The ever-tosy John has created this one, in which he tosses out a long list of actors and simply asks for favorite performances by each one. Easy enough. (For extra fun, I'm going to try hard to avoid duplicating John's answers -- mainly because he's right on an awful lot of 'em, and I don't want to spend an entire post here going "Ditto".)
Tom Hanks: Apollo 13.
Now that it's been quite a while since Tom Hanks finally graduated to the "A" list of actors, it's hard to remember how he good he really was. (EDIT: By this, I mean just how surprisingly good he was in those first highly-regarded films of his after ten-plus years of lame comedies. I'm not suggesting that Hanks stopped being good, or that he's dead, or whatever.) He's never been a "chameleon" type of actor, like, say, Daniel Day Lewis, who looks different every time he's in a movie. But when you consider that Hanks basically looks the same in A League of Their Own (minus the stubble), Philadelphia (minus the makeup scars when his character's disease got bad), Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, and Castaway (aside from, well, the long-ass hair during the "four years later" sequence), and then you realize that never once does one of these characters seem like one of the others, you realize how subtle Hanks's acting chops really are. I love him in Apollo 13 because of the way he manages to play an intelligent and confident man in a very understated way. I think that Apollo 13 is one of the best movies of the last fifteen years, and Hanks is a big reason why.
(By the way, if any of my readers are "corporate trainer" types who occasionally have to run those annoying "teamwork seminar" things wherein employees are all gathered into a large room and then subjected to lectures on teamwork followed by invariably stupid games that are supposed to reinforce teamwork but instead to the employees just feel like condescending "Romper Room" kinds of activities, you might consider just bringing them all into a room and screening Apollo 13 for them. You'll never see a more vivid dramatization of real teamwork in all your life.)
Robert DeNiro : Heat.
I love his character's weariness in this movie, the way he does what he does because it's what he is and what he knows, and he seems to constantly be aware that one day his time will run out.
Al Pacino: Heat, again.
Truth is, I haven't seen Pacino in much. I suppose I ought to watch the Godfather movies all the way through one of these days, but Mob stories just don't interest me all that much.
Dustin Hoffman: Hook.
OK, I'm being half-facetious here. But I did like him in the movie.
Harrison Ford: Ooooh, tough one! I'll go with Witness.
Ford used to be able to do what I cited Tom Hanks above as being able to do: look the same from movie to movie, and yet subtlely play completely different characters. At some point he stopped doing this (the last Ford role I really bought was his Dr. Richard Kimball in The Fugitive), and it's a real shame. John Book, from Witness, was a fine bit of acting. I wish Ford could get that kind of role again. (Or, that when presented the opportunity, he'd actually do it, seeing as how he backed out of the eventual Michael Douglas role in Traffic.)
Robin Williams: Dead Again.
He's not even credited with this cameo role (he only has about ten minutes of screen time), and he just plays a bitterly cynical guy who has some good advice for Kenneth Branagh's private eye. The script doesn't give Williams any opportunity to do any schtick whatsoever.
Morgan Freeman: Deep Impact.
Damn you, John, for picking The Shawshank Redemption! I think that this movie might be able to work with someone other than Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, but there is zero chance of it working without Freeman as Red. But since I'm trying not to double up, I'll just say this about Deep Impact: I've been watching movie Presidents for years, but Freeman's President in Deep Impact is the only one I bought as President at first sight. I don't know how the hell he did that.
Bill Murray: Oh, dammit, I have to double up John's answer now. Groundhog Day it is.
I love the way Murray's character takes advantages of the opportunities his character's plight affords him: first he cold-cocks an annoying guy on the street, then he gets more daring and tries a very violent death, and then ultimately he works on winning some woman's heart. (Incidentally, this is the only movie I ever really liked Andie MacDowell in.)
Tom Cruise: Rain Man.
Dustin Hoffman's thing wouldn't work without a perfect straight man, which Cruise provided. There's some great comic timing at work in this movie, too.
Russell Crowe: I haven't seen enough Crowe to really have an opinion. He was superb in LA Confidential, however.
Johnny Depp: Finding Neverland.
I love what this movie had to say about the magic of storytelling, and it couldn't possibly work without Depp's work as the master storyteller.
Gene Wilder: Gotta double up again. Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an absolute icon.
Jeff Bridges: Starman.
Every actor of note tries a role like this, sooner or later. Bridges's has stuck in my mind for years, though.
Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
If you'd told me I'd eventually claim that Jim Carrey is a f***ing genius when Ace Ventura came out, I'd have called you crazy. And yet: Jim Carrey is a f***ing genius.
John Travolta: Face Off.
He just seems to be having so damn much fun chewing the scenery in this movie.
Jodie Foster: Contact.
One of the most underrated films I know. I love the way Foster makes clear that despite her character's constant claims to the contrary, her passions go deeper than just mere science, and that at times her outward hostility is meant as a defense mechanism than as genuine hostility.
Nicole Kidman: Malice.
Not a very good movie, but I've always remembered her in it.
Julianne Moore: OK, I don't really have an opinion here. But she was about the only thing I liked about The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Gweneth Paltrow: Possession.
Half of this film is a literary detective story, with Paltrow one of the detectives. As a cinematic romance, I think this film fell through some cracks, sadly.
Kate Winslet: Titanic.
Bite me. I still like the movie. And Winslett's curvy goodness...ummm, I gotta go....
Julia Roberts: Mystic Pizza.
Here's another underrated movie. Watch it, and pick a bad performance or an unconvincing storyline. I dare you. Roberts is just outstanding here, with her blend of cynicism and intelligence and, at the end, wisdom.
Kathy Bates: Dolores Claiborne.
Another Stephen King adaptation, made on the heels of Misery -- but Bates basically has to play two characters here, a present-day woman and the same woman in flashback, twenty years before. In doing so, I never doubt for one second that the present-day Dolores is the result of the decades-past Dolores.
Wow, that was fun. We should do it again, with different actors.