***Note: To go with my previous list of 11 actresses.
[And once again, I don't know why I chose 11 instead of 10. It really just worked out in a weird way for both the men and women.]
What's the difference between being a "good" actor and a "great" actor? Looks? Drive? Talent? Diversity?
It could be a combination of all, or some of those, and of course, everyone has different opinions on the subject of "who are the best actors of all time?"
In discussing this frequently with people, usually around "Awards Season", I decided to make a list of who I think are 11 of the more talented/best performing actors I've seen in my few years of existence. (And obviously, an explanation as to why I admire the work of these men has been included after each).
Essentially I chose men who are more modern actors, because even though I try to see old classics, being as young as I am has led me to be more akin to "contemporary" filmmaking: Typically from the 1980s to the present, with a touch of older films here and there.
Some of those on the list will, of course, be seen as cliche choices that EVERYONE would pick, but to me, all of them are very capable in their acting abilities, so who cares if a lot of other people like them?
And so, my non-exhaustive list of "Best Actors" (in alphabetical order by last name) are:
1) Johnny Depp
"You find a glimmer of happiness in this world, and there's always someone who wants to destroy it."
If anything, Johnny Depp is known for playing the "different" or unusual characters. Sure, sometimes he is in movies that aren't so good, but he is never really bad in them. His knack for playing offbeat characters has led to an individuality in his acting, and a strong ability to capture a unique persona that always seems to be relatable. Johnny is out-there, but never over the top (unless it is fitting with the mood of the film in general). He has a natural tact for becoming an integral supporting force in a film, while still standing-out within it. In addition, he has also exhibited a diverse range of notable work over time, and has revolutionized how certain characters and literary icons are seen, such as wily pirate captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, or author J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. To top it all off, Johnny has had the chance to demonstrate his singing ability on a number of occasions, and I always admire someone that can act through a musical performance.
2) Leonardo DiCaprio
"Why the hell are you married to me? What the hell are you doing carrying my child? I mean, why didn't you just get rid of it when you had the chance? Because listen to me, I got news for you - I wish to God that you had!"
This might be one of those people that is seen as cliche on my list, but in all honesty, ever since he was a teenager, Leonardo DiCaprio has been exhibiting a high-standard of performance. In fact, sometimes I think Leo revolutionized the standard of "child-acting" in some of his earliest work, such as his incredible turn as Artie in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Beyond this young age, Leo continued to show his skill as an actor, playing more and more diverse roles. Also, he often is required to perform using different, strong accents, which he produces very well. Not perfectly, mind-you, as he sometimes seems to drop focus for a second or two, and thereby drop his accent (but we can forgive those odd occasions in favor of the rest of his performance). In addition, Leo is very capable in his emotional connectivity to roles, such as his performance in Revolutionary Road: this character ranged from dissatisfied in his static life, to fun-loving and optimistic, to angry and resentful, to a completely broken shell of a man. This expanse of emotions in a single character presented a challenge, but Leo was able to convey each side of the character admirably. Not to mention, those distinct Cat-Eyes of his that seem to be looking right at you, even through a film-screen.
3) Robert Downey Jr.
"Did you love me daddy? Lie and say you did; make me feel like the piece of shit I am. Did you love me? Answer me!"
Alright, I'll admit that Robert Downey Jr. has been in a number of pretty bad movies (especially early on in his career). Despite these questionable roles, Robert is always seen as the shining-star or redeeming factor in many films, which should act as evidence to his talent as an actor. There is no question, Robert has the ability to portray a diversity of characters and express a range of emotions. I find some of his best work, however, to be in his more quirky roles, as Robert seems to just have this sassy quality to him that is transferable into his characters; this can be seen in roles such as Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or the title character in Sherlock Holmes. For a further example of this engagingly saucy quality, one must only look to the firt Iron Man movie; during filming, the cast was required to improvise as the script was incredibly underdeveloped, and in doing so, Robert was able to create the cheeky persona that was to become Tony Stark. In addition, Robert is very capable in portraying dramatic, emotional characters, as is exemplified in movies such as The Soloist, and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. I think a lot of it has to do with the sincerity he always seems to show in those beautiful, chestnut-brown eyes of his (but then again, that is probably a part of my bias, as I always get lost in those eyes).
