Can we honestly compare the last twenty years of acting to the previous fifty or so? Film purists will quickly push forth a firm “NO!”, and sadly they would be right. The world has yet to see the second coming of Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, or Humphrey Bogart, and in all honestly I can live with that. The reason we put names like those so high up on pedestals, too high for anyone to ever touch is because that’s where they belong. Not to downplay the last twenty years, but it’s tough to imagine an actor today taking his art as seriously as those men did, with that being said here’s my list of the 25 men who came pretty damn close.
RULES: No actor will see his name repeat on this list. Who wants to see Tom Hanks show up four times? Exactly. Also, beware of spoilers, I take no mercy in revealing plot details so proceed with caution! The criteria I’m looking for is simple. Can this performance be considered career defining/changing? How memorable is this performance, and of course what kind of hardware did it bring home? The names in Green denote an Oscar winning performance and the names in Red denote an Oscar nominated performance, easy enough? Here we go.
25.) Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker (2009) as Sergeant First Class William James
For those of you who saw the film “Dahmer” where Jeremy Renner portrayed cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, you might have seen a performance like The Hurt Locker coming. Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant First Class William James who is the team leader in Bravo Company. A unit whose primary duty is to disarm Improvised Explosive Devices. William James is what some would consider a “wild man”. His actions throughout the film could be considered reckless and dangerous but he always holds his loyalty and dedication at first priority. The Hurt Locker awarded Jeremy Renner his first Academy Award nomination for best actor in a leading role as well as countless other awards from various critics associations.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/bB3X6-the-hurt-locker-movie-die-comfortable/
24.) Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting (1997) as Will Hunting
Matt Damon and pal Ben Affleck sat down together and created one of the most memorable stories we’ve seen over the last twenty years. The two of them were awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Good Will Hunting also gave Matt Damon his first Academy Award nomination for acting. Playing Will Hunting, a down and out kid from the slums of South Boston who coincidentally could be the most intelligent human being since Einstein. Working as a janitor at MIT, Will completes one of the worlds most difficult Math Proofs as it sits on a communal chalk board. Drama ensues as Will runs into trouble with the law, which we find out is sort of a hobby for him, and he is saved by a more than willing MIT professor. Will must attend therapy sessions with Sean Macguire played by Robin Williams who won the Academy Award for best supporting actor. Matt Damon is genius playing a genius in one of his first major film roles. His career would never be the same as he is now on the top of the A list.
Scene to watch:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOtVg05JLPc
23.) Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson (2006) as Dan Dunne
Yeah he’s the guy from The Notebook. Ryan Gosling earned his first Academy Award nomination playing Dan Dunne, a middle school history teacher in Brooklyn who snorts and freebases cocaine in his spare time. When he’s caught in the act in the girls bathroom by one of his students, he begins a relationship with the young girl. She ends up dealing drugs to him later on but that’s neither here nor there. Ryan Gosling stepped up BIG TIME conquering the role of Dan Dunne, and took home many leading male awards at various film festivals.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHT8b9IIyLI&feature=related
22.) Christian Bale in The Fighter (2010) as Dick Eklund
Dedication. Christian Bale didn’t need The Fighter to validate his career but earning the Academy Award for best supporting actor didn’t hurt. Bale has been an Indie god over the last twenty years with dominate performances in American Psycho and The Machinist, but it took playing Dick Eklund a crack addicted former boxer turned trainer. Playing opposite Mark Whalberg, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo (who took home best supporting actress at the Academy Awards for the fighter) Bale outshines and commands every scene he’s in. As usual Bale lost another 40 pounds to play the role of Eklund, as he had lost over 60 pounds for The Machinist. He dedicates every ounce of his body and soul to each role he takes and The Fighter was his much needed recognition.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/c6Nv-the-fighter-movie-mickeys-corner/
21.) Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin (1992) as Charlie Chaplin
At age 26 Robert Downey Jr. earned his first and well earned Academy Award nomination. Playing the title role of Charlie Chaplin, Downey Jr. researched the role extensively, which included hours upon hours of viewing Chaplin’s films. The role of Chaplin was a life changer for Downey as he then saw much more mainstream success but with this success came personal demons. The years following the filming and making of Chaplin, Downey spiraled into a life of drugs which would later hinder his ability to make films. With negativity aside, Downey brought new life to a legendary filmmaker. Countless eyebrows were raised with the casting of Downey but he received universal praise from critics.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9kUzxCY1XI
20.) Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line (2005) as Johnny Cash
Joaquin Phoenix was easy to hate in Gladiator and even easier to love in Walk the Line. Playing legendary singer/songwriter Johnny Cash, Phoenix took the role of a lifetime and turned out a stellar showing. Doing all his own singing in the movie, he and co star Reese Witherspoon brought new life to Johnny Cash and June Carter. Witherspoon ended up winning the oscar for her role as Carter. Phoenix has yet to reach this type of performance since, and even his rap career failed!? I hope he can get back to this type of showing and churn out another memorable performance.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/5zrCo-walk-the-line-movie-at-folsom-prison/
19.) Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland (2006) as Idi Amin
Becoming only the third African American man EVER to win an oscar, Forrest Whitakers performance as Ugandan president Idi Amin was terrifying. You actually get scared every time he raises his voice. His unpredictability as well as his ruthlessness was portrayed brilliantly by Whitaker who mastered the accent and demeanor of Amin. There are scenes with co star James McAvoy, that Whitaker seems to be legitimately scarring those around him. I would also love to trade shirts with Amin, another great scene.
