Small scenes an actor absolutely nails

So I happened to see an Angel episoe recently that began with Angel away from the hotel on a grief vacation and Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn discussing his absence. Cordelia was affecting to care more about the hotel’s rat problem (and her colleagues doing nothing about same) until she opened a door and saw Angel. She immediately screams, drops everything she’s holding, and hugs him, then drags him into the main room. Her voice cracking, she says, “He’s back, guys, he’s back.”

Now Charisma Carpenter, comely though she is, is no great actress. Nevertheless, she absolutely nailed that scene.

Which brings us to the thread topic: what small moments on screen stand out in your mind as being perfectly done by the performers?

Just about anything by Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck in Freaks and Geeks. The absolute standout: Bill crying in the gym teacher’s car at the go-kart track. Just watching his face melt as Mr. Fredericks talked to him melted my heart for poor Bill. He was having such a hard time and didn’t know what to do or feel. And it just spilled over.

Haven’t we all been there?

It’s a crying shame (you should excuse the pun) that this show lasted only one season.

Martin Starr could turn around and be hysterically funny too. He was so great on that show, standing out in a uniformly awesome cast.

There’s a scene in Forrest Gump that is so well done, I always stick around to catch it if I’m flipping through the channels and I see Gump is on.

It’s when Forrest goes to meet Jenny, and she introduces him to his son for the first time.

Forrest: “He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Is he…” (meaning to ask “is he smart?”)

Jenny: “He’s the smartest one in his grade”

Forrest then nods his head, stands up a little straighter and looks at Jenny. That 4-5 seconds of relief, pride, and dignity restored all rolled into one is one of Tom Hanks’ finer moments, IMHO.

I won’t spoil the moment with details, but there’s a scene in There Will Be Blood when Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) realizes someone has lied to him about a very important matter. The moment is totally silent as you watch his face change from having a good, carefree time, to realizing what just happened, to a mixture of grief, horror and anger, and even a bit of madness, foreshadowing how this event will affect him in the future, all in the space of something like 20 seconds (I haven’t timed it), and yet the reaction is so subtle that the other person doesn’t even notice anything’s wrong and that his lie has been found out. It’s an extraordinarily powerful scene in a film filled with extremely powerful scenes. They should use this scene as an Oscar clip. It’s moments like this that points to why Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Best Actor Oscar this year.

There’s a small moment in Love Actually , where Emma Thompson realizes her husband may be having an affair. She walks into her room, plays Joanie Mitchell, and proceeds to fall apart. When her family calls her…she pulls herself together and walks out of the room. In the span of maybe 30-40 seconds she conveys such profound sadness, that I was crushed. An Oscar worthy half a minute in an otherwise forgettable movie.

There’s a reason why I use the sig line I use. Nigel Green nails his line as Colour Sergeant Bourne in “Zulu”. You can hear the fear, courage and frustration all masked by Bourne’s years of hard training and devoted service. In that one line, he reveals how much he loves and respects his soldiers.

When Glenn Close really loses it in Fatal Attraction: She has Madam Butterfly on her HiFi, and she sits on the floor flicking the light on and off.

The Scene in The Piano when Aida and her daughter are finally re-united with the piano on the beach, and Aida plays The Heart Asks Pleasure First. Both actresses capture the feeling exactly-- they are finally back in their own world, with the piano, playing music.

In the first season of Rome, when Pulo is sentenced to fight to the death, Vorenus agonizes on the sidelines, and then finally decides to jump in and help his friend. You can see the point where he realizes his duty to his friend is more important than his duty to Caesar.

There’s a lot of great, subtle acting on The Wire. One of the show’s unsung heroes IMHO is Leo Fitzpatrick who plays Johnny, a young drug addict.

Johnny has been “mentored” by the streetwise Bubbles, also an addict. Bubbles is also a confidential informant (a “snitch”). Johnny doesn’t understand why Bubbles would do this, and in season three, the two friends drift apart.

There’s a scene where Johnny is up in a crackhouse, getting high. He hears Bubbles’ voice outside. He gets up, pulls back a curtain and looks out. He starts to smile and opens his mouth to maybe call out to Bubbles, but then he sees that Bubbles is with someone else, another young kid.

