Great actors can take seemingly banal dialogue and make it memorable — for better or worse. We pick the best, and the most hilariously bad, line readings of the year, and explain what makes them so unforgettable. Read the rest of our best of the year content here.
Great actors can take seemingly banal dialogue and imbue it with meaning, delivering it in unexpected but entirely authentic ways. In the first of our features looking back at the best acting on film in 2017, we celebrate creative line deliveries that tell you everything you need to know about a character, render potential throwaway lines quotable, and leave you thinking about their precise intonation days later. We start with genuinely great lines, and then pivot to lines so terrible (‘for the lolz’) — but delivered so memorably — that they’ve become legendary.
“Good-ness” / “What did you do?” – Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Call Me by Your Name is a sad, sweet, and life-affirming film — but it’s also a funny one. Oliver (Armie Hammer) has been there, done that when it comes to love, and so he finds it amusing to watch the inexperienced Elio (Timothée Chalamet) fumble through his first love; we laugh along with Oliver when Elio launches into their first kiss without restraint, or when he collapses into Oliver the night they first have sex because Elio has no idea what he’s supposed to do next. That’s how Elio does everything: impulsively, because he is 17, and lacking the perspective or caution that comes with age. “Good-ness”, Oliver exclaims, when Elio speeds out of the car to meet his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) at midnight. Hammer relishes placing emphasis on the word, showing us how Oliver is both awed and amused by Elio’s reckless energy. – Orla Smith'Hammer relishes placing emphasis on 'Good-ness, showing us how Oliver is both awed and amused by Elio’s reckless energy.'Click To Tweet
Once Elio and Oliver have consummated their relationship, Oliver rarely stops smiling. Hammer conveys just how much joy and fun Oliver has when he’s with Elio by brightening his voice and extending his words. When Oliver discovers something peachy midway through giving Elio a blowjob, he stops, considers, starts again, stops, and smilingly asks — playful and amused — “What did you do?” He lingers on the “do”, like it’s a shared secret, and one he’s delighted by. – Alex Heeney
The Buñuel argument – Call Me by Your Name
After Oliver and Elio share their first kiss, they find themselves united at lunch, listening to an Italian couple who will not stop arguing, or talking over each other. The intensity of the couple’s fighting peaks when the husband exclaims, “Buñuel is a genius!” His wife retorts, frustrated, “Cinema is not the answer!” He fires back, “Who doesn’t love Bunuel!?” with such stubborn certainty that the subtitles translate it as “Everyone loves Buñuel!” The couple don’t even cede the floor for Oliver to answer when they ask him a question — the Perlman clan and Oliver can only silently look on. The reaction shots are priceless; they watch the husband and wife fight, flabbergasted and amused that, well… this is what love and marriage look like? – AH
“Afternoon.” – Jack Lowden, Dunkirk
As a Jack Lowden early adopter — I’ve been 100% on board since War & Peace — I knew long ago that he was destined for stardom. He finally gets his movie star moment in Dunkirk when, after his RAF pilot, Collins, is rescued from a sinking plane by Mark Rylance’s band of amateur sailors, he greets his rescuers with an effortlessly debonair, “Afternoon” — as if he hadn’t just come close to dying. – AH'In DUNKIRK, Jack Lowden finally gets his movie star moment when he is rescued from a sinking plane and greets his rescuers with an effortlessly debonair, 'Afternoon'.'Click To Tweet
“Fancy” – Gemma Jones, God’s Own Country
As Deidre, the grandmother of protagonist Johnny (Josh O’Connor), Gemma Jones is stern but clearly loving — seen in the way her eyes twinkle and her stiffened lips curve into slight, shrewd smiles. In the film’s rural Yorkshire setting, emotions are either unsaid, or spoken in code — Deidre’s meaning is understood solely through her tone of voice and expression, and not her words.
Deidre replies, “fancy,” after Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) mentions that his mother teaches English. It’s a throwaway aside from her, with a hint of judgment, while she processes this new information and continues to suss Gheorghe out. The line is humorous, and telling, because nothing Gheorghe has said is fancy at all; he has come to the UK because of a lack of economic opportunities for him and his family in Romania. We can infer that Deidre is a woman who may well have never ventured far from her hometown, as meeting and hearing about the life of someone from a foreign country is novel and “fancy”, no matter the context. – OS
“Our children are dying, but yes, I can make you mashed potatoes” – Nicole Kidman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Killing of a Sacred Deer only works if you view it as a comedy. Disappointingly, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest isn’t nearly as densely packed with ideas as The Lobster or Dogtooth were — but the bone dry humour of the film comes close to making up for that. On top of absurdist visual gags such as Colin Farrell repeatedly dropping his son onto the floor like a rag doll, there’s the joy of watching actors adopt the deadpan delivery required for Lanthimos’ films. Kidman’s irritated, “our children are dying, but yes, I can make you mashed potatoes”, is one example of an actor perfectly capturing that very specific tone; the anxiety of a distressed mother and potential victim is detectable in her voice, and that close proximity to serious drama makes the ridiculousness of her words, and her slightly unnatural delivery, all the more hilarious. – OS
“Hella tight” – Timothée Chalamet, Lady Bird
Watching Lady Bird a few days after Call Me by Your Name gave me quite a case of whiplash. In isolation, Timothée Chalamet’s performance as Elio, in the latter, is brilliant — possibly the best of the year — but what really blew me away was how different he is in Lady Bird.