Scene to watch: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/last_king_of_scotland/trailers/11101869
18.) Geoffrey Rush in Shine (1996) as David Helfgott
As one of the most beloved stage actors in recent memory, Geoffrey Rush put in a tour de force performance as schizophrenic and delusional pianist David Helfgott. This was his first film role in a decade and he came back with a vengeance. Earning him his first academy award, Rush would find a lot more work as well as more awards following the premiere of Shine.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-QrSc_Jw3g&feature=related
17.) Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys (1995) as Jeffrey Goines
Crazy as a loon! This movie makes me have twitches for days. Brad Pitt plays Jeffrey Goines, a mental patient with a wealthy Father. He eventually founds an extremist group called the army of the 12 monkeys, and frees countless animals from the zoo! Real bad ass I know. Anyway, Pitt was perfect as an insane youth who wants nothing more than to piss off his Father, and demand fair treatment to animals. He won the golden globe for this performance and fell just short of Kevin Spacey in the usual suspects for the oscar.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/oSZg-12-monkeys-movie-plague-of-madness/
16.) Adrien Brody in The Pianist (2002) as Władysław Szpilman
One of the biggest Oscar upsets in recent memory belongs to Adrien Brody. The youngest winner ever for the Oscar for best actor (age 29), we remember Brody freaking out when they call his name then locking lips with Halle Berry. Brody portrays Władysław Szpilman throughout his turmoil in the Holocaust. Szpilman lived in Poland, which was probably one of the worst places for Jewish Pianist to be while the Germans invaded. Brody dominates each stage of Szpilman’s life as his living conditions begin to deteriorate. Stealing the Oscar from Jack Nicholson, Brody locked in work for the rest of his career but he has yet to reach this status again.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjuPZyMG4_k
15.) Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (2009) as Bad Blake
The Dude!!! Jeff Bridges is so versatile it’s sickening, but in Crazy Heart he finally received the recognition he’s deserved. Playing country singer Bad Blake, Bridges stumples, drinks, and vomits his way to oscar gold. He did all his own singing and performing throughout the movie and with an amazing cast including Maggie Gyllenhal and Robert Duvall, Crazy Heart is by far his best performance to date.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/6UjWF-crazy-heart-movie-bad-blake-performs-i-dont-know/
14.) Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men (2007) as Anton Chigurh
No one can pull off that haircut like Javier Bardem did. As Anton Chigurh, a mass killing maniac, Bardem made me scared to leave my house. The entire movie showed one smile from this character and it’s while he strangling a police officer from behind using his own handcuffs. The picture alone should scare most of you if you haven’t seen this movie, and Bardem swept the major awards for this supporting performance.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/TzCRF-no-country-for-old-men-movie-call-it-friend-o/
13.) Johnny Depp in Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl (2003) as Capt. Jack Sparrow
I’m not a Johnny Depp fan, plain and simple, but I can’t overlook a character of this magnitude. Depp set the standard for an eccentric, and egotistical front man who can transcend the movie itself and become part of pop culture history. Following the immense success of Curse of the Black Pearl, three sequels were spawned with the last awaiting release. Rumor has it that Depp himself trains the actors who play Jack Sparrow in Disney venues all over the world, I believe it.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttZUQbcIufc
12.) Jamie Foxx in Ray (2004) as Ray Charles
Again another actor doing his own singing! Jamie Foxx finally proved to us that he can act, and he took home the hardware to show us all up. Playing legendary blind singer Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx left us with a memorable performance and brought Ray Charles back into the spotlight of pop culture significance. Fun fact, the year Jamie Foxx won the oscar for Ray, he was also nominated for the film Collateral , starring Tom Cruise.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/sVZCR-ray-movie-i-might-be-blind-but-i-aint-stupid/
11.) Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds (2009) as Hans Landa
That’s a Bingo!! Everyone loves Nazis! I mean, actors playing Nazis….Anyway, Christoph Waltz, a relative unknown in the US, took home every major award for his perforamce as Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarrantino’s World War II epic Inglorious Basterds. Speaking four separate language throughout this film Waltz brought his talent to the mainstream and thanks to Tarantino, Waltz will never have to look for work again.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/BzxZ-inglourious-basterds-movie-if-a-rat-hides/
10.) John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994) as Vincent Vega
Career saver! Again Tarantino helps an actor redefine his career. Following years upon years of flops, Travalota became a cautionary tale for young actors until he was given this chance by Tarantino. Playing hitman Vincent Vega, Travolta uses heroine and dances his way into his 2nd Oscar nom.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLtwFugudZE
9.) Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008) as Randy “The Ram” Robinson
The comeback! Falling from grace, Mickey Rourke was the most difficult actor to put in a film mainly because no studio would back or distribute a film with him in it. He had sat out of the industry for years, so when director Darren Aronofsky approached Rourke to play Randy Robinson, he told him he needed 100% dedication and to cut the crap! Rourke agreed and following strong showings at the major film festivals he found himself at the Oscars for the first time in his career, and in doing so resurrected one of the most unique and versatile careers in recent memory.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fTnTP49FW0
