The Top 10 One-Man-Band Films!

To celebrate the release of Danny Boyle€™s 127 Hours on Blu-ray €“ an excellent film based on the true story of Aron Ralston and his struggle to escape entrapment in the American outback €“ OWF has been challenged to compile a list of the 10 best films that focus solely (or almost) on a single character. It€™s not a common occurrence in cinema €“ I assume because a majority of viewers easily get bored with one character very quickly €“ but this technique has been attempted before, to varying degrees of success. The benefits of having only one primary character is that the development of these protagonists can be much more in depth, ensuring that a stronger bond between audience and character can be forged. The downside though, is that you have to really like them and root for them wholeheartedly. It€™s an ambitious technique to attempt, but below are what we consider the 10 best films that feature a solitary character€

10. THE TELEPHONE (1988)

Whoopi Goldberg is one of those actresses that manages to be so exuberant and full of character that she can hold your attention even as a supporting player (see Ghost for the best example). This is exactly what actor turned filmmaker Rip Torn decided to do with The Telephone. Whilst it€™s not her best 80s offering (for me, that will always be Jumpin€™ Jack Flash), it displays Goldberg at her wacky best €“ a total nut job! The film splits opinion, with many hating it, but like Marmite, it evokes strong reactions. Goldberg does well with the script and manages to draw audiences in with her comically unhinged personality, but towards the end of the film the set appears to become claustrophobic and the actress irritating. It€™s an interesting concept though, with an ending that will undoubtedly shock most viewers€

09. NEVER CRY WOLF (1983)

This film focuses on the true-life story of Farley Mowat (also known as Tyler) and for the majority of the narrative it is actor Charles Martin Smith (who plays him) and the Canadian wilderness that are the stars. Other characters are present at various points, but Smith dominates the narrative with a performance that is subtle but effective. There are a number of scenes between Smith, the wolves and the caribou that beautifully demonstrate the relationship between man and nature. These very intimate moments between characters in such scenes help generate a distinct image of the solitary peacefulness that can be felt by being one with nature. Isolation is not presented as something to fear in Never Cry Wolf, instead it is characterised as something we should all crave. Dealing with the destruction of the Inuit way of life and man€™s harmful impact on wildlife (particularly the wolves), the film perfectly exemplifies how small but arrogant man is in relation to the wilderness through the artistic cinematography and the chief focus on a single character.

08. SECRET HONOR (1984)

Adapted from a stage play, this is the only film on this list that doesn€™t have a single other actor pop up at some point during the run time. In a tour de force performance, Philip Baker Hall plays the fictionalised version of Richard Nixon with gumption and conviction. Whilst a film effectively consisting of a single monologue may not be that appealing to the majority of cinemagoers, it is an exceptional piece of performance film that most viewers are unlikely to have seen the likes of before. Robert Altman€™s inspired direction helps create a strong sense of isolation and paranoia, central to the narrative and characterisation of Nixon. The use of security camera footage at points heightens the sense of mistrust Nixon feels and helps strengthen Hall€™s performance. For a film that relies very little on the regular conventions of cinema, it is a thoroughly engaging film that never loses viewers€™ attentions and helps create an intriguing portrait (albeit fictional) of one of America€™s most reviled politicians.

07. I AM LEGEND (2007)

Another film that has a cast of supporting characters but is essentially about one man€™s survival in a post apocalypse world. Playing on the same fundamental fears of isolation and loneliness that were exploited by early science fiction Cold War era television programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, I Am Legend sees Will Smith valiantly search for a cure to a plague that has all but destroyed the Earth. When considered in comparison to source novel the film lacks something present in the original story, but if considered as a film primarily based on a single character it is more successful. Smith is very often an engaging and popular actor and here his likeability is put to the ultimate test. Many may disagree, but for me, Smith is charismatic and holds my attention throughout his alone screen time.It may not be the most successful of performances on this list, but he manages to play his character with heart and convincingly brings the script alive. Visually, the film is well constructed and a sense of isolation and menace pervade throughout the narrative, helping build tension and suspense. For a film about being the last man on Earth, I Am Legend offers an interesting suggestion. As a film principally based on a single performance, it€™s entertaining and engaging when it could have easily been lacklustre and tiresome.

06. GERI€™S GAME (1997)

Ok, so this may be a Pixar animated short and not a feature film, but it€™s an excellent piece of cinema that brilliantly looks at age, personality and our relationship with our self. Dialogue is not needed here and the film relies on facial expression and movement to convey its meaning. Through his chess game with himself, Geri is simultaneously able to play an old aged pensioner who acts accordingly to the constraints of acceptable behaviour that society has placed upon him, as well as a young at heart, almost cheeky version of himself that he most likely feels he is, but would not be accepted by the majority as actually being at his age. This was Pixar€™s first experimentation with human characters and they took it as an opportunity to advance their technology to perfect this, as well as further develop their animation of cloth materials. The film was so successful that it won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short and is definitely worth watching if you haven€™t done so before!

