Straight Time (1978) by Dusty Somers
Like any of the categories that force me to pick a favorite, with this one, I eventually just have to commit, even if I really don't want to. It pains me to neglect Humphrey Bogart, Toshiro Mifune, Jean-Paul Belmondo and countless others, but going with my namesake -- Dustin Hoffman -- just feels right. Ignore the past 20-some years, and you have one of the finest American actors of his generation. I could talk affectionately about The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Straw Dogs, Lenny and hell, even Tootsie.
But here, let's talk about Straight Time, which features one of Hoffman's least-known performances from the '70s and one of his finest ever. He stars as Max Dembo, a thief just released from prison trying to go straight and make his way in the world, but whether his attempt is in earnest or merely a cover-up, he can't catch a break.
Hoffman bears the weight of the film's tragic inevitability on his shoulders, sinking invisibly into the weariness of his character. None of the tics that define many of Hoffman's performances (even some of the great ones) are present here.
The film features a rock-solid supporting cast, with Theresa Russell as the woman who loves Max, M. Emmet Walsh as his petty and imperious parole officer and Harry Dean Stanton (himself a strong candidate for this category) as a fellow thief. Even Gary Busey has a nice supporting turn, from his pre-crazy days. But the film is totally in Hoffman's hands, and he is simply brilliant.
On The Waterfront (1954) by Amanda Salazar
I will always remember the impact that Marlon Brando had on me when I first saw this film; my heart fluttered when he first entered the shot and I remember thinking "this is what a movie star is like." A film with my favorite actor in it has to be On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando. This film is studied in film school because of its historical significance but also because of the famous scene of Brando picking up Eva Marie Saint's glove when they are walking through the park, as an example of method acting. Brando was a big guy, wearing his flannel jacket, white t-shirt and jeans and still had that youthful glow about him. His performance is demanding and poignant, struggling to be both the hero and villain in the film. It is definitely worth a watch if you have not been able to catch this one yet. Personally, what I will remember most about this film before studying it in film school is my first encounter with the presence and stature of a true movie star.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) by Shawn Bourdo
This 1940 film could work for either of my top two actors. It's hard for me to pick a current actor as a favorite. I like to be able to view the total work and see an actor develop over the decades. That's what both of the male stars of The Philadelphia Story did. Cary Grant plays the suave ex-husband. He's got some of the best lines in the film. But ultimately I fall back on my favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart. As the reporter, Mike, Stewart is the character Jimmy Stewart. He's the "aw shucks" guy and our voice of moral reason. The swimming scene with a drunk Hepburn is precious and innocent in only a way that George Cukor can direct. It's among my favorites for that reason. You have a director that is working with three huge stars and brings out the best in each of them. Great film with great actor.
Caddyshack (1980) by El Bicho
I have never understood why comedic actors don't get the same accolades as dramatic actors. What's the difference in elicting laughs and eliciting tears? Especially when the former may be even harder to accomplish, though the great ones make it look so easy.
Since first watching him on Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray has long been one of my favorite actors, able to make me consistently laugh over the years like very few others with his quick wit and excellent timing. His film career is filled with memorable performances, from his first starring role in the camp comedy Meatballs (1979) to his later work in dramatic roles in Rushmore (1998) and Lost in Translation (2003).
If I have to single one of them out, I am going with zany assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler in Caddyshack. Murray's work here is made all the more impressive by the fact that he improvised all his dialogue, which fans still regularly quote.