10. Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter
Peter O’Toole was one of the finest actors who has ever graced the silver screen. While best remembered for his roar and his harrumph, his acting chops shone especially through that melancholic speckle in his Celtic blue eyes. He could draw you in with his handsome face, his large breath and his ever-beating, drunk-on-life charisma, but would leave you speechless with that gaze — capturing sympathy, empathy and the sublime all in one go. As the years (and the drink) wore on, O’Toole’s rosy complexion may have withered and his gait may have weakened, but he could still stand, or sit, and shine the audience’s attention towards him through sheer ability.
Out of his filmography (include 8 Oscar noms), you really can’t pick a bad performance. Bad or mediocre films perhaps (avoid King Ralph at all costs), but no bad performances (his King Priam is the best thing in Troy). I can easily spurt off my personal top ten of just O’Toole performances alone (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, What’s New Pussycat, The Night of the Generals, The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, Troy, Venus, Ratatouille). Then why did I choose his Henry II in The Lion Winter, you ask? Because this role showcased O’Toole’s genius — raising you to the highest heights of theatrical, bordering over-the-top acting, and dropping you into the disquieting pools of emotional despair.
He shouts, he harrangs, he threatens. Henry blusters his way through the castle and when left to his own devices is little more than a bearded, stone glare. He spouts that he cares for nothing but himself and his kingdom, but it’s in the rare quiet moments we see his actual self, the man underneath the monarch. As he tell his young mistress that he loves her, he disrobes the figurative crown and bluff and reveals the frailty of a man in a May-December romance, with a distinct gentleness to take care of possibly his last love. After discovering his children have been plotting to off him (yet again), he rewrites his history and his legacy, leaving them out in a gut-wrenching recitation, and locks them away. On leaving, O’Toole captures Henry’s emotional deconstruction — the sorrow, the anger, the self-made misery. He has lost his boys.