8.) Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005) as Truman Capote
It was difficult to picture an actor like Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing such an openly gay and flamboyant character like Truman Capote, but any doubts were lost once he hit the screen. Completely dedicating himself to getting everything about Capote right, his voice, his mannerisms, his demeanor, Hoffman gave us the performance that will ultimately define his entire career. Winning the Academy Award, as well as earning the much deserved respect of his colleagues Hoffman proved he’s not just the guy from Along Came Polly who sharted in his pants.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/FWQs-capote-movie-truman-sees-perry-and-dick-for-the-last-time/
7.) Sean Penn in Mystic River (2003) as Jimmy Markum
Say what you want about Sean Penn and his personal life, man can he act. Winning his first Academy Award, Penn portrays Jimmy Markum, who just found out his daughter has been murdered and begins a personal vendetta on finding the one responsible. In doing so, this brings him face to face with old childhood friends who may or may not have had anything to do with the murder. With a stellar cast of Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, and Marcia Gay Harden, Penn lead an emotionally driven masterpiece that he will be remembered for throughout film history.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R13kNlmZcCM&feature=related
6.) Denzel Washington in Training Day (2001) as Alonzo Harris
Becoming only the 2nd African American man ever to win an Oscar for lead acting, as well as winning his 2nd Oscar overall, Denzel Washington as crooked cop Alonzo Harris reminded kids in South Central LA why they’re afraid of the police. Teamed with a solid supporting role by Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington went out of character and portrayed a man who would stop at nothing to get paid, even if that means murdering in the process.
Scene to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkNDQD0gkAU
5.) Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008) as The Joker
The initial casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker rose a few eyebrows until word spread around the set of The Dark Knight that those involved were witnessing something special. Ledger spent months researching this role, hoping to provide us with a new and improved Joker, and he gave us comic book nerds exactly what we wanted. As his toungue danced around his lips, the Joker fired Bazookas and rode with half his body out of a cop car, all the while promoting what he truly stood for: Chaos. In one of his last film roles before his untimely death, Ledger left us all wanting so much more.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/2UmAB-the-dark-knight-movie-agent-of-chaos/
4.) Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000) as Maximus Decimus Meridius
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! Oh hell yeah I am Mr. Crowe. Russell Crowe remains as one of the most intense and unapproachable actors in Hollywood, and following his success in The Insider, Crowe brought forth an astonishing performance that awarded him the academy award. Playing Maximus, Crowe showed his versatility as his character was beaten, bruised, stabbed, and not to mention he witnessed the murder of his wife and child. This was a toss up between Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, but because this was the award winner, I had to give it the slot.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/XiQcR-gladiator-movie-my-name-is-maximus/
3.) Leonardo Dicaprio in The Aviator (2004) as Howard Hughes
It’s shocking to see how few awards Leonardo Dicaprio has actually won, he remains 0-3 at the Oscars but let’s proceed before I can even more sidetracked. The Aviator provided Lucky Leo with his 2nd Oscar Nomination as well as another successful collaboration with the genius of Martin Scorcese. Playing OCD consumed Howard Hughes, you can’t help but cringe when his ticks kick in and he can’t stop repeating certain phrases. “Show me the blue prints, show me the blue prints, show me the blue prints” well you get it.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/CYSQ-the-aviator-movie-dinner-with-the-hepburns/
2.) Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994) as Forrest Gump
Tom Hanks would show up on this list another two times if I hadn’t set my stern rules! This character doesn’t need much of an introduction as I can assume everyone can imitate this character. But it is his raw and honest emotion that makes this character so memorable. He wants nothing then to accomplish everything he can to help those around him and it is his innocence that keeps us watching every time USA plays this movie.
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/mi87-forrest-gump-movie-his-name-is-forrest/
1.) Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007) as Daniel Plainview
Plain and simple, this performance was pure perfection. Daniel Day Lewis is known as one of the most intense method actors on the face of the planet, which is why he takes about three years in between films. Playing an oil tycoon and narcissistic nut job, Day Lewis brings us the hands down best performance over the last twenty plus years. His greed and his desire slowly overwhelm him in this role and by the end of the film he has become a shell of a man, consumed with loneliness and bitterness and as his adopted son comes to tell his Father that he loves him, all Daniel Plainview can say back is “You’re a bastard from a basket.”
Scene to watch: http://movieclips.com/MSntd-there-will-be-blood-movie-daniels-confession/
Those who just missed the cut:
30.) Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs as Hannibal Lecter
29.) Robin Williams in The Fisher King as Parry
28.) Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman as Col. Frank Slade
27.) Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt as Warren Schmidt
26.) Kevin Spacey in American Beauty as Lester Burnham
So there it is. If you feel I’ve left anyone out or you feel certain actors should not be on this list, we can get a nice debate going.