever!

Judi Dench (© 2012 Eon Prods.)

Judi Dench (© 2012 Eon Prods.)

9. Judi Dench – Strikingly different from the past few humorous women is Dame Judi Dench. I do not know why Americans love sir this and lady that, when, by law, such titles cannot be awarded in the US. Dench’s career reminds me of Alec Guinness’s. Guinness had been a star, but then became famous for a smaller role in a blockbuster series—Star Wars. For Dench that is playing “M” in the James Bond series. Her sharp wit sets the standard for ladylike quips. For a slightly softer side, but only slightly, see Mrs. Henderson Presents and Ladies in Lavender. In those period piece comedies she stars and gets laughs with more than just snark.

10. Amy Adams – IMDb listed Meryl Streep as one of the funniest women of the past ten years, but I think that they chose the wrong star of Julie & Julia. While Streep may have been funnier in that hit, Adams solidifies her position a top ten funniest actress with Enchanted, The Muppets, and even in Talladega Nights. She managed to crack the top ten, even though she co-starred in Trouble with the Curve. If I do this for actors, do not hold your breath for Clint Eastwood.

Please let me know if I have omitted anyone, or if you disagree. Just kidding, feel free to laud me with kudos for getting this list 100% correct.

Under Appreciated Supporting Actors II

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It feels like just yesterday I provided ten excellent actors to pay attention to. But I have so many more that I could tell people about, so the list continues.

Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin. © Universal Pictures.

Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin. © Universal Pictures.

Let’s start off with the wonderful Catherine Keener, who managed to master every genre from 1999 to the present. She burst onto the screen with sweet comedy, as in 40 Year Old Virgin and Cyrus, even dumber comedy in Hamlet 2, serious drama—Capote, trusted best friend work in a thriller with The Interpreter, “children’s” movies for adults Where the Wild Things Are, and even stranger than the last one—Being John Malkovich. She seems to be up for whatever and G-d bless her for it.

Fred Willard as Mike LaFontaine, A Mighty Wind © Castle Rock?

Fred Willard as Mike LaFontaine, A Mighty Wind © Castle Rock?

Next up a couple of accused perverts: Fred Willard and Jeffrey Jones. Both have seen better days—both physically and legally—but they also provided some wonderful performances. This is not a list of my favorite human beings, but just supporting actors who hid their demons in order to deliver good performances. I love Fred Willard in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, from This is Spinal Tap, to Best in Show, then A Mighty Wind, and finally For Your Consideration. He was also great in Wall-E. Jeffrey Jones, on the other hand, was in none of those. He was in Amadeus, The Hunt for Red October, and “Deadwood.” To steal a line from the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, well…there it is.

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax, © MGM 1979

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax, © MGM 1979

Michael Lonsdale is probably the least famous actor I have mentioned hither to. But I bet his movies are famous: Munich, Moonraker, Ronin, and The Name of The Rose. Well perhaps they are not super famous, but that is Spielberg, Bond, De Niro and Connery we are talking about and Monsieur Lonsdale held his ground with his soft, yet steely, visage amongst that esteemed company. And he has a great French accent.

She's 18 in real life, so it's okay...

Jonah Hill and Brie Larson in 21 Jump Street, © Columbia

Not all great supporting actors are not hot women. For instance, Brie Larson is both a beautiful woman and a promising actress whose career so far has been great. I loved her characters in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 21 Jump Street, and Greenberg. I despised her character, the au pair, in “The League.” It is hard to make me hate a character when I enjoy the actor portraying that person, so kudos to Brie Larson.

Andrew Robinson as Garak, © Paramount.

Andrew Robinson as Garak, © Paramount.

Andrew Robinson only has two great credits on his résumé: Dirty Harry and “Star Trek: Deep Space 9.” He was also in Cobra and Hellraiser, and I doubt he made them worse. He was so good as the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry that people treated him with similar contempt as they might have shown as the real Zodiac. It ruined his career. Thankfully he put on the Cardassian make-up and played the morally ambiguous Garak for all seven seasons on DS9.

Sexy then, sexy now.

Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles, © WB 1974.

Madeline Kahn was a comedian before my time, but I still loved her in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Eventually I watched Clue and she was good in that as well. She was probably the funniest woman of the 1970’s. Ever.

James Cromwell as Capt. Dudley Smith with Guy Pearce as Sgt. Edmund Exley, LA Confidential, © 1997 WB.

James Cromwell as Capt. Dudley Smith with Guy Pearce as Sgt. Edmund Exley, LA Confidential, © 1997 WB.

Have ye’ a valediction, boyo? I loved James Cromwell in LA Confidential. I loved everybody in that, to be honest, that is why it is a great movie. My second favorite performance of his was in Star Trek: First Contact, which is a great Star Trek movie, but I do not know if regular people would love it. Regardless, his performance is great in it. He was even good without saying a word in The Artist.

John C. McGinley as Dr. Cox on ABC's "Scrubs."

John C. McGinley as Dr. Cox on ABC’s “Scrubs.”

I do not remember when I first saw John C. McGinley, probably in The Rock.  However, it turns out that he had already showcased his military chops in Platoon. He always brings his crazy A game, whether it is as the memorable Dr. Cox in “Scrubs”, yelling even louder in Point Break, loving Michael Bolton in Office Space, or being droll as the announcer in 42. Also check him out in Stealing Harvard and Any Given Sunday.

That is a Soviet hat.

Bob Balaban in Catch-22, © 1970 Paramount.

I last saw Bob Balaban in Best in Show. He played Dr. Theodore W. Millbank, III, the subdued president of the Mayflower Kennel Club. It seems like he has spent his career playing subdued, slightly exasperated characters with dry wit. For examples, see Moonrise Kingdom, and A Mighty Wind. For a slightly sexualized variation, see his Morris Weissman in Gosford Park. He does America more proud as one of only two Americans—and the non-rapy one too boot—than in his eerily young performance in Catch-22, as Capt. Orr.

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