You know, with that kid Macaulay Culkin. What do you remember about it?
Don't bother replying. The answer, obviously, is the scene where the 8-year-old is putting on aftershave. He slaps his hands to his cheeks, pops out his eyes and shrieks. Hilarious. Cute. The moment lasts approximately four seconds. The other 6,176 seconds you most likely can't quite recall.
Some great cinematic performances are the stuff of nuance, subtlety and restraint -- let's say, Anthony Hopkins in "Remains of the Day." Some are in sustaining a high-amp character for 100 minutes without blowing the fuse, such as Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas."
But in TV commercials, it's all of the "Home Alone" variety. There is no time to peel back the layers of the onion, no time to sustain anything. You have two lines in 30 seconds. Or no spoken lines at all. Be brilliant. Good luck.
The 9th Annual Bobby Awards recognize just that brilliance. (And yes, we're quite aware there are 12 nominees, instead of 10, named below.) We begin, as always with ...
Best Performance, Male
Take that, Tony Curtis. Take that, Robin Williams. Nathan Lane. Jaye Davidson. Julie Andrews. Barbra Streisand. Jack Lemmon. Hilary Swank. Cross-dressing has never been quite like this: a spot ( TBWA/Chiat/Day) for Combos cheese-filled pretzel snacks. In it, the slovenly, heavyset E.J. Carroll is outfitted in a wig and frumpy women's clothes while he aggressively plays a video game with his son. The kid, after getting trounced, reaches for a bag of Combos-but "Mom" grabs them away because Combos "are for winners." (Voice-over: "Combos. What your mom would feed you. If your mom were a man.")
Can't show you a picture of Jim Conroy, of the New York Subway Alligators improv group. He's several of the characters in Hammerhead Advertising's (in-house) telemarketing campaign, and his genius is as a voice character. In one of the bits, he plays a receptionist. We simply can't describe his attitude -- somewhere between overly familiar and indifferent -- but it's perfection itself.
Maybe we're infatuated with the premise more than the performance, but you can't not love Pete Carboni in a spot for the new retractable Sharpie ( McCann Erickson, New York). He's a theme-park pirate. He has a hook, and had trouble signing autographs because he couldn't get the cap off his Sharpie. Now "Boom. Boom. Boom. Bang. Seven autographs." So guileless. So sincere. So sweet.
But let's face it. The hands-down winners this year are Justin Long and John Hodgman, better known to you as Mac and PC in the campaign for Apple Computer ( TBWA/Chiat/Day.) Hodgman is a PC, earnest and uptight, and Long is a Mac, casually cool. Yes, PC is a doofus, but what so distinguishes these performances is how the two interact -- affably and respectfully, in spite of the central premise. Long is cool not because he's ultrahip but because he's laid-back and confident, minus any trace of condescension.
Best Performance, Female
Only two nominees this year, and a near tossup. In a spot for Southwest Airlines ( GSD&M, Austin, Texas), Katherine Disque is exquisite as a world-weary flight attendant at the generic competition. She's so beaten down by experience and cutbacks that she can't even fake any empathy for the passengers, whom she's charging for meals, pillows and bathroom breaks. On the PA, her spiel is at once cheerful and sardonic. Fabulous. But the Bobby must go to Gillian Vigman in a spot for Ace Hardware. She plays a news anchorwoman who reacts when -- in the midst of some transitional happy talk -- her co-anchor mentions his wife. Her plastered-on smile remains fixed when she says, "You're married?" Her counterpart tries to throw it to the weatherman, but she cheerfully interrupts. "No, we should actually stay right where we are. Why don't you tell us all about how you're married?" She's caught him being a cad, and, as he tries to chuckle his way through the televised confrontation, she tortures him -- all in smiling character. Painful and hilarious.
Best Performance, Celebrity
This year the winner would be Audrey Hepburn, for her irresistible resurrection as a Gap (Laird & Partners, New York) model. She was just the right frontwoman for just the right product-skinny black pants -- at just the right time. Alas, Bobby Awards rules specify that to be recognized, you have to be alive when the commercial is made -- disqualifying Hepburn and, possibly, Wilford Brimley.
The next candidates are Jimmy Fallon and Parker Posey for their goofy star turn in a spot for Pepsi ( BBDO, New York). They are so animated and un-self-conscious in their half-real, half-digitally enhanced street dance, they make you forget that the sort of ad they're making fun of -- a youthful cola-induced hyperenthusiasm -- was invented by Pepsi and BBDO.
A tip of the helmet, too, to NFL rookie running back Reggie Bush, who does an astonishing thing in a funny commercial for Mobile ESPN: He seems like a human being. The key to this spot is delivering a mundane sentence naturalistically. Wow. He does. This is something few professional athletes have achieved before.
This brings us to the winner of the celebrity Bobby, a pro footballer who has achieved this many times before. In his eight-year NFL career, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has proved to be the greatest sports endorser ever. (Not the most successful; Michael Jordan, after all.) But his delivery, poise and comic timing make Michael look, comparatively, like an extra on "CSI." Here, in a spot for Sprint, (TBWA, New York) he is wearing a ridiculous disguise in order to talk up his own reputation. In a brilliant parenthetical, he mentions his "rocket arm."
Yeah, he can throw. But he can also pitch.