Kurt Russell as 'Stuntman Mike' in Quentin Tarantino's 'Death Proof'.

The 5 Most Underrated Acting Performances of All Time (IMO, Of Course…)

Michael Sheen in 'Frost/Nixon'? Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master'? Or Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike in Tarantino's 'Death Proof'?

Keep in mind, I’m 26 years old. My definition of all time doesn’t actually include all of time. My definition of vintage is Napster. But I liked these performances… I wish more people did.

There are plenty more, and too many I would have forgotten. This is just one list of five of many lists of five.

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Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon

I have no idea whether Sheen got credit for this performance. All I know is, he didn’t enough, largely because Frank Langella got all of it.

Langella played former President Richard Nixon in the film, while Sheen played British journalist David Frost. Most of us North Americans had probably never seen Sheen before, unless we got on the Damned United train early.

Now, he’s everywhere, and it’s all thanks to this role and this film.

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Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

It’s, like, brand new. This movie was only made last year, and Phoenix was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of some depressing, pretty violent drifter who falls into a Scientology-based cult for the sex, the light conscience, and finally rebels – the first right thing he’s done the whole time which, because everyone else is just as sick and corrupt as him, is treated with hatred. He’s pushed out. He’s isolated and alone. He’s left with nothing, which is what he started with.

Phoenix was never going to win the Oscar, so he may as well have not been nominated. Daniel Day Lewis wins Oscars simply by agreeing to play someone, and when America heard his next role was that of Abraham Lincoln… well, the entire ceremony and show was a formality.

And that’s exactly what makes Phoenix’s job in The Master just that great. I actually thought he was better than Day Lewis, and I think it even more now because nobody else knows it.

Phoenix created his character out of thin air, as he often does. And, actually, I never thought he should have won for Walk the Line for the same reason… he didn’t have to create Johnny Cash. He only had to mimic him.

In The Master, Phoenix is absolutely terrifying. He’s creepy and deranged.

He would have even scared Lincoln.

*And, by the way, if you think I don’t know Daniel Day Lewis is good enough to deserve three Oscars for his acting, you’re wrong… I actually think his greatest performance was in Gangs of New York, where he played Bill the Butcher and was robbed of (what would have been) his second statue. The Academy gave it to Adrien Brody in The Pianist instead.

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Clive Owen in Children of Men

One of the greatest post-apocalyptic (or close to it) movies that’s ever been made, Children of Men got its share of fine reviews, but it never quite got its due from the public.

Sure, when you bring it up, everyone will tell you how good it was. Some will even notice that the war scene towards the end, in the torn-apart London suburb located somewhere in the future, was done with only one camera.

But the movie is as underrated as Owen, who is so darn incredible you barely even notice him.

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Sam Rockwell in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Much like the case with Owen above, Confessions never quite its due. Maybe it was the simple fact that it was an indie. Maybe it was that George Clooney’s directing debut didn’t hold because it was George Clooney’s directing debut (although he followed it up with the superb Good Night, and Good Luck).

Fact is, Sam Rockwell is one of the more underrated actors of the last 20 years, period. Confessions is just his greatest job, his best role. Seems fair to put this dandy on here.

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Kurt Russell in Death Proof

Kurt Russell in Grindhouse: Death Proof

I know Kurt Russell was once considered ‘charming’. I’ve seen Overboard, alright?

But, really, I never saw him when he was a mega-star. I know him as the guy from the previews on VHS. I know women liked him once and I know he was in Tombstone. I also know his kid plays hockey, which I only know because he has a place in Vancouver with Goldie Hawn.

Other than, Kurt Russell was the coach from Miracle. I wasn’t crazy about the film. I don’t think playing Herb Brooks gives any indication he was capable of single-handedly carrying a Quentin Tarantino joint.

But he did. In Death Proof, Russell – as Stuntman Mike – is sneaky cool and collective. He’s old and he’s got sweet hair, and he wears the hell out of a racing jacket with an Icy/Hot emblem on the back. He says cool things like, “Fair lady, your chariot awaits” as he slides the keys to his Dodge down the bar. He recites poetry and gets a lap dance by telling her, “There is nothing as fetching as a bruised ego on a beautiful angel.”

But he’s also creepy.

That smile in the photo above? That’s the moment you know the movie has turned, when you know he’s about to go on a killing spree and turn Death Proof from the story of a simple night out in Austin, Texas to the novelization of a full-fledged massacre. (Oh, and he gets his in the end, too.)

I loved Death Proof. It surprised me. But Kurt Russell surprised me more. It’s a shame the Academy wasn’t watching.

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