4) Ralph Fiennes
"This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that... That's cruel!"
There is no doubt that Ralph Fiennes can play a sinister part with ease (such as the iconic role of Lord Voldemort) and knock it out of the park. But he can also portray softer characters that the audience will empathize with, in what seems to be effortless acting. Ralph is the kind of actor that will always make his presence known in a film, through his manner of speaking and stature, or possibly through his piercing gaze that can slice through silences and let you into what he is feeling. All in all, I just find Ralph's performances to be very powerful, especially when he deals with topics that are touchy or upsetting. One such role would be his disturbingly poignant, but nonetheless compelling work as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. Furthermore, Ralph always seems to be able to express a relatable quality in his characters to the audience, no matter if his character is downtrodden, powerful, malevolent, or just an average man.
5) Colin Firth
"... Just get through the goddamn day."
Colin Firth... one of those gentlemen that just warm your heart and many a woman fancies because of his numerous roles in romantic films. But to be fair, he plays that part well. Besides all that, Colin has a timeless air of class about him that transcends into most of his films, and suits him very well. Colin also has the ability to focus our attention to him and draw us in, whether that be in a loud, booming way, or in a soft, internal manifestation of relevant emotions. My favorite work of Colin's is when he is playing characters with internal conflict, as he is very adept in expressing what he is feeling without needing to say much. For example, as George in A Single Man, Colin performed major scenes on his own, and without even doing much. One such scene is when he is informed on the phone about his partner, Jim's, death, and Colin is required to act on his own with no interaction with anyone else, and nothing to focus eye-contact on. Despite this challenge, the audience is able to understand the implications of the men's relationship in the 1960s, and the struggles that George would face in having to deal with it. This film also exemplifies Colin's sensitivity to serious, but difficult subject matter, in addition to his just-released drama, The King's Speech.
6) Andrew Garfield
"Sorry, my Prada is at the cleaners, along with my hoodie and my 'f*** you' flip-flops, you pretentious douche bag!"
One of the younger men to make my list, and someone who is still considered a "rising star" to many. When looking at Andrew Garfield's body of work, however, it becomes evident that he is capable of some great acting. First of all, the British actor is able to produce and maintain various accents (such as American and Irish) effortlessly, as well as take on a range of roles that each expect something different of him. One of the first things I saw Andrew in was his small role in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. In this film, he managed to hold his own next to Heath Ledger, which is particularly impressive due to the fact that many people (that I know anyways) wanted to see this movie simply because it was the last film Heath Ledger worked on before his passing. Despite this, Andrew stood out to me, and I proceeded to see his stirring work in Boy A, wherein he tackled some difficult subject matter in an honest way. As well, playing Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, Andrew brought an emotive quality to the screen that allowed the audience to feel more involved in a film based on ice-cold characters, relations, and communications. Finally, a testament to Andrew's acting can be seen in how he appears during interviews and other means of public speaking: he always seems so nervous and thoughtful, and can barely string a sentence together he rambles so much, but you would never be able to tell in the way he acts on screen.
7) Richard Jenkins
"Face it, buddy boy, there's two kinds of people in the world: there's you, and there's everybody else, and never the train shall meet."
Maybe it's the soft twinkle in Richard Jenkins' eye that makes him seem like a nice guy, but pushing that personal observation aside, the man can certainly play a powerful part. His empathetic role in The Visitor was gentle but emotional, and his iconic portrayal of Nathanial Fisher Senior in the dramatic series "Six Feet Under" was both humorously scrappy, and sadly profound. In addition, he has the ability to make a not-so-good movie enjoyable. I'm thinking specifically of the fluffy Dear John, wherein he played the title character's somewhat autistic father. Really, his story-line and acting brought life into an otherwise trite romance and became the most redeeming factor of the film. A standout aspect of Richard's acting is his way of breathing life into films, as well as inserting a certain sentimentality into all of his work, as a means of connecting with people on a personal level.
8) Heath Ledger
"Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you, Jack, that I'm like this! I'm nothin'... I'm nowhere! I can't stand being like this no more, Jack."
