Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: What are the worst attempts at an accent in TV and movies?
Monica Castillo, International Business Times
Al Pacino as Tony Montana in “Scarface.” That role will always haunt my family in the worse way. I was told many times in high school that I didn’t sound “Cuban” enough because my family’s accent resembles little of the very pronounced syllabic slurring Pacino used to create his Cuban accent. My younger cousins, looking to imitate the tough guy machismo, started to affect their speech the same way until our parents called them out on the ridiculous situation. They had come on one of the boat lifts similar to the one depicted in the movie, and used to get in fights with local kids for calling them criminals. Now, my cousins wanted to emulate the fake accent to prove their Cuban roots. Quite the personal bias, but the 1983 “Scarface” feels like listening to nails on a chalkboard for over two hours.
Ernesto Diezmartinez, Reforma
Benicio del Toro in “Traffic.” He’s trying to speak in a Mexican accent and you can’t understand a single word, carajo. Shame on the Oscar voters! (BTW, a great Mexican accent: Eli Wallach as Tuco).
Alison Nastasi, Flavorwire
As an Italian, I rate Nicolas Cage’s accent in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” as offensive as the Olive Garden and Fiat commercials.
Jason Shawhan, Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
The history of cinema is paved with awful accents. But none will ever- could ever- eclipse Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins.” I still love the film, but his accent, once you actually meet British people, is a shame that lingers.
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
I mentioned this on Twitter a couple days ago, but although it may be easy to mock Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent in “Mary Poppins,” the absolute nadir remains Quentin Tarantino’s Australian accent in “Django Unchained.” I like “Django Unchained”; I remember nearly loving it when I saw it in theaters in 2012, until the moment when Tarantino appeared and starting speaking in what is arguably the worst Aussie accent this side of Elaine Benes impersonating Meryl Streep in “A Cry in the Dark.” I may have unconsciously begun groaning aloud when he appeared for no good reason. Tarantino is a gifted writer and director, in direct opposition to his talent as an actor. I imagine someone would say, “Yes, but his accent is supposed to be bad!” Well, that’s just what I want: a scene in a major film derailed by a purposely terrible accent from a director giving himself a needless cameo. No thanks, mate.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second
I’m loathe to dive in on Quentin Tarantino at the moment (I’m a great fan and take no issue with whatever he may have said elsewhere this week), but I’m going to have to nominate his turn as an alleged Australian in his own “Django Unchained.” In a film full of heightened senses it’s the biggest (lone?) misstep.
Tomris Laffly, Movie Mezzanine, Film Journal International
Sorry to be predictable, but I’ll go with Quentin Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”
Greg Cwik, Vulture
First place: Tommy Wiseau attempting to sound like a human in “The Room.” Second place: Quentin Tarantino trying to sound like an Australian in “Django Unchained.” Third place: Jon Voight doing some sort of Spanish thing in “Anaconda,” in which Voight is out-acted by Ice Cube and a giant snake puppet. Honorable mention: Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves doing really bad English accents together in Francis Ford Coppola’s otherwise lyrically funny “Dracula.” The only reason more people don’t talk about Ryder’s awful accent is because she’s upstaged (downstaged?) by Reeves, sounding like an SNL parody of his own bad accent while Gary Oldman goes for Oscar gold and Anthony Hopkins hams it up with unabashed glee. Pretty sure Anthony Hopkins is having the most fun anyone has ever had in a Francis Ford Coppola film.
Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today
Keanu Reeves in “Dracula” is so transcendently bad I am not sure it’s not brilliant. I love that someone thought the accent was passable enough to let it go.
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
I mean, there’s gotta
be some sort of lifetime achievement award for Keanu Reeves, right? And
not just for the ear-bleeding “British” double-play of “Dracula” and “Much Ado”; his Southern Florida accent in “The Devil’s Advocate” would get booed off the stage of any reputable community theater company.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond” was pretty bad, but in a delightful way. Me and my friends still enjoy telling each other we have to get off this, “God foresaken con-ti-nent” or that bling-bling bling-bang line. It’s Leo’s earnestness, I think, that draws undo attention to what may very well be an accurate accent, I dunno, I’m an American. I have about as good an ear for accents as Germans do for Italian. And speaking of Tarantino, the man himself in “Django” making a stab at an Australian accent. But hey, he was trying his best and he was only standing in as a last minute replacement, like Sophia in “Godfather III.” But really I don’t mind bad accents. They speak to the joy of artifice that cinema captures so well. Or they’re an embarrassing attempt by an actor to display surface-level range. In any event just tell me where you’ve hidden the diamond and I’ll take you to find your family.
accents, or vice versa, is how, in the worst examples, the actors tend
to cling to one particular twang, which they stick with regardless of
where the character comes from. So all British accents done by Americans
sound like they come from the East End via Pakistan, and the Brits’
Americans accents sound, well, I don’t know: generic. I can tell when
Americans are doing a shitty accent, but not so much the other way
round, except when it is so patently obvious: as in where Michael Caine
does an American accent. As for the question: Christopher Lambert’s
accent in Highlander is so fucking all over the place that even the film
acknowledges it: “You sound funny, Nash. Where are you from?”
