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Nordling's Weekly Top 5! The 5 Best Acted Moments In A Spielberg Film!

Nordling here.

Trying something new today.  People like lists, and they tend to raise discussion, so I thought I'd start a column, inspired by HIGH FIDELITY's Top 5 Lists, about movies and moviemaking. I want to try to make this a weekly thing, every Sunday if possible - it's normally a slow news day and what better to do on a Sunday than to debate movies?  Nothing, that's what.  So here it is, Nordling's Weekly Top 5!

And what better to start than Steven Spielberg's movies?  I've been paying close attention to LINCOLN since the beginning, and it's almost here.  The poster's out, John Williams has released his track list, and it's only a couple of months away.  I'm really keen on seeing Daniel Day-Lewis, one of our finest actors, in a Spielberg movie.  It's not that Spielberg hasn't had great actors in his movies, but they really haven't been on the level of Day-Lewis, who could possibly win an unprecedented third Oscar for his performance.  That's putting the cart before the horse, but I don't think anyone doubts that DDL won't give it his all, and that his winning is a distinct possibility.

So this got me to thinking about Spielberg's movies, which my mind tends to do on an hourly basis, and onto something that really isn't discussed much when we talk about his work - the acting.  Most of the talk about Spielberg's movies is about the splendor, the scale, or the sheer filmmaking brilliance on display, but I think people tend to forget that Spielberg has a real affinity with his actors as well.  Performances like the kids in E.T. aren't made by a simple point-and-shoot style of filmmaking.  They require a director who has real empathy, and I think Spielberg has that skill in spades.  It's just not talked about much, in favor of Spielberg's overall vision.  But selling the fanciful, amazing worlds that he's created requires skilled actors and actresses who can make us believe it.

So, without further ado, here's my personal top five acting moments in The Beard's films.  Thanks to for the clips:

5.  E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL - "You must be dead... because I don't know how to feel."

The first couple of seconds of this scene, and I'm crying already.  Rarely has a child's performance reached the level of Henry Thomas in E.T., and it's mostly due to the wonderful rapport that Spielberg had with the children, so by the time E.T. does die, it's a real loss.  Those tears by Drew Barrymore when E.T. gets fibrillated aren't acting - that's real shock and horror at what's being done to him.  But Henry Thomas, talking to a dead E.T. and declaring his love and faith is still one of the finest heartfelt acting moments from a child ever made.  Even the magic and happiness after doesn't diffuse Elliott's sorrow and pain, and I never fail to cry at this scene.  The day I do, I may as well just give it up.

4.  SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - "I'm a schoolteacher"

I love how Tom Hanks isn't over-the-top here, showcasing an "ACTING!" moment.  But Hanks is one of our best actors and he knows how to sell his dialogue.  His Captain Miller is weary of war, or being away from home, and Hanks plays it with a quiet, subdued tone that makes the scene so believable and honest, without cliche and in the end, incredibly moving.  In a movie full of great acting moments (and an amazing supporting cast) this one stands out to me as a moment of clarity in a storm of chaos and war.

3.  The COLOR PURPLE: Celie Stands Up

I wish I had the clip to the entire dinner scene, as this just shows the tail-end of it, but watching Whoopi Goldberg's Celie wake up from years of abuse and torment is like watching someone rouse a sleeping dragon.  Her anger, passion, and dignity rise up in one powerful moment, and she finds strength in the people who love her to even attempt to stand up against Mister.  THE COLOR PURPLE, I think, gets accused a bit too much of sentimentality and emotionalism, and its detractors forget that film is supposed to manipulate and make us feel.  Spielberg plays our emotions like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, and we are in the hands of, yes, a master manipulator and yet at the end, we share in Celie's triumphant moment.

2. SCHINDLER'S LIST: "I could have saved one more person..."

It's always bugged me to no end when critics point at this scene in particular as to why SCHINDLER'S LIST isn't as great as people have been saying it is.  I think those critics fail to understand a basic point - that Spielberg, for one, isn't playing to them, but to the masses who read about the Holocaust in their history books and never really assigned much emotion to those facts and numbers.  Spielberg, and the performances of Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley, do something amazing here - they make us feel it.  They make us feel the loss, the grief, and the horror of the Holocaust, even if it's only a mere fraction.  Spielberg isn't interested in a simple historical picture.  We cannot forget the horrors of the time, and as the years pass we lose more of the survivors of the Holocaust to old age.  But those emotions still endure, and it's the only way to draw people into a horrific time.  Steven Spielberg, for a brief moment, makes us stick our toes in the water, and those pieces of history become personal and more than just "things that happened."  It's stunning.

1.  The Indianapolis Speech in JAWS

Everyone knows by now the story of Quint's speech - all the writers involved, Robert Shaw's amazing performance, and just look at Richard Dreyfuss watching Shaw in literal awe of what he's doing here.  It's a brief glimpse into a broken man, still running in fear all those years later, and out to get his revenge.  But Shaw doesn't play it like an Ahab moment - like Hanks in RYAN it's also quiet and subdued, like he's been living with these ghosts for so long that they're almost comforting to him.  He's found his reason to keep living, and he's fine with that.  He's still fighting the war in some small way, and even in his vengeance he's found dignity and a sense of purpose.  It's an amazing scene, and I think that without it JAWS would be a lesser work.  It gives the movie the heart and spirit and propels an already good movie into greatness.

So what are your favorite Spielberg acting moments?  I'm certain I missed some and you may disagree with my choices.  Christian Bale's "Cadillac of the skies!" moment in EMPIRE OF THE SUN probably comes a close 6th.  Talk about it below!

Next week - I'm going full Coen.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

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