Greatish Performances — An Introduction

This begins, as many of my stories involving formative experiences do, when I was in college (despite the chronology that’s supposed to be followed, I truly grew up during my years pursuing my undergraduate degree). As I’ve noted before, and will undoubtedly note again, I spent a few years during this span working with a trusted cohort on a weekly radio program that featured movie reviews, and news and interview segments centered on the same corner of the pop culture universe. Since this was well before the time when a few keystrokes on a computer keyboard could produce all the information about celluloid offerings that could ever be desired, we sought out supplementary reading from sources that were printed on old fashioned glossy paper.

I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly from the moment it was nationally available, and regularly plucked other publications off the newsstand, most commonly Premiere, which set the standard for quite some time. While those were necessary reading, it’s a different periodical that, in retrospect, I miss more.


It’s not that Movieline was all that much more daring or interesting. It wasn’t written with significantly greater skill. It was, however, more memorable, and was less concerned with the sort of inside baseball essays that occasionally overwhelmed Premiere. Instead, it was peppered with little recurring features that radiated an uncontrollable love for film that manifested in eager deconstruction of the pieces that made individual works irresistible. Of these, the one I awaited most eagerly was “Greatish Performances,” a monthly column that celebrated notable acting efforts, from the consensus classics to the Oscar-lauded to the unconventional and the tragically underestimated. Arguably the thing I liked best about it is signaled in the very name of the feature, that ish modifier on great. It may cause consternation to the compilers of Merriam-Webster’s latest doorstop, but to me it provided a nice wrinkle to the selection. There’s a little promise there, a sort of permission given to the authors to opt for performances that may not be obvious entries to the canon of great thespian achievements, but have some inner spirit, some little clicky, kicky inspiration that makes them special.

I was reminded of that when I came up with my entry in StinkyLulu‘s annual Supporting Actress Blogathon. For all the time I spend writing about movies, actual examination of individual performances usually amounts to no more than a few lines in a full-length review. Devoting more words to it proved to be challenging, interesting, frustrating, rewarding. By trying to articulate why I connected with a performance, it helped me understand my own appreciation better. In a way, it was the same sensation I got damn near twenty years ago when I first got behind the microphone with a fresh obligation to explain why I found a movie to be good or bad or somewhere in between.

Movieline officially and finally folded as a print publication about a year ago after hanging on for several years as a posh celebrity lifestyle worshiper, basically with little connection to the old magazine apart from some lingering branding. Movieline recently relaunched as a spiffed up Website, complete with a monthly compendium meant to mimic what the long-lost print edition might look like had it survived. Some of their regular features have been carried over. “Greatish Performances” hasn’t. So I’m swiping it.

Periodically in this space, I’ll rattle off another “Greatish Performance” essay. They’ll be numbered, though not ranked (though you’d certain be forgiven for thinking I’d be inclined to do just that. I don’t claim these are the greatest performances of all time. I have no interest in compiling a complete list of every stellar acting effort. These are simply examples of screen acting that, in one way or another, gets to me, presented in the order I think of them. They won’t necessarily be performances that I think deserves awards or similar accolades. Sometimes they may not even be the best work in the films that contain them. They are all, however, worthy of the designation greatish.

And it’ll start tomorrow with a performance that is a fairly unconventional choice, a performance that I think perfectly exemplifies the spirit of the project.

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