I think we all had a hunch that Chris Pratt was going to be amazing in Guardians of the Galaxy, despite his dimwitted, innocent, and huggable character on Parks and Recreation. He may not have seemed like action movie material, but he proved James Gunn and the world wrong when he finally graced our big screens in the Marvel Comics space epic. Not only did he get in shape in time for filming, but he kicks major ass with a mix of Han Solo swagger and Chris Pratt humor. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes someone makes a really inspired casting choice that elevates a movie beyond expectations and makes it come alive in a really unique and interesting way. In honor of Chris Pratt and Guardians of the Galaxy, here is a list of inspired casting choices.
6. Brad Pit – Burn After Reading
There’s something about Brad Pitt, despite his efforts to appear serious, that makes you think that he’s probably a little frivolous in a bro kind of way. His character Chad from the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading plays that up to the greatest benefit, allowing and encouraging Pitt to create a character that is over-the-top, slow-witted, selfish, and with no sense of self-awareness. Chad is a fitness nut, interested only in his physique until an opportunity to make some quick, unscrupulous money comes along. The only problem is, he’s extremely stupid and not suited at all to the intricacies of black mail, especially when dealing with a victim who is extremely intelligent and government trained. It’s extremely funny and almost a little sad how Chad is able to delude himself, playing spy until he stumbles into the wrong situation at the wrong time and ends up dead. His death is one of the funniest scenes in the whole movie.
5. Jim Carrey – The Truman Show
When Jim Carrey got the leading role in The Truman Show it was a revelation to movie audiences of the time. Carrey was the wacky guy from movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. No one knew he could actually act or stop mugging for the camera long enough to try. Truman is the role that changed how people thought about Jim Carrey. While he’s still known for his rubbery face and manic energy, we know now that he can display heartbreaking moments of calm. He took Truman Burbank, a man so beloved by the world that watched him, and made the audience feel the same way. We watched Truman’s life unfold as his journey of discovery took place, and somehow we could relate to him and rooted for him all the way. Its hard to imagine Truman as anyone else now, but at the time Carrey was a very surprising choice.
4. Mark Ruffalo – The Avengers
I think I had that same reaction as everyone else when Mark Ruffalo was cast as Bruce Banner/The Hulk for The Avengers. I don’t think anyone would ever have thought of casting him in the role, so it was a truly inspired choice for whoever suggested him for the role. As random as it seemed at the time, I trusted Joss Whedon’s judgement in all things. And if its one thing that Whedon is good at, its casting for an ensemble. Ruffalo turned out to be the perfect choice. He was so ordinary, low key, gentle, humorous, and intelligent that you immediately liked and related to him – but it was hard to imagine that a Hulk lived in there with him too. And that’s what made his struggle with his inner self so appealing – he really was just a good, normal guy (who just happened to also be a scientific genius) who had this thing happen to him that he now has to struggle with every day. We dreaded along with Banner the inevitable release of his Hulk self, but like Banner we also awaited it with a sense of humorous resignation. Ruffalo made the Hulk cool again, someone we could root for in both his forms. I am still waiting for that Hulk movie.
3. Javier Bardem – Skyfall
Bond villains are a very special breed and demand a very special kind of actor. They are often over-the-top, certainly distinctive and eccentric in both mannerism and behavior. There was a lot about Skyfall that made it the most popular Bond movie in years. Part of it was its ability to harken back to the days of Sean Connery, to get back to what made the movies so popular in the first place. Part of that was casting the right villain. Bardem was the perfect choice to play Skyfall‘s sexy, slimy, charming, and insane spurned spy Silva. He was all those things that the part demanded and more. He made you feel uncomfortable because he was somehow sexy and attractive, but there is something so present about this sexuality, so sinister in how it manifests itself, and something so disturbed about his suavity. He was charismatic, eccentric, with just the right amount of camp to make him funny without sacrificing menace. It was this unique blend of traits in perfect balance that made Bardem one of the best Bond villains of all time.
2. Christopher Reeve – Superman
Who do you cast as Superman? The age old question has been asked and answered many times with varying results. It says something about the performance of Christopher Reeve in the 1978 Superman that one still has a hard time imagining anyone else in the role. He is the iconic Superman, despite DC’s attempt to put the entire ethos of Superman behind them and create some random, dark, cynical world full of destruction and every DC superhero they can cram into a movie. And yet, when Reeve was cast, he was a practical unknown. His resume is surprisingly thin before being cast as the Man of Steel, so casting him was not only inspired, but a risk. But he was perfect, not only as Superman but as Clark Kent too. His Kent was hunched, submissive, stumbling, and stammering – probably the best disguise any Superman has ever had. It wasn’t just a superhero hiding behind a pair of glasses – someone surly would recognize him immediately if that were the case – he really had an alter ego that looked and acted nothing like the titanic man of steel. I remember one scene specifically, where Clark has the idea to reveal to Lois is true identity. While she’s not looking, he takes off his glasses, stands up straight – which seems to add at least a foot to his stature – and adjusts his bearing in that gentle, dignified, self-assuredness that befits Superman. He’s only there for a moment, until he thinks better of it and returns the glasses to his face and collapses back into Clark Kent. The transformation is startling.
1. Christoph Waltz – Inglorious Basterds
Taratino has an eye for talent, and barring that he has an eye for genre types. At the same time, Taratino’s scripts are notoriously complex and the characters in them exceedingly specialized. His script for Inglourious Basterds – which he worked on for ten years before heading into production – is certainly no exception. The character of Col. Hans Landa proved to be a real challenge to cast. Not only did he have to be funny, charismatic, and sinister, but he had to convincingly speak four different languages throughout the movie. Tarantino had Leonardo DiCaprio in mind for the part until he decided he needed someone who was a native German speaker. Enter Christoph Waltz, perhaps the greatest find of Tarantino’s career. He was everything Landa needed to be and more. You immediately found yourself liking him for his charm, class, and good manners. He was charismatic and well bred, and could speak just about any language you threw at him with panache and finesse. At the same time, he was a Nazi who specialized in hunting down Jews in hiding and he took a particular distasteful zeal in his work that made you feel a little slimy for finding him so attractive. Its easy to hate a villain; the real challenge is to make you love one. Christoph Waltz did his job so well, that the previously unknown actor -at least unknown in the US, having already had a long and successful career in Germany – won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Waltz is the find of a lifetime.