Looking for movies/TV with really great acting
November 21, 2010 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Looking for tv and movies which will blow my mind with the quality of the writing and acting.

I recently saw a TV episode which blew my mind with the quality of both the writing and the acting. I thought about the episode for several days afterward and re-watched parts of it on YouTube. It captured my imagination. I am looking for more experiences like this. Some examples of other television/movies which have done this for me in the past:

- The rape episode of Private Practice
- The 'Darmok' episode on Star Trek TNG
- Parts of the movie 'The Hours'
- Parts of the show Joan of Arcadia
- Parts of 'Slings and Arrows' with Paul Gross
- Felicity Huffman in Transamerica

As you can see, I have eclectic tastes :) I guess if I had to categorize the nature of the shows which appeal to me, I do like a bit of quirk sometimes (Dead Like Me, Buffy etc.) but also like a good, strong drama. I don't want scenery-chewing over-acting, but a good, strong story in the hands of a capable actor. And if there is a bit of an SF aspect of a little quirk in there, so much the better.

So, recommendations for acting that will blow my mind?
posted by JoannaC to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

The Sopranos
The Wire

Raging Bull
The Godfather
(among many, many, many others)
posted by dfriedman at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

There are episodes of Breaking Bad that haunted me for days.
posted by amro at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Vincent D'Onofrio in Law & Order: Criminal Intent (esp. Seasons 1-5).
posted by puritycontrol at 9:44 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Every week I am consistently floored by Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire; I have never seen a character with so much sheer, human conflict -- he's a young WWI vet with very clear PTSD -- acted so well in a long, long time. I don't think I've seen a character with so much inner strife so clearly conveyed since Tony Soprano on The Sopranos.

Cronenberg's A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, while not the greatest films, nor his best films, convey a sense of dread via acting like nothing I've ever seen before. Viggo Mortensen stars in both, and he plays his characters as if he's on the verge of calmly disemboweling everyone in sight.
posted by griphus at 9:47 AM on November 21, 2010

Mad Men!
posted by ad4pt at 9:57 AM on November 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

This episode of Firefly (and the rest of them too, but esp. that one)

The Wire is going to come up again and again as one of the most elegantly crafted, skillfully executed pieces of work to have ever hit television. That's because it is.

And man is Sherlock good fun.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Deadwood is another great series for this.
posted by availablelight at 10:08 AM on November 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

The first season of Fringe was ok. The second season started to really ramp up. The third season is off the hook. i09 has a pretty good list of which eps to watch to get caught up.

FWIW, I think Vince D'Onofrio eats scenery like beavers eat wood, but to each their own.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on November 21, 2010

Dexter can get a little... overextended sometimes, but it's well-written and the characters are all really strong and incredibly acted. And speaking of Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under was also beautifully done.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:19 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Search the archives. This question is asked pretty much weekly.
posted by mkultra at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2010

I loved the first two seasons of "Homicide: Life on the Streets." Yes, more love for David Simon and Charm City. Well written, well acted, gritty and compelling.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

And if there is a bit of an SF aspect of a little quirk in there

Recent movies:

District 9
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first season (and only the first season) of Veronica Mars is well-crafted, well-acted, quirky and dramatic.

Every once in a while M*A*S*H would take a step out of its comedic format and really punch you in the stomach. (The two hour finale is a good example, but there are others.)

Other individual episodes from t.v. shows which have stayed with me:
- The Women of Qumar from the West Wing
- Ariel from Firefly
- the 5-part miniseries "Children of Earth" from Torchwood (much of the rest of Torchwood is, IMHO, classic scenery-chewing, but this is something completely different)
posted by danceswithanonymity at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2010

Many, many episodes of "Criminal Minds," notably "Ride the Lightning" (stunning!) and "North Mammon." The "Reaper" arc is also very, very good.

