Top 6: Performances By Directors

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

For Episode 51’s Top 6 segment, we’re picking our favorite acting performances by directors. We have a caveat and a caveat to the caveat. We didn’t allow ourselves to pick performances by directors who are also actors (e.g., Robert Redford), unless they were directing themselves. Whether a director is directing his own performance, or he’s not normally an actor anyway, it’s interesting to see a director put himself up there on the screen and work on the other side of the camera.

What are your favorite performances by directors?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Charlie Chaplin, in anything where he plays his Little Tramp character
  2. Jean Renoir, in The Rules of the Game (1939)
  3. Clint Eastwood, in Unforgiven (1992)
  4. John Huston, in Chinatown (1974)
  5. Quentin Tarantino, in Pulp Fiction (1994)
  6. Martin Scorsese, in Taxi Driver (1976)
  1. Spike Lee, in Do the Right Thing (1989)
  2. Francois Truffaut, in Day For Night (1973)
  3. Woody Allen, in Husbands and Wives (1992)
  4. Buster Keaton, in The General (1927)
  5. Sydney Pollack, in Changing Lanes (2002)
  6. John Cassavetes, in The Dirty Dozen (1967)


  1. joem18b (231) said,

    September 19, 2007 at 3:55 am

    Cassavetes was such a bad guy in Rosemary’s Baby that some folks avoided him for a year after it came out.

    You mentioned James Arness and The Thing. Just to give Marshall Dillon his due, for those who missed the movie, a reminder that he was The Thing itself.

    Great directors who acted: Orson Welles.

    6 great actors who directed themselves:

    1. Lawrence Olivier - Hamlet

    2. John Wayne - The Alamo

    3. Robert De Niro - The Good Shepherd

    4. Marlon Brando - One-Eyed Jacks

    5. Al Pacino - Chinese Coffee

    6. Paul Newman - Sometimes a Great Notion

    6 more great actors who directed themselves:

    1. Jack Nicholson - The Two Jakes

    2. Sidney Poitier - Buck and the Preacher

    3. George C. Scott - Rage

    4. Burt Lancaster - The Kentuckian

    5. Anthony Hopkins - August

    6. Richard Burton - Doctor Faustus

    6 other great actors who directed themselves:

    1. Peter Sellers - Mr. Topaze

    2. Charlton Heston - Antony and Cleopatra

    3. Gene Kelly - Invitation to the Dance

    4. Denzel Washington - Antoine Fisher

    5. Kirk Douglas - Posse

    6. Robert Duvall - The Apostle

  2. joem18b (231) said,

    September 19, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I liked Tarantino in “From Dusk Til Dawn.”

    6 modern directors who act

    1. Terry Gilliam - Monty Python and the Holy Grail

    2. Mel Brooks - Most of his movies. I like Life Stinks.

    3. John Sayles - City of Hope. Sayles appears in various of his own pictures.

    4. Peter Bogdanovich - For 8 years, Lorraine Bracco’s shrink.

    5. Rob Reiner - Alex and Emma.

    6. Joe Swanberg - LOL. A nod to the new generation of mumblecore, DIY directors.

  3. joem18b (231) said,

    September 19, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    6 female directors who act, or vice versa:

    1. Ida Lupino - Hard, Fast, and Beautiful. Lupino, a star, was the only female director of major films (B movies) of her era in Hollywood.

    2. Asia Argento - The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Glorious sleaze.

    3. Jodie Foster - Little Man Tate

    4. Kasi Lemmons - Like Lupino, an actress who is now a director (Eve’s Bayou, The Caveman’s Valentine, Talk to Me)

    5. Sarah Polley - Like Clint Eastwood, with Away From Her is she making the move from actor to serious director?

    6. Sofia Coppola - Godfather III. Or was that acting?

  4. Sam (405) said,

    September 19, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Man, joem. I don’t think you understand the idea of a Top 6 list. There are only supposed to be six movies on a Top 6 list. Subdividing every category far enough so there’s only six viable entries per subdivision, then list all of them, is a cheatin’ easy way out. Anybody can do that. What’s hardcore, what duly honors the best, is to be cruel and make those difficult decisions to exclude tons and tons of eligible and sometimes wonderful possibilities.

    I hereby challenge you to conceive of a single Top 6 list, with only 6 entries on it, of the six best *performances* (not actors) by directors who are either directing themselves or not normally actors also.

    No subdivisions. No restricting it to just modern directors or just women or just people with alliterative initials or just Capricorns. The six best, bar none.

  5. joem18b (231) said,

    September 19, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    So true. I make lists to choose from, post them, never quite finish making the lists (there are a million actors who’ve directed a single movie that they’re in), and never quite choose a final six.

    All the times I’ve done this, I could make a list.

  6. joem18b (231) said,

    September 19, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    I could live with this one:

    1. Orson Welles - Touch of Evil (1958)

    2. Erich Von Stroheim - Sunset Blvd. (1950)

    3. Laurence Olivier - Hamlet (1948)

    4. Albert Brooks - Modern Romance (1981)

    5. Dennis Hopper - Easy Rider (1969)

    6. Rob Reiner - This is Spinal Tap (1984)

  7. RealityChuck (1) said,

    September 24, 2007 at 9:10 am

    I just wanted to mention a name that is obscure, but one of the most memorable director performances ever:

    Mark Rydell in The Long Goodbye

    As a director, Rydell is best known for “On Golden Pond,” but he has done a handful of acting roles. In “The Long Goodbye,” he played Marty Augustine, a gangster who is a living definition of the word “psychotic.” He is one of the most chilling villains in cinema, simply because he’s completely unpredictable.

    I would limit my list to exclude directors who are actor/directors throughout their career; Chaplin, Keaton, and Allen, though great, are really more than just a director who decided to go in front of the camera. Thus, my list:

    1. Mark Rydell in “The Long Goodbye”
    2. John Huston in “Chinatown”
    3. Martin Scorsese in “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy*”
    4. Peter Bogdonavich in “Targets.”
    5. Dennis Hopper in “Easy Rider.”

    *He played the director of the Jerry Langford show. When Langford doesn’t show up, Tony Randall says, “You’re the director. Tell me what to do.”

  8. Andy (13) said,

    September 27, 2007 at 11:15 am

    I wonder if anyone considered voice acting performances?

    How about the much-loved Brad Bird as Edna Mode in The Incredibles? Very memorable. Top notch.

    Also had to mention a comedic performance (if you can call it that) by a (sort-of) director that has absolutely no artistic merit whatsoever and I guess would qualify as a guilty pleasure: Trey Parker in Orgazmo as Joe Young, mormon porn star.

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