Top 6 Movie “Heat Checks”

Top 6 Movie “Heat Checks”

Batman/Bruce Wayne: You’re vigilantes. / Henri Ducard: No, no, no. A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely. / Batman/Bruce Wayne: Which is?/ Henri Ducard: A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend.

– Liam Neeson (Ducard) & Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne) in Batman Begins

Those of you who have frequented my blog know about my need for POP! Culture comfort. Whether it is gaming with my brother-in-law Kyle, movie chats with my brother Jeff, or, as you will learn in future blog posts, my LEGO builds, golf outings, and addiction to the television show, American Dad. Today’s blog post, I will jump back to my weekly movie chats with my brother. There I will continue to explore the podcast that inspired our conversations, Bill Simmons’ The Rewatchables. More importantly, this blog will examine the best and most time-consuming category, “Best Heat Check.”

What is a Heat Check?

To understand this category, you will have to go back and look at my first actual post called, POP! Culture on Repeat, which provides some background of my weekly movie chats with my brother over the last several months. There you will find a list of all the movies we have discussed (with the addition of Goonies), and it is from that list, and that list alone, I will rank my top 6 “Heat Check” performances. What is a heat check, you ask? It’s a basketball term, referring to the player who comes off the bench and hits three shots in a row and is on a roll. Remember NBA Jam back in the day, and the announcer would say, “he’s heating up,” or “he’s on fire.” In his blog Dunk & Three, Luke Zhang wrote a heat check is “when a player who is “hot” and has made a few shots in a row takes a difficult shot. This shot might be from really long distance or happen with defenders right in his face…they launch a heat check to see if they can keep the streak going.”

Connecting the basketball concept of a heat check to a film performance by an actor or actress is not something I concocted. This category on The Rewatchables podcast is one I have spoken about on my blog and on my POP! Culture Musings page. I didn’t create the idea, but I freaking love it. All you do is watch a movie, focus on who is in the film with limited scenes and who crushes the performance. There can be disagreements, and often, my brother and I diverge in our heat check thinking. In the end, it’s the best category of The Rewatchables, and I cannot watch a movie without selecting one actor for the heat check award.

There are 20 movies that my brother Jeff and I have watched. So that is a lot of heat check performances. Some acting performances were solid, we liked it, and it won for the day, but did not measure up to the other heat check performances from other films. So, I decided to choose the top 6 from the list and give credit where credit was due.

To win the heat check award in the first place, one actor or actress had to crush every scene they were in, pretty much owning any actor they were performing with, while also having limited minutes in the movie. In the end, they would come off the bench shoot a bunch of quick three-pointers and off into the sunset they rode. An outstanding performance, with few scenes, but leaving a memorable mark on the viewer who, more times than not, will think of their heat check more than anything else!

It’s time. Start the music. Let me revel the Top 6 Movie “Heat Checks” from those 20 films Jeff and I have covered.

Number SIX: Carrie-Ann Moss as Natalie in Memento

Memento is probably my favorite movie of all time. It’s an insane experience, and Christopher Nolan is so artistic in his approach to film-making with the use of time, sequence, and overall how he seamlessly designs his films. Memento was my first plunge into Nolan’s world, and I have never looked back. Leonard Shelby is a man with no long-term memory, and the last thing he does remember is the murder of his wife. Guy Pierce, playing the main character, is haunting with his tattoos and stories of Sammy Jankis. But this is not a film review; it’s a Heat Check discussion! And for my number 6 best “Heat Check” Carrie-Anne Moss takes the prize.

Moss was fantastic as Natalie. Every scene she was in was a dominant display of acting chops, and she exudes a strong female character with incredible depth. Moss had her greatest moments when in scenes with Guy Pierce. In one, Moss yells at Pierce, hits him, and confessed she would use him to get what she wants, knowing he will not remember this conversation. This scene shocked me by how powerful a performance an actor could give, the impact of one scene, and one actor’s delivery can have on the story of the film. While this movie makes me think of Pierce and my first Nolan film experiences, Moss owned her scenes. Those scenes were intense, cryptic, and brilliant. The most rewatchable scenes and downright incredible moments, from the film, were those few Moss crushed. In my opinion, Moss elevated those scenes, and it is in this heat check performance, Moss brings out the best in Nolan’s writing and scene management by her flawless acting. No matter what else I see her in, whether it is Netflix Marvel shows like Jessica Jones or blockbuster film franchises like the Matrix, when I see her, I think of Natalie. 

“Leonard Shelby: So, you have information for me? / Natalie: Is that what your little note says? / Leonard Shelby: Yeah. / Natalie: Must be tough living your life according to a couple of scraps of paper. You mix your laundry list with your grocery list and you’ll end up eating your underwear for breakfast. I guess that’s why you have those freaky tattoos.”