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times
I’ll stand by Tom Hardy’s Bane, but not whatever Brooklyn shenanigans he’s attempting in “The Drop,” nor his marble-mouthed bootlegger mumbles in “Lawless.” Elsewhere, Leonardo DiCaprio’s overcooked Irish accent unexpectedly stood out in a recent revisit of “Gangs of New York” (his South African work in “Blood Diamond” isn’t much better) and Robert Pattinson’s redneck drawl is one of many things wrong with “The Rover.”
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
Has any actor ever done a less convincing accent than Harrison Ford’s Russian accent in “K-19: The Widowmaker?” The answer is no. The only reason we know he’s attempting to do a Russian accent is because the character he plays is Russian. If we didn’t know that, it would be anyone’s guess what Ford was trying to accomplish. It is truly the “Hollywood Homicide” of movie accents.
Kyle Turner, Under the Radar
I still have nightmares about Julianne Moore’s Boston accent on “30 Rock.”
Charles Bramesco, Random Nerds, The Dissolve
I haven’t been home to Massachusetts in a little while, but I’m pretty sure that the local government of Boston has passed a new ordinance sentencing Julianne Moore to death if she should ever show her face within the city limits, following the unholy travesty that was her Baaaahstan accent on “30 Rock.” To be sure, she’s a lovely and talented actress, and delivers a fine performance outside of the accent, but yikes. It sounds like she spent a calendar year listening to the words “Hahvahd Yahd” on repeat as she slumbered.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter, Sight & Sound
Geraldine Moffatt in “Get Carter” (1971). One of the great British crime films, the Tyneside-set thriller — mainly shot in Gateshead, with a few detours owa’ tha’ watta’ to Newcastle — is a bewildering mess on the accent front. The frightfully well-spoken Bristol-born director Mike Hodges, despite two years’ national service at sea, seems to have had only the vaguest idea of how north-easterners talk. Local lad Alun Armstrong, who plays hapless barman Keith, was supposedly tasked with keeping his fellow performers somewhere within the basic parameters of Geordieland – the ear-assailing results are nevertheless more Yorkshireish than Durhamesque or Northumberlandian.
As the glamorously boozy, ill-fated good-time-girl Glenda, Nottingham lass Moffatt prefigures Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood by embarking on a berserk tour of the entire British Isles, calling in at Edinburgh and Buckinghamshire with only fleeting stop-offs in the north-east. Speaking as a Sunderland native, I know how tricky the area’s accents can be (commendations to Jonny Lee Miller in “Regeneration” and Richard Roxburgh in “The One and Only,” a barbed-wire bouquet to Toby Kebbell as “Colin from South Shields” in War Horse), and sometimes it’s better not even to bother at all. As the eponymous Jack Carter, Michael Caine famously makes no effort to mask his Cockney tones: “Didn’t you knaw this is mah hawme tawn?” he snaps at one point, his feet on the High Level Bridge but his epiglottis firmly back in Elephant and Castle.
Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, Linoleum Knife
The first of many offenders that leaps to mind is Anne Hathaway’s wobbly British accent in the painful “One Day,” a movie I was forced to remember recently when asked to compile a list of the worst films of the decade to date. That she’s the only non-Brit in the movie only highlights her very shaky attempts at blending in with the natives.
Max O’Connell, Rapid City Journal
I’ll preface this by saying that Tom Cruise is legitimately one of my favorite actors working today, so I take no pleasure in bringing the hammer down on his most notable attempt at an accent. I’m also a firm believer that if the rest of the performance is working for me, I can forgive some dodgy voice work (see: Dennis Quaid in “The Big Easy,” Sean Connery in anything). But holy moly can I not get past Cruise’s Oirish brogue in “Far and Away.” To be fair, he’s not much aided by the script, which gives him banalities like “All the land in the world means nothin’ to me without you” and Irishtastic lines like “You’re a corker, Shannon! What a corker you are.” But the bigger problem is that he puts so much effort into an accent he clearly can’t master that the whole performance feels stilted and weird even beyond his Lucky the Leprechaun voice. Thankfully, Cruise seems to have realized that accents aren’t his forte, because he hasn’t tried his hand at one since. Many complained that he didn’t attempt one in “Valkyrie,” but I think it’s probably preferable to hearing strangled Germanic sounds coming out of his mouth.