This kid was just frolicking around Italy with Armie Hammer, playing piano like a maestro, quoting 16th century poetry, and falling deeply, madly, and painfully in love! — and now, all of a sudden in Lady Bird, he’s ‘that guy’: an ultra-serious teen named Kyle, who’s in a band, thinks the government is tracking our phones, and says things like “hella tight” with the straightest face imaginable.'In isolation, Timothée Chalamet’s performance in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is brilliant, but what really blew me away was how different he is in LADY BIRD.'Click To Tweet
Chalamet effortlessly adopts the exact kind of Californian mannerisms that the cosmopolitan European Elio was worlds away from; in many way, Kyle is closer to Armie Hammer’s very American, outwardly cool Oliver in Call Me by Your Name than he is to Elio. The first time Kyle and Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) talk, he stares her dead in the eyes and keeps his voice absurdly emotionless in an attempt at ‘cool guy’ indifference. It left me wondering: where did Elio go?! And where did this ridiculously talented young actor come from? – OS
“You already have a stupid job. Wouldn’t change a thing, and this one pays better.” – Lars Eidinger, Personal Shopper
Lars Eidinger (whom I fell in love with after seeing his Richard III on stage) shows up only briefly in Personal Shopper, as the boyfriend of Kyra, the woman being shopped for — but he leaves an impression. As he and Maureen (Kristen Stewart) wait for Kyra to finish a phone conversation, they chat about how Maureen is much too smart and talented for her job. When he announces that she has “a stupid job”, it’s said without malice — in fact, it’s respectful, if slightly condescending. It’s meant more as a provocation, to persuade her to find something better, but also, perhaps, to weasel his way into her life by offering to help her get this better paid stupid job. – AH
For the LOLZ
“I’ll do the fingering” – Michael Fassbender, Alien: Covenant
Like it or not, Alien: Covenant is certainly one of the ballsier examples of studio filmmaking in recent memory — probably because Ridley Scott was allowed to do whatever the fuck he wanted. This included a scene where two clones of Michael Fassbender make love the only way robots know how: by playing the recorder.
“Blow into the hole gently, like so”, says David (Michael Fassbender), before demonstrating. “Watch me, I’ll do the fingering”, he instructs in a clipped, regal British accent, placing the instrument to the enthralled Walter’s (also Michael Fassbender) lips without ever breaking eye contact. It plays out in the most serious manner possible — shot in a single, graceful take, with the two characters lit in dramatic silhouette — but my theatre erupted in laughter. It’s hard to imagine that Scott, Fassbender, and Fassbender weren’t all in on the joke, too. – OS
“We are not murdering the police commissioner and that is final!” – Naomi Watts, The Book of Henry
Nothing about The Book of Henry makes any sense. It features a child genius trading stocks over the phone during his school lunch break, a grown woman kissing a dying 11-year-old on the lips, and Naomi Watts playing XBox. But Watts’ scolding tone when her youngest son (Jacob Tremblay) suggests they carry out his brother Henry’s (Jaeden Lieberher) dying wish is incredibly relatable, even if the context… isn’t.
Watts delivers the line — “we are not murdering the police commissioner and that is final!” — in the manner of a mother telling her child that he can’t have ice cream for breakfast, or that he can’t stay up past his bedtime to watch TV, or that he can’t shoot the next-door neighbour with a sniper rifle like he really wanted to. You know, normal kid stuff. – OS
“Home” – Kenneth Branagh, Dunkirk
After seeing Dunkirk, in which Kenneth Branagh plays a brave and stalwart officer leading the evacuation, I asked Twitter:
On a scale from 0 to 10 Branaghs (Hamlet being 12), how many Branaghs is his DUNKIRK performance? On 1st view, I thought 6. Now, at least 8.— Alex Heeney (@bwestcineaste) August 1, 2017
Look, Branagh is an incredibly talented actor. His Henry V and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing are pretty much definitive interpretations. But he’s also deeply susceptible to vanity: he published an autobiography at 29, pared down Love’s Labour’s Lost to its bare minimum without actually deleting any of his lines, and gave us the world’s longest Hamlet film (it’s 4 hours, but it feels like 10). Especially as he ages, Branagh seems less and less capable of performing without a wink to the audience, as if to say, “Look at me acting. I am ACTING! BRILLIANTLY!” And his posh, heroic officer in Dunkirk was pretty much the perfect vehicle for this.