Nthing "Mad Men"!
posted by jgirl at 10:42 AM on November 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing the Wire. TV doesn't get any better.
Seconding District 9.
And suggesting Children of Men.
posted by Paris Elk at 10:44 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Breaking Bad. Tremendously well-done.
posted by Twicketface at 10:44 AM on November 21, 2010

More votes here for Deadwood, Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad.
posted by Buffaload at 10:48 AM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you were born to love SIX FEET UNDER - especially the later seasons.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:49 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I re-watch "Noel" from season two of The West Wing every year. Really really amazing. Lots of other episodes from this series are great, as well - particularly in the first two or three seasons.
posted by kellygrape at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2010

I always say this for questions like yours, but the films Contact and Moon are both really excellent films in every regard, with stellar performances by their lead actors and really tight screenplays, and you can watch them streaming through NetFlix.

I recently watched The Social Network, and although I have some issues with its content, its execution was fantastic. Very tight script which was surprisingly restrained in many regards, highly effective casting that results in absorbing (in infuriating) characters. I don't care about Sorkin as a writer, generally, but he did good in this case.

If you're interested in animated narratives, Avatar: The Last Airbender (American) and Planetes (Japanese) are both incredibly strong, with absorbing character arcs and really great voice acting, and can be held up against the best of what live action has done on television.

I have the worst memory, and I'm sure I'll think of ten other films when I hit submit on this comment. :|
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:11 AM on November 21, 2010

Okay, I'm repeating what JGirl said, and I'm going to insist you watch the "Ride the Lightning" episode of Criminal Minds. If I remember correctly, much of the amazingness of the acting relies on episode-specific characters, so you won't have to get a back story on the main character to enjoy it. It hit me hard, and I was pretty much depressed the next day because of it. It was pretty amazing.
posted by shesaysgo at 11:11 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

(also, you mention a TNG episode -- how do you feel about Deep Space Nine? It can be uneven on an episode-to-episode basis, but has some great characters and some very bright spots. The dialog is often typically ST-clunky, but the story and performances often make up for it. For instance, Duet.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:35 AM on November 21, 2010

Band of Brothers, notably for Damian Lewis.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Lots of great suggestions above. If you're looking for a specific episode of Six Feet Under that will haunt you, I'd recommend this one from Season 4. (Warning: link goes right to the synopsis.) I was shaken for days -- not a pleasant experience, but maybe the one you're looking for?

I'd recommend watching the whole series, though.
posted by cider at 11:59 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

No matter how many times I watch it I'm still blown away by how clever the writing in 'Arrested Development' is.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Buffy: the Body (from season 5).
posted by Sebmojo at 12:20 PM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, and Edge of Darkness with Bob Peck. Not the crappy Mel Gibson remake, the original English miniseries. Incredible slice of clammy cold war nuclear paranoia.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:21 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

TV: Freaks and geeks
Movies: Korean thriller 'The Chaser', French thriller 'Tell No one'
posted by mushuu at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney are both amazing in You Can Count On Me.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Treatment
posted by SNACKeR at 1:12 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Dexter and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Specific Doctor Who episodes: "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" (2-parter), "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Blink," "Vincent and the Doctor." (There are lots of other really good episodes, but these have the virtue of being not just the cream of the crop but accessible to new viewers. The Doctor is an alien time traveller who likes to drag humans [usually attractive young women] around with him on zany adventures in his rickety timeship, that's all you need to know.) Series 5, the most recent season, is new-viewer-friendly and builds a fantastic, imaginative storyarc through 13 episodes, although I wouldn't call every single one mind-blowing.
posted by bettafish at 1:20 PM on November 21, 2010

I just watched the movie "Winter's Bone" and it left me with a unsettled feeling deep in my stomach. Even though the movie is only 2 hours long it pulses with something ancient, like you're witnessing a story that's been hundreds of years in the making. The acting is excellent across the board.
posted by talkingmuffin at 2:43 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sons of Anarchy for the acting of Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal, Charlie Hunnam and the writing of Kurt Sutter.
posted by cda at 2:54 PM on November 21, 2010

The Wire. Seriously, its the best TV ever made. I don't say that lightly.

