The Italian film industry, already a little incestuous, tends to cast movies in, at times, precarious and unpredictable fashion. Directors obviously have their favorites and hire them over and again, but they are also surprisingly successful casting complete unknowns.
Because of this, sometimes the best actors don’t get the best parts, but since no Italian actor is earning Tom Cruise’s salary, I’m sure they are just happy to work.
That said, I never penalize the best actors for appearing in bad movies (i.e. Filippo Timi in Com’è Bello Far L’amore) and I can’t fault directors for wanting to work with their friends. This all makes it harder to make a “Best Actors” list, but here I go:
Riccardo Scamarcio is a pretty boy with a very curious career. I find myself frustrated with his choice of roles, and then remind myself that it might not be all his fault. Years ago I read that (the super handsome) Raoul Bova had complained about not getting good roles because he’s too good-looking, and I thought, “Oh, boo-hoo, Raoul. You’re just making excuses.” But maybe he wasn’t.
This might explain why Scamarcio has been so underused and undervalued. When I saw him in L’Uomo Perfetto it was clear that he had a gift. Handsome, sensitive, natural, and sincere, he makes the perfect lead in a romantic comedy and I remember thinking that he’d be a superstar on an international level. He’s in one of my favorite movie scenes, dancing and singing to “50Mila” in Ferzan Ozpetek’s Mine Vaganti.
This is the Italian trailer without subtitles, because I like it better, but Mine Vaganti is available from Amazon with English Subtitles for instant viewing.
Filippo TImi‘s outstanding performance in Vincere was on New York Magazine’s list of “2010’s 25 Best Performances That Won’t Win Oscars”. But as evil and intense as he was playing Benito Mussolini, that’s how funny and charming playing Che Guevara in Missione di Pace. And as much as I loved VIncere, his performance in La Doppia Ora may be my favorite of all, playing a grieving widower, a security guard who meets a mysterious young woman speed dating.
I couldn’t make a list of best actors and not include my favorite Luigi Lo Cascio, who by the way has the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen. Luigi is not just my favorite Italian actor, he’s my favorite actor from any country, and he’s done it all. From the cold, determined Red Brigades terrorist in Marco Bellocchio’s Buon Giorno Notte, to the romantic loner in Luce Dei Miei Occhi, to the traumatized incest victim in Cristina Comencini’s La Bestia Nel Cuore, Luigi acts his ass off every time.
Last summer at the Venice Film Festival I was delighted to see how well he did with his first attempt at directing; La Città Ideale. Keep an eye on the film’s Facebook page (and while you are there, “like” it!) for news of international distribution.
You can fall in love with Luigi yourself with the help of Amazon and Netflix, both offering lots of his movies, but why don’t you start with the TV mini-series, La Meglio La Meglio Gioventù (The Best of Youth). The whole thing is available, in parts, on YouTube.
Elio Germano won me over in a movie that is hard to find here in the US, La Nostra Vita (Our Life). Take a look at this scene with distraught Claudio, played by Germano, at his wife’s funeral, trying to hold it together and failing.
Right now you can buy Germano’s Mio Fratello è Figlio Unico (My Brother is an Only Child) for just $4.99 from Amazon.
Toni Servillo‘s the guy you know even if you don’t, having starred in many of the really successful and exported modern Italian films like Gomorrah, Il Divo, and La Ragazza del Lago, and it would be hard to say which performance was his best.
I suggest starting with Il Divo, a very cool movie from Paolo Sorrentino (This Must Be The Place). In this one, Servillo plays the super creepy and evil 7 time prime minister of Italy, Giulio Andreotti and you can watch it right this instant with Amazon.