As a young actor looking to hone his or her skills, there’s one obvious way that you can study up: Look to some of the finest films of all time to figure out how the greats do it themselves. Of course, you can also watch a batch of the worst films to figure out how not to act, but where’s the fun in that? Truth be told, many of those terrible films end up being major snooze-fests that’ll lull you to sleep with their awfulness.
Whittling down a list of great movies to study for acting purposes isn’t simple, which is why this isn’t necessarily a be-all, end-all for all you young actors out there. It is, however, a fantastic starting point and will hopefully introduce at least a few of you to a film you haven’t seen or considered before. But the best part about this list is that two of these are available for viewing right now at Picture Box Films. The streaming service allows you to watch movies on your computer, smart TV, smartphone, and similar devices, meaning you don’t have to track down the DVDs to get better acquainted with these must-see movies.
The story within Capote is compelling enough that even an average performance in the protagonist’s role could have made this film enjoyable. But Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote is so brilliant that it hurts, almost quite literally. You feel the pain that he undergoes as he becomes friendly with his interview subject, convicted murderer Perry Smith. Their interaction throughout the movie often leads to its sharpest, most gripping moments, and you’d be wise to watch closely to see how well Hoffman captures Capote’s character.
One of the best things about Martin Scorcese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear is that you can look to two actors, Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis, for inspiration. Their Academy Award nominations speak for themselves, but the persistence, rage, and prison-fuelled insanity of De Niro is truly something to witness. Lewis’ portrayal of teenager Danielle is just as powerful.
American History X
Edward Norton has plenty of fantastic roles under his belt. But the 44-year-old was at his sharpest in the almost too-hard-to-watch American History X. Watching his character, Derek Vinyard, transition from a white power skinhead to a completely reformed young man is moving, to say the least. It’s one of those transcendent performances that also makes you think about your own life and not just what’s happening onscreen.
Like Cape Fear, this is another instance of strong male and female performances. In this case, it’s two of the best to ever do it, Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. They somehow didn’t take home any Oscars for their roles, but no matter, because their roles are fantastic character studies. Want to know how to play a self-assured, strong woman or an about-to-explode private investigator? Watch Chinatown immediately!
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Too often, comedies are overlooked when it comes to acting, especially by critics and committees. But even as absurd as Forgetting Sarah Marshall can become, it’s the sharpness of a few of the actors that makes it so endearing. Everyone knows a big goof like Jason Segal’s Peter Bretter, whose heart is broken by the titular character he’s trying to get over. And even though the writing deserves credit for the wit here, it wouldn’t have the legs it does without Segal’s comedic chops and timing.
Now that we’re at our list’s end, it’s your turn to let us know which films you have personally looked to as a means of studying acting. Be sure to leave a comment below.