An actor should possess the power to evoke emotions in you that could disturb your sleep for days. An actor is the physical embodiment of the script and becomes an instrument of expression for the filmmaker. I’ve always believed that an actor can only be as good as the movie and there’s something certainly wrong if that balance is disrupted. We’ve covered many articles on various kinds of acting performances but we’ve left out on the most stylish acting performances of all time.
Now stylish cannot always be equated with the greatest. Sometimes, an actor’s charm and charisma completely overpower the aura of the film and his/her presence in a scene alone could define a certain emotion or give a distinctive atmospheric quality to the film which makes the film more memorable for that reason. With everything said now, let’s take a look at 15 of the most stylish movie performances of all time:
15. Jeff Bridges – The Big Lebowski (1998)
Maybe an unlikely pick for the list considering the laid back, careless attitude of The Dude but that’s the appeal of the character. Jeff Bridges performance in many ways define the film. He defines the feel and tone of it. His casual, laid back attitude is infectious and his dialogue delivery is hilarious. Bridges slips into the role so easily that we never even realise there’s an actor behind. He brings in a very rare sense of naturalistic feel that convinces us of his character’s reality. There is no denying the fact that a good reason why The Dude has turned into some sort of religious cult phenomenon among fans today would be Bridges’ memorable portrayal of the role.
14. Brad Pitt – Fight Club (1999)
A Fight Club without Brad Pitt is unimaginable. Pitt’s performance as Tyler Durden isn’t one of the greatest ever in cinema but it’s undeniably stylish, vibrant and entertaining. Pitt’s manly looks coupled with his charming persona and style make this character look like it was just written for the actor. Perhaps Tyler Durden was the role Brad Pitt was born to play. He may have gone on to play far greater roles but Tyler Durden is the role we would love to identify him with and is one that remains etched in the memory of every cinephile.
13. Jack Nicholson – Chinatown (1974)
Perhaps a surprising pick because Nicholson’s character in ‘Chinatown’ isn’t a traditional film hero or a classic villain. But what’s appealing here is Nicholson’s stylish outfit coupled with a sense of rare, elegant charm that he brings on to the character that makes it look so distinctively memorable and unlike anything he’s ever done. His dialogue delivery here is a lot more restrained and he never looks to overpower the scene but he manages to make us feel his presence with a mysterious aura that is present throughout the film. It’s a rare, exquisite piece of bold, subtle and stylish acting.
12. James Stewart – Vertigo (1958)
In this Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, James Stewart plays a detective who suffers from acrophobia and is hired to investigate the activities of a friend’s wife who is behaving quite strangely. James Stewart was famous for his spectacular looks and elegantly distinctive persona but director Hitchcock blamed his film’s initial failure on Stewart as he felt the actor was too old to play Kim Kovak’s lover. But Stewart’s acting prowess and graceful persona make up for everything and his role as Detective Scottie continues to live on in the hearts of fans and movie buffs across the world. He is vulnerable, loving, stylish and so beautifully elegant.
11. Robert De Niro – Angel Heart (1987)
As Louis Cyphre, Robert De Niro doesn’t occupy the screen for long but the sheer impact he leaves on you is far too much to be put into words. De Niro is frighteningly charismatic and stylish and makes brilliant use of his limited screen time. As Louis Cyphre, he almost chews the screen but doesn’t go overboard and is effectively creepy and disturbing for the most part. This entry would have been a lot higher but to be fair to the others on the list, we’ve pushed it down as De Niro has relatively lesser screen time.
10. Ryan Gosling – Dirve (2011)
Be it the retro music, the unorthodox cinematography, the languid pace of dialogues, ‘Drive’ has style and chutzpah written all over it. That one “kissing inside elevator” scene alone is enough to convince me how unconventionally brilliant ‘Drive’ is. And at the center of it all is ultra-cool Ryan Gosling. There is no question in my mind that ‘Drive’ wouldn’t have the film it is without Gosling. His calm and “always-in-control” demeanor lends an aura to the film that is unmissable. Gosling laid back performance is brilliantly soaked in style — and surprising vulnerability.
9. Denzel Washington – Training Day (2001)
When Ethan Hawke’s character comes to the restaurant to join Alonzo Harris for the day’s work, we see Denzel reading a newspaper, not really caring about what’s happening around him. After a brief hiccup between the two, Hawke sits down and says, “It’s nice here” and then Denzel looks up at him. That glance. That simple glance. Right from that moment on we know that we’re in for something special. Washington’s performance as Alonzo Harris is delectably over-the-top, hilariously terrifying and endlessly entertaining. He’s bold, ruthless, dashing and unbelievably charismatic. Washington has a blast with the role, chewing the scenes with his intimidating aura and flamboyance. And only an actor of his calibre could turn a seemingly ordinary villain into one of cinema’s most feared and most memorable ones.
