The Ten Best Performances From James Franco
James Franco is one of the most versatile artists in Hollywood. The term “artist” is used because the talented man is more than just an actor. As an actor, Franco has been nominated for Oscars and starred in enormous blockbusters. However, he also produces smaller, indie films that he stars in. Franco even guest stars in soap operas. Unlike other Hollywood elite, James Franco does what he wants, when he wants to do it. It doesn’t matter how big or small. Though, cinematic success isn’t quite enough for Mr. Franco. He also paints, is a talented mathematician, obtained a pilot’s license, and just up and decided to get his Master’s degree from NYU. Franco is a Jack-of-all-trades the likes of which are hard to come by in Hollywood. At only 40 years old, he has a whopping 151 credits already on the IMDB. Recently, he can be found on The Deuce on HBO and in the Near Algodones segment in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. To sift through the myriad of films that Franco has been a part of to pick out his best is extremely difficult. However, here is the attempt. Here are James Franco’s 10 best film performances so far in his exceptional career.
Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist (2017)
What James Franco was able to do with his pet-project biopic about 2005’s The Room is nothing short of extraordinary. The Room was the passion project of the infinitely enigmatic Tommy Wiseau. He was a man with no backstory, no recognizable source of income, and his age was a mystery. He befriended Greg Sistero and they made one of the best-worst movies of all time. Wiseau is a character at the level that you can hardly believe he is real. He has an unplaceable accent and he looks like a vampire. Somehow, James Franco wrote, directed, and starred as Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, and it totally worked. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, The Disaster Artist would have been a misfiring farce. The film would be nothing but reenactments and poking fun at Wiseau, Sistero, and their movie. However, Franco found an amazing balance. Not only is his performance incredibly spot on, but he injected heart into the story. Of course, there are parts that are hilariously obtuse, but the film is ultimately about a lonely guy trying to make friends and follow his passions. Nobody knew Franco had this movie in him.
Dave Skylark in The Interview (2014)
Some of the best acting is when an actor or actress plays drastically against type and surprises everybody. Think Charlize Theron in 2004’s Monster. However, great acting can also be through the polar opposite situation. When an actor plays his type perfectly, it can work in ways you can’t see working with anyone else. Such is the situation with James Franco in The Interview. Back in 2014, The release of The Interview nearly caused an International incident with Kim Jong-un and North Korea. However, a credit to Sony, James Franco, and Seth Rogen, they released this ridiculous farce anyway. Franco plays Dave Skylark, a gossip show host whom Kim Jong-un is apparently an enormous fan of. The CIA realizes that Skylark and his producer can be granted unique access in North Korea which could set up an assassination opportunity. The reason James Franco is so great in the role is that he is an egotistical schmuck. So when Skylark heads to North Korea, with no sense of the danger, the oppression, and the odd ability to befriend the ruthless dictator, it all feels believable.
Laird Mayhew in Why Him (2016)
During the 2016 holiday season, a broad silly comedy was released called Why Him. The premise was as corny and predictable as possible. Bryan Cranston’s daughter has a billionaire boyfriend and he doesn’t like it. That’s it. Cranston is far better than the film allows him to be. Megan Mullally is wasted. However, James Franco dials the charm and friendliness up to eleven and single-handedly saves the movie. Director John Hamburg actually hurt his own movie by allowing Franco to be so likable. He plays Laird Mayhew as a disgustingly rich young man (app developer) but isn’t full of the pretentiousness or snobbiness you would expect. He is just a fun, silly, encouraging, buddy…so when Cranston hates him, it literally makes zero sense. However, even though that balance in the film is a mess, Franco is a delight and worth the price of admission.
Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man Franchise (2002, 2004, 2007)
There are people who love the Sam Raimi Spider-Man franchise and there are others that aren’t huge fans. Some people had problems with Tobey Maguire. Others disliked Kirsten Dunst’s version of Mary Jane. However, James Franco as Harry Osborn was a solid part of the series. Fresh off his stint on the wonderful Freaks and Geeks, Franco slipped into the rich, best friend role perfectly. In the first film, he was great as Peter Parker’s pal. Spider-Man 2 had him effectively portraying that sad, broken friend whose loyalties to Parker may not outweigh the need for his father’s vengeance. In part three, when he goes full Hobgoblin, it is ridiculous but it is the one villain in that film that was entertaining.
Blaine Rawlings in Flyboys (2006)
One of the greatest World War I films out there is one that has either hardly been seen or dismissed offhand, and that is 2006’s Flyboys. James Franco plays Blaine Rawlings, an American soldier who volunteers for the Lafayette Escadrille in the early days of the Great War. The film follows Blaine and a handful of American men as they learn the analog ways of early 20th Century aerial combat. On the surface, the film is a master class of flight photography, editing, sound design, and special effects. The combat dogfights are some of the greatest the cinema has ever seen, at least until 2017’s Dunkirk. However, technically proficiency aside, Franco is excellent as Rawlings. He brings all the terror, courage, and determination needed for an audience to root for and fear for him. Rawlings knows his duty, and knows how dangerous it is, but he is determined to do his job in the best way possible.
