From Brian's Song to Terms of Endearment, Cancer's 5 Greatest Screen Performances
Single-named phenomenon Cancer has a deservedly chilly reputation outside of Hollywood, but in films, the heterogeneous class of diseases inhabits a world all its own as a performer, provocateur and villain. In this week's 50/50, Cancer arrives with a harrumph and lingers like a noxious haze, making it the Joan Crawford of 2011. This begs the question: What are Cancer's five greatest performances in cinema? The answer will force you into a beautiful monologue.
5. Brian's Song
Cancer smartly appealed to the male population in one of its first starring outings, choosing to illuminate the plight of football icon Brian Piccolo. In this landmark TV movie, James Caan plays the sick star, and Billy Dee Williams plays Gale Sayers, the Bears legend who gives a thoughtful, poignant speech about his friend. Note the fearsome presence of Cancer, which pervades the room with real star potential.
4. Dying Young
Here it is: Cancer's guilty pleasure. While many tearjerker illness films softly tread on past successes in the same subgenre, Julia Roberts cries ultra-loudly in this romantic yarn with Campbell Scott. It's the right movie to cry at, even if the characters are more interesting than the predicament they're in. Cancer likes to pretend it did a lot of the work here, but our titular duo is compelling enough without a life-threatening circumstances. You're righteous, Cancer, but you're not the true star here!
3. One True Thing
Realism is important, and nobody knows this better than Cancer. In this family drama, we watch as Renee Zellweger comes to grips with her parents -- especially her mother (Meryl Streep), whose sickness requires a frosty Zellweger to move in and learn how to take care of her. It's a movie that won't wow you with Cancer's range, but its fiery antagonism is never in question, even if Cancer is often soft-spoken throughout this movie.
2. Terms of Endearment
Cancer barely even read the script for the first half of Terms of Endearment, and in the second half, it hogged all the attention and forced Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine to schedule around it. This is where it becomes a story with a semblance of a spine. Sure, MacLaine and Nicholson scored Academy wins, but it's Cancer that brought them to their best point. It's the performance that makes you forgive Cancer's gimmicky, cloying performances in movies like Love Story and The Family Stone.
After Cancer accepted that it was never going to win the Oscar, it downgraded itself to the small screen figuring its polarizing technique would work on pay-cable. Cancer was right. In this Mike Nichols-helmed HBO adaptation of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-winning play, Emma Thompson triumphs as the terminally ill professor Vivian Bearing, whose comprehension of John Donne's works helps propel her through incessant rounds of chemotherapy. Cancer is a jack-of-all-trades in this movie, moving gracefully from lighthearted moments into utter devastation, and that's why Wit topples a Best Picture like Terms of Endearment. It's poetic, but unpretentious. And the Cancer finds a way into every verse, breath and punctuation mark of Vivian's journey, taking on layered meanings as she deciphers the segue (or is it a comma?) between life and death. C'mon, Cancer deserved a Saturn Award here. At least.