This Week, Don't Forget the Side Dishes: Giving Thanks For Actor Ed Harris

In addition to its reputation for causing gastric excess and its emerging role as Black Friday-eve, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of remembrance, an opportunity to honor the people and things we might take for granted the rest of the year, when we aren't gripping a grease-laden turkey leg.

This Turkey Day also happens to land on a criminally and perennially underappreciated actor's birthday: Ed Harris.

Mr. Harris, long-time movie veteran and multiple Oscar and Tony Award-nominee, will turn 63 years old this coming Thursday, yet many viewers (particularly younger ones) who admire his work may need to consult IMDB to remember his name.

Yet to know Ed Harris is to love him; he's often the surprise that saves a bad movie, the glue that binds a good one, and the jet fuel that launches the stellar ones. Nevertheless, it may be tough for many film fans to name their favorite "Ed Harris" flick.

Neglected or not, he brings an inner calm to his roles, a foothold of experience and resoluteness that gives him automatic authority and credibility. Those preternaturally blue eyes, the crooked smile, the easy confidence -- it's easy to see why he's known as "the thinking woman's sex symbol."

Still, like the stuffing inside the turkey or the cranberries at the end of the table, he's almost never the main course.

Main course or side dish, first billing or second fiddle, Ed Harris is a truly gifted actor deserving of more recognition. So let's give it to him.

Choose from any of these great Ed Harris films to make an unforgettable Thanksgiving.

And Happy Birthday, Ed.

The Right Stuff (1983)- After pilot Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shepard) conquers psychological demons to break the sound barrier in 1947, N.A.S.A. recruits the hardiest group of fearless pilots it can find to spearhead its space-race program. Ill-fated Gus Grissom (Fred Ward) and squeaky clean John Glenn (Harris) are the first to attempt an orbit of the Earth, but not without danger and dire frustrations, both at home and in the eyes of the public, as the Russians edge closer to the same goal. Eventually, four men, including wild-at-heart flyboy Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid), are selected for the Mercury program and groomed for success. Adapted from the book by Tom Wolfe, this dynamic, three-hour history lesson recounts the formation of America's space program through the stories of the daredevils recruited to do the impossible, and "punch a hole in the sky." Apart from assembling a top-grade cast (Quaid and Harris are marvelous in breakout roles), Director Philip Kaufman melds testosterone-fueled adventure with poignant family drama, sci-fi with broad All-American slapstick, even nodding to John Ford Westerns in staging cowboy pilot Chuck Yaeger's breaking of the sound barrier in the California desert. "The Right Stuff" soars as it tracks seven unlikely heroes on a thrilling journey into a brand new era: the Space Age.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)- As a "cold" real-estate market dampens prospects, motivation consultant Blake (Alec Baldwin) challenges the sales staff at Premiere Properties to a pointedly competitive contest: find buyers or lose your position. Shelley "The Machine" Levine (Jack Lemmon), once a star huckster, can't seem to cut a break, and with a daughter in the hospital, becomes increasingly frantic. Meanwhile, egotistical Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) appears to be thriving amid the gloom, while beleaguered colleagues Dave Moss (Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) resort to a criminal scheme to get ahead. But who really wins and loses in this cutthroat set-up? Director James Foley's lacerating, foul-mouthed drama, adapted from David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is equal parts Arthur Miller and bald critique of Reaganomics-gone-bad. The terse dialogue, dreary office setting, and fist-gnawing sense of competition all push this stylish film into dramatic overdrive. Yet the heart and soul of "Glengarry" belongs to the tremendous ensemble cast: Arkin, Harris, Baldwin, and Pacino deliver stellar work, and Lemmon is brilliant as the achingly pathetic Levine, who may also be sufficiently panic-stricken to break the law. Edgy and dark, "Glengarry" endures as a potent film about white-collar desperation and the instinct for survival.

Apollo 13 (1995)- When an exploding oxygen tank threatens the 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission, endangered astronaut commander Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) must work with fellow spacemen Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) to pilot the injured craft back safely to Earth - or face a grim, suffocating demise 200,000 miles from home. Mission Control leader Gene Kranz (Harris) is with them every step of the way, providing morale and technical guidance, but knows the men face an extremely risky re-entry even if the air holds out. A nail-bitingly tense (and true!) tale of survival against steep odds, this Oscar-winning drama rekindles the exhilarating enthusiasm the nation felt during the first flights to the moon, and also draws on the collective anxiety that pooled in the wake of the Challenger explosion. Even without this context, "Apollo 13" is a grippingly authentic thriller, crisply helmed by Ron Howard and superbly acted by a first-rate cast, most of whom prepared for their roles with zero-gravity flights at the director's insistence. Houston, we've got no problem with "Apollo 13."

Pollock (2000)- In this literate film about art, anger, and acceptance, Harris plays Jackson Pollock, the Abstract Expressionist artist whose "drip" paintings inspired both celebration and derision from critics. Things are just taking off for Pollock: his work is featured in "Life" Magazine, and he's found love with fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). Despite his burgeoning success, Pollock self-destructs at every turn, keeping his demons-and everyone else-at bay with excessive drink. Will he recover himself in time to enjoy the success he so richly deserves? This intense biopic shines a light on one of this century's most enigmatic artists. Harris earned his only Oscar nod to-date for Best Actor, channeling all the brilliance and wounded pride that churned within the tortured Pollock. Harden turns in a similarly brilliant effort as Krasner, collecting a Supporting Actress nod for her haunting representation of a woman who sticks by a ticking time bomb until the inevitable, bitter end. At times, "Pollock" is somber and difficult to watch, yet like the life of the man it portrays, it's interspersed with moments of ecstatic creation and bliss.

The Hours (2002)- This wildly inventive film moves seamlessly among three different time periods and women. We explore the fragile existence of gifted but disturbed writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) as she starts writing "Mrs. Dalloway"; then the claustrophobic life of Laura (Julianne Moore) a housewife and mother in late 1940s L.A., who becomes depressed after reading Woolf's book; and the predicament of Clarissa (Meryl Streep) a modern Dalloway-like book editor, whose lifetime project, a dying author played by Harris, is receding before her eyes. Each interwoven tale plays out a variation on Woolf's own isolation and sense of futility. "The Hours" is a subtle, literate meditation on those hidden detours in life that direct us away from self-knowledge and fulfillment. Stephen Daldry's ambitious piece succeeds as intense, disturbing drama, showcasing the prodigious talents of all three stars (Kidman deservedly won an Oscar). Harris, Toni Collette, and John C. Reilly also shine in this memorable film, well worth your two hours!

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