|Matt Damon is like the sun. If you gaze at him too long it's not good for your eyes no matter how beautiful he is.|
Not necessarily. Films with small casts can be undeniably effective when done well (such as Twelve Angry Men, which uses its small scale to wring intense emotional poignancy). And while it is rare, it is not unheard of for a film to focus exclusively on a single performer. And so I thought I would consider these brave films which have attempted this feat and compile my list for the top ten films with one actor. Or, to be fair, MOSTLY one actor. Most of these films do have other actors show up at least briefly or find some other way to skirt the limitation of one character. So, here we go, these are my picks for the top ten films with (mostly) one performer!
Honorable Mention) Life of Pi
|I know the CGI is incredible, but I still think it would have been better if they had gotten Andy Serkis to play the tiger.|
10) All is Lost
I wasn't a huge fan of this recent film, where an unnamed man (Robert Redford) is stranded at sea. I think it took a big risk and ran with it--not only is Redford the only actor, but his performance is almost wordless. In most of these films, there is some trick that explains why the narrator would speak to us. In The Martian, Watney keeps a video log explaining his actions and emotions. In Life of Pi, Pi communicates with the tiger. But in All is Lost, they bravely attempted to forego any such conceit and stick to the basics. If this man does not have anyone around him, then he's not going to talk to anyone. They let the stakes of the situation and Redford's reactions to those stakes do the talking. For me, the risk doesn't really work. Redford's performance is very committed and impressive, but while I empathized with his situation, I never felt all that invested in him as a character. But this film swings for the fences and is a commendable experiment despite its overall failings.
|Wishing he still had that Green Lantern ring right about now.|
7) Swimming to Cambodia/Gray's Anatomy
|Lies! He isn't swimming at all, let alone to Cambodia.|
|I love Wall-E. The whole film could have been him trying to solve that Rubik's Cube and I'd still watch it.|
5) The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe
|Hopefully you already know and love Lily Tomlin. If you don't, then know that she voiced Miss Frizzle and NOW you know and love her like all the rest of us.|
4) 127 Hours
3) Secret Honor
This is, for me, the definitive version of a film with only one character. Directed by the great Robert Altman, known for his work with ensemble casts, here he focuses on one actor. That actor is Philip Baker Hall--a reliable character actor who is rarely given a chance to carry a film. And that's a shame, because this is the definition of a performance carrying a film. His talent is put front and center, and Hall rises to the challenge. Much like with the work of Spalding Gray and Lily Tomlin, this is a monologue, but it's a far more traditional performance than in either of those films. Playing a fictionalized version of Richard Nixon, Hall reflects on his actions and speculates as to his thought process on his controversial actions throughout his life. Hall's work is blatantly honest, and while the film is inconsistent, his performance stays with you far after the film is done. This is probably the most ambitious film on this list, and in less capable hands than Hall's and Altman's, it would not succeed as well as it does.
2) Cast Away
Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away, about FedEx employee Chuck Noland (a wonderful Tom Hanks) who gets stranded on an island takes the #2 spot not just because of its quality, but because of its iconic status. Whenever there is a film about anyone stranded anywhere, it is compared to Cast Away. The Martian? It's Cast Away in space. Life of Pi? It's Cast Away with a tiger. Secret Honor? It's Cast Away but as an introspective drama about Richard Nixon contemplating suicide.
|With a bloody volleyball as Spiro Agnew!|
|I will never recover.|
This movie is incredible, and not unknown to any regular readers of this blog. I mentioned it on my list of favorite films of all time, and I mentioned it in my review of Interstellar as an example of an actual good science fiction movie. So if you haven't seen it, please watch it now! Especially because I'm about to talk about it and give away some major plot points. So, don't get spoiled, just watch Moon and you won't be disappointed. Especially because of the incredible performance from the always underrated Sam Rockwell.
Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut who is on the final days of a mission on the moon. All he has for companionship are occasional video messages from Earth and a robot named GERTY (a hugely underrated movie robot). And, then...himself. Sam is shocked to find another version of himself on the moon. And then another one. And then another one. Moon solves the storytelling problem of having just one character by having that character show up multiple times. And Rockwell is instrumental in making each of these characters believable as iterations of the same person, but also distinct enough so as to be their own character. With all of the other films on this list, you never forget that you're just watching one person. Even with films like Cast Away or 127 Hours where the sense of a wider world is created, part of the film's power is its isolation. But Moon is the only film I've mentioned here that doesn't feel like a one-actor movie. You seriously forget just how small the cast is thanks to the richness of the story, the filmmaking, the writing, and Rockwell's performance. It's the only one-actor movie I can think of where you truly forget about the gimmick.
|GERTY the robot just watched Cast Away and will also never recover.|
So, those are my choices. Are there any one-actor movies that I missed? As I did research online, I found out about a film called Locke starring Tom Hardy where it's apparently just him, and also found out about a one-actor Japanese film called Symbol that's supposed to be excellent. So I'll have to check those out and see if they would have cracked this list had I seen them before. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments and feel free to send me recommendations for future Top Ten Tuesdays and/or other things to write about in the future.