05. CAST AWAY (2000)

Whilst again other characters permeate throughout the narrative of this film, Cast Away is essentially about man versus nature. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the average Joe, Chuck Noland, who finds himself stranded on a desert island and forced to re-evaluate his life. With little more than a volleyball as a companion, Hanks manages to make this one-man-band film an emotional rollercoaster as he convincingly instils real feelings into the inanimate object. Hanks€™ performance in Cast Away is one of his best and he remains engaging and entertaining throughout the runtime when it is only him on screen. Essentially, the film forces audiences to take a step back and look at their own lives, realising just how much we all take for granted. However, this would not have been possible had the single lead actor not have had as much charisma and charm as Hanks manages to exude. The visually beautiful locations are immediately breathtaking, but quickly transform into a prison that is intimidating and inescapable. Combined with Hanks€™ performance, Cast Away is an extremely successful film with a single solitary character central to the narrative that everyone should see.

04. MOON (2009)

Space has always been deemed a solitary place and Duncan Jones€™ beautiful film really demonstrates this opinion. Sam Rockwell is the astronaut who explores the true nature of loneliness, accompanied only by an AI computer system called GERTY (monotonously voiced by the brilliant Kevin Spacey). Raw emotion meets science fiction, as Rockwell gives an excellent performance that carries the film. Whilst there are a few other characters scattered throughout the narrative, Moon is essentially a one man show for Rockwell and his accomplished performance: audiences are left wondering whether what is happening on screen is reality or only in his mind? The film is extremely thought provoking and delves deeply into an analysis of isolation and loneliness, particularly in relation to space and science fiction. Moon is one of very few films that successfully apply the human condition to a science fiction driven narrative, helping viewers to really focus on the notion of humanity, companionship and corporate ethics. Accompanied by Rockwell€™s stellar performance, Jones€™ direction perfectly captures the unnatural calm of habitation on the moon, which heightens the power of the narrative immensely.

03. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Again, this film does not entirely revolve around a single character, but it is primarily concerned with villainous super-computer HAL 9000. Very little dialogue is used in the film and Stanley Kubrick's greatest success with 2001 is his ability to instil a sense of fear in an audience with just a piece of machinery. More so than in Moon, space is characterised as a solitary place that is simultaneously beautiful (Kubrick's direction is exceptional in places) and entirely daunting. HAL is a vision of a future where technology has overtaken man and will undoubtedly attempt to expunge humanity, as we know it. The character of HAL is the most developed within 2001 and is characterised as a murderous, dangerous but ultimately unnervingly memorable artificial intelligence. For most viewers, HAL is undoubtedly the only character who resonates within their memory and Kubrick is tremendous at creating a film that appears to predominantly focus on the machine. Space itself is a character of equal importance, but in Kubrick€™s vision HAL is a symbol of what terrors the future may hold€

02. 127 HOURS (2010)

This emotional, suspense-filled drama really showcases the talent of James Franco. Whilst the film is scattered with flashbacks that involve other characters, it is very much about Franco€™s character€™s plight: a man alone who does what he has to do to survive. Director Danny Boyle is also extremely successful at generating a very menacing and unforgiving image of nature and the great outdoors: what was Ralston€™s first love immediately becomes his worst nightmare once he€™s trapped, a claustrophobic prison that may just kill him. The setting becomes an opportunity to analyse his life and Franco performs very proficiently, allowing the audience to feel like they know the character thoroughly through the various flashbacks. 127 Hours is arguably an experience rather than just a film: the sheer amount of emotion Franco displays is a relatively rare thing in cinema, as is an exceptional film that only really focuses on a single character.

01. BURIED (2010)

Playing upon what must be a fundamental fear for many of us, Buried takes claustrophobia on the screen to the next level! Whilst the film is not strictly Ryan Reynolds€™ alone, there is a minimal presence of other actors and Buried is a really gripping and engaging film for what is essentially an actor in a coffin for 90 minutes. A pleasant break from Reynolds typical comedy roles, he demonstrates his acting chops here to help generate a real sense of terror and suspense. The pacing is perfect, as the film remains tense and suspenseful but also gives audiences the chance to really understand the character. Essentially, Buried does everything a great thriller does, but without having to explode things or having to indulge in large scale chases throughout a huge city €“ it€™s edge of your seat, nail-biting cinema at it€™s best€and there€™s only need for one main character. Pretty impressive I€™d say!

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