The recommendation upthread for Edge of Darkness (original) is also excellent, I just re-watched it recently. Its pretty aged, but if you can ignore the 80sness of it, the writing and acting are superb.
posted by Joh at 3:09 PM on November 21, 2010

The Last King of Scotland really had me thinking about it for days afterwards.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:12 PM on November 21, 2010

Myself and a fellow film buff had a long conversation about films like this a few weeks ago. We were discussing the idea that "repeatability" may be a useful metric by which to measure the greatness of films. What I found most interesting about the conversation is that we ended up focusing on films that we disliked initially but compulsively viewed until we gained at least an appreciation for the artistry of the film or began to genuinely love the film. Those films were Raging Bull, Andrei Rublev, and The Searchers. Now, a John Wayne movie may seem out of place in a thread like this, but trust me, this is the only film that I've gotten out of bed to re-watch at 2 am. It's deceptive, enigmatic, and has a strange way of hiding behind what initially appear to be obvious flaws.
posted by TrialByMedia at 4:52 PM on November 21, 2010

ugh, screwed up link to The Searchers.
posted by TrialByMedia at 4:53 PM on November 21, 2010

That's how I reacted to Veronica Mars on what was originally UPN, of all places. It's certainly lighter fare than The Wire and many of the other suggestions. It garnered lots of Buffy comparisons (strong, fearless female protagonist) and Whedon himself was a fan. As noted above, the first season is far and away the best, but the second season is still pretty good. As with most high school narratives, don't bother with season 3 where they go off to college.

And yeah, if you haven't seen Firefly yet, go watch Firefly. Now.

In a completely different direction - if you're looking for some comedy, consider Community. The cast is amazing, the writing is the best I've seen on TV in years, and you'll probably like the way they mock serials and genres.
posted by maryr at 5:13 PM on November 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

If acting is of key importance to you, do not look to The Wire. There are a few very strong performances in there, but they stand out so much because they are surrounded by so much pedestrian acting.

Any criticism of The Wire (which is a really great TV show, with lots of uninspired acting) is pretty much heresy on MetaFilter, but this sure isn't just my opinion. What major acting awards, or even nominations, ever came out of The Wire? Nothing, that's what.

If you want great writing AND great acting, you want Deadwood. Deadwood got all those acting award kudos that The Wire rightfully missed out on, including nods from SAG, Golden Globes and the Emmys. I can still remember popping in the DVD of Deadwood season 2, thinking "Was Deadwood really as great as I remember?" after having seen only season 1. About 20 minutes in, I was completely blown away again.

The end of Deadwood is a letdown, but getting there is an absolutely unforgettable ride.
posted by NortonDC at 6:32 PM on November 21, 2010

The Wire, for certain. I'm a huge television buff, and anything else (even genius work like Deadwood) comes distant second.

The West Wing (first two seasons especially).

"The Subway, Parts 1&2" of Homicide: Life on the Streets. D'Onofrio, whom I often dislike intensely as an actor, turns in a bravura performance in an excruciatingly tense and agonizing episode.

Friday Night Lights. I never, every thought I would like this show. I avoided it. Then I was home for a few days, ill, and my roommate had it on DVD. I had nothing else to watch, really, and so many friends had recommended it that I figured I'd see what all the fuss was about. Within 15 minutes of the first episode, I was hooked (and crying). And let me give you a little background about why I avoided it: I am an East Coast, atheist, elitist snob, and Friday Night Lights is (ostensibly) about a small-town Texas, with a focus on high-school football. It couldn't sound less like something I wanted to watch. But it is not at all what I had expected, and I am now addicted to it. I am honestly devastated that this (fifth) season is the last. It is quite simply brilliant.
posted by tzikeh at 6:32 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Norton DC: What major acting awards, or even nominations, ever came out of The Wire? Nothing, that's what.

I must respond to this, because this has much more to do with the business than with the quality of the show. Nothing came out of Homicide, either, and it's entirely due to the lack of L.A. schmooze that must go on in order to garner nominations. Both Homicide and The Wire were filmed in Baltimore, and so none of the actors were in L.A. to press the flesh or socialize at all during filming. They *finally* gave a sop to Andre Braugher after six seasons. Friday Night Lights is the same way; astounding quality, but films in a small town in the south, and nobody gives a shit because there's no face-time with the Important People.

