Face-Off: Willem Dafoe vs. Woody Harrelson

Our special Thanksgiving edition of the Face-Off last week featured ANY GIVEN SUNDAY hitting the field with THE LONGEST YARD (1974) with the Oliver Stone opus winning the big game.

Scott Cooper’s second directorial effort OUT OF THE FURNACE opens tomorrow and so we figured we’d throw a couple of great actors from his film into our ring: Willem Dafoe and Woody Harrelson. I didn’t want to take on the task of writing this piece since I am a big fan of both these guys but the rest of the JoBlo.com staff were either in the drunk tank (recovering from our week-long Christmas party) or doing “research” in the Movie Hotties section of this site.

The 80s were good to Dafoe as he was a part of two classic Vietnam flicks (PLATOON and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY), played Jesus Christ (THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST) and kicked some KKK ass with jumpin’ Gene Hackman (MISSISSIPPI BURNING). The only real stand-outs for me in the following decade were WILD AT HEART, THE ENGLISH PATIENT and AFFLICTION.

The 2000s featured some of my favorite Willem works with gems like AMERICAN PSYCHO, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE and AUTO-FOCUS being released as well as hits like SPIDER-MAN, FINDING NEMO and THE AVIATOR. Dafoe has found a good balance between box-office success and indie sleepers and his choice of eclectic roles and movies has given him the respect of everyone in Hollywoodland and beyond.
From 1985 to 1993 Woody Harrelson charmed us with his portrayal of Woody Boyd, the dim, good-hearted bartender from Indiana in the hit show CHEERS. Most people would never have been able to shake off such a memorable character but Harrelson didn’t waste any time in the 90s with a string of favorites which included INDECENT PROPOSAL, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, KINGPIN, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, WAG THE DOG and THE THIN RED LINE.

It’s the 2000s that proved to be less memorable for Harrelson with only ANGER MANAGEMENT, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE MESSENGER standing out among mostly smaller films that didn’t leave much of a mark. Woody has picked up some steam this decade as he’s hitched his wagon to The Hunger Games franchise but it’s hard to tell this early on if it will be a glorious decade like the 90s for him or a bust like the 00s. Time will tell but until then, Dafoe’s collection of films is still a touch better than what Harrelson has racked up.
Oscars, Oscars, Oscars
Willem was twice invited to the Oscar festivities; once in ’86 for his supporting role in PLATOON and another time in ’00 for his supporting role as Max Schreck in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE. He is one of the best character actors of the past 30 years but he has yet to show off an Oscar to his friends and family. That sucks.
Woodrow has picked up a couple of Oscar nominations in his career. His first nod came for portraying Larry Flynt in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) and the second was for his characterization of Captain Tony Stone in THE MESSENGER (2009). He has yet to win an Oscar but he’s still got a career that Ted Danson would kill for...
The Bad Guy
Whether he is playing the Green Goblin (SPIDER-MAN), a vampire (SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE), a sick pervert (AUTO-FOCUS) or a sick, sick sicko (WILD AT HEART), Willem has fashioned one of the creepiest, most intimidating looks and voices in cinema in the past 30 years. If you want to hire an actor to play a bad guy that looks and sounds believable, call his agent and pay him whatever he wants.
Harrelson’s transformation from Woody Boyd to serial killer Mickey Knox and porn king Larry Flynt was nothing short of mind-blowing and proved that he can be as creepy as he is funny. But in this category, there can only be one winner and that is clearly Will Dafoe.
White Men Can Laugh
You’d have to scroll really, really slowly to spot a straight-up comedy in Dafoe’s filmography and as much as I think he is one of the best actors out there, he loses some points for versatility for not delving into yuk-yuk movies as much as his competition in this Face-Off.
Woody cut his comedy teeth on the small screen with CHEERS and just kept on making us laugh when he jumped onto the silver screen with comedies like WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, KINGPIN and WAG THE DOG. Sure, he’s made some turkeys like THE COWBOY WAY and THE MONEY TRAIN but at the end of the day this kid can make us laugh and his shit-ass grin is one we’ve grown to love.
“I don't think people want to see me as a regular guy, besides, I'm a regular guy in real life. I guess I just want to be reckless in my work.”

“Weirdness is not my game. I'm just a square boy from Wisconsin.”

“I never act. I simply bring out the real animal that's in me.”

“There's a funny perception that I play bad guys, but if you really know my movies, the big and small ones, the truth is often I play good guys. But they're good guys that are flawed, good guys who are outside of society. They're odd or they're criminals, but morally they tend to function as good people.”
“I was about 24 years old and I had tons of acne and mucus. I met some random girl on a bus who told me to quit dairy and all those symptoms would go away three days later. By God, she was right!”

“When I let up from the weed, and the drinking too, I cried every day. And I liked that. I like crying. And now I not only wanna cry and show my crying to other people, I wanna just split myself down the middle and open my guts and just throw everything out!”

“When I was in the seventh grade, I did a report about the environment and the loss of species. It was supposed to be only a few pages, but ended up being nearly 50. I've always had an intense relationship with nature, something which I think all of us have somewhere inside of us.”

“I've found that every time you stand up for something and open your mouth, you alienate someone. I spent a lot of time wanting to become rich and famous, then when I got there, I found it was hollow. What is important to me is my connection with family and friends, and to nature, and to stand up for what I believe in."
Willem Dafoe
I really hated picking a winner in this Face-Off but when you get right down to it, Will Dafoe has 4-5 more movies that I would consider “great” than Woody Harrelson has on his CV. It was the filmography category that ultimately decided this bout with Dafoe having two very successful decades (80s and 00s) vis-a-vis Harrelson's one (90s). Still, KINGPIN, NATURAL BORN KILLERS and WAG THE DOG are a few of my favorite movies from the 90s so it kills me to give Woody the loser cap in this Face-Off.



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