– Carrie-Anne Moss (Natalie) & Guy Pierce (Leonard) in Memento

Number FIVE: Keith David as King in Platoon

In the pantheon of war films, few illicit a response much like Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, Oscar-winning film Platoon. It’s a fantastic film, one I consider to be the best war film ever made. I know many will demand Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse NowDeer HunterPaths of Glory, or maybe another, but Platoon is excellent because it seeks to portray the horrors of war through a single distinct experience. Not that other films don’t, they most certainly do, but Platoon speaks a different language, and I consider it the most significant war film. It was a movie of transformation, one the audience watched in its entirety. Stone, a soldier during the Vietnam War, looked inward to his own war experience and designed, developed, and created a haunting and shocking film. Join Platoon with his other movie, Born on the 4th of July, in my mind, Tom Cruise’s best performance, and you have two films exploring the war experience home and abroad. It explored a full reality of the horrors experienced, the dangers faced, and the war that would never leave those who lived through it. A movie with one of the best film scores, Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, but composed by George Delerue, and one of the most iconic movie scenes ever with Oscar nominees William Dafoe, in his nominated performance as Sgt. Elias, whose running in pursuit of an American chopper as it left him behind. Powerful! 

But in a movie that had Oscar-nominated performances by William Dafoe and Tom Berringer, and excellent overall acting by Charlie Sheen, it was Keith David, as King, who stood out and served as the best heat check performance in the film. Now, the heat check could have quickly gone to Dafoe, but his Oscar nomination disqualifies him for consideration. Please don’t ask why it’s the rule! David is a fantastic actor with incredible IMDB credits, but as King, he shined like no other. The scenes he was in, he took it to another level. His dialogue was on point, and David always seemed to elevate the performance of those around him. His best scene was with Sheen, as Chris Taylor, when he was telling him how long he had in service and why he had signed up for the war. In this scene, and a couple of others, showed David, as King, calling out white privilege, racism, economic inequality, and the hypocrisy of war itself. The character of King offered a moral center situated between the fights waged between good and evil within the platoon. Throughout it, he recognized the reality of the world around him and his desire to survive the war and return home. It was a performance to remember and a heat check that broke into the top 5.

“King: Hey, Taylor. How in the fuck you get here anyway? Why, you look educated. / Chris Taylor: I volunteered for it. / King: You did what? / Chris Taylor: I volunteered. I dropped out of college, and told them I wanted the infantry, combat, and Vietnam. / King: You’s a crazy fucker, giving up college. / Chris Taylor: It didn’t make much sense. I wasn’t learning anything. I figured why should just the poor kids go off to war and the rich kids always get away with it? / King: Oh, I see. What we got here is a crusader…Shit. You gotta be rich in the first place to think like that. Everybody know the poor are always being fucked over by the rich. Always have, always will.”

– Keith David (King) & Charlie Sheen (Chris Taylor) in Platoon

Number FOUR: John McGinley and Paul Wilson as “The Bobs” in Office Space (Honorable Mention: Jennifer Aniston)

In a departure from the seriousness of Memento, and historical significance of Platoon, I found one of the most pressing heat check performances of all time, but not by one individual, but rather two. Office Space is a hilarious 1999 film with Ron Livingston, who works at Initech during the Y2K changeover, hates his job, and sees every day as worse than the day before. In this concept by Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butt-head, comes a movie with tons of heat checks by Stephen Root, Gary Cole, and Richard Riesling, with consideration for Jennifer Anniston. Tons of great quotes, laughs, and incredible stupidity. In a movie I consider the best workplace comedy and one that made “jumping to conclusions;” flair, TPS reports, and paper jams a funny thing, there are two individuals, in tandem, that just crushed their role and make me think of this movie as the movie of the “Bobs.”

John McGinley and Paul Wilson are hilarious as Bob Slydell & Bob Porter; the two “Bob” consultants brought into Initech to help downsize the company, meaning meet with people, find out what they do, and make suggestions for who to let go. These interactions between the “The Bobs” and those whose jobs are in jeopardy make for the film’s most rewatchable scenes. These scenes are insanely funny, and the two Bobs set up the moments wonderfully, which elevated the performance of the other actor and makes for screen gold! It provided good back and forth between the actors, whose facial expressions sealed the win – looking at you, John McGinley, and that strange tongue movement! But, Office Space, as I said above, had several heat check performances. Jennifer Aniston (she will win an Oscar within the next ten years – you heard it here) crushed it as Joanna but was probably in a few scenes too many. Richarch Riehle, Tom Smykowski, who wanted to create a “jump to conclusions game” and feared losing his job the most, was brilliant and came in second for the heat check award. All scenes with this group of actors were funny and made for hours of rewatching enjoyment. But, as I learned in the Highlander, there can be only one, and for Office Space, it was the two Bobs…ok, so maybe two.