Saul Silver in Pineapple Express (2008)
Many movie lovers do not like stoner humor. It often feels forced, sometimes not relatable, and the performers often portray it as it is only funny because they are stoned. As if that were enough to carry an entire movie. However, Pineapple Express is not a stoner movie. It is an action thriller where the protagonists just happen to be thrust into the thick of it whilst stoned. James Franco and Seth Rogen team up again as drug dealer Saul Silver and his loyal customer Dale Denton, respectively. The premise is pretty straightforward where Rogen’s Dale notices a dirty cop offing someone in the drug trade. Now that Dale and Saul are on the run, they can hardly keep their heads on straight because they smoke so much pot. It is an absolute riot and Franco’s mellow, friendly Saul quickly becomes the guy you really want to be friends with and hang out with. Stoners who just lit up don’t have a great grasp on reality, and that is no more perfectly portrayed when Franco tries to kick out a windshield. His astonishment at his failure is worth the price of admission.
Christian Longo in True Story (2015)
2015’s True Story is an incredibly odd movie in that it came and went with nary a ripple in the public discourse. The film stars Jonah Hill as a disgraced New York Times Journalist, Michael Finkel. He has been discredited because of his last, unsourced story and has since lost his job. James Franco is Christian Longo, a man accused of killing his wife and son. Longo invites Finkel, and only Finkel, to the prison that he is being held because he feels the need to tell the story of his innocence. The film unfolds as an acting exercise, without much more than Jonah Hill and James Franco acting across the interview room at each other, but it is pretty extraordinary. James Franco’s Longo has so much charm and charisma that Finkel is easily manipulated. Every visit, every word, and every gesture seems to pile on a new level of mystery. It is strange that with two huge stars such as Hill and Franco, True Story didn’t get more play. Still, it is a solid entry in both of the actors’ filmographies.
Oz in Oz, the Great & Powerful (2013)
When you look back on the famous 1939 The Wizard of Oz, what is it about the Wizard himself? How could a man take hold over such a kingdom and build himself into an almost godlike figure? What would it take? Smarts? Guts? Overwhelming charisma? Well, those are all qualities James Franco brings to the table. So, when he was cast in Sam Raimi’s Oz, the Great and Powerful, it made a whole lot of sense. James Franco is playful, charming, and has great chemistry with the three female leads (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz). It is a shame that the film didn’t spawn the franchise it deserved, because it is a film full of wonder, spectacular effects, and Franco is perfect as the leading man.
Aron Rolston in 127 Hours (2010)
Few actors or actresses in Hollywood have the gravitas, or the courage, to perform an entire film with themselves as nearly the only character. Tom Hanks did it most famously with Cast Away. However, stars like Tom Hardy and Ryan Reynolds have also pulled it off with Locke and Buried, respectively. Well, James Franco is among those Hollywood elites because he also has tackled this kind of experimental filmmaking in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. The film is the story of Aron Rolston. He was a hiker who was out alone one day in Utah in 2003. Rolston accidentally slipped and got trapped beneath an immovable boulder. 127 Hours refers to the amount of time he was trapped in the blazing sun, all alone, with no hope of rescue. With dehydration a severe possibility, Rolson amputated his own arm to gain his freedom. Even though his story plays out in a single location, Boyle’s direction makes the film as exciting as any action movie. Franco is absolutely spot on as Rolston. At times, he is goofy and self-deprecating (he has a camera and filmed his plight). Other times, he is drastically scared and desperate. To watch Franco run the gamut of Rolson’s experience is one of the best things he has ever done in his career.
James Franco in This is the End (2013)
The greatest role James Franco has ever portrayed might possibly be himself. In 2013’s brilliantly meta This is the End, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride all play exaggerated versions of themselves. It must have been easy for Baruchel, Rogen, and Robinson because they get to play the friendly personas the public perceives them as. Hill and McBride are a bit more complicated as Hill is playing a phony Oscar-nominee and McBride is the massive jerk his roles always exhibit. Then there is Franco, and it is possibly the best part of the film. As discussed earlier, James Franco is a jack-of-all-trades to an astronomically pretentious level. He is a professor, amateur painter, massively successful, and a spotlight hog. Well, his This is the End caricature is such an extreme version of that James Franco that it is amazing he was willing to make fun of himself so much. He has massive paintings of his and Seth Rogen’s name hanging in his house. His basement is full of his own movie memorabilia. His level of intelligence is quite suspect throughout the film. Finally, he lives in a Xanadu-level house that puts his Why Him character’s house to shame.
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