I have an 11 am appointment on the Upper East Side with A Single Man star Colin Firth. His performance in Tom Ford‘s widely-admired film has put him at the top of the Best Actor candidate heap, primarily because Firth channels so much feeling (crushing loss and sadness, a love of life’s sensual stream, flickers of delight) with such a fine sense of subtlety and economy. And thinking about this has led, again, to compiling a list of the best extremely-low-key, less-is-more performances.

One of my all-time favorites is John Hurt‘s intense, hard-boiled performance in The Hit. Who else? Robert De Niro in Heat. Clive Owen‘s performance in Croupier. Jean Servais as Tony le Stephanois in Jules Dassin‘s Rififi. (I know — I’ve posted about this recently before.) Lee Marvin‘s Walker in Point Blank isn’t quite on Hurt’s level (the part isn’t written that way), but he slips in and out of a lost-and-melancholy mode. Michael Caine in Get Carter. Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Peter Stormare in Fargo.

But these are mainy hard-boiled performances in crime films. Who, then, has travelled in the same silent still waters that Firth has? Waters stirred with a certain melancholy, sadness, resignation. lI know — Paul Winfield in Mike’s Murder. Who else? Okay, I’ll put a point on it. Who has given the most affecting performances of somewhat older gay guys in movie history? Not that many, when you get down to it.