So what’s next for my favorite actor? Picking out his five best performances of course. It was not an easy task. From Apollo 13 to Tombstone, from True Lies to Frailty – there is just so many great roles to pick from. For me it was pretty simple because I pretty much had the top 4 down pat. It was picking the fifth one that was truly hard for me…but I finally was able to get my list down starting with:
#5 – CLUB DREAD
I wrested with this one a bunch. I’m not going to name all of the movies that I was thinking about replacing Club Dread but they did include the cult favorite Near Dark. Paxton’s Severin was AMAZING in that movie. On the other side Club Dread may not be well known to Bill Paxton fans at all. It was a movie by Broken Lizard that came out in-between their better received flicks Super Troopers and Beerfest. To make the decision to see if I was right I simply sat down and watched Club Dread again. It reaffirmed what I was thinking. It really is one of the best performances of all time.
Paxton plays musician Coconut Pete who owns a tourist island named Pleasure Island. Basically life is a big party at Pleasure Island where travelers come to get drunk, have sex, and get their chance to hang with Coconut Pete who may actually sing some of his hits like Pina Coladaburg. Sure he gets mixed up a bunch with the more famous Jimmy Buffett, sure that pisses him off to high heaven, but Coconut Pete takes it in stride. This is his paradise and he’s making the most of it…even if everyone continues to want him to sing Margaritaville.
The flick is a send-up of bad slasher movies where anyone can possibly be the killer. Of course the big attraction here are the Broken Lizard team who make up part of Pleasure Island’s staff. I like it because if you’ve seen Super Troopers you think you know the group’s “personalities.” Then, in Club Dread, they all play AGAINST that type. It may throw you through a loop if you move directly from Super Troopers to Club Dread but I like that they don’t typecast themselves. They switch it up – not everyone wants to be Curly or Zeppo every movie.
People start dying. The crew get worried. And can Coconut Pete hold everything together? Probably not. But that’s all the fun of a murder mystery where anyone can be the killer.
Paxton in a Broken Lizard movie was brilliant casting. He’s damn perfect. You needed an actor who could really pull off that sun-tanned musician far away from his glory days. Paxton pulls it off swimmingly.
They are joined by Broken Lizard regulars like M.C. Gainey and (ACADEMY AWARD WINNER) Nat Faxon – seriously if you have seen The Descendants or The Way Way Back you should stop reading, watch, then come right back. Brittany Daniel (Always Sunny in Philadelphia, White Chicks) plays the female lead in the flick and she sure is fun to watch on-screen. She’s not your normal scream queen and is able to hold her own.
I do have a lone recommendation: if you find this somewhere on DVD there are two versions – the theatrical version and an unrated cut that adds a bunch of new footage. WATCH THE THEATRICAL CUT. It is so much better than the version they released later. That added footage should have just remained on the cutting room floor.
#4 – A Simple Plan
Bill Paxton reunited with Billy Bob Thornton for a third time (after One False Move and Tombstone) for this masterpiece of a thriller from director Sam Raimi.
Adapted from the book of the same name Paxton and Thornton play brothers Hank and Jacob who, along with their friend Lou (Brent Briscoe – also reuniting with Thornton after starring in Sling Blade together), come across a plane that appears to have crashed. The pilot is there…dead. And there are bags. Bags and bags of money. Not just a little money. But 4.4 million dollars just sitting out there.
Problem with it all is that how do you keep 4.4 million dollars quiet when you live in rural Minnesota? Though the three agree to keep it all a secret Hank tells his wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda – in what has to be one of her last big acting roles before retiring). Is it easy to keep it quiet when you have 4.4 million dollars? Can you keep it hidden when people start looking for the plane and the money? Are you willing to kill to keep that much money a secret? Are you willing to kill if the secret gets out?
The film does a stellar job seeing these two brothers turn on those around them and each other. Paxton is the smarter of the two who knows what he has to do to keep this all hidden. Thornton is the more easy going brother who just has complete faith in his brother. Sometimes even blood isn’t enough when it comes to money.
Thornton was recognized for his performance and nominated not just for a Golden Globe but also an Academy Award. When you watch A Simple Plan you can certainly see why he was nominated. But it is Paxton’s performance here that is the glue holding it all together. It’s not an easy task playing the ordinary man put in this extraordinary circumstance but you truly feel for Hank as he puts up with his wife, his brother, their friend, and all the people on the hunt for this money.
And the end? You never see it coming…from a million miles away.
This is a more nuanced performance from Paxton but still one of the best he’s ever done. He’s just brilliant.
#3 – Weird Science
Paxton doesn’t have the biggest role in John Hughes’ Weird Science – a fun, modern Frankenstein type film where two nerds (Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create gorgeous woman Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) using their computer. Lisa is gorgeous, fun, and has amazing super-powers. Sometimes she uses the powers to the duo’s advantage, other times she uses them to try to help them along even though it can be seen as a hindrance. What happens when two nerds create their dream girl? Not what you expect. It’s a very fun ride.
Paxton plays Chet, the older brother of Mitchell-Smith’s Wyatt. Wyatt’s parents are gone for the weekend and Chet is “in charge” while they are gone. Unfortunately he is a complete arrogant, self-righteous prick who fucks with his brother every change that he gets.
