by David Christopher Bell
Monologues are to actors what analogies are to bullshit writers who have no idea how to start their list article about monologues. What I mean is that every actor should have a really good understanding on how to perform a monologue – at least I assume so considering that they are the most common tools for auditioning for a part. To someone like myself, who couldn’t act even if Hitler’s death depended on it, I really have no idea what goes into a monologue – however, I do know what comes out of a good one. So when I judge the talent of these I’m really just judging how effective they seemed to be, not necessarily the amount of artistic effort that was put into it. Simply put, these are some terrific monologues.
14. Hugo Weaving on the human virus in The Matrix
It’s actually three different monologues that are intercut with other scenes – but each one tells a single progressing story: Agent Smith is freaking crazy. It’s terrific how he goes from this calm and collected piece of programming to actually showing an emotional repulsion toward the human race. It’s kind of a moment where all bets are suddenly off, and we realize that there is much, much more to this villain, and much more to the properties of the Matrix, than we originally thought. Hugo Weaving pulls the whole thing off absolutely perfectly, making the seamless transition over from bot to lunatic.
13. Zach Galifianakis’s wolf pack speech in The Hangover
This is really the defining moment of Zach’s one-man wolf pack character in this film – awkward, emotional, antisocial, and horribly inappropriate. The prepared speech aspect of it is damn funny, as well as his stumbling over-clarification of his upgrade from one to two men in his wolf pack. Then there is the obvious denial of being a ‘lone wolf’ and instead calling yourself a single member of a pack of wolves. All that is great, but my favorite thing about this speech is the other men’s tolerance and acceptance of how weird it all is – actually enjoying the funniness the same way the audience is. Then of course, like any gathering, it all derails the moment someone starts cutting their hand.
12. Christopher Walken tells the story of the gold watch in Pulp Fiction
There are a lot of awesome speeches in this film I could have also gone with, but I really think this one takes the cake. First of all, this entire sequence is the pivotal piece of motivation for Butch to risk his life retrieving the watch, so it absolutely has to work. You have to believe that you would, in his situation, have to get that watch too. No better way to do that than this truly epic story involving generations upon generations passing this hunk of gold from father to son, only for it to end with a seven-year up-the-butt sacrifice. If someone hid something up their butt for that long just to give it to me, I too would rather die than lose it. What I love about this monologue is that Walken tells the story in such a detailed and passionate way, such a stoic description of these brave men, right until he gets to the part of the story that he personally witnessed. All of a sudden his character instantly loosens up as he very casually talks about sticking a watch up his ass.
11. Bill Murray rallies the troupes in Stripes
Oh, sweet Bill. Truly an American hero is this man that his rallying cries could even make Jello Biafra join the army. If you ever need to convince someone of the merits of being an American citizen you need not look further than this speech. We are truly the biggest mutts of the world, and by big, I do mean overweight. What gets me is the mix of Kindergarten-level compassion given to these supposed army men combined with the honesty that no one in the room was smart enough to stay out of the army. The childish way he makes people raise their hands if they cried during Old Yeller is almost as good as the childish way they hesitantly go along with him. It’s adorable.
10. Viggo Mortensen talks about the fall of man in The Return Of The King
What I dearly love about pre-battle warm-up speeches in movies is that at some point they had to have prepared something ahead of time… like, they know they will have to give a big dramatic speech before battle so they certainly must have practiced it in the mirror a few times first. This speech is particularly terrific because, unless I am mistaken, it marks the first time that Aragorn gets to do this as a leader – man, he must have had this speech prepared for years! It’s a good one too, quick and to the point, one to rival Mel Gibson’s Braveheart speech (a speech I omitted from this list because it felt too expected).
9. Tommy Lee Jones recalls a dream in No Country For Old Men
Every aspect of this film, from the characters to the (lack of) music and sound, is incredibly simple in this weird way. What I mean is that even the most chaotic element of the story, Javier Bardem’s sociopathic Chigurh, runs on very basic and set principles that are pretty damn straightforward in nature. The complexities come from watching these rather stubborn characters’ basic motivations and personalities chug along to the inevitable moment in which they collide with one another because we all know that not everyone is going to get what they want, and everyone wants something drastically different. This ending speech with Tommy Lee Jones retelling an extremely symbolic dream perfectly represents this as such a profound vision of his father is both recognized as such and nonchalantly told the way one would tell any dream. It’s just so simple in every way but says something so complex about his character and about the film.
8. Brad Pitt explains the in and outs of the nuthouse in 12 Monkeys
It’s a little scattered in that Brad Pitt’s character Jeffery is pretty much in a constant state of monologue throughout this movie. It was this role when I first realized that Brad Pitt could act, and since then I have had a warm fondness for the man, but lately, I’ve been hoping to see him do something as out there as this character was; I don’t think he’s really ever topped this. The dialogue itself is great, as is the way he delivers it, but the thing I love most is the body language and facial expressions; he truly looks bat shit crazy with his hand flicking and face twitching. Along with that, whenever the nurse scolds him he seems to have this great moment of remorse each time, as he knows full well that he is acting out, only to almost instantly forget it. The cherry is Bruce Willis’s drugged-up droopy face as he slowly puts together just how nuts this guy is. There should be more films like this film.
