It’s our third user-submitted Top 10 here at Scene-Stealers, and it comes from sitegoer Randall Schrope, who lives in Washington Township, New Jersey. Randall’s got a thing for actors gone crazy, and below is his excellent list, accompanied by clips from each movie. If you have a list you’d like to submit, simply email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, check out Randall’s list and tell him what you think in the comments below! Heeeeere’s Randall!:
In a classic Halloween episode of “The Simpsons,” a parody of “The Shining” has Homer, the patriarch of the Simpson clan, transform from loving father and husband to a stark raving madman due to the absence of beer and T.V. Perhaps it is a representation of people’s desire to completely abandon laws and morals without repercussions. Maybe it is the vicarious thrill that is charged through us when we see this demise on played out on the big screen. For either reason, witnessing a character descend from a sane member of decent society to a sociopathic lunatic has provided some of the most memorable performances in movie history.
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10. Robin Williams as Rainbow Randolph in “Death to Smoochy” (2002)
In the wake of a payola scandal, famed kid show host Rainbow Randolph (Williams) is fired, and ultimately replaced by the incorruptibly earnest Rhino, “Smoochy” (Edward Norton). Ostracized by his friends and former celebrity circles, indigent Randolph schemes to vilify his incredibly popular replacement. As Smoochy’s fame soars and Randolph plunges into desperate lunacy, his attempts to dethrone his nemesis become increasingly devious, eventually leading to attempted murder and public suicide. While I normally find Williams’ incessant rapid-fire jokes superflous and annoying, they work well in this movie because he just rambles on insanely, helping to paint the picture of a man gone mad.
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9. Bill Pullman as Dr. Rex Martin in “Brain Dead” (1990)
This is not to be confused with Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” (or “Dead Alive,” as its known in America), which appeared two weeks ago on Aaron Hale’s Top 10 Zombie Movies list. Original “Twilight Zone” scribe Charles Beaumont doesn’t disappoint with this chaotic mind-bender that appeared two years before Jackson’s gorefest. Brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Rex Martin (Pullman) is on the verge of finding a cure for mental illness, when he is recruited by his scheming crony, Jim Reston (Bill Paxton) from the enigmatic Eunice Corporation. Eunice needs Martin’s help in retrieving crucial data from Jack Halsey (Bud Cort), one of their former employees and star mathematician, who has become institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia. The procedure sets off a series of mistaken identities, bizarre encounters, and paranoid delusions that transform Martin from master of the mind to a prisoner of his own. Repeated viewings have not yielded an explanation of the plot for me, but it is one of those films that a new theory can be formed each time you watch it. It is also always fun to watch Paxton play the smarmy egocentric character he does so well, and seeing Cort as an institulaized mental patient always makes me think that this was the fate of Harold from “Harold and Maude.”
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8. Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in “Misery” (1990)
One of the better films adapted from a Stephen King novel, “Misery” depicts just how far obsession can go. Famous novelist of the Misery Chastain series, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), is secretly rescued from a car crash by an eccentric nurse, Annie Wilkes (Bates), who, as fate would have it, is his “number one fan”. While she helps him recuperate, she discovers that in his latest book, her favorite character Misery is killed – thereby ending her favorite series and erasing the last shred of her sanity. Imprisoned at her remote house in the mountains, Paul is drugged, tortured, and at the mercy of his disgruntled fan. People watching the movie always cringe during the violent scenes like the hobbling, and stabbing the sheriff, but for me the most frightening moments are all Kathy Bates highs. Hearing the nervous tremble in her voice while she fawned over Paul – the calm before the storm - is terrifying.
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7. Russell Crowe as John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001)
Thanks to brilliant directing by Ron Howard and a clever script by Akiva Goldsman, you don’t realize until the second act that the clandestine spy game renowned mathematician John Nash is involved in is (SPOILER ALERT!) only in his mind. Crowe gives a deft, Oscar-nominated performance in the true story of a schizophrenic mathematician whose psyche creates a complex world in which he is surreptitiously decodes enemy transmissions for the C.I.A. As the assignments he is given from imaginary agents grow more dangerous, John’s actual and fictional life spiral simultaneously out of control. Aided by his devoted wife, and now antiquated methods of psychopharmacology, he manages to outwit himself and gain control over the voices in his beautiful mind. In my opinion, 2002 was the biggest upset in Oscar history when Denzel Washington was awarded Best Actor for “Training Day” over Russell Crowe. Denzel is a fine actor, but his collective performaces all pale in comparisn to Crowe’s work in this film.
