Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Top 5 Movie Guide: William Hurt

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, and with this weekend's release of "The Host", we take a look at some of our favorite films from one of its stars, William Hurt. Hurt, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., was the Vice President of his high school Drama Club. But that wasn't his original career path. After high school he went on to attend Tuft University, where he studied Theology. But after a few years, he realized his passion for the theatrical arts was too strong, and he dropped out to attend The Juilliard School of Drama.


He began his professional career on stage, appearing in more than 50 productions - and earning a variety of award nominations, including a Tony Award for his work in "Hurlyburly", along the way. By the late-1970's he had transitioned into television, and by the early-1980's, into film. He was an instant success on screen, appearing in five Best Picture nominated films in the decade. He's been nominated for six total Golden Globe Awards (though never won), and four Oscars. His only win came in 1985 for "Kiss of the Spider Woman", a film in which he waived his entire salary so that production could be completed.

Not many films of note pop up on this actor's retrospective regret list, but a couple do stand out. In the early 1990's he turned down lead roles in both "Misery" and "Jurassic Park". While neither ended up being particularly esteemed roles, both pictures are still notable today, and we can only wonder what a couple of broader fan favorite appearances could have done to help propel Hurt's career in that decade.

Hurt has still appeared in a wide variety of critical and audience favorites alike, however, so hit the jump to see which titles made our lists!


Alex Schopp -
William Hurt, to me, seems like one of the most skilled supporting actors I've seen in film. In just about everything I've seen him in he's able to portray a variety of complex emotions in a single expression or vocal tone. If you have a movie where you want your audience to be unsure if a character is good or bad, get William Hurt to do it - you'll never know!

     1. The Big Chill (1983)

I'm really glad a list came along that allowed me to showcase this film. It doesn't really fit into any kind of genre, but this is one of my favorite constructions of a film. I absolutely love movies with complex, engaging characters where we're simply peering in on a snapshot of their world; where really nothing happens in the movie. Also the soundtrack is just perfect. By the way, if you're keeping track, here's another that's in my Top 10 of All-Time.
     2. Broadcast News (1987)
I'm on a big kick with a fascination in the news and its production recently. Not only did I watch "Network" for the first time ever within the last year, but the HBO series "The Newsroom" may be my favorite television show right now. There are good, solid characters in this film, and I love the two styles or personas that both of these main characters have. And while it might be considered a bit lengthy, my fascination of this subject, and the era in which it's portrayed, always keeps me interested.
     3. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Pretty complex movie, and William Hurt's character may be the best aspect about it (outside of the grandiose themes it proposes). And bonus points for the sci-fi element, of course. Hurt's character is secretive and always seems to have an ulterior motive, and my fascination with his objectives really helped to keep me interested throughout.
     4. Mr. Brooks (2007)
I'm going to admit that I haven't seen this film for a few years now, but I was really impressed with it when I did watch it. I thought Hurt easily stole the show here, and I loved that this was a very different role for Kevin Costner too. I wish that Dane Cook wasn't in the film, but at least his role isn't too detracting. Now that the TV show "Dexter" is so popular, this movie doesn't feel quite as creative, but I still like the concepts here. If I were ever to venture into killing people, I think I could be this good.
     5. A History of Violence (2005)
This drops so low because Hurt's character is so minimal. His performance is still really strong though, and overall this is a really powerful movie; it felt wrong leaving it off this list altogether. It was nice to see that director David Cronenberg, who is probably most known for his 80's productions, still had something left in the tank.

Ben Foutch -
In my opinion, Hurt is one of the most talented film actors of all time and it is a shame that his career fell under the radar compared to his booming success in the 80's. He excels at bringing human complexity and depth to all of his characters, making us sympathetic towards even some otherwise unlikable personalities. While most of his movies won't make many of my favorite lists (besides this one), I'd watch pretty much anything he is in just to see an expert at work.

     1. Altered States (1980)

Dated by this point, but the eccentric charm and philosophical core prove to stand the test of time. One of the main draws for me is the sensory deprivation experiments; where do I sign up?
     2. A History of Violence (2005)
His role is so small, but I honestly can't imagine another actor here. Sort of like Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris - their performances MAKE this movie.
     3. The Big Chill (1983)
I love movies like this and "Diner", where an ensemble feels so natural together that you forget these are not long time friends interacting within their social paradigm. It definitely speaks to a generation other than mine, but some of the themes are timelessly universal.
     4. Broadcast News (1987)
It's a romantic drama/comedy, but with a refreshingly realistic perspective on the different personalities running television news. The characters are complex, flawed, and their actions seem to stem from natural desires and ambitions rather than to guide the narrative along a formulaic structure hell bent on telling the same sappy story you'd expect from other "will they or won't they" flicks.
     5. The Accidental Tourist (1988)
We follow Hurt and absorb the somber tones accompanying his perspective, but the surrounding quirky characters add moments of genuine warmth and humor. His performance is so convincingly human, sometimes I'd forget the guy was acting.