“Bob Alydell: Looks like you’ve been missing quite a bit of work lately. / Peter Gibbons: Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.”

– John McGinley (Bob) & Ron Livingston (Bob) in Office Space

Number THREE: Oliver Reed as Proximo in Gladiator (come on Bill S! Reed crushed it!)

To start, Gladiator is one of my brother’s all-time favorite films. He loves it, quotes it often, and had the movie poster when the film came out. Come to think of it; I think he started shaking people’s hands the way Russell Crowe did, as Maximus, soon after the movie’s initial release (“strength and honor”). Although, I could see me remembering that incorrectly. But he is not wrong in his response to and feelings about Gladiator. Gladiator is a great Ridley Scott film with an excellent plot, high drama, fun fight scenes, and quotes for days! The performances were all spectacular, with Russell Crowe receiving an Oscar for Best Actor, Djimon Hounsou putting in a substantial presence, and Joaquin Phoenix going over the top in the right way. Still, one actor, more than anyone else, just crushed their few scenes. That was Oliver Reed as Proximo, whose heat check performance was outstanding. Hopefully, my comments will make Bill Simmons rethink his wrong assessment of Reed’s performance when they covered Gladiator on The Rewatchables.

Jeff and I listened to the Gladiator episode of The Rewatchables podcast together. As I said in my earlier blog, we would pause it often to chat about what Bill Simmons, Chris Ryan, Shea Serrano, and Jason Concepcion had to say about the film. We are both enormous fans of Serrano’s commentary, especially when they did Bloodsport, but we found we disagreed with their assessment of Reed. They picked him for overacting, which was an opinion that made my beer taste bad, and I was drinking Trillium, those beers are amazing! Reed was fantastic in Gladiator, and, when side by side with Crowe in a scene, it was not Crowe who was that master actor, it was Reed. We loved his command. The dialogue written for him was robust, and he sold the character of a former gladiator seeking to relive, through a protégée, the glory of his fighting days in the Roman Colosseum. Reed seemed to have these impressive short monologues or comments that ranged from comedic to dramatic, and he owned each comment. Tragically, he did not live to see his performance, but his heat check lives on, and we now recognize it for the power it emitted. There was no overacting in Reed’s performance, only ownership of his role and what was required. It was a heat check that did not stop, throwing up and landing threes from all corners for the court. Oliver Reed, as Proximo, Number 3 best heat check, we salute you!

Proximo: You should see the Colosseum Spaniard. Fifty-thousand Romans watching every movement of your sword, willing you to make that killer blow. The silence before you strike and the noise afterwards. It rises. It rises up like a storm. As if you were the thunder god himself.”

– Oliver Reed (Proximo) in Gladiator

Number TWO: Martin Kove as Kreese in The Karate Kid

When it comes to the Top 2 Movie “Heat Checks,” it is a daunting task. I mean, we have watched great movies and, even the four we have already discussed are pretty phenomenal films with outstanding actors. But, the Number 2 heat check is in a world of its own and delivered by an actor who not only defined the role as a mean and violent karate sensei, but when you think of the film, The Karate Kid, you can’t help but think to yourself, “sweep the leg.” The Karate Kid is one of the best movies of the 1980s. You have everything; young love with Daniel and Ali (Ralph Macchio & Elisabeth Shue), overcoming a bully, looking at you Johnny (William Zabka), the protector and mentor Mr. Myagi (Pat Moreta), and a karate tournament to end all competitions, including the crane kick, heard round the world.

With all of this goodness, The Karate Kid has one of the best heat checks of all the movies so far and goes to Kreese, played by Martin Kove, who in all the Cobra Kai glory, exudes the dojo’s motto, “Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.” While the competition between Daniel and Johnny gives The Karate Kid its crucial plot, its Kove’s performance most remember. Kreese used violence as a method of his teaching, implemented intimidation to scare those who opposed him, and sought harm for Daniel in the last tournament by “sweeping the leg.” In doing this, Kreese wanted his Cobra Kai dojo to claim victory in the “1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship,” and with Johnny at his side, this made for the perfect movie storyline with the classic 80s movie villain. With limited scenes, Kove’s presence is on fire. His performance has lived on because, in those scenes, he lived by the Cobra Kai moto and had “no mercy.” His eyes, mannerism, and vocal command were displayed when he owned every scene. For example, the scene where Kreese was teaching at the dojo illustrates his unmerciful style or the competition where he forced one Cobra Kai competitor to harm Daniel, which resulted in his disqualification so that Johnny could face an injured Daniel in the final round – all illustrated Kove’s presence. Kreese needed to win, at all costs. Kove, as Kreese, did not need sweeping monologues to earn his heat check, all he had to do was stand there, look menacing, give a short yet direct command, and give an evil smirk, resulting in his coronation. An easy #2 choice for the sheer fact that when I think of all-time movie villains, Kreese is on the list, and he did it with very little screen time. 