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6. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” (2000)
Before Bale was Batman, he was Bateman; a materialistic Wall Street stockbroker in the late 80s whose vanity is exceeded only by his madness. By day, he competes with his colleagues for prime real estate, corner offices, and expensive suits, but at night he rebels against conformity with brutal acts of senseless violence that have their own soundtrack. Preceeding his recent accusation of maternal abuse in England, Bateman had additional oedipal trouble with “American Psycho.” His stepmother, feminist activist Gloria Steinem, was one of the many who opposed the release of Bret Easton Ellis’ book, on which the movie is based.
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5. Bruce Willis as James Cole in “12 Monkeys” (1995)
“The mind can only take so much.” James Cole is one of the few survivors of a deadly virus that wipes out 99 percent of the Earth’s population, forcing the remaining 1 percent to live underground. Because of Cole’s “strong mind,” he is “volunteered” to travel back in time to help discover the parties responsible for releasing the virus and resurface the human race. During his mission he is captured and thrown in an asylum where he starts to believe that his reason for being there, and the people who sent him, are merely inventions of a damaged mind, only to be pulled back to the future to experience that as a reality as well. The repeated time travel proves to be too much, and he begins to question his own sanity and purpose in the past, present, and future. If this were a list of top 10 madmen (possibly soon to come), I would have to recognize Brad Pitt’s performance as Jeffrey Goines. But he didn’t descend anywhere; his madness is obvious from the first scene. Pitt’s twitching, snarling, crosseyed character was his best (and it earned him an Oscar nod) since the stoner Floyd in “True Romance.”
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4. Glenn Close as Alex Frost in “Fatal Attraction” (1987)
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. One would think that the guilt of infidelity is punishment enough, but after a one-night stand with a colleague, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) learns that he can not have his cake and eat it too. When his mistress Alex Frost (Close) refuses to end their tryst, Dan finds his family, himself, and their pets victim to a psychopathic woman who will stop at nothing until she gets what she wants. Since this movie may have guided Douglas’ choices to star in succeeding “sexy thillers “Disclosure” and ”Basic Instinct,” I almost wish Close’s character would have been triumphant.
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3. Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in “The Shining” (1980)
Isolated by the confines of snowbound hotel, and terrorized by the haunted inhabitants of the hotel’s evil past, family man Jack Torrance (Nicholson) slowly falls into madness. As cabin fever sets in, Jack personal demons conspire with the manipulative ghosts of the Overlook Hotel to “correct” his family by viciously murdering them in this Stanley Kubrick-directed Stephen King adaptation. Two other actors who received mention on this list were considered to play the part of Torrance: Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. While I am sure both choices would have had an interesting take on the material, I can’t see either one consumed enough with the character to have been able to ad-lib the famous “Here’s Johnny!” line, as Nicholson did.
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2. Bob Geldof as Pink in “Pink Floyd The Wall” (1982)
Arguably the best rock drama of all time, “Pink Floyd The Wall” is the story of Pink (Geldof) and his journey from a traumatic childhood and the loss of his father to a drug-addled rock star coping with the pressure of fame and fortune. This is one instance where the film compliments the soundtrack rather than the other way around. The frenetic shifts in the timeline, an epic war story, innovative animation, and powerful soundtrack by Pink Floyd all contribute to a masterful performance where you truly descend into the world of an artist tortured by his inner demons. Does anyone not get the title “The Wall”?
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1. Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)
Travis Bickle (De Niro), an unstable Vietnam war veteran suffering from insomnia, takes a job as a New York City cab driver working around the clock in the worst neighborhoods. The depravity he bears witness to begins to drive him not just insane but also physically ill, and he vows to make a change. Futile attempts at normalcy begin to mock him when he starts to see everyone as part of the sick city he exists in. As the violence festers inside, he becomes more and more misanthropic and resolves himself to clean up the city, but his madness makes him unpredictable and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. John Hinckley Jr. was supposedly so influenced by this movie that, in an attempt to impress De Niro’s young co-star Jodie Foster, he attempted to murder President Ronald Reagan. Hinckley’s attorney played the movie as part of his closing argument.