7. Heath Ledger explains how he got his scars in The Dark Knight
I should probably explain why I’m not using the ‘Why so serious?” speech that happens earlier – the reason is pretty simple: This scene is better. Sure, that other scene has a famous line in it, but performance-wise the second time the Joker explains his scars is way, way better. Not to mention the tension that builds as the camera dizzyingly circles while that sickening Joker note spikes in the soundtrack. Heath’s performance seems less rushed, his pacing slower and more precise. Then there is the fact that this is the moment when, for obvious reasons, we realize that the Joker’s previous explanation of how he got his scars was most likely a lie, as is the current explanation. Suddenly this character gets way, way scarier because you realize that there is no connection to who he is and how he got his scars – we were almost able to relax more at least knowing the story, and now we’re once again in the dark.
6. Ellen Burstyn is “somebody now” in Requiem For A Dream
My god, this movie is so well done and so, SO freaking depressing. Like… seriously – I watch this film because I crave it so much, and I never feel good afterward… it’s like… I dunno, drugs. If there were ever a moment that embodies just how goddamn disheartening this film is, it’s this monologue. I don’t even have much to say about it, the performance goes down to the bone – it’s like watching an animal slowly die as this woman explains the last sliver of hope for happiness she has in her life. Drugs aside, that’s really what this film is about, happiness and the people who find it any way they can. The addiction to being loved and feeling good.
5. Bruno Ganz is one pissed-off Hitler in Downfall
Well, first off I would like to thank the Internet for not only making it impossible to find a version of this scene with its original subtitles but also for turning one of the most amazing performances of the last decade into a useless meme. So now that everyone knows this scene exists they might want to go and see the actual film because the film is crazy. Bruno Ganz’s performance is so spot on it’s indeterminable to the real thing. The story itself is chilling as you watch these people completely enamored with this true monster, willing to go the lengths of poisoning their own children before putting themselves down as well. Like a cult, they follow every order he gives. That is, except for his generals who, as you see in that scene, kind of cost Hitler the war. That’s the interesting aspect of this, how little of this downfall was actually his fault – at least in this telling of the story. Anyway, it’s this moment that serves as the peak of this performance, this wonderful screaming monologue when Hitler learns he’s been completely screwed. The intensity of the room is so great that it immortalized itself in countless Internet spoofs, many of which I have to admit are pretty damn funny.
4. Peter Finch is “as mad as hell” in Network
This scene is particularly interesting as it seems to be just as, if not more, relevant today as it was when Network was made. I guess the message is pretty timeless; the first step in any real change is to get royally pissed off at the current condition things are in. And boy does Peter Finch’s performance waft with anger. It’s crazy anger, the kind of anger you have when you get cut off, but only in this case, it’s for the world around him. Of course, his character is, in fact, crazy – that is the point of this film. It’s a man who has been driven off the edge by the world and is now having that rightful insanity used for television ratings. This film is an amazing demonstration of exploitation in its most evil form.
3. Alec Baldwin tells us what it takes to sell real estate in Glengarry Glen Ross
Every morning I wake up and watch this scene because I find that it helps with my reoccurring inability to remember to close my front door when I leave the house. The collection of swingin’ dicks in this movie is staggering, and if you happen to be a guy who is about to enter a pissing contest be sure to watch every moment of it. However, if you only have eight minutes on your hands you can just watch Alec Baldwin’s alpha male cameo performance above. He literally steps into this movie, delivers the most memorable performance of it, and then bounces. That’s a pretty big deal for a film that also has Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, and Al Pacino in it.
2. Eric Idle complains about travel in Live At The Hollywood Bowl
BAM. I’m banking on the fact that most people did not see this one coming. Monty Python’s Live At The Hollywood Bowl isn’t really even a theatrical film, but that kind of plays into this. Firstly, if you’ve watched the clip above or seen this bit before you know damn well why this is number two. He rants about going on holiday, continuously, for over four solid minutes. He does so extremely fast and spends half the time climbing through the audience while delivering his lines. And it’s freaking live – there’s no editing to be had here, he remembers and delivers an endless sentence without a single flub. There’s just so much he had to think about for this to work, the actual lines, the physical humor, the fact that he is traversing over hippies and drunks. One possibility that comes to mind is that eventually the lines, which do start the same as the non-live sketch does, might have turned into improvisations… a possibility that would actually make this even more impressive.
1. Robert Shaw takes us to the USS Indianapolis in Jaws
You know, the moment I decided to do this list I instantly felt very sad. The reason why is that I knew, right away, that I couldn’t possibly surprise anyone with the number one choice. No doubt that everyone who is reading this must have said Quint’s name aloud the first moment they read the title. But, how can I not? Not only is his performance of this monologue absolutely convincing as both a drunk and as someone who seemed to be honestly haunted by the experience, but also the story of the USS Indianapolis crew being massacred by sharks is freaking true! On top of that, Robert Shaw not only performed the monologue, but he actually wrote it! You just can’t beat all that. And the way he performs it, the slow descent into vulnerability as what he tries to start as a kind of tough story degrades into pure horror, Quint’s tough front just can’t help but to slip away and suddenly his character actually means something. This is the moment that we care about this guy and not just think of him as some funny New England drunk. It’s the showstopper of the movie.