“Kreese : We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy.”

– Martin Kove (Kreese) in The Karate Kid

Number ONE: Tilda Swinton as Mason in Snowpiercer

There are those films that come around, once in a while, where you have no expectations about the movie when you watch it and, after seeing it, are shocked at how good it was. I watched Snowpiercer years ago and only recently watched it again since it’s director, Bong Joon Ho recently won several Oscars for his newest masterpiece Parasite. He is an incredible director, and his vision for his scenes, camera angles, use of light and sound, and dialogue is mesmerizing. I am amazed by the fabric of the story he weaves, and at the center of both Snowpiercer and Parasite is economic inequality. His passion for storytelling and his illustration of severe issues in the world, like social injustice and the climate crisis, are on display, with a brilliant artistic style, in both films. But Snowpiercer, for some reason, has always stayed with me.

A film with a message about climate change and the human inability to collectively find a solution, sees the world encased in snow and ice with a lone train circling the globe, with the back of the train the poorest and the front, the richest. When a rebellion begins on board, led by Chris Evans, as Curtis, he must move from back to front, breaking down the forces seeking to keep them in a state of subjugation and slavery. It’s a violent, yet incredible and thrilling film experience. Yet, while Evans leads the film with appearances by Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, and Hang-ho Song, the film’s heat check is the best of any movie I have ever seen. The actress, who is so versatile in her performances, brings an unmatched presence. Tilda Swinton quickly offers the #1 best Heat Check and sits alone in this coveted category.

Whether she is playing a vampire in What We Do In The Shadows, or eccentric boss in the comedy Trainwrecked, or turns in an Oscar-worthy performance in the hauntingly dramatic film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Swinton seemingly transforms herself into any character and, in the end, is a perfect chameleon. She is a brilliant actress, and in Snowpiercer is a force. Here she takes on the character of Mason, second in command of the train and ambassador of the train’s head in the train’s tail. Swinton, as Mason, is ruthless, funny, strange, and gives persuasive, yet horrid, speeches to maintain absolute authority. In Mason, Swinton plays a terrible, but charismatically unique, villain who will stop at nothing to restore order, especially after the rebellion begins. The speeches she gives are amazing, owning the scenes by her facial expressions and guttural form of a British accent. At one point, she argues, “When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

The character of Mason is terrifying, and Swinton takes control and is able, although not in a large portion of the film, put her stamp on almost every scene. Whether Mason punished a man by freezing his arm off or took off her shoe during a speech to stimulate power and order, or sat down with rebellion leader Curtis for sushi in one of the train cars towards the front, the audience watched what took place with Mason in the back of their minds. Swinton put forward a performance so unnerving and fun to watch, but she manages to trounce the other actors. No one cares what Evans, as Curtis, is going to say or what his monologue will be. In Mason’s ruthlessness and her insane justification for the brutal actions used by the front of the train against the back, the audience is hooked and overtaken. And, as I said, something about her vocal presentation is haunting. In Snowpiercer, the viewer sees an actor do what they do best and flawlessly force you to see Mason and not Tilda, and with the few scenes, she is in, remembers back to this film with her commanding it in its entirety. That, everyone, is one hell of a heat check. Here you are seeing an actor bring out the best of a director and writer. Her performance, in lesser hands, could have swung wildly in different directions. That says so much about Tilda Swinton, her abilities, and once you have seen her as Mason, you will seek out more of her films, and each time know, you will get one hell of an acting performance. 

Thank you, Bill Simmons and The Rewatchables podcast, for creating this category. I cannot watch any movie without critiquing, analyzing, and eventually selecting a heat check winner, even when there is no reason to do so. Because, if Tilda Swinton as Mason in Snowpiercer taught me anything, sometimes the most incredible performance in a movie is from the actor who, with the minutes they have of screen time, they own it, accept it, and leave nothing behind. I implore you to find your heat check in every movie you watch; you will not be disappointed by what you discover. 

“Mason: Passengers, this is not a shoe. This is disorder. This is size ten chaos. This. See this? This is death.”

– Tilda Swinton (Mason) in Snowpiercer

Honorable Mentions:

Andre Braugher as Cpl. Thomas Searles in Glory

Corey Feldman as 1/2 of the Frog Brothers in The Lost Boys

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