Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Would-be author and wine aficionado Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) has pretty much hit bottom when he has his big meltdown in Alexander Payne’s terrific adaptation of Rex Pickett’s novel: the girl of his dreams has dumped him, and he’s received yet another rejection letter for his book. So he goes to a wine tasting room to try to drown his troubles. He ends up losing control and even (shudder) drinking from the spit bucket.
Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
Oscar loves a good temper tantrum, and Shirley MacLaine may very well have won her Terms of Endearment statue for this unforgettable scene. Her daughter (Debra Winger) is in the hospital with cancer. She gets a shot for her pain at 10:00. It’s after 10:00. The rest of the scene kind of speaks for itself.
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Another Oscar-winning explosion comes at the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 masterpiece, in the (spoiler!) final confrontation between Daniel Day-Lewis’ greedy oilman and the smug preacher who has been his antagonist for years. In the picture’s epilogue, after a detailed explanation of exactly how he’s consumed his enemy’s milk-and-ice-cream drink, he finally loses control.
Steve Martin, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
That grisly bit of business out of the way, we move to the “comic meltdown” section — which must begin with this priceless scene from John Hughes’ 1987 comedy classic. Poor Neal Page (Steve Martin) is just trying to get home for Thanksgiving. After various bits of traveling misfortune and far too much time in the company of a gregarious stranger (John Candy), Neal finally seems to be home free with a rental car. And then… well, he’ll explain it.
Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Vacation
John Hughes really was a master of the funny (yet utterly unhinged) conniption fit. Four years before Planes, he wrote the inaugural installment of National Lampoon’s Vacation, in which the Griswold family takes a disastrous cross-country trip to the Wally World amusement park. But when it all gets to be too much and his wife and kids suggest turning around and heading home, father Clark (Chevy Chase) goes off. (Hughes would revisit the beat with a similar scene in 1989’s Christmas Vacation.)
John Goodman, The Big Lebowski
Oh, like you didn’t know this was the eventual destination. The queen mother of all the John Goodman freak-outs, this is indeed what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.