(I disagree with you about the quality of the acting on The Wire, but that's a different conversation.
posted by tzikeh at 6:37 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

tzikeh, both Friday Night Lights leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton have been nominated for acting Emmys, for their work on that show. Oh, and Zach Gilford picked up an Emmy nomination, too.

So maybe the lack of acting nods for The Wire had something to do with, you know, the acting.
posted by NortonDC at 7:34 PM on November 21, 2010

Solaris. Both films are great, but I really recommend the Soderbergh/Clooney one for this question. I never took George Clooney seriously as a real actor until Solaris, and the rest of the small cast is also uniformly awesome (with one minor exception in one short, awkward scene), especially Viola Davis. Many people hate it, and you will know inside 15 minutes if it's for you or not, but I love, love, love this movie. It's very slow, subtle and dreamlike.

The original Norwegian Insomnia. Stellan SkarsgÄrd is just brilliant in it, he is a master of nonverbal acting. He has become a sort of B-list "Hey, It's That Guy" in American movies now, and is rarely cast in ways that really let him do his thing, if you only know him from his small parts in things like Deep Blue Sea (which is its own kind of good fun), you haven't seen what he is really capable of. Be sure to watch it with subtitles (available on the Criterion edition).
posted by biscotti at 7:55 PM on November 21, 2010

The first season, and specifically the first episode, of Boomtown.
posted by jbickers at 8:28 AM on November 22, 2010

TV: I often find myself grinning watching Tim Roth on Lie to Me. The writing isnt stellar but that man acts everyone else off the screen with every inch of his body. I've gotten the same grin when watching Idris Elba (also in The Wire) in Luther recently too. A 6 part BBC police drama thats a bit daft but is made up for by the sheer presence of the main actor.

Seconding Fringe if you like your Sci Fi. Watching 'The Plateau' (episode 3, season 3) recently I was struck by how damn good the action sequences were, they really were movie quality.
posted by Ness at 8:53 AM on November 22, 2010

Werner Herzog's Stroszek. The writing didn't stand out for me, but the lead role is played by a clearly deeply damaged individual named Bruno S. who Herzog called the best actor he's ever worked with. It's certainly a haunting performance in many ways. I dare you to read the IMDb bio for Bruno S. and not be eager to see one of his performances.
posted by AugieAugustus at 9:37 AM on November 22, 2010

I'm a bit late to this, but I recommend The Good Wife, currently showing on CBS at 10pm on Tuesdays. I love watching all of the actors on the show, and it's really well written.
posted by redfishbluefish at 1:58 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jeremy Piven's portrayal of Ari on Entourage is some entertaining shit.
posted by jasondigitized at 3:22 PM on November 22, 2010

NortonDC: Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler finally garnered nominations after four seasons, just like Andre Braugher garnered a nomination after six seasons, because everyone knows the show is over after this season.

And Zach Gilford did *not* get a nomination--which only proves my point, as his performance in "The Son" was one of the greatest performances on any television show of the year.

I know I'm not going to convince you of the quality of acting on The Wire, but I will take comfort in the fact that every single television critic in the nation has ranked it in the top ten television shows of the decade--and has singled out many actors for their performances.
posted by tzikeh at 3:29 PM on November 22, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - please quit arguing about The Wire
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:30 AM on November 29, 2010

I see the usual suspects have been mentioned: Deadwood, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but few people know about Terriers, which was the best TV show this year (the last episode just aired.) The reason few people know about this and fewer people watched is 1) FX did very little to promote it, 2) It has a crappy title (the show has nothing to do with dogs), and 3) the lead, Donal Logue, is not leading man material.

The writing is very fresh, very subtle, and defies the viewer's expectations every time. Although the two leads are men, there are some very strong, interesting female characters. However, a word of warning: watch at least three episodes before making a decision because it builds slowly, and be prepared to have your heart broken because it is very likely that FX won't renew-- the viewing numbers were abysmal.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:13 AM on December 4, 2010

« Older You know all those recipes that use that gross...   |   Scary pixelated laptop display..what should I do... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.