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Seven actors who deserve better.

Seven actors who deserve better. (photo)

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We’ve all had this experience before — you go to a movie and an actor you’ve never heard of totally blows you away.

You expect to see more of him or her, then years go by and you see the movie again on TV and realize you have no idea what happened. (Like, say, almost everyone in “Dazed and Confused.”) This happens all too often — here’s a just-barely-scratching-the-surface list of seven performers of recent years who deserve better than their current career purgatories.

03222010_master.jpgPaul Bettany

For a little while, Paul Bettany‘s career was going in a direction that made sense. He played straight man to Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Master and Commander: The End of the World.” They had an easy, unforced chemistry that suggested years of companionship. Meanwhile, on his, own, Bettany entered the American cinema naked in “A Knight’s Tale” and was suitably supercilious in “Dogville.” But for some reason, shortly thereafter Bettany’s career went to hell — January 22 saw the simultaneous release of “Creation” (about Darwin) and “Legion” (theologically fuzzy archangel brawl), two equally defective sides of the religious debate. Next down: “Priest,” with Bettany tracking down vampires. Lesson learned: dramatic failure equals semi-religious fanboy resurrection?

03222010_heathers.jpgWinona Ryder

Once, Winona Ryder made a tacit deal with the American public to be the go-to alterna-chick, embodying all layers of the high-school strata from pissed-off goth (“Beetlejuice”) to perky cheerleader queen (“Edward Scissorhands”), with stops at “Heathers” and “Mermaids.” She also tried to sum up Gen X’s ambivalence in “Reality Bites” and auditioned with Salinger monologues; she was alienated slacker America. Eventually she drifted from weak, personality-suppressing parts (“Mr. Deeds”) to non-entity indies (“The Darwin Awards”). Despite a strong turn in “A Scanner Darkly,” her cameo as Spock’s mom in “Star Trek” was mostly disorienting. That Darren Aronofsky promises to do (with the upcoming “Black Swan”) for her what he did for Mickey Rourke’s career speaks volumes about how fast she fell, and how unjustifiably.

03222010_enid.jpgThora Birch

Like fellow “American Beauty” co-stars Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari, Birch’s rise and fall from prominence went by shockingly fast (though at least, unlike Bentley, she didn’t succumb to crippling heroin use). Dark and poised, Birch’s flawlessly bratty turn in “Ghost World” should’ve assured her place on the A-list. Instead, she ended up in “Dungeons & Dragons” and has appeared in two Lifetime movies. (One possible reason for her career problems: her dad, who… well, just read it.) Her appearance in the 2002 Moby video below (“We Are All Made of Stars”) reminds us of a time when people could recognize Kato Kaelin on sight, and Thora Birch was right on par. But hey, Dave Navarro’s still with us!

03222010_lyle.jpgThomas Haden Church

Long-suffering comic trooper Thomas Haden Church has been doing yeomen work for a long time now — six years on the sitcom “Wings,” consistent hilarity regardless of how shoddy the vehicle (“George of the Jungle,” “All About Steve,” “Imagine That”), injecting real pathos and humanity into places where it was unwelcome (“Spider-Man 3”). He’s even briefly done the awards-season comeback/reinvention (“Sideways”). Despite this, it seems that Church’s mellow but surprisingly versatile overgrown-blowhard act — Ron Burgundy without the non sequiturs — keeps getting written off as not that valuable. But he’s the real thing and deserves better — let’s see if his starring turn in drama “Don McKay,” due out next month, will do anything for him.

0322010_ophelia.jpgJulia Stiles

The formidably severe Julia Stiles co-starred alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger in 1999’s “10 Things I Hate About You,” an effective above-average teen movie; both would eventually surpass her, which isn’t fair. Stiles knows how to be funny without ever breaking her frown, an asset that served her well; whether drunk booty-dancing or embodying Ophelia in the 2000 “Hamlet,” it worked. (That her dream in “10 Things” was to go to Sarah Lawrence was right on.) Then what (“Save The Last Dance” aside)? A series of uncomfortable romantic movies — “Mona Lisa Smile,” “The Prince & Me,” “A Guy Thing” — and undistinguished “Bourne” supporting parts. That said, casting her as the lead in an upcoming “The Bell Jar” adaptation makes sense — sadly, since it’s effectively a caricature of her range.

03222010_italianjob.jpgSeth Green

In some ways, Seth Green’s career thrives — he created “Robot Chicken” and is the voice of “Family Guy”‘s Chris Griffen, thereby assuring himself a firm place in the consciousness of stoners anywhere. Indeed, with his parts in the “Austin Powers” films and on TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Green’s well known to the two split halves of a generation. But — despite a terrific supporting turn in the worth-watching “Can’t Hardly Wait” and a credible sub-“Ocean’s” turn in “The Italian Job” — Green’s increasingly sporadic ventures into live-action film are unfailingly dismal (“Without a Paddle,” the “Scooby-Doo” movies, “Sex Drive” and, most recently, “Old Dogs”). Live-wire supporting comics aren’t as plentiful as they seem — and Green, with his running start in “Radio Days,” should’ve been a shoe-in.

03222010_laurabush.jpgElizabeth Banks

Though Elizabeth Banks is seemingly a generically pretty blond, to be slotted alongside Katherine Heigl, she’s got a distinctive personality — she played both Laura Bush and Paul Rudd’s long-suffering girlfriend (“Role Models”) in the same year, which are two different kinds of masochism that she successfully differentiated. But more commonly she’s stuck playing the boring blond, a waste of sharp timing that can be successfully applied to comedy or drama. Her comedic abilities seem thought-out rather than instinctual, and that can be an asset (as when outdoing Seth Rogen in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”).

[Photos: “Dazed and Confused,” Universal, 1993; “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” 20th Century Fox, 2003; “Heaters,” Anchor Bay Entertainment, 1988; “Ghost World,” MGM/UA, 2001; “Hamlet,” Miramax, 2000; “The Italian Job,” Paramount, 2003; “W.,” Lionsgate, 2008]

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Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

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Wedding Planners

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Disaster Hut

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Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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