7 Small Roles That Deserved Their Own Oscar

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This weekend sees the 84th annual Academy Awards with its veritable galaxy of gorgeous people, and once again the flagship pictures and prestigious heavy hitters will doubtless walk out with the majority of the loot. Oscar might have the glamour and the glitz, but true spirit is all about giving props to the little guy. With that in mind here’s a selection of small roles and minor characters that never won any awards, yet managed to embed themselves into our collective consciousness, pop culture iconography and done more than their share to help make some good movies truly great.

bill_paxton_aliensBill Paxton – “Hudson” – Aliens

One of the finer and lesser celebrated ingredients in James Cameron’s magnificent sequel is a simple yet startlingly effective role reversal that takes a horror movie staple and turns it on its head. Continuing his love affair with strong, capable women, Cameron takes the clichéd role of the sniveling, panic stricken bimbo and puts it on the unlikely back of smartass marine core grunt, Hudson. Perhaps cinema's best loved coward, Hudson spends most of the film a nervous wreck, well past his breaking point and constantly on the verge of full-blown hysteria. But our love from him extends from the fact that - despite being just a green t-shirt and a Great Dane away from being Shaggy to Ripley and Hick’s Velma and Fred - he’s still ten times braver than any of us would be if faced with the same situation.

Instant Quote: “That’s it man. Game over, man. Game over!

ed209_robocopED209 – Robocop

Peter Weller may be the star of Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent, often-misunderstood satire on western consumerism run amok, but it’s the behemoth ED209 that everyone always remembers. The Enforcement Droid: Series 209 is the ultimate embodiment of overblown American excess – a gigantic, foul tempered, borderline psychotic rocket launcher on legs. Not only will it kill you, but it will mutilate your corpse as it continues to pump round after round into your quivering, lifeless body, well after you’ve expired, if it decides that you’ve glanced at it the wrong way.

Instant Quote: "Please put down your weapon. You now have twenty-seconds to comply…”

vernon_wells_road_warriorVernon Wells – “Wez” – The Road Warrior

Australian actor Vernon Wells managed to create one of the most enduring cult movie icons of all time with his furious portrayal of The Road Warrior's own post-apocalyptic hardcase. Huge kudos must be given for the simple fact that very few movie villains could effectively convey the sense that they could tear your head off with their bare hands while at the same time sporting a rather effeminate young man in studded leather chained to the back of their motorcycle. Not only does Max’s loony nemesis manage to outdo the frankly ridiculous S&M clad Lord Humungous in terms of pure batshit crazy, but he models a wardrobe that still inspires many a professional wrestler to this day: bright red Mohawk, huge feathered shoulder pads and, oh yes, ass-less chaps. Very nice, Wez!

Instant Quote: “You! You can run, but you can’t hide!”

barbara_billingsley_airplaneBarbara Billingsley – Jive Lady” – “Airplane!

Airplane! is surely a leading contender for funniest movie of all time. Scratch that – it is the funniest movie of all time – and don’t call me Shirley. This comic masterpiece from the brothers Zucker has more than its fair share of unexpected hilarity. But none come hurtling out of the wild blue yonder with the jaw-dropping audacity of Barbara Billingsley’s soft-spoken granny and her offer of assistance in the form of “Oh Stewardess, I speak jive.” Not only can she handily translate, but when her help isn’t appreciated she lays down a knockout mouthful of smack talk and saunters back to her seat with her cred well and truly intact.

Instant Quote: “Jive ass dude don’t go no brains, anyhow.”

john_turturro_big_lebowskiJohn Turturro – “Jesus Quintana” – The Big Lebowski

It might be the skin-tight purple slacks with the high riding waistline, or even the somewhat overly enthusiastic polishing of, well, his and partner Liam’s balls out on the lane. Perhaps it’s the gentle tonguing of the hard, round, dark pink bowling ball as he rolls it out for a strike. Whatever it is that has somehow forewarned you about John Turturro’s oddly excitable, trash talking Latino bowler, Jesus Quintana, it is a testament to the color that Turturro gives his cameo role that the incoming revelation of him being a sex offender with a record of exposing himself to 8-year-olds somehow just doesn’t come as even the smallest surprise. Bonus points are also accrued for needlessly referring to himself in the third person.

Instant Quote: “Nobody fucks with The Jesus!”

alec_baldwin_glengarry_glenAlec Baldwin – “Blake” – Glengarry Glen Ross

The cast list for this screen adaptation of David Mamet’s award winning play reads like a who’s who of the greatest actors of our time, with the likes of Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris amongst others. So to upstage them all and walk off with the entire movie in a little over seven minutes is the stuff of legend. But that’s exactly what happened when Alec Baldwin’s sharp suited narcissist famously commanded losers everywhere to “Put that coffee down!” Baldwin’s snarky tirade against what he saw as weakness and incompetence oozing from a group of underachieving real estate salesman jumped all over the insecurities of an entire generation of failed men staggering out of the rose tinted haze of Regan era economics.

Instant Quote: “Coffee is for closers only.”

hart_bochner_die_hardHart Bochner – “Harry Ellis” – Die Hard

As well as being the definitive 80’s action movie, Die Hard is also home to the quintessential 80’s yuppie – a crass, sycophantic, coke snorting symbol of American white-collar inadequacy amidst the subtle elegance of his global betters. Harry Ellis mistakenly assumes that a couple of episodes of 60 Minutes and a snout full of the expensive make him an expert on global terrorism and qualify him to negotiate with Alan Rickman’s sneering Eurocrat. Rickman’s look of sheer contemptible bewilderment as Ellis tries to relate to him is worth the price of a rental on its own, but that’s nothing compared to Ellis' own embarrassed, desperate smirk, as the gravity of his situation slowly dawns on him.

Instant Quote: “Hans, bubbee, I’m your white knight.”

Feb
22
2012
Neil Pedley • Associate Editor

Neil is a film school graduate from England now living in New York. In addition to JustPressPlay, Neil writes about for Uinterview.com as well as being a columist and weekly podcast host at IFC.com. His free time is spent acting out scenes from Predator in the woods behind his house, playing all the different parts himself.

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