Toy Story 3 (2010, dir. Lee Unkrich)
Beatty delivered one of his best performances near the end of his acting career as Lotso-Huggin’ Bear, the villain of the third Toy Story movie. By now, the shine of Pixar has faded a bit, but for the longest time, it seemed they could do no wrong. I was pretty skeptical going into a third Toy Story if the quality could be maintained, yet they presented one of the best outings yet. Helping that work was Beatty in the role of the antagonist. Lotso holds a grudge after he is left behind at a rest stop by his owner. This is made even worse when he arrives home and finds she’s had a replacement Lotso bought for her. Now he spends his twilight years in a daycare where he runs things with an iron fist when the humans go home. Beatty does a great job bringing layers to Lotso, showcasing his charisma and grandfatherly charm at the start. When things get dire, he doesn’t hold back on the villainy, and it is what makes the character one of the more compelling villains created by Pixar.
Nashville (1975, dir. Robert Altman)
Robert Altman shook up American filmmaking with his wild, cacophonous style. He loved overlapping dialogue and casts packed to the gills with plots weaving in and around each other. In Nashville, Altman delivers a satirical look at fame & fortune through the country music industry. The film takes place over five days, leading up to a concert for a populist outsider candidate for president held at the Parthenon. Beatty plays Delbert Reese. Reese is the lawyer to Haven Hamilton, a pastiche of Conway Twitty & Roy Acuff, a performer with possible political ambitions. Reese is also the local organizer in Nashville for the unseen candidate Hal Walker. While Reese is very ambitious in his work at home, he’s a poor father & husband. His wife, Linnea (Lily Tomlin), begins an affair with Tom (John Carradine), a womanizing folk singer passing through town. With an Altman movie, you never get too deep with any single character, but Beatty gives a great layered performance with a lot of pathos here.
Superman the Movie (1978, dir. Richard Donner)
Beatty’s part in Superman may not be the most crucial, but it is undoubtedly one of the most memorable. Here he is Otis, a bumbling henchman to Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). I think one of the most memorable moments from this movie is Otis’s introduction as he’s tracked by plainclothes Metropolis PD. He makes his way through the central subway station in the city, trying to steal from a blind newspaper vendor, and then goes down into the tunnels. Lex manages to save Otis while dispatching with a detective in an incredibly gruesome manner. Otis is never the greatest threat to Superman, but he is an entertaining foil to Lex Luthor, asking questions that open the door for needed exposition and never understanding the full scope of his boss’s plans. While Otis would have a small cameo in Superman II, that would be it for the character. He’d later be replaced in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace by the far inferior Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer), who served only as a reminder of how great Otis was.
Network (1976, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Ned Beatty does not have his most prominent role ever in Network, but I would argue it is his most memorable; it certainly is for me. He was cast in the role of business giant Arthur Jensen on the recommendation of Robert Altman after Lumet’s first choice wasn’t working. Jensen is the Communications Corporation of America (CCA) president, a media conglomerate absorbing news & entertainment networks from around the world. One network they own, UBS, becomes the home to Howard Beale (Peter Finch), a news anchor having a nervous breakdown as he nears retirement. He pivots to a schtick of being a populist voice of the people, going on live rants. CCA has no problem with them until Beale begins to publicly talk about the machinations of his parent company. The following scene occurs when Beale is called before Jensen, and it is chilling.
Deliverance (1972, dir. John Boorman)
The “squeal like a pig” scene has become a cliche and overshadowed Beatty’s outstanding performance in this film. He plays Bobby Trippe, part of a quartet of men from Atlanta spending the weekend in the Georgia wilds on a canoe trip. Things go sour when they come across aggressive and violent locals. Beatty plays Trippe as an arrogant city dweller, looking down on the people that live in the hills. It’s fitting that he’s the one who is most brutally assaulted because he’s so garish in the way he talks down to the locals they encounter in the opening scene. In the wake of his assault and the tragedies that befall the group afterward, Trippe becomes deeply invested in the conspiracy of silence about what really happened out there on the river.