Johnny blinks, gives a small jerk of his head and sits back down. That’s all it took to convey Johnny’s feelings about the loss of that friendship.

A lesser actor in a lesser show might have scowled, or hung his head dejectedly. That would have been too much.

At the end of Michael Clayton when he confronts Tilda Swinton. Her facial expressions are amazing. I was thinking it’s usually Meryl Streep who plays those sort of roles and how much better Tilda Swinton was at conveying the gradual loss of composure.

I thought of a scene in the same episode, but earlier, when Pullo, locked in the dungeon awaiting his death, grabs a bug and offers it to his gods in sacrifice, wishing for good fortune for his friend and the girl he loves, but nothing for himself. The actor, Ray Stevenson, pulls the scene off flawlessly; Pullo is a violent, drunken lout, but his selfless final wish is perfectly sincere and believable, and flawlessly reveals a depth of humanity in the character you hadn’t seen before.

There’s a scene near the end of About a Boy where Toni Collette realises Hugh Grant has invited his flakey co-worker to her place for Christmas dinner: to cheer her up, to introduce her to a fellow soul, to provide a male presence (other than himself, as that’s unsustainable and he doesn’t consider himself a good influence anyway) in her son’s life, and so on. All this is contained in perhaps two seconds of masterful acting as she’s preparing some food or something, and she doesn’t even look up.

Thank you, Sunrazor. That quote has been running through my head for weeks, and I couldn’t identify where it was from. IMDb clips it off after “lad” so I couldn’t find it when I searched.

For me, it’s Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show She, as Ruth Popper, and Jeff Bridges as Duane Jackson have been (ahem) seeing each other for some weeks. Then he throws her over for Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) and there about ten seconds of her sitting in her kitchen, realizing he isn’t going to show up that afternoon or ever again. There’s no dialogue, or much movement, even, but she nails the poignant loneliness of her character perfectly.

Heh. Came in to add one from Rome myself. When Pullo walks in on Vorenus’ wife and brother-in-law / lover. The look on Ray Stevenson’s face as he registers what he sees, then puts on an “I’m just a dumb soldier” grin and convinces them that they’ve fooled him.

I re-watched Confessions of a Dangerous Mind last night. There’s a scene in which some contestants-to-be on The Dating Game are warned by an FCC censor that no “lascivious” speech will be permitted to air; he lets them have it with both barrels. The actor playing the censor, whom I didn’t recognize, did an amazing job with maybe a minute or two of screen-time. It wasn’t a complex part, but he did a truly memorable job with it.

We recently saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead with Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman. There’s a scene where Hoffman flips out in his car, upset about years of a shitty rapport with his father. He totally loses it… then suddenly gets ice colde “in contrl” with this bter expression on his face, then continues to drive.

There was something really genuine about that little moment where he bitterly regained his composure, and with tight lips, drove off again.

“Jack, I swear…” - too obvious? :smiley:

I’d have to go re-watch it to list them all, but there are any number of scenes in “The Body” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that were absolutely nailed by the actors in them.

Beatrice Straight in Network. She won an Oscar for her role, and she was only on screen for maybe five minutes total.

We Were Soldiers, the scene when the telegram-bearing taxi driver shows up at Mrs. Moore’s house to ask for directions and she bites his head off. The taxi driver’s response makes me cry like a blubbery fool every time.

"I-I don’t like this job, Ma’am. I’m just trying to do it. "

Because this dorm room is so dusty, of course.

This scene from Rushmore is one of my favorite scenes of all time. Bill Murray is competing with Jason Schwartzman for the heart of middle school teacher Olivia Williams. The first 30 seconds of this scene when Bill goes from confusion over the bees in his room, to discovering the source (Schwartzman letting the bees in through the tube in the door), followed by his admiring grin at his foe’s plan then his admiration turning to anger is makes me smile every time. It ranks up there with the jump cut in 2001 when the thrown femur bone “turns into” an orbiting space station. I’m looking forward to watching Daniel Day Lewis’ scene described by Equipiose.