8. Samuel Jackson – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Samuel Jackson popularised badassery with his Jheri curled, Bible loving gangster in ‘Pulp Fiction’. Jules Winfield is one of cinema’s most iconic characters and in many ways the quintessential Quentin Tarantino film character. Samuel Jackson’s laid back attitude flows in here as one moment we see him talking to his partner about hamburgers and foot massages in a pretty casual manner and the next moment he could be the most dangerous person you’d ever see. It’s a performance that very much demands the flair of its actor and the sheer energy and verve he’d bring on to the character.
7. Robert De Niro – Heat (1995)
I may have triggered some Al Pacino fans here but honestly he could well have made this list too had he not shouted his way through the film. De Niro’s Neil McCauley is a man of few words. He is cold and clinically professional and can be extremely ruthless. The role seems almost tailor-made for the ever charismatic and stylish Robert De Niro. He is dashing, flamboyant and fits the role like a glove. The scenes were De Niro handles romance are simply amazing. He portrays the delicate side of McCauley in a way that makes his character so human and utterly believable. It’s just a beautifully scintillating piece of acting.
6. Sharon Stone – Basic Instinct (1992)
Yes, and you know why! Sharon Stone’s iconic performance as Catherine Tramell is far more than just a single scene. She is incredibly gorgeous and sexy but dangerously manipulative and wickedly seductive. Tramell is often described as a classic female fatale. She is probably cinema’s most gorgeous serial killer. Tramell is unbelievably daring and loves surviving the most dangerous situations but is quite narcissitic and pretty obsessed with her own abilities. And to portray such a complex, difficult character with such ease and charisma requires some serious skills.
5. Al Pacino – Serpico (1973)
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro at their peak were probably the greatest actors of all time. It’s a shame that the former lost his way through the 80s, turning into an epic ham but nevertheless his work in the 70s remains timeless. Pacino’s performance as Frank Serpico in Sidney Lumet’s riveting crime drama is one of the finest ever put on-screen. As a young idealistic New York City cop with high morals, Pacino shows terrific vulnerability trying to comprehend the world around him. Pacino’s stylish looks come in handy as it brings a rare charm to the character and along with his unparalleled acting skills turns it one of cinema’s most iconic heroes of all time.
4. Alain Delon – Le Samourai (1967)
In Jean Pierre Melville’s iconic drama, Alain Delon plays a hitman named Jef Costello and the plot follows where he murders a nightclub owner and leaves several witnesses at the scene. Elegantly charming, confident and stylish, Alain Delon slips into the role and walks through it with absolute finesse and panache. Delon beautifully paints the enigmatic aura surrounding his character. His frozen eyes rarely emote and it kind of keeps him at a distance, making him a lot more fascinating. He is smart, determined, focused, seductively intriguing and impeccably stylish.
3. Jean Seberg – Breathless (1960)
When you think of ‘Breathless’, the first image that pops into your mind is of a smoking hot Jean Seberg with a ciggarrete in her hand and a hat on. As Patricia Franchini, Seberg brought in a kind of seductive aura that pretty much defined the feel and attitude of the film. Patricia is bold, charismatic and irresistibly sexy. She lives a carefree life and cherishes freedom but is longing for a sense of warmth and care that seem to be evading her. Seberg’s stunning looks and effortless acting style benefit the character as she slips into the role with ease and grace. ‘Breathless’ is an attitude and Jean Seberg remains the face of that attitude.
2. Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Is there anything that this women cannot do? Arguably the greatest living actress in cinema, Meryl Streep floored us with her astonishing beauty, devil like demeanour and raw seductive charisma. ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ wouldn’t have been anywhere near as memorable as it is today if not for Streep’s mesmerisingly hypnotic performance as the cynical, evil eyed Miranda Priestly. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else donning the role of Miranda Priestly because that’s how much Streep has owned the role. And that is the kind of stuff legends are made of.
1. Al Pacino – The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II (1972, 1974)
Arguably the greatest acting performance of all time, Al Pacino’s unforgettable turn as Michael Corleone in the first two ‘Godfather’ films is enigmatic, haunting, electrifying and astonishingly stylish. When has an actor managed to capture an entire film with his eyes? You could see Michael’s rise as a gangster and downfall as a human being through his eyes. You could feel the pain and anger burning in his eyes when Kay tells him that she aborted their child. Pacino’s flamboyance and charisma take the films on to another level and define the tone and atmosphere of both the films. It is one of the greatest pieces of character acting in cinema. It is possibly the greatest acting performance in cinema history. It is probably the most stylish acting performance ever put on-screen.