Now, I know a lot of people think Heath Ledger's Academy Award for portraying The Joker in The Dark Knight, was only received because of his heartbreaking death. To me, however, I feel like that is an insensitive assumption. Really, no other Joker had been depicted in such a sinister manner before, and if he had just stuck with the typical means of portrayal, the character would not have been well-suited to the dark mood Christopher Nolan was creating in his "Batman" series. In fact, Heath's performance was so strong that I myself sometimes forgot that it was him behind all that makeup.
Aside from his role as The Joker, Heath has also had strong performances in other memorable roles, such as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. The Southern accent he produced for this role was very believable, and never dropped due to lack of focus. In addition, he brought an incredible emotionality to the role, and an honest sensibility to the subject matter involved. Heath's ability to truly connect to whatever role he was playing was one of the strongest aspects of his proficiency as an actor.
9) Alan Rickman
"I will attempt to penetrate your mind. You will attempt to resist."
I'm just going to go ahead and say it: the voice. Alan Rickman's silky smooth voice is infamous, and it really is beautiful. But what makes it even more appealing is the way he uses it through speed and diction and emphasis. Truly, it is a way of speaking that is suited to classic Shakespeare, which he has worked with on multiple occasions. His manner of speaking adds a level of class to his performance, as well as a command of the screen. In addition, Alan is capable of producing various European accents that are incredibly believable, such as his iconic, evil turn as the German Hans Gruber in Die Hard, or as the Russian historical figure of Grigori Rasputin in Rasputin. No matter what, Alan Rickman is always a standout presence, even in a packed or ensemble cast.
10) Kevin Spacey
"Janie, today I quit my job. Then I told my boss to go f*** himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus."
Kevin Spacey always seems to have a lot going on in his eyes, no matter what character he is playing. This is one of my favorite things about his acting, in that you can always see something deeper than the surface actions. It makes the characters so interesting, and sometimes even eerie. For example, his role as John Doe in Se7en wherein he speaks so incredibly calmly the entire time, making him seem creepy and distant, but suiting the persona of the character perfectly. In addition, his on-the-spot impersonations of different icons and actors are incredibly impressive, and only further exemplify his ability to capture and produce engaging personalities.
11) Patrick Wilson
"You haven't idealized mankind, you've... you've deformed it! You mutilated it. That's your legacy. That's the real practical joke."
I know, right now a number of people are thinking, "Who"? It's true , Patrick Wilson isn't exactly a household name, but that doesn't really mean much in terms of acting ability, does it? In fact, Patrick is more commonly known as a Broadway actor, and has played many notable roles on the stage. This alone can attest to his acting, as often stage performances are seen as more difficult than ones in film, as they occur over "one take", essentially. In addition to this, Patrick is incredibly diverse in the roles he does choose in film, ranging from a musical love-interest in The Phantom of the Opera, to a pedophiliac serial killer in Hard Candy, to a man unsatisfied in his marriage in Little Children, to a somewhat nerdy vigilante in The Watchmen. Patrick always expresses a believability in each of his roles, no matter how different they might be from one another.
Young Talent, Soon to Make the List: Nicholas Hoult
"Of course I did! You were at home, wanking your brains out every night thinking, 'Some day I'll be like Tony. SOME day, I'll be like Tony!'"
Most people know Nicholas Hoult as "that little boy in About A Boy". Then, there are those that know him as Tony in "Skins". Either way, Nicholas has recently been finding more and more acting work, that is increasingly more high-profile and interesting. Most currently, he was seen opposite Colin Firth in A Single Man, and stood out amongst the supporting cast (to me anyways), with what seemed to be an effortless American accent. In addition, his role on "Skins" allowed him to explore a very complex character that was both arrogant at first, then fragile and rehabilitating, showing that he is capable of a range of character. I hope to see more of his work in the years to come, as I expect him to become increasingly skilled at acting and desired by filmmakers.
And now, of course, I leave it up to you. Obviously this list is not exhaustive, as there are COUNTLESS talented actors out there.
(You know, Dustin Hoffman, Ryan Gosling, Kenneth Branagh, or Geoffrey Rush, to name a few...)
Do you think I missed anyone, or that someone doesn't necessarily deserve to be on the list? Of course, it's all based on perception, so I wouldn't mind seeing what someone else might think.