Ben Travers, Indiewire
common to decry an accent that sounds odd or merely different from
what’s expected, most critics aren’t personally familiar with the
obscure locales from which the actors draw inspiration. In other words,
if you’ve spent your whole life in 1890s Ireland, go ahead and critique
Tom Cruise’s accent in “Far and Away.” Otherwise, shut your face.
is, unless you’re complaining about consistency. Being a Midwesterner, I
can only judge accents on whether or not the repeated vowel sounds and
choice words are properly maintained from scene to scene (or, if it’s a
Boston accent, compare it to Mark Wahlberg or Ben Affleck). The worst
example of such a failure is with one of my favorite actors: Helen Hunt,
in “The Sessions,” can’t even keep a simple “-er” to “-ah” inflection
in her wildly uneven — yet somehow Oscar-nominated — performance. I
guess voters were able to look (or listen) past such a cringe-inducing
Richard Brody, New Yorker
I’m deliberately choosing one of my favorite performances by one of
my favorite actors in one of my favorite films by one of my favorite
directors — Ingrid Bergman and her efforts to portray an Irishwoman in
Alfred Hitchcock’s “Under Capricorn.” I could
say as much regarding her efforts to seem British in “Voyage to Italy.” Two of the best movies in the history of cinema are adorned with two
conspicuously awkward accents—proof that such details simply don’t
matter. They may prove to be an obstacle to a movie’s
short-term fortunes as misdetermined by surface trivia but, in the
fullness of time, they’ll blow away like dust and leave to history the
essential thing—the experience of emotions, the engulfment in a
filmmaker’s mighty imaginings.
Justine Smith, Vague Visages
As glorious as it is awful, in the 1940 propaganda film “The 49th Parallel” Laurence Olivier gives an incredibly cartoonish take on the Quebecois accent. While he does capture certain nuances of the dialectic, most of his portrayal is outlandish and over the top. While he has rarely given a more flamboyantly joyous portrayal, there is a hint of cynicism to his decision to go so broad — one that is tainted with a sort of moral and class superiority that doesn’t quite sit right. While maybe this is my bias speaking, this is more than just a bad accent but one that is both classist and nationalist as Olivier does not seem to want to take the role seriously. If only it were as simple as him being bad at accents (I’m not sure he is very good at them, but I digress) I’d be more forgiving. But, Olivier does seem to not really care about the role or the people he is representing, which makes this particular bad accent especially unforgivable.
Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
British actors are known for almost always nailing American accents. The notable exception: Kenneth Branagh, who mangle American accents repeatedly. Dead On Arrival in “Dead Again”; infamously awful (in the Woody Allen mode) in “Celebrity”; and wildly off kilter as a Southerner in “Wild Wild West”. But perhaps the worst accent work of all time is Mickey Rooney’s turn as a Japanese man in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Woefully wrongheaded on multiple levels.
Miram Bale, freelance
Jude Law’s American accent, always.
Farran Nehme, The New York Post, Self-Styled Siren
Laurence Olivier as a Henry Ford-type mogul in “The Betsy.” He was supposed to be from the Midwest, but he sounded sort of like Yosemite Sam meets the Beatles.
Nell Minow, Beliefnet
How about multiple offenses in the same role? Kevin Costner did not even try in his take on “Robin Hood” and he made the Lord of Loxley sound like a California lifeguard. Russell Crowe wasn’t much better. His Robin sounded a little Irish and a little Aussie. Tasmanian Errol Flynn (opposite born-in-Tokyo, raised in California Olivia de Havilland) are still the gold standard, with actual Brit (as he points out on screen) Cary Elwes a close second.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
There are so many bad ones, it’s hard to narrow it down. As such, I’ll go with the most recent one to catch my eye (or more appropriately, my ear). It’s Shia LaBeouf in “Nymphomaniac,” and it’s a shame too because he’s actually decently good in the film. That accent though. Woof.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film
The most recent one is Imogen Poots as Izzy in Peter
Bogdanovich’s “She’s Funny That Way,” contorting her mouth in ungodly ways
in an attempt to produce a Brooklyn accent
that ends up lacking any respect for what she is trying to mimic. Where
does the fault lie? She’s not funny that way.
Q: What is the best movie in theaters?
A: “Mistress America”
Other movies receiving multiple votes: “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Inside Out,” “Phoenix,” “Queen of Earth,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Trainwreck”