Even as Lisa tries to build self-confidence in Wyatt and Hall’s Gary there is no way they are able to get past Chet. He is a complete menace who doesn’t put up with anyone’s bullshit. He’s a cigar-chomping, shotgun shooting, military school reject who lives to torture his loser brother and his loser best friend. It’s almost a sport for Chet and nothing will stop Chet from messing with the poor kid.
Paxton is magic every time he is on-screen. Of course you really hate him because he is such a prick but you love the character in spite of that. You recognize the fine acting put into the role. And what ends up happening to Chet in the end of the film is so memorable that whenever someone has seen Weird Science it is usually the first thing you think of.
#2 – Aliens
Paxton had a one-two punch with Weird Science released in 1985 and Aliens coming right along in 1986. Paxton was originally slated to appear in Police Academy 2 but there was a contract hold-up since the producers also wanted him to appear in a Police Academy 3. I have no clue what role Paxton would have played (the interview I read Paxton didn’t remember either) but it is hard to imagine Paxton in any of the new roles that came up in Police Academy 2. Luckily it didn’t matter – the opportunity came up for Paxton to work with Jim Cameron again (Paxton briefly appeared as a punk in The Terminator) and even though it was for half the money Paxton took the job as Private Hudson in Aliens.
There are many memorable characters in Aliens. It’s a pretty damn solid script. You have Sigourney Weaver coming back as Ripley who, at first, doesn’t want any involvement but really grows as a survivor as the script goes on. Paul Reiser is great as the company man who turns out to be a total douche. Lance Henriksen plays an artificial person that Ripley can’t trust after the events of the first film. And then there’s a group of Marines who really kick ass. There are really three truly memorable Marines here: Jenette Goldstein’s tough-as-nails Vasquez, Michael Biehn’s calm and cool Corporal Hicks, and Bill Paxton’s true standout performance as Private Hudson.
You can’t help but to love Hudson. First of all Cameron gave Hudson all the great lines in the screenplay. Then Paxton is able to deliver those lines perfectly whether Hudson is being a cocky bastard (like he is for the first act of the film) to the scared soldier who realizes he is stuck in a horrible situation (like he is for the second act).
That transformation from cocky soldier to scared realist is astonishing. You see nothing but an arrogant ass waiting to kill some aliens in the beginning of the film. But by halfway through the fear that Hudson feels comes right through the screen and seeps into your own skin. You are terrified of what is lurking and the fear in Hudson’s eyes just looks real. It looks like Paxton, the actor, is scared to death of what is to come. He sells the hell out of the role and it is his acting that makes you feel like death is coming for this entire gang of intrepid investigators.
It is Paxton’s finest role…except for one…
#1 – One False Move
While Paxton has been nominated for an Emmy Award he was never, ever nominated for an Academy Award. It’s a shame because there are some roles out there that he really hits it out of the park. There is no finer example of this then the best movie Paxton ever made: One False Move.
This was an early film by Carl Franklin who would go on to make bigger films including Devil in a Blue Dress, One True Thing, High Crimes, and Out of Time. One False Move was just a simple low-budget thriller that really rides on Paxton’s performance as an earnest rural police chief helping some big city Los Angeles detectives trying to track down some killers.
The film was co-written by Billy Bob Thornton. These days Thornton is known for his bad ass roles like School for Scoundrels, Mr. Woodcock, Bad News Bears, and Bad Santa. Back in the early 90’s he knocked out a series of scripts that were outstanding including One False Move, A Family Thing (a wonderful film where Robert Duvall learns he has a black half-brother…James Earl Jones. Fantastic), and his Academy Award winning script for Sling Blade.
Thornton also stars in One False Move as one of the three murderers who depart for Arkansas with a cache of drugs and money. The murderers and detectives all show up literally on Paxton’s Officer Dale ‘Hurricane’ Dixon’s doorstep. The two detectives basically think Dixon is just some hick who can’t handle an intricate case like the two are trying to handle.
Paxton’s Dixon is excited – this is finally his chance to prove himself. There’s not much to his policing in his daily life and now three big city murderers land right in his lap. He doesn’t let the attitudes of the two detectives get him down as he tries his best to help them out. The thing is not everything is as it seems as Dixon may find himself closer to the murderers than he originally thought.
Thornton wrote one hell of a screenplay but Paxton shines here. One False Move is literally his crown jewel. You can take any character he’s ever done. Chet. Private Hudson. Morgan Earp. Simon. Fred Haise. Frank James. Dad Meiks. Nothing can come close to the performance Paxton brings forth here in One False Move. It is an Academy Award winning performance that the Academy just ignored. The film was a critical hit with critics who realized that the film was really something special. Even though the box office wasn’t great by any means it was one of those films that when you discovered it you knew it was something special. Why was it special? Because Bill Paxton brought the performance of his life.
If you’ve never seen the movie go over to iTunes. Rent it on Amazon. Buy the film. Because this is one performance that should not be missed.
Agree? Disagree? I mean…you can disagree…but I’m so right…but let me know in the comments!!!