In lieu of actual content, here are two of my nominees for the best line readings in a movie heard yet in 2006. These are not necessarily the best lines of dialogue, but instead lines of dialogue vaulted unto a level of grandeur simply by the way the actor in question presents them in character on the screen. (Gee, this sounds like the basis for a pretty good question for the next quiz, doesn’t it?) This may end up being a bit of a “guess you had to be there” exercise, in the absence of actual clips that can demonstrate the readings themselves, but in any event, acknowledging that risk, here then are the two most memorable line readings I’ve encountered so far this year.
Amidst the nihilistic grandeur of John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, a pitiless, grimy, blood-soaked and biblically proportioned Australian western made from a spare and brilliant screenplay by Nick Cave, there is the mustachioed dandy played by David Wenham, a British officer who holds power over the constable Her Majesty’s army has placed in charge of rounding up a trio of murderous brothers and their gang. The constable (Ray Winstone) is holding the youngest of the three in a cell as a whimpering poker chip, and has let the another (Guy Pearce) go, promising to spare the younger brother if Pearce finds the oldest brother, their brooding and deadly Kurtzian leader (Danny Huston), and kills him. Wenham’s officer has no idea of this proposition when he first walks into the jail and sees the young man bloodied, bruised and exhausted on the floor of his cell. He slithers up top the bars, makes a quick visual assessment of the prisoner, and dismisses him with a very oily, and not just a little insinuating, bit of class-based condescension as he sniffs, “What an incredible piece of filth!”
And then there is Steve Carell’s voiceover magic in Over the Hedge as the hyperactive Hammy, a squirrel in no need of the extra burst of energy he eventually finds when introduced to the joys of junk food. Hammy loves his chips, and he really digs the burp and the buzz to be had off of a quick blast of carbonated soda. But he has an extra-soft spot for processed baked goods. And when it turns out that he’ll have to be denied his favorite snack, he can only go just slightly slack (for him, that’s still pretty tensile), let his giant eyes go even more saucer-like, and quietly mutter, his lower lip gently quivering, “But I like the cookie.”
The combined running time of these two moments of performance probably don’t total 10 seconds. But they are moments of pleasure that I’ve returned to often in the last month or so, and by themselves they add up to far more good than I received from the whole experience of seeing, say, Mission: Impossible 3. There are many other reasons to do so, but I'd gladly see either Over the Hedge or The Proposition again just to hear those actors deliver those lines.
This will probably end up a question on the next quiz, in some form of another. But even so, what’s your favorite line reading from the movie year so far?