Twitter obliged me with replies so great and descriptions so vivid, I’ll let them speak for themselves:
In the moment where he removes his hat to peer skyward in the face of certain destruction, you can see a glimmer in his eye.
— FilmBart: An Introduction (@FilmBart) 1 August 2017
Perfect. And I’d add one for the twitch of his lip before he replies to the question “What do you see?” and he says “Home.”
— Andy Hazel (@AndyRickie) 1 August 2017
9, especially when he announces he’ll stay behind
— Brett Pardy (@AntiqueiPod) 1 August 2017
It’s the purest, most fractionally distilled essence of Branagh. 9.9999 rec.
— Julien Allen (@JulesArk) 1 August 2017
depends on the format, extra branaghs in 70mm
— Grace (@GemOfAmara) 1 August 2017
“I was being romantic and then you just go and distract me with your kinky fuckery.” – Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades Darker
As Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) attempt to sustain a ‘normal’ relationship, we’re offered amusing contrasts between their banal, unsexy domestic life, and the ‘kinky fuckery’ which made the books so popular. This ridicule was already — but accidentally so — the sole pleasure of the first film, with its commercial imperative forcing the studio to significantly tone down the explicitness of the material. In Darker, it feels as though the filmmakers, too, have finally realised where the fun of these films lie. This sequel is in on the joke in a way its predecessor wasn’t — ludicrous plot twists and scenarios play out without any anxiety about how realistic or believable they might seem. Johnson graces us with a wonderful performance, her delivery underlining the silliness of the script with a subtlety and elegance the material itself does not possess. – Elena Lazic'Dakota Johnson gives a wonderful performance in FIFTY SHADES DARKER, her delivery underlining the script's silliness with a subtlety and elegance the material itself does not possess.'Click To Tweet
“It’s a table. You sit at it.” – Charlie Hunnam, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
By the time you reach the end of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, nothing is important except the sweet release of the closing credits — or death (whichever’s faster). It’s the film equivalent of wet cement, in the texture of the visuals, and the texture of your brain after enduring it for 126 minutes. But it was nice of Ritchie to give us something to laugh about with the film’s final line, spoken with macho seriousness by Charlie Hunnam. It provides some necessary context for Ritchie’s planned and definitely-still-going-forward Knights of the Round Table movie: “It’s a table. You sit at it.” No shit. – OS
“I think children smell love” – Charlize Theron, The Last Face
The Last Face opens with a title card proclaiming that the ‘singular brutality’ of the Liberian civil war is only equalled by ‘the brutality of an impossible love shared by a man and a woman’ — and it only gets better from there. Sean Penn’s film is the movie equivalent of people who think Africa is a country, glossing over the experiences of nameless refugees in montage to make way for the real conflict: the bland romance between benevolent white saviours Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem. In The Last Face, foreplay means brushing your teeth while staring into each other’s eyes, and sex involves using your teeth to pick up a pen your partner is holding between their toes. The film also features a character unironically named Dr. Love (Jared Harris), which makes it particularly confusing when Theron pensively proclaims: “I think children smell love.” Does he really smell that bad? – OS
“My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.” – Kenneth Branagh, Murder on the Orient Express
Kenneth Branagh’s rather useless adaptation of this Agatha Christie classic would have benefited from more of this sort of arrogance, and less feeble attempts at respectability. As it is, the film sits uneasily between the two, its silly pleasures too few and far between to make this bombastic and unsubtle rehash interesting. – EL
Leave it to Branagh to make our “For the LOLZ” list twice. David Suchet was RIGHT THERE. – AH
“The good, the extreme, and the completely insane.” – Vin Diesel, xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The dialogue in xXx: Return of Xander Cage varies from vaguely pathetic to amusingly lame — but Vin Diesel’s description of his team members also gives a sense of delightful jollity. Diesel delivers this line with his usual grin, and although no one can be sure, it feels like he probably knows that describing something as ‘extreme’ has been out of fashion for many years. But he does it anyway, because it makes him happy. – EL'Vin Diesel probably knows that describing something as ‘extreme’ has been out of fashion for many years. But he does it anyway, because it makes him happy.'Click To Tweet