Brilliant Brittani of Rambling Film had this fabulous idea for a post and then Ruth of flixchatter followed up with her own awesome list. I love that they wrote posts on that - for me the most amazing thing an actor can do is make us see real emotions - disappear into character's state of mind, state of heart, state of soul. While it would probably be impossible for an actor to show this kind of authenticity through entire performance, the best of them can do that in brief moments, just in one look.
"Just one look" may not seem much but these moments are absolute masterpieces and for me they prove to be the most unforgettable thing. Whenever I think of a specific movie or a performance and such moment was there, my mind immediately goes to the image of the actor in this specific few seconds being able to convey what the character is feeling so profoundly.
There are actually quite many moments like these out there, so this list is the combination of the things I've seen recently that featured a moment like that and my all time favorite moments. Numbers 1-3 are all time hall of fame stuff, though. I don't think I'll ever see joy, anger and love expressed more brilliantly.
10. Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
This moment comes from the scene of the infamous fight sequence that throws the movie into the pits of tragedy and pitch black depression. Scrap is watching the fight on TV and his look of total astonishment at how ruthless of a fighter Maggie's opponent is should be enough of a warning sign 'abandon all hope' for the audience.
9. Alan Rickman, Sense and Sensibility
This is the look that you simply remember if you saw the movie. I have yet to see someone who captured the look of being absolutely floored and falling head over heels in love better than Alan Rickman did here when Brandon sees Marianne for the first time.
8. Michael Fassbender, Shame
The heartbreaking look on Brandon's face when he hears his sister sing New York, New York gives, quite possibly, the biggest insight into his character - here he is, sitting peacefully, forced to listen to this song, unable to escape his mind and fall into the arms of his addiction. And he is there in all of his sadness, utterly alone.
7+6. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, Begin Again
The way Ruffalo and Knightley look at each other in this movie is filled with pure, electric chemistry. But there are two specific looks they give each other in the film's most lovely moment. These looks are such love, such joyful, happy, free, hopeful, untainted love. It's happiness, hope and the sense of connection all in one. And it's all in one look!
5. George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Clooney is a master of looks in this movie. He is my win over Day Lewis in There will be Blood and it wasn't even close. He looks horribly frustrated, driven but burned out, tired but unable to give up through most of the movie but he also looks serene in the lovely scene with the horses and there is of course the famous ending credits sequence. But my favorite look is from my favorite scene - right after he explodes and yells at Karen with eyes expressing the purest fury, she falls into his trap and the look of total and complete 'I own you' shows on Michael's face. It's so amazingly satisfying after seeing this man struggle throughout the whole film.
4. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
There is a number of fantastic 'one look' moments Ros has in Gone Girl - seeing Nick with Andy, looking at him while drinking her coffee and thinking 'Happy anniversary' and finally the look she throws Rhonda in hospital letting her know she is indeed guilty as sin but Rhonda can't do anything about it. But it's the mixture of contempt, disgust and fury she gives all the cool girls that is the most accurate and spot-on depiction of Amy's emotions in the film.
3. Michelle Fairley, Game of Thrones
Fairley is my Queen. No one on Thrones comes close to her - though everyone had at least one of those great 'it's in one look' moments, Fairley had about dozens of those per season. I could rip my own heart out and go with Red Wedding sequence but there is a moment that is even more poignant and honest - it's from ninth episode of season 1 when Catelyn is waiting on the brink of the forest to find out the outcome of the battle between her son Robb's forces and the Lannisters. Ser Rodrik is urging her to go to safety but Catelyn refuses. Suddenly the knights are seen emerging from the forest and Catelyn looks startled and hopeful. And then we see her reflection soften, tears appearing in her eyes. And we see Robb riding forward, unharmed. Catelyn starts crying and laughing, so happy and relieved.
2. Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive
Naomi Watts's performance in Mulholland Drive is my all time favorite work from any performer. She is just brilliant in the movie and there is no moment as impressive as the sequence during dinner party where Diane first sees her beloved ex-girlfriend kiss another women and then hears her boyfriend announce engagement to her. No one else captured the heartbreaking pain, all consuming jealousy and pure rage as well as Watts did here.
1.Stephen Dillane, The Hours
This is the one moment when I realized just how much I adore scenes like that. Everyone is really good in The Hours but the actors I appreciated the most were always those who create the movie's most affecting, powerful work regardless of how much screen time they have. And Stephen Dillane gives far and away the best performance in stellar ensemble.
The train station scene is often highlighted as Kidman's best moment in the film, hell, it was even her Oscar clip, but for me she is merely reacting to Dillane being able to show, in mere seconds, the depths of love Leonard Woolf had for his wife.
She tells him she is suffocating in the country, in the small town they moved to so that she could have peace and quiet. She tells him that she wants to move to London or else she chooses death. We see Leonard realize she is being serious - she is unhappy, trapped. We see that he knows if he agrees the women he loves will inevitably succumb to her illness, which was far worse in London. The illness that drove to trying to kill herself. But she wants to go. She wants to have a choice. And even though he knows it means death for the woman he loves, he agrees. He cries and then looks up following this moment with a simple question that says so much - Leonard at all times cares for Virginia, for her well being, more than he cares about what he wants and needs.
That is pure love.