Sunday, November 18, 2012

Top 10 Minor Film Characters Who Stole the Show

Earlier this year, I wrote a post entitled 10 Film Characters Who Deserved More Screen Time. Now, I'm writing a post about ten film characters who had very little screen time, but made the most of what they had. All of these characters have very few lines and do not appear on screen all that long, but make a mighty impression on viewers. Some may have no lines, and their mere presence is a highlight. Let's kick things off with #10!

10. Cab driver (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Chris Columbus, 1992)

There are a few creepy moments in Home Alone 2, but this must rank as the creepiest. Heck, 'creepy' is an understatement. This is scary. Sure, it's not that scary when I watch it now as a 19 year-old, but in my childhood years, I could barely watch this scene. What the above clip omits is Kevin's walk to the taxi, where he encounters homeless people, drunkards and all-round unsavoury people. Kevin thinks he has finally found a refuge in the form of a taxi, but the driver terrifies him. Props to the late Mario Todisco for pulling off such a menacing look. 

9. Clown (Billy Madison, Tamra Davis, 1995)

"Hey, kids, it's me! I bet you thought that I was dead! But when I fell over I just broke my leg and got a haemorrhage in my head!" Shane Farberman doesn't just play a clown in Billy Madison. Farberman is a party clown in the real world, so it's no surprise that he makes this brief but hilarious role look so easy. We see the clown take a fall early in the movie, and just assume his 15 seconds of fame (and perhaps his life) are over. Then this scene transpires as part of a musical number, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. 

8. Stage actor (A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

I was sad when I heard the news that John Clive passed away last month. His brief performance in this film is a very memorable one. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is no longer a social deviant after being subjected to the Ludovico technique, but it seems the method pacified him to a dangerous degree. During a demonstration, he is beaten by an actor (Clive), before being forced to lick his boot. This is the ultimate act of degradation, but Alex has been conditioned to comply. Clive's performance is great because what begins as an obligation becomes enjoyment. He gets a real thrill out of making Alex lick his boot.

7. Japanese men (Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

This scene took me by surprise the first time I saw Eyes Wide Shut. The owner of a costume store finds two Japanese men sleeping with his teenage daughter in the middle of the night. This is the sort of absurdism Kubrick was renowned for. The scene has no connection to the story. It's just...there. On a side note, how wonderful is the grin that Leelee Sobieski flashes to Tom Cruise?

6. Jimmy Two Times (Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Jimmy's appearance is very brief, but he is endowed with a peculiar idiosyncrasy that makes him memorable. It's a testament to Scorsese and actor Anthony Powers that, in a film packed with many visceral scenes, something as trivial as Jimmy's "I'm gonna go get the papers...get the papers" stands out.

5. Man in dog suit (The Shining, Stanley Kubrick, 1980)


Some say the guy is wearing a bear suit, although in Stephen King's novel, it's a dog suit, so I'll stick to that. Whatever it is, it's just as terrifying as any other scene in the film. Yes, that includes the room 237 bathtub scene. What makes this so horrifying is that we are given no explanation for it. Kubrick serves it to us on a platter, and our imaginations are left to run wild. The score makes it even more chilling, and when the camera rapidly zooms in, that just about does it for me. But that's not all. We are then met with unrelenting stares from the man in the dog suit and the man he just fellated. Apparently, all of this means something in the novel. The following is taken from IMDb's FAQ section for The Shining:

"Like the woman in room 237, this mysterious scene is explained in the novel, but not in the film. At one point in the novel, Jack is dancing with a woman at a masque ball during the 1920s, and he notices a young man wearing a dog mask and behaving like a dog for the amusement of a tall, bald man. This bald man is the man in the tuxedo later seen by Wendy. The woman explains to Jack that his name is Horace Derwent, a former owner of the hotel, and an eccentric Howard Hughes type figure who poured over three million into restoring it after WWII. The young man acting like a dog is Roger, a former lover of the bisexual Derwent, with whom he is still in love. According to the woman, Derwent told Roger that "if he came to the masked ball as a doggy, a cute little doggy, he might reconsider;" that is, he might have sex with Roger. Although no actual sex scene between Roger and Derwent is described in the book, such a scene does seem to take place in Kubrick's film, albeit obliquely."

4. Nanny (The Omen, Richard Donner, 1976)

This is a very unsettling scene, and one of the first in the film that indicates Damien is no ordinary child. It's the twinkle in the nanny's eyes, the shattering of the window, and the glassy eyes of Mrs Thorn (Lee Remick) as she holds on tight to her adopted son. Those are the elements that make this scene unforgettable. It's also effective how this suicide interrupts what would otherwise be a joyous celebration. It's completely unexpected. 

3. Pizza boy (Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet, 1975)

Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) attempt to rob a bank, but when cops surround the building, the situation turns into a hostage crisis. Sonny and Sal are more hospitable than your average bank robbers. They decide to order pizza for the hostages, and the pizza boy who delivers to the bank gets a moment in the spotlight. He is seen by cops, the media and members of the public. It is a full-blown media circus, and this guy who makes a living by delivering pizzas is in the thick of it. Upon handing over the pizzas, he exclaims "I'm a fucking star!" We all dream of being that guy.

2. Marshall McLuhan as himself (Annie Hall, Woody Allen, 1977)

This scene is Woody Allen's ultimate attack on pseudo-intellectuals. We've all been there. We're somewhere in public, minding our own business, when we hear someone prattling on about a topic they clearly know nothing about. We so desperately want to intervene and tell the person to shut up, or at least to get his/her facts straight. We don't, though, because we don't want to cause a scene. The joy of cinema is that such fantasies can be played out. Allen breaks the fourth wall and gets us to empathise with him. When the pretentious guy notices, he tries to justify his knowledge of Marshall McLuhan's teachings. Conveniently, McLuhan is standing a couple of metres away. He steps out from behind a poster and personally tells the pseudo-intellectual that he is wrong. This is one of the greatest cameos in the history of cinema.

1. Cosmo (Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

Here we have a drug deal that goes horribly wrong. Dirk, Reed and Todd have gone to Rahad's (Alfred Molina) house with the promise to sell him cocaine. That cocaine is actually half a kilo of baking soda. They sit down on the couch, and if they didn't already have enough to be nervous about, there's a mysterious child named Cosmo who is setting off firecrackers just for the hell of it. Every time he lets one off, the three men become startled and it's hilarious. This makes for some excellent comic tension, and there are two great songs that underscore this scene: Sister Christian and Jessie's Girl

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