Derek Clem -

     1. The Big Chill (1983)

An undeniable classic.
     2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Hurt's spooky desperation gives me chills.
     3. The Village (2004)
I actually ruined this movie for myself by simply not reading the tombstone in the beginning. Regardless, I love the overall vibe and mood Hurt's voice establishes for the film.
     4. Lost in Space (1998)
This was the movie that toppled "Titanic", taking it out of the #1 spot at the Box Office. I remember some kid on my school bus trying to tell people "the news is saying Lost In Space is better than Titanic". I had to school him real quick on what the news was actually telling him.
     5. Broadcast News (1987)
I would say the only flaw in this movie is its length. At times it feels like it drags, but the story revolving around the personal lives of those involved with broadcast news and the inner workings of their professions is strong enough to keep you engaged.

Nathan Hinds -
I've never seen him in a leading role, but he's always been a rock-solid actor in every supporting role I've seen him in. He's the type of actor who will only elevate a movie he's in.

     1. A History of Violence (2005)

This is one of my favorite movies to come out since the year 2000. It's one of those movies that while not for everyone, it's basically a perfect film within the confines of it's genre. The scene between Viggo Mortenson and Hurt at the end of the film is a perfect conclusion to a story that you're never sure where it will end until the credits role.
     2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
I've only seen this film once, but it has found it's way onto quite a few lists that I've made. So if you read our posts regularly, you've heard me talk about this film enough. If you still haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?
     3. Mr. Brooks (2007)
I do think this is an entertaining thriller. I love Kevin Costner, and I think Dane Cook did a fine job. What has me put this movie in the #3 spot though is just how good William Hurt is in this movie playing a figment of Kevin Costner's imagination. He easily gave the best performance of this film, and I would argue that he could have earned an Oscar nomination for this role. It's that good.
     4. Into the Wild (2007)
I'm a huge outdoor person and I love the idea of taking a trip with no idea about where you're going - in fact, I plan on doing something similar someday. I won't be as dumb about it as Emile Hirsch's character is, but it's still a great story.
     5. Dark City (1998)
This is a very strange but fascinating film. I feel like the similarity and success of "The Matrix" has sadly made this a very overlooked sci-fi film.

Tracy Allison -

     1. The Big Chill (1983)

My mom introduced me to this movie and now it’s one of those that I’ll watch anytime it’s on, no matter what. It has a classic Motown soundtrack, an interesting array of characters/actors, and it’s not necessarily your typical “friends getting back together after all these years” type flick. William Hurt reminds me of an Ernest Hemingway sort, he’s deep and funny in a morbid and serious way, a Vietnam vet with some drug dependencies. This movie has the hottest cast of sort of un-hot 1980's guys that I've ever seen!
     2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
This, at times, disjointed movie, is home to a lot of interesting actors. William Hurt’s character is the creator of that oft filmed concept of humanoid cyborgs. It’s hard to describe why he creates this robot that looks exactly like a young human boy (without giving important parts of the movie away), but I will say that I enjoyed attempting to figure out if Hurt was a bad guy or a good guy the entire time.
     3. A History of Violence (2005)
David Cronenberg is pretty hit or miss with me. But, this is one of his that I like. I like the slow and odd way that this movie progresses into something wholly different than the original scene the viewer is presented with. William Hurt has an extremely small part in this movie, but its importance to the plot allowed me to put it on this list. Plus, his appearance really packs a punch. The ending of this movie is pretty perfect.
     4. Into the Wild (2007)
Well, this is a sad story. But, it’s an interesting movie. Sometimes I almost feel like I identify with it, but certain parts are insane to me. Like Unabomber insane. At any rate, people can understand wanting to be free from some of the modern world that bogs us down. Emile Hirsch stars, but the varying faces in this supporting cast give the plot featuring this unattached boy some more feeling and depth.
     5. Tuck Everlasting (2002)
This isn't one of my favorite movies by any means, but it has a really nice feel and look to it that reminds me of a family vacation to Pennsylvania. I remember describing the trip to fellow Slacker, Alex and we had resolved to watch the movie again when I got back. It never happened though. Next spring maybe?

Well there we have it, folks. Another week with a strong overall array of titles. This week though, there was definitely more of a focus on some of the top titles than we've seen recently. Overall, twelve different films found there way through above, with six in multiple variety. And while no film appeared on all five lists this week, three tied with four selections: "The Big Chill", "A History of Violence", and "A.I. Artificial Intelligence". "The Big Chill" gets top booking of the three this week, as it also earned three first-place votes. A timely character study featuring an all-star cast and a stellar soundtrack, this 1983 flick, which was nominated for Best Picture, is definitely worth a watch. If this was before your time, go back and check it out. "A History of Violence" and "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" deserve some credit too though, both wonderful films with plenty of depth from two amazing directors.

The only film to appear on three lists was "Broadcast News", another great character piece that was nominated for Best Picture. This one pegs William Hurt against Albert Brooks as feuding news anchors with very different styles. The film does a great job of portraying the philosophical differences of the era, entertainment vs. information. Otherwise, "Mr. Brooks" and "Into the Wild" were the only other two films with multiple selections above, each earning two.

As always, we hope that each of these selections helps you to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